Library Wars: Love & War, Volume 3 – Manga Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Kiiro Yumi
Original Story: Hiro Arikawa
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo Beat Manga)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T+ (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Striking a blow against censorship, this library is heading for war.

While there are many things about Library Wars that makes it overly predictable and somewhat preachy, it does manage to make enough valid points that remind us of the many forces that conspire to take away our freedom to read material that might seem – to them – as objectionable. In Volume 3 of this series, Library Wars show us that even the youngest of citizens has the right to show their distaste for censorship.

Ok, I’m sorry if my opening remarks came off as predictable and preachy as well but this manga might not be so great in the romance department (so far) but it is great at making you think. As Iku Kasahara finds herself still standing strong against those who wish to censor books, she finds that the task can also be quite dangerous and – with her parents looking to pay her a visit – she fears said parents might be worried enough to pull her out of the Library Task Force.

First, however, she stands guard over a protest rally that has been organized by the PTA who is looking to pull a few questionable books from the shelves of every school library to protect the children. Suddenly, two figures step out to lob fireworks at the PTA organizers and run off with Iku and Tezuka chasing after them. What the pair discover is that the culprits are two grade school boys who did the deed to protest against the banning of their favorite books.

So begins Iku’s quest to help the boys protest this ban and make their opinions known during a Board of Education meeting that will include speeches. With the aid of the scary Major Genda lending a hand by also include his attractive reporter friend named Maki Sekiguchi who will cover the two kids’ speech during the meeting. As it turns out, they make excellent points that impresses everyone except for the head of the PTA who is a stubborn woman. I mean, kids have the right to form their own opinions about what they read but she doesn’t see it that way and does something that has Dojo – once again – rushing to shield her.

Despite this rather romantic moment, Dojo goes back to making Iku upset and this time the handsome instructor goes too far when he insults the man who inspired her to join the Library Task Force. In turn, Dojo feels upset that he’s not the man that Iku considers her “prince.” It’s very clear that Dojo wants to protect Iku and even more so now that Major Genda’s journalist friend printed a picture of Iku during the PTA meeting. What would Iku’s parents do if they saw the picture?

Meanwhile, word quickly spreads that the owner of the Museum of Information History in Odawara has passed away and the Library Task Force expects the MBC to send armed troops to collect that library’s many articles. The only to stop this from happening is to confront the MBC and secure all the library’s articles and take them back to the base. Dojo, surprisingly enough, keeps Iku off the roster that will be heading to Odawara and, instead, placing her on security detail to make sure nothing happens to Director Inamine. This decision, of course, doesn’t sit well with Iku who confronts Dojo only to be shocked by what he says.

As Tezuka joins Dojo and the others in Odawara, he comes to see real combat as the MBC decides to shoot first and take no prisoners. Members of the Library Task are shot and in the fight it is Dojo who begins to think about Iku. In the meantime, Iku finds herself rather glad she’s watching over the Director who thinks back on that black day that is now called The Hino Nightmare. Unfortunately, the operation doesn’t go smoothly and Iku finds herself in quite a predicament.

The volume ends in a cliffhanger and things are going to get more interesting and slightly more serious as a war is certain to break out between these two factions. To ease the tension of the main story, the volume includes two lighthearted bonus stories. The first story has Dojo discovering a book that Iku has wanted him to read and, in the second story, Iku finds Dojo shopping for cute stuff and decides to help him out.

Volume 3 of Library Wars changes gears to a more serious chapter in the series and things are definitely looking promising in the action department as the Library Task Force and the MBC are headed for war. Sure, the shoujo element of this manga is so too obvious but it’s the other stuff that makes this a worthy read. Here’s hoping the next volume will not disappoint.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
During an organized protest rally headed by the PTA to censor books in school libraries, Iku and Tezuka detain two boys determined to go against the PTA and their book banning. They aid the boys in making their own protest against the organization itself. Meanwhile, the closing of an important museum will pit the Library Task Force against the MBC in a violent battle that Iku will not participate in thanks to Dojo leaving her out of the squad.

ART: B
Kiiro Yumi is certainly making Iku look a lot cuter with each volume and even more so with this volume. I mean, even the cover is cute.

