Neo Angelique Abyss Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

Neo Angelique Abyss Complete Collection Anime DVD Review The fate of the world is in the hands of one young woman and her handsome companions, but with secrets abounding what price is going to be required of them to save it?

What They Say:
Arcadia was once a beautiful world. Now it is a land under siege. Against the horrifying creatures known as Thanatos, there is only one known defense: Purifiers, rare humans gifted with the ability to exterminate the life-draining monsters. But Purifiers are few and the Thanatos are multiplying, so when the mysterious Nyx discovers 16-year-old Angelique, he becomes doubly committed to recruiting her for the team of Purifiers he is organizing. Not only is Angelique a Purifier, she’s the first female Purifier in recorded history. Moreover, there is an ancient prophecy Nyx is aware of: one of a woman with special powers, the “Queen’s Egg,” whose future will be inextricably tied to the fate of Arcadia!

The Review:
Audio:
Neo Angelique is one of the titles that was picked up and produced by Section 23 that was released with just its original Japanese language dub. To that end the only language track available is the 2.0 Japanese track. The track is a fair one which splits the dialogue and effects between the front speakers and also provides directionality when required. It isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off but it is a competent track with no dropouts or distortions noted during playback.

Video:
Originally airing during the 2008 television season Neo Angelique is presented in its original 1.78: aspect ratio and is presented with an anamorphic widescreen encode. For the show the producers chose to use some softer colors for the most part, giving the show a bit of a calming look. Sadly either through faults in its initial Japanese production or just the result of low budget DVD replication the video here is a rather sizeable mess. The problems are numerous and include lots of noise which creates trouble in motion scenes, some minor interlacing spots, ghosting, and some ugly jumping of the screen as well as blurring lines at times. Additionally, there is the presence of bleeding, banding, artifacting, dot crawl, jaggies, strong red blurring, aliasing, and some minor digitizing. From what looks to be the production side there also appears to be dirt in a scene and some of the CGI work looks off at times but it is hard to say how much of the video faults here belong to one category or the other.

Packaging:
The release contains five discs (two for each season and a separate disc for extras) in a Stackpak case where all the discs stack on a center spindle type holder. The front of the cover features Angelique in the center of the picture as she looks to be singing while she stands in front of a tree that is blooming in pink petals which also surround her. Above her is the series title while to the side of her there are some pastel purple bars and the series four main men are situated below her image. Angelique is again featured on the image on the spine, this time wearing a white dress and curled up with some yellow light radiating off her in the bottom of the cover while the title is presented in a classic looking font against the purple background at the top. The back of the cover features the copy, seven images from the series as well as the four men who play a slightly lesser role then the ones on the front.

Each of the four discs devoted to the series are presented with an image of one of the four leading men from the series getting their own disc featuring their image while the bonus disc features chibi characters of the extended cast standing about halfway on a purple circle that is around the hub. This circle is then surrounded by a white background on the rest of the disc that really helps the character images to stand out.

Menu:
The menus are a bit of a simple but satisfactory affair for this release as they use the original sets menus for the series discs. Each disc splits the screen with the image of one of the four main characters in the upper right of the screen against a white background (the characters match up with the characters pictured on the respective disc labels), with the first two discs devoting the color space for the options to a deep purple and the last two using a more purple, red and star dusk looking image. The first two discs use a clip of the first opening music while the second two discs do the same with the second series open as background music.

Given the series is available with only the one language track the only options available are the episode selections which are stacked in a staggered “step” like formation with the episode number listed before the title and the odd numbered discs have the option for the clean opening animation listed at the bottom of that screen. Which option is currently selected is indicated by a leaf image which changes colors when selected. The bonus Extras disc uses this same set up against a dark blue space looking pattern with Angelique being featured in the upper right corner. The menus are quick to respond to changes in selection and to implementing the selections when chosen.

Extras:
This release comes with all the extras from the individual set releases and there is a good deal of them, so many that the extras get their own disc. The first extras, Neo Angelique Theater and Second Age Theater are short little animation pieces that lovingly poke a little fun at the series. Another extra, the Multiple Love Endings features a character specific short bit of animation (some new, some stock) and presents what would be the ending routes for that character if this were a game rather than anime.

The next specials are rather linked in that they are actor focused- Omelet Rice Duel, Return to Neo Angelique Omelet Rice Duel, Sweets Duel ~ Pudding a la mode as different male members of the cast get together and have a cooking show type face off which allows for them to play a bit more. Finally my favorite extra, the Arcadia Carnival Special Drama where the cast went out to special promo events and read certain scenes live, then read scenes again with a different (and often hilariously wrong for the scene) character substituted in place of one originally there. I love watching actors play with characters and this extra provides that opportunity.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Neo Angelique Abyss is an anime spin off of the dating game series Angelique which is published by KOEI in Japan. This is mostly just background knowledge as the series does a fair job of explaining itself and standing on its own with the world it creates rather than relying on any game knowledge to enjoy it. In this world known as Arcadia the average person goes about their lives in the mostly middle ages like time period that the society exists in but the presence of some advance technology and left over artifacts suggest that there was a previous highly advanced society present that has fallen.

If the lack of technology was the lands greatest concern then the people would live in a good deal more peace but they are also plagued by the occasional appearance of strange monsters known as Thanatos that drain humans of their life energy. As with many cases in nature, when there is a disease, antibodies are developed, which in this case are people – almost completely men- who have the power to banish the creatures. These people are known as Purifiers and they are highly regarded though few in number and the number of Thanatos seem to be rising.

The world of Arcadia does provide some solace for its people as it has a legend- one day a woman will be born who will become the Queen’s Egg and who is destined to save the land from the evil that torments it. As the story opens it appears that the prophesized time may have come as stories of a young girl who has been rumored to posses power that even some of the stronger men who are Purifiers lack have begun to spread in a small village. These rumors reach the ear of the aristocratic Nyx, a Purifier who has been searching for the Queen’s Egg and has used his resources to try to help the people of the land combat the threat facing them and he sets off to verify their accuracy.

Nyx arrives at the school where the young lady named Angelique attends to find that she doesn’t believe she is the girl he is searching for or that the power she possesses is really that special. Nyx isn’t alone in his quest as he has already recruited a brilliant young man named Rayne to help him, whom Angelique encounters after he is wounded in a battle with some Thanatos. Angelique attempts to help him as she intends on being a doctor but when some Thanatos attack again she is forced to recognize the power she has as well its existence the responsibility it places on her.

As Angelique travels around the land helping others and helping fight Thanatos she encounters some other men who will join with the band Nyx is assembling- the always smiling but mysterious JD and the reserved former knight Hyuuga. With their fighting strength bolstered the group becomes dubbed “Orb Hunters” by an inquisitive journalist who hears about their attempt to cure the land of the plague that affects it. The Orb Hunter’s aren’t alone in this as, along with a branch of knights gifted with the abilities of being Purifiers, there is an organization known as the Artifact Foundation that is using science to try to bring peace to the people.

The problem is that each of these organizations may possess individuals who have motives of their own which will place Angelique in some odd situations. These perils won’t be helped in the least as her new companions each have some secrets of their own which may introduce even more trouble to the group and one secret may hold a key to a lock that will end the Orb Hunters.

Shattered and with a world in despair 6 months will pass in which the world slips further into darkness after a surprise revelation scatters the Orb Hunters. Will the Orb Hunters find the strength to fight this newest challenge in front of them. And when Angelique discovers the fate of the Queen’s Egg will she find she still has the determination to see her role through to the end or will the task be too much for the 16 year old girl’s shoulders to bear?

When it comes to anime series based off games the results can be hit or miss depending on how close the series sticks to the game as well as the fact that certain elements- enemy encounters for example- don’t translate well with a medium switch. For the most part Neo Angelique avoids many of the pitfalls but it can’t escape the problem that much of the familiarity a player has with certain characters comes from the amount of time spent with them, something that an animated series just can’t match in the same quantity.

This leads to a feeling that characters are getting shorted a bit as there is a rather sizable cast present here. The anime strives for a more neutral approach to the story which avoids settling on a particular character’s story path which gives every character a fair shake so no one’s favorite is left out but the reverse side of this is that no one character is allowed to outshine the others by too much. Part of this is made up for with the Love Endings extra, but a couple of minutes focus can’t cover the entire gap the neutral balance creates by itself.

Still, despite this flaw, the series brings in the fantasy/medieval/fallen society story setting that seems to have fallen out of favor among anime producers in a very competent, though not necessarily spectacular, way. The story does a nice job of presenting the love between characters and their impact on their world as well as establishing a consistent presentation of that world and filling it with some decent bits of wonder.

In Summary:
Neo Angelique is a series that manages to overcome many of the pitfalls that beset other game adaption anime and brings a tale of hope, love, loss and redemption to the table. While some maybe attracted (or repelled) from it based on its reverse harem setup the story manages for the most part to become more than just an average example of the genera and it has elements that likely will appeal to a broad spectrum of anime fans. While it has a few flaws (not the least of which is its shoddy encode) it still manages to bring a rather well crafted tale to the screen and it leaves me wishing that the original game series this is based off could find their way across the ocean.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, Neo Angelique Abyss Theater, Neo Angelique’s Multiple Love Endings, Neo Angelique Omelet Rice Duel Part 1, Arcadia Carnival Special Drama Part 1, Return to the Neo Angelique Omelet Rice, Duel Part 1, Neo Angelique Sweets Duel ~ Pudding a la Mode

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: D+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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Wakaba*Girl Episode #08 Anime Review

Wakaba*Girl Episode #08 Anime Review Culture festivals are hard work.

What They Say:
Wakaba looks like an elegant rich daughter, but she aspires to be like a trendy “gyaru”. Moeko is a pure, innocent and fairy-tale-like girl. Mao is capricious and behaves in her own way. Nao used to be an athletic type of girl, but has now become a fujoshi who loves boys love.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having connected with the other girls a lot more during the summer break, the show shifts us back to school where Wakaba is excited about the next big rite of passage that she’s missed out on. Naturally, it’s one that almost any anime fan is overly familiar with as the cultural festival is coming up. For a sheltered girl like Wakaba, one who has a pretty serious curfew about her at that, this is something that could give her a bigger taste of freedom on top of what she’s already had. But it also offers up a lot of fun new experiences for her with her friends, which is something that she craves more than anything else when you get down to it.

With Mao writing the script for the play that the class is putting on for the cultural festival, there’s some fun stress going on there, especially as she goes on about the part for Moe. A lot of this is familiar stuff to be sure, though we always get someone working harder than everyone else and that falls to poor Mashiba – though you suspect she secretly enjoys it. Mashiba gets some decent attention here, especially as she asks the others to rate her, and getting into her head a bit with how she thinks is pretty fun. When she goes and struts her stuff and gets all confident you have to love it, though it doesn’t go quite as she’d hoped, resulting in her doing a much harder transformation that rightly freaks everyone out in a great way. Poor, poor, Mashiba.

In Summary:
Wakaba*Girl plays to some of the familiar line items that every cultural festival episode must have, but it manages to do it in a cute enough way because of the pacing and the characters as we know them. The show gives us some adorable moments for almost all of them, Wakaba more so at the end, but it gives a lot of its focus to Mashiba. She’s not exactly been under served in the series but she’s had less overall than the others. Here, she gets to have some real fun, often at her own expense, that makes you laugh – right through the credits with an ice water challenge.

Grade: B

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Princeless #2 Review

Princeless #2 Review Having a proper belt is highly underrated.

What They Say:
Now that Princess Adrienne has escaped, it’s up to her to save her sisters. The first on her list is the youngest sister, Appalonia. But saving Appalonia means going back to her family’s castle and…even worse…facing her father. Will Adrienne be able to break into her old home and if she does, will she be able to get out again? The story of the Princess who saved herself continues in Princeless #2, “All For the Want of a Proper Belt”. Brought to you by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin.

The Review:
In the first issue, Adrienne is placed in a tower by her father, the king. He’s hoping that at least one of his daughters will be rescued by the perfect prince who can become his heir. Adrienne, however, has no intention of waiting around for her prince to come. She befriends the dragon and rescues herself.

Our second part of the story picks up with Adrienne heading home to rescue her youngest sister Appalonia before she ends up in a tower of her own. Devin, her twin brother, faces his own problems with their father. The king has decided that he’s not worth being the heir either, as he just isn’t excited about swordplay. A messenger arrives with the news of Adrienne’s tower being burnt to the ground, and the king is livid. Devin is devastated to learn of his sister’s death. Just then, a dragon flies into view, with an unrecognizable Adrienne in armor on its back.

There’s just so much I love about this comic. First, it’s just a fun story. There is plenty of humor and action, enough to keep any reader entertained. Between riding on dragons, sword fights, and slapstick parts like Adrienne hanging upside down as the dragon flies away with her; this is a comic that is sure to appeal to kids and adults alike. The relationship between Adrienne and Devin is perfect. Siblings; they support one another even through quarrels. I love them!

The “fairy tale turned on its head” idea isn’t new, but it draws me in. I love the switch of the gender roles between Adrienne and her brother. Yes, the kingly father is an unmitigated jerk, but that’s the kind of antagonist that works for a tale like this. I both hope he learns to be less obnoxious and love his nastiness. It’s usually the stepmother that ends up with this kind of role, so it’s a nice turnabout. This is exactly the kind of tale that everyone needs as a balance to the Disneyfied princess tales. The art is bright and fun, and fits perfectly with the story being told.

In Summary:
I went into the second issue of this comic with high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed. The story continues to be action packed and funny. This is the perfect comic to use to hook younger readers, especially girls. I know many of the people I chat with online are looking for something exactly like this. Yes, Princeless wants to teach us a lesson about gender roles – but it’s so much fun that I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.

Grade: A

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Naruto: Shippuden Episode #359 Anime Review

Naruto: Shippuden Episode #359 Anime Review

Naruto Shippuden Episode 359

Look! There’s Naruto… well, at least briefly.

What They Say:
Kakashi visits the Uchiha District and notices that the community seems more antisocial than the last time he visited. Meanwhile Itachi finds concrete evidence regarding the Uchiha Clan’s coup against the Leaf. The fateful moment is fast approaching…

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The politics and intrigue of the Hidden Leaf Village definitely has its moments across this series, though it took awhile to really get to it. But that made sense since Naruto was young and unaware are the early focus of the series was on him trying to cope with being on the outside, struggling to make friends and then working his way up in being a ninja while understanding what it was that resided in him. So there is a certain appreciation for going back in time to the days when he was just a baby and exploring more of what was going on then since it has an impact in the present with Danzo’s manipulations to take control of the village with his belief that only he and his plans would save it from utter ruin. And bringing in a greater understanding of Kakashi certainly helps, as does exploring more of the Uchiha clan.

With life moving forward and intrigue always out there, Kakashi has continued to grow and grow up since we saw him as the stripling this arc started with. He’s been through a lot and is a bit more mellow in a way, but there’s also the sense that it’s a cover and an act that he has used to protect himself and to ensure that people keep a certain distance. We see he’s still friends with Guy, which is always amusing, and there are some interesting moments as the two make their way to the Uchiha distract and walk through it. It mixes in some minor flashbacks for Kakashi with things he had done there in the past, but the coloring and tone of it all shows a far more distrustful place than it once was as everyone is keeping their distance and just observing what the pair are doing. It says a lot about the nature of the clan at this point, things we knew, but in a newer light.

As it moves on, we do see a good bit more of the intrigue in general with how the village elders and Danzo are starting to butt heads in some ways, and everything about Danzo is painted in such a dark and ominous light that it’s almost comical with the foreshadowing that’s placed on it, which we obviously know about already. But it does put us in the mindset of understanding more of what was going on then, and contrasting it with the daytime situations with young Naruto and Sasuke shows just how big of a situation that they’re caught up in that they had little control over. Some of what we get is interesting with the adults in an abstract kind of way, especially once the whole civil war issue is largely settled, and the elders work through plans to move forward to protecting the security of the village, but it just lacks the kind of impact it needs to really feel important.

In Summary:
Well, it’s nice that we see Naruto for a couple of seconds, isn’t it? I’m enjoying this arc in a kind of passive and casual way because while it does fill in some of the blanks with the past or expands and explores them a bit more, it’s all rather underwhelming in terms of pacing and actual key moments in a lot of ways. It’s better than pointless fart filler or other stuff that we got back in some previous anime original arcs and there is something to get out of all of this, but for me I still find the back story too many years too late. It’s interesting but not captivating or engaging outside of seeing familiar characters in their younger years and understanding their connection to events a little more closely.

Grade: B-

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Modern Magic Made Simple Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

Modern Magic Made Simple Complete Collection Anime DVD Review The magic may be simple, but even that doesn’t really mean it’s easy or you can do anything you want.

What They Say:
Life hasn’t been fair to Koyomi Morishita. Even though she’s in high school, she’s so short that everyone assumes she’s still in grade school. The boys and girls in her school tease her mercilessly, and she’s not exactly graceful either. On the other hand, she’s still better off than Yumiko, who has a magician trying to kill her… or at least, Koyomi was until their paths crossed!

Fortunately, salvation arrives in the form of master mage and graduate student Misa Anehara, who agrees to take Koyomi under her wing in learning the new style of magic, which breaks enchantment down into sequences of code. That’ll be quite a task, given that so far Koyomi’s talent seems to consist of making washbasins randomly fall out of the sky. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be magic, would it?

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release pretty basic as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The show is one that has a good mix of action and dialogue to it where both sides play out well. It’s not an expansive or really immersive show with what it wants to do but it uses the forward soundstage well to give it a clean and sharp feeling. Dialogue is well place when needed and the action ramps things up to quite a good degree with both the action effects and the various magical elements that are brought into it. The cast is pretty small here overall so there’s not a lot of variety tot he voices and what they do but it’s well handled across the board. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in the summer of 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across two discs with the OVA and five episodes on the first disc and seven episodes on the second. The series has a lot of bright, clean colors to it and the transfer captures studio Nomad’s animation really well. While the show may not have distinctive character designs or backgrounds, it has a very good look to it that’s really appealing here. It has a vibrancy to it that draws you in and it utilizes the computer code aspect in a great way to make it engaging to watch. It’s a solid looking transfer overall that lets the shows quality shine through.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard single sized keepcase with a hinge insde in order to hold both discs. The front cover goes with a fairly standard cast shot of the main group of women in the outfits we usually see them in. They’ve got a mix of expressions to them with a bit of humor and seriousness in there and they’re all wrapped around by the binary source code magic symbols. Add in a pretty good background that has a bit of a circuit board look to it that’s done faintly and in soft colors and it keeps the attention on the characters and the source code itself. The logo is kept simple like the title and looks good though I wish they kept the original series name somewhere on the front cover. The back cover is much brighter overall with a soft white and blue background that has a rather detailed summary about the show. The episode count is clearly listed and we get some good shots from the show and character artwork that’s definitely of the cute variety. Add in the usual elements with the production credits and the technical grid and you’ve got a solid looking design here that makes the show easy to figure out and entice with. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menus for this release are rather standard but it utilizes the colors and artwork well to provide for a good looking piece. The menus are split down the middle almost with the left side featuing cast artwork that’s different with each volume while the right has the episode numbers and titles with some cute code next to it. The two sides are split with a curved strip of ride which plays well to the blues and whites along the right side. It has a bright, upbeat and pretty look to it all that defintiely sets the mood right. Submenus are quick and easy to load, what few of them there are, since there aren’t any language submenus.

Extras:
The only extras included on this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahō that’s currently ongoing in Japan as written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Modern Magic Made Simple is a twelve episode series and OVA that takes a fun look at how magic can be reworked into the modern day. The show actually does things fairly right here when it comes to the OVA department as well as it precedes the TV series itself and just adds to the overall feel of the show rather than something that fits somewhere in the middle of the series but is viewed after the fact. It’s a good progression for story rather than just an odd piece that doesn’t fit in the flow of things.

The series takes place in the present day and focuses largely on Koyomi, a highschool freshman who has some aptitude for magic but not the actual application of it. What we come to understand is that magic is handled in two different ways. One is the classical form of it in which there are incantations and other verbal methods for invoking the magic. That’s how it was done for ages and there’s a real artform and appreciation from those that work that route. The other is modern form in which magic is understood in how it’s in the fabric of everything and that “source code” can be manipulated. Things are done through the code and in computers to write up spells that can be used but understanding the code and applying it can also simply be done by the person. Koyomi is of the modern style but she’s not exactly all that good at it as all she can do is make washbasins. Some pretty neat ones at times, but still that’s all it is.

Within this world, most people don’t know or see magic or understand it, but there are those with some history with it. And that history comes in the form of families, though they’re not used to a great extent here. What we do have is that Anehara family with Misa being the one of this generation who excels at magic and runs a pretty good business with it. Her residence used to be a large restaurant that was well known quite some time ago and it’s also a bit of a school now though she only teaches Koyomi since she knows there’s a lot of potential in there with here and the two made a good team. Misa does come with a brother, Soshiro, who is rather amusing in that he doesn’t see magic at all and thinks it’s just crazy talk, which is even harder to rationalize when he has washbasins dropping everywhere. And while it is a gag for awhile, it also has a really good explanation later in the series that made me grin quiet a bit.

The one that shakes up events most of the time though is Yumiko, a young woman with a foreign background to her that has her set apart in Japan. She’s the one that as a child was very determined to be a magic user as she understood that she was one of the rare ones that could grasp it. And her origins introduced her to the Classical form of magic first and foremost which she took after. Yumiko brings in the catalyst for the series as well as she has a staff that contains an immense amount of knowledge and power that others, in “ghostscript” form, are looking to acquire from her in order to reshape the world as one that has more awareness of magic. Because of her possession of this, there’s a decent storyline that takes shape over the course of it that lets everyone work together at different stages to understand with what’s coming after them.

The early part of the series is rather confusing at times depending on how closely you’re paying attention. It uses a bit of magic for time travel, but it’s not exactly clear when things jump back and forth a bit since it starts with a jump to the past without cluing us in. It’s rather neatly done when you put it all together though as you get a look at the evolution of some of the characters, notably with Yumiko, but you also get a better appreciation for Koyomi because she does a pretty good job at keeping her own counsel during the time trip. But even as we do get to see Koyomi better through this, and it reflects well back in the present, it’s Yumiko that makes out the best as we get the most understanding of her and her situation. Hardly anyone else has any family mentions here, even Misa’s own brother is but a bit player, but Yumiko is the one that feels like she comes from some place.

Modern Magic Made Simple does keep to a straightforward visual design so it’s not a series that looks radically different or does anything to stand out in a big way. The character designs are appealing though and the use of magic is rather well handled with the way they visualize the source code itself. The cast themselves do have a pretty good look to them and the way they handle the ghostscript characters, essentially ghosts given a different origin of sorts, adds a good bit of flavor to things. The show does feature a good bit of action as well but it’s not one that generally uses it in a very big way, though it doesn’t shy from making a scene strong and important.

In Summary:
Modern Magic Made Simple wasn’t the smoothest of series to get into with the way it moves back and forth without it being clear why it’s doing so, but once it found its groove it got into it well even if it didn’t do anything big for a lot of it. The show avoids doing the silly subplot and filler type that tends to populate these kinds of shows as it instead works the larger plot in smaller doses and in pieces woven into everything else. It’s a slow build with some interesting bursts along the way. It’s the type of series you’d almost call uneven if you didn’t realize what it is that it’s trying to do. This show would have likely frustrated a bit in weekly form, but watching it over the course of a day made for a good bit of fun even if it didn’t do much to really flesh out the cast much.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 20th, 2011
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Nura: Rise Of The Yokai Clan Vol. #06 Manga Review

Nura: Rise Of The Yokai Clan Vol. #06 Manga Review The fight with Shikoku comes to an end, but it’s not long before another enemy threatens to come for Rikuo.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Hiroshi Shiibashi
Translation: Yumi Okamoto
Adaptation: Mark Giambruno

What They Say
Yokai rumble! Rikuo leads his Night Parade of a Hundred Demons in a street fight against the 88 Demons of Shikoku. But Rikuo doesn’t know that the maniacal leader of the 88 Demons, Tamazuki, is wielding a secret weapon: the Devil’s Blade, a legendary sword that absorbs the energy of the demons it slays. When the sun rises, the Paranormal Patrol visits a girl who’s being visited by a jyami, a type of ghost that only haunts outcasts.

Content: (please note that the content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
With the help of Yuki-Onna, Rikuo is able to take on Tamazuki. To increase his own power Tamazuki uses his sword, the Devil’s Blade, to kill his subordinates and absorb their power, but Rikuo strikes back with the power of his own living allies. Before Tamazuki can be killed Nurarihyon and Inugami-Gyobu, Tamazuki’s father, interrupt. Inugami-Gyobu begs to have his son’s life spared, which Rikuo grants as long as those who were killed are buried and honored. Later, we see the Paranormal Patrol again as they travel to an ocean town to save a girl from the ghost Jyami who watches her as she sleeps. Then as they return home, a pair of onmyoji appear in town with plans to kill all the demons.

The battle with Tamazuki and the Shikoku demons comes to a quick end as the Nura yokai win their fights one by one. The pacing here is a little uneven, as many of the fights are concluded within a couple of panels, while others are lengthened by dialogue and sudden flashbacks. Even the final push against Tamazuki and his sword, while exciting, feels rushed, as many of the pages are taken up with backstory and meaningful speeches. It still comes to a pretty satisfying end, as Rikuo finally defeats him not only with the help of his subordinates, but also while his demon blood is ebbing away with the sunrise, proving that his true strength isn’t something physical.

It’s a treat to finally see Yuki-Onna show her stuff. Initially her fight against Yosuzume looks to be disappointing, as she’s immediately blinded, but then we discover she played a trick to freeze her own eye, preserving half of her sight. She quickly freezes Yosuzume, allowing Rikuo to continue his own battle. Her moment in the sun lasts only a chapter, and she immediately looks to Rikuo for his praise, but at least we were able to see another girl in this manga hold her own.

After the intriguing battle, we jump right into another Paranormal Patrol story arc. This once again proves to be more goofy than anything else, as half the group complains of losing their summer vacation and Kiyotsugu yammers on about yokai. The biggest yield in this story arc is that Rikuo gains another member of his Night Parade, but half a book seems an awful long time just to obtain a minor ally.

In Summary
The Shikoku fight ends with Rikuo’s obvious victory, but also with the enemy Tamazuki still alive. With all of the character development and backstory Tamazuki received, this leaves me to believe that he’ll come back, with his final introspection making it seem that he’ll be an ally rather than a foil. After all the fighting and death it’s unsurprising that the next plot involved the Paranormal Patrol, but while a bit of humor keeps the story light the second story arc just brings the overall manga plot to a stall. But even though a good portion of this book is taken up with a goofy side story, a number of intriguing things pop up to keep our interest. At the end of the fight with Shikoku we are reminded of the possible traitor in the Nura clan, and finally get a glimpse of who it might be. And at the end of the volume, we see that Yura Keikan, the demon hunter and Rikuo’s friend, has two siblings coming to town with a more black-and-white, and more vicious, view of yokai. A fight with the Keikan family is definitely more imminent, and luckily promises a more serious and interesting story to start off volume 7, while the possible traitor will likely remain a mystery, an important unanswered question that will hopefully carry us through more volumes.

Content Grade: B
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 13+
Released by: Viz Media
Release Date: December 6th, 2011
MSRP: $9.99

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Movie: Sacred Star of Milos Blu-ray/DVD Anime Review

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Movie: Sacred Star of Milos Blu-ray/DVD Anime Review The chance at a new form of alchemy sets the brothers off on a new mission of discovery only to find a complicated and twisted past infecting the present.

What They Say:
A fugitive alchemist with mysterious abilities leads the Elric brothers to a distant valley of slums inhabited by the Milos, a proud people struggling against bureaucratic exploitation. Ed and Al quickly find themselves in the middle of a rising rebellion as the exiled Milos lash out against their oppressors. At the heart of the conflict is Julia, a young alchemist befriended by Alphonse. She’ll stop at nothing to restore the Milos to their former glory – even if that means harnessing the awful power of the mythical Philosopher’s Stone.

The Review:
Please Note:
The technical portions of this review covers only the Blu-ray in this DVD/BD combo release.

Audio:
The audio presentation for this film contains the two standard audio tracks in that we get the Japanese and English language mixes in 5.1 using the Dolby TrueHD codec. Due to licensing restrictions, the tracks cannot be changed on the fly and the subtitles are locked to their specific tracks, which is unfortunate but didn’t impact my enjoyment of the film. The audio mixes are essentially the same with the music and effects tracks as they use the forward soundstage well with some good bass moments, but it’s the music that primarily uses the rear channels in both soft and loud ways that helps to enhance the moment. The dialogue is largely restricted to the forward soundstage but it flows very well with some good placement in many scenes and a solid sense of depth as well. It’s not an over the top mix but it doesn’t shy from going big in the right ways. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released in 2011, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The feature has a very rich design to it and the transfer captures iti very, very well. Colors are rich where appropriate, the detail is solid and well defined and it brings the theatrical flavor of the animation home in a compelling way. Owing to its theatrical nature, there is also that thin sliver of film grain here that gives it a bit more richness but avoids any problems such as noise and other complications. Cross coloration is a non-issue and in general the transfer comes across as rich, beautiful and clean as it should be. There was really nothing of note to make here that would detract from a normal viewing experience.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release, at least the first pressing edition, has an O-Card on it that mirrors whats on the standard size blu-ray case inside. The front cover artwork is a good piece with the usual array of headshots in emotional moments set against an explosion of power and a mixture of energy striking out against the darkness that is the black background. The heavy shadows and overall look is quite good and it’s definitely distinctive. The logo is kept along the bottom adheres to the usual style design and has a good thematic look while also keeping things simply but effective. The back cover runs with the black background in a good way because the text, while a bit soft, is readable against it and is laid out without being too small of font size. The small strip of pictures doesn’t do the film justice but it does show off some of the variety to it. The films extras are clearly listed and the summary of the plot covers the basics well enough without giving away too much. Add in the good dual format technical grid that lists it all accurately and you’ve got a decent cover here. My only gripe is that the run time is kept outside of the technical grid so that a cursory look will have you seeing the extras runtime and thinking the film runs that long. The set doesn’t have any inserts of note related to the film but there is artwork on the reverse side in a greyscale that shows off part of the ruin from the film itself.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is decent and about as expected as it utilizes a lot of big action clips from the film that run in a decent loop. All of it is set to the end music, which is definitely something that sets up the active aspect of it, and it all loops together with the logo at the end. Amusingly, while I liked it when I first loaded up the disc, going back to the menu after the end of the movie where the song plays, you realize just how much weaker high-end Dolby Digital audio is compared to the lossless Dolby True HD mix as the menu is kept to the 640kbps level. It feels very empty in comparison. The layout of the menu is alright, not really thematic or anything, with a small navigation strip near the bottom that doubles as the pop-up menu and has the basic selections which are all quick and easy to access with no problems. Submenus load quickly and cleanly and we had no issues in getting around.

Extras:
The extras for this release, the majority of which are kept on a second disc for the DVD release but are all on the Blu-ray, are definitely the kinds of things you want. The big extra for the Japanese language fans is an hour long behind the scenes feature which is in high definition and covers a lot of ground. Bringing in the voice actors to talk about it, the creative staff and showing what went into its production is always enlightening and this one is no exception. It’s the kind of extra that really lets you see the people and effort and how they did it all, in a positive light, that helps to expand your appreciation of the end result. English language fans aren’t left out as they provide a commentary track for the feature to talk about their experiences as well, which we sampled a bit of. Add in a selection of trailers, TV spots and the web promo and you get to see some of the marketing that went into it as well. There may not be a lot in terms of the extras you can select, but what we do get is pretty extensive and encompassing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the overall period of time that the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series runs, there’s certainly enough room for a couple of side stories to take place. The series itself is rich with adventure but little in the way that isn’t necessary to the core storyline. That’s one of the big advantages to it in that it’s pretty focused and working towards telling that tale. It meandered a little but even those pieces were part of the larger puzzle in some important ways. So when it came time to a movie to be made, I’m definitely glad they went this route of a new original story rather than trying to do movie version of the TV series itself or mucking with the continuity in some way. Or even worse, a completely different retelling of things in compressed form.

With a nearly two hour running time, the film certainly gets to take its time doing what the series did best in bringing out all these various events and characters to tie it all together. And rather than working with the cast at large, it does keep it to Ed and Al for the most part and the new characters. The central motivation here is a good one that ties into the series as a potential new flavor of Alchemy may be out there due to an incident that unfolds and that gets the brothers heading off to investigate. Their natural desire to find some way to get their bodies back is what drives them, but it also ties into their job as well which is a big bonus. That incident has them going to Table City, a border town against the nation of Creta where tensions are seemingly always running high.

The feature introduces us to some of the characters from the start in a painful way as two young children, a son and daughter of alchemists themselves, find their parents slaughtered at the hands (or claws) of something brutal. Their lives change dramatically after that, and as we learn they ended up in the valley between Armestris and Creta. Ashleigh didn’t stay there forever though as he ended up heading out for his own goals, leaving his sister Julia there where she attempts to learn alchemy herself. This area, a land once belonging to a group called the Milosians, has an intriguing history of abuse by various nations that has now left them barely surviving in a deep stone valley along the border. It’s one of the more intriguing areas of the world to come into play between this and the series and really gives you a sense of history and scale that a lot of the main show did not for various locales.

What draws Ed and Al into things is when in the capital, an escaped prisoner uses the strange alchemy to overpower them and get away, which puts them hot on the trail that leads to Table City. That has them following Ashleigh, who has plenty of secrets of his own, but also introduces a Chimera of sorts at first with a werewolf type that’s causing plenty of trouble and hunting down Ashleigh pretty fiercely. The arrival at Table City is pretty spectacular in terms of action and layout as things just turn out as they usually do for the brothers, but it then spends a lot of its time exploring the nuance and intricacies of the city itself and the various groups that occupy it. Nothing is like it seems at first and the further it gets in and the more we understand of the Milosians and their struggle, the more curious a turn it takes yet with a certain predictability. With Ed and Al getting caught up in it, things do spiral out of control at times but there’s also a very strong sense of purpose about them as they want to do what’s right as the learn more of the history.

While the TV series spent its time detailing the locales over several episodes but within the confines of the multi-character arcs that were going on, this one gets to spend almost all of its time really building this area. And it’s very unique, making it a visual treat on many levels. There’s a good sense of continuity between the series and this, though this is obviously a theatrical level budget in the sheer amount of detail and design. The payoff is huge as it makes this a richly designed and engaging film just in watching them move through all the places. It’s almost a little too distracting at times from the main storyline. But the character animation, while very good, also doesn’t detract by being radically different or overdone from what we saw in the series. This film really is the perfect complement to the series. It adds to the richness of the world without screwing anything up.

In Summary:
With the TV series being one of my all time favorites, I had a certain hesitation with this feature before watching it after what the previous movie did to the previous series with all its changes and alterations. Thankfully, none of that is here and what we get is something that is, while standalone, a spot on perfect addition to the series. It’s a fine line to tread in how it can either add to the world or corrupt it, but they did a fantastic job here. And it is pretty accessible to people who haven’t seen the series (as proven with the group I was with that hadn’t seen it but thoroughly enjoyed this). Though things are essentially self contained here, it provides for an engaging story that deals with large scale issues, a sense of history and a connection to everything else that the TV series operated with. It’s a striking film with its visuals, set design and character animation and it essentially hit everything just right for me.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making of Sacred Star of Milos, U.S. Cast Commentary, Theatrical Trailer, Web Promo, TV Spot, U.S. Trailer

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 24th, 2012
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.