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

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

Animanga Nation Lives … and will be back this November!

I can’t even begin the list the number of things that almost led to Animanga Nation closing its doors for good. Well, in a way it did since the main office that also houses our sister site, Comic Revolution, burned down during an August fire that destroyed a number of homes and buildings. The Animanga Nation offices lost everything during these fires so you can imagine the site has lost all of its resources.

Secondly, the publishing company that owns this site was going to make dramatic changes that would have killed this site and the editors have been fed up with the corporate suits that don’t know anything about the gaming scene and even less about anime and manga. It led to a vicious battle that had ALL of the Animanga Nation crew call it quits. So, in a way, August was the last month for Animanga Nation as we know it.

However, the corporate suits did not expect to see a pirate ship in the horizon and could not make the call-to-arms as said pirates climbed aboard to walk the suits off a plank and into the deep. That’s right, Captain Eden Zacarias and her band of anime and manga-loving merry crew of otaku pirates, have purchased this site from their very noses and kicked out the publishing company so we can do our own thing without somebody watching over us like a hawk. That means, myself and my crew call the shots to bring news, reviews and original content our own way.

Who am I? I am the young sister of the original Editor-in-Chief, Eduardo Zacarias, who did a great job with the site and has taken it as far as he could with a publishing company that stifled his creativity and the original content he had planned for it. I, like my older brother, am a writer and a massive gaming enthusiast. However, before being a gamer I have an background in anime and manga to the point that it rivals my brother’s love for Japan’s creative art form. I’m skilled in all things Ghost in the Shell with a Bachelor’s degree in One Piece. I love anime.

Of course, I am not alone as I bring a crew whose love for anime and manga rivals my own. It’s good to be among writers who share your love so I am blessed to have put together this team who is dedicated and ready to bring readers their viewpoints and original content as well. You will only find one familiar face among the review crew, Felicia Day, who had no contract so I picked her up. Other than that the crew is new so please allow me to introduce them.

Editor-in-Chief: Eden Zacarias – What is there else to say except for the fact that I believe in this site so much that I purchased it and want nothing more than to bring our love for anime and manga to Animanga Nation. Like most of my crew, I have spent time in Japan. I actually lived there for a few years so I not only know how to speak, read and write in Japanese but I can also cook a number of dishes too. Besides loving anime and manga, I love J-pop and J-rock. Looks A Lot Like: Talho from Eureka Seven.

Managing Editor: Felicia Day – Felicia may share the name of the cute redheaded nerd from “The Guild” and our Felicia is also a cute nerd by her own admission. She has a great fondess for Yaoi and, in an event in Tokyo she attended, was a guest speaker who was a big hit among fellow Yaoi fans who loved what she said about BL. She loves other anime as well like Eureka 7, Death Note and anything Gundam. Looks A Lot Like: Ringo from Air Gear.

Reviews Editor: Kylee Strutt – The Strutt family is no stranger to animation seeing as her brother, Micah, worked on a few original animated series for the now-gone Icebox.com. Just like him, Kylie grew up on a steady diet of Naruto, Dragon Ball Z and Blood+. Kylie has cosplayed as her favorite characters during the 2003 Tokyo Game Show when she went to Japan with her family and has gotten plenty of admirers because of it. She even spent two days working as a maid in a maid cafe in Akihabara! Oh yeah, she loves all things Japanese. Looks A Lot Like: Yoko from Gurren Lagann.

Reviewer: Emma Everton – You seen it a hundred times in anime. A beautiful blonde British girl living in Japan who joins the all-Japanese cast who battles for the attention and love of the main male character. This is Emma Everton who grew up in Japan being the daughter of an Army Captain who was stationed there. Emma discovered manga and anime on her first day living there when she was 8 and has grown up loving Evangelion and Case Closed. She spent her days in a manga cafe with all her friends who included a girl named Eden Zacarias. Looks A Lot Like: Lucy from Fairy Tail.

Reviewer: Sabine Monroe – Paris, France is a city filled with life and art and somehow Sabine found a dog-eared second volume of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster on a bus that somebody left behind. She was so absorbed by it that she missed her stop and ended up going directly to a rare book store to pick up the first volume until she became instantly hooked. Then came her love for anime and has become an official otaku because of it. Sabine loves romance fare like Ah! My Goddess, Maria Watches Over Us and Chobits. Looks A Lot Like: Rangiku from Bleach.

So that’s us and we will keep Animanga Nation alive and well bringing you news and reviews plus extras we have planned. So, coming in the end of November, we will be back. I promise you that we will not disappoint and are grateful to all of you who continue to visit the site.

See you very very soon!
– Eden Zacarias
Editor-in-Chief

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