Loups=Garous, The Motion Picture – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $39.98 US
Running Time: 98 minutes
Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Sorry but there are no steak dinners in this future.

When it comes to anime, I’m a real sucker for sci-fi and mystery and even more so if both are combined to make an intriguing yarn set in a bleak future. So you can imagine how excited I was when Sentai Filmworks announced that they would be bringing Loups=Garous: The Motion Picture to North America and in Blu-ray no less. As it turned out, this anime feature film that is dark, entertaining and utterly fascinating.

Based on the original Japanese novel by author Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Loups=Garous is set in a distant future that is still reeling from a deadly virus that claimed the lives of millions. As a result, people live in in closed-off sectors and rely on monitors that track everyone’s movements as well as spy cameras that offer no privacy. On top of that, all food is synthetic (nobody has tasted meat in years) and children go to school only once a week.

In the opening scene of the movie, a pink-haired girl runs for her life as a young psycho in a mask is prepared to bash her skull in with a long metal pipe. What happens to the girl we don’t get to see but it is clear from a meeting between school counselors that there have been a sting of murders involving young school kids whose bodies have been discovered minus a few internal organs. These murders have school counselors on edge especially a counselor named Shizue Fuwa who is worried about her group of students.

Among these students is the introverted yet kind-hearted Makino Haduki who has just been put into a group with three other girls. Makino meets the tech savvy Tsuduki Mio and the distant and soft-spoken Kono Ayumi who Makino takes an immediate liking to as she gets to know them better. The fourth member named Yabe Yuko, however, has gone missing. In fact, she was the pink-haired girl who was being chased by the psycho wearing a mask in the opening scene.

Makino helps her new friends find out what happened to Yabe only to discover that the girl is still alive since a girl named Rei Myao saved her and her attacker ended up being killed by an unknown assailant. Keeping her in a safe place in hopes that the killer might want to silence her, the others keep her hidden while they bond and talk about their school project that involves the music of real life all-girl band SCANDAL. When Yabe decides she wants to go home, the others help her but this is where things go sour.

As fate would have it, however, things don’t end well for Yabe and the other girls begin to piece together the clues they gathered from Yabe and Rei who might have been the victims a human trafficking crime ring or is there another sinister threat involved? When somebody attempts to capture Makino, she is saved by Rei and the pair manage to find Kono while Tsuduki finds herself in grave danger.

Across town, Counselor Shizue finds herself looking further into the manner and with a cop named Kunugi; she comes to a most shocking conclusion that might involve Riichiro Ishida of the Metropolitan Police Detective Bureau. Meanwhile, Kono takes Makino across the bridge to a new sector only to find themselves facing Kunugi and Ishida’s patrol bots and the truth.

There’s a surprising twist near the finale that you really do not see coming and another twist that reveals the identity of the person who is directly involved with the string of murders. Loups=Garous’ story is handled superbly by director Junichi Fujisaku but I do have a few gripes mainly the fact that the pacing is a tad on the slow side and the lovely animation is spoiled by some so-so CG such as the scene where Makino and Kono are surrounded by patrol bots.

The characters are also likeable, enough so that the Pilot Movie that is included in the disc is a delight to watch seeing as it shows a lighter side that made the interaction between each girl a pleasant one.

Loups=Garous is a haunting, intriguing and somewhat gruesome tale you will not forget anytime soon and believe me when I say that it will not fail to surprise you from start to finish. Some might have a problem with the film’s slow pace but when it builds up the suspense it does it with a modern Hitchcockian flavor that is distinct enough to make this sci-fi animated film one I can’t recommend enough especially to those who appreciate a dark and gripping tale.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
In a future where food is synthetic and people are being monitored, young students are being murdered in the most gruesome manner. A young schoolgirl finds herself helping out the member of her group when one of them goes missing. Meanwhile, the school’s counselor tries to uncover the truth behind the killings and the person who might be responsible.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
This feature film was certainly made with HD in mind and you’ll see what I mean when you pop the disc into your Blu-ray player. There are some gorgeous animation mixed in with so-so CG but other than that you will definitely want to see this movie on Blu-ray.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original score is handled beautifully and – if you’re a fan of the all-girl J-rock band SCANDAL – you will be in for a real treat since their songs are featured throughout including the awesome closing track. The Japanese voice cast is perfect as is the English dub cast that includes Hilary Haag, Luci Christian and Melissa Davis among others.

EXTRAS: A+
There are plenty of juicy extras in Special Features section that includes the original trailer as well as Japanese promotional videos and even some Sentai Filmworks Blu-ray trailers. Then there’s a music video-like promo of SCANDAL’s song “KOSHI-TANTAN” with animation straight from the film. There’s even a fun interview with the cute girls that make up SCANDAL that touches on what they did for the film including motion capture and dub work.

Also included are two separate interviews with Director Junichi Fujisaku as well as Loups=Garous original author, Natsuhiko Kyogoku. On top of that, they also include interviews with four of the Japanese voice cast members. The best extras, however, come in the form of the Pilot Movie (that’s actually more lighthearted than the feature film version), Picture Drama (an alternate and funny take on one scene from the movie) and Movie Digest (a brief explanation of the futuristic setting).

OVERALL: A-
A dark, intelligent and engrossing story that paints a bleak and fascinating future, Loups=Garous is a wonderfully executed anime feature film that does justice to the science fiction and mystery genre. Pacing issues and awkward CG moments aside, this is still a movie you will not want to miss and more so if you’re a fan of the genre.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

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Monster Hunter Orage, Volume 2 – Manga Review

Review by: Faith McAdams

Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Author: Hiro Mashima
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $10.99 US
Rating: T (Ages 13+)
Release Date: Available Now

Everyone needs companions … or do they?

I have to admit that – as a hardcore gamer – the Monster Hunter games don’t pop into mind when I think of games that would make a great manga series. However, I do believe in the genius that is Hiro Mashima, the talented mangaka who gave us Rave Master and Fairy Tail. It is with his impressive track record that I checked out Volume 2 of Monster Hunter Orage and found myself having a blast without the use of a PlayStation 2 controller or my PSP.

You don’t have to be familiar with the world of the Monster Hunter games but if you are you will find that Mashima has infused his story with recognizable elements from the games. There are even a few visual cues from the Monster Hunter realm such as the crafted weapons and armor as well threat level for each monster. In this world, hunters take on contracts to hunt down the monsters that inhabit this world for money and the chance to score some parts to craft necessary equipment.

Monster Hunter Orage tells the story of three young hunters who have set out on an epic quest to hunt down the legendary Thunder Dragon known by all hunters as Myo Galuna. The group’s only male, Shiki Ryuho follows in his dead master’s footsteps as he travels with said master’s daughter, Ailee Jeskar. Along for the ride is a cute armorer named Sakya who becomes the third member of what is meant to be a four-member party.

Having traveled far together, we have learned very little about Shiki. All we really know is that he carries twin wind blades that a man who calls himself Shadow is looking to get his hands on them and Shiki is, well, he’s a peculiar guy. Think Fairy Tail’s Natsu or One Piece’s Monkey D. Luffy and you get the picture. We don’t even know much about Sakya but in Volume 2 we find out more about Ailee who does not want to recognize Shiki and Sakya as her “companions” (when “comrades” would have been a more fitting word) but we will get into that in a moment.

Their travels take them through a dense forest where they encounter a young man named Kirck running for his life with a massive beast they recognize as a Congalala. All three help the man from the stinky monster as they find out that Kirck is a traveling researcher collecting data on the wildlife especially monsters. His goal is to learn as much as he can about the various monsters so it would help future hunters that might encounter these beasts.

As a reward for helping the young man out, Kirck gives them a map that would better guide them to their destination. They also find out that they will have to cross the sea to their next destination so in the port town of Linka Rinka they find out that the only ship available can only cross if they complete a monster-hunting mission. The mission, they find out from a very peculiar man, requires them to hunt down a sea monster called a Plesioth and the requirement is that they wear tight-fitting armored bikinis. Another condition is that they share the mission with another hunter.

It is during this mission that we get a better understanding of why Ailee no longer wants to be a part of a monster hunting team. You see, long ago she was part of a small crew that she was so affectionately attached to during her early monster hunting days. Then, one of them mentioned that they could make even more money and acquire more parts if they sold their kill to a man known as Shadow. Ailee is opposed to the idea since poaching is an illegal activity and, in the end, winds up in front of a tribunal with the rest of her crew. The reason she is spared the ultimate sentence like her old comrades is the reason she find herself haunted by the thought of having companions.

However, seeing how hard her Shiki and Sakya risk their lives to save her while confronting the Plesioth; she comes to discover that having true comrades might actually be a good thing. There’s more revelations in this volume as we come to understand what Ailee’s father, Greylee Jeskar, means to Shiki and why the boy still has love for his now deceased master. When they meet the curious legendary armorer, Kibalion, we find out a big secret regarding Graylee as they others gather parts for a new kind of weapon that will be helpful in killing Myo Galuna.

A fun read that is not quite as fulfilling as Mashima‘s other two titles, Volume 2 of Monster Hunter Orage is still entertaining and even more so if you’re a fan of the Capcom games that inspired it. Much like Rave Master and Fairy Tail, there are some likeable characters that make the story work and this second volume fleshes key characters as they continue their journey. Give this one a chance if you like a manga series that isn’t afraid to show its readers a good time.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B-
Continuing on their journey to find the Thunder Dragon known as Myo Galuna, the three young hunters end up saving a young researcher and then paying for their passage across sea by hunting a most dangerous aquatic monster. Meanwhile, we learn a secret about Shiki’s master as well as learn why Ailee is against having companions.

ART: A-
Hiro Mashima’s artwork continues to have that appealing style that comes close to Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” and that’s not such a bad thing at all considering how unique his characters and monsters look. The equipment and monsters do look true to the Monster Hunter games.

OVERALL: B-
Much like the video game series it is based on, Volume 2 of Monster Hunter Orage is a good time but not deep enough to make compete with Mashima’s other titles. Still, the story is fun enough to keep you entertained and – since this is just the second volume – there’s a good chance this story could get a lot better. Consider this one worth a look.

Review copy provided by Kodansha Comics

SECTION23 FILMS ANNOUNCES MARCH SLATE

       

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES REMASTERED EDITION Available on March 6th

HOUSTON, December 13, 2011 – Home video distributor Section23 Films today announced its March slate of releases; including GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. Now digitally remastered and restored, it is one of the rare films that truly deserves to be called a masterpiece. It will be released on DVD by Section23 client, Sentai Filmworks.

Product details follow, in order of release

Coming March 2012

Title: GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES REMASTERED EDITION
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 89 min.
Street Date: 3/6/2012
Format: DVD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $19.98

SYNOPSIS: As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. This is the story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, two children born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and now cast adrift in a world that lacks not the care to shelter them, but simply the resources. Forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth, their doomed struggle is both a tribute to the human spirit and the stuff of nightmares. Beautiful, yet at times brutal and horrifying. Based on the retellings of survivor Nosaka Akiyuki and directed by Iaso Takahata (co-founder, with Hayao Miyazaki, of Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli,) GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES has been universally hailed as an artistic and emotional tour de force.

Title: KIMIKISS: PURE ROUGE COMPLETE COLLECTION
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 625 min.
Street Date: 3/6/2012
Format: DVD
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $69.98

SYNOPSIS: Kouichi always thought of Mao as his little sister, but when she returns after living in France for several years, she’s definitely not his little sister anymore! Which makes the fact that Koichi’s mom has invited Mao to stay at their house while she attends the same high school a path that will be fraught with peril. Especially since Kouichi’s been trying to build a relationship with Yuumi, and the revelation that the cute new house guest is a non-related girl may become a full blown disaster by the time his best friend Kazuki, her sister Nana, her best friend Narumi, Asuka, Eriko, Mitsuki, Megumi, Eiji and all the other kids at school get overly involved. Little girls grow up in the most unexpected ways as young love, teenage angst and a little higher education all collide in KIMIKISS PURE ROUGE – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION!

Title: MARDOCK SCRAMBLE DIRECTOR’S CUT
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 125 min.
Street Date: 3/13/2012
Format: DVD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $29.98

SYNOPSIS: To stop the unstoppable you need the irresistible. To kill the un-killable, you need someone for whom death no longer has a meaning. And to catch the perfect serial killer, you need the one person who knows his methods the best… his last victim. Murdered and now reborn, the female cyborg named Balot exists for only one reason-to track down the man who killed her and bring him to justice. But can even the ultimate hybrid between ghost and machine take down a monster who wipes his own memory? Or will a shadowy cabal of gruesome mutants who want her body parts for their own perverse purposes get to her first? This new, special edition director’s cut of MARDOCK SCRAMBLE deepens the mystery of this hit anime, providing even more insight into the dark psyche of the cyborg assassin and her dangerous assignment!

Title: MARDOCK SCRAMBLE DIRECTOR’S CUT BLU-RAY
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 125 min.
Street Date: 3/13/2012
Format: BD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $39.98

SYNOPSIS: To stop the unstoppable you need the irresistible. To kill the un-killable, you need someone for whom death no longer has a meaning. And to catch the perfect serial killer, you need the one person who knows his methods the best… his last victim. Murdered and now reborn, the female cyborg named Balot exists for only one reason-to track down the man who killed her and bring him to justice. But can even the ultimate hybrid between ghost and machine take down a monster who wipes his own memory? Or will a shadowy cabal of gruesome mutants who want her body parts for their own perverse purposes get to her first? This new, special edition director’s cut of MARDOCK SCRAMBLE deepens the mystery of this hit anime, providing even more insight into the dark psyche of the cyborg assassin and her dangerous assignment!

Title: EF ~ A TALE OF MELODIES COMPLETE COLLECTION
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 300 min.
Street Date: 3/20/2012
Format: DVD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $59.98

SYNOPSIS: Shuichi Kuze’s been spending time with Mizuki Hayama and as they’ve been getting to know each other, they’ve been growing closer. Sadly, Kuze discovers that he’s contracted a fatal illness and decides to break all romantic ties for the little time left to him. Before he can break things off, however, Mizuki tells him that she loves him. Will her declaration change Kuze’s mind? In another city, in the not so distant past, Yuu Himura meets a girl who seems to know him, but he doesn’t know her. Soon enough, however, he remembers Yuko Amamiya, a girl he met long ago, and begins to rediscover the depth of their feelings for each other. Will Yuko’s love reach across time to find her true love once and for all? Kuze and Mizuki, Yu and Yuko… Intertwining fate, tragic, bittersweet and beautiful – EF ~ A TALE OF MELODIES.

Title: EF ~ A TALE OF MELODIES COMPLETE COLLECTION BLU-RAY
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 300 min.
Street Date: 3/20/2012
Format: BD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $69.98

SYNOPSIS: Shuichi Kuze’s been spending time with Mizuki Hayama and as they’ve been getting to know each other, they’ve been growing closer. Sadly, Kuze discovers that he’s contracted a fatal illness and decides to break all romantic ties for the little time left to him. Before he can break things off, however, Mizuki tells him that she loves him. Will her declaration change Kuze’s mind? In another city, in the not so distant past, Yuu Himura meets a girl who seems to know him, but he doesn’t know her. Soon enough, however, he remembers Yuko Amamiya, a girl he met long ago, and begins to rediscover the depth of their feelings for each other. Will Yuko’s love reach across time to find her true love once and for all? Kuze and Mizuki, Yu and Yuko… Intertwining fate, tragic, bittersweet and beautiful – EF ~ A TALE OF MELODIES.

Title: DREAM EATER MERRY COMPLETE COLLECTION
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 325 min.
Street Date: 3/27/2012
Format: DVD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $59.98

SYNOPSIS: Sometimes daydreaming can get you into trouble, but what do you do when it’s OTHER people’s dreams that you have to watch out for? Yumeji Fujiwara’s has the unique ability to predict what kind of dreams other people will have. But lately, his own dreams have taken a bizarre turn in which he’s being pursued by armies of cats. Stranger yet, Yumeji learns that the leader of the dream cats needs his body to access the Real World. And finally, the strange becomes downright weird when a beautiful girl suddenly drops on top of him and announces that she’s a Dream Demon looking for a way back to the Dream World! The fabric that separates reality and fantasy is torn to shreds, and Yumeji has a lot of sleepless nights ahead of him as he has to deal with both the dream stalking and a dream walking in DREAM EATER MERRY!

Title: DREAM EATER MERRY COMPLETE COLLECTION BLU-RAY
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 325 min.
Street Date: 3/27/2012
Format: BD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $69.98

SYNOPSIS: Sometimes daydreaming can get you into trouble, but what do you do when it’s OTHER people’s dreams that you have to watch out for? Yumeji Fujiwara’s has the unique ability to predict what kind of dreams other people will have. But lately, his own dreams have taken a bizarre turn in which he’s being pursued by armies of cats. Stranger yet, Yumeji learns that the leader of the dream cats needs his body to access the Real World. And finally, the strange becomes downright weird when a beautiful girl suddenly drops on top of him and announces that she’s a Dream Demon looking for a way back to the Dream World! The fabric that separates reality and fantasy is torn to shreds, and Yumeji has a lot of sleepless nights ahead of him as he has to deal with both the dream stalking and a dream walking in DREAM EATER MERRY!

About Section23 Films:
Section23 Films provides home video marketing and distribution services for a variety of companies, including Sentai Filmworks, Switchblade Pictures, Maiden Japan and AEsir Holdings. With its special focus on genre entertainment, Section23 Films distributes some of the very best anime, martial arts, and horror titles on the market today.

Mardock Scramble, The First Compression – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $39.98 US
Running Time: 60 minutes
Genre: Sci-fi/Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

To catch a serial killer, his latest victim must be brought back to life to stop him.

As a devoted fan of Ghost in the Shell and any other anime feature or series remotely like it, Mardock Scramble is a series I was seriously excited about sinking my teeth into in manga form but – more importantly – as an anime feature that is supposedly going to compose of three separate releases. Starting with The First Compression, Mardock Scramble is a short yet epic beginning that makes for a compelling and totally surreal viewing experience.

A beautiful young girl named Rune Balot wishes she was dead as she takes a limo ride above the city in an unknown futuristic city. She is accompanied by a seemingly charming man named Shell Septinos who has picked up this fragile young flower from off the streets. You see, Balot is an adolescent prostitute who has runaway from home after a horrific event that was born out of an even more horrific home life. Little does young Balot know that she is sharing a limo with a most unusual psychopath.

What happens next is something of a shocker as Balot realizes that Shell plans to leave her to suffer a terrifying death and suddenly the girl who wanted to die wants so badly to live. Unfortunately, not even a mystery man who calls himself Doctor Easter comes in time to rescue her. However, this is not the end of Rune Balot’s life as Doctor Easter initiates a frowned-upon ordinance known as Scramble 09 that could bring a person back to life in a somewhat organic body that is a recreation of the original body. Since she didn’t want to die at the time of death, Doctor Easter took it as a sign that she was fine with the procedure.

Balot does come back to life with a few setbacks such as the fact that she’s not able to talk on her own but rather project her voice through a radio. Doctor Easter also introduces her to Oeufcoque … a special item that talks to her in the form of a cute mouse but also has the ability to transform into a weapon such as a gun. In return for living again, Balot is asked to testify in court in order to bring down anyone connected to Shell to put him away for good.

Of course, this is not going to be easy seeing as testifying in court will open up emotional wounds that will bring up her past and her questionable lifestyle before she was killed. As she explores the city with Oeufcoque by her side, Balot finds out that Shell discovered that she is still alive. He sends his partner, a man named Mr. Boil to finish her off once and for all and Mr. Boil sends assassins to kill the girl. Luckily for Balot, she has Oeufcoque who she uses as a weapon against her attackers.

The story takes an even darker turn when Balot does agree to testify and finds herself in a courtroom filled with men that judge her for the things she has done in her past and the tragedy involving her father and Balot’s brother. Little by little, we come to realize what type of girl Balot is and the seedy nature of her relationship with a family member.

Meanwhile, Mr. Boil turns to the Bander-Snatch Livestock Company to eliminate Balot who turns out to have come back from the grave with some skills in combat. This group is composed of twisted freaks, each one obsessed with specific body parts. One has eyeballs scattered throughout his body while another is obsessed with fingers to the point that he wears a necklace made out of them. Believe me when I say that each member of this group will not fail to creep you out.

The freaks do attack and something awakens in Rune Balot as the girl turns into a fierce killing machine. This leads to one of the more exciting and bloodiest fights in this feature film and an even more exciting cliffhanger ending.

While the story weaves a complex web that mixes science fiction technology with a courtroom scene that reveals a troubled past, we realize Mardock Scramble manages to make the characters’ seem lifelike. In fact, the more that is revealed about Balot the more fleshed out her character becomes to the point that she turns out to be a hauntingly tragic figure you can help but root for by the end of The First Compression. Her need for real affection – even if it comes from a piece of hardware like Oeufcoque – is touching and her unquenchable thirst for revenge in the end is understandable.

Sure, the first part of this planned trilogy clocks in about 60 minutes and, at times, it feels as though the story is being rushed, but it still manages to be a mature and satisfying feature. Personally, I would have loved to have seen a release that featured all three parts to this story but then again that just means I enjoyed the first part so much I just can’t wait for the rest of the story.

Mardock Scramble, The First Compression, delivers a dark, gripping and well-told story that should appeal to those who appreciate a complex and mature anime feature with a lot to offer. While never pushing the violence, nudity and freaks as its main selling point, Mardock Scramble reminds us that a good story can contain all of that while not sacrificing rich characterization or a strong central plot. We are so looking forward to a Second and Third Compression if they are just as good as this first step.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Rune Balot is a troubled girl whose life took a most unfortunate turn and even more so when she becomes the victim of a demented serial killer. However, her story doesn’t end with her death as Balot is brought back to life by way of a new technology. As Balot tries to come to terms with her new self, the killer and his partner in crime attempt to put an end to her.

VIDEO QUALITY: A-
Visually speaking, the series sports some interesting animation that is a nod to the manga but there’s more blood, nudity and grotesque-looking characters in this anime version. The flashy effects and grainy look are for effect but that might not sit well with others.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
There’s a stellar voice cast for both the original Japanese language track as well as the English dub that contains talents such as Hilary Haag and David Matranga. The music by Conisch is spectacular and so is the use of “Amazing Grace” at the end.

EXTRAS: D
Just about the only extras you will find on the DVD are a few Sentai Filmworks trailers and the DVD credits.

OVERALL: A-
A complex but genuinely rewarding anime feature, The First Compression is a darkly engaging first chapter that will make you a fan of Mardock Scramble. Definitely for the more mature minded anime fan, you will find more than enough to like about a series with a compelling lead character and an intriguing story you will not forget anytime soon. Consider this one on our Highly Recommended list.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, Season Two + OVAs – Blu-ray/DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $64.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD)
Running Time: 400 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

The Black Reaper is back and he is not very a happy man.

When the first season of Darker Than Black was introduced to us, it personally became one of those series that I still watch and appreciate just as much as, say, Ghost in the Shell. It’s complex yet thrilling and dark yet lets in enough light to make us smile at its light comedic touches. It’s a fan favorite for a reason so it is no surprise we find ourselves looking at a second season. Season Two of Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor is everything we can ask for in a second helping of a satisfying series.

Sounds like high praise for a series that pushes new characters into the spotlight? Not at all considering the fact that all the familiar elements are back and this time returning characters are in a very dark place. You see, we are introduced two young Russian twins Suo and Shion Pavlichenko whose lives are suddenly changed by two major events one of which is the introduction of Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate to the world. As a result, Shion becomes a Contractor while his sister, Suo, finds herself living out her life like a normal girl.

However, all of this is interrupted when Contractors and an armed unit pays an unfriendly visit to Suo and Shion’s home they share with her scientist father and his beautiful lab assistant. In the chaos, Shion goes missing and their father is killed. Suo even finds out that his father’s assistant – who is familiar to Darker Than Black fans – isn’t who she seems. Things start looking bad when Suo is saved by a tall, dark and dangerous man that is known as the Black Reaper or BK-201 or, well, Hei.

As it turns out, Hei has come to protect Suo who holds the key to unlocking a secret that involves a meteor’s core as well as a prophecy that will have groups fighting to stop it from happening. Meanwhile, everyone around Suo changes as well such as her friend Tanya who turns into a deadly Contractor who turns on Suo and the boy they both love. So she has no choice but to follow Hei despite the fact that she believes he is the one that murdered her father. Tagging along is Mao, who is no longer in the body of a black cat but rather a domesticated flying squirrel.

Unfortunately for Suo, after a vicious attack from her once friend Tanya, a tragic event awakens her Contractor abilities that has her summoning a Denel-Mecham NTW-like sniper rifle. Escaping with Hei and the boy doll called July (from the first season); we realize that a lot has changed about Hei. He’s no longer the friendly and peaceful young man we knew but rather an older and more battle hardened person who spends his free time drinking. He trains Suo to defend herself but does so in a shockingly abusive manner that it seems so unlike him.

Meanwhile, another familiar face comes into the picture as Misaki Kirihara is visited by Chief Goro Kobayashi who offers her a job in a secretive division known as Section 3 that is tasked with eliminating the remaining members of the Syndicate and that means BK-201. Eager to see him again, Kirihara joins a team that includes the skilled Contractors – Genma and Mina – and a talented operative named Yoko Sawasaki.

As Hei continues Suo’s training and moves closer to Japan, the girl develops a love-hate relationship with Hei. She puts up with his cruelty in hopes that he will lead her to her brother, Shion, and finds herself questioning many things about herself. For starters, if she’s really a Contractor now why does she still exhibit emotion? Why does she hate yet have feelings for Hei?

The answers to these questions are revealed as Suo gets closer to finding her brother by way of her long lost mother she finally confronts after obtaining the services of our favorite private eye, Kurosawa, and his otaku assistant Kiko. There are some interesting twists towards the end as Suo and Hei discover the truth. I will say no more since the series does a great job setting up the surprising twists.

As complex as the story is, Season Two doesn’t lose the elements we loved about the first season. There’s still plenty of action and comedic elements that still add to the excitement. Some memorable characters from the first season turn up but the new ones that are just as charming such as Norio … a young punk who instantly falls for Suo. Even the Contractor Mina, who recharges her power by kissing her companions, is a delightfully deep and appealing character.

For those worried that Hei and Yin have been swept under the rug to make room for the new characters should feel at ease since this second season collection comes with a four-part OVA. The events seen in the OVA lead up to the events in the second season as we find Hei and Yin trying to escape pursuing Contractors. Sadly, something is happening to Yin and Hei feels helpless since he has strong feelings for the doll who actually feels something for him as well.

Meanwhile, a group of Contractors want to eliminate Hei as payback for killing Amber in the first season as well as looking to sell Yin to the highest bidder. The result is an action-packed and tragic confrontation that leads up to Hei and Yin parting company. Believe me when I say that, although on the short side, the OVA do not lack substance and will move you. It’s just that good.

On a personal level, I do have one small gripe concerning the Blu-ray version. The ability to select subtitles for the English dub is not available. It’s no big deal but if you’re like me – who occasionally watches anime with a large group of anime fans – subtitles is much appreciated.

Season Two of Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor delivers a package that still has the power to keep fans on the edge of their seats while loving every second of it. Yes, there are new characters who take center stage but it continues the tradition of bringing us a complex story with enough action, intrigue and humor to make Darker Than Black one of those truly deserving of fan worship. This is one hell of a season for one hell of a great show so do not miss this one.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
A single event changes the lives of Russian twins Suo and Shion as they are thrown into the world of the Contractors. With her brother missing and her father dead, Suo finds protection in the form of BK-201 or, as he’s better known, the Black Reaper. Unfortunately, this Hei is different from the first season and – with the mysterious Section 3 after them – they are in for the fight of their lives. Meanwhile, the OVA episodes cover what happened to Hei and Yin before the events of the second season.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The animation for this series is what we can come to expect from Aniplex and that is a very good thing while FUNimation handles the series flawlessly on both Blu-ray and the accompanying DVD. Obviously, the Blu-ray version definitely the way to watch this series and you’ll see why if you have a high-def setup.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting in the series has always been strong as we can see from the first season and this second season (plus the OVAs) is no different. The Japanese cast is strong but the English dub cast is flawless thanks to the likes of Jason Liebrecht (voice of Hei), Alison Vicktorin (voice of Suo), Kent Williams (voice of Mao) and Johnny Yong Bosch (who voices a character in the OVA).

On top of that, the score is beautifully cinematic and the opening and closing theme songs are unforgettable whether you like Stereopony’s opening theme or the closing theme song “From Dusk Till Dawn” by abingdon boys school.

EXTRAS: B+
We are so loving the Blu-ray plus DVD combo packs FUNimation is putting out lately and having both options is simply awesome. The series comes complete with clean opening and closing tracks as well as some FUNimation trailers. The best stuff comes in the form of the Episode 4 commentary with ADR Director Zack Bolton as well as Alison Vicktorin and Kate Oxley (Kirihara).

There’s even an audio commentary track for the Part 1 episode of the four-part OVA episodes that include Jason Liebrecht and Brina Palencia (Yin) as they touch on the relationship between both characters that makes the ending all the more heartbreaking.

OVERALL: A+
Darker Than Black fans, you have reason to rejoice because Season Two of Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor is a compelling, beautifully executed and slightly darker chapter in this series. While a lot changes in this second season, the series never loses sight of what drew us to it in the first place and delivers a smart, action-filled and unforgettable chapter you need to see.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Aniplex of America to release Fate/Zero on Blu-ray this March

The legendary story of the Fourth Holy Grail War is being summoned to North America this March!

SANTA MONICA, CA (December 1, 2011) – Aniplex of America Inc. announced today that theFate/Zero – Blu-ray Disc Box I will be imported from Japan and released in North America on March 7th, 2012 through anime distributor Right Stuf.com. This highly anticipated release—featuring thirteen episodes with unaired, new footage, all subtitled in English over five Blu-ray discs—is the latest example of the company’s objective to expedite its line-up of wildly popular properties to North America. Fans in North America can take comfort in knowing this BD box set will be released simultaneously with Japan’s release date, and will mark the first time thatFate/Zero – Blu-ray Disc Box I is officially made available in North America. In addition, Aniplex of America will include an English translation booklet to accompany the featured Production Material booklet in the North American release.

“We’re very excited that we can bring this fan-favorite title to North America at the same time it is being released in Japan, says Hideki Goto, the president of Animation Business of Aniplex of America. “Like our previous releases of The Garden of Sinners and Rurouni Kenshin, this project comes from our continuous challenge to deliver the latest shows as soon as possible. Aniplex originally simulcasted Fate/Zero worldwide in association with niconico, now I’m glad to announce the BD release date to the North American audience will be the same street date as in Japan. I have no doubt this Fate/Zero -Blu-ray Disc Box I will satisfy not only the Fate/stay night fans who enthusiastically waited for this show, but also all those who want to watch the most recent and sophisticated anime show to date. It’s our hope that you’ll find this a worthy showpiece to add to your collection to enjoy and treasure repeatedly.

Fate/Zero – Blu-ray Disc Box I features:

<BD Features and Bonus Content>
*Video: 16:9 HD Widescreen / 1920×1080p / MPEG-4 AVC

* Audio: Japanese dialog / Linear PCM / Stereo 48KHz/24bit

* Subtitles: English and Japanese

* Includes 7 discs (5 Blu-ray discs + 2 Bonus CDs): Total length of more than 330 minutes!!

* Extras include New bonus animation (written by Kinoko Nasu), Trailers, TV spots and Textless Opening and Ending

* Bonus CD 1: Fate/Zero Original Soundtrack Vol. 1 with Music by Yuki Kajiura

* Bonus CD 2: Fate/Zero Original Drama CD written by Gen Urobuchi

<Special Packaging>
* Deluxe Production Material Booklet: Staff interviews, conceptual art, and other ―never-seen-before‖ production materials

* Exclusive for the North American release: a separate booklet of just English translations of the Japanese text from the Production Material Booklet!

*New cover art exclusively drawn by Co-creator/Artist TAKASHI TAKEUCHI, who envisioned the series’ original character concepts and designs

The Fate/Zero Blu-ray Disc Box 1 can be pre-ordered and purchased at:
RightStuf!: www.rightstuf.com/i/4534530051691

Product Number and UPC bar code

Street Date: March 7, 2012
SKU#: ANSX-9431-9437
UPC: 4534530051691
SRP: $498.98
Store Price: $369.98

For detailed information on Fate/Zero Blu-ray Disc Box 1 and to view the official trailer, visit: www.FateZerousa.com

About Fate/Zero
Fate/Zero is a visual novel written by Gen Urobuchi (―Madoka Magica, ―Saya no Uta) and is a prequel to TYPE-MOON’s hit visual novel ―Fate/stay night. The best-selling novel series has since been adapted into a television animated series earlier this year, of which each episode directly covers the original novels. Fate/Zero was the first animated series to be simulcasted worldwide in 8 different subtitle languages immediately following its airing in Japan.

Story of Fate/Zero
The story starts from zero, a beginning…

The Holy Grail War -in this ultimate battle field, in order to obtain the power of the “Holy Grail” that makes one’s any unattainable wish, seven “masters” summon “servants” and fight against each other until the last one survives….

After three inconclusive Holy Grail Wars, the fourth battle has finally started. Hoping to win the battle, each master is heading to the new battlefield called “Fuyuki”. However, there is a man who is confused and struggling being unable to find a meaning of the war –his name is Kirei Kotomine.

He wonders why he is appointed to this task, but without any answer, he encounters his archrival -his name is Kiritsugu Emiya, a master who craves for the miracle Holy Grail most of all. The untold truth of “the Fourth Holy Grail War” that had occurred 10 years before “Fate/stay night” —the truth about the battle fought by Shiro’s adopted father, Rin’s father and young Kirei Kotomine is about to reveal!!

STAFF
Original Story: Gen Urobuchi (Nitroplus) / TYPE-MOON
Director: Ei Aoki
Original Character Concept: Takashi Takeuchi
Character Design: Tomonori Sudo, Atsushi Ikariya
Color Setting: Emi Chiba
Art Director: Koji Eto
SFX Director: Yuichi Terao
3D Director: Kōjirō Shishido
Music: Yuki Kajiura
Animation Production: ufotable

CAST
Kiritsugu Eimiya: Rikiya Koyama
Saber: Ayako Kawasumi
Irisviel von Einzbern: Sayaka Ohara
Tokiomi Tohsaka: Sho Hayami
Archer: Tomokazu Seki
Kirei Kotomine: Joji Nakata
Assassin: Akina Abe

About Aniplex of America Inc.
Aniplex of America Inc. (Santa Monica, California) is a subsidiary of Aniplex Inc. (headquartered in Tokyo, Japan), a group of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. and leading provider of anime content and music production and distribution in Japan. Aniplex of America has launched fan-favorite DVD and Blu-Ray releases such as Gurren Lagann the Movies, Durarara!!, R.O.D series, The Garden of Sinnersand, Baccano! The company’s ever-growing line-up of shows includes our most recent titles, Blue Exorcist, Rurouki Kenshin OVA and Movie, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Official Websites:
http://www.AniplexUSA.com
http://www.FateZeroUSA.com
www.YouTube.com/AniplexUS

Japanese official websites
www.Aniplex.co.jp
www.Fate-Zero.jp

About Right Stuf Inc.
Currently celebrating its 23rd year in business, Right Stuf, Inc. was one of the first players in the U.S.Japanese Animation (“anime”) industry, as both an anime producer/distributor and a retailer. Right Stuf works to promote knowledge of its own products, as well as the anime and manga industry, through its online storefront at Right Stuf.com and a variety of media including podcasts and special publications. For more information, visit http://www.RightStuf.com.