And Yet The Town Moves, Complete Collection – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Comedy
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now


Welcome to the loneliest Maid Café in Japan.

As the saying goes, you should not judge a book by its cover and that also applies to places as well seeing as they too have the ability to surprise you. Let’s take the Seaside Maid Café somewhere in a Tokyo prefecture, for instance. It’s not fancy nor does it have a collection of lovely “maids” ready to serve you Earl Grey tea in the proper maid fashion but you will find a charming and very amusing place in a town you will find equally enchanting in the Complete Collection of And Yet the Town Moves.

As I mentioned, the Seaside Maid Café isn’t luxurious nor does it contain anything a real maid café would have but it does have an elderly woman in a maid’s outfit (who they all call Granny) and a pigeon-toed girl with puffy cheeks who livens up the place. Her name is Hotori Arashiyama who attends Oya High School but isn’t much of a student. In fact, through her awful math score, constant tardiness and other academic blunders she is unintentionally giving her poor math teacher, Moriaki-sensei, a stomach ulcer.

However, the maid café does see some business, particularly from Hotori’s classmate, Sanada Hiroyuki who frequents the place just to be near Hotori. Of course, Sanada can’t quite bring himself to confess his feelings for the homely girl but he’s the kind of guy who is willing to wait for the right time even if it takes forever. Meanwhile, Hotori invites her two classmates – the sexy tsundere named Toshiko Tatsuno and the table tennis prodigy named Haribara.

It is Toshiko who freaks out when she sees the state of the maid café. To her this is more than just a disappoint but rather an insult to all maid cafés. Granny offers her a place in the café since she seems to know the business better than she does or Hotori put together and she’s reluctant to take the job until she hears that Sanada practically haunts the place. You see, while Sanada is in love with Hotori it is Toshiko who is in love with Sanada. Hotori, on the other hand, is in love with somebody that certainly wouldn’t qualify as a good match … or an appropriate one. With nobody being able to confess their love for each another, the Seaside Maid Café has officially become a lot more interesting.

While Toshiko is trying to muster up the courage to confess her love to Sanada, she also finds herself trying to keep Hotori from ruining her job as a maid in the café. In Japan, students just can’t get jobs without the consent of not only their parents but also the school and -thanks to Hotori’s big mouth – Moriaki-sensei finds out about them working at the café and puts their skills to the test. Could they win him over with their Maid Jutsu? As a result, Moriaki-sensei becomes something of a regular but mainly because he is baffled by Hotori’s surprisingly rational logic.

Then again, Hotori is the kind of girl who often finds herself in trouble, whether it’s accidentally ramming a motorized scooter into Officer Junsaku’s family jewels or pissing the poor police officer again by posting arrows all over town for people to find the maid café. Meanwhile, her math tests are so horrible that Moriaki-sensei considers her his enemy much in the same way he once declared his own grade school teacher as his enemy.

At one point, Hotori meets who he thinks is a cute blonde boy but finds out – to her surprise – that the blonde is really a girl named Futuba Kon … a rather tomboyish girl who lives on her own and just so happens to be a talented musician. A friendship develops between Hotori, Futuba and Toshiko and the girls (along with Haribara) perform a rock tune during a school festival.

While the series keeps its attention fixed on Hotori, the series also allows us to get to know the others characters so we find out a little more about the reserved Futuba as well as Sanada. However, one of the best characters in the series also happens to be the town itself, particularly its residents that make it fun. For instance, we meet the pretty proprietor of an antique shop who makes a killing from selling and re-selling a simple pot from a married couple having a spat. There’s even an old man who nobody but animals could see and this is for a very interesting reason.

We even get a peek into the lives of Hotori’s family, particularly her little brother Takeru who – to his surprise – finds the school’s mean girl wanting to spend a day hanging out with him. He doesn’t really agree but she hangs out with him anyway as the boy attempts to not only avoid his friends but also keep himself from liking the girl who so obviously likes him. There’s even a story connected to Moriaki-sensei and a student who fell in love with him.

The comedy in the series is genuinely comical and, at times, can get crazy but in the best possible way. For instance, when perfectly round holes are inexplicably found in the town, it is Hotori who tells Futuba that she fired an alien ray gun she found as well as come face-to-face with two battling aliens. It is through Hotori, Futuba and Toshiko that we also discover the wonders of vending machine food, experience a serious game of table tennis and – in Sanada’s case – make a dream come true by spending the day with the girl he loves. There are also plenty of sight gags scattered throughout so you’ll be thankful for the on-screen text that explains the wordplay or visuals gags.

It is these little things that make And Yet the Town Moves such an endearing 12-episode series and it is Hotori that will not fail to put a smile on your face or make you laugh aloud. She may not be the prettiest or the smartest but her ability to brighten a place up or cause trouble makes her fun to watch. How can you not like a girl who is so totally oblivious and clumsy that she creates chaos around her?

Simply put, And Yet the Town Moves delivers an over-the-top funny series that never overstays its welcome to the point that you will wish it were longer. It’s hard not to love a series with endearing characters, lovely animation and a sense of humor that is just as charming as the characters. On top of that, the stories are just too much fun. If you liked Working! you will find yourself falling in love with And Yet the Town Moves, believe me.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
In a quiet yet fascinating little town, a rather lackluster little maid café can be found but an oblivious yet quirky high school girl named Hotori gives it life as does her friend, Toshiko, who becomes a maid to catch the eye of the boy secretly in love with Hotori. How will they ever deal with space aliens, a near death experience, Officer Junsaku and a tough-as-nails rocker classmate

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation in the series is actually quite stunning and delightfully colorful to the point that you wish it were released on Blu-ray. Whether it’s the charming character design or the gorgeous backgrounds, this series is definitely easy on the eyes. There are also plenty of sneeze-and-you-miss-them sight gags.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
There’s no English dub to be found but you will certainly not be disappointed with the voice acting in the series whether it’s Chiaki Omigawa delightful performance as Hotori or Aoi Yuki or Miyu Irino just to name a few excellent voice actors. The best performance comes from Rieka Yazawa who has a rocking voice as we can see from one episode. As for the music, the original score is great and the opening theme song from Maaya Sakamoto is brilliant. My personal favorite, however, is the closing theme song “Maids Sanjou!” by the Maids (AKA the main female cast).

EXTRAS: D
All you will find are a few Sentai Filmworks trailers and the clean opening and closing theme songs so not much in terms of extras here.

OVERALL: A+
The Complete Collection of And Yet the Town Moves is a genuine slice of comedy bliss that will make you wish it lasted a lot longer than just 12-episodes. In fact, by the end you’ll be craving a large second helping of what these maids serve up so if you have been waiting for an anime comedy series that will not fail to make you laugh out loud then this is one collection you need to buy right away.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

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Fairy Tail, Part 4 – Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $54.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

There’s never a dull moment in this guild.

Ah, you can always count on Fairy Tail to do to the world of wizards what One Piece does for the pirate’s life so you can almost always come to expect that highly energetic and take-no-prisoners fun that makes this series a guaranteed good time. So it’s certainly no surprise that Part 4 of Fairy Tail will give us more of its already addictive brand of edge-of-your-seat fun and that’s exactly what it delivers as the Tower of Heaven story arc comes to a smashing conclusion.

In the final episodes of Part 3, we make a sad discovery about Erza Scarlet’s past as we find out that she was but one of many child slaves building the Tower of Heaven for their captors. Having thought that this unfortunate part of her life was put behind her now that she’s a member of Fairy Tail, a group captures her only for Erza to realize that her captors happened to have been her friends among the child slaves. They have brought her to the Tower of Heaven to help their leader, Jellal, unleash the power of the R-System within the tower for a sinister purpose.

What Erza’s captors weren’t expecting, however, is that Erza has Natsu, Gray, Lucy, Juvia (ex-Phantom wizard) and Happy carry out a rescue mission. It’s a success and, to top things off, Erza’s four captors turn to her side in hopes that the armor-clad wizard could help them stop Jellal from carrying out his plan. Sure, Erza and her friends are powerful but Jellal has companions of his own that come in the form of three powerful warriors that form the deadly Trinity Raven group. Jellal decides to pit Erza’s team against his trio in a deadly game before the Magic Council – having overheard Jellal’s true intentions – unleashes a destructive Etherion blast that will destroy the tower and anything near it.

And so the game begins as Erza and her companions take on the Trinity Raven trio in battle and believe me the members of Trinity Raven are so bizarre that they make the battles a blast to watch. For instance, Natsu and Erza’s friend, Simon, take on Fukuro who happens to have the torso of a bodybuilder and the head of an owl. Their battle is so insane you really do have to see it for yourself. Meanwhile, Lucy and Juvia go up against Vidaldus who looks like he belongs in a hair metal band. Vidaldus has some unusual abilities, one of which turns Juvia into a sexy metal groupie! Finally, there’s Ikaruga, a seemingly normal samurai babe who crosses blades with Erza.

While the crazy battles against Trinity Raven make for some interesting twists, it is the final confrontation with Jellal that makes this story arc all the more intense. Despite her strong feelings for a person she had seen as a friend, Erza realizes – after Jellal reveals his true intentions – that she has no choice but to take him out. This isn’t going to be an easy fight since Jellal is a powerful wizard but when Natsu and Simon arrive it evens up the odds a bit. Unfortunately, it is Jellal who truly has the upper hand in this battle and as the Magic Council fires the Etherion blast things go from bad to worst.

I won’t go into details about what happens next but I will say that Jellal shares a most interesting bond with a member of the Magic Council that we have seen since Part 1. Just who really is Siegrain and what is his connection with Jellal? It’s all revealed here as Erza does what we would expect from this noble wizard. Throughout the battle we also see more about younger Erza when she first came to Fairy Tail and her interesting relationship with Gray. We come to understand Erza Scarlet and where she comes from and the sacrifices she is willing to make for the Fairy Tail guild and her friends.

With the unpleasantness of the Tower of Heaven behind them, Erza and the others return to Magnolia where they find that the guild’s headquarters has not only been repaired (having been nearly demolished in the battle against the Phantom guild) but completely renovated. It’s ready just in time for the annual Harvest Festival where Fairy Tail guild members go on parade. On top of that, Master Makarov announced that there are two new Fairy Tail members – Juvia (who proved herself and befriended Lucy) and another ex-member of Phantom, Black Steel Gajeel.

While Juvia is welcomed with open arms, Gajeel isn’t, especially by Levy McGarden and her two companions who still remember the horrifying torture that Gajeel made them endure. However, another Fairy Tail member, Laxus, gets his revenge on Gajeel who takes the beating without fighting back. Laxus, who also happens to be Master Makarov’s grandson, is disgusted with his grandfather for allowing Gajeel to join them.

As it turns out, though, Laxus has had enough with his grandfather’s rule and the direction he is taking the guild. He stages a coup d’état of the most unusual kind … a dangerous game that will put all Fairy Tail wizards in harms way as well as the entire town of Magnolia. Along with his personal bodyguards, a trio known as the Thunder Legion, they start the game while interrupting a beauty pageant that had Fairy Tail’s hottest girls competing.

Using the powers of the Thunder Legion member, Fried, who sets up a barrier as well as Evergreen who turns all the girls on the beauty pageant stage to stone, the game begins and it is a dirty game indeed. Laxus has the Fairy Tail wizards going up against each another in order to save the girls who have been turned to stone. It gets bad enough that even the cute Mirajane is forced to unleash a side of her that is quite ugly in order to save her brother. Oh, and Natsu and Gajeel join forces to try and stop Laxus.

If you thought the Tower of Heaven story arc was intense this one is equally exciting and action-packed as well. Laxus not only makes an interesting foe but so do his three bodyguards that go up against Fairy Tail’s best. In the middle of all this is another mystery that comes in the form of Fairy Tail member, Mystogan, whose identity is something of a shocker. Here’s hoping we find out more about him in Part 5.

There’s certainly a lot to like about the series and these two story arcs shake things up enough to make us realize that the series loves to keep things lively and filled with the right amount of craziness and action to make it a completely fun experience. Also, the characters aren’t just cardboard cutouts either so you are bound to have a favorite or three among the bunch.

Part 4 of Fairy Tail contains the perfect close to a great story arc and the beginning and conclusion of another one that is equally exciting. There’s certainly a lot to absorb in these collection of episodes and that is a really good thing as the series just keeps getting better and better. As I said before, Fairy Tail is a fan favorite for a reason and that reason will be very clear if you give it a chance.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Now that Erza managed to convince her old friends to join her, the next biggest threat in the Tower of Heaven is Jellal who reveals his true plan for the tower. In a final battle to save her friends, Erza makes a very difficult decision. After that, a return to the Fairy Tail guild has Natsu and the others arriving in time for Magnolia’s annual Harvest Festival. Unfortunately, the festivities are interrupted by Laxus – Master Makarov’s grandson who stages a coup in the form of a deadly game involving all the Fairy Tail wizards.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Fairy Tail is one of those anime series that is not only visually faithful to the source material but it also looks even better in action. You better believe this series is best seen on Blu-ray and even if you don’t the DVDs look great.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
The voice acting in Part 4, whether it’s the stellar original Japanese cast or even more brilliant English dub cast, is one of the highlights of these episodes. Colleen Clinkenbeard outdoes herself in these episodes and Rob McCollum is simply magnificent. The new opening and closing theme songs are not bad at all with the closing theme song, “Kimi Ga Iru Kara” by Mikuni Shimokawa being a good way to close an episode.

EXTRAS: B+
You’ll find a few FUNimation trailers as well as the clean opening and closing theme songs but the extras that make these Fairy Tail releases fun are the audio commentary tracks. You’ll find commentary for Episode 39 with Tyler Walker (ADR) and Rob McCollum (voice of Jellal/Seigrain/Mystogan) that’s worth a listen. Then there’s the commentary for Episode 45 with Walker plus John Burgmeier (head writer and voice of Fried) and Monica Rial (writer and voice of Mirajane) as they talk about reading the manga as well the writing process.

OVERALL: B+
Part 4 of Fairy Tail not only wraps up a somewhat serious and very exciting story arc but it also quickly jumps into another one that is equally engaging to make this yet another thoroughly entertaining collection of episodes. Fairy Tail is definitely one of those series that will make a fan out of you immediately and the proof is in this collection.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Gasaraki, Complete Series Collection – DVD Review

Review by: Felicia Day

Publisher: RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: $49.99 US
Running Time: 625 minutes
Genre: Action/Drama
Rating: 13+
Release Date: Available Now

I’d hate to be a part of this kind of powerful family.

Having been a fan of Ryousuke Takahashi’s work on Armored Trooper Votoms, I knew exactly what to expect from the Complete Series Collection release of Gasaraki but I still find myself surprised to find the story still manages to ring true especially now with the situation in the Middle East continuing to be unstable. Despite its heavy political wheeling and dealings, there’s a lot to this 25-episode classic series that is complex yet fascinating enough to give loyal fans of mecha anime an epic story worth watching.

Set in the somewhat distant future, the fictional country of Belgistan in the Middle East has become a critical hotspot for violence against the United States as the United Nations sees no other course of action but to enter into a conflict that turns this into a major war. In the middle of this conflict are two very powerful corporations pushing their latest military hardware that comes in the form of giant mobile armor units called Tactical Armor (or simply TA).

One of these organizations is called the Gowa Group who, in the first episode, is testing one of their TA units with a pilot who happens to be the youngest member of the Gowa family named Yushiro. As it turns out, Yushiro has a talent for pushing the mecha to its limits with the ability to unleash a Mental Burst and is also able to perform the ancient Dance of Gasara – a Noh-like performance art able to open a dimensional gateway. It is during one such performance that Yushiro sees a vision of a beautiful young woman who warns of a coming terror.

As fate would have it, Yushiro’s family has the young man join a special JSDF unit to Belgistan after the U.N. suffers a horrifying defeat by the enemy who also happens to possess TA units. Once there, the young man finds himself going into battle only to come face-to-face with the beautiful young woman he seen in his vision. Her name is Miharu and she’s an experimental TA pilot for the rival organization called Symbol, who recognizes Yushiro. Despite their difference in factions, they both want to stay together. Unfortunately, Symbol wants Miharu back and will stop at nothing to do just that as well as take Yushiro out.

Meanwhile, politics take a central role in the series as Symbol stages a coup in Belgistan as a news crew transmits footage of the TA’s in action and thus introducing them to the entire world. The Gowa family sets their own plans in motion as well but things change for the powerful family when Miharu reveals a huge secret to Yushiro that changes everything. Fortunately for him, Yushiro has some allies such as the members of the unit he served in as he rejoins the JSDF’s 3rd Experimental Company.

Speaking of experimental, the JSDF tries and fails in recreating Yushiro’s skills operating his TA called the Kugai. It becomes clearer to Yushiro that his family is up to something that could only hurt the world for their own personal gain. While he has normally acted detached and emotionless, he changes thanks to Miharu who also finds renewed strength in being around Yushiro.

As hidden truths are revealed and the mystery behind that which is called Gasaraki begins to unravel before the two characters and those surrounding them, a far more sinister development pushes Yushiro and Miharu find themselves fighting against the Gowa and Symbol’s ultimate plans. This inevitably leads to one the strangest finales this side of Evangelion. I won’t spoil the details that lead the characters to this finale but I will say this … you will not see it coming and that’s very refreshing.

Gasaraki moves at a very slow pace, oftentimes getting bogged down by scenes filled with long-winded dialogue where the supporting cast of characters wax philosophically or explain in elaborate details what goes in in weapon manufacturing for the military. Sure, it’s interesting but those who find lengthy scenes soaked in historical, spiritual and political dialogue might find themselves wanting to tune out. Even scenes where TA’s are sent into battle aren’t without their excessively detailed “behind-the-scenes” looks at how the military would go about directing operations involving massive walking armor.

However, there are some really riveting moments throughout the series that make it well worthwhile to those who decide to sit through the entire series. Gasaraki never insults your intelligence by dumbing down the story or dialogue.

I’m not crazy about the main characters either since both Yushiro and Miharu are as emotionless as Vulcans at a funeral. They do begin to change during the course of their time together to the point that you will actually come to care about them but liking them is very difficult, indeed. The series also has way too many supporting characters, many of which I wished had more screen time while others end up simply being cardboard cutouts as a result.

Despite the fact that the animation look rather dated, it still manages to be impressive with the TA battles looking even better. I even enjoyed the voice cast for both the original Japanese voices and the English dub side that has Monica Rial (as Miharu), Chris Patton (as Yushiro) and Hilary Haag (as Yushiro’s devoted sister) is simply excellent.

Gasaraki is something of an acquired taste that might not seem so thrilling for those who find politically-charged stories with some mecha action not so appealing but, given the chance, this series has enough surprises to keep you watching to the very end. That said, the series can get too convoluted in places thanks to way too many players in this story and unusual plot devices that lead to an even stranger ending. If you want to give your copy of Evangelion a rest, however, you cannot go wrong with Gasaraki.

BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
The future finds the world in another conflict with the Middle East as two powerful factions put to the test new battle-ready technology that comes in the form of tactical armor mechas. As things heat up in Belgistan, the youngest member of the Gowa family meets a girl named Miharu as both find themselves caught in the middle of a struggle for power that could every well affect the entire world.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
RightStuf! has certainly proven they can make classics look good on DVD and Gasaraki is no different. The picture quality is excellent for a series that looks on the dated side. Still, the action still manages to look impressive and the Tactical Armor looks awesome.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The original Japanese language track is my personal favorite way to enjoy the series thanks to the solid voice cast, however, the English dub cast that includes talents like Monica Rial, Hilary Haag, Brett Weaver and Chris Patton among others is just as remarkable. The closing theme song (“Love Song” by Tomoko Tane) is hauntingly beautiful and the original score by Kuniaki Haijima is wonderfully cinematic.

EXTRAS: C+
There aren’t loads of extras in this release of Gasaraki but the Behind the Scenes feature (that takes us through character concept artwork of some of the supporting characters in the series. Then there’s the Gasaraki Early Concept Work feature that contains some conceptual work from the original project proposal with an interesting version of Miharu. You’ll also find the clean opening and closing animation as well as Nozomi Entertainment trailers on every DVD in the set.

OVERALL: B
The Complete Series Collection of Gasaraki is an intricate, compelling and slow-paced series that mixes politics with spiritualism and good old-fashioned mecha action. Unfortunately, this mix as well as way too many pieces on this overcrowded chessboard makes for a series that might turn off casual mecha fans. Still, if you have been dying to see an intelligent yet complex mecha series, Gasaraki is most definitely a series to try out.

Review copy provided by RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment

Grave of the Fireflies – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $19.98 US
Running Time: 89 minutes
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Some masterpieces are meant to be revisited and this is definitely one of them.

If you asked me then I would have completely denied it but now that I’m older I can admit now that when I first saw Grave of the Fireflies so long ago I cried to the point that my parents actually had to stop the movie. So powerful was the impact of this animated classic film that it never left mind even now as Sentai Filmworks releases the remastered edition on DVD. Believe me when I say that this is one of those truly unforgettable films that should be experienced at least once.

It is September 21, 1945 when we first meet a young man by the name of Seita who closes his eyes for the final time as he dies of hunger in a train station. He’s not alone either as a police officer walking a beat discovers the body of another young man not far away. As one officer discards an old tin can that once held candy inside, Seita’s spirit is reunited with that of the spirit of a child who just so happens to have been his little sister named Setsuko. Their heartbreaking story – a reflection of Nosaka Akiyuki’s own real-life story – is told in a flashback as they look back on the events that lead to their tragic deaths.

In the final months of the war, Kobe finds itself under attack by Allied bombers and both Seita and Setsuko are caught in a series of bombings that set not only their house on fire but the entire surrounding area. Both siblings are witnesses to the devastating and horrific aftermath of the bombing. As the survivors gather at a local school, Seita makes a startling discovery about their mother.

With no choice but to go live with a distant aunt, the pair finds out that their aunt on their father’s side is a difficult woman who begins to wear Seita down with her constant complaints that he isn’t contributing to the war effort. When she begins to hold back food, however, Seita decides to take his little sister with him to live on their own in an abandoned shelter. While they live the way they want, including trips to the beach, resources quickly become scarce.

With no food, Seita tries selling off his mother’s kimonos for good and even steals from a local farmer but it becomes clear that supplies have become very limited for all of Japan. Even at the end of the war, when Japan surrendered, there’s very little in terms of medicine as well. Unfortunately, Setsuko starts feeling the effects of malnutrition and Seita isn’t able to help his little sister as things start getting worst for both. What happens next unravels in a painful manner that you can’t help but feel the desperation Seita feels as he comes to the realization that he failed to carry out his mother’s final wishes.

As painful as it is to watch the tragic final moments of Setsuko, it is even more painful to see Seita realize his mistakes and a country that didn’t coldly turn their backs on them but just didn’t have the resources to help them. Director Iaso Takahata (who, together with Hayao Miyazaki, is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli) made good use of Studio Ghibli’s animation team to create a visually impressive film whether it’s the expressive characters or the stunning backdrops. Takahata easily evokes emotion in every scene wither its watching a firefly die or the casual manner in which he displays charred bodies.

Never coming off as preachy, the film presents the tragedy of war’s aftermath the way it was seen through the eyes of those that suffered through it. Yet in-between the tragedy there are moments of beauty such as when Seita catches fireflies for his sister and the calm day they spend on the beach together. It isn’t until their deaths that brother and sister find the peace they didn’t have in a time when the world was tossed in chaos. Even the significance of the tin can has so much meaning as we come to realize why.

Sentai Filmworks doesn’t bring out the extras in this release but the Remastered Edition makes up for it in quality. The animation has been cleaned up to the point that it looks amazing and the original voice cast is intact (and that also includes the English dub).

Grave of the Fireflies is a powerfully emotional animated film that is as timeless as any other cinematic masterpiece and while its content is heartbreakingly depressing it still manages to be so overwhelmingly compelling that you cannot look away. Without a doubt, this beautiful and haunting film stands as one of the most poignant stories of war’s horrific aftermath that it will resonate now and in years to come. I cannot recommend this movie enough and, if you have never seen it, I highly suggest you pick this one up right away. Some movies really do NEED to be seen.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
In the last remaining months of the war, Kobe is set aflame by Allied bombers as a young man named Seita and his little sister, Setsuko, find themselves homeless and orphans. Suddenly, the young siblings find themselves turning to a distant aunt and finally on their own as food become scarce and things start going from bad to tragic.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation in this feature film is simply stunning even several years after its first release but then again it’s exactly what you might expect from Studio Ghibli. This remastered edition looks even better than past re-releases and that is a very good thing.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
Accompanying the beautiful animation is an equally beautiful original score by Michio Mamiya that does not fail to make each scene all the more powerful and emotional. The English dub cast is the same from past releases and it’s still good but it doesn’t come close to the amazing original Japanese performances that include Tsutomu Tatsumi as Seita.

EXTRAS: D
Unfortunately, there are no real extras in this release other than a few Sentai Filmworks trailers. We would have loved the extras from a previous release that brought out some juicy featurettes.

OVERALL: A+
A heartbreaking, unforgettable and inspiring film that transcends time, Grave of the Fireflies is an animated classic that should be among everyone’s film collection. An anti-war movie if ever there was one, this film has us witness war’s cruel aftermath but also the true strength of human love. Simply put, Grave of the Fireflies is a movie you really do need to see right away.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time, Complete Series – Blu-ray/DVD Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $64.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

It’s good to dream big but in Yamada’s case …

Some teenage girls have some pretty lofty goals when they get to high school such as going for a spot in the cheerleading squad, dating the star quarterback or, in the case of the attractive and popular Yamada, have 100 sex friends. Better yet, she’d like them to be cherry boys so she gets to deflower them herself. Ah, it’s good to have goals in life but some things are not as simple as it seems as we can see from the Complete Series of B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time.

You see, while Yamada is the type of girl who immediately turns heads in Takizawa High School every time she walks by the campus, she has never had a boyfriend or has ever been kissed let alone done the deed. Still, that hasn’t stopped this girl from dreaming up this crazy plan she is seriously going to carry out. To her busty friend Takeshita, Yamada has the libido of a teenage boy and (hysterically enough) her libido takes the form of a tiny yet charming and funny cloud-riding Eros Deity that resembles Yamada (only with a moustache) that happens to cheer the girl on in her efforts to bed 100 guys.

As fate would have it, Yamada runs into a boy she refers to as a “Plain Jane” who isn’t exactly a hottie but judging by his shy nature he is definitely a virgin. What a better way to carry out her plan then starting with a cherry boy that seems like a sure thing, right? As it turns out, the boy named Takashi Kosuda happens to go to her school and sits next to her in class. Yamada sets her sights on Kosuda who – to his surprise and confusion – seems to believe that the prettiest girl in school is interested in dating him.

Thus begins a young couple’s comical and downright awkward attempt at a relationship where one person is looking for romance and the other is just in it for the sex. While Yamada certainly wants to seduce Kosuda, she can’t really bring herself to go through with it and runs away leaving the boy even more confused. However, Yamada isn’t one to give up so she finds herself looking forward to spending time with Kosuda whether it’s inviting him to go swimming or being invited to his house where she not only meets Kosuda’s hot older sister but almost gets to kiss him. Once again, Yamada chickens out.

Then another obstacle comes between Yamada and her goal and it comes in the form of Kosuda’s childhood friend and next-door neighbor named Mayu Miyano who is secretly in love with him but is too shy to reveal her feelings to him. Yamada’s real rival comes when she participates in a beauty pageant during the school festival when the school is introduced to the beautiful Kyoka Kanejo who nearly steals Yamada’s crown as the school’s hottest girl. While seemingly sweet and proper, Kenejo is determined to make Yamada yesterday’s news.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Yamada and Kosuda becomes something that Yamada does not want to accept as a romance. Sure, her attempts at bedding him are failures and she could easily forget him to go for another guy but Kosuda has an innocent charm and sweetness to him that our girl finds likeable. She shares a number of moments that take the girl completely by surprise and has her friend Takeshita point out the obvious truth behind the reason why Yamada keeps turning to Kosuda.

Unexpectedly, both Yamada and Kosuda get closer and closer as they begin to explore not only the emotional side of their relationship but the physical one as well. The series certainly has its sexual moments that certainly warrants its TV MA rating but, oddly enough, never goes overboard with its fan service. What it does do is offer some brilliantly written dialogue by Jamie Marchi and Leah Clark that is filled with sexual innuendo that works.

On top of the solid writing it is the English dub voice acting that steals the show with Brittney Karbowski being perfectly cast as Yamada. Her performance is simply over-the-top stellar in ways that rivals Tamura Yukai’s wonderful performance and add Scott Freeman (as Kosuda) to the mix and you have a series with an excellent cast that make the dialogue work.

The 12-episode series doesn’t rely solely on sex as the story offers a number of pleasant comedic moments involving other characters. Kanejo’s rivalry with Yamada is a blast to watch but not as much fun as watching the girl reveal the truth behind the handsome young man she is so totally obsessed with and is determined to carry out her inappropriate relationship with said handsome young man. We even get to meet Yamada and Kosuda’s other classmates as we follow them to a school field trip to Kyoto, go to Kanejo’s mansion for a Christmas party as well as participate in a sports festival.

My biggest complaint is that I wish the Eros Deities got more screen time since they are simply too funny and seeing as Kosuda and Mayu have their own Eros Deities it just seems like a missed opportunity for more laughs. I even liked Yamada’s collection of friends and her little sister Chika who I wished would have shown up a little more seeing as her reactions to her sister’s plan to get laid are priceless.

The Complete Series of B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time is just like it’s main protagonist: charming, colorful and over-the-top hilarious. Injecting this romantic comedy with just the right dash of naughtiness mixed in with a brilliant sense of humor, you will find yourself not only falling in love with Yamada but laughing out loud more than enough times to make you realize that this series knows just how to keep you wanting more of what it has to offer. Without a doubt, this is a mature anime comedy you need in your growing anime collection.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
The beautiful and popular Yamada has always wanted to deflower 100 guys despite being a virgin herself but when she meets a cherry boy named Kosuda she sees this as the perfect chance to get the ball running. However, Yamada finds out that it difficult to do the deed seeing as Kosuda is the type of boy who wants to romance her. Could it be that Yamada might actually have feelings for the shy virgin?

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The animation might not be anything new but it’s still good enough to give each character their own distinct look and the visual gags are certainly a highlight. The Eros Deities are just so downright hilarious too and the fan service is, oddly enough, is not as excessive as you might think but still enough to warrant an MA rating. The series looks great on DVD but the Blu-ray version is simply stunning.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese voice cast is excellent with Tamura Yukai (as Yamada) standing out but it’s the English dub cast that steals the show thanks to some great writing and excellent performances from the likes of Brittney Karbowski (as Yamada), Scott Freeman (as Kosuda) and Cherami Leigh among others. The opening and closing theme songs are just so cute and the score is actually very catchy.

EXTRAS: B+
On top of the fact that this Complete Series package includes the Blu-ray and DVD versions but there are two audio commentary tracks … one for Episode 1 featuring Zach Bolton (ADR Director), Brittany Karbowski and Scott Freeman and the other one for Episode 11 featuring Jamie Marchi (Lead Writer) and Leah Clark (writer). There’s also an Outtakes feature, clean opening and closing animation and a few FUNimation trailers.

OVERALL: A
A riotously charming and ingeniously unique comedy, B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time is everything you can ask for in the romantic comedy genre. Simply put: if you’re looking for a sex comedy romp that is genuinely hilarious you will find that Yamada’s First Time will leave you more than satisfied. Trust me when I say that this is certainly a guaranteed good time.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Arakawa Under the Bridge X Bridge, Season 2 Premium Edition – Blu-ray/DVD 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

Everything gets even weirder under the bridge.

You know things are going to get strange when the girl you love says she’s from Venus and lives under a bridge with a man dressed in a nun’s habit, a cute little girl who would give the Incredible Hulk nightmares and an assortment of other oddballs who call Arakawa their home. Oh but love does have a tendency to blossom in the most unusual places and, as we can see from Season 2 of Arakawa Under the Bridge X Bridge, that can be a very good thing.

In the first season we met the young and successful overachiever named Ko Ichinomiya who – as fate would have it – found himself on the ledge of the Arakawa Bridge when the beautiful and strange Nino stole his heart and saved his pants. Since then he has come to live with Nino and an assortment of other strange folk under the bridge under his new name … Recruit or Rec for short. Oh life under the bridge is not normal by any means since the “village chief” happens to be a Kappa (or a guy dressed up as one) and his rival for the affections of Nino (who claims to be from the planet Venus) is a rock star with emphasis on the star.

In the opening of the second season, Rec can no longer ignore the fact that Nino keeps sleepwalking into his comfortable little pad and – in the process – subconsciously unleashing some brutal wrestling moves on him. He sees this as an opportunity to ask her to stay in his home only to have the girl misinterpret the romantic gesture and kick him out of his own place. This arrangement doesn’t last very long, however, but Nino leaves behind a tape player and a number of old cassettes. Curiosity gets the better of Rec and listens to the tapes that seem to point to the fact that Nino might actually be a princess from Venus.

Meanwhile, Rec’s father continues to be perplexed by his son’s new life under a bridge and has Nino investigated by the beautiful Shimazaki and the always suffering Takai. It’s hard to watch over a guy who has become comfortable participating in the insanity created by the bridge dwellers. On top of that, Nino catches Rec listening to her tapes and goes on a strange lockdown mode that has her climb up a telephone pole and not want to come down. Luckily for Rec he does manage to talk Nino down and tries to make amends by offering her a tape filled with his own embarrassing moments.

Season 2 also puts some of the characters that were introduced late in the first season take center stage here such as The Last Samurai (who lives his life like a true samurai), Billy (who looks like a gangster with the head of a cockatoo) and his beautiful lady love named Jacqueline (who claims to be queen of the bees). They take part in P-ko’s movie that she convinced Rec to film about a certain redheaded French girl named Piceaux who is in love with a certain kappa.

We also meet two new characters such as Kuwabara Potechi who happens to be a comic book artist who becomes obsessed with Nino to the point that he tries to capture her likeness every chance he gets even if it means diving into the river where Nino spends some of her time. Then there’s the Amazon, a huge blonde babe who falls head over sandaled feet for Rec to the point that she sends her trio of Tengu (basically three guys wearing masks) to help her win the young man’s heart.

While Rec becomes more comfortable living his life with his new friends and Nino, the girl he has come to see as his girlfriend tells him that she must go back home to Venus. Nino doesn’t really want to leave everyone and – above all – Recruit, but she needs to go. The good news is that Rec is willing to follow her anywhere … and so do most of the others who actually believe they will take a rocket ship to Venus.

The first season was filled with a number of crazy moments but this season just doubles the craziness while injecting the light touches of romance that makes the series so charming. Yes, Sister is still very much in love with Maria but the relationship between Whitey and Shimazaki is even more intriguing. Meanwhile, P-ko throws a lavish tea party and The Last Samurai tries to top it with a “traditional” tea ceremony that has Rec and Hoshi competing against each another.

Oh yeah, Sister even hold his own crazy boot camp to stay fit that has the twins look like hulking bodybuilders. At one point one of the twins, Tetsuo has a battle with a muscular Stella over leadership in an impressive battle of two mighty Hulk-like combatants. Everyone even competes against each another when the Chief announces a “King’s Game” with the top prize being the winner telling everyone what to do for a day.

So you can imagine the craziness this second season throws at us and – you know what? – it actually makes for a delightfully enjoyable season. You top that off with some truly mesmerizing animation that still looks amazing on Blu-ray and you have yourself a series that’s really a guaranteed good time.

Simply put: this second season that makes up Arakawa Under the Bridge X Bridge continues to be a ridiculously insane and utterly hilarious anime series that will not fail to make a fan out of you from unusual beginning to bizarre end. Still just as delightfully colorful and offbeat as the first season, Season 2 simply ups the ante in the most hilarious and entertaining way. Even if you’re not a fan of oddball anime comedies, this is the series that you will really come to love, trust me.

BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
While recognizing that the mysteriously beautiful and oddball girl named Nino is way out there, Rec’s feelings for her grow even stronger. Meanwhile, the even stranger residents living under the bridge hold tea parties, get health check-ups and even make their own feature film. As we learn more about them, we are also introduced to new eccentric characters as well such as the Amazon and a comic book author obsessed with Nino.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Arakawa is easily one of the most visually impressive anime series out there and, yes, one filled with an original-looking cast of characters as well. It’s certainly a series that HAS to be seen on Blu-ray to appreciate the gorgeous and very colorful animation. Also, the live-action footage is simply just awesome.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
There’s no English dub cast here but you will definitely not complain thanks to the brilliant voice acting that makes each character come to life in the most colorful way possible. Maaya Sakamoto (as Nino) and Hiroshi Kamiya (as Rec) outdo themselves in this second season and the rest of the cast is simply stellar. Add the lovely original score and the cute opening and closing theme songs (one funny opening sung by Takai) and you will want to turn up the volume while watching this one.

EXTRAS: A+
There are certainly a number of extras in the Premium Edition set that are worth sinking your teeth into such as the audio commentary track for the first four episodes of this second season that includes most of the cast and the manga author, Hikaru Nakamura, that is worth listening to while watching the episodes. The discs also include the original TV spots, NIS America trailers and the End Card gallery with amazing art from such recognizable talents such as Oh Great! (of Air Gear fame) and Arina Tanemura (of The Gentleman’s Alliance Cross fame).

Also included is the 32-page hardcover book containing the wonderful artwork, interviews and other assorted character profiles that make the book a great collectible for fans.

OVERALL: A+
Season 2 of Arakawa Under the Bridge X Bridge doesn’t just raise the bar on the zaniness that made the first season so refreshingly and hilariously insane but it also makes for a season that is just way too enjoyable that you will not want to stop watching until the last episode. Yes, a series this crazy that’s actually good is a rare thing so if you’re not already a fan you certainly will be after this second season.

Review copy provided by NIS America