Initial D, Second Stage – DVD Review

 

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 325 minutes
Genre: Drama/Sports
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Eventually we all hit a speed bump.

It takes a big man to admit that he has grossly underestimated a person or – in the case of Initial D – a vehicle but Ryosuke Takahashi is a big enough man to say that there’s more to the Eight-Six than meets the eye. Oh yeah, the second part of the First Stage of Initial D ended in a true Rocky Balboa moment but what happens next is something that makes the Second Stage of this racing series the beginning of Takumi Fujiwara’s education in illegal street racing.

It wasn’t too long ago that Takumi and his Eight-Six took on Ryosuke in a race that surprised everyone there including Ryosuke himself. As it stands, the Eight-Six is undefeated and has become something of a legend in the Gunma area. Unknowingly, though, a new racing team calling themselves the Team Emperor is prowling Gunma looking for a challenger worthy of the duo’s Lan-Evo cars. One of them is Kyoichi Sudo, a confident racer who seems to have a past with Ryosuke as well as a hatred for him. Then there’s the impulsive one, Seiji, who is out to make a name for himself as well. They also have a WWII fighter pilot like tradition of showing they defeated an opponent. In this case, taking the losers’ team sticker, tearing it in half them slapping it on their own car.

As fate would have it, the two racers encounter Itsuki and Takumi hanging out in Akina when they ask Itsuki who is the best racer in the area. As always, Itsuki impulsively tells them it’s the Eight-Six and Team Emperor laughs and tells them it wouldn’t be worth a tank of gasoline to race a dinosaur like an Eight-Six. This, of course, pisses off Takumi who is determined to show them exactly what his Eight-Six is capable of and make them eat their words.

Meanwhile, back in school, Takumi gets an anonymous note in his locker stating that his girl, Natsuki Mogi, is being paid for “dating” an old man who drives a Benz. The idea of Natsuki doing something like that seems farfetched but a part of him doesn’t doubt the note either. As it turns out, and I am not giving anything away since the first season does reveal something not quite right, Natsuki is doing exactly that and because she has fallen in love with Takumi she decides to end her relationship with the unseen older man.

With the thought of Natsuki doing that behind his back, Takumi still races against Team Emperor as he takes on Seiji. It’s a race that impresses Kyoichi and the outcome surprises him but – in an interesting twist – he offers Takumi a friendly race to prove to him that the Eight-Six just can’t compete with his own car. As it turns out, the friendly race turns out to be the first official disaster for the Eight-Six that the outcome makes Takumi break down and cry over his car.

With the Eight-Six out of the way, Kyoichi concentrates on finally getting that rematch from Ryosuke who reveals the reason why Kyoichi hates him so much. The race shows Ryosuke is still a major racing threat to those who challenge him. In the meantime, Takumi gets his Eight-Six back with a new engine but it feels strange to him. While his father won’t reveal what it is that has transformed the Eight-Six into a monster, it is a new challenger by the name of Wataru who tells him about it.

Despite the fact that Wataru isn’t a such a bad guy, he develops a hatred for Takumi that will eventually lead to a race. The catch here is that Wataru drives and Eight-Six as well only his is turbo-charged. In-between this rivalry and the race that is pure Initial D-styled excitement, this season gives us a juicy slice of romantic drama to go along with it. In the case of Takumi, he trails Natsuki and finds out the ugly truth and the aftermath is equally ugly as Takumi turns cold towards the girl. Then there’s Itsuki, who meets the fiery Kazumi who turns out to be Wataru’s sister. What starts out as an unfriendly meeting turns into true love for Itsuki but does she feel the same about him?

Unlike the first season’s two releases (or other seasons of this series), the Second Stage contains a third disc that includes two OVA episodes as well as their original uncut versions. In the first episode, we are re-introduced to the girls of Impact Blue, Mako (who is still getting over being rejected by Iketani) and her navigator Sayuki who hear that the Lan-Evo crew called Team Emperor is in town so the girls challenge them. In the second episode, Mako sets Sayuki up on a secret blind date with a Night Kid while they like the rumor that Ryosuke Takahashi is putting a racing team together. Oh yeah, there is fan service in both episodes so if that’s not your thing then you might want to skip them but I don’t recommend doing that.

The Second Stage of Initial D adds more drama to the human side of the story while maintaining the excitement of the racing action that this series does so well. What we have as a result is an even more interesting season of this fast and furious racing anime series. Add two OVA episodes that link up with events from the first season and we have a second season set that should be on every Initial D fans’ collection.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
Having defeated the great Ryosuke, Takumi is at the top of his game and is now an Akina legend but this also means new challengers are popping up as well. With a determined rival offering a worthy challenge, Takumi is suddenly distracted by a horrible rumor about his girlfriend, Natsuki. With these troubles in mind as well as a mechanical nightmare, the legendary Eight-Six finds itself in quite a predicament.

VIDEO QUALITY: B-
Like past Initial D releases by FUNimation, the animation looks outdated but the video quality is still excellent and cleaned up just right on DVD. The CG cars might look a bit clunky in action but they still look just as hot as the real thing. The two OVA episodes contain some serious fan service for those who care about that sort of thing.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting has always been strong in this series whether you like the great Japanese cast or the stellar English dub voice actors. I personally feel that Brina Palencia brings more emotion to Natsuki, especially since we see more of her in this season. Then there’s the music that brings out the inner speed demon in me as well as the cool M.O.V.E opening tune as the beautiful Galla tune, “Kimi Ga Iru.”

EXTRAS: A
Sure it’s cool to have the textless opening and closing songs (and even better when the songs are as awesome as the ones in this series) but we’re so spoiled we love our extras and the Second Stage does not disappoint. The third disc contains two OVA episodes (plus their uncut versions with longer fan service) starring Mako and Sayuki from the first season.

OVERALL: A
A more dramatic and still riveting season worthy of this high-octane series, the Second Stage of Initial D doesn’t fail to keep you on the edge of your seat. While adding an intriguing twist to the Takumi-Natsuki relationship and the Eight-Six’s first real speed bump, there’s just no denying how intense and cool this season is so Initial D fans really should not be without this one.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Bleach, Volume 32 – Manga Review

 

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Tite Kubo
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Jump)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Now Available

The jaguar and the Soul Reaper dance once more.

There aren’t many manga-ka out there who can get away with dedicating nearly an entire volume to a single battle but Tite Kubo has proven he can tell a story and create unforgettable battles especially when it concerns Bleach. With Volume 32, the showdown that we saw coming since Ichigo and Grimmjow first faced off is finally here as the real rumble in Hueco Mundo begins.

Having rescued Orihime from a beating and kidnapped her (thus defying Ulquiorra and challenging him) in order to have Orihime heal a defeated and badly injured Ichigo, Grimmjow has crossed the line with his fellow Espadas just to get a chance to pay Ichigo back for the damage done during their first encounter. Now, with both of them healed, the Substitute Soul Reaper and the out-of-control Espada have a fair fight on their hands.

It’s clear that Grimmjow is powerful and the fact he keeps goading Ichigo on speaks volumes of the Espada’s confidence in his strength and skill. In fact, he wants Ichigo to unleash every ounce of power he possesses. Waiting in the sidelines is a Orihime and Nel, both worried for Ichigo despite the fact that their orangehaired friend is just as confident as his opponent that he will defeat his opponent. Nel, on the other hand, is the only one who feels that maybe Ichigo doesn’t have what it takes to defeat Grimmjow even though Orihime assures her that if Ichigo says he’s win then that’s what he’ll do.

“Ichigo’s scared!” Nel says to her. “Scared people always talk big!”

As Grimmjow shows no signs of taking it easy on Ichigo, he forces Ichigo to use the power of Hollowfication that the Visoreds had trained him to unleash. When he does use the power, the sight of Ichigo with the Hollow mask is shocking to Orihime who is watching the fight with Nel. She has seen Ichigo at his finest and at his worst but nothing compares to the sight of Ichigo’s eyes beneath that mask. To her it’s almost as if the person fighting Grimmjow is somebody else.

Surprisingly enough, though, it is Nel who pushes Orihime to look past the mask and cheer for Ichigo. He is, after all, fighting for her and despite the appearances that is still the young man that she had fallen in love with for a long time now. As the fight continues, it is starting to look like Ichigo is able to maintain Hollowfication for a bit longer now.

However, even more surprising is Grimmjow true form that reveals his past in a flashback that is actually quite sad. You see, Grimmjow didn’t always have a humanoid form and like all Vasto Lordes they started as an Adjucha with an appetite that is quite abnormal. Grimmjow, however, is different and other Adjucha recognized this in him.

Oh but like all good things the fight does come to an end as Grimmjow’s strength and monstrous power doesn’t match up to Ichigo’s determination to win. Then, another surprise as another player steps in by removing Grimmjow from the equation. As a new opponent steps in and Grimmjow’s fate unclear, things are going to get ugly yet again.

This volume also includes a short story about Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya that – according to Kubo-sensei – serves as sort of prologue to the second Bleach movie, “The Diamond Dust Rebellion.” In this Bleach: Untold Stories tale, we are given a rare glimpse of a young Toshiro who is just recently acknowledging a strange voice that tells him of a great power locked within him. In the story we witness the day Momo goes off to the academy to become a Soul Reaper as well as the day Toshiro first met Rangiku Matsumoto.

Volume 32 of Bleach is just one long fight sequences but that doesn’t mean nothing surprising happens in the span of the few chapter. Orihime’s reaction to Ichigo’s Hollow mask is priceless as is the scene where Nel’s steadfast loyalty to Ichigo makes Orihime realize Ichigo is Ichigo no matter how scary his power has become. There’s also something compelling about Grimmjow’s past and his need to prove himself. As I said, the real rumble in Hueco Mundo has begun.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
Both fully healed thanks to Orihime, Ichigo and Grimmjow begin an impressive battle where both opponents don’t hold back even for a moment. It is during this battle that Orihime sees Ichigo’s power takes a scary physical change and the real Grimmjow – including his past – is revealed. There’s a bonus story as well about the day that changed Toshiro Hitsugaya’s life.

ART: A+
I said this once and I’ll say it again, Tite Kubo knows how to make an eye-catching fight scene but what he really excels at is crafting original-looking characters that are memorable straight off the bat. In this volume, Grimmjow’s other form is simply too awesome for words.

OVERALL: A
Focusing on two very powerful forces fighting at full strength, Volume 32 of Bleach still manages to be impressive and – at times – even poetic. As the two of them lose themselves in the moment, Orihime is taken aback by Ichigo’s power that has changed the young man as things get more complicated in Hueco Mundo.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Full Metal Panic?: FUMOFFU, The Complete Series – Blu-ray Review

 

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $44.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Comedy
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Meet Sergeant Sousuke Sagara … expert in military combat and terrorizing his classmates.

The two seasons that make up the Full Metal Panic! series is one of the best action series around that mixes some amazing action sequences with a comical twist that is reserved for the main characters’ high school life. Then there’s The Complete Series of Full Metal Panic?: Fumoffu, a series that removes the ARM Slaves and Gauron from the picture and, instead, concentrates on the comedy that is Sousuke Sagara and Kaname Chidori’s high school days that are just as dangerous as anything Mithril throws at them.

Oh yeah, you heard me right, Fumoffu is a 12-episode comedy of epic proportions that feels like a different show altogether. It’s basically a high school comedy series with familiar characters but that won’t stop Full Metal Panic! fans from loving this one anyway. As I mentioned in the beginning, the series concentrates on Sousuke and Kaname’s other life that includes their Jindai High School life.

What remains true to the series is Sousuke’s determination to watch over Kaname as well as his uncanny ability to misinterpret the simplest school task. Sousuke deadpan delivery and his unreasonable response to things he doesn’t understand is what makes him such a hilarious guy to watch and in Fumoffu it’s as if he’s been unleashed and – believe me – this makes for a big part of what truly makes Fumoffu an absolute gem in terms of comedy.

In the opening episode, a simply love letter from a secret admirer of Sousuke is interpreted as a terrorist plot to assassinate him thanks to the fact that he blew up a row of lockers that contained said love letter. To Kaname’s horror, though, president of the Student Council (a senior named Atsunobu Hayashimizu) is actually encouraging Sousuke’s over-the-top handling of this situation that turns out embarrassingly for Sousuke. Then, thanks to this misunderstanding, Sousuke find himself an actual target of gang members that he had thrashed in the opening story thanks to their tough female leader who wants revenge. Oh, but Sousuke has a plan of his own to get the gang off his back and it is enough that it shocks Kaname.

When Sousuke opens fire to get the attention of some bakers selling their treats outside the school, Sousuke ends up causing the poor bakers some misery so it is up to him, Sousuke and a fellow classmate to help them sell their goods but the surly P.E. teacher wants to teach Sousuke a lesson only to fall victim to Sousuke’s traps. In another episode, Sousuke borrows Kanme’s notes only to forget them in his apartment. What begins as a quick jaunt to his place ends up being a race from a fired up female traffic cop who chases them all over the city.

There are few mishaps outside of school as well, such as when Kaname and her friends head out to the beach with Sousuke only for the young military specialist to think Kaname has been taken captive. Then, in another episode, Kurz Weber and Melissa Mao make an appearance to take them to a hot springs where Sousuke sets a trap for Weber and two of Sousuke’s male classmates that are looking to get a peek at the girls. A personal favorite has Sousuke and Kyoko following Kaname on a friendly date with a guy she once liked and thus introducing us to Sousuke’s latest ultimate weapon … a cute plushy suit modeled after a theme park mascot called Bunta-kun.

Sousuke ends up actually helping his classmates as well, such as when he decides to help Kaname toughen up some effeminate rugby players who are afraid to get their hands dirty. At one point, he helps the Photography Club when all the clubs compete over a room to hold their meeting. Of course, since this competition involves flirting our boy just doesn’t get the idea.

Fumoffu also brings back another familiar face, that of submarine captain Teletha Testarossa who decides to take her vacation by spending it with Sousuke … who she still has a major crush on to the point of seeing Kaname as a rival. We also meet a new character, Issei Tsubaki, a farsighted young martial arts genius who sees Sousuke as a rival as well seeing as he develops a monster crush on Kaname.

There’s also lots of craziness in this series as well, such as an army of Bunta-kun going up against a yakuza clan and Kaname finds herself being used as bait by the same crazed female cop who is out to bust a pervert who happens to have a fetish for giving girls a pony tail … and did I mention that said pervert is wearing a pony head mask? Oh yeah, it’s that crazy but it doesn’t fail to get a laugh out of you. It’s just that funny and the great part is that this show’s sense of humor remains intact throughout the entire set.

With the right blend of high school romance and humor that comes close to comedic brilliance, The Complete Series of Full Metal Panic?: Fumoffu is everything you can ask for in an anime comedy. In fact, I would even go as far as describing this as the perfect example of what a comedy show should be like and those returning Full Metal Panic fans will find this series as a refreshing companion piece to the main series.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Sousuke Sagara is back in school still watching over Kaname Chidori and he’s still handing her security in the most excessive manner that leads him to do things like helping the rugby team by putting them through military training or unintentionally sending the P.E. teacher to the hospital. Oh, and some familiar faces show up as well and Sousuke does some real damage … dressed like a cute theme park mascot.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
On Blu-ray the series takes on a sharper and more colorful picture that makes it worth the extra bucks if you don’t own this one. The animation in this series is still excellent and even more so when the action in the series involves a shotgun-wielding Bunta-kun.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The familiar voice cast for the original Japanese voices as well as the English dub voices are back again for this series and that’s a very good thing. Even the score in the series is excellent throughout and the funny A-Team inspired Next Episode tune is a nice touch. The opening and closing songs by Mikuni Shimokawa are true classics.

EXTRAS: C
There aren’t many real extras here except for clean opening and closing theme songs and a few trailers as well. The only real treat here is that the episodes are in high-definition and looks damn good.

OVERALL: A+
Sure, the action takes a backseat in Full Metal Panic?: Fumoffu but what we get instead is comedy anime series that not only does justice to the genre but also is not afraid to be over-the-top in its slapstick antics. You know you’re watching an extraordinary comedy series when every episode has the power to make you laugh out loud more than once. Full Metal Panic fans, this is one collection you need and on Blu-ray.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Dark Horse Named Manga Publisher of the Year in Diamond’s Gem Awards!

 

FEBRUARY 18, MILWAUKIE, OR—The Diamond Comics Distributors Gem Awards provide retailers with an opportunity to honor the publishers and vendors who have produced exciting and unique content to help them grow their businesses over the past year.

This year, Dark Horse takes home the title of Manga Publisher of the Year!

These awards are selected in a three-step process based on quality, creativity, and the products’ overall sales impact. Nominees were selected by a panel of Diamond industry professionals, based on all products shipped in 2010, and then voted on by comic-book specialty retailers across the US and abroad.

“2011 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dark Horse Comics,” said Dark Horse’s vice president of marketing, Micha Hershman. “For twenty-three of those twenty-five years, Dark Horse has published manga, including the two longest-running manga series in the English language: Oh My Goddess! and Blade of the Immortal. We are extremely proud of the quality of our books and their consistent performance in all markets.”

Dark Horse Comics thanks Diamond Comics Distributors, as well as each and every one of our retail partners, for their continued support.

Kaleido Star, Season 1 – DVD Review

 

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $39.98 US
Running Time: 650 minutes
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

If you dare to dream then dream big.

It’s a beautiful thing to have a dream but there is dreaming about doing what you want and there is chasing after the dream until you make it a reality. Sure, it’s not easy and yes there will be obstacles in your way but good things happen to those who are willing to go the distance for the dreams as we see in the case of Sora Naegino in Season 1 of Kaleido Star.

Spanning 26 episodes, Season 1 finds the bright-eyed and upbeat Japanese acrobat named Sora finally getting off the plane in California’s fictional city of Cape Mary. She has come looking for Kaleido Stage, one of the city’s biggest entertainment attractions that somewhat resembles Cirque du Soleil. With the aid of a helpful police officer – who Sora calls Mr. Policeman throughout the series – she finds the Kaleido Stage but ends up being late to the auditions.

As fate would have it, one of the people she met in the streets happens to be the man in charge of Kaleido Stage who goes by the name of Kalos and ends up giving her a chance anyway. It also helps that a cute guy named Ken (who happens to be the stage manages) is also watching your back. Unfortunately, not everyone likes the fact that Sora is given this chance as all the female performers – particularly the star of the show that Sora admired for a long time … Layla Hamilton.

When a performer is injured, however, Sora gets her chance to be in the show and ends up being noticed by everyone despite her amateur attempt. Sora is the type who sticks to her guns, though, and as a result some of the girls that were badmouthing her have become her friends such as the perky Mia and the unintentionally funny Anna. Then there’s Miss Sarah, the Dorm Supervisor, who is like a mother to all the performers living in Kaleido Stage’s dorm rooms. Still, Sora’s most trusted advisor happens to be the “spirit of the stage” named Fool who can only be seen by performers who are serious about performing.

With the support of her new friends, Sora takes on new challenges as Kaleido Stage introduces new shows with different acts that Sora enthusiastically wants to attempt. While we witness her many mistakes, we – much like Sora – learns something from each blunder. At one point, when Sora is given the job of passing out glow sticks to children in the audience, she learns that her stage is everywhere. Sora learn from other performers’ mistakes as well, such as the Diablo champion that is asked to be in the latest production of “Cinderella” only to be fired by Kalos for being too preoccupied with showing off her skills and not entertaining the audience.

Despite a few failures and setbacks, Sora’s efforts are noticed to the point that she gets the lead in the production of “The Little Mermaid.” It is here that she find out that being lead performer has its own advantages and many disadvantages and – when she takes a tumble and is too frightened to swing again – she learns that the show really must go on and everyone takes a tumble or two in this business.

Half the fun of watching this series, though, comes in watching Sora herself. She’s the kind of girl whose high-energy personality makes her fun to watch. Sure, she often pokes her nose where it doesn’t belong but her intentions are noble. Sadly, she’s also the type of girl who takes the blame for everything including mistakes that aren’t really her fault. We can make a drinking game out of the number of times that Sora takes the blame or the numerous times she gets cruelly chewed out by everyone. Nobody but her small circle of friends (that also include a baby seal named Jonathan and a little girl named Marion) believes in her … not even her own father.

Yet at the same time we are uplifted when Sora does triumph over the negative comments that are hurled at her often by either Kalos, Layla or the catty girls who are jealous of her. It’s rare to find an anime series that genuinely inspires without coming off as cheesy or preachy. Even the comedic elements feel genuine so it’s always a real hoot when Sora shoves Fool into a dresser drawer or tries to swat him away while others wonder if she’s gone insane.

The series also has a collection of characters that aren’t one-dimensional and actually add something to the story. We discover that Anna’s father, a failed stand-up comedian, has walked out on Anna when she was young and now resurfaces. Then there’s Miss Sarah whose friendship with Kalos might actually be a romantic one. Finally, there’s the handsome and talented Yuri, who sets in motion a plan to take Kaleido Stage from Kalos and pulls it off.

In the later half of the series, Sora and her friends find themselves starting their own troupe that is composed of performers that Sora has inspired. Things get even more interesting when Yuri makes an effort to destroy Sora’s troupe as Sora is now joined by Layla … the very woman that didn’t approve of her. In an interesting twist of events, Sora and Layla partner up to perform a trick to win back Kaleido Stage from Yuri. The final moments of Season 1 are truly unforgettable.

Director Junichi Sato, best known for his work on Sailor Moon and Princess Tutu, has a knack for bringing out the magic in his settings. California, in his eyes, is surreally colorful, tranquil and just plain magical where the police are cheerful and the ocean is sparkling blue. Even Kaleido Star’s shows are something else as his acrobatic scenes are handled beautifully.

Season 1 of Kaleido Star is an inspiring and delightfully satisfying series that is every bit as energetic as the main character. Junichi Sato has once again managed to capture our attention and make us feel for the characters as they chase their dreams and make them a reality. With so much that happens you’ll find yourself not wanting to look away. If Season 2 is anything like Season 1 then we are so there.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Ever since she was a child, Sora dreamed of performing for Kaleido Stage in California so – now that she’s older – she heads out to America to audition. Once she’s accepted, though, she finds that life as a performer is oftentimes grueling and filled with obstacles but with good friends and a rival that slowly begins to believe in her, Sora is determined to make her dream a reality.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
Beautifully animated with all the flashy and colorful pomp of a circus spectacular, the series not only feels like a dream but looks like one too. Junichi Sato re-imagines California as a magical place so even the setting is eye-catching.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The voice acting is excellent when it comes to the original Japanese voice cast with Ryou Hirohashi handling Sora wonderfully. Then again, I do love the way Cynthia Martinez makes Sora even livelier in a good way but Luci Christian just doesn’t quite nail that British accent. The score is fantastic and the second opening theme song (“Yakusoku no Basyoe”) and closing theme song (“Bokuwa Kokoni Iru” by SOPHIA) are great.

EXTRAS: B
The fourth disc contains all four textless opening and closing theme songs as well as a few FUNimation trailers. There’s also an audio commentary track for Episode 25 featuring Cynthia Martinez and Sandra Krasa (ADR Director and the voice of Layla) that is worth a listen mainly because we can see why Cynthia was cast as Sora … since she seems to be just as spirited and energetic as Sora.

OVERALL: A-
Like its main protagonist, Season 1 of Kaleido Star aims high and succeeds in not only entertaining but also reminding us that anything is possible if you are willing to chase your dreams. The series also makes us feel what Sora feels and that is a rare and beautiful thing for an anime series to pull off. We are definitely looking forward to Season 2.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Oh! Edo Rocket, Season One Part Two – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 325 minutes
Genre: Comedy
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

This is still the craziest neighborhood in the row.

Part One of Oh! Edo Rocket introduced us to the wildly amusing inhabitants of the Furai Row House in Edo and the boy who is determined to send a strange-yet-cute girl to the moon even though the very idea is simply insane. Just when you thought the series couldn’t get more crazy or interesting, Part Two comes along to make Season One of Oh! Edo Rocket a refreshingly unique kind of comedy series.

Picking up after the events of Part One, this second part finds Seikichi’s younger brother, Shunpei in a foul mood because his brother and Sora are becoming more comfortable being around each another when it was he who had a crush on the mysterious girl who wants to go to the moon. As for the rest of their neighbors in the Furai Row House, they’re starting to suffer the negative consequences of crossing Lord Mizune for their part in helping Seikichi complete the project.

Meanwhile, the Blue Sky Beast visit’s the row house looking for Seikichi only to find Sora living comfortable among the humans in her human disguised. She sees this as a chance to expose Sora for what she is so she get take her out of the equation and be the one take Seikichi’s rocket home. She sets up a plan with South Edo Special Agent, Nishinosuke Akai who takes the Men in Black with him to the row house to prove that Sora and the White Sky Beast are the same beings. In a shocking turn of events, the truth about Sora final comes out.

Interestingly enough, Seikichi and the people of the Furai Row House decide to rescue Sora from Akai and the Commissioner Torii’s dungeon. Sure, he and the others were freaked out when they say Sora’s true form and yes they believed Akai’s accusations of Sora killing human women but they come to realize that Sora isn’t a killer. In fact, even O-riku, O-ise, Tetsuju and even the brother-sister team of Tenten and Tenho join in to rescue Sora.

Oh but the rescue doesn’t exactly go as planned but things really get intense when Tenten and Tenho arrive with evidence linking Akai with the Blue Sky Beast. Suddenly, what turned into a rescue mission turns into a race for a buried ship that the second Blue Sky Beast (in Part One, a doppelganger was created by Blue and is out of control) discovers with the help of an unsuspecting Tetsuju. There’s also a final showdown as Genjiro takes on Akai and the others try to take the ship from Blue.

I won’t get into the details of what happens because you really do have to see it for yourself. The end of this part of the story is actually quite tragic but it also puts an end to the problems that were getting in the way of the production of the rocket. With Seikichi’s work shed destroyed, his friends and neighbors decide to help build a huge production site that also includes a theater. In a fun episode, O-ise decides to produce a play called “Princess Moonbeam” that is basically a love story about Sora and Seikichi with the pretty girly guy, Gin, as Sora. It’s actually a hilarious episode that forces Seikichi to confront Sora about the way he really feels about her.

As the rocket is finally being built, there are mishaps and even a rival in completing a rocket that is trying to rival Seikichi’s design. There’s a cute love story here as well that takes the spotlight away from Sora and Seikichi’s relationship and we even get a peek into Ginjiro and O-ise’s past as the Silver Fox and the Nightflower. Then there’s the ending that, well, I’m not too crazy about but at least it’s not a horrible ending either.

The dialogue is even more funny in Part Two with some lines that take jabs at other anime series like Negima! and – at one point – even affectionately mentions Brina Palencia’s role in Sgt. Frog and Romeo X Juliet. Sure, the original Japanese is amusing but you have to hand it to the English dub cast for their energetic performances and comedic timing.

Season One Part Two of Oh! Edo Rocket is one of those guaranteed good times that is rare in most anime series like it and yes it’s still as funny as the first part. While I’m not completely satisfied with the ending, the rest of Part Two offers more than enough madcap goodness to make Oh! Edo Rocket a different and amusing series you might want to check out if you enjoy quirky anime comedy that is truly laugh-out-loud funny.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
As Seikichi and Sora grow closer, the people of the Furai Row House are starting to feel the pressure of the Commissioner and Lord Mizune’s control over Edo. More importantly, the truth about the Sky Beasts are revealed to everyone as is Sora’s true identity. With the Blue Sky Beast business behind them, Seikichi and his friends concentrate on finally building the rocket that will send Sora back to the moon.

VIDEO QUALITY: B
The animation is still refreshingly original with some characters looking crazier than others but you just have to love the visual effects and funny sight gags the show throws at you.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The voice acting is still great with the English dub voice cast at the top of their game when it comes to the funny dialogue. I really do recommend watching this with the English voice actors. Meanwhile, the music does justice to the show’s style and the closing theme song is a lot better than the opening theme.

EXTRAS: D
There’s not much in terms of extras once again so don’t expect anything besides the usual collection of trailers and the option to watch the opening and closing animation sans text.

OVERALL: B+
Still very much a whimsical and genuinely funny anime series, Season One Part Two of Oh! Edo Rocket excels in making us laugh out loud and showing us a good time in the process. The cast of crazy characters is part of what makes this series work but you just have to love a series that isn’t afraid to shake things up with the drama while keeping its good sense of humor intact.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Super GALS!, The Complete Collection – DVD Review

 

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: $59.99 US
Running Time: 1300 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rating: 13+
Release Date: Available Now

This is a Must-Not-Miss comedy, that’s an ironclad rule for anime fans.

You know you have a really good comedy anime series on your hands when a room filled with boys that much rather watch Death Note or Black Lagoon are laughing at a girl from Shibuya who smacks all three Ganguro girls with a single slap. If you don’t know what a Ganguro girl is then you will find out because The Complete Collection of Super GALS! will show you what it’s like to be a Gal and you’ll actually come to like it more than you’d expect.

Covering the series’ two seasons on ten DVDs, The Complete Collection is quite a package but you won‘t mind it at all. You see, whether you call them Kogals or just plain Gals, the life of these Shibuya girls makes for some crazy yet entertaining fare thanks to it’s star attraction, a 16-year old Gal named Ran Kotobuki. Ran is a girl who has taken it upon herself to proclaim herself the “Number One Gal” in Shibuya that is famous for its amazing shopping and entertainment centers as well as the famous statue of Hachiko. Along with her friend, Miyu Yamazaki, they rule this ward and are well-known by everyone.

The first season quickly introduces us to the third Gal in the series named Aya Hoshino, who Ran saves from making a mistake from accepting subsidized dates to the possibility of jumping into something far worse. You see, Ran might be obsessed with shopping, good-looking boys (or, in Gal slang, GL boys) and having such a good time but she also has a good heart. Aya quickly becomes close to Ran and Miyu and they form a friendship that makes her just as popular in Shibuya.

Aside from giving their teacher – or Naka-Teach – much grief, the girls relish in annoying Ran’s older brother, Yamato. There’s a romance between Miyu (who refers to herself in the third-person) and Yamato that’s actually quite cute and as it is for the rest of the series the romances never get too cheesy or overly sweet. Well, there is a romance between Aya and one of two handsome boys that show up often in this series. They are Rei and Yuya and later on in the first season we are introduced to a young monkey-like boy named Tatsuki who – like Yuya – is in love with Ran.

Half the fun of watching this series is the numerous mishaps that befall Ran and her friends as well as watching Ran piss off her enemies like the trio of Ganguro girls I mentioned and later a debutante named Mami who comically is trying to ruin Ran as well as take over Shibuya. Even Ran’s little sister and her boyfriend are actually fun to watch as they make up a junior detective league complete with their own self-written theme song.

While the first season is filled with a number of fun episodes, there are also some rather weak ones as well. I could stomach a good personality-switch episodes but two of them is just too much. I might not also be crazy about the lessons in the end of some episodes either such as who cares about school when there’s fun to be had. Then again, there’s nothing written in stone that says an episodes has to have a moral. These girls aren’t role models but they are sure fun to watch.

Then there’s the second season, Season 2: The Heart of Shibuya, that seems to be less structured than the first season and is made up of random stuff that happens to Ran and her friends. It simply lacks the elements that made the first season so much fun such as the flashbacks (like the one that looks into Miyu’s gangster past) and the uncertainty of certain romances (such as the complicated twists and turns of Aya and Rei’s relationship). On top of that, no English dub was recorded for it … although the original Japanese voice cast is back and thankfully so. Still, there are plenty of really great moments in the second season such as Mami becoming far more interesting and a lot more likeable.

Say what you will but together the 52 episodes that makes up Super GALS! is still well worth your time and money. Sure, we’ve seen series like this before but this series has fun in its own way thanks to the wonderful cast of characters. The comedy mischief is of the crazy variety and it just works and Ran Kotobuki in particular really is an interesting and likeable Gal that deserves her title. It’s great to see such a strong yet absent-minded girl stick to her guns no matter what she’s doing.

As I mentioned, if you don’t know what a Ganguro girl is or exactly what is a mat-gal, the series explains it during the show but also in each DVD’s bonus features. It also explains a few of the sight gags scattered throughout the series.

Just like the girls in this series, Super GALS! just want to have fun and manage to be considerably entertaining in the process. The Complete Collection set has its weak moments (see Season 2) but it’s hard to complain when the characters are loads of fun to watch and the comedy is handled good enough to make even those who aren’t fans of the series laugh out loud. Don’t let the girly appeal fool you, comedy this good shouldn’t be ignored. Now that’s an iron clad rule.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Ran Kotobuki considers herself Shibuya’s “Number One Gal” and that may be the truth as she and her collection of friends watch over the place in true Gal fashion. Whether they’re trying to handle relationships with boys, defending their turf from other Gals or simply having a blast, Ran and her friends are all about having fun and keeping true to their rules.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
The episodes look great on DVD just as it did when the series was first released and that’s a very good thing, indeed. The animation is a wee bit on the dated side with backgrounds that range from nicely detailed to somewhat lazy but it does the trick nicely either way thanks to some great sight gags.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The first season contains an English dub cast that includes the always-wonderful Luci Christian as Ran as well as the voice talents of Greg Ayres, John Swasey and Chris Patton just to name a few while the second season sticks with just the same awesome Japanese voice cast. The original score is lively and the opening theme song, “H.I.M” is still a personal favorite.

EXTRAS: A
Each of the 10 discs comes complete with extras that include the helpful Liner Notes, trailers and the clean opening and closing tracks. On top of that, certain discs contain character bios, GAL slang explanations and six The Super GALS! Explain It All extras.

OVERALL: A-
A lively and genuinely hilarious anime series with a healthy dose of girl power, The Complete Collection of Super GALS! is simply too much fun not to miss. Sure, the first season is considerably better than the second one but with a great collection of characters and enough crazy comedic moments, it’s hard to ignore just how much you’ll enjoy this series or love Ran Kotobuki Shibuya-styled craziness.

Review copy provided by RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment