Appleseed: Limited Collector's Edition
The trailers made me drool, so only naturally, I picked up the special edition in a metal case. The case is quite nifty, and this edition includes two DVDs: one for the feature, the other for the bonus features. Extras on the second disc include an image gallery, design archives, a music video, trailers, a trailer for the video game, the 'Birth of 3D Live Anime' featurette, and an information section that gives character profiles, mecha information and keywords in the movie. The bonus material on the feature disc include the standard selection of trailers for Geneon, and two commentaries from the director and the producer.
Frankly, Appleseed is a horrible movie, plot-wise. If you want the true story, read the manga (although it is unfinished) or watch the original series, made in 1988. Characters are flat and have little to no interaction with each other beyond the surface, and the plot makes the original Final Fantasy game look like an epic. Our heroine, Deunan is a legendary soldier sent to discover the secret of Appleseed, which will free the Bioroids, modified human clones, from the tyranny of humanity, who threaten to destroy the Bioroids. Once she rediscovers her past, tied with the fate of Appleseed, Deunan races back to the city of Olympus, hoping to save the Bioroids and humans from extinction. That's pretty much the story. Deunan's former lover, Briareos appears as a cyborg, but the movie hardly explores that relationship, instead opting for a cheesy unspoken love.
Much like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Appleseed's true merits lie in its radical 3D live animation. This is a beautiful anime, blending CG with live capture, creating a modern version of rotoscope, and showcasing how anime will possibly look in five years. I was pleased that they managed to navigate the Uncanny Valley theory of social robotics, which applies greatly to animation as well. Deunan never triggered the weird reaction that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within's Aki always gave me. (The theory goes that humans have a positive psychological reaction to robots that look somewhat like humans. However, if a robot is made to look very realistic, but somehow isnít quite right (it has an odd smile, doesn't move right, or doesnít blink), it seems grotesque instead of comforting.)
I would definitely recommend people watching Appleseed at least once, but wait until the price drops before investing in a copy of your own. --JC
Fighting Spirit Vol. 6: Death Match
Ippo is back, and in the finals all-rookie tournament. His opponent is the fearsome Mashiba, who has been destroying opponents with his devastating "flicker" jabs. Ippo is very motivated for this fight, because he witnessed his rival and friend Miyata lose to Mashiba, but in a very disturbing manner.
The final match is spread throughout three episodes, and each is so action-packed that you'll on the edge of your seat in anticipation for what will happen next. Can Ippo beat Mashiba, or will he finally get his first loss? After the title fight, things die down a bit, and a new character is introduced to the mix: Sendo. Heís a hard punching fighter who fights just like Ippo, and has a devastating finishing punch.
This is the sixth volume of this great series, and Iím very much enjoying it. What is not to love about this show? Fighting Spirit is very action packed, has tons of humor, and brings forth many emotions that some people might see in themselves. The show is not just about boxing, but more the trials of a person and the determination that it takes to achieve a goal. This is easily one of the best series I have ever seen, and I canít wait for more. Highly recommended! --AC
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 6
The series is winding down, but the laughing man story is just starting to heat up in volume six of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. A lot of information gets cleared up in these three complex episodes, but just as much is left unanswered.
Following the cliffhanger that the previous volume left off on this was a painful wait, but well worth it. Togusaís investigation leads to a lot of new discoveries in the laughing man case, and it helps to show who some of the main players are in it. It certainly is clear that this isnít a simple case, as high-ranking government officials and special task forces within the government are all involved. An explosive episode topped with a great action scene gets things going. Thereís also a classic moment of the series involving a very ticked off Major and a very large gun. This volume also shows us a little bit more of what we saw in the last volume; that Section 9 isnít invincible. Later on, some of the fallout from Section 9ís investigation gets Aramaki and the Major into trouble, but help comes from a very unlikely source. Closing out this volume is another 'info dump' episode, as dialogue dominates the scenes. This episode really helps to illustrate just how good of a series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is when two people talking take up most of the screen time, yet itís still exciting and entertaining.
The trend of one great release after another continues with volume six, although there is one drawback. The DVD comes with some nice interviews, like all of the other dics before, but since thereís only three episodes on this volume as suppose to four, it can get frustrating, especially when the story is coming to a climax. --JL
Midori's Days Vol. 1: A Helping Hand
Proving that the anime industry has not yet run out of ideas, Midori's Days (popularly known as Midori no Hibi) is a charming comedy that takes the concept of living with your boyfriend to an entirely different level. Midori Kasugano and Seiji Sawamura don't merely share the same house. Instead, Midori has physically taken the place of Seiji's right hand.
Now, Seiji has to come to terms with two things. First of all, he can no longer fight as often as he used to. His right fist was his most formidable weapon. Seeing as it's been replaced by a young girl, he's no longer as quick to smash his right hand into his problems. Secondly, Midori confesses her love to the boy, throwing the dateless guy for a loop. What caused this smaller incarnation of Midori to manifest as Seijiís right hand, and why is her full-sized body unconscious in her parentsí mansion?
Filled with plenty of heartstring-tugging moments, this is the story of two young adults who finally begin to grow up, thanks to a special bond. Literally. Midoriís Days is fan-friendly, with the occasional naked upper body shot of Midori, as well as the obligatory awkward scenes that always take place in a coming-of-age romance.
The character designs are pleasantly reminiscent of Fruits Basket, the animation is sharp and smooth, the colors are bright, and the extras are surprisingly interesting. I was particularly pleased by the inclusion of an audio drama segment -- we need more of these over here! Anime fans in need of a romantic fix that offers something a little different (more specifically, this tale has a little Midori) shouldnít go anywhere without a copy of Midori no Hibi in hand. --PK
Samurai Champloo Vol. 3
After a fairly disappointing second volume, Samurai Champloo finally returns in full form with the best release yet. With much less of a focus on ridiculous scenarios (although there is one, but it is excellent) and more of one on the show's selling points, samurai action and hip-hop, this volume definitely delivered what was missing from volume two.
Our trio of adventurers continues their search for the samurai who smells of sunflowers, now diverting their path towards Nagasaki with little to no leads. Nothing has changed in terms of money, and we again have a focus on the quest to gain it. Although it might sound repetitive, new concepts are implemented in the search for it, so the basis for the story at this point never gets too old. One of the storylines is fairly bizarre (I'm not going to spoil it), but it shouldn't be too much for fans of the show to handle. In this volume, we also get to know the characters much better, and a new depth is added to Jin in particular. While recap episodes are a particular pet peeve of mine in anime, the one on this DVD is so well done and entertaining that I was not bothered by it at all. I really wish that all anime directors could be that creative with episodes such as "The Disorder Diaries." (This episode also happens to have a damn good ending theme.)
As usual, Geneon has done a great job with this release, providing 5.1 for both English and Japanese and great video quality, as well as a fantastic written insert by the show's scenario writer, Dai Sato. The cover art is also beautiful, something I really wish that other U.S. anime distributors would pay attention to. Even with the recap episode (which, as I said, is still great), Samurai Champloo is easily worth its price, and I can't wait for volume four. --CI
Shingu: The Stellar Wars Vol. 2 - Tense Confrontations
Releases from longtime industry player TRSI have a sad track record of ducking under the radar. Whether itís due to less than stellar distribution or inadequate media coverage is unclear, but one thing is certain. If they put out more shows like Shingu, they shouldn't remain unnoticed for much longer.
Shingu struck me as nothing more than a giant robot show when I first saw images from the series, but it really has almost nothing to do with mechanical beasts at all. Although most people on Earth donít know it, our planet is the host of one of the most powerful weapons in the universe -- Shingu. Its strength is entrusted to the populace of a small rural Japanese town, and it is wielded by a team of teenagers. There is an overall plot concerning two sides of an alien planet engaged in a civil war, who are simultaneously invading Earth to claim this power, but thatís not actually the main focus of the story.
More than anything, this is a high school comedy. At least, throughout the first two discs thatís what weíve been treated to. Surprisingly, itís an exceptionally good high school comedy at that. Each protagonist oozes tons of personality, and the interaction between the characters is immensely amusing. There are love triangles, episodes fraught with tales of familial bonding, and a worthy coming-of-age story that holds the whole thing together. The intergalactic war taking place almost backstage only adds another layer of depth to this excellent series.
The animation seems a little dated, but the content of Shingu more than makes up for it. Attractive packaging and top-notch bonus features (such as an informative twelve page booklet) make the show as appealing on the outside as it is on the inside. If you want a different sort of school comedy and an unusual science fiction yarn, Shingu is a great place to start. --PK
The Twelve Kingdoms Vol. 10: Reverie
Well, this is it. The last disc of The Twelve Kingdoms introduces a new plotline and deftly wraps it up within the 125-minute long running time. The epic beauty of Fuyumi Onoís world is as great as ever, the characters as well-defined and intriguingly complex, and the animation is as impressive as it was in the beginning.
This series remains one of the best modern fantasies Iíve ever read, even though thereís far more to tell than whatís been divulged so far. The main plot thread of the entire series has been left resolved -- that of a certain missing ruler and his Kirin -- and thus the tenth DVD release does not satisfy as much as it could have. There arenít any noteworthy bonus features included, but for longtime fans of the series, none are necessary; we just want to see how the story goes.
This volume concerns itself with a twisty tale of a provincial lord who defies his liege, King En, in an attempt to make things better for the people under his rule. However, though his intentions may be pure, his methods are suspect. The bond between Enki and the King is fully explored in this prelude to the main events of the primary story arc, and itís as entertaining as the rest of the series, but it leaves viewers wanting more.
Hereís to the hope that some noble publisher picks up the book rights to translate the novels, or that somehow, somewhere, funding is scraped together to get the anime series back in production. Sadly, the former has a far greater chance of happening than the latter. Ah well; the bookís always better than the movie. --PK