Clannad: After Story, Complete Second Season – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $89.98 US
Running Time: 625 minutes
Genre: Romance
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Once again, it’s all about accepting the good with the bad.

The first season of Clannad is the kind of series that you experience rather than just watch as you are drawn into the lives of a young delinquent and a sickly girl. Through their eyes, we witness their times of happiness and sadness as well as the unusual yet magical moments that occur in their lives. In the Complete Second Season of Clannad: After Story, the story continues and comes to an emotional finale in true Clannad fashion and now finally on Blu-ray.

In the first season of the series, a young high school student named Tomoya meets and falls in love with the shy Nagisa Furukawa as he helped her get the Drama Club up and running. Together they encounter a few hardships and met a few interesting people they help out such as Mei, Yusuke and a girl named Fuko who wasn’t exactly “there”. After Story finds Tomoya and Nagisa in their senior year at the school and, yes, they’re still dating and very much in love.

The story starts off much like the first part as they find themselves doing things together with their friends such as joining Nagisa’s baker dad who forms a baseball team. Since this is their last year in high school, though, the pressure is on for Tomoya and his buddy Youhei to plan for their future. Youhei’s sister, Mei, is worried about his brother to the point that she begs the creeps at the soccer club to forgive Youhei and let him rejoin the team again.

Speaking of Youhei, in order to fool Mei into thinking her brother is doing Ok, Nagisa’s young mother – Sanae – pretends to be a high school girl going out with him. In one of the funniest moments, Youhei (who thinks Sanae is actually Nagisa’s older sister) asks Nagisa’s father for her permission to date Sanae only to have Nagisa’s dad chase the poor kid around the block.

There are more fun moments like this as we look into Misae the landlady’s High school days when she met a strange younger boy who has come to grant her a wish only to end up falling in love with the girl. In true Clannad-style, the boy turns out to be something else. Then there’s Yukine, the girl who spends her day in the reference room in school who turns out to be the girl two rival gangs turn to for healing and her delicious cooking. When things between the gang get out of hand, it is Tomoya who steps in to help Yukine by getting into a fight that will keep the gangs from spilling blood on the streets.

Meanwhile the story shifts back to Tomoya and Nagisa as, once again, Nagisa’s health takes a turn for the worst and she misses graduation. While Nagisa is recuperating, Tomoya gets a job working with ex-rock star Yusuke and he even gets his own apartment. He gets a better offer but Tomoya doesn’t get the job thanks to his father’s recent arrest. All of this wears the young man down as he realizes the one good thing he has in his life is Nagisa so he proposes to her and the two get married.

On top of that, Nagisa finds out that she’s expecting a baby but what should be a very happy occasion turns into a tragedy that makes an impact in the episodes that follow so believe me when I say that you should have a box of Kleenex ready. If you cried during Kanon or Air, you will definitely cry in the later half of After Story. Personally speaking, it almost becomes too unbearable even after Tomoya – who takes the tragedy badly to the point that he lets Nagisa’s parents raise the baby – starts to emotionally breakdown.

It is Sanae who eventually gets Tomoya to spend some time with his daughter and it is finally being a part of his child’s life that he comes to accept the good with the bad. He matures during this time as he reconciles with his father after learning the truth about him and he even takes an active role in becoming a better father but nothing good lasts in the later half of the series.

In fact, the second tragedy just becomes too much and the ending suffers greatly because of it or, I should say, by how it is handled. I’ll even go as far as saying I hate the ending for finishing the story on a dark note and not exploring the alternate reality it hints at when a returning character runs into the familiar girl and her robot. The alternate world does bring up an interesting question for Tomoya, though. If he was given a chance to restart from the beginning would he walk past Nagisa that day he met her to avoid the tragic events that would eventually occur as a result or would he relive it all again?

Like the first season of the series that gave us an alternate romantic take where Tomoya and Tomoyo are dating, we get an episode where Tomoya finds himself dating Ryo only to find out that he loves somebody else. Meanwhile, in another alternate world, Nagisa – having never met or fallen in love with Tomoya – gets over her shyness and finally makes some friends.

Clannad: After Story is an emotional rollercoaster that is touching and beautiful to the point that you won’t help but fall in love with the series all over again so this Complete Second Season set is definitely a Must Have and even more so on Blu-ray. Of course, the series is far from perfect thanks to an ending that feels like it was quickly swept under a rug but what we have here is a romance/drama worth watching again and again. Just like the part of the series, I cannot recommend this one enough.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Tomoya and Nagisa’s last year in High school finds the couple happily enjoying their days with their friends but when illness takes Nagisa out of school again, Tomoya stands by her side and even proposes to her. Unfortunately, not all days are happy as Nagisa’s health during her pregnancy takes a turn for the worst and suddenly Tomoya finds himself facing a cold reality.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Like the first collection that Sentai Filmworks re-released on Blu-ray, After Story looks amazing in HD thanks to the gorgeously colorful backdrops and cute character models. This is definitely a series that deserves to be seen on Blu-ray.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese voice cast is back and they do a marvelous job once again but if you prefer the English dub cast then you’re in luck because this set brings back Luci Christian, David Matranga, Greg Ayres and Brittney Karbowski just to name a few. The score is also beautiful and the opening them song is great but you will fall in love with the closing theme song, “Torch.”

EXTRAS: B+
The fact that the series is on Blu-ray is a major plus but this release includes a special bonus that accompanies the clean Opening and Closing animation and the few Sentai Filmworks trailers as well. I’m talking an audio commentary track for Episode 16 with David Matranga (voice of Tomoya) and Luci Christian (voice of Nagisa) talk about the complexities of their characters and how much both these talented voice actors have come to love Tomoya and Nagisa.

OVERALL: A-
A beautiful, sometimes comical and emotional story that will quickly sweep you away, the Blu-ray version of the Complete Second Season of Clannad: After Story will have you completely enthralled. Sure, the ending won’t be a fan favorite but what we have here is a timeless anime classic worth owning and more so if you were a fan of the first part of the series. If you don’t already own this series, this Blu-ray release is a Must Have.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $29.98 US (DVD), $39.98 US (Blu-ray)
Running Time: 105 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

For the heroes of the Holy Grail War, the battle is on!

There are a number of feature-length animated films based on popular anime series that is aimed at the fans of the series its based on while alienating the rest of the viewers who aren’t familiar with the characters or the main plot and then there are the rare movies that not only serve as a proper introduction to said series but also offers its loyal fans a story that is a satisfying addition. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is the second one as it caters to the show’s fans as well as making it accessible for those who always wanted to check this series out.

Unlimited Blade Works certainly takes up some of the film’s running time recapping the events of the anime series’ first season as it explains the story, introduces us to the characters and the fascinating world of Magi and their Servants. You see, seven Magi are locked in an epic battle known as the Holy Grail Wars as they fight to obtain the power of the Holy Grail that could grant them a wish as well as give the winner unlimited power. Magi don’t battle alone since the most talented of them have the ability to summon Servants – the spirits of legendary heroes that will fight on a Magi’s behalf.

One of these Magi is a young high school student named Shiro Emiya who has a partnership with his Servant named Saber who is a beautiful female knight. Shiro is participating in the Holy Grail Wars for one reason … to put and end to it and become the hero the world needs right now. You see, Shiro is connected to a horrific event known as the Fuyuki Fire that took place ten years ago that changed his life forever. Unfortunately, despite his noble intentions, Shiro doesn’t have that killer instinct that is needed to win this war since every other Magi and Servant is prepared to kill.

Well, not everyone, as Shiro’s attractive schoolmate, a girl named Rin Tosaka, decides to work alongside him rather than battle it out. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with her Servant named Archer who sees Shiro as a weak boy who will not only end up getting himself killed but her as well. I mean, their opponents aren’t slouches. Take the little girl, Illyasviel who has a behemoth named Berserker as a Servant for instance. She becomes one of the toughest opponents to beat.

While the movie doesn’t get into very specific detail that the main series shows us such as the connection between Rin and the priest named Kirei Kotomine who is at the center of the Holy Grail Wars nor does it show us why Shiro bounces back from his injuries so easily or his relationship with Saber, which this movie only hints as one leaning towards a romantic one. That’s actually one of my few gripes I have with the movie because it was intriguing to see Shiro and Saber’s relationship bud just as it was fun seeing the relationship between Rin and Archer unfold.

With the introductions out of the way, the story takes a turn down a different path from the series as Shiro and Rin discover that somebody had put up an unusual barrier that is draining the life-force from all their classmates. We are introduced to Shinji, a deranged classmate who has a beef with Shiro and attacks him in the school using his female chain-swinging Servant named Rider but he’s clearly not the Magi who put up such a powerful barrier.

The identity of the attacker is revealed and it is the mysterious Caster who has taken control of the Servant Assassin who guards the Ryudo Temple. Battling Caster, Shiro is nearly killed if it wasn’t for Archer acting along without Rin. Since Shiro won’t kill, Archer attacks the boy in hopes of taking him out of the war once and for all. If it wasn’t for Saber, Shiro would have been killed. However, back at their home, Saber is stabbed with a mysterious blade by Caster, which nullifies the contract with Shiro.

Teaming up with Rin once again, the pair try to find help by turning to Illyasviel and Berserker only they arrive in time to witness the tragic end of a Magi and Servant in a bloody battle. Instead, they get help from a familiar face to those who know the series and it is the Servant named Lancer who offers them his assistance in the name of his Magi. Together, the trio attempt to rescue Saber from Caster and her ally who fans will recognize.

I will say no more because it would spoil the surprises and plot twists the movie throws at you and the awesome ending that makes this story very satisfying even for those who have seen the main series. Of course, even at a running time of 105 minutes those who are not familiar with the story will find themselves noticing the way the transitions between scenes that feel like the first 25 or so minutes are made up of some highlight reels that cover the most important parts of the plot. Although the appearance of Gilgamesh and Rider fit right into the story, Lancer isn’t even properly introduced … thus his involvement in the finale doesn’t have the emotional impact his character deserves.

Still, despite that annoyance, the movie is filled with exciting moments and intense battles that range from awesome to downright bloody. As I mentioned earlier, the movie does throw some cool plot twists and surprises, especially when it comes to the relationship between Shiro and Archer.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is the perfect opportunity to become acquainted with this amazing series and returning fans will find this alternate path an exciting one that doesn’t disappoint in the very least. That said, the weak transitions are noticeable flaws in an otherwise stellar production that makes this story stand on its own. It’s great to see Shiro and Saber in a feature film and Unlimited Blade Works certainly lives up to the main Fate/stay night story that made the series such a blast to watch.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Young high school students Shiro and Rin call upon their Servants to defend themselves from other like them as they are locked in a battle to obtain the power of the Holy Grail that could grant the victor of this savage war with absolute power. However, it is Shiro who is determined to play the role of hero as he and his knightly Servant, Saber, must face off against those who will stop at nothing to obtain the Holy Grail.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The movie does look good on DVD but the animation in this feature film definitely benefits from the Blu-ray treatment since there’s some soft lighting in certain scenes but other than that the action sequences are simply awesome and so are the visual effects.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The original score by Kenji Kawai is absolutely gorgeous and the Japanese voice cast is nothing short of stellar to the point that it will be your favorite way of watching this series. We love the voice talent that Bang Zoom! brings to the table such as Sam Regal, Tony Oliver, Tara Platt and Patrick Seitz but the Japanese voice actors make the dialogue work even better. You’ll also love the theme song at the end of the movie.

EXTRAS: D
There are no real extras to speak of in this DVD release except for a few Sentai Filmworks trailers and a DVD credits feature. We would have really liked an audio commentary track for this movie at least.

OVERALL: B+
Unlimited Blade Works will definitely make a Fate/stay night fan out of you and serves as a great introduction to the main series while giving already established fans something savory enough to satisfy. While the movie doesn’t smoothly transition from scene to scene in certain spots, that doesn’t distract from an overall epic story. This certainly needs to be among your collection, Fate/ stay night, fans.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

Shiki, Part Two – Blu-ray/DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Supernatural/Horror
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

Now who are the real monsters?

I had thought I had seen it all when it came to vampire stories but here comes Shiki to take what began as the horrific descent into darkness for a small village in the first part of the series takes an even more horrific turn as the fate of Sotoba Village hangs on the balance. Oh yes, Part Two of Shiki is not only a gripping finale but also a heartbreaking and a haunting collection of episodes that make this series as a whole an extraordinary anime experience.

Part One introduced us to Sotoba Village, a quiet farming town where nothing exciting really happens until people start dying and a mysterious new family moves into the European-styled mansion on the hill. As villagers continue dying, only a small number of villagers who haven’t fallen victims of the “epidemic” realize exactly what they are going up against even if it seemed unbelievable at first. One of these people is Doctor Toshio Ozaki who, along with his childhood friend and the village’s Junior Monk Seishin Muroi, confirm the existence of vampires or okiagari, as they are known in Japanese folklore. Seishin gives them another name, Shiki, which the eldest vampire – who is stuck in the body of a child – named Sunako likes the sound of when the Junior Monk mentioned it.

Whatever you want to call them, Doctor Ozaki sees them as viscous monsters that must be stopped while Seishin has a more pacifist point-of-view that has him convinced both the living and the undead can coexist. After all, a lion slaughters dozens of gazelle in its lifetime so would you consider the lion to be a monster? Can you really blame a predator for what it is and what it does to survive? It’s a question that Seishin ponders as he realizes that his friend does not share his same view. To him, the vampire is a plague that must be stopped and a boy named Natsuno Yuuki and his two young allies, Akira and Kaori Tanaka feel the same.

Unfortunately, in Part Two of the series Yuuki begins to feel his life force being drained away quickly after having been attacked by the only person he truly considered a friend. Yes, he realizes that Toru Mutou hates what he has become and what he is doing to Yuuki, but the other young man could not fight against the okiagari and – in the end – succumbs to the tortured vampire.

Meanwhile, more town members begin to die and a few by the fangs of the members of the Kirishiki clan such as the voluptuous and sexy Chizuru who seduces and kills the beefy son of the liquor store owner. It is Chizuru who also set her sights on Doctor Ozaki who tries to find public records that mention all the unusual death in the village only to find that Chizuru has send vampires to take control of the Public Health offices. To top it all off, the Doctor’s wife, Kyoko, also falls victim to the vampires as Chizuru promises to pay him a visit soon.

With all his allies dropping dead or abandoning him as well as a collection of villagers who call him crazy for even suggesting vampires have something to do with the rising death toll, Doctor Ozaki tends to his wife who is rapidly fading and ignoring all the problems around him. It isn’t until things get really bad that the Doc makes a difficult decision that you really have to see to believe as the man finally driven to his breaking point. I won’t spoil what happens but I’ll say this, when Seishin does show up at the clinic to see what Doctor Ozaki did, he turns his back on his friend with disgust and anger.

Meanwhile, Kaori begins to lose it when Akira doesn’t come back home from hunting vampires and with their best ally gone she feels that Megumi will show up to kill her now that all the members of her family are dead. She sees the effects the vampires have on the village, including the opening of a new clinic where patients come and never come out (well, not alive anyway) and a funeral home run by a demented Willy Wonka-like caretaker who holds insanely cheerful funerals.

Everything seems lost until Chizuru Kirishiki finally pays the Doc that visit she promised only to find herself pleasantly surprised by the Doctor who invites her to a Kagura dance festival in town only to use that invite to expose the truth about her in front of the remaining town members. As the truth finally opens the eyes of those who laughed at the Doctor’s theory that they’re dealing with the supernatural, a vampire-slaying mob is born and they begin with Chizuru who falls prey to an enraged mob that has lost loved ones to the vampires. When an attempt to rescue Chizuru by Seishirou Kirishiki fails, suddenly it is the vampires who become the prey.

It is then that the story shifts to the vampires as we see, through their undead eyes, the tables turn and now they are the ones who are living in fear. Led by Ozaki and the owner of the liquor store named Mr. Ookawa, the humans slaughter their way through town as they search homes and every dark corner the vampires might be using to avoid the sunlight. In a horrifically memorable scene, Nao – who is now a vampire – escapes into the sewer tunnels with a group of undead only to realize they are trapped in a dead end. You can practically taste the fear as – one by one – each vampire is dragged out and killed with a stake to the heart.

As vampires begin to die by the hands of the bloodstained humans, another interesting drama unfolds as Seishin follows his elderly father’s example and goes to the shiki. What he finds is Sunako who is no longer the overconfident, cold creature we first met but rather a frightened child who desperately wants to live. Seishin could see that the remaining villagers are determined to wipe them all out as Takumi – a day walking vampire called a Jinrou – leaves her under Seishin’s protection.

It’s easy to become sympathetic towards the vampire as we witness the brutality of the humans. In one case, one character drives a stake into the heart of his own son who retaliates against the Doctor in a horrible manner. Meanwhile, we witness noble moments such as Ritsuko, the young nurse, refusing to take a human life or Kaname Yano who witnesses her mother’s return only to feed her frightened mother her own blood in one of the more heartbreaking scenes.

And there are certainly a number of standout scenes in this second half that makes the vampire side of this tragic that you almost start rooting for their survival. On top of that, there are jaw-dropping moments such as the introduction of overprotective mother, Motoko Maeda who – at the end of her story – causes an event that could very well mean the end of Sotoba Village. It is storytelling like this that makes Shiki so compelling that you will find yourself deeply enthralled by it.

Part Two of Shiki is a powerful second half that will leave you with your jaw dropped and wondering how is it that you find yourself feeling sorry for the vampires who – in Part One – were seen as nothing more than just monsters. As gripping as the first part of this series was it is Part Two that is a mesmerizing and completely unforgettable collection of episodes that will have you wondering why Hollywood can’t produce a vampire tale this brilliant. For anyone who has lost faith in vampires, Shiki will definitely renew your interest.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
As the death toll increases as those the number of shiki that rise from the dead, Doctor Toshio Ozaki suddenly turns the tables on the vampires by exposing their existence to the remaining villagers. It is then that the humans band together to exterminate all the vampires in the most vicious and bloody way possible. Meanwhile, the Junior Monk makes a decision that will lead him on a path against his friend and the rest of the village.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
If you thought the first half of the series was gruesome, Part Two is even bloodier as the death toll rises and the vampires become the victims of the human mob. This is certainly an anime series that is visually astounding and best enjoyed on Blu-ray. Also, you have to love those crazy hairstyles.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
Once again, the score for this series is beautifully cinematic and deserves to be recognized and the new opening by KANONxKANON is awesome as is the closing theme song. The original Japanese voices are amazing but the English dub performances in Part Two are absolutely breathtaking with Dana Schultes, Lydia Mackay and Cherami Leigh – in my opinion – stealing the show.

EXTRAS: B+
You will find the original U.S. Trailer for the series here as well as a few FUNimation trailers to go along with the DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack. Included are the clean opening and closing theme song animations and even Volumes 5 through 9 of the Preview Featurette that features the preview animations along with the Japanese Seiyuu who voices Seishin do his “Reflections by Seishin” monologue.

Also included are two more audio commentary tracks that include ADR Director (and the voice of Yuuki) Mike McFarland. In the Episode 18 commentary, McFarland chats with Ian Sinclair (voice of Tatsumi), J. Michael Tatum (voice of Seishirou) and Lydia Mackay (voice of Chizuru) that is worth a view. Then there’s the Episode 22 commentary with Cherami Leigh (voice of Sunako) as well as John Burg Meier (voice of Seishin) and David Wald (voice of Dr. Ozaki) again as they touch on the changes their characters go through.

OVERALL: A+
Without a doubt, Part Two of Shiki is haunting, unforgettable and, at time, heartbreaking as the roles are reversed and the hunters become the prey. The first half was a brilliant introduction while this second half puts us in a place that will make us feel sympathetic to the vampires who now become the tragic figures. It takes a special kind of story to pull off something like that and Shiki does it with ease. Whatever you do, you must not miss out on this series.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

RIGHT STUF’S LUCKY PENNY ENT. Announces DVD Release of RISTORANTE PARADISO

  

Complete series available as a Litebox-style DVD set on Nov. 6, 2012

GRIMES, Iowa, July 20, 2012 – Anime producer and distributor Right Stuf, Inc. and its Lucky Penny Entertainment label are pleased to announce the RISTORANTE PARADISO Complete Series DVD set will be available on November 6, 2012.

The DVD set will include the entire 11-episode television series, in a single DVD keepcase, with Japanese audio, English subtitles and on-screen translations, and on-disc video extras.

This anime adaptation of the Ristorante Paradiso and Gente manga by Natsume Ono (House of Five Leaves, Not Simple) features animation by David Production (The Book of Bantorra). It aired in Japan during Fuji TV’s late-night anime NOISE timeslot and was simulcast by Crunchyroll. The two manga series are currently available from VIZ Media.

“a refreshing change of pace” – Casey Brienza, Anime News Network

Visit ristorante-paradiso.rightstuf.com to watch the series’ trailer and to pre-order the Ristorante Paradiso Complete Series on DVD.

About RISTORANTE PARADISO

When Nicoletta was a little girl, her mother, Olga, abandoned her and ran off to Rome to remarry. Now, 15 years later and a young woman, she travels to Rome with the intention of ruining her mother’s life. She tracks Olga down to a restaurant called Casetta dell’Orso, but the second Nicoletta steps through its door, everything changes. It’s a peculiar place staffed entirely by mature gentlemen wearing spectacles, and like their clientele, she is helpless against their wise smiles and warm voices. Before Nicoletta realizes it, her plans for vengeance start to fade, and she’s swept up in the sweet romance of everyday Italian life. The complete, 11-episode series!

RISTORANTE PARADISO Complete Series
Format: DVD (Litebox)
Pre-Book: 10/2/2012
Street Date: 11/6/2012
Runtime: 275 minutes
Genre: Drama
Suggested Rating: 13+

Audio: Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Subtitles: English subtitles and English on-screen translations
Video: 16:9 Anamorphic widescreen, Color
Catalog #: LPDVD1278
ISBN: 1-57032-718-1
UPC: 7-42617-1278-2-3
SRP: $39.99

Discs/Set: 3
Case Quantity: 30

Features:
Clean opening, clean ending, TV commercials, Ristorante Paradiso NOISE trailers, backgrounds gallery, Rome scenery gallery, A Guide to Rome, liner notes, and original U.S. trailer.


RISTORANTE PARADISO © Ristorante Paradiso

ABOUT RIGHT STUF, INC.
Currently celebrating its 25th 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, in general, through its online storefront at RightStuf.com and a variety of media including podcasts and special publications. Its video and print publishing division includes the Nozomi Entertainment, Lucky Penny, and 5 Points Pictures studio-labels.

ABOUT LUCKY PENNY ENTERTAINMENT
A publishing division of Right Stuf, Inc., Lucky Penny Entertainment is dedicated to high-quality and budget-friendly releases of anime fan favorites and niche titles. The initial roster of releases for this new studio-label includes Ristorante Paradiso, Hyakko and Aoi Hana: Sweet Blue Flowers.

For more information, visit http://rightstuf.com and www.luckypennyent.com.

Shiki, Part One – Blu-ray/DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Supernatural/Horror
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

The village of Sotoba is about to experience a most unusual kind of epidemic.

Like a majority of you, I have been put off vampire stories thanks to the likes of the Twilight movies and even The Vampire Diaries that depicts the bloodsucker as a brooding Abercrombie & Fitch poster boy that makes girls swoon for all the wrong the reasons. Where is the vicious undead creature of the night that stalks its victims and jumps out of the shadows or slides out from under a bed with its darkened dead eyes fixed on its next victim?

Thankfully, Part One of Shiki tells a darker, more gruesome and completely engrossing vampire tale that offers a modern and somewhat more realistic spin to the vampire mythology in an interesting setting. Welcome to Sotoba Village, a small farming community where nothing really happens and gossip is about the only hobby the older folk participate in everyday. Yet, we witness a search party frantically looking for a young high school girl named Megumi Shimizu who is lost somewhere in the woods. Little do they know that her body, pale and nearly lifeless, is not far away.

Fast-forward a few days back, Megumi Shimizu is alive and well and hating the fact that she has to live in a place that doesn’t appreciate her awesome choice of clothing that is far too “big city” for a little town like this. In fact, she dreams of leaving the town because the only thing she likes about is a cold city boy named Natsuno Yuuki and the fact that some wealthy family built a European-styled mansion on the hill. Strangely enough, said wealthy family moves into their mansion in the dead of night and Megumi is curious to meet them, which leads to her sudden disappearance and re-appearance with what the town’s physician, Doctor Toshio Ozaki, believes is anemia.

However, when Megumi suddenly dies, Doctor Ozaki and his childhood friend who happens to be a Junior Monk named Seishin Muroi begin to wonder if it is related to the other deaths around the village. It seems that people in town begin dropping like flies thus giving the young Doc the impression that maybe all these people dying might be the result of some kind of epidemic. All the victims vary in age but there appears to be a common factor … most of the patients show up anemic, all seem to be in a sort of daze and each patient seems to have two puncture wounds that the Doc believes might be some insect bites.

Meanwhile, in the village, we come to know Natsuno Yuuki a lot better as we discover that he had come from the big city with his radical-thinking modern parents and hating everything about the town. This explains his cold too-cool-for-this-place attitude and the fact he ignores just about everyone (including Megumi who often camped outside his window) except for a boy named Toru Mutou who pushes his way into Yuuki’s life to become his best friend.

As more people continue to die, we come to learn that the family that now lives in the mansion is called the Kirishiki family who has a daughter named Sunako who reveals herself to Seishin in the night, the Junior Monk who also happens to be the author of a number of books Sunako has read. Although she tells him that she has a medical condition that has her hiding from the sun’s rays during the day and comes out only at night, there’s something very mature about the little girl that makes her seem wise beyond her years.

In the meantime, Yuuki thinks he had a dream of Megumi sliding from under Toru’s bed to bite him and when Toru begins to get sick and finally dies it becomes clear to the boy that maybe it wasn’t a dream. Joined by Megumi’s best friend, Kaori Tanaka and her brother Akira who swears he saw a villager that they all know is dead heading for the Kirishiki estate, Yuuki comes to the determination that what they are facing is the undead who feed on blood of the living.

Suddenly, Yuuki, Kaori and Akira put this theory to the test only to confirm the truth about Megumi and some of the others. Also coming to the same conclusion is Doctor Ozaki who – thanks to Yuuki – has his friend Seishin join him in testing the vampire theory with a patient he has in the clinic. In a very startling scene, his suspicions also confirmed when he is attacked by the Kirishiki’s loyal servant, a seemingly cheerful yet dangerous daywalker named Tatsumi.

Things get interesting in Yuuki’s part of the story as not only do the vampires take an interest in him by sending a very unusual little girl to his home but also sending somebody even more familiar to greet the young man. Just like the Junior Monk, Yuuki feels that maybe there’s a chance these vampires (or, in Japanese folklore, okiagari) and humans can coexist with resorting to killing each another. Yuuki gets his answer as he and his only allies realize what the Kirishiki clan has in store for the village.

As I said, the series is quite gruesome with scenes that are actually quite chilling especially in the beginning when we start seeing decomposed bodies. The series handles the horror perfectly enough as Director Tetsuro Amino adds plenty of creepy moments throughout. Even the story is intelligently told, although – at times – it slows down to a snail’s pace in order for the vampire theme to be introduced gradually as we try to figure out the mystery behind all the deaths as well as what type of vampires the characters are dealing with when they’re finally introduced.

Speaking of characters, the series makes goes to great lengths to give every villager in the story a name, personality and something to say. Sure, we may not keep up with everyone but the majority of them become memorable enough such as Toru’s self-centered classmate Masao Murasako who hates Yuuki and members of his own family and whose fate takes an interesting turn. Then there’s the gorgeous yet mysterious Chizuru Kirishiki who we have yet to really see and Shizuka, a little girl with a Geisha puppet who will not fail to give you the creeps.

Part One of Shiki introduces us to a unique kind of vampire anime series that is both chilling and utterly fascinating. It also weaves an intricate tale with a robust cast of characters that make this a series with enough personality and unforgettable moments that will you will seriously be looking forward to Part Two. This is definitely a show for those who are looking for a vampire series with serious bite.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
The quiet farming village of Sotoba suddenly experiences a number of death that, at first, appears to be some kind of mysterious epidemic related to anemia but very slowly the village’s Doctor and Junior Monk begin to suspect something far more sinister connected to the new family that moved into town. It isn’t until a young man named Yuuki and a handful of other villagers discover the truth as the dead rise from the grave.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
A visually stunning series on Blu-ray yet still looks great on DVD, Shiki sports some interesting animation with gorgeous painted vistas and some unique character models with even more intriguing hairstyles. This is also a number of gruesome scenes in this series so it definitely is not for the squeamish.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese voice cast is stellar and my favorite way to watch this series but if you like a good dub the English voice cast that includes Mike McFarland, Luci Christian, Tia Ballard and Alexis Tipton (just to name a few) do a great job. Along with Yasuharu Takanashi’s brilliant score and two excellent closing theme songs (personally wasn’t crazy about the opening theme by NANGI) and you have a series you really should watch with the volume up.

EXTRAS: B+
Aside from a new FUNimation trailers and the clean opening and both closing theme songs as well as the fact that the combo pack includes the Blu-ray version, Part One includes two audio commentary tracks. The first is for Episode 1 featuring Mike McFarland (ADR Director and voice of Natsuno Yuuki) and Jerry Jewell (voice of Natsuni), David Wald (voice of Toshio) and John Burgmeier (voice of Seishin) is OK to listen. The real treat comes from the commentary for Episode 12 with McFarland as well as Tia Ballard (voice of Megumi), Alexis Tipton (voice of Kaori) and Chris Burnett (voice of Toru) that is a lot more animated.

Then there’s a four-volume Preview Featurette that uses the preview animations from the series with the Japanese voice actor for Seishin reading from the character’s own writing. It’s worth watching since the words are brilliant and delightfully creepy.

OVERALL: A
A dark, gruesome and intelligent vampire tale with rich characterization and more than enough surprises to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, Part One of Shiki will leave quite an impression on you for those who enjoy a first-rate horror series. If Part Two is anything like the first part, we are looking at a vampire anime series that deserves to be somewhere high on a Top Ten list.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Zakuro, Complete Series Premium Edition – DVD Review

Review by: Felicia Day

Publisher: NIS America
MSRP: $59.99 US
Running Time: 318 minutes
Genre: Supernatural/Romance
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Can spirits and humans really get along? Who knows but it will be fun to find out.

If InuYasha taught me anything it’s that no matter what you are or who you are there is always room for acceptance with some space left over to change the way you think. You can be a half-demon and learn to live with a human and a human can learn to love a half-demon. In the case of the Complete Series Premium Edition of Zakuro, humans and half-spirits alike learn from each another and come to embrace a new way of thinking. This is but a small fragment of what makes this supernaturally-themed romance/comedy series such a meaningful and delightfully amusing one that no anime fan should miss.

Told in 13-episodes, Zakuro takes us back to a time in Japan’s history when the old customs are slowly making way for a more Westernized way of living. With these changing times, the government feels that it is important to open a relationship with spirits that walk the land so humans and spirits alike can learn to co-exist. This is why the Ministry of Spirit Affairs was founded by a young Lieutenant Hanadate of the Imperial Army who has carefully selected three young Second Lieutenants to join and living among spirits in a house that holds four lovely young maiden who happen to be half-spirits (not quite human and not quite a spirit).

So the tall and silent Riken Yoshinokazura, the young and cute Ganryu Hanakiri and the handsome yet cowardly Kei Agemaki come to live in the house run by a fox spirit named Kushimatsu who tends to the beautiful young maidens who look human except for their fox-like ears. Led by the beautiful and very powerful Zakuro, there’s the shy Susukihotaru and the twins Hokuki and Bonbori. All four combat wayward spirits using a branch from a cherry blossom tree that transforms into a blade and, of course, and sing a song that helps unleash their powers.

By orders of both Lieutenant Hanadate and Kushimatsu, the three young officers pair up with a maiden (Ganryu gets both twins) in order to get to get comfortable with each another. It is thanks to this arrangement that both the half-spirits and the human officers learn a lot about each another. However, we learn that Zakuro has distaste for humans while Agemaki has a comical fear for all things spirit-related including – at first – two cute spirit children named Sakura and Kiri as well as the rabbit-like spirit Mamezo.

As a group, Spirit Affairs sees to a number of cases including a client who wants to rid the future site of his new hotel from a most unusual spirit and later must deal with Raiju – a wolf-like spirit who attacks all during a cherry blossom viewing festival. In another case, Zakuro and Agemaki visit a village where the women have been spirited away … a case that interests Zakuro for very personal reason that begin to unravel the mystery of her past.

Half the fun of this series is the relationships that unfold because of their time together. It’s clear that Susukihotaru has feelings for her partner, Riken, who doesn’t say much but makes it clear that he might also like the pretty girl. Then there’s the relationship between Ganryu and the twins that quite possibly makes them the cutest threesome in anime. It becomes clear how each character begins to change because of their partnership as the young officers learn the truth about all half-spirits.

Even more fun is watching the relationship between Zakuro and Agemaki unfold. He tries his best to impress her and turns on the charm rather easily but when it comes down to it he’s afraid of Zakuro who has a very short fuse. However, their relationship changes enough that Agemaki even invites Zakuro home when he goes to visit his wealthy family and becomes jealous when the beautiful half-spirit falls for Lieutenant Hanadate who begins to show up often to see how they are all doing.

While we watch Spirit Affairs look into cases, one case in particular changes everything. When they are hired to look into the vicious attack of military officers during a military gala ball, they encounter two sisters who attack in the name of the mysterious Black Widow. Suddenly, it becomes clear that they are all after Zakuro who holds the key to a greater mystery … particularly who the lovely young maiden is related to and why she is more powerful than the other half-spirits.

I won’t spoil what happens but the series heads to a fascinating finale because of this new threat that leads to a number of flawlessly handled plot twists. You have to give the writers credit for not falling back on the usual clichés when it comes to the enemy and yes even fan service is completely left out of this series entirely (well, unless you count the inclusion of two busty babes). It also handles the comedy elements perfectly as well, never relying on tired sight gags or puns. Seeing Agemaki freeze up at the sight of a spirit never gets old and watching Zakuro react to his cowardice is pure comedy gold.

There’s also some action sequences that, although not excessive, adds more excitement to the situations that arise especially towards the end of the series. Even the ending – personally speaking – is handled perfectly. Add the lovely animation and the excellent voice acting and you have an anime series that is way too much fun to watch. In fact, I guarantee you will be a big fan of it even before the fifth episode.

Every once and awhile an anime series comes along that hits all the right notes and does its genre proud and the Complete Series Premium Edition of Zakuro definitely does just that as it not only makes for a meaningful series but also an addictive gem that will win you over five minutes into the first episode. Yes, it’s a rare find, indeed, but Zakuro is that kind of series and believe me when I say that you will have a blast watching all 13 episodes of this very likeable anime.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
As Japan is heading in a new Westernized direction, the Ministry of Spirit Affairs is formed and three young military officers have been selected to become human representatives that will being living and working alongside four lovely half-spirits. Together the group not only deals with supernatural cases but also develop a relationship that proves spirits and humans really can co-exist.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation in the series is actually quite gorgeous to the point that we wish NIS America included a Blu-ray version. Sporting lovely backgrounds, even lovelier character models and plenty of eye-catching visual effects, this is definitely one visually-pleasing anime series.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
You’ll only find a Japanese language track here but you will not complain seeing as the talents of Mai Nakahara, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa and Yuki Kaji (just to name a few of the talented voice actors) pull off stellar performances. Then there’s Masaru Sugimoto’s amazing score as well as a good opening theme song and three decent closing theme songs.

EXTRAS: B
You’ll find that the Premium Edition set not only has a really gorgeous box but the discs include extras like the clean opening and three closing animation as well as a few NIS America trailers. The real bonus comes in the form of two rather lengthy featurettes. One is called “Gala Preparations” told through still artwork involving the girls getting dressed up for the military gala ball from one of the episodes. The other is similar, only it features the three friendly spirits Mamezo and the spirit kids, Sakura and Kiri as we see how they perceive key events through their eyes.

OVERALL: A+
Put simply: Zakuro is the kind of anime series that doesn’t fail to make you realize just how much fun you can have watching anime. Wildly entertaining from start to finish, the Complete Series of Zakuro offers a wonderful supernatural tale with a healthy dose of comedy and just the right dash of romance to make this a perfect collector’s item. This is definitely well worth the purchase price, anime fans.

Review copy provided by NIS America

PLANZET – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $39.98 US
Running Time: 53 minutes
Genre: Action/Sci-fi
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Note to alien invaders: Do not mess with Japan.

I’m a real sucker for alien invasion movies although the majority of them have greatly disappointed me to the point that I would often go back to my favorite classic genre … the monster movie or old-school sci-fi classic. Then PLANZET comes along and mixes these two genres including my love for anime to make an animated feature film that could have been something even more amazing yet still has all the right elements of a good old-fashioned sci-fi monster film.

Oh, I’m a sucker for monster movies as well and the one here is more an entire race rather than just one Godzilla-like creature. You see, in PLANZET’s version of the year 2047 AD, a mysterious planetoid suddenly showed up on all satellites that orbit Earth. The planet was called Februus that carries alien life forms known to humans as the FOS that even more suddenly attack Earth. It’s a good thing that Earth had pushed an organization known as the IMDO to construct a fully functional colony on Mars known as the Esperanza (Spanish for “hope”).

Unfortunately, the FOS attack using their advanced technology and create a natural disaster by melting the polar icecaps that cause major flooding across the globe. On top of that, they set the remaining cities aflame and thus nearly wiping out the world’s population. What few humans are left form a unified government called the PDFA (of the Planetary Defense Force Alliance) to fight back using the latest in military hardware that comes in the form of armored mecha.

One of these PDFA soldiers is a young man named Hiroshi Akishima who only a few years before the FOS attack was merely a slacker with no real ambition thanks to the fact that he failed his entrance exam. His only family is his little sister, Koyomi, and his father who happened to have been a soldier. It isn’t until that fateful day that Hiroshi and Koyomi’s father is called back into active duty. He leaves them and never comes back as both siblings’ world is tossed into this new chaotic war and struggle for survival.

Just two years later, Hiroshi finds himself a member of the GL Service Test Squad for the Japan Area Army along with two other young companions named Lieutenant Takizawa and the attractive Sagawa. Working under the command of the sexy female Captain Yoshizawa, the squad operates inside a base within Mount Fuji. No longer the slacker kid he once was when we first met him, Hiroshi takes his duties as a member of the squad seriously.

Unfortunately, it is through Captain Yoshizawa that we find out that the East Russian Army failed their mission and was completely wiped out. It is now up to them to carry out a final offensive strike against the FOS. The plan is for the three squad members to buy the Captain some time in order for her to fire their latest weapon known as the D-Cannon that will be capable of reaching Februus and finally destroying it. Sure it might work but this sounds more like a suicide mission to all three of the squad members.

Knowing that he might not come back from said mission, Hiroshi contacts his sister he hasn’t seen for two years to meet with him in the one place they know well. Although still a child, Koyomi feels that her place is still by her brother’s side since he is the only family she has left. Even when Hiroshi tells her to catch a ship headed for the Esperanza colony on Mars, she makes a very different decision that drives home the point that even though the world might come to an end or what remains of humankind is finally obliterated from this planet, family is still important.

I won’t go into too much detail but the mission doesn’t go as expected and the result is Koyomi showing up to be by her brother’s side as a final contingency plan is introduced that could very well make the difference. PLANZET really gets exciting in the later half of this 53 minute movie as it showcases a big battle using the armored suits, an interesting confrontation in the end and a last push to save Earth using what was merely just a rumored weapon.

The problem I had with the movie is the fact that it’s running time of 53 minutes leaves very little room for character development especially when it comes to the secondary characters. Captain Yoshizawa, for instance, actually does come off as an intriguing character and I certainly wanted to know more about her besides the fact that she is trying to step out of her father’s shadow in the military. I mean, why is she so preoccupied with that when the world is about to end? Then again, I did find the reunion between Hiroshi and Koyomi powerfully emotional especially when they decide to work together in the end.

Then there’s the CG animation that is absolutely gorgeous to the point that the character models and backgrounds look realistic. Add the fantastic visual effects that make the action scenes versus the FOS a highlight.

PLANZET is far from a disappointment when it comes to the sci-fi genre although its short running time doesn’t give us much of a chance to get to know the characters better. That said, the movie manages to be appealing in that classic monster movie and old-school sci-fi sort of way and thus making this well worth watching. Definitely give this one a try if you’ve been disappointed by alien invasion flicks that lack emotion and substance.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B-
The year is 2053 and Earth has been attacked by alien invaders called the FOS that has destroyed major cities around the world and nearly wiping out all human life on the planet. Meanwhile, in Japan, a young man named Hiroshi joins two other squad mates into a final battle against the invaders as he fights to protect Earth and the only family he has left – his little sister named Koyomi.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
One of the more visually remarkable CG animated films out there, PLANZET is delicious eye candy that will not fail to impress. Everything from the characters to the backgrounds and the special effects are handled superbly throughout.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The music and sound effects by Shingo Terasawa make you want to crank up the volume especially if you have a good sound system connected to your HD screen. Then there’s the voice acting that has Mamoru Miyano stand out in the original Japanese language track. For the English dub side you cannot go wrong with Blake Shepard, Brittney Karbowski, Luci Christian and Tiffany Grant among others who make the dub shine. Even the theme song by Chitose Hajime is awesome.

EXTRAS: A
You’ll find a few juicy extras that go beyond the few Sentai Filmworks trailers of the four Japanese trailers for the movie packed in one Blu-ray. Aside from the audio commentary track featuring Director Jun Awazu and voice actor Takeshi Maeda (that is worth a listen), you will find a feature called Side-by-Side Animatic Comparison that has Awazu explaining via split-screen the differences between the crude 3D modeling that is an Animatic versus the fleshed out animation that is the finished product.

There are also three different Interview featurettes that are worth watching especially the interview with Director Jun Awazu who offers insight on the making of this movie that took him two and a half years to complete. Add an interview with the really hot Mamoru Miyano (who voices Hiroshi in Japanese) and another one with Kaori Ishihara (who voices Koyomi) who reveals this is her first voice-acting gig.

OVERALL: B-
Despite the fact that the running time played against the story, PLANZET is still a thrilling animated feature film that has the appeal of an old school monster movie and a far more exciting alien invasion flick. I wish we got to know the characters better but thanks to the amazing visuals and more than decent voice acting, PLANZET is definitely well worth watching.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks