Occult Academy, Complete Series Premium Edition – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Felicia Day

Publisher: NIS America
MSRP: $64.99 US
Running Time: 334 minutes
Genre: Supernatural/Sci-fi
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now
You know you’re in for a unique supernatural sci-fi anime series when a young time-traveler falls from the sky stark naked and the cute new school headmaster is being chased by a pack of Chupacabras. It is these things that drew me to the Complete Series Premium Edition of Occult Academy, an anime series that doesn’t fail to entertain and – at times – make you laugh. Yes, it’s that kind of series where the world of the supernatural clashes with that of the science-fiction genre yet making room for some comedic moments.

Occult Academy revolves around a school called the Waldstein Academy that specializes in training its student body in all things involving the occult. We also meet a young girl named Maya Kumashiro who arrives in time for a ceremony honoring the newly deceased school’s principal who also happens to be Maya’s father. It’s clear from her attitude that she and her father have grown distant and she makes it even clearer that she hates the occult even though she had been obsessed with it growing up.

Suddenly, the series shows us what it’s all about when a poltergeist takes control of the principal’s body as well as that of a cute nerdy student named Kozue. Maya helps draw out the evil spirit but the big shocker is that, her father’s will has placed Maya as sole inheritor of Waldstein Academy … a responsibility that Maya takes seriously to the point that she takes up the role as the school’s new principal. Sure, the sexy Assistant Principal is against the idea but Maya is the type of girl who sticks to her guns.

Then, things gets even more interesting when Maya witnesses a naked young man slowly float down from the sky and land right in front of her. He is Fumiaki Uchida, a time-traveler who has traveled back to 1999 in order to locate what his handlers call the Nostradamus Key in order to stop an alien invasion in 2012. Armed with a cell phone that is able to snap pictures that will reveal the subject’s future, Fumiaki thinks Waldstein Academy is the best place to begin his search.

Of course, Fumiaki is something of a coward who frightened by the supernatural elements that occur around the school. Despite his yellow streak, however, Fumiaki comically catches the attention of the Assistant Principal who starts writing romantic entries in her diary involving him. He also becomes involved with an attractive waitress named Mikaze who spends her time having him try out her new curry dishes as well as drive him around (quickly) in her sports car.

On top of Fumiaki’s relationship with Mikaze, the Assistant Principal and Maya, we come to discover an even more intriguing element. In 1999, a child star is born as Bunmei-kun takes the talk show circuit by storm with his ability to bend spoons with his mind. It becomes obvious who Bunmei-kun will grow up to be and that alone makes the character truly fleshed out to the point that we come to understand Fumiaki and Bunmei-kun.

It is because of Bunmei-kun that Maya comes to realize things about her past, particularly why she has stopped loving the occult as well as her father. We learn of Maya’s past by way of Ami Kuroki, a student at the academy who was something of a childhood friend to Maya. Ami tries to understand what led her once childhood friend to stop obsessing over the occult and even Ami’s father – a big man-child of a man – tries to rekindle the girl’s love for the occult with rumors of a UFO sighting.

The rest of the series revolves around the search for the Nostradamus Key that is often interrupted by some unsavory supernatural appearances from creatures we have all heard of at some point such as the Mothman and a pack of Chupacabras that have been connected to a string of cattle mutilations. At one point, they even try to reclaim the lost soul of the nerdy Kozue who took part in an experiment. There’s even the ghost of a little girl who the group takes it upon themselves to help.

Thankfully, Fumiaki and Maya have help from Ami and Kozue but also the school’s mechanic named Smile (who carries a giant wrench he uses as a weapon) and a pudgy goth kid named JK who uses rods that is able to pick up supernatural vibrations. They all take part in helping Maya and Fumiaki on their search. Meanwhile, the series hints at the Assistant Principal wanting to put a stop to their search.

Unfortunately, despite the interesting character developments and solid writing, you can’t help but feel like there should have been more in terms of the villains … if you can call them that. Some minor characters don’t really add much either. Unfortunately, Ami – who is suppose to fill the “childhood friend” role in this series – ends up being rather on the lackluster side and adds very little to her role. In fact, that only real drama she brings to the table comes when she slaps Maya’s face after the girl chews out Ami’s father.

Still, these are small gripes in an overall entertaining package. Watching Fumiaki’s past unravel to reveal the typical child star problems is fascinating and his growing relationship with Maya is fun to watch. Even the humor in the series is charming and laugh-out-loud funny, especially the Assistant Principal who goes from serious to doe-eyed very quickly when Fumiaki crosses her path. Then there’s the ending that, to me, is surprising and very fitting.

As far as the animation is concerned, it is the right balance between decent-looking character models and some stunning painted backgrounds with a side of eye-catching visual effects. Add a stellar voice cast and you have a series that will have you thanking NIS America for releasing it on Blu-ray.

Occult Academy is not a serious supernatural anime series and, as a result, ends up being wildly entertaining enough that you will find yourself enjoying every minute of it. It’s hard to not to like a series that features time travelers, Mothmen and Chupacabras all in one fun package and, somehow, this series pulls it all off with a tongue-in-cheek approach that works. Sure, the series is lacking in a few things that would have made it amazing but the Premium Edition package of the Complete Series of Occult Academy is a guaranteed good time.
BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
It’s 1999 and a young girl named Maya inherits the Waldstein Academy – a school dedicated to the occult – from her deceased father. While she tries to make it clear that she hates the world of the supernatural, the arrival of a young time-traveler named Fumiyaki who has come in search of the Nostradamus Key that can save the world from an alien invasion. Together with the school’s students and faculty, Maya and Fumiyaki deal with a number of supernatural creatures and sci-fi elements that keep getting in the way.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
NIS America has decided not to include a DVD version, which is understandable seeing as Occult Academy is an anime series with gorgeous animation that includes impressive backgrounds, stellar visual effects and decent character design (with JK looking more original than the rest of the cast). The ending theme animation actually includes real actors.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The series isn’t just about gorgeous visuals as it also contains an excellent voice acting cast that includes Yoko Hikasa as Maya and Takahiro Mizushima as Fumiaki. On top of that there’s also an appealing original score and an even better opening theme song (“Flying Humanoid” by Shoko Nakagawa) and closing theme (“Kimi Ga Iru Basho” by Ayahi Takagaki).

EXTRAS: A+
Once again, NIS America knows how to do a Premium Edition right and this one has enough extras and collectibles to satisfy fans of the series. For starters, there’s the 36-page hardcover book complete with character artwork, episode synopsis and an occult encyclopedia that makes for a fun read.

The Blu-ray discs contain extras as well such as the clean opening and closing animation with the closing being on the top of my list of favorite closers. Then there’s an exclusive “Love Machine” clip that you have to see for yourself as well as four bonus mini-episodes featuring Maya and Ami as children since the series touches on the fact that they hung out as kids.

OVERALL: B+
While it is not quite as stellar as it should have been considering solid storytelling and a likeable cast of characters, Occult Academy is still a blast to watch either way. It’s hard not to like a series that blends the supernatural with sci-fi elements topped off with a great sense of humor. Still, you can’t help but feel that the series could have been better but, for my money, the Complete Series Premium Edition of Occult Academy is well worth your money.

Review copy provided by NIS America

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Durarara!!, Volume 2 – Manga Review

Review by: Kylee Strutt

Publisher: Yen Press
Author: Ryohgo Narita
Artist: Akiyo Satorigi
Character Design: Suzuhito Yasuda, Masayuki Sato (Cover)
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $11.99 US
Rating: OT (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

It takes a lot to impress this girl who likes to think that she has seen it all and read it all but along comes that rare gem that has fellow otaku like me sitting up in their seats totally immersed in the story. That’s the effect that the anime version of Durarara!! had on me and – wouldn’t you know it? – now the manga version has me under its spell despite the fact that I already know the story.

In fact, Volume 1 of the manga made an impression on me because Narita-sensei and Satorigi-san’s collaboration compliments the storytelling in the best way possible. They even tip their hat to familiar properties like Darker Than Black and Black Butler just to name a few of the works that inspire them. In the end, the volume was good enough that I certainly did look forward to a second helping. After an enticing beginning, Volume 2 begins with even more surprises.

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, the mysterious Black Rider is actually Celty Sturluson who is one of the most compelling and original characters to come along in a long time. We have come to discover in the last volume that Celty is what legends call a Dullahan (an Irish folkloric entity that inspired the creation of the Headless Horseman that chased Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). As it turned out, Celty has no head but also of the female persuasion. We also find out she is in Japan in search of her severed head.

In fact, it is because she is female that she puts up with the young Doctor named Shinra Kishitani who found her so long ago and whose father ran tests on her. I mean, how often does a man of science has the chance to study a legendary being whose past certainly does coincide with the Celtic legends. Yet, somehow – despite his seemingly dubious nature – Celty makes a discovery about herself that surprises her and it is connected to the young man.

Somewhere else in Ikebukuro, we meet four members of The Dollars including Yumasaki and Karisawa (who Mikado’s friend, Kida, introduced in the Animate store) who concoct comical torture methods (involving manga, no less) to one of the kidnappers from Volume 1. We also meet their young leader, Dota, who helps break the captured kidnapper and gets him to reveal the group responsible for the kidnappings. They come up with one name: Yagiri Pharmaceuticals.

Meanwhile, Anri Sonohara (the cute girl with glasses), becomes class representative and is joined by Mokado Ryuugamine who suddenly volunteers to be the male class rep. While it was evident from the start that he finds the girl attractive, he also discovers the truth about her. Yes, she’s a bright girl but not everyone finds that a very likeable quality. In fact, when he spots her outside of class, Sonohara is being bullied by a group of girls because she became a class rep.

Oh but things get crazy when Izya Orihara steps in to push the timid Mikado into taking action and defend Sonohara. When the young boy doesn’t take action, Orihara terrorizes the bullies in an almost psychotic manner. As I said in my first review, he’s both sinner and saint but there’s more to Orihara than meets the eye when a man in a bartender outfit named Shizuo Heiwajima who has a serious bone to pick with Orihara. In fact, he throws heavy garbage cans at him as if they weighed nothing at all. There’s definitely bad blood between these two.

Escaping with Sonohara, Mikado gets to spend some time with the girl and gets to know her a little better. He also finds out why she had a rather public almost pleading conversation with Seiji Yagiri who was the last to see Sonohara’s stalker friend, Mika Harima. According to Sonohara, Mika isn’t considered missing since she has been receiving letters from her. Little does she know what fate befell her friend who has a long history of falling in love with guys and stalking them. She once, comically enough, snuck into a boy’s apartment to invite herself to a family vacation she heard her crush mention to his friends.

Speaking of Seiji, we find out even more about this rather complex and seemingly disturbed young man and the role his sexy sister plays in his life. Disturbing is exactly the right word to describe Seiji’s sister, Chief Namie Yagiri, whose obsession with her brother is, well, let’s just say it’s abnormal. Things have gotten even more unsavory ever since Namie showed her then very young brother an item her uncle had shown her a most unusual item.

As a matter of fact, Seiji falls in love with said item and this does not sit well with a dementedly jealous sister who takes action that starts a chain reaction of events that lead to an unbelievable finale at the end of this volume. You see, it is Mikado who – having left Sonohara – is drawn in by the sound of the Black Rider’s motorcycle. Instead, he finds a young girl on the run from the Dullahan … a girl with very familiar physical features.

Ok, Narita-sensei, you have not only officially creeped me out but you also made me your biggest fan with just two volumes.

Injecting even more craziness that only this Ikebukuro can supply, Volume 2 of Durarara wastes no time exposing a story that has no shortage of twists and turns that doesn’t fail to provide readers with a puzzle they can’t wait to see revealed. You just have to love a series that features a Herculean bartender, a truly twisted love story and a “living” severed head. Even if you know the story, the manga version is still a delight. If you’re new to this series, however, you are in for a wild ride.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
The plot thickens as we continue to discover Celty’s past including her connection to the young doctor named Shinra. Meanwhile, members of The Dollars look into the string of kidnappings and discover who is behind it while the streets of Ikebukuro hosts a crazy conflict between Orihara and a man named Shizuo. As Mikado gets to know his cute classmate named Sonohara better, we witness the twisted nature of the Yagiri siblings.

ART: A-
There are a number of stand-out scenes in this volume as Satorigi-san’s artwork manages to display some crazy moments that make this series so fascinating.

OVERALL: A
The story continues to evolve and take shape in the most intriguing way possible as Volume 2 of the series slowly yet spectacularly tears out the layers as it reveal a tale that can only get even more engrossing. Durarara!! is the kind of series that goes for the surprising twists that will leave the reader on the edge of their seats and this volume is undeniable proof of that.

Review copy provided by Yen Press

Durarara!!, Volume 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Kylee Strutt

Publisher: Yen Press
Author: Ryohgo Narita
Art: Akiyo Satorigi, Masayuki Sato (Cover)
Character Design: Suzuhito Yasuda
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $11.99 US
Rating: OT (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

I knew going in that Durarara!! was not going to be your average kind of tale set in a real city. Having seen the anime series and – thanks to my fellow reviewer, Emma Everton – devoured the light novels, I already knew the big reveals and shockers the story had in store yet somehow I found myself still completely absorbed by Volume 1 of the manga version of Durarara!!

In fact, I’d even go as far as saying I had fallen in love with the story all over again thanks to Ryohgo Narita-sensei’s unusual storytelling style (fans of Baccano! know what I’m talking about) and Akiyo Satorigi-san’s enjoyable artwork.

The story introduces us to Mikado Ryuugamine, a young man who has come to Ikebukuro in Tokyo to attend a private high school by the invitation of his closest childhood friend, Masaomi Kida. Very quickly, Mikado finds the truth about the district, including the fact that Ikebukuro Station is considered the second busiest station in Tokyo (really, it barely beats out the Shinjuko Station in my book).

It also happens to be home to the most interesting collection of characters in town, including a number of them that Kida considers should “never be messed with.” On top of that, there are plenty of unsavory groups, one of which is The Dollars who have gained notoriety. And, of course, there’s the mysterious motorcycle rider who has become something of an urban legend around the district. Interestingly enough, Mikado gets a very close look at this figure on his first day in Ikebukuro.

While it’s fun to get to know the shy Mikado and his expressive and comical friend, Kida. Half the fun is getting to know the interesting characters that inhabit the district. Among them is Seiji Yagiri who finds himself trying to shake off a girl who is stalking him until she makes the mistake of following him to his apartment. There’s also Seiji’s sister, who is keeper of her brother’s secret as well as something else. Then there’s an Afro-Russian bruiser who offers a great deal on sushi made by Russians.

One of these other residents is Izaya Orihara who Kida and Mikado run into in the streets. It’s clear that Kida is nervous around this seemingly calm young man and with good reason. You see, when we see Orihara again, he is speaking to two young women who had answered the call of a website that interest those who are interested in taking their own lives. However, there is certainly more to Orihara than meets the eye as we could see from this volume. In his interaction with the two young women it’s hard to tell if he’s something of a saint or a sinister presence.

While Orihara is something of a delightful conundrum, it is the mystery rider who becomes the star of the show. Those who have seen the anime know the secret of Celty Sturluson but for those who don’t, Volume 1 reveals Celty in the most deliciously surprising manner as we discover the connection between the rider and the mythical entity of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Oh yeah, Celty is definitely one of the most original and fascinating characters to be introduced in anime and manga in a long time. Add the fact that Celty is something of a crime-fighting courier who does jobs that include clients like Orihara and you will find yourself drawn to the character. Even more interesting is the young doctor who is not only interested in the supernatural mystery that is Celty but also might actually have a romantic interest as well. Trust me when I say that more of Celty and the young Doctor will keep playing a role in this story.

Narita-sensei knows how to spin a complex yet completely absorbing yarn and Durarara!! is no different. He, once again, fills his story with plenty of intriguing characters and bloody violence. Even the locale is a character as Ikebukuro’s many interesting spots like Sunshine City and the anime and manga fan’s dream mega store, Animate, make appearances. Add Satorigi-san’s art and you have a visually eye-pleasing manga that compliments the anime’s visuals.

A worthy adaptation of a brilliant anime series, the first volume of Durarara!! will not fail to grab you by the throat and not let go until the last page. I liken it the first bite of an exotic dish you always wanted to try only to find that you can’t stop eating it and want seconds. It’s been a long time since a manga version of a story I already know from beginning to end has surprised me. Color me impressed and looking forward to the next volume.
MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
Young Mikado comes to Ikebukuro to join his elementary school chum only to discover that this part of Tokyo is home to some eclectic characters that include a young man who crosses the line between sinner and saint at a whim as well as a mystery courier whose identity might be tied to a recognizable mythological figure.

ART: A-
Akiyo Satorigi-san’s artwork is a delight and beautifully detailed when it comes to the backgrounds and how Ikebukuro is represented. The district is certainly another character in the book and Satorigi-san highlights this fact. The cover artwork is simple yet you can’t help but examine it each time you pick up this volume.

OVERALL: A
If you’re not familiar with the anime series or even the light novels, Volume 1 of Durarara!! should come as a pleasant surprise for those looking for something on the unusual side. Sure, this first volume can also come off as confusing at times but believe me when I say that part of the enjoyment is how this story slowly unravels before you until you find yourself glad you took this jaunt to this version of Ikebukuro.

Review copy provided by Yen Press