OVERALL: B+
Taking a more serious tone as far as the main story is concerned, Volume 3 of Library Wars gets a lot more interesting while maintaining its pleasant comical nature. The volume also makes an excellent point about how censorship is perceived through the eyes of children as the battle to preserve literature not only gets heated but very violent.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Sekirei, The Complete Series – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

The game begins and clothes will shred away to nothing. It must be the fabric softener over there.

If you’ve been watching anime as long as I have you will know there are series you just know what to expect and a few that follow the same formula that you will find yourself rolling your eyes. When it comes to harem shows, you can even know when to expect that hot springs or summer beach scene. At first glance, Sekirei is one of those harem anime series with fighting girls but you will quickly find out that there’s more to this The Complete Series set that makes this an utterly enjoyable series that is much more than just excessive fan service.

As I said, Sekirei comes off as a fan service-filled harem anime series of the Master of Martial Hearts and Ikki Tousen mold complete with girls whose outfits must be made of tissue paper and a likeable loser who is lucky enough to be surrounded by them. However, Sekirei is the kind of series that will – by the third episode – make you care about the main cast of characters that prove to be likeable enough to make you overlook the constant flashing of flesh.

The series introduces us to Minato Sahashi who is a high school student who has flunked the university entrance exam twice. He’s the perfect example of a loveable, kind-hearted loser who doesn’t have a girlfriend and not much of a social life … until a very beautiful and very bosomy girl literally drops from the sky and lands on top of him. She is Musubi, a girl who is bubbly, clueless and being chased by attractive twins who are out to get her. Musubi escapes with Minato and ends up staying with him in his cramped apartment where she reveals the truth about herself … as well as a single kiss that will change Minato’s life.

You see, Musubi is a Sekirei … a being with an incredible power that is fully unlocked by making a pact with a human who becomes her Ashikabi. A kiss seals the deal and since Minato was so sweet to her it becomes clear to Musubi that he was meant to be her Ashikabi. Unfortunately, all Sekirei are playing a very dangerous game called the Sekirei Plan that was conceived by the president of a major corporation that currently controls all of Japan. The game is simple … all Sekirei must do battle until only one of them is left standing and their reward is to ascend to a level that will allow them to live forever with their Ashikabi.

When Minato is kicked out of his apartment for having a girl living with him, the pair accidentally find a boarding house called Maison Izumo run by a lovely (yet occasionally scary) landlady named Miya. The house already has a girls living in it like the mysterious Kagari (who Minato and Musubi thinks is a guy) and the attractive and lively Uzume. There’s another girl who living there that doesn’t come out until she playfully falls for Minato who turns out to be a Sekirei named Matsu who is also a computer genius.

Somewhere along the way, we discover that there is something special about Minato as he becomes Ashikabi to not only Musubi but also Matsu and a little girl he kept seeing named Kusano. Much later he even forms a contract with a very buxom blonde named Tsukiumi who talks like a Shakespearian actor and considers herself Minato’s “real wife.” The truth is that these girls are drawn to Minato because he genuinely cares enough about them that he wants to save all Sekirei from this awful game they are forced to play.

Minato becomes a crusader against the Sekirei Plan but the President of the company, who Musubi called the Professor, is determined to carry out his plan to have all Sekirei fight each another. As the game goes into its second phase, the battle truly begins and Minato and his girls find themselves caught in the middle of it. Minato sees just how brutal this game can be as he witnesses what happens to a defeated Sekirei in battle and the threat it would impose on his friends.

Meanwhile, the young man meets another Ashikabi who happens to have formed a contract with the same twins that had been chasing Musubi as well as another Ashikabi who was trying to escape from the city with his weak Sekirei only to go up against the Punishment Squad the Professor sent out to make sure no Sekirei escape from their part in the game. This leads Minato to go up against the game in an effort to save the young pair as his Sekirei fight the Punishment Squad. Even Minato’s sister – who meets a pretty boy Sekirei – finds herself involved in the game as well.

The series also introduces us to some powerful Sekirei – one of which is connected to Musubi and an incident we see in the first episode of the series. There are also secrets aplenty, such as the President of the corporation who makes a discovery that is connected to the Sekirei. There’s a great finale and the story promises to continue. The disc also includes an OVA episode (“Kusano’s First Shopping Trip”) where little Kusano decides to go shopping to earn the right to sit next to Minato during dinner. It’s actually a cute and funny OVA.

As I mentioned, the series is filled with excessive fan service and there’s nudity aplenty that certainly earns this series it MA rating. We’re talking nudity in just about every episode so if you’re bothered by nipples and bare backsides then you will have a problem with this series. However, despite this, Sekirei does not neglect characterization or story. These characters easily could have been one-dimensional stereotypes but each one brings something unique to the episodes. You’ll even find yourself liking each girl as well as Minato who stops being a nobody and starts standing up for something. On top of that, the comedic moments are actually funny that you’ll laugh out loud at least twice in this series.

The Complete Series of Sekirie is an anime series that will take you by surprise and offer you an even better brawling babes series you won’t help but come to genuinely enjoy. Sure, it features more than enough fan service to choke a horse with but it doesn’t make it solely about fan service. This is not your typical harem series but rather one that strives to be something actually more meaningful without losing its playful nature and that alone makes this one good enough to be in your collection.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Likable loser, Minato, finds his life turn upside down when he meets a girl named Musubi who turns out to be a powerful fighter in a secret game that pits girls much like her against each another. Soon, Minato finds himself forming a contract with other Sekirei and likes them enough that he plans to go against the corporation to save these girls.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
This series looks great on DVD and the animations is quite colorful and filled with plenty of excellent visual effects. It’s also filled with a lot of nudity so if you feel uncomfortable with it you should probably skip out on this one.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
I found the original Japanese voice cast to be lively and excellent but the English dub cast is topnotch with Joel McDonald (Minato) and Alexis Tipton (Musubi) being especially good. The score is solid with a cutesy opening theme song and with two really good closing theme songs.

EXTRAS: B
There’s no audio commentary track but you definitely cannot go wrong with including an OVA episode that more than makes up for it. There’s also a clean opening and closing animation track and a few trailers as well to make this a good set.

OVERALL: A-
Put away your copies of Ikki Tousen and Master of Martial Hearts because The Complete Series of Sekirei packs a bigger and more meaningful punch in just about every way. Sure, it’s may appear like yet another super-powered-brawling-babes series with a harem twist but there’s a lot to this one that makes it a pleasant action series that will show you a really good time.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded – Nintendo DS Review

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo DS
Genre: Role-Playing Game
MSRP: $34.99 US
ESRB: Rated E10+
Release Date: January 11, 2011

Review By: Eduardo Zacarias, Editor-in-Chief

Having been a fan since the first Kingdom Hearts game appeared on PlayStation 2, the series has seen “extra” chapters on handhelds before the sequel arrived on the same console. While fans patiently await the third installment – and believe me, there will be a Kingdom Hearts III – Square Enix brings us a game that was original available on cell phones in Japan. Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded finally lands on the Nintendo DS but is it good enough for even loyal fans of the series?

Thankfully, Re:coded reunites Sora with Donald, Goofy, Mickey and Riku so it at least returns to the heart of the journey and doesn’t hit a road bump like it did with the fun-yet-flawed Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. In fact, this adventure is a return to the events of the first game despite that the story takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts II. You see, Pinocchio’s conscious, Jiminy Cricket, is also King Mickey’s royal scribe who chronicles all major events as well as Sora’s adventures. However, when he discovers a glitch in some entries involving Sora the cricket has two familiar characters create a digital version of Sora (complete with Keyblade) to make things right.

So begins an adventure set in worlds seen in both Kingdom Hearts and its console sequel as Sora and friends retrace their steps that will take them through places like Olympus, Wonderland and Agrabah. Visiting these places, Sora and the others not only face the Heartless but unravel the mystery behind the glitches. The good news is that Sora gets to do some series cleaning and that means slicing up Heartless with his Keyblade. Again he gets support from Donald, Goofy, Mickey and Riku as they meet up with a number of other Final Fantasy and Disney characters.

If there’s one thing that Re:coded does magnificently that is action. Combat is fluid and true to the console games, including the auto-targeting that makes striking your enemy effective when it doesn‘t confuse an enemy with a crate. On top of that, Sora and equip spells and certain items you obtain in each world so there’s plenty of variety to your attacks.

Interestingly enough, the game also tries to mix things up while keeping the familiar RPG elements but it’s the new gameplay features that make this one a nice change of pace from Chain of Memories or 358/2 Days. The best part is that the variety in gameplay styles isn’t overused so the game goes back to its role-playing game roots. In one section you will find yourself in a side-scrolling platformer level and in another you will be commanding characters in a turn-based strategy level. There’s even an on-rails shooter level as well as boss battles that take on an interesting turn.

I’m actually quite disappointed that the game is actually a short one that offers no other real incentive to play again aside from the fact that there’s a second ending. It’s also disappointing that the majority of the cut scenes aren’t all animated (only scenes with Mickey, Donald and Goofy are animated) while the rest of the scenes are made up of stills with dialogue bubbles. Then there’s the wonky camera that often gets in the way of the action, especially in the platformer level that can get frustrating because of it.

Visually, Re:coded is impressive but then – if you played 358/2 Days or any other Final Fantasy DS game you would already know that. The animated scenes look amazing and the characters look good within the games so expect some equally dazzling visual effects as well. As far as the sound is concerned, there’s not much in terms of voice acting but the score is wonderful and certainly makes up for the lack of voice acting in this series.

Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded for the Nintendo DS is a solid entry and one that will pleasantly surprise true fans of this series. It’s also a game that is marred by a number of flaws that hold this game back from true greatness. We also wish the game was longer or given us a reason to want to play again but what is here is worth playing and even more so if you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan who has been patiently waiting for it to come to our side of the pond.

ANIMANGA NATION RATING

Gameplay: B-
Graphics: B+
Sound: B+
Appeal: B
Overall: B-

Review copy provided by Square Enix

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, OVA Collection – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 150 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

It’s not where you’re going but the journey itself that is important.

The Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle series has developed quite a following ever since CLAMP’s manga masterpiece has become an anime series and with a movie under its belt as well as this world crossing paths with another CLAMP creation, we thought we seen it all … that is until this OVA Collection. At last, FUNimation brings us the Tokyo Revelations and Spring Thunder Chronicle chapters (and on DVD and Blu-ray, no less) that should complete the collection of any Tsubasa fan.

When I say Tsubasa fan I mean that the OVA Collection is strictly for loyal fans of the series that have already watched the first and second season since no character introductions are made nor will these five episodes fill you in on the story and why these five travelers are searching for feathers that represent the memories of a young Princess. What it will do is flesh out the main series by giving us a look at two defining moments that link with the events in the series.

TOKYO REVELATIONS

The first and best of the OVAs is the three episodes that make up the Tokyo Revelations chapter that takes place in the second season directly after our travelers leave the library in the land of Recolte when Fai finally uses his magic and Princess Sakura is badly injured. They end up in a desolate modern city that, within minutes, begins to drizzle acid rain. It doesn’t take Syaoran, Kurogane, Fai and Mokona long to realize that they they’re in a futuristic Tokyo that has been devastated by some horrible event that leveled to city to rubble.

Seeking shelter from the rain with the others, Syaoran decides to investigate a seemingly empty building until he is attacked by men in hooded robes as Syaoran battles the leader. He fights their leader, a young man named Kamui who is a familiar face only Syaoran doesn’t know him. As it turns out, they are a group of survivors who are guarding their water supply. Befriending the group, they even help them hunt for food but the real good stuff is the scenes between Fai and Kurogane who butt heads.

While learning Kamui’s real identity is a highlight, the real surprise comes when the being that looks like Syaoran finally awakens from his slumber and pays the witch Yuko from xxxHolic a visit in order to reunite and face off against the Syaoran in future Tokyo. Their confrontation is one Tsubasa fans will remember and the aftermath is intense … especially what happens to Fai.

SPRING THUNDER CHRONICLE

Spanning just two episodes, this particular chapter still manages to make an impact that ripples into the main series. You see, our favorite travelers find themselves a bit on the confused side when the world they’re in is quickly collapsing thanks to Fai’s magic. Fai tells them to leave him behind by Kurogane – despite his issues with him – grabs Fai and drags him into the next world or dimension.

The first one to wake up is Kurogane who comes to realize that he is back in his own time in the palace of Princess Tomoyo who he has served faithfully. It is here that Kurogane gets a new arm (once again, Tsubasa fans will know what happened to said lost limb). It is also here that Syaoran faces Seishiro who shows up along with his brother Fuma. The battle, you see, is for one of Sakura’s memory feathers that Seishiro held on to since their last meeting.

As I said, despite the fact that this chapter is only two-episodes long, a lot happens here. A still sleeping Sakura meets xxxHolic’s Watanuki Kimihiro and Syaoran once again goes up against the other Syaoran who – thanks to the Tokyo Revelations chapter – makes this rematch even more intense. I won’t get into what happens because it will take Tsubasa fans by surprise but it leads to the events in the main series as the others prepare to chase after Sakura and Syaoran.

Both Tokyo Revelations and Spring Thunder Chronicle might not be friendly to the casual Tsubasa viewer but if these five episodes don’t make you want to check out the complete series then nothing will. It’s great to see returning characters make an appearance in these episodes as well and the intermingling between Tsubasa and xxxHolic characters is also a plus. However, fans will like the scenes that explain some of the series mysteries such as how Kurogane got his sword Ginryu back and what happened to Fai’s magical eye.

The OVA Collection of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle might just be five episodes but they are episodes that feel like they really should have been a part of the main series. That’s how good this collection is and if you’ve been following the series you will come to realize that this is exactly what you need to complete your Tsubasa experience. I definitely recommend the Blu-ray edition because this series looks even better in HD so – whatever you do – you must not miss this one.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
In-between the events of the second season’s continued journey we are given a glimpse of two interesting chapters that fill in the gaps of this interesting journey. In one chapter, jump into a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo where they encounter a group of people struggling to survive and one of Sakura’s feathers. In the other chapter, the group return to Kurogane’s own world where a battle will change everything for Syaoran.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
This series was meant for Blu-ray as was saw from the release of the Tsubasa/xxxHolic double-feature movie release on a high-def format. Like the main series, the OVA has some really amazing visual effects that just look a lot better on Blu-ray.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original score by Yuki Kajiura is beautifully cinematic and is easily one of the best scores from a CLAMP series. On top of that the voice acting for both the English dub and the Japanese voices are equally stellar so whatever your preference you will find good performances throughout.

EXTRAS: B+
Imagine a collection of OVA episodes where each episode contains an audio commentary track that’s actually fun to listen to and you get an idea of what is in store for you in this collection. Each of the five episodes contains commentary with talents like Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial, Micah Solosud, Colleen Clinkenbeard, J. Michael Tatun and Christopher Sabat. Along with these voice actors the commentary also includes people we normally would hear in a commentary track.

Then there’s the clean opening and closing theme songs and a few trailers.

OVERALL: A-
If you consider yourself a true fan of Tsubasa you need this OVA Collection that will not fail to surprise and remind you why you fell in love with this series in the first place. These two chapters might be brief but they paint a fuller picture fits with the main series perfectly. I can’t recommend this one enough to Tsubasa fans.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

The Best and Worst of Naruto Shippuden Video Games

Written By: Eduardo Zacarias, Editor-in-Chief

Just as Naruto Uzumaki has grown up and moved up in the shinobi world in the manga series and the anime, so too has our favorite orange ninja in the world of video games. We have seen excellent, passable and just plain awful Naruto games in the past and now as the series moved on to its Naruto Shippuden phase, you can bet a bowl of ramen that the same applies to the Shippuden games.

You see, earlier Naruto games featured adventures when a much younger Naruto in a team that consisted of Sakura and Sasuke and some have eventually led up to the moment where Naruto and Sasuke part ways in a battle between these two characters. Now, the Naruto Shippuden games finds Naruto a bit older, somewhat wiser and a lot more powerful than before. It also finds Naruto with new threats to face and a new determination that goes beyond his desire to become the Leaf Village’s Hokage.

So allow me to take you through the Naruto Shippuden games so far as we not only look at the good games but also the Shippuden games you really should avoid even if you’re a hardcore fan.

THE GOOD


Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution III (Nintendo Wii)

A surprisingly well-executed fighting game with all the things we wanted to see in a fighter with Naruto-themed backgrounds, characters and Chakra-filled abilities. Each character brought something to the table and, on top of the fun fast-paced action, the game made good use of the Nintendo Wii controllers well enough that we just can’t stop playing this around our office.


Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

We really enjoyed the first Ultimate Ninja Storm game but this sequel is even more enjoyable than the first in almost every way without coming off as just another rehash. Don’t you hate it when games bring the same ideas to the table with just an updated roster? Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 tries and scores big to the point that this outshines the original.


Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippuden (PlayStation 2)

Who said nothing good comes out for the PlayStation 2 now that the PS3 is available? This fourth game in the Ultimate Ninja series offers more bang for your buck but falls short in a few things including the main mode that just goes through the motions by copying games like Naruto: Rise of a Ninja. Still, you can’t go wrong with this Naruto title.


Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 (Nintendo DS)

Ninja Destiny 2 runs circles around the Ninja Council games in just about every way and Destiny 2 is just simply a fun game that Naruto fans will enjoy. Sure, it’s not an amazing handheld game but it is still fun enough for those who have lost hope that no good Naruto games appear on the DS.


Naruto Shippuden: Naruto Vs. Sasuke (Nintendo DS)

What’s better than showing that no good traitor Sasuke who is the better ninja than taking him on in a handheld game that pits Naruto against his former friend? This game basically makes us live out our fantasy of finally seeing a no-holds barred battle against these two powerful forces once and for all.

THE BAD


Naruto Shippuden Legends: Akatsuki Rising (PSP)

One of the most disappointing handheld games was one that was promising in just about every way considering the fact that this game pits Naruto and other Leaf ninja against the Akatsuki threat. This game just falls flat in every department, most importantly the combat so avoid this one if you could.


Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles (Nintendo Wii)

This one is almost just as disappointing as Akatsuki Rising because it was meant to be an original Naruto Shippuden game good enough to shake your Wii Remote around. It’s just so upsetting to see good idea implemented so weakly for a game that doesn’t feature the same scenarios we already played in past Naruto games to do something different.


Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4 (Nintendo DS)

The Ninja Council series has a sketchy track record that has seen many bad Naruto games and only has a limited number of really good ones. It’s not that they didn’t try to bring Naruto fans a good game but too much emphasis was placed on making use of the handheld’s touch screen capabilities than concentrating on level design. This fourth addition falls flat because of this same issue but there is hope for this series yet since there are some good things about the game … mainly the action.


Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 (PSP)

I really loved the first Ultimate Ninja Heroes game and the second one was not bad at all but Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 is like the first two games had a baby … a very bland baby that disappoints its two talented and very likeable parents. Sure, it looks and feels like mom and dad but junior offers nothing new that make it stand out in anyway.

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN GAMES WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO FOR 2011

You can expect more Naruto games for 2011 and we will bring you more news and review for the new games when we get them. Of course, there’s a game we are certainly looking forward to and that is:


Naruto Shippuden: Shinobi Rumble! (Nintendo DS)

Covering a very serious and intense chapter in the Naruto Shippuden series, Shinobi Rumble is but the beginning of what might look to be the beginning of a war in the shinobi world. The gloves are off and if this game plays its cards right it will be a game you will not want to miss.

Cross Game, Volume 1 (Omnibus) – Manga Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Mitsuru Adachi
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Sunday)
MSRP: $19.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Fans of manga sports series will find that this one scores big to become another MVP.

I’m a real sucker for anime and manga about sports and even more so when it concerns baseball so Cross Game was a manga series I needed to check out. Interestingly enough, VIZ Media decided to release Cross Game in omnibus form featuring the first three volumes of this manga series making it a beefy edition that not only hits a homerun in the sports department but also tells a touching story about growing up.

Talented manga-ka Mitsuru Adachi weaves a lovely little tale about Ko Kitamura, a fifth grader whose parents own and operate a sporting goods store that Ko himself works making deliveries and constantly trying to get friends and neighbors to buy sporting equipment. As long as he can remember, he has been going to the local batting center/café to hit some dingers but that’s not the only reason he goes there.

You see, Ko has always been friends with Wakaba Tsukishima, the second daughter of four Tsukishima girls who operate the batting center and café. Wakaba and Ko are practically inseparable friends – to the annoyance of Wakaba’s third sister, Aoba – but it is clear that Wakaba wants to be more than just neighborly friends and even envisions a future together as husband and wife. Being the cutest girl in their class, Wakaba is also liked by a big brutish boy by the name of Akaishi and one day – on a baseball field – Ko makes it clear to the bully that Wakaba is just a neighbor.

Of course, this is farthest from the truth and, while we witness this friendship blossom into something else, tragedy changes everything. Ko tries to cope with the loss but just doesn’t know how until he sees Akaishi shedding tears. Instead, Ko decides to throw himself into the game of baseball having often remembered Wakaba’s dream of seeing Ko become a great baseball player. Her sister Aoba even remembers her sister telling her that Ko has the potential of being something special in baseball.

As it turns out, Ko does have a talent for the game. Years of showing up at the batting center has made him a batter worthy of taking notice. Joining his friend, Hayashi, they start playing on a team with Ko accepting the role of pitcher. Surprisingly, Ko finds out that there’s an amazing pitcher out there as well who happens to be a girl. Imagine his shock when he realizes that this girl is Aoba, Wakaba’s sister!

The series often gives us a good glance into Aoba’s life as well so we come to know that this tomboyish girl has a love for baseball. She’s also a sullen girl who does not like Ko for the obvious reason that he has always had all of her sister’s attention. The fact that her family loves the guy (especially their little sister, Momiji) is equally irritating. Even when he comes into her life as well as share their love of baseball, Aoba cannot accept Ko’s presence.

Now in her Junior High years, Aoba plays on a team captained by Akaishi who has always had fond memories of Wakaba and remembers her telling him that he should be out in the field playing baseball rather than just watch from the sidelines. Akaishi is the one who truly recognizes Aoba’s talent as a pitcher and overlooks her gender despite the fact that everyone else just sees her as a girl.

Meanwhile, Ko finds himself on a team in his High school years but only as part of the portable team. Ko witnesses how the players on the varsity team are treated in school as teachers overlook everything from tardiness to poor study habits. He also sees the dirty side of school sports that come in the form of the interim principal and Coach Daimon who are trying to make a name for themselves by way of the team and its success this semester.

Looking for new talent to compliment his star cleanup batter – a boy named Yuhei Azuma – the coach looks into the portable team for talent as Ko, Akaishi, Hayashi and Aoba find themselves on the team. Well aware of the Coach’s intentions, Ko and his friends will show them that there’s more to them than meets the eye. With a lot at stake, Ko will give it his all while Aoba manages to surprise everyone with her pitching. Where they will stand on the team is yet to be seen but things heat up to make room for the next volume.

This omnibus edition of Volume 1 of Cross Game is a wonderfully surprising, moving and whimsical look at baseball and all the things that go with a coming-of-age story like this one. Adachi gives us a wonderfully written story with more than decent art but with a lot of heart so you will find yourself loving every page of this thick edition. If you love baseball or just a good manga series, put Cross Game on your Must Have list.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A-
Ko and Wakaba have been inseparable childhood friends until a tragedy makes Ko take solace in the game of baseball he enjoyed playing with friends. Ko finds himself showing his true potential in the sport as Wakaba’s sister, Aoba, proves that she has not only has a talent for the game but also a great dislike for Ko. As we watch them both grow into High school students, baseball becomes an even bigger part of their lives.

ART: B+
The art is serviceable and despite a few character issues you will find a lot to love about the art … especially the backgrounds and the baseball action.

OVERALL: A-
The Volume 1 Omnibus of Cross Game joins the ranks of some of the best baseball-themed manga already available by telling a story that’s not only engrossing but endearing as well. A very few select number of sports manga really makes you fall in love with the sport but this one manages to do that and more in this big edition you will like even if baseball isn’t your game.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Black Butler, Season One Part 1 – DVD Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $64.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

This is one hell of a gothic anime series.

If you’ve been to Tokyo’s Akihabara or Shibuya district lately you might find yourself surprised by pretty maids serving cake and cafés where handsome young waiters dressed like proper English butlers are pouring cups of Earl Grey. So it’s no surprise to find manga and anime with a delightful old English twist that makes for some interesting and very different titles. Season One Part 1 of Black Butler joins these series with a deliciously gothic tale well worth savoring.

In the dark, a voice rises to ask a lone boy a question that will forever change his life and, not too long after that, the boy resurfaces and he isn’t alone. Somewhere in London we are introduced to the young master Ciel Phantomhive and his ravishingly handsome butler, Sebastian. Despite his age, Ciel is the lord of the estate (his parents were killed in a fire) that includes a likeable staff like Finnny (the gardener), Baldo (the chef), Mey-Rin (the maid) and Tanaka (who just drinks a lot of tea).

Oh, but there’s nothing normal about this household because – as an Italian guest who has secretly sold a Phantomhive business finds out – there’s a dark supernatural aura to Sebastian that makes him an man you do not want to cross. Sebastian, you will know by his own words, is one hell of a butler who is able to make delicious deserts but also handle silverware like deadly weapons. He will do anything and everything that Ciel asks for and will be at his side until the very end as he will often tell him.

Ciel might have his responsibilities as the head of the estate but he is also an integral member of a group that even English monarchy depends on to keep the peace in the country. As a result, Ciel becomes known as the “Queen’s guard dog” and looks into criminal matters … such as the recent string of prostitute murders by a killer the newspapers are calling Jack the Ripper.

In fact, Ciel and Sebastian find themselves face-to-face with Jack the Ripper … whose identity will certainly not fail to surprise and become one of the many memorable moments from this first season. Even the investigation into identifying the murderer – that includes Ciel dressing up as a girl – is a lot to fun to watch. Then, inviting his staff along, they even look into a mysterious case that is a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” that involves a Demon Hound. The result of this story ends up surprisingly enough as the Phantomhive household gains a very curious new member.

The series has a wonderfully dark tone and a sense of mystery that has a lot to do with Sebastian as the episodes slowly reveals what he is and his relationship with the young master. There are also some bloody moments, particularly in the Jack the Ripper case and the Hell Hound investigation. Still, the series isn’t all serious since it also has a delightful sense of humor that makes even the villains comical despite the things they do. You just have to love the Undertaker character who shows up a few times as a certain character who proves to be evil … and a big fan of Sebastian.

We also meet Ciel’s betrothed, a lively young girl named Elizabeth Midford who joins Ciel in a few fun moments in this series such as when Ciel and Sebastian participate in an ice sculpture contest in order to win a ring that contains the famous Hope Diamond. When Elizabeth is taken by a puppet master who is determined to make beautiful people into living dolls. Oh, but there’s somebody else pulling the stings that we will certainly see more of in Part 2 of this season.

My biggest gripe, however, is an obvious one to anyone who has seen an anime with British characters and that’s the accents. The English dub performances are excellent but I finds myself not quite convinced by Brina Palencia (who voices Ciel) and Monica Rial (who voices Mey-Rin) who try but just don’t quite get it right. Then again there’s J. Michael Tatum who makes it sound so good that it makes Sebastian sound even just as good as he looks.

Season One Part 1 of Black Butler isn’t just a great anime series but it’s one of those rare “instant classics” that will not fail to make a fan out of you from the very start. With an easily likeable cast, well-executed animation and a compulsively watch-worthy story, Black Butler serves up a delectable anime series that should be in your collection right now.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
A guardian of the city and the young master of the Phantomhive estate, Ciel has made a most unusual and mysterious pact that includes a handsome and skilled butler named Sebastian that is destined to stay at his side to the very end. Together, along with his staff, Ciel involves himself with strange cases that include the legendary Hope Diamond and even Jack the Ripper.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The series a very distinct look background and character-wise and those who love the gothic look will certainly find a lot to love about the animation. There are also splendid visual effects throughout this series and all of it looks stunning on DVD. Here’s hoping FUNimation releases a Blu-ray edition as well.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The Japanese voice actors make the dialogue work wonderful if you don’t care for English accents and the English dub isn’t bad at all since there are excellent English accents (J. Michael Tatum and Ian Sinclair being the more notable) and so-so ones (Monica Rial and Brina Palencia being the more notable). However, the gorgeous soundtrack makes up for it with a grand score by Taku Iwasaki and great opening and closing theme songs (we love BECCA‘s closing theme song).

EXTRAS: B+
The two-disc package contains two audio commentary tracks (one with Colleen Clinkenbeard and Brina Palencia and the other Ian Sinclair and J. Michael Tatum) plus a text Musical Profile for BECCA (who was discovered by Meredith Brooks and has a loyal following in Japan). There are also the clean opening and closing theme songs, trailers and a featurette called “The Story Thus Far” featuring narration from Tanaka himself.

OVERALL: A-
It’s rare to find an anime series with a gothic appeal that makes for an original viewing experience but Black Butler pulls it off easily. Balancing dark supernatural elements, solid action and comedic elements that will not fail to make you chuckle more than a few times, Part 1 of Season One of Black Butler is just what you’re looking for if you’ve been dying to get your hands on one hell of an anime series.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment