Fruits Basket, The Complete Series (Collector‘s Edition) – DVD Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 580 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

We all want to be accepted … even those who turn into cute animals.

Fruits Basket is one of those classic manga series that is still beloved today and even more so thanks to anime version that – despite the fact that the manga was still running at the time – faithfully captured the charm of Natsuki Takaya work. So there’s really no surprise that Fruits Basket got a Collector’s Edition release of The Complete Series and believe me when I say that this is the definitive edition of a series that continues to be just as endearing no matter how many times you see it.

The Collector’s Edition cover’s the series 26-episodes that initially would have been considered the series’ first season but a second season hasn’t been done despite the fact that there’s more story to be told but what we find here is a touching, sweet and comical tale about a girl named Tohru Honda who – after having lost her mother in a tragic accident – comes to live in a tent on a large plot of land that belongs to a prominent Japanese family. Despite the tragedy and her living conditions, Tohru is the kind of girl who still comes to class with a smile on her face and a cheerful demeanor that makes her two friends love her so much.

As fate would have it, Tohru encounters a house near her tent where a curious man named Shigure Sohma has laid out figurines based on the animals from the Chinese Zodiac. To the girl’s surprise, she also finds out that the “prince” of her school – the handsome Yuki Sohma – also lives there. When a landslide destroys her tent, Yuki and Shigure invite her to stay in their home. However, that day who she meets another Sohma family member, Kyo, she discovers the Sohma family secret when she accidentally grabs a hold of Kyo. You see, when they are embraced by members of the opposite gender they transform into the corresponding animals from the Chinese Zodiac.

With Yuki turning into a rat, Shigure into a dog and Kyo transforming into a cat, Tohru’s gentle kindness and her insistence that she will keep their secret makes her even more endearing to the three Sohma boys. So much so that they begin to trust her and come to rely on her as well as the girl takes on cooking and cleaning duties. It her very presence that begins to change all three boys as well as the rest of the Sohma family that quickly comes to know about her.

Little by little, members of this cursed family comes to the house to meet Tohru such as the adorable Momiji and the Kyo-obsessed girl named Kagura who shows her affection for Kyo by beating the hell out of him. Then there’s Hatori Sohma, the quiet physician whose skills include wiping away memories. In fact, Yuki becomes worried that the head of the Sohma family would give the order to wipe Tohru’s memory of having seen them in their animal form. Instead, Hatori comes to see Tohru as something of a rarity. He sees her as a person they can trust, a person who can accept their curse.

Tohru’s presence in the house makes Yuki less withdrawn and Kyo less hate-filled and that counts for something to Shigure who sees her as a chance to help heal the wounds of the other Sohma Zodiac members such as the white-haired Haru and the hilariously flamboyant Ayame (who also happens to be Yuki’s older brother). Tohru even comes to help Kisa Sohma, a cute young girl that refused to talk after having been bullied for so long. Even the bratty Hiro Sohma comes to accept her … and that’s not an easy thing for this kid to do.

The series has no shortage of lighthearted comedic moments that make the characters even more likeable as they are tossed into each situation. There’s more to the series than just Tohru trying to hide each Sohma’s animal form from unsuspecting people. The story focuses on Tohru’s high school antics that include her friends (the gang member Ou and the psychic Hana) and small group of Prince Yuki fans who see Tohru’s presence around Yuki as bothersome. There’s a trip to the hot springs and a culture festival day but neither episode relies on tired clichés.

There are also meaningful and beautifully handled scenes such as the scene where we realize why Momiji’s mother doesn’t know that the boy is her son or the story Hatori tells of the woman he loved who found out his family secret when he transformed into his animal form. The story takes a more serious tone in the final two episodes but it doesn’t stop from being interesting or fun to watch.

As far as Collector’s Editions are concerned, Funimation brings out plenty of extras as well as a neat little series guide book that’s a nice collectable item for fans of the series. There’s also a new audio commentary track as well featuring the excellent English dub cast as well as extras that include the even more wonderful Japanese cast.

The Collector’s Edition of The Complete Series of Fruits Basket needs to be in your collection and even more so if you’ve never gotten the chance to see this beautiful and light-hearted series. It’s not common to find a series where every character that pops up is a charming and welcome addition and where the comedy still makes you laugh after multiple viewings. Without a doubt, Fruits Basket is the kind of anime classic that will not fail to appeal to anime fans of all ages and genders.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
After her mother’s death, Tohru Honda decided to live on her own in a tent that happens to be on the property of three members of the secretive Sohma family. Since happens to share the same classroom as Yuki Sohma, she comes to live with them only to discover the strange family secret that has each member of the Sohma clan transform into animals from the Chinese Zodiac whenever they are hugged by members of the opposite sex.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
A little over nine years later and the series still looks great and true to the manga so you’ll be glad that Funimation did a great job bringing it on DVD. The characters are still cute and the sight gags will still make you laugh out loud.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese voice cast was handpicked by the manga-ka and her choices were perfect with Yui Horie as Tohru being one of the highlights. Then again, you’ll love Laura Bailey in the same role as well as the other cast’s performances. The score is absolutely charming and the opening and closing theme songs are quite lovely.

EXTRAS: A+
The Collector’s Edition comes with more than enough extra to please even those who own past releases as this one includes a new commentary track for Episode 24 that reunites Eric Vale (Yuki), Laura Bailey (Tohru), Jerry Jewell (Kyo) and John Burgmeier (Shigure) after nine years. It also comes with a nifty case that includes a fifth disc and a 23-page series guide complete with character profiles, cast interviews and the story of the Zodiac Banquet and the Cat.

The fifth disc comes packed with extras like an Illustration Gallery, two separate Outtakes feature (the second one including rare audition voice clips) and textless opening and closing theme songs. Then there are three Fruits Basket Room features with Yui Horie interviewing three members of the cast. Speaking of interviews, we get one for Director Akitaroh Daichi and an interesting Behind the Scenes featurette. Finally, there are two Eyecatch Galleries that showcase all the art images you see before and after each commercial break as well as the “ka-ching wipes” (the cute scene changing images that flash quickly).

OVERALL: A+
Fruits Basket is an enchanting, meaningful and heart-warming series and it’s the perfect candidate for a Collector’s Edition release of The Complete Series set. Filled with charming and loveable characters as well as containing a story with a lot of heart, you won’t find a more beloved classic that needs to be in your growing anime library. This is the kind of anime that will still feel rewards for future generations to come.

Review copy provided by Funimation Entertainment

High School of the Dead, Complete Collection – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $69.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action/Horror
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

To survive a zombie apocalypse all you need is guns and big boobs.

Director George Romero was once quoted to have said that sometimes even we need a break from the usual and get lost in the unusual even if it’s a story about giant radioactive ants or flesh-eating zombies. Sometimes it’s fun just to dive into a story that doesn’t offer anything but a mindless diversion that sets out to titillate (pun intended and you‘ll see why soon) or just show you a really good time much like the Complete Collection of High School of the Dead.

Of course, if stories about the walking dead aren’t your thing you should certainly skip this but if it is you will find the High School of the Dead playfully tips its hat to Romero’s numerous “of the Dead” films that go from horrific to classic grindhouse-inspired bloody fun with a touch of the absurd just to keep things different. The very first seconds finds a trio of high school students racing for their lives on the roof of their school as scores of walking dead classmates rush after them.

The story back peddles to introduce us to Takashi Komuro, a young man nursing a broken heart after his hot childhood friend, Rei, dumps him for his best friend named Hisashi. He’s so depressed by this fact that he ignores the cute tsundere named Takagi who is so obviously into him even though she doesn’t hesitate to call him stupid every chance she gets. Suddenly, Takashi witnesses a strange man at the gate of the school who suddenly bites a P.E. teacher. In a matter of a few minutes, the teacher suddenly turns to fellow faculty members and tears into them with his teeth.

In an instant, the school is in a panic as Takashi and a handful of students begin to realize that students and faculty are being changed by what could only be some kind of fatal infection that has the dead rising like mindless drones that only think of devouring the flesh of the living. Takashi manages to escape up to the roof alongside Rei and Hisashi. Unfortunately, a moment’s carelessness turns into tragedy as Takashi and the voluptuous Rei are left alone and realizing that whatever is happening is occurring all over the city.

Takashi and Rei do manage to escape the roof only to encounter another set of survivors. One of them is Takagi and a chubby otaku named Hirano who has a crush on the busty girl with glasses as well as has a fondness for guns. Then there’s the beautiful captain of the kendo team named Saeko Busujima and the bubbly school’s physician with the biggest boobs of the bunch, Miss Shizuka Marikawa. Together they come up with a plan to take a school bus and try to reach their loved ones so they can get the hell out of the city.

They end up reaching the bus but they quickly encounter a new set of problems with one of them being a creepy teacher named Shindo who immediately wants to be considered the group’s leader for some pervy reasons. The second problem is Rei who seems to have such a hatred for Mr. Shindo that she gets off the bus with Takashi following after her. The pair is forced to separate from the others as they encounter the horrors of a city infested with zombies and crazed citizens who are resorting to crime to try to get out of the city. Takashi realizes that he has to be a cold bastard if they are to survive.

As Takagi, Saeko, Miss Marikawa and Hirano decide to get off the bus and leave the creep and his little group of followers; they are reunited with Takashi and Rei. It is this little group that comes to rely on each another for survival whether it’s Hirano’s knowledge and handling of guns or Saeko’s talented wooden swordplay. Meanwhile, the story shifts to what is happening to the rest of the world during this global pandemic as the United States faces a touch challenge without leadership and Japan sending their Defense Force to only specific key areas while the remaining authorities are trying to keep people from crossing a bridge leading out to another part of the city.

Along the way, the small band of survivors rescue a little girl named Arisu (an a yappy dog) as they find a means to cross the river without going through the checkpoint on the bridge thanks to a Hummer owned by Doctor Marikawa’s sexy sniper friend. Then some of the others, with the exception of Takashi and Saeko who are separated from the group for one night and show up at Takagi’s mansion where things get ugly fast. The events that go down hint at a second season as a decision is made that will have the group moving on again.

As I said, it’s mindless fun with an emphasis on zombie killing action and plenty of blood and gore. The story does start of strongly and there are a number of great moments scattered throughout but it comes at a price. For starters, the majority of the cast isn’t very likeable or adds anything to the story. Takashi, for instance, is as bland as they come and Doctor Marikawa is just dead weight. In fact, she’s just these to display her enormous boobs. Just about the only characters you will be rooting for are Hirano and Saeko who not only put their expertise to work but show more personality than the other survivors.

Secondly, there’s an excessive amount of fan service in this series to the point that is will actually start to become very embarrassing. Now, I usually don’t mind fan service at all but High School of the Dead’ use of it is overkill. If the camera is not zooming in for a panty shot, it closes in on all the girls’ enormous bosoms. At one point, Takashi even balances his rifle on Rei’s big chest to shoot a bullet that passes between Saeko’s jiggling melons and into the head of a busty zombie.

Then there’s the English dub that fills the dialogue with F-bombs but that could be remedied by sticking with the original Japanese cast that isn’t bad at all. In fact, Junichi Suwabe as Takashi makes the guy more likeable thanks to his great performance. Other than that, High School of the dead manages to keep things fun. Even the painfully obvious upcoming love triangle between Takashi, Rei and Saeko has its fun moments. On top of that, the animation looks excellent and even more so on Blu-ray.

The Complete Collection of High School of the Dead is an unapologetic guilty pleasure that sets out to be an ultra violent and fan service-laden series and nothing else so those expecting mindless fun will get exactly that. It’s also exactly what we would expect from a series inspired by George Romero zombie flicks. Unfortunately, High School of the Dead has its share of glaring flaws that hold it back from being a truly epic series but, for what its worth, those who like shameless and fun anime will find this to be a very worthwhile experience.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
In a matter of minutes a school is turned into a living nightmare for the students and faculty of a high school and when a band of survivors manage to escape said school they find that the entire world if going through a zombie pandemic. Now these survivors are trying to get out to their loved ones in a city that is overrun by the walking dead.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Without a doubt, High School of the Dead should be experienced on Blu-ray and you’ll see why in the first minute. The animation is simply stunning when it comes to the backgrounds, visual effects and vivid colors. There’s plenty of blood and gore as is expected from a series with zombies and slick action sequences. I don’t mind fan service in anime but it becomes a cheap and tiresome gimmick when it’s overused to the point of absurdity.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The Japanese voice actors make for a better viewing experience in my book and even more so since it doesn’t resort to excessive profanity like the English dub. Then there’s the original score that brings to mind the now zombie classic, 28 Days Later, at times. The opening and closing theme songs are actually awesome.

EXTRAS: C+
There are few extras aside from the fact that the series is available on Blu-ray but just in case you’ll find the clean opening and closing theme songs and a few Sentai Filmworks Blu-ray trailers.

OVERALL: B
High School of the Dead is the kind of anime series that’s an acquired taste and if that taste is towards the over-the-top, take-no-prisoners escapist action fare with plenty of zombie-killing mayhem then this series is for you. While there are a number of great moments scattered throughout the 12 episodes, they’re spoiled by a number of things that hold it back. So why did I like it so much? What does work makes for a guaranteed good time for those who like a good zombie anime series.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

SENTAI FILMWORKS ANNOUNCES LICENSE OF RO-KYU-BU FAST BREAK!

HOUSTON, July 22, 2011—Sentai Filmworks today launches a full court press on the anime marketplace with the announcement of their acquisition of the red hot new girls’ basketball series RO-KYU-BU FAST BREAK! Based on the hit series of seven light novel written by Sagu Aoyama and illustrated by Tinkle, as well as the twin manga series illustrated by Yūki Takami and Futaba Miwa, respectively, the 12 episode series is directed by Keizo Kusakawa (Sekirei, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s,) with character designs by Takayuki Noguchi (Queen’s Blade, Papillon Rose) and script supervision by Michiko Itō (Special A.)

Talk about games being called unexpectedly! Hasegawa Subaru joined the basketball club at Nanashiba High, only to have his hopes dashed when the teams’ play is suspended after the captain is suspected of having inappropriate feelings for the coach’s underage daughter. Blindsided and blocked by bad luck, Subaru expectedly finds an opening for his talent with the hoops when his aunt asks him to take on the task of coaching a young girls’ basketball club – a Ro-Kyu-Bu. But can a superstar wannabe find true satisfaction while playing sixth man to a team of five girls? Get your scorecards ready and find out in RO-KYU-BU FAST BREAK!

Digital distribution of RO-KYU-BU FAST BREAK! will begin through The Anime Network on Wednesday, July 27 with a video release of the 12 episodes on English subtitled DVD to follow next year.

About Sentai Filmworks:

Sentai Filmworks is one of the fastest-growing anime companies in North America, including hit series like Highschool of the Dead, Guin Saga, Needless, Canaan and Angel Beats. Sentai Filmworks programs can be found on home video distributed by Ingram Entertainment, Baker & Taylor, Section23Films, The Right Stuf and other good and fine distributors. Digital product offerings may be found at iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Zune Marketplace, Anime Network, Playstation Network and YouTube.

SENTAI FILMWORKS ANNOUNCES LICENSE OF CROISÉE IN A FOREIGN LABYRINTH ~THE ANIMATION

Houston, TX, July 21, 2011: Sentai Filmworks today announced their acquisition of the new hit series Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ~ The Animation. Based on the popular manga by Hinata Takeda, the 12 episode series is a unique East meets West drama set in 19th century France. Script supervision for the historical drama is being handled by the legendary Junichi Sato (Sailor Moon, Aria,) with character designs by Hideki Inoue (Grenadier) and direction from Kenji Yasuda (Noein.)

Revolutions always wreck mayhem and carnage, and the Industrial Revolution is no different as it engulfs Europe, leaving outmoded businesses and millions stripped of their traditional ways of life forever as its casualties. Cultural Revolutions are no less devastating, and as the 19th century comes to an end, young Yune has seen her native Japan shaken to its very core as the walls separating it from the Western world have finally crumbled, sending an entire nation on a quest for a new identity. But like the Phoenix, the new is inevitably born from the ashes of the old. And when Yune she decides to accompany her new acquaintance, Oscar, to Paris where his family’s metal declining shop is barely making ends meet in the face of its new competition, she may just be setting a new wave of changes into motion. Could Yune be the critical spark needed to rekindle the fires in both the hearths and minds of the Enseignes du Roy? As old worlds come to an end, new beginnings will be forged in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ~ The Animation.

Digital distribution of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ~ The Animation will begin through The Anime Network on Tuesday, July 26, with a home video release of the 12 episodes to follow next year.

About Sentai Filmworks:

Sentai Filmworks is one of the fastest-growing anime companies in North America, including hit series like Highschool of the Dead, Guin Saga, Needless, Canaan and Angel Beats. Sentai Filmworks programs can be found on home video distributed by Ingram Entertainment, Baker & Taylor, Section23Films, The Right Stuf and other good and fine distributors. Digital product offerings may be found at iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Zune Marketplace, Anime Network, Playstation Network and YouTube.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part Five – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: Funimation Entertainment
MSRP: $54.98 US (Blu-ray), $49.98 (DVD)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: August 2, 2011

The sins of the father …

The original Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those anime series that left a lasting impression on me just as it did the several thousands of fans all over the world and with very good reason. As powerfully emotional, exciting and beautiful as the first series is there’s so much to love about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as well and for those who have been following you can bet you’ve been waiting for Part Five of this series as the series reaches its exhilarating conclusion.

As we saw in Part Four, the truth behind the Homunculi and King Bradley has finally come to light as the mastermind behind them – the Homunculus they all call Father – has set in motion his plan on the day of an eclipse. Oh, but Edward and Alphonse Elric will not let this happen and neither will Colonel Roy Mustang who sees this opportunity to push the Fuhrer out in a coup d’état that brings Major General Olivier Armstrong and her Briggs forces to help stage the revolt.

The coup is in full swing as the Briggs solders come knocking on the western gates of Central using a tank against Central soldiers acting on the orders of the high ranking officers looking to use King Bradley’s supposed death in a train bombing as an excuse to take over. Little do they know that General Armstrong and her muscular brother are making their way deeper into Central when they find themselves going up against the Homunculus known as Sloth. Oh yeah, you better believe that this is a chance for Alex Armstrong to flex some muscle.

Meanwhile, Edward and his companions finds themselves fighting off the wave of the Immortal Legion only to be saved by Colonel Mustang and Riza Hawkeye. As fate would have it, though, May Chang leads Envy towards the others. Mustang gets Envy to confess to murdering Maes Hughes and thus begins the Colonels fight for revenge that quickly takes the Flame Alchemist down a dark path. In one of many powerful scenes in Part Five, Mustang is confronted by Ed, Hawkeye and even Scar when the Colonel is about to get payback. What happens next will surprise you.

Just as things are starting to look bad with the Armstrong siblings who are trying to take down the seemingly unstoppable Sloth, Izumi and Sig Curtis arrive to lend a hand and Alex Armstrong finds a kindred spirit in the muscular Sig. However, it is General Buccaneer who finds himself greatly outnumbered when – to make matters even more insane – King Bradley shows up. Buccaneer might be a hardened soldier but the Fuhrer is far too powerful. In another surprising moment, Ling/Greed arrives to fight the Fuhrer in an intense battle as Central soldiers threaten to breach their area.

Nearby Hohenheim arrives to face off against Father but it is clear that the Homunculus has grown more powerful over the years. Father manages to gather the candidates that include Ed, Al, Hohenheim and Izumi but since they need a fifth candidate the dastardly Selim (also known as Pride) shows up in time to accept Colonel Mustang as the last candidate. While we get a better sense of the relationship between Mustang and Hawkeye, there is an unforgettable moment where Mustang reveals just how important Riza Hawkeye is to him.

With all five candidates in place, the others try to reach their friends but Father carries out his plan in a moment where all things seem lost but the story doesn’t end there because a secret plan from one of the good guys gives them a chance to fight back in a last attempt to stop Father for good. Believe me when I say that you will be glued to your seat.

I tell you what happens after this last confrontation with Father but the ending does not take the open-ended path of the original. We get closure in this finale as all the secrets are revealed and things head for an even more positive path as far as all the characters are concerned. Oh, and for those who have been disappointed over the fact that Ed and Winry Rockbell didn’t really reveal their true feelings for each another in the original? Well, Brotherhood makes up for it big time.

The series as a whole did not disappoint in the very least as the episodes just kept getting exciting the more you follow the story and the episodes that make up Part Five make for an ending you will not forget anytime soon. A big part that made this particular series a real gem is the flow of the story kept viewers on their toes while not sacrificing characterization. Each character added to the story to the point that they mattered and thus cared for what happens to them so when we are faced with the demise of the character we feel it.

Part Five of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a fitting finale to a series that never failed to keep fans emotionally connected or deeply enthralled. With more than enough edge-of-your-seat moments and an ending that ties up all the loose ends, this final part will surprise and please Fullmetal Alchemist fans whether you’re a devoted fan of the original series or a new Brotherhood convert. You definitely do not want to miss out on this fifth and final part.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
The coup d’état is in full swing as Briggs soldiers make their way into Central as Colonel Mustang’s group is joined by Edward Elric and his companions in fighting the remaining Homunculi before the coming eclipse. As fierce battles are fought and lives are lost, Father’s plan is finally set in motion but that doesn’t stop the Elric brothers as well as their allies in facing off against the Homunculus in a finally confrontation.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The first series looked really good but Brotherhood is an absolute visual feast with memorable cinematic moments aplenty. The Blu-ray version simply shines more brightly and makes the animation even more stunning.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The performances have been nothing short of brilliant for both the original Japanese cast and the English dub voices so whatever your preference is you will not be disappointed. Still, I have to say that Maxey Whitehead more than lived up to the role of Alphonse Elric with her amazing performance. The music is another highlight as are the opening theme song “Rain” from SID and the closing theme song, “Ray of Light” by Shoko Nakagawa.

EXTRAS: A-
Having the Brotherhood series is a big treat in itself but for those who like extras this final part comes with a hilarious Outtakes feature (some outtakes on the R-rated side) as well as audio commentary track for the very last episode with ADR Director Mike McFarland, Vic Mignogna (the voice of Ed) and Maxey Whitehead (the voice of Al). There are also textless opening and closing tracks as well as Funimation trailers.

OVERALL: A+
Easily one of the more exhilarating, surprising and satisfying final chapters you’ll find in anime today, Part Five of Brotherhood will make you realize just how extraordinary the Fullmetal Alchemist series is and why we love it so much. I loved the ending in the original series but this one closes the story perfectly enough. Overall, Brotherhood did not disappoint in the very least.

Review copy provided by Funimation Entertainment

Arakawa Under the Bridge, Season 1 – DVD/Blu-ray Premium Edition Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: NIS America
MSRP: $69.99 US
Running Time: 316 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rating: Teen
Release Date: Available Now

Under this bridge you will find life, love and comical insanity.

I have to admit that I have a fondness for anything SHAFT seeing that many of this animation production studio’s titles are not only visually amazing but they’re also a blast to watch whether you fell in love with Negima!? or Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei just to name a few. You can bet that I was definitely on board for Arakawa Under the Bridge as NIS America brings us the DVD/Blu-ray combo Premium Edition of Season 1. Believe me when I say that you’ll find it well worth your time and money.

The 13-episode first season introduces us to Ko Ichinomiya, the young heir to the internationally renowned Ichinomiya Company. Ko puts himself on a hard-to-reach pedestal seeing as he goes to a top university that he himself pays for and lives in a luxurious penthouse. He stands to inherit not only the company but also the prestigious Ichinomiya name that believes that an Ichinomiya must never be in anyone’s debit. Yes, he’s a big shot at his age so why is it that he’s standing on the ledge of the Arakawa Bridge without his pants?

You see, a band of kids stole took his pants and tossed them upward where they are stuck up on a support beam. Suddenly, an attractive girl with long blonde hair tells him she could get his pants for him with her fishing rod but Ko refuses since the Ichinomiya credo makes it clear he shouldn’t owe anybody anything. However, when he falls into the river, this strange girl saves him so he ends up owing her big time as a result. Since she doesn’t want any material possessions, though, her one request is that Ko becomes her lover. While the thought itself is crazy to him, Ko accepts.

The problem is that the girl named Nino lives under the Arakawa Bridge and now he has to live there with her as well since lovers should be staying together. The young man comes to learn another fact about the girl … she believes she’s from Venus. She also tells him that now that he lives with her he should be named by the Village Chief who happens to be a Kappa – a folkloric Japanese river sprite. The Chief, as Ko sees him, is merely a man in a Kappa costume but he seriously believes he’s the last of his kind. It is the Chief who gives Ko his new name so Ko Ichinomiya is henceforth named Recruit or Rec.

Recruit comes to see that Nino and the Chief aren’t the only oddballs living under the bridge as he soon meets Sister, who turns out to be a scarred male military commando wearing a nun’s habit. Sister has a tendency to pull out guns and grenades for just about any reason including holding mass for Arakawa’s residents. Then there’s Whitey who – to Rec’s eyes – looks normal until he reveals that he can only walk on the white lines he paints on the ground.

Living with Nino, Recruit meets the others who include young twins who wear bullet-shaped helmets because they claim that government agents want to get their hands on them and their super powers. Then there’s Maria, an attractive woman who casually dishes out insults that cut to the bone as well a young girl named P-Ko who tends to a garden she booby traps herself. We also meet Hoshi, a talented musician who happens to wear a star-shaped mask and is so deeply in love with Nino that he resents that Nino considers Recruit her lover. In fact, Hoshi becomes heartbroken because of it and becomes the newcomer’s rival.

Life under the bridge slowly begins to change the young man as he becomes a part of this unusual community who does things that really make little sense to him. A big part of his change is due to Nino as both try to discover what it means to be a lover since neither one had experiences dating or falling in love. Recruit tries, though, and it’s not an easy feat since none of the people under the bridge ever wants to leave the riverbank.

Of course, the weirdness gets to Recruit sometimes and who can blame him? For instance, he meets the seemingly super cute Stella whose hugs are really chokeholds and – when angry – turns into a hulking brute in pigtails. He comes to know these people well enough that he notices crushes such as the one P-ko has for Chief or Sister’s unfortunate attraction to Maria, whose insults make his scar reopens in the most comical and bloody way. Oh yeah, there’s even a samurai who cuts hair … using his sharp katana.

Most interesting is Rec’s rivalry with Hoshi as the rock star tries hard to win Nino’s attention. However, things take an even more interesting turn when Rec’s father sends two company representatives to check on his son as he sends Secretary Takai who wants the young master to see him as a father. When he sees his son isn’t interested in returning to his old life. When his father threatens to build something over their home, it is Recruit who summons the courage to go against his father’s wishes for the others but more for Nino.

As far as the story is concerned, you won’t find a cohesive narrative in Arakawa Under the Bridge like many wacky comedies like it but the series makes up for it with its unique cast of characters. They’re not just weird for the sake of weird but they actually start evolving to the point that you will find yourself coming to love them. Hoshi, for example, actually has a back-story that helps us understand him a little more and that makes him a character rather than just a caricature with a star-shaped mask.

The series also has a wonderfully warped and occasionally very witty sense of humor that you will find yourself laughing out loud at least more than once throughout the 13-episodes. The jokes work thanks to the great dialogue and the outstanding performances by the voice-acting cast. Add some gorgeous animation that looks even better on the Blu-ray discs and you have a series that looks and sounds just right.

The Premium Edition of Season 1 of Arakawa Under the Bridge is quite possibly the most rewarding quirky anime comedies that doesn’t disappoint when it comes to doing strange right and still be straight up funny. Add a crazy cast of intriguing characters and an oddball story and you have yourself one of this year’s best anime comedies. This one is definitely right up there on our Highly Recommended list for sure so do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Ko Ichinomiya lived his life knowing he will inherit a great fortune and control his own corporation but he breaks one of his family’s rules when finds himself indebt to an attractive young girl named Nino who says she’s from Venus. Suddenly, Ko’s life changes as he lives under the Arakawa Bridge with an assortment of peculiar residents that include a Kappa, a cross-dresser in a nun’s habit and a cute little girl you do not want to get angry.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Arakawa Under the Bridge is simply a stunning-looking series with beautiful animation so it was a brilliant idea to also include it on Blu-ray and trust me when I say you will absolutely love it on HD. For those who only have DVD players you will not be disappointed either.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting in the series is topnotch with Hiroshi Kamiya (as Recruit) on the very top of an impressive cast list that bring their characters to life. Even the original score is lovely and both the opening and closing theme songs fit the series perfectly.

EXTRAS: A+
NIS America wins points for including both the DVD and Blu-ray version in one Premium Edition set that also includes a 32-page hardcover book with great artwork, character profiles, episode descriptions and interviews with the cast and crew. The book itself is a Must Have for those who know and love the manga.

The discs themselves contain extras such as the original Japanese TV spots as well as audio commentary tracks for just about every episode in the series with the original Japanese cast (subtitles even) so it’s worth a listen since the cast is a very lively bunch.

OVERALL: A+
A wildly entertaining and genuinely funny anime series, Season 1 of Arakawa Under the Bridge is – simply put – a strong contender for this year’s best anime releases. While it is not quite brilliant, there’s a method to the madness that will not fail to hook you in with its intentionally fragmented storytelling and colorful cast of eccentrics. On top of that the series is downright hilarious at times so if you like your comedies quirky and fun you really should not miss this one. Believe me when I say that you will hope Season 2 comes soon.

Review copy provided by NIS America

Excel Saga, The Complete Series (Anime Classics) – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 650 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

Meet the agents of ACROSS and their delicious dog Menchi.

It’s the last day of school and a perky (yet loud) school girl comes skipping out of class swinging her notebook around as she unknowingly smacks other students out of her way. She’s a cheerful gal with a song in her heart as she skips right into traffic and gets run over by a car uttering the word “ACROSS.” Little do we know that this girl is a secret organization’s best agent in The Complete Series of Excel Saga … a crazy anime comedy classic.

That scene above is our introduction to Excel, the loyal agent working for ACROSS – an organization whose mission is to conquer planet Earth. Of course, Excel is doing it for the love of her leader, the handsome yet hammy Lord Ilpalazzo who just isn’t that into her. Lord Ilpalazzo’s plan is to take over the planet little by little and he starts with Japan’s bustling F City, F Prefecture. Of course, it’s hard to do that when your top agent is a babbling, easily-distracted and starving girl who has a day job on top of her ACROSS duties.

The series doesn’t really follow a story structure that takes us from A to B and that’s exactly what Director Shinichi Watanabe wanted and – as we are told by the manga-ka who created Excel Saga, Koshi Rikdo – he gives his permission to turn the series into just about every genre anima has ever covered from romance to musical. In fact, the series features both men with Rikdo as himself and Watanabe as the afro-sporting Nabeshin (who is dressed like Lupin III). At one point, Excel assassinates Rikdo only to find that he (and just about every character that dies) returns thanks to the sexy cosmic entity known as The Great Will of the Microcosom.

Excel isn’t alone very long in her mission to do whatever Lord Ilpalazzo tells her to do because she is joined by the frail hemophiliac named Hyatt who has a tendency to die quickly and often only to come back to life just as quickly. Together the girls attempt their missions only to fail miserably and hysterically as well as try to keep a job … something that is hard to do for both women. At one point, Excel even gets her immigrant co-worker named Pedro comically killed. Oh, and they take in a cute stray dog that Excel keeps around as a backup food source.

While Excel and Hyatt are quirky characters, they are joined by the ladies’ three neighbors who all get a job working for the Department of City Security for a man named Kabapu. These three guys not only come to stand for justice with their boss but also find romance as they are joined by the hard-as-nails Misaki Matsuya and cute-yet-disposable female robots all named Ropponmatsu. Both girls even meet a pint-sized assassin named Cosette Sara.

I do find Lord Ilpalazzo’s “missions” rather puzzling as he sends the girls to try to take over F City by having them infiltrate a High school as teachers only to find the girls caught up in their new duties coaching the school’s baseball team. Then they’re sent to infiltrate City Hall only to botch up the plan and accidentally exposing political corruption.

As Excel and Hyatt go about their bumbling duties, the series follows the comical misfortunes of Excel’s dead co-worker Pedro who yearns to be back in his country with his sexy wife and his son Sandora. Of course, now that’s he’s dead and sleeping around with The Great Will of the Microcosoms, that will be hard to do. On top of that, Pedro finds out that his wife has been with another man named Gomez. Pedro vows to get revenge as Nabeshin takes him under his wing. Personally, Pedro’s story is one of the series’ biggest highlights.

Meanwhile, we get a glance at two escape stories with Menchi as the lead as he tries to get back to an old man that treated her decently only to encounter a complex and crazy twist. No genre is left untouched in this series and every cliché or theme we’ve seen in anime is parodied in comical and occasionally even playfully offensive ways.

Of course, the show’s sense of humor isn’t for everyone and, at times, it can be as draining as listening to Excel talk, which is why Lord Ilpalazzo has a trap door ready to swallow Excel when she’s being too hyper. Still, those who like lighting-fast puns and visual gags will find plenty to laugh about although a good portion of it makes more sense if you’re fluent in Japanese. It’s too bad that the Anime Classics release didn’t include the video notes feature that explains some of the puns and jokes that might go over the heads of these who aren’t too familiar with the wordplay or the references.

I do enjoy both language tracks for this series and being fluent in Japanese it was easy to enjoy the puns but then again the English dub cast does a great job changing the dialogue enough to make up for missing out on the puns. I should note that Jessica Calvello (who was rumored to have exited after injuring her vocal cords) was replaced by Larissa Wolcott in the role of Excel but Wolcott does a great job keeping up with Calvello’s energetic performance.

The Complete Series of Excel Saga is definitely an anime classic worthy of being packaged as one and yes its sense of humor might not work for everyone but those who enjoy a lot of crazy in their anime comedies will find enough to like here. Occasionally, the episodes can be draining but that’s just how energetic the madness gets in this series so fans of this style will definitely know what to expect. If crazy and hilarious sound good together, Excel Saga is definitely for you.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
ACROSS wants to rule the world one city at a time starting with Japan’s F City and the organization’s two mismatched pair will do just about anything for their leader, Lord Ilpalazzo. Excel and Hyatt tackle a number of oddball missions that involve their next door neighbors, a cute dog that seen as a food source, an ever-suffering immigrant worker and The Great Will of the Microcosom.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
The visual gags fly fast in this series and you just have to love the zany parodies of familiar anime series. On top of that, there’s fan service but it’s mainly there to make light of it. It’s also a bloody series and much of it comes from Hyatt herself. Still, the series definitely looks good on DVD and this collection proves it.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese cast is downright stellar and makes the dialogue and jokes work but, for my money, the English dub cast will not fail to make you laugh with their delivery. As annoying as Excel is, though, both Jessica Calvello and Larissa Wolcott (who replaced Calvello after Episode 13) are outstanding. The music is as quirky as the episodes and the opening (sung by the Excel Girls) and closing (sung in-character by the voice of Menchi) theme song are actually good.

EXTRAS: A
The fourth disc comes packed with extras that include original Japanese trailers plus TV spots as well as a spot for the CD Single and soundtrack (with the voices of the Excel Girls Yumiko Kobayashi and Mikako Takahashi in costume). There’s even a Video Piracy Warning that appeared in Japan (Excel scratching her butt) plus a Daitenzin Commercial. Of course, you’ll also find the textless songs and the opening credits first cut and timed sequence version.

Besides those features there are text interviews with Koshi Rikdo and Shinichi Watanabe that are really worth reading, especially if you love the manga. Interesting enough, there are six extras devoted to the magical series that Sandora created in the show called Puni Puni Poemy. You can find a preview for the OVA as well as character designs and various interviews with the staff, director and Yumiko Kobayashi who voices Poemy.

OVERALL: B+
An over-the-top, fast-paced comedy series that is just overwhelmingly zany, The Complete Series of Excel Saga might not be for everyone but if outrageous comedies are your thing then you really need to check this series out. This really is crazy experimental comedy at its most insane.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment