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Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale (a J!-ENT Anime Film Review)

March 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I found the storyline of “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” to be extremely satisfying and as a person who has watched the series and loved nearly every episode, I really enjoyed seeing the progression of Kirito and Asuna’s relationship and how that relationship plays a big part in the film’s storyline. I really do feel that fans will enjoy this SAO film! A wonderful and engrossing storyline filled with action and drama, “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of  2017 © REKI KAWAHARA/PUBLISHED BY KADOKAWA CORPORATION ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO MOVIE Project. © RK/KC AMW/SM


Originally created by Reki Kawahara

Original Character Design by abec

Directed by Tomohiko Ito

Scenario by Reki Kawahara, Tomohiko Ito

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design: Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima

Chief Animation Director: Shingo Adachi

Sound Director: Yoshikazu Iwanami

CGI Director: Ryuta Undo

Director of Photography: Kentaro Waki

Anime Production by A-1 Pictures


Featuring the following voice talent:

Haruka Tomatsu as Asuna Yūki

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Kazuto Kirigaya/Kirito

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki/Lizbeth

Ayana Taketatsu as Suguha Kirigaya/Leafa

Hiroaki Hirata as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto as Andrew Gilbert Mills/Agil

Kanae Itō as Yui

Miyuki Sawashiro as Shino Asada/Sinon

Rina Hidaka as Keiko Ayano/Silica

Sayaka Kanda as Yuna

Takeshi Kaga as Professor Shigemura

Yoshio Inoue as Eiji

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba


2022 – The NerveGear, the world’s first dedicated full-dive device developed by the genius programmer, Akihiko Kayaba. It was a revolutionary machine that opened up infinite possibilities for the world of VR (Virtual Reality.) 4 years later…. A next-generation, wearable multi-device called the Augma has been released to compete with the NerveGear’s successor – the Amusphere. A cutting-edge machine boasting the ability to enhance AR (Augmented Reality) to the maximum, the Augma offers a safe, user-friendly experience, as it can be used while the player is awake, making it an instant hit. Its killer title is an ARMMORPG developed exclusively for the Augma, “Ordinal Scale (a.k.a. OS).” Kirito is about to join Asuna and the others as an Ordinal Scale player, but…


The year 2026.

Two years after the “Sword Art Online” fiasco perpetrated by SAO creator Akihiko Kayaba which left many gamers injured or dead, a new technology is to be released.  A technology that is thought to be safe and nothing like the Nerve Gear that was used in “Sword Art Online”.

Now people can use the Augma, the successor to the Amusphere full-dive system which allows a player to play a game that simulates reality while the player is conscious (via augmented reality).

And one of the popular games created for the Augma is “Ordinal Scale”.  A game which has quickly gain popularity that Asuna, Lisbeth and Silica are playing it, but surprisingly Kirito hasn’t jumped aboard to play the game just yet until now.

As people get into the game, part of the main appeal to “Ordinal Scale” is the game’s mascot, an AI idol singer named Yuna who appears during the game to increase the stats of players.

While everyone is playing, the #2 ranked player Eiji helps the Kirito, Asuna and team defeat the level boss but Eiji uses the words “switch”, a term that was used in SAO to Asuna.

Meanwhile, Asuna tells Kirito that Eiji is most likely a member of the Knights of the Blood Oath named Nautilus, Yui tells them that the appearance of Aincrad bosses in “Ordinal Scale” are similar to the line up with the SAO dungeon maps.

As Asuna goes to play the game with her friends again, immediately Yuna and Eiji appear and Eiji pushes Asuna towards the level boss.

When Asuna is hit, she passes out and suddenly, Asuna starts to realize that her memories from SAO are starting to disappear. Concerned, Kirito takes Asuna to the hospital to get checked out and it is learned that the Augma device has scanned her brain for SAO memories, and it may have happened to other SAO players that are playing “Ordinal Scale”.

With Asuna’s memory loss of SAO, that means her memories of her friends, but most importantly her memories of Kirito will disappear.

A desperate Kirito tries to search for answers and promises that he will do whatever he can to get Asuna’s memories back.  But what will his search unveil?

What is “Sword Art Online” about:

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and also winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of his “Accel World” storyline would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and also featuring the art work of illustrator, abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012.  The series has since spawned a total of ten manga adaptations, two anime series, one TV film, five video games and now an animated film.

The original “Sword Art Online” series is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short).

The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO.  On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out.  They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game.  If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss.  But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world.  Also,  people in the real world who were stuck in the game have died by someone removing their Nerve Gear.

In the first series, Kirito and Asuna have become an online couple and while Kirito was able to succeed and free everyone by defeating the final boss of “Sword Art Online”, he has been utilized by law enforcement to assist in troubles that have affected users (as seen in “Sword Art Online II”).

In reality, Kazuto Kirigaya (Kirito) and Asuna Yuuki (Asuna) have continued their relationship outside of the game.  Asuna dreams of marrying Kazuto and having a family with him in the future.

And with the 2017 animated film “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale”, with Asuna’s memories of SAO fading, the dreams of her and Kirito being together may now be in jeopardy.


If there is one thing that “Sword Art Online” has proved over the years, that Reki Kawahara’s light novels and the anime adaptation inspired from it, are popular among many fans worldwide.

I had no doubt in my mind that “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” would do well as a theatrical release, not just in Japan but other countries worldwide, especially the United States.

Considering the film is not a Studio Ghibli film or an animated film with no Disney or Hollywood movie studio connect, “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” grossed $1.35 million in the first four days of its North American run.

In fact, the film set an opening weekend record for an Aniplex of America theatrical release and has played in 560 theaters nationwide.

And that is for a film that debuted in American theaters with Japanese voice acting and English subtitles.  And for those who dislike reading during their films, Aniplex of America will be releasing the film with an English dub soundtrack in April 2017 for a limited theatrical engagement.

Watching “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale”, it has everything that fans have loved in the series.  A lot of action, a lot of humor but also emotional drama as viewers have watched and seen the relationship between Kazuto (Kirito) and Asuna evolve and in this film, you really see how far their love for each other has blossomed.  And so, this film has become a fight for love and Kazuto doing all that is necessary to make sure that the young woman he loves is saved from losing her memories due to a new threat.

Fans will also love seeing characters from the past making their appearance in the video game but one will no doubt be anticipating the next SOA storyline as the ending teaser (after all the credits are done) shows us another menacing threat that will surely surprise fans of the series.

Animation is fantastic as A-1 Pictures did a wonderful job with capturing emotion in the faces of the characters but also within action sequences.  Voice acting is wonderful in its original Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles were easy to read.  And having watched the original series in both Japanese and English, I’m expecting the English dub to be equally fantastic when the English version of the film is released in US theaters this April.

If there was anything that I didn’t get into all that much in regards to “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” is the overuse of AI idol singer Yuna.  Music plays a big part in the film and where idol singers through battle is something we are accustomed to seeing in “Macross” anime series or film, it was not something I expected all that much in “Sword Art Online” and felt it was done a little bit too much for my tastes but at the same time, I’m sure it benefits Aniplex for music soundtrack sales and I’m sure fans who loved the music in the film will no doubt be seeking to purchase the soundtrack.

But I also hope that Aniplex, a company known for giving fans a lot of swag with their limited edition releases, will include the film’s soundtrack with the Blu-ray release of “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale”.

I absolutely enjoyed “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” but I do recommend people who know nothing about the series to at least watch the SAO series before jumping into the film.

Overall, I found the storyline of “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” to be extremely satisfying and as a person who has watched the series and loved nearly every episode, I really enjoyed seeing the progression of Kirito and Asuna’s relationship and how that relationship plays a big part in the film’s storyline.  I really do feel that fans will enjoy this SAO film!

A wonderful and engrossing storyline filled with action and drama, “Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” is highly recommended!

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Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

November 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

wannabe

“Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s:” is a mature anime series for those who love wrestling, idol groups and fan service galore.  But while the series is no doubt targeted for men who love sexy fan service, the story of an idol-turned-wrestler was quite enjoyable and made the anime series worth watching.

Image courtesy of © ESE/Project SekaiTsuyo Project. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2013

DURATION: 12 Episodes (300 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), Japanese and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0

COMPANY: FUNimation

RATING: TV MA

Release Date: June 2, 2015


Originally Created by ESE

Directed by Rion Kujo

Series Composition by Kazuho Hyodo

Music by Kayo Konishi, Yukio Kondoo

Character Design by Rin-Sin

Art Director: Minoru Maeda

Anime Production: ARMS


Featuring the following voice talent:

Ayana Taketatsu/Elizabeth Lewis as Sakura Hagiwara

Kana Asumi/Monica Rial as Elena Miyazawa

Chiaki Takahashi/Lydia Mackay as Jackal Tōjō

Eri Kitamura/Vanessa DeSilvio as Makoto Kirishima

Haruka Tomatsu/Martha Harms as Rio Kazama

Hisako Kanemoto/Cristina Vee as Moe Fukuoka

Kana Hanazawa/Megan Shipman as Juri Sanada

Kyōko Narumi/Leah Clark as Misaki Toyoda

Miku Itō/Didi Duron as Yūho Mochizuki

Rina Satou/Bryn Apprill as Kanae Fujishita

Sora Amamiya/Kristin Sutton as Aika Hayase

Sora Tokui/Elizabeth Evans as Hornet

Sumire Uesaka/Morgan Garrett as Kurea Komiyama

Suzuko Mimori/Anastasia Munoz as Chinatsu Suzumoto

Yuka Ōtsubo/Michelle Lee as Nanami Kanno

Ayahi Takagaki/Heather Walker as Yunbo Yamamoto

Fumihiko Tachiki/David Thompson as Seiichi Inoba

Nobuhiko Okamoto/Greg Ayres as Chairman (Sakura Hagiwara Fan Club President)

Yoshiko/Alex Moore as Yoshiko


The eye-popping world of women’s professional wrestling is sweaty, sadistic, and savagely sexy. Famous Japanese pop idol Sakura Hagiwara is better suited for the dance floor than the wrestling ring, but this ravishing songstress is about to put her body to the ultimate test.

When she and fellow idol Elena are assigned to pose as wrestlers for a very special show, a vicious lady brawler by the name of Rio decides to teach the girls a lesson they won’t soon forget. Rio unleashes a flurry of ferocious of attacks on Elena, contorting her divine female form into an array of very naughty positions. Shocked by the blush-inducing beating taken by her friend, Sakura vows to get her heavenly curves ready to rumble and redeem the good name of idols everywhere by becoming a bona fide diva of the pro-wrestling world!


Back in 2013, the anime adaptation of “Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai!” produced by ARMS Corporation and directed by Rion Kujo (“Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero”, “Love Doll”) and a screnplay by Kazuho Kyodo (“Mobile Suit Gundam AGE”, “Robot Girls”, “Bakegyamon”) aired on television.

Based on the manga series by ESE and Kiyohito Natsuki, the series was released on Blu-ray + DVD courtesy of FUNimation.

Sakura Hagiwara is the leader and center of the idol group, Sweet Diva.

Having won the center position four straight times, Sakura’s friend and teammate Elena Miyazawa has always been inspired to work harder to someday become center.

As the group becomes popular, the group has received a request to participate in a TV special in which the idols take part in a wrestling match.  Sakura enlists herself, which Elena follows.

But as Sakura and Elena head to Berserk Gym, they begin their training and are insulted by wrestler Rio Kazama who tells them that idols should not be in the ring as they are not atheletes.  As Elena takes on Rio, Rio easily beats on Elena, prompting Sakura to challenge Rio in a wrestling match for the TV special.  The loser will get their hair cut off.

As Sakura and Rio get into the televised wrestling match, she is instantly defeated, humiliated and her long hair is cut.

Disappointed and embarrassed by her loss, she and Sweet Diva are further shamed by Rio.  Upset, Sakura issues Rio another challenge for a rematch and will train to be as a wrestler in order to take on Rio in their rematch.  This leaves Elena being the temporary leader/center of Sweet Diva.

As idol singer Sakura prepares her training for pro wrestling, she must overcome all the pain and train with all her might in order to prepare for her rematch.


 

VIDEO:

“Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s” is presented in 1080p High Definition. The animation focuses on closeups and most of the frames are primarily of fan service quality or in relation to wrestling.  Character designs are good, shading is well-done.  Background art is primarily not utilized as much as they are just solid walls and basic paint jobs, most of the focus by ARMS is Sakura or her rival’s facial expressions during a wrestling match or often showcasing their boobs or crotch area.

Overall, picture quality is vibrant, colorful and saw no major banding or artifact problems during my viewing of the series.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s” is presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0.  Voice acting for both Japanese and English are done very well.  The series pretty much lies on the shoulder of Ayana Taketatsu and Elizabeth Lewis’ shoulders as the character Sakura Hagiwara is put into grueling training sessions and the voice actresses have to showcase their character in intense pain and varying emotional high and lows.

The series is primarily dialogue and music driven but there is good use of ambiance for the audience in the wrestling hall.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • Episode 01 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Elizabeth Lewis and Martha Harms and also featuring comments from other voice actresses participating on a “FUNimation Fight Night – Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! Round 1”.
  • Episode 07 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Leah Clark and Lydia Mackay and also featuring comments from other voice actresses participating on a”FUNimation Fight Night – Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! Round 2″.
  • OVA’s – (23:59)Featuring six mature-themed OVA’s.
  • Textless Opening Song “Beautiful Dreamer”
  • Textless Closing Song “Fan Fanfare!!!”
  • U.S. Trailer

EXTRAS:

Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s” come with both the Blu-ray and DVD version of the series.


Back when I was just starting off in college, myself and a group of friends would watch GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).

The wrestling focused on sexy female wrestlers who looked different than the female wrestler shown on other wrestling shows.  And as they engaged in wrestling and suffice to say, for college kids, we were captivated each weekend.  Suffice to say GLOW, found a way to captivate an audience by combining sex and wrestling.

A lot has changed since then, as the WWE has been focusing on sexy wrestlers but also honing on those with wrestling talent and audiences are still captivated.

Meanwhile, in Japan, variety shows experiment with having popular idols take on pro female wrestlers and interject a mix of comedy, these specials tend to be a big hit among viewers.

Watching the anime series “Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!”, which is an adaptation of ESE’s manga series, he had no doubt has found a way to bring the sexy and wrestling and make a mature series.

The concept is popular in Japan as mentioned, bring popular idols who wrestle against a professional female wrestler or two.  But most of the time, they are staged and we actually see the idol on television performing several moves.  But “Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!” takes the story into another direction with the idols trying to prove they can take whatever pro female wrestlers can dish.

And sure enough, the idols get their butts kicked.  But for Sweet Diva team leader Sakura Hagiwara, having always been the darling of the media and leader/center of Sweet Diva, she had been accustomed to winning, not losing.  And now, having felt the embarrassment and shame brought by female wrestler Rio, Sakura announces that she will take a break from being an idol to train as a wrestler until she can beat Rio in their rematch.

And of course, the road to training for Sakura is not going to be easy, as the wrestlers will not give her any special favors.  If she’s wanting to be a wrestler, then she’s going to have to deal with all the pain and misery, until she can finally wrestle and take care of herself.

Meanwhile, #2 member of Sweet Diva, Elena, is distraught because she is thrust to the leadership position, when she has depended so much on Sakura for guidance but also inspiration as her rival.

The anime series, while very good (if you enjoy pro wrestling and Japanese idol groups), is mature.  There is a lot of nudity and of course, the usual fan service of Sweet Diva girls wanting to feel up on Sakura because she is well-endowed or the numerous closeups focused on a wrestler’s breast or crotch throughout a matchup.

But for those who love fan service, will no doubt get a lot of it in this series and even moreso in the included short OVA’s.

Picture quality is quite vibrant and I saw problems with artifacts or banding.  The lossless audio is dialogue and musically-driven but I have to say that the voice acting on both the English and Japanese soundtracks were fantastic.  Both Ayana Taketatsu and Elizabeth Lewis do a phenomenal job playing the main protagonist role of Sakura.

The two audio commentaries were far out as the English dub female voice actresses discuss a real fight that took place in their life involving them and some of the stories were quite wild and crazy.

And as mentioned, you get the six short OVA’s and even more nudity is featured.

Overall, “Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: The Complete Series + OVA’s:” is a mature anime series for those who love wrestling, idol groups and fan service galore.  But while the series is no doubt targeted for men who love sexy fan service, the story of an idol-turned-wrestler was quite enjoyable and made the anime series worth watching.

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Sword Art Online: Extra Edition (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

January 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

soa-extra

“Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” is worth purchasing if you are a fan of “Sword Art Online” but also are wanting to see a new storyline and new scenes. And of course, the new bikini fan service included as well! So, if you are wanting more SAO until the release of the “Sword Art Online II”, then “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” is recommended!

Image courtesy of © REKI KAWAHARA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Project. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Sword Art Online: Extra Edition

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2013

DURATION: 100 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English and Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

Release Date: December 23, 2014


Originally Created by Reki Kawahara

Directed by Tomohiki Ito

Screenplay by Reki Kawahara

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design by Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima, Yusuke Takeda

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures


Featuring the following voice talent:

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito

Haruka Tomatsu/Cherami Leigh as Asuna

Kanae Itō as Yui

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba

Ayahi Takagaki/Sarah Anne Williams as Lisbeth

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee Morris as Leafa

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee as Suguha Kirigaya

Hiroaki Hirata/Kirk Thornton as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto/Patrick Seitz as Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills

Rina Hidaka as Silica

Saori Hayami/Xanthe Huynh as Sachi

Takehito Koyasu as Nobuyuki Sugō/Oberon

Toshiyuki Morikawa as Seijiro Kikuoka


On a hot summer day, Kazuto (Kirito) takes Suguha (Leafa) to his school, to meet Asuna, Keiko (Silica) and Rika (Lisbeth). Their mission: teach Suguha how to swim. Kazuto, however, has a prior commitment to see Seijiro Kikuoka, an officer with the Virtual Reality Section of the Department of General Affairs. Kikuoka wants to go over Kazuto’s recollection of his time in SAO and ALO, to resolve some unanswered questions.

Later in ALO, Kirito and the girls (along with Klein and Agil), embark on an underwater quest to show Yui her very first whale. But the deeper down they go, the more mysterious the quest becomes…


On New Year’s Eve 2013, “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” aired on television in Japan and then worldwide two ours later.

Extra Edition is set before the events of “Sword Art Online II” and takes place two years after the first season.

While the majority of Extra Edition recaps the first season, new scenes are also added and how Kazuto and friends are now playing an undersea quest on ALfheim Online.  But what happens when he and their friends get-together online?

Find out in “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Aniplex, Inc.

“What is Sword Art Online”?

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of “Accel World” would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and featuring the art work of abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012. The series has since spawned a total of five manga adaptations (“Sword Art Online: Aincrad”, “4-koma”, “Fairy Dance”, “Girls Ops” and “Progressive”). The anime series produced by A-1 Pictures was released in Japan between July and December 2012 and airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami in July 27, 2013.

A video game series was released in Japan for the Sony PSP and now, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” (featuring the first seven episodes) will be released in North America courtesy of Aniplex of America on August 2013.

The anime series was directed by Tomohiko Ito (“Occult Academ”, “Silver Spoon”), featuring music by Yuki Kajiura (“.hack” series, “Eat-Man”, “My-HIME”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, “Noir”, “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE”), character design by Shingo Adachi (“Megaman Star Force”, “Rockman.EXE Beat”) and Art Direction by Takayuki Nagashima (“Durarara!!”, “Real Drive”, “Steins;Gate”) and Yusuke Takeda (“Berserk” films, “Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Golden Boy”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, etc.).

“Sword Art Online” is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short). The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO. On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out. They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game. If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world. And so far, people in the real world have died by having their Nerve Gear removed.

Having beaten “Sword Art Online”, 300 players including Asuna have not waken up from SAO for some reason. But when he receives a tip that Asuna was seen in the game “Alfheim Online” (ALO), locked inside a cage, Kazuto (Kirito online) is determined to free and rescue her.

He ends up joining with Leafa in “Alfheim Online”, not knowing that her true identity is Suguha Kirigaya, his cousin. And for Suguha, after she learned that Kazuto was not her real brother, she has developed feelings for him but knows that he is in love with someone else. Meanwhile, she has been playing “Alfheim Online” and has teamed up with a player named Kirito and joins him online, not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto in real life.

Alongside with Yui (an artificial intelligence program in “Sword Art Online” who looks at Kirito and Asuna as her father and mother), who is also a support character in “Alfheim Online”. The three work together, taking on new antagonists in “Alfheim Online” but most importantly, Kirito tries to find a way to save the person he truly loves!

With “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition”, the special takes place two years after the events as featured in season one of “Sword Art Online”.

As Kazuto needs to go to emergency counseling meeting, Suguha, Asuna, Rika and Keiko go swimming at school.

When Kazuto arrives and thinks he is meeting with a counselor, he realizes that Kikuoka Seijirou is waiting for him and to interview him more in-depth about the events that happened in Sword Art Online and why Kayaba Akihiko created the online world and trapped people inside.  And thus, Kazuto explains to him of what happened when he first arrived and then what happened on Alfheim Online.

Meanwhile, the girls discuss their experiences and how Kazuto changed their lives.

Afterward, Kazuto and friends head back into ALfheim Online take on a quest where they can see whales and head towards Thule Island.    While swimming underwater, they meet an NPC (non-playable character) named Nerakk, who explains to them that thieves have stolen a pearl from him.  As everyone wants to help the old man, Leafa is suspicious of him as the name sounds familiar.


The main characters featured in “Sword Art Online” are:

  • Kirito/Kazuto Kirigaya – The main protagonist of the series. The solo player who saved thousands in the game “Sword Art Online” and was romantically involved with Asuna in SAO, after seeing a picture of Asuna locked in a cage in the VRMMORPG “Alfheim Online” (ALO), Kirito is determined of rescuing her.
  • Leafa/Suguha Kirigaya – Suguha is Kazuto’s cousin who has feelings for him. She is very good at kendo but also plays “Alfheim Online” as the character Leifa. Not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto, the two join forces in “Alfheim Online”.
  • Yui – The artificial intelligence program from “Sword Art Online” which is a young girl who was taken in by Kirito and Asuna as their daughter. Yui tries to help Kirito in finding Asuna.
  • Asuna Yuki – A person who fought alongside Kirito and has fallen in love with him in the game. She is being kept alive by technology used for ALO but is being held against her will inside the game by Nobuyuki Sugou.
  • Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills – The axe wielder in SAO, he runs a shop known as “Dicey Cafe” and a location for Kazuto and friends in the real world.

VIDEO:

“Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” is presented in 1080p High Definition. Because of the ever changing landscape within the Sword Art Online game, there is a good balance between well-painted buildings and interiors and also beautiful painted backgrounds for outdoor scenes. Black levels are nice and deep but its the colorful palette and the beautiful backgrounds that captivate you.

Colors are absolutely vibrant and I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding during my viewing of the episodes.

You can also tell the difference between the newer footage versus the television-footage as the newer footage is much more sharper and vibrant.  But overall, “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” looks fantastic on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” is presented in English and Japanese linear PCM stereo. The voice acting for the Japanese soundtrack is solid. Both Yoshitsugi Matsuoka, Ayana Taketatsu, Haruka Tomatsu and other cast members have done a fantastic job.

With that being said, having watched the series first in Japanese, watching it with the English dub, I felt the casting was spot-on! Both Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh did an awesome job as Kirito and Asuna, as with Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha. But the casting for this anime series for the English dub was fantastic. Everyone did a magnificent job with their character role.

Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” features the following special features:

  • Sword Art Offline – (13:46) A Short special offline edition featuring newscaster Asuna and Leafa
  • SAOII Trailer

EXTRAS:

“Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • 16-Page Deluxe Illustration Booklet – Each page features illustrations and interview with Character Designer/Supervising Animation Director Shingo Adachi.
  • Double-Sided Poster

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For anyone who has watched Japanese animation or dramas, the “Recap” episodes are customary, especially when a new series is not far off the horizon.

And to make sure that fans who watched the original series will want to watch the special or film, new footage is added.

So, back in 2013, there was a lot of hype about “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” as the recap episode would become a transition to the new season titled “Sword Art Online II”.  And fortunately, a new storyline was added alongside the recap episode.

In “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition”, the storyline features Seijirou Kikuoka (a member of the Second Separated Advanced Network Division, Technology Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) wanting to question Kazuto about what happened when he was trapped in Sword Art Online but also what happened on ALfheim Online.

As Kazuto does his recap of what took place during his stay in the virtual world, the girls discuss how they met Kazuto and how he helped them in the Virtual World.

When the friends get together, together they take part in an undersea quest on ALFheim Online but to their surprise, trouble has come upon them once again in the virtual world.

While “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” will appeal to the fans, especially for the new storyline.  There are some who will find the recap footage to be a bit tedious, but the good news is that the recap footage is not like one full movie.  Instead you get new story/scenes spread out through the recap portion and then getting into the storyline of the friends going online for ALO for quest.

As for the Blu-ray release, the animation is vibrant and sharp and looks fantastic on Blu-ray.  The lossless soundtrack is in Japanese and English Linear PCM Stereo and for subtitles you get them in English and Spanish.  For special features, you get a trailer for “Sword Art Online II” but also a “Sword Art Offline” episode.

As for Aniplex swag, you get a 16-page booklet plus a two-sided poster and slipcase with artwork designed by Shingo Adachi.

Overall, “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” is worth purchasing if you are a fan of “Sword Art Online” but also are wanting to see a new storyline and new scenes. And of course, the new bikini fan service included as well! So, if you are wanting more SAO until the release of the “Sword Art Online II”, then “Sword Art Online: Extra Edition” is recommended!

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Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

November 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

soa-3-b

There have been a few anime series that have received a five star rating from us for 2013, but when it comes to action and adventure, “Sword Art Online” is the best anime series on Blu-ray for 2013!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

Image courtesy of © REKI KAWAHARA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Project. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: Episodes 20-25 (150 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

Release Date: November 19, 2013

Originally Created by Reki Kawahara

Directed by Tomohiki Ito

Script by Munemasa Nakamoto, Naoki Shojo, Shuji Iriyama, Yoshikazu Mukai, Yukie Sugawara, Yukito Kizawa

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design by Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima, Yusuke Takeda

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito

Haruka Tomatsu/Cherami Leigh as Asuna

Kanae Itō as Yui

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba

Ayahi Takagaki/Sarah Anne Williams as Lisbeth

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee Morris as Leafa

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee as Suguha Kirigaya

Hiroaki Hirata/Kirk Thornton as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto/Patrick Seitz as Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills

Rina Hidaka as Silica

Saori Hayami/Xanthe Huynh as Sachi

Takehito Koyasu as Nobuyuki Sugō/Oberon

Toru Ohkawa/Marc Diraison as Heathcliff

Kirito and Leafa have finally reached Central Arun, the largest city in Alfheim by the foot of the World Tree. Kirito is determined to face the dangers of the Grand Quest to rescue Asuna. With the support of the Sylphs and the Cat Sidhes, will Kirito save Asuna in time or will he be crushed by Oberon’s evil plans?!

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Kazuto Kirigaya, a hero who had rescued many people by defeating the creator of “Sword Art Online”, Akihiko Kayaba.

All should have been good right after that defeat but 300 people have no wakened up.  One of those people was Asuna Yuuki, a person which Kazuto had fallen in love with during his years stuck inside the “Sword Art Online” game as the character Kirito.

In reality, Kazuto finds out that her father is having her marry Nobuyuki Sugou, the man behind RECTO Progress Inc. who took the Sword Art Online technology from Argus (the developer of SAO) and went on to create Alfheim Online (ALO).

And what no one knows is that Nobuyuki has used the technology of keeping 300 people including Asuna captured within ALO and someone was able to take a picture of Asuna inside a cage on top of the World Tree in the ALO game.

Now, Kazuto returns to the online world but this time ALO to rescue Asuna and with the help of his online daughter Yui (an artificial intelligence from “Sword Art Online” which Kazuto was able to carryover to ALO) and Leafa (not knowing that Leafa is his sister Suguha).

But now what will it take for Kazuto to find a way to climb the World Tree and rescue Asuna?  And for Suguha, who had learned that Kazuto is not her real brother and does not know that Kirito is Kazuha, with emotions that she has had for Kazuto at an all time high, what will happen when she confesses her true feelings for him?

Find out in the final volume of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV”!

“What is Sword Art Online”?

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of “Accel World” would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and featuring the art work of abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012. The series has since spawned a total of five manga adaptations (“Sword Art Online: Aincrad”, “4-koma”, “Fairy Dance”, “Girls Ops” and “Progressive”). The anime series produced by A-1 Pictures was released in Japan between July and December 2012 and airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami in July 27, 2013.

A video game series was released in Japan for the Sony PSP and now, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” (featuring the first seven episodes) will be released in North America courtesy of Aniplex of America on August 2013.

The anime series was directed by Tomohiko Ito (“Occult Academ”, “Silver Spoon”), featuring music by Yuki Kajiura (“.hack” series, “Eat-Man”, “My-HIME”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, “Noir”, “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE”), character design by Shingo Adachi (“Megaman Star Force”, “Rockman.EXE Beat”) and Art Direction by Takayuki Nagashima (“Durarara!!”, “Real Drive”, “Steins;Gate”) and Yusuke Takeda (“Berserk” films, “Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Golden Boy”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, etc.).

“Sword Art Online” is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short). The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO. On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out. They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game. If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world. And so far, people in the real world have died by having their Nerve Gear removed.

Having beaten “Sword Art Online”, 300 players including Asuna have not waken up from SAO for some reason. But when he receives a tip that Asuna was seen in the game “Alfheim Online” (ALO), locked inside a cage, Kazuto (Kirito online) is determined to free and rescue her.

He ends up joining with Leafa in “Alfheim Online”, not knowing that her true identity is Suguha Kirigaya, his cousin. And for Suguha, after she learned that Kazuto was not her real brother, she has developed feelings for him but knows that he is in love with someone else. Meanwhile, she has been playing “Alfheim Online” and has teamed up with a player named Kirito and joins him online, not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto in real life.

Alongside with Yui (an artificial intelligence program in “Sword Art Online” who looks at Kirito and Asuna as her father and mother), who is also a support character in “Alfheim Online”. The three work together, taking on new antagonists in “Alfheim Online” but most importantly, Kirito tries to find a way to save the person he truly loves!

In “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV”, Kazuto is getting closer of rescuing Asuna, but the Salamanders are about to attack the Sylphs and Cait Siths.  To help stop the attack, Kirito pretends he is an ambassador of the Spriggans-Undines alliance and cautions the Salamanders to not attack them or they will be causing war on all four factions.  In order to stop the attack, Kirito must take on the Salamander General Eugene.

Meanwhile, Asuna tries to make an escape from Alfheim by swiping a key card that gives access to ALO.  Meanwhile, Kirito, Yui and Lefa reach the World Tree but in order to save Asuna, Kirito must go through the tree which hundreds of guardians are there to protect the area from anyone entering.

But is Kirito’s power enough to defeat them?

The main characters featured in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” are:

  • Kirito/Kazuto Kirigaya – The main protagonist of the series. The solo player who saved thousands in the game “Sword Art Online” and was romantically involved with Asuna in SAO, after seeing a picture of Asuna locked in a cage in the VRMMORPG “Alfheim Online” (ALO), Kirito is determined of rescuing her.
  • Leafa/Suguha Kirigaya – Suguha is Kazuto’s cousin who has feelings for him. She is very good at kendo but also plays “Alfheim Online” as the character Leifa. Not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto, the two join forces in “Alfheim Online”.
  • Yui – The artificial intelligence program from “Sword Art Online” which is a young girl who was taken in by Kirito and Asuna as their daughter.  Yui tries to help Kirito in finding Asuna.
  • Asuna Yuki – A person who fought alongside Kirito and has fallen in love with him in the game. She is being kept alive by technology used for ALO but is being held against her will inside the game by Nobuyuki Sugou.
  • Nobuyuki Sugou – The main antagonist during the “Alfheim Online” arc and the one holding 300 Nerve Gear victims including Asuna as prisoners in the game, despite SAO ending. He is determined to marry Asuna, while she is comatose and attempts to take over RCT Progress Inc., owned by her father.
  • Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills – The axe wielder in SAO, he runs a shop known as “Dicey Cafe” and a location for Kazuto and friends in the real world.

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” features episodes 20-25 of “Sword Art Online”:

  • EPISODE 20 – Kirito vs. Salamander General Eugene.
  • EPISODE 21 – Asuna tries to escape from imprisonment in ALO.
  • EPISODE 22 – Suguha finds out the truth.
  • EPISODE 23 – Kirito’s final try to go up the World Tree, will he succeed?
  • EPISODE 24 – Kirito vs. Oberon.
  • EPISODE 25 – The conclusion of “Sword Art Online”.

VIDEO:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” is presented in 1080p High Definition. Because of the ever changing landscape within the Sword Art Online game, there is a good balance between well-painted buildings and interiors and also beautiful painted backgrounds for outdoor scenes. Black levels are nice and deep but its the colorful palette and the beautiful backgrounds that captivate you.

Colors are absolutely vibrant and I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding during my viewing of the episodes.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Japanese linear PCM stereo. The voice acting for the Japanese soundtrack is solid. Both Yoshitsugi Matsuoka, Ayana Taketatsu, Haruka Tomatsu and other cast members have done a fantastic job.

With that being said, having watched the series first in Japanese, watching it with the English dub, I felt the casting was spot-on! Both Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh did an awesome job as Kirito and Asuna, as with Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha. But the casting for this anime series for the English dub was fantastic. Everyone did a magnificent job with their character role.

Subtitles are in English and you can choose from complete English subtitles which include dialogue and Japanese kana translations or a selection to choose just kana translations or no English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” features the following special features:

  • Sword Art Offline 8 – (12:11) Featuring Leafa in super deformed format discussing Kirito’s grand quest.
  • Sword Art Offline 9 – (11:50) Featuring Leafa discussing the Kirito the Spriggan attempting to go up the World Tree.
  • Web Version Previews – Featuring web previews for episodes 21-25.
  • Audio Commentary 20 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Sayuri Yahagi (voice of Sakuya) and Chiwa Saito (voice of Alicia)
  • Audio Commentary 22 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Supervising Animation Director and Character Designer Adachi, Action Animation Supervisor Shikama.
  • Audio Commentary 24 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Takehito Koyasu (voice of King Oberon Sugou), Director Tomohiko Ito and Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna).
  • Textless Ending
  • English Cast Interviews – (34:06) Included is a bonus disc featuring interviews with the staff and English dub voice cast.

EXTRAS:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • 16-Page Deluxe Illustration Booklet – Each page features illustrations with characters from the series.
  • Set of Pin-Up Illustration Postcards – Featuring six different illustrated postcards.
  • Exclusive Bushiroad’s Collectible Card #1 – I’m not sure if each set is random but the card that came with this limited edition release featured “Kirito’s Strong Bond”.
  • Rigid Box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design) – A slipcase which houses both Blu-ray cases.
  • Clear BD cases with 2-sided Japanese Cover Design

Read our Q&A with “Sword Art Online” creator Reki Kawahara and our interview with “Sword Art Online” music artists Luna Haruna and Aoi Eir

I have to personally admit that after the “Sword Art Online” and being so emotionally invested in that series, to watch the second season and now getting into the “Alfheim Online” (ALO) Arc, it was hard for me to transition to this new storyline, new online world.

But after watching “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” and watching episodes 20-25, it brought back what I loved about the series, character dynamics, action and drama but most of all, to see Asuna back again!

Watching the final episodes of the animated series, I was instantly captivated.  From Kirito’s attempts to save Asuna, Asuna trying to escape imprisonment but also growing to like the character of Suguha and seeing her find out the truth of Kirito’s identity but also the emotions that she has been keeping inside for Kazuto, the writers definitely saved the emotion, the action and the intensity of the second season for these final episodes.

While I enjoyed “Sword Art Online” for its overall storyline and characters, the second season was more about the love that Kazuto has for Asuna and how far he would go to rescue her.

One can call “Sword Art Online” an action adventure anime series but its the love story between Kirito and Asuna that keeps this series so strong because of that bond that was built in the first 12-episodes.

And the way the series has ended (for the anime), I’m quite content and very happy with how everything came together.  There were a few surprises left towards the end and suffice to say, as Reki Kawahara has created more novels that furthers the adventures of Kazuto and Asuna, I can only hope that the remainder of the novel series will be released as an anime in the near future.

While it was revealed that “Sword Art Online” will continue with a special to be shown on New Year’s Eve, I think about these four box sets that Aniplex has released so far and I just have to say that the amount of swag that has been included with each volume, especially the original soundtracks and more, “Sword Art Online” is one of the highlight releases of 2013 and one of the better anime on Blu-ray releases to be released in the past few years.

Sure, these sets are broken up into four volumes and Aniplex limited editions may be priced a little high for some anime fans, but this is as close to what anime fans have been getting in Japan and that’s limited edition releases with a lot of swag and for set IV, you get postcards, Bushiroad card, extra DVD with English dub interviews and more!

As a person who loves Japanese RPG games, back in early 2000’s, I was captivated by the “.Hack” series, fast forward over a decade later and I started hearing praises for this story about people trapped in a video game world. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it because I figured that it would be a copycat anime series but I was wrong. The series is addictive and highly enjoyable… Yes, I will go far to say that I love this series!

“Sword Art Online” features a storyline that draws you in and makes you, the viewer, wanting more and more.

As for the Blu-ray release, as one can expect, the series looks wonderful on Blu-ray. While I wished for a more immersive lossless soundtrack, a lot of anime TV series are originally in stereo and for the case of “Sword Art Online”, the soundtrack is purchased in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Japanese Linear PCM stereo. But both soundtracks are well-acted and for the Japanese soundtrack, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Haruka Tomatsu, Ayana Taketatsu and Kanae Ito do a wonderful job!  And I was also very impressed by the English dub with Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito, Cherami Leigh as Asuna, Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha and Stephanie Sheh as Yui.

As for special features, you get the “Sword Art Offline” animations, several audio commentary featuring the Japanese seiyuu (voice actor and actress of the series) plus the original web previews and more.

There have been a few anime series that have received a five star rating from us for 2013, but when it comes to action and adventure, “Sword Art Online” is the best anime series on Blu-ray for 2013!

All four limited edition Blu-ray box sets are highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

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Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

October 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

soa-3-b

“Sword Art Online” is an exciting, addictive anime series that is well-written, well-acted and now with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”, you get the continuation and new direction for the series.  If you are in the series for the long run and are a collector who loves Aniplex swag, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” is highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

Image courtesy of © REKI KAWAHARA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Project. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: Episodes 15-19 (125 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

Release Date: October 15, 2013

Originally Created by Reki Kawahara

Directed by Tomohiki Ito

Script by Munemasa Nakamoto, Naoki Shojo, Shuji Iriyama, Yoshikazu Mukai, Yukie Sugawara, Yukito Kizawa

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design by Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima, Yusuke Takeda

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito

Haruka Tomatsu/Cherami Leigh as Asuna

Kanae Itō as Yui

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba

Ayahi Takagaki/Sarah Anne Williams as Lisbeth

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee Morris as Leafa

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee as Suguha Kirigaya

Hiroaki Hirata/Kirk Thornton as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto/Patrick Seitz as Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills

Rina Hidaka as Silica

Saori Hayami/Xanthe Huynh as Sachi

Takehito Koyasu as Nobuyuki Sugō/Oberon

Toru Ohkawa/Marc Diraison as Heathcliff

Although Kirito cleared SAO and returned to his real life, his adventure was far from over. Asuna is in a coma in the hospital, and Nobuyuki Sugou of RECTO, the company that took over SAO’s property, is trying to get married to her!

Hearing that Asuna has been spotted in the virtual game Alfheim Online (ALO), Kirito decides to dive into the virtual world once again. With the help of Leafa, Kirito rushes to the World Tree where Asuna is supposedly imprisoned.

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It has been two months since Kirito (Kazuto Kirigaya) had beaten Akihiko Kayaba and freed everyone from “Sword Art Online”.

While his sister Suguha worries about him, Kazuto worries about Asuna, who like other 300 players have not woke up after the SAO incident.  While visiting Asuna at the hospital, her father reveals to him that he has arranged a marriage between Asuna and Nobuyuki Sugou.

But Kazuto realizes that Nobuyuki Sugou is not a good guy and his company, RECTO Progress Inc. has been keeping Asuna alive since Argus (the developer of SAO) went bankrupt and that he will be marrying Asuna in a week and tells Kazuto to never see her again.

But when Andrew sends Kazuto an e-mail of Asuna inside a locked cage in the game “Alfheim Online” (ALO),  determined to not give on Asuna and save her, Kazuto returns to a new VRMMORPG, determined on saving Asuna.

Find out how Kazuto’s new journey in a new VRMMORPG in episodes 15-19 featured in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”!

“What is Sword Art Online”?

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of “Accel World” would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and featuring the art work of abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012. The series has since spawned a total of five manga adaptations (“Sword Art Online: Aincrad”, “4-koma”, “Fairy Dance”, “Girls Ops” and “Progressive”). The anime series produced by A-1 Pictures was released in Japan between July and December 2012 and airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami in July 27, 2013.

A video game series was released in Japan for the Sony PSP and now, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” (featuring the first seven episodes) will be released in North America courtesy of Aniplex of America on August 2013.

The anime series was directed by Tomohiko Ito (“Occult Academ”, “Silver Spoon”), featuring music by Yuki Kajiura (“.hack” series, “Eat-Man”, “My-HIME”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, “Noir”, “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE”), character design by Shingo Adachi (“Megaman Star Force”, “Rockman.EXE Beat”) and Art Direction by Takayuki Nagashima (“Durarara!!”, “Real Drive”, “Steins;Gate”) and Yusuke Takeda (“Berserk” films, “Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Golden Boy”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, etc.).

“Sword Art Online” is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short). The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO. On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out. They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game. If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world. And so far, people in the real world have died by having their Nerve Gear removed.

Determined in beating the game, so he can be free, “Sword Art Online” focuses on Kirito and his adventures of beating the game but also the people he meets in the game, may it be those who are experienced or non-experienced, those who have different “jobs” within the game but also solving mysteries as certain players have become people for hire and also become “player killers”.

In “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set II”, Kirito and Asuna have fallen in love in the game and manages to beat the final boss, the creator of “Sword Art Online” and freeing everyone who is stuck with the game.

But now in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”, 300 players including Asuna have not waken up from SAO for some reason.  But when he receives a tip that Asuna was seen in the game “Alfheim Online” (ALO), locked inside a cage,  Kazuto (Kirito online) is determined to free and rescue her.

He ends up joining with Leafa in “Alfheim Online”, not knowing that her true identity is Suguha Kirigaya, his cousin. And for Suguha, after she learned that Kazuto was not her real brother, she has developed feelings for him but knows that he is in love with someone else.  Meanwhile, she has been playing “Alfheim Online” and has teamed up with a player named Kirito and joins him online, not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto in real life.

Alongside with Yui (an artificial intelligence program in “Sword Art Online” who looks at Kirito and Asuna as her father and mother), who is also a support character in “Alfheim Online”.  The three work together, taking on new antagonists in “Alfheim Online” but most importantly, Kirito tries to find a way to save the person he truly loves!

The main characters featured in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” are:

  • Kirito/Kazuto Kirigaya – The main protagonist of the series. The solo player who saved thousands in the game “Sword Art Online” and was romantically involved with Asuna in SAO, after seeing a picture of Asuna locked in a cage in the VRMMORPG “Alfheim Online” (ALO), Kirito is determined of rescuing her.
  • Leafa/Suguha Kirigaya – Suguha is Kazuto’s cousin who has feelings for him.  She is very good at kendo but also plays “Alfheim Online” as the character Leifa.  Not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto, the two join forces in “Alfheim Online”.
  • Asuna Yuki – A person who fought alongside Kirito and has fallen in love with him in the game.  She is being kept alive by technology used for ALO but is being held against her will inside the game by Nobuyuki Sugou.
  • Nobuyuki Sugou – The main antagonist during the “Alfheim Online” arc and the one holding 300 Nerve Gear victims including Asuna as prisoners in the game, despite SAO ending.  He is determined to marry Asuna, while she is comatose and attempts to take over RCT Progress Inc., owned by her father.
  • Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills – The axe wielder in SAO, he runs a shop known as “Dicey Cafe” and a location for Kazuto and friends in the real world.

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” features episodes 15-19 of “Sword Art Online”:

  • EPISODE 15 – Two months after leaving SAO, Kazuto continues to visit Asuna in the hospital, and finds out that her father is planning to have her married (while comatose) to Nobuyuki Sugou.
  • EPISODE 16 – Andrew receives info. that Asuna was seen inside a locked cage on top of the World Tree in “Alfheim Online”.  Fearing that she and the other 300 people who have not awaken from SAO, are being held against their will in ALO.  So, Kazuto using the name Kirito, beings a new game in ALO and notices that his stats are almost identical to SAO and that Yui’s in-game data can be activated.
  • EPISODE 17 – A character named Leafa is grateful to Kirito for saving her, so she teaches him how to fly.  Kirito joins her to meet with others in Sylph Territory to find out how they can get on top of the World Tree.  But they learn that the person who is holding Asuna in a cage is the game master, Oberon the Fairy King.
  • EPISODE 18 – Suguha thinks back on how she joined “Alfheim Online” and online, she and Kirito continue their adventures, but some mysterious group is following them.
  • EPISODE 19 – Kirito and Lefa take on a large group of Salamander players.

VIDEO:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” is presented in 1080p High Definition. Because of the ever changing landscape within the Sword Art Online game, there is a good balance between well-painted buildings and interiors and also beautiful painted backgrounds for outdoor scenes. Black levels are nice and deep but its the colorful palette and the beautiful backgrounds that captivate you.

Colors are absolutely vibrant and I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding during my viewing of the episodes.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Japanese linear PCM stereo. The voice acting for the Japanese soundtrack is solid. Both Yoshitsugi Matsuoka, Ayana Taketatsu, Haruka Tomatsu and other cast members have done a fantastic job.

With that being said, having watched the series first in Japanese, watching it with the English dub, I felt the casting was spot-on! Both Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh did an awesome job as Kirito and Asuna, as with Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha. But the casting for this anime series for the English dub was fantastic. Everyone did a magnificent job with their character role.

Subtitles are in English and you can choose from complete English subtitles which include dialogue and Japanese kana translations or a selection to choose just kana translations or no English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” features the following special features:

  • Sword Art Offline 6 – (10:30) Featuring Leafa in super deformed format discussing the events in ALO and ALO trivia and more.
  • Sword Art Offline 7 – (13:57) Featuring Leafa discussing the Sylph, trivia and more.
  • Web Version Previews – Featuring web previews for episodes 18-20.
  • Audio Commentary 16 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Kanae Ito (voice of Yui) and Art Director Takayuki Nagashima and Yusuke Takeda.
  • Audio Commentary 17 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Sound Director Iwanami and Ducks Music, Konno.
  • 2nd Season Textless Opening

EXTRAS:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • ソードアート・オンライン Vol. 7 Original Soundtrack vol. 2

The following is a 27-track soundtrack (57 minutes long) featuring all-instrumental tracks by Yuki Kajiura. The soundtrack was included with the fourth Blu-ray volume release in Japan and included in the U.S. Aniplex Inc. release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”.

  1. swordland ~to be continued    0:35
  2. friendly feelings    1:47
  3. sorrowfully    1:25
  4. critical phase    1:58
  5. victory    1:30
  6. a new world of fairies    2:12
  7. fly higher and faster    1:42
  8. in time of peace    1:41
  9. fly, if you can    2:04
  10. fight with a devil    2:20
  11. she is still sleeping    1:45
  12. past sadness    2:00
  13. is this love?    2:26
  14. town in the morning    1:35
  15. climbing up the world tree    2:12
  16. I wonder    1:42
  17. Yui    1:56
  18. is this love? ~piano only ver.    1:58
  19. Oberon    2:04
  20. in the cage    1:59
  21. got to win    2:09
  22. aerial fight    2:34
  23. false king    2:10
  24. last flight    2:06
  25. reconciliation    2:15
  26. dance with me    1:47
  27. aincrad    1:34
  • 16-Page Deluxe Illustration Booklet – Each page features illustrations with characters from the series.
  • Set of Pin-Up Illustration Postcards – Featuring five different illustrated postcards.
  • Exclusive Bushiroad’s Collectible Card #1 – I’m not sure if each set is random but the card that came with this limited edition release featured Kazuto and Sugu.
  • Rigid Box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design) – A slipcase which houses both Blu-ray cases.
  • Clear BD cases with 2-sided Japanese Cover Design

Read our Q&A with “Sword Art Online” creator Reki Kawahara and our interview with “Sword Art Online” music artists Luna Haruna and Aoi Eir

As episodes 1-14 of “Sword Art Online” were riveting, exciting and just all-out awesome, with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”, the series has an all new vibe courtesy of the the new VRMMORPG game “Alfheim Online”.

While the quality of the animation and also the action is retained, there is a difference because of a different game, when it comes to looks and also character design.

With “Sword Art Online”, the game focused on Kirito and his adventures in the game during a span of two years.  Seeing how his character has grown in power but also the relationships he has with other players, primarily with Asuna and how the two eventually become lovers in the game.

But that was then, and now the new storyline features a rescue attempt by Kirito and Leafa (both are unaware that in reality, both Kazuto and his cousin Suguha are playing the game together) to save Asuna but also all 300 players who are comatose and are being kept inside ALO.

While I did enjoy the storyline within “Sword Art Online” much more, I suppose that I wasn’t used to the new shift of another VRMMORPG game with a different style.  But fortunately, Kirito retains his stats and skills (except the dual-sword skill) and also, was able to bring Yui into the game as well.

So, while this latest set features episodes 15-19, in someways, it seems like a new beginning that takes getting used to.

As a person who loves Japanese RPG games, back in early 2000’s, I was captivated by the “.Hack” series, fast forward over a decade later and I started hearing praises for this story about people trapped in a video game world. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it because I figured that it would be a copycat anime series but I was wrong.  The series is addictive and highly enjoyable so far.

“Sword Art Online” features a storyline that draws you in and makes you, the viewer, wanting more and more.

As for the Blu-ray release, this is an Aniplex Limited Edition which means… “Aniplex Swag”!

If there is anything about Aniplex that they have been true to fans who have purchased their limited editions, the company delivers in giving fans special swag that was released in Japan.

In the case of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”, not only do you get the slipcase and irreversible covers on a clear Blu-ray case, you also get a 27 song soundtrack featuring the music by the wonderful Yuki Kajiura.

Also, you get a booklet of illustrations, postcards and a limited Bushiroad playing card.

As for the Blu-ray release, as one can expect, the series looks wonderful on Blu-ray. While I wished for a more immersive lossless soundtrack, a lot of anime TV series are originally in stereo and for the case of “Sword Art Online”, the soundtrack is purchased in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Japanese Linear PCM stereo. But both soundtracks are well-acted and for the Japanese soundtrack, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Haruka Tomatsu, Ayana Taketatsu and Kanae Ito do a wonderful job!

And I was also very impressed by the English dub with Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito, Cherami Leigh as Asuna, Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha and Stephanie Sheh as Yui.

As for special features, you get the “Sword Art Offline” animations, several audio commentary featuring the Japanese seiyuu (voice actor and actress of the series) plus the original web previews and more.

I can now understand why there was so much hype built around “Sword Art Online”.

“Sword Art Online” is an exciting, addictive anime series that is well-written, well-acted and now with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III”, you get the continuation and new direction for the series.

If you are in the series for the long run and are a collector who loves Aniplex swag, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set III” is highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

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High School DxD: The Complete Series (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Review)

August 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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“High School DxD: The Series” is a mature and perverted anime series that screams “boobylicious” and may not be for everyone.  But if you have been fans of FUNimation’s more mature anime titles such as “Heaven’s Lost Property”, “Sekirei” and “Freezing”, fans of anime series with a lecherous protagonist, many well-endowed female characters and plenty of fan service will surely enjoy the wacky, hilarious but action-packed “High School DxD”!

Image courtesy of © FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: High School DxD: The Complete Series

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 1-12 (300 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English DolbyTrue HD 5.1, Japanese DolbyTrue HD 5.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: FUNimation

RATING: TV-MA

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Originally Created by Ichiel Ishibumi

Directed by Tetsuya Yanagisawa

Series Composition by Takao Yoshioka

Music by Ryosuke Nakanishi

Art Director: Shigemi Ikeda

Anime Production: TNK

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yōko Hikasa/Jamie Marchi as Rias Gremory

Yuuki Kaji/Scott Freeman as Issei Hyōdō

Ayana Taketatsu/Jad Saxton as Koneko Tōjō

Azumi Asakura/Chloe Daniels as Asia Argento

Fumihiko Tachiki/Christopher R. Sabat as Sacred Gear/Ddraig

Hitomi Nabatame/Felecia Angelle as Yuuma Amano

Kenji Nojima/Sean O’Connor as Yūto Kiba

Saori Seto/Krishna Smitha as Grayfia Lucifuge

Shizuka Itou/Teri Rogers as Akeno Himejima

Takehito Koyasu/Christopher Smith as Raizer Phoenix

A war between heaven and hell is raging on Earth – and a hot mess of hormonal fury is raging in Issei’s pants. The guy is dying to get some action. Which is funny, since his first date ever turns into a winged monster and tries to kill him. Fortunately, ridiculously curvy redhead Rias comes to his rescue. She’s president of The Occult Research Club, a club that doesn’t actually research the occult. They ARE the occult – and Rias is a Devil.

Rias takes Issei as a more-than-willing slave and begins training him to use magic in battle against the Fallen Angels, the long-time enemies of Devils everywhere. If Issei can improve his mystical skills, he’ll be able to help his hotter-than-hell master and her scorching supernatural schoolgirl friends defeat their foes. Even better, he might end up with a few sexy slaves of his own.

In 2008, Ichiei Ishibumi and illustrator Miyama-Zero worked on the Japanese light novel series “High School DxD” serialized in Fujimi Shobo’s “Dragon Magazine” which is still ongoing in Japan.

A manga adaptation of “High School DxD” would be printed in “Monthly Dragon Age” and an anime adaptation followed in 2012 courtesy of TNK and aired on AT-X.  And now, “High School DxD: The Series” will be released on Blu-ray/DVD courtesy of FUNimation in August 2013.

The mature harem anime series is directed by Tetsuya Yanagisawa (“Aoi Sekai no Chushin de”, “Heaven’s Lost Property”, “UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie”), series composition by Takao Yoshioka (“DearS”, “Rave Master”, “Happy Lesson”, “Freezing”), music by “Ryosuke Nakanishi (“D.C. III ~Da Capo III”, “Kuroko’s Basketball”), Junji Goto (“School Days”, “Ikki Tosen: Xtreme Xecutor”) and art direction by Shigemi Ikeda (“Bastard!!”, “Basilisk”, “El-Hazard: The Wanderer”, “Gantz”).

The mature anime series begins with Issei Hyodo and his perverted friends at Kuoh Academy trying to catch a peek of the female students and talking perverted about them.

One day, a beautiful girl named Yuma Amano asks Issei out for date and as Issei tries to show off to everyone that he has a hot girlfriend that is well-endowed, as the two go to the park, she asks him if he’ll do anything for her.

When she elaborates what she means by that, she means “would he die for her”?  Taken back by the question, Issei is not so sure why she would ask that but she reveals herself to be a fallen angel named Raynare and kills him.

Alone and dead at the park, he sees a summoning card and Rias Gremory comes to save him.

The following morning, Issei wakes up with a naked woman in his bed and it is Rias.  Shocked to see a live, naked woman in his bed, she explains to him that he has died but brought back as a demon and according to the deal that they made in giving his life back, he must be her pawn and do whatever she says.

But Issei’s life changes that very minute as his mother catches him on top of a naked Rias, people in school sees him around Rias and once seen as a perverted geek, Issei suddenly becomes well-known in school.

As Rias introduces Issei to the Occult Research Club and meeting other demons such as Kanako Toujo and Akeno Himejima, he is given a Sacred Gear during a battle with another Fallen Angel and learns that fallen angels are quite evil.

He ends up helping a nun named Asia Argento and both become friends despite him being a demon, but this friendship is not going to be taken lightly by the Fallen Angels who seem to want Asia Argento for some reason.

With this newfound power and life, can the perverted Issei Hyodo defend and fight for the people he loves.  And will he be able to satisfy his perverted urges when he is around Rias?

The characters of “High School DxD” are:

  • Issei Hyodo – The main protagonist and an uber-pervert.  A second-year student at Kuoh Academy who is killed after going on a date with a demon posing as a student.    Because he is saved by Rias and turned into a demon, he becomes a member of the Occult Research Club and becomes a low-ranked Pawn working for Rias.   His goal is to be a high-ranking demon, so he can have his own harem of women being his pawns that will do what he wants.
  • Risa Gremory – A third year student who is a powerful demon that comes from the Gremory Family.  Known as the Crimons-haired Ruin Princess and the Princess of Destruction.
  • Asia Argento – A nun that Issei meets and befriends.  A Holy Maiden that enjoys her time and friendship with Issei and is pure at heart.
  • Akeno Himejima – The second-in-Command of the Gremory Group and is known as the “Priestess of Thunder” and is the Vice-President of the Occult Research Club.  She is a high-ranked Queen.
  • Koneko Toujou – A first year student at Koh Academy who dresses up as a loli.  She is a “Rook” and is extremely strong and quick.  Rarely shows any emotion.
  • Yuto Kiba – A swordsman who is a Knight of the Occult Research Club.  He is popular at Kuoh Academy and known for his good looks, intelligence and personality.

VIDEO:

“High School DxD” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is an animated series that is well-animated.  The characters are well-shaded, backgrounds feature a good blend of painted backgrounds and CG.  While a colorful animated series, there is a slight softness but for the most part, the animated series does looks sharp and colorful in HD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“High School DxD” is presented in English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0.  Voice acting for both series are well-done, while the English dub writing features a much more raunchier and mature dialogue.  So, I think that those watching for the English dub will enjoy the pervertedness of the English dub dialogue.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“High School DxD: The Series” features the following special features:

  • Episode 1 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with Jamie Marchi (voice of Rias/lead writer), Felecia Angelle (voice of Raynare) and Teri Rogers (voice of Akeno).
  • Episode 7 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with Jad Saxton (voice of Koneko), Scott Freeman (voice of Issei) and Tyson Rinehart (voice of Matsuda)
  • Fantasy Jiggles Unleashed – (22:22) Featuring six volumes of animated shorts featuring the characters of “High School DxD”: Vol. 1 – Going to the Beach, Vol. 2 – Aken’s Private Training, Vol. 3 – Koneko, a Bit More bold…Mreow, Vol. 4 – The Story of the First Dress Break, Vol. 5 – Making Udon noddles, Vol. 6 – Asia Transforms
  • New Material from Ichiei Ishibumi – (8:55) Featuring Fantasy Full-blast Gentleman’s Disc Club Promos – Introducing the Occult club, the Ladies, The Loli-Lolis, Promotional Video and Commercial Collection. In Japanese with English subtitles.
  • Textless Opening Song – “Trip -innocent of D-“
  • Textless Closing Song – “Study x Study”
  • U.S. Trailer – FUNimation trailer for “High School DxD”.

EXTRAS:

It’s important to note that we are reviewing screener discs, so I can’t comment on the limited edition.  But the Blu-ray does come with a DVD version of the animated series.

For fans of perverted and mature anime series, “High School DxD” joins anime such as “Heaven’s Lost Property”as animation that showcases a lot of boobage, fan service and perverted humor.

While I suppose one can say “High School DxD” fits the banality of harem anime series and perverted protagonist, where “Heaven’s Lost Property” deals with women from another dimension who are sent to kill the protagonist but end up being part of the character’s harem and a series like “Sekirei” deals with women who have supernatural abilities involved in a death game but also ended up being part of the protagonist’s harem and wanting to protect him.  The same can be said for “High School DxD”.  Nearly each episode features a female character wanting to get closer to Issei.

But the primary difference is that the character of Issei, while highly perverted, has died and was given a second chance at life by demons.  While characters working with demons can be dark, the fact is that these demons are well-endowed, powerful and some are quite naughty.

As for those serving the church or angels, the angels are sadistic and cruel.

As for the animation, quite often, the scenes feature characters and their gleaming breast, a behind look at a characters panties and in perverted fashion, a lot of detail that goes into a character’s breasts.

As for the Blu-ray release, “High School DxD” looks sharp and colorful in HD and as far as the dialogue is concerned, the writing for the series is much more perverted and suited to the mature taste of Americans, while the Japanese soundtrack, which is also well-acted, is perverted but not as much as its English counterpart.  And the Blu-ray release also features audio commentary (especially a second audio commentary that I found to be quite awkward between the FUNimation dub actors) but also more content from the original Japanese Blu-ray release.

Overall, “High School DxD: The Series” is a mature and perverted anime series that screams “boobylicious” and may not be for everyone. The series doesn’t break any new ground and as a harem anime series, certain plots are quite predictable.

But if you have been fans of FUNimation’s more mature anime titles such as “Heaven’s Lost Property”, “Sekirei” and “Freezing”, fans of anime series with a lecherous protagonist, many well-endowed female characters and plenty of fan service will surely enjoy the wacky, hilarious but action-packed “High School DxD”!

 

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Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

August 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

fairytail-v5

I can now understand why there was so much hype built around “Sword Art Online”.  It’s an addictive series that is well-written, well-acted and now with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I”, you get one of the better anime TV series to be released on Blu-ray for 2013.  A five-star release, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

Image courtesy of © REKI KAWAHARA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Project. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 7 Episodes (175 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

Release Date: August 13, 2013

Originally Created by Reki Kawahara

Directed by Tomohiki Ito

Script by Munemasa Nakamoto, Naoki Shojo, Shuji Iriyama, Yoshikazu Mukai, Yukie Sugawara, Yukito Kizawa

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design by Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima, Yusuke Takeda

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito

Haruka Tomatsu/Cherami Leigh as Asuna

Kanae Itō as Yui

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba

Ayahi Takagaki/Sarah Anne Williams as Lisbeth

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee Morris as Leafa

Ayana Taketatsu as Suguha Kirigaya

Hiroaki Hirata as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto/Patrick Seitz as Agil

Hiroki Yasumoto as Andrew Gilbert Mills

Rina Hidaka as Silica

Saori Hayami as Sachi

Takehito Koyasu as Nobuyuki Sugō/Oberon

Toru Ohkawa as Heathcliff

In the year 2022, next-generation game Sword Art Online (SAO) is the world’s first true VRMMORPG. A virtual reality helmet known as “Nerve Gear” has been developed, making Full Dives into a virtual dimension possible.

 SAO has generated worldwide buzz, and on its official launch day, one player, Kirito, immerses himself in its virtual world. But Akihiko Kayaba, the developer of SAO, proclaims the following to all players. “This game is inescapable unless all levels are cleared. And in this world, ‘Game Over’ is equivalent to death in the real world.”

 Contains episodes 1-7 plus original soundtrack CD 1, a 16-page deluxe booklet, illustration pin-ups, and an exclusive collectible card, all housed in a rigid box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design).

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of “Accel World” would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and featuring the art work of abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012.  The series has since spawned a total of five manga adaptations (“Sword Art Online: Aincrad”, “4-koma”, “Fairy Dance”, “Girls Ops” and “Progressive”).  The anime series produced by A-1 Pictures was released in Japan between July and December 2012 and airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami in July 27, 2013.

A video game series was released in Japan for the Sony PSP and now, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” (featuring the first seven episodes) will be released in North America courtesy of Aniplex of America on August 2013.

The anime series was directed by Tomohiko Ito (“Occult Academ”, “Silver Spoon”), featuring music by Yuki Kajiura (“.hack” series, “Eat-Man”, “My-HIME”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, “Noir”, “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE”), character design by Shingo Adachi (“Megaman Star Force”, “Rockman.EXE Beat”) and Art Direction by Takayuki Nagashima (“Durarara!!”, “Real Drive”, “Steins;Gate”) and Yusuke Takeda (“Berserk” films, “Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Golden Boy”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, etc.).

“Sword Art Online” is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short).  The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO.  On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out.  They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game.  If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss.  But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world.  And so far, people in the real world have died by having their Nerve Gear removed.

Determined in beating the game, so he can be free, “Sword Art Online” focuses on Kirito and his adventures of beating the game but also the people he meets in the game, may it be those who are experienced or non-experienced, those who have different “jobs” within the game but also solving mysteries as certain players have become people for hire and also become “player killers”.

The main characters featured in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” are:

  • Kirito – The main protagonist of the series.  A former beta-tester who fights solo, because people think he’s a cheater because he was a former beta-tester and has previous knowledge of playing the game, he is often called a “beater”.  But because Kirito is a man with a good heart and willing to help people, he’s also very cautious and his high level of experience has made people fear him as rumors swirl around that he is a “Black Swordsman” due to the fact that he wears a black trenchcoat and fights with a sword in one hand.  He is determined in beating the final boss.  But part of the reason why Kirito has fought alone is because the pain of losing a team member is difficult for him.
  • Klein – A person who started playing SAO and learned quickly from Kirito of the basics of fighting.  He is the guild leader of Fuurinkazaan and is often worried for his friend Kirito, because he fights alone.
  • Asuna – A person who fought with Kirito.  She is very good at fighting and after taking the advice of Kirito of joining a guild, she became a member of the guild, Knights of the Blood.  She often gets angry at Kirito (known as tsundere behavior) but in truth, she looks to him for help.  Like Kirito, she also has a good heart and determined in beating the game.
  • Silica – A person who is a dagger-wielding beast tamer.  She is the first person to tame a Feathery Dragon named Pina and one of the active young members in SAO.  She is attracted to Kirito but also looks up to him like a big brother.
  • Lisbeth – A blacksmith in the game and Asuna’s best friend.  She is attracted to Kirito.
  • Sachi – A member of the Black Cats of the Full Moon Guild, which Kirito temporarily joined.  She is afraid that she will die and doesn’t like playing the game.
  • Kayaba Akihiko – The development creator and Game Master of Sword Art Online and the primary antagonist.  He is responsible for trapping all characters in the Sword Art Online game and killing people with the use of the Nerve Gear virtual reality helmet.

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” features the first seven episodes of “Sword Art Online”:

  • EPISODE 1 – Kirito and many other players are trapped in the Sword Art Online game by the game creator Kayaba Akihiko with the use of the Nerve Gear helmets.
  • EPISODE 2 – It has been a month and 2,000 people have have died in SOA.  No one has beaten the first level boss and while everyone is forming guilds, Kirito and a girl named Asuna team up.
  • EPISODE 3 – Four months have passed in the SOA game.  Kirito joins a guild known as “The Black Cats of the Full Moon”.
  • EPISODE 4 – Kirito helps a beast tamer named Silica who lost her familiar named Pina.  Both go in search for a Pneuma Flower which would revive it, but others are also after the flower.
  • EPISODE 5 – Kirito and Asuna team up once again to solve a murder mystery within the SAO game.
  • EPISODE 6 – A continuing storyline of the murder mystery as Kirito and Asuna join forces to figure out who is responsible.
  • EPISODE 7 – Kirito wants to upgrade his sword and goes to a blacksmith named Lisbeth, who happens to be Asuna’s very good friend.

VIDEO:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  Because of the ever changing landscape within the Sword Art Online game, there is a good balance between well-painted buildings and interiors and also beautiful painted backgrounds for outdoor scenes.   Black levels are nice and deep but its the colorful palette and the beautiful backgrounds that captivate you.

Colors are absolutely vibrant and I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding during my viewing of the first seven episodes.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Japanese linear PCM stereo.  The voice acting for the Japanese soundtrack is solid.  Both Yoshitsugi Matsuoka and Haruka Tomatsu and other cast members have done a fantastic job.  With that being said, having watched the series first in Japanese, watching it with the English dub, I felt the casting was spot-on!  Both Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh did an awesome job as Kirito and Asuna.  But the casting for this anime series for the English dub was fantastic.  Everyone did a magnificent job with their character role.

Subtitles are in English and you can choose from complete English subtitles which include dialogue and Japanese kana translations or a selection to choose just kana translations or no English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” features the following special features:

  • Sword Art Offline 1 – (11:00) Featuring Asuna and Kirito in super deformed format discussing the first episode, SOA trivia and more.
  • Sword Art Offline 2 – (11:06) Featuring Asuna and Kirito in super deformed format discussing the first episode, SOA trivia and featuring Silica, the beast tamer.
  • Sword Art Offline 3 – (11:54) Featuring Asuna and Kirito in super deformed format discussing the first episode, SOA trivia and featuring discussion about crystalite Ingot.
  • Web Version Previews  – Featuring web previews for episodes 2-8
  • Audio Commentary 1 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna), Hiroaki Hirata (voice of Klein) and Director Tomohiko Ito.
  • Audio Commentary 3 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna), Saori Hayama (voice of Sachi) and Shingo Adachi (character designer and supervising animation director)
  • Audio Commentary 4 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna), Rina Hidaka (voice of Silica) and Shingo Adachi (character designer and supervising animation director) and Kawakami (sub-character designer and supervising animation director)
  • Audio Commentary 7 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna) and Ayahi Takagi (voice of Lisbeth).
  • Textless Opening Song
  • English Trailer – Aniplex USA trailer for “Sword Art Online”.

EXTRAS:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • Original Soundtrack CD 1 (ソードアート・オンライン Vol. 4 Original Soundtrack vol. 1)

The following is a 33-track soundtrack (1 hour long) featuring all-instrumental tracks by Yuki Kajiura.  The soundtrack was included with the fourth Blu-ray volume release in Japan and included in the U.S. Aniplex Inc. release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1”.

  1. swordland        3:18
  2. feel uneasy        1:41
  3. everyday life        1:54
  4. quiet strain        1:58
  5. no way        1:44
  6. stand at bay        1:10
  7. weird place        2:10
  8. survive the swordland        2:16
  9. taut nerves        1:58
  10. a tense situation        2:32
  11. a strategy meeting        1:46
  12. in your past        1:38
  13. march down        1:52
  14. left in suspense        2:13
  15. we have to defeat it        1:50
  16. at our parting        1:25
  17. confront battle        2:42
  18. at our parting ~piano only        1:25
  19. luminous sword        2:29
  20. at our parting ~Vc only        0:47
  21. a close battle        1:55
  22. a tender feeling        2:07
  23. a narrow escape        1:53
  24. he rules us        2:36
  25. fight!        2:07
  26. a tiny love        1:45
  27. smile for me        1:39
  28. gracefully        1:50
  29. a squabble        1:22
  30. with my friend        1:25
  31. the first town        1:54
  32. at nightfall        1:57
  33. despaired        1:22
  • 16-Page Deluxe Illustration Booklet – Each page features illustrations with characters from the series.
  • Set of Pin-Up Illustration Postcards – Featuring seven different illustrated postcards.
  • Exclusive Bushiroad’s Collectible Card #1 – I’m not sure if each set is random but the card that came with this limited edition release featured Kirito & Asuna (Avatar/Weapon).
  • Rigid Box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design) – A slipcase which houses both Blu-ray cases.
  • Clear BD cases with 2-sided Japanese Cover Design

“Sword Art Online” features an addictive storyline and one of the few anime series in the last year that had me watching it non-stop, I love this series!

As a person who loves Japanese RPG games, back in early 2000’s, I was captivated by the “.Hack” series, fast forward over a decade later and I started hearing praises for this story about people trapped in a video game world.  At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it because I figured that it would be a copycat anime series.

But from the amount of hype of the series in Japan and then our coverage of Sakura-Con which featured series creator Reki Kawahara and those who were involved in the musical end of the series praising the series, I had to check the series out the first two episodes for myself on Crunchyroll and I enjoyed it.

But with the announcement of the series on Blu-ray and that it would feature an English dub, suffice to say, I have been looking forward to watching the series and I was immediately captivated by its storyline, moreso than “.Hack” which I really enjoyed.

The reason why I enjoyed “Sword Art Online” was not just the characters but also the human and emotional element brought to the characters to this RPG virtual world setting.  People can die in the game and die in real life.  And for a lot of people that are stuck in the game, some never played an RPG game ever and face this reality that they can die not just in the game and in reality, or if someone tries to take their Nerve Gear helmet off their head, they will die.

Of course, there is a side to me that wonders if one plays the game for months, how will they survive in the real world without any food, sleep, etc.  But without over thinking those situations, unlike “.Hack” which tries to showcase the person behind the game and the jobs they have, this game features the actual body of the person courtesy of their Nerve Gear helmet which scanned their bodies.

And because each player is put into a terrifying situation that in order to beat the game and a powerful boss, you’ll need to level up and fight.

So, everyone is forced to join teams or fight alone and they can easily get killed if they don’t know what they are doing.  And the fact is that within the first month alone, 2,000 people have died.

I like how the series focuses on Kirito and the people he meets.  From Asuna, the tsundere character that is a very good fighter and a person that probably may be a romantic interest in the game?  Then you have Kirito meeting Sachi, a girl that is terrified of dying in the game.  Meeting one of the younger players of the game, Silica and Lisbeth, a player who thinks about love or will she ever find love and all of a sudden, meeting Kirito who has brought her emotions of love that she has never felt before.

But a harem anime series, this is not.  It’s about experiences and the characters that Kirito meet to show how the game has progressed or how he has progressed.  We learn that there are people who are hired by other players in the game for schemes.  We learn that there are players who kill other players for the fun of it.  And others who use their situation in the game for murder in reality.

“Sword Art Online” features a storyline that draws you in and makes you, the viewer, wanting more and more.

As for the Blu-ray release, this is an Aniplex Limited Edition which means… “Aniplex Swag”!

If there is anything about Aniplex that they have been true to fans who have purchased their limited editions, the company delivers in giving fans special swag that was released in Japan.

In the case of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1”, not only do you get the slipcase and irreversible covers on a clear Blu-ray case, you also get a 33 song soundtrack featuring the music by the wonderful Yuki Kajiura.

Also, you get a booklet of illustrations, postcards and a limited Bushiroad playing card.

As for the Blu-ray release, as one can expect, the series looks wonderful on Blu-ray.  While I wished for a more immersive lossless soundtrack, a lot of anime TV series are originally in stereo and for the case of “Sword Art Online”, the soundtrack is purchased in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Japanese Linear PCM stereo.  But both soundtracks are well-acted and I was very impressed by the English dub with Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito and Cherami Leigh as Asuna.

As for special features, you get the “Sword Art Offline” animations, several audio commentary featuring the Japanese seiyuu (voice actor and actress of the series) plus the original web previews and more.

I can now understand why there was so much hype built around “Sword Art Online”.  It’s an addictive series that is well-written, well-acted and now with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1”, you get one of the better anime TV series to be released on Blu-ray for 2013.

A five-star release, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

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K-ON!: The Movie (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you are a big fan of “K-ON!”, this animated film is a must watch, must own Blu-ray release!  A fantastic animated film that fans will absolutely love and a Blu-ray release that is jam-packed with lengthy, awesome special features!  5 stars and a Blu-ray release that is not only highly recommended but definitely on our list for one of the best anime Blu-ray releases of the year!

Images courtesy of ©Kakifly/Houbunshua/Sakura High Band. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: K-ON!: The Movie

DURATION: 110 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9), Audio: Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English

RATED: TV 14

COMPANY: TBS Animation/Sentai Filmworks

RELEASE DATE: May 21, 2013

Originally Created by kakifly

Directed by Naoko Yamada

Screenplay by Reiko Yoshida

Music by Hajime Hyakkoku

Character Design by Yukiko Horiguchi

Art Director: Seiki Tamura

Chief Animation Director: Yukiko Horiguchi

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Production: TBS

Featuring the voices of:

Aki Toyosaki/Stephanie Sheh as Yui Hirasawa

Asami Sanada/Karen Strassman as Sawako Yamanaka

Ayana Taketatsu/Christine Marie Cabanos as Azusa Nakano

Chika Fujitō/Laura Bailey as Nodoka Manabe

Madoka Yonezawa/Xanthe Huynh as Ui Hirasawa

Minako Kotobuki/Shelby Lindley as Tsumugi Kotobuki

Satomi Satou/Cassandra Lee as Ritsu Tainaka

Yōko Hikasa/Cristina Vee as Mio Akiyama

Graduation time is finally here, but the girls of the Sakuragaoka Girl’s High Light Music Club aren’t going to let the end of high school be the end of all they’ve built together. First though, they have to keep a promise to take a trip together, and like everything else they do, they’re not doing it halfway. So it’s time to hop on the bus – the double-decker bus that is – and go around the world as the band heads for the birthplace of the British Invasion: the United Kingdom!

On the way they’re going to have to solve that one last big puzzle that’s been vexing them: what to get for their underclassman rhythm guitarist Azusa, who will be taking over the club once they don their caps and gowns and leave Sakuragaoka for the last time. Get ready for a Magical Musical Tour as the whole gang takes in the sights and sounds of London and prepares for one last amazing encore!

Fans of “K!-ON!” have watched as the band members of Hokago Tea Time: Yui Hirasawa (guitar), Mio Akiyama (bass), Tsumugi Kotobuki (keyboard), Ritsu Tanaka (drums) and Azusa Nakano (guitar) have won fans hearts with their music.  But also watching the band but most of all, the friendships grow from the beginning to the graduation of four of the members from high school.

But as the final episodes of the second season gave viewers a glimpse of the concern the four members had for their youngest member and leaving her behind, the animated series kept things simple, yet sweet as we watch the band and friends prepare for graduation but we saw Azusa’s side of wanting to do something for her graduating friends and fellow band mates.

But with the popularity of the series and how it became a phenomenal hit throughout Japan inspiring video game and merchandise tie-ins, an animated film was released in December 2011 to showcase the final vacation shared by the five band members but what the band members did for Azusa before graduating.

The film was a big hit in Japan and now, the animated film will be released on Blu-ray in May 2013 courtesy of Sentai Filmworks.

What is “K-ON!”?

“K-ON!”, it happens to be one of the hottest manga and anime series in Japan that has not only done remarkably well in the anime TV ratings (from 2009-2010)  but also have its music top Japan’s Oricon music charts!

The series has been a phenomenon as it has attracted fans all over the world, those who want to cosplay as the characters, those who want to sing like the characters and those who want to play the music of the characters. Just one look on YouTube and you can see how passionate people are for this series!

“K-ON!” began as a four-panel comic strip written and illustrated by kakifly and the manga would then be serialized in Houbunsha’s seinen manga magazine “Manga Time Kirara” between May 2007-October 2010. In April 2011, the manga was relaunched on both “Manga Time Kirara” and Houbunsha’s magazine “Manga Time Kirara Carat” with two separate storylines.

The popularity of the manga series led to a 13-episode anime TV series which aired in Japan on April-June 2009, an OVA episode in Jan. 2010 and a 26-episode second season titled “K-ON!!” which aired in Japan from April through Sept. 2010 and a new OVA released in March 2011.

The series would also lead to a Sony PSP music rhythm video game and the film released in Dec. 3, 2011.

As for fans in the United States, there was been high anticipation for the anime TV release and the release of the first and second seasons on Blu-ray arrived with plenty of fanfare.

As for what “K-ON!” means…  “K-ON!” is a play on the Japanese word “keiongaku” (light music) and the series follows four high school students of Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School who are members of the “keiongaku” club.

The four characters featured thus far in the series are Yui Hirasawa, a naive and clumsy student entering high school who is not entirely sure what she wants to do in terms of extracurricular activities. While she tries to figure out what she wants to do, two other students, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama join the keiongaku club to find out that most of the members have graduated and the only way they can keep the club open is if they have four members.

Because Ritsu plays the drums and Mio plays the bass guitar, they hope they can find other musicians and form a band.

Fortunately, a new member joins the group, Tsumugi Kobobuki, a student from a wealthy family who plays a Korg Triton Extreme 76-key keyboard. Now all they need is one member.

While Yui is trying to think of activities to do, she sees a flyer for the keiongaku club and in her mind, she remembers light music as something she did when she was young student in elementary school and so she joins. Meanwhile, the other three members are happy because with a fourth member, the club will stay alive but also the fact that maybe Yui is a guitarist and now, they can start their own band.

But Yui is not a musician and if anything, what she loves about the club is the ability to eat desserts and drink tea with the other members but when the three members perform in front of her, she becomes inspired and wants to be a member of the club and be part of the band.

The group eventually form the band “Hokago Tea Time” and with the help of their band adviser/teacher Sawako Yamanaka (who once was a student at the same high school, attended the same music club and member of the speed metal band, Death Devil), the group gathered the strength to perform in front of a large audience.

When they performed, their music eventually captivated a young guitarist named Azusa Nakano, a friend of Yui’s sister Ui.

Azusa became the fifth member of Hokago Tea Time and the five friends would eventually take part in several live performances but practice together as a band while enjoying sweets and tea inside their band room.

And as these band members became great friends and bandmates overtime, by the final weeks of their final year in high school, the band realizes that they are leaving Azusa behind, as she is younger than them and graduating  later on, the band just wants to make things comfortable for her.

And the final year of high school played out in the anime television series.

“K-ON!: The Movie”….

And with the release of the animated film “K-ON!: The Movie”, the film takes place months before the four members are to graduate.  Both want to experience a vacation together as friends and as a band, but they also want to spend their final time with their youngest band member Azusa, who they worry about and don’t want to leave her all alone.

So, the group come up with an idea, plan a trip to London along with Asuza, but to come up with ideas of what farewell gift they should give Azusa before the graduate.

A fun and music-filled film as the group manages to get lost in London, what kind of adventures will the five experience in the city and will they be able to play Hokago Tea Time music in this country they are visiting?

And what final gift will the four members decide to give as a parting gift for Azusa?

Find out in “K-ON!: The Movie”!

“K-ON!: The Movie” features the following characters:

  • Yui Hirasawa– Yui is a naive and clumsy student who likes to sleep, eat and go shopping. But when she joins the Keiongaku club, she becomes the band’s guitarist and vocalist. She plays a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul standard electric guitar.
  • Ritsu Tainaka – The most vocal person of the Keiongaku club. She is a drummer that plays a yellow Rick Marotta Signature Yamaha hipgig drum kit and always upbeat, energetic, sarcastic and often always playing jokes on her good friend Mio. Sometimes she can get in the nerves of the other members but she is the most determined in wanting to make sure the club exists and that they form a band.
  • Mio Akiyama – The levelheaded person of the group and the smartest student among the four. She plays a Fender Jazz Bass. She originally was planning to join the literary club but her friend Ritsu tore up her applications and made her join the Keiongaku club. Although a person who knows quite a bit about music, she is also quite shy and is easy to scare. She can’t take anything that deals with anything scary, ghosts, blood, injuries or anything macabre.
  • Tsumugi Kotobuki – The daughter of a very wealthy family. Known as “Mugi”, she plays a Korg Triton Extreme keyboard and is a piano prodigy. She is known for her blonde hair and thick eyebrows. Because her father owns a variety of businesses including a maid cafe, she often brings desserts to the club meetings. She also has an intriguing interest in the club advisor, Sawako Yamanaga.
  • Azusa Nakano – The same class as Yui’s sister Ui, Azusa joins the Keiongaku music club but often feels that the other  members do not appear to be taking their band practices seriously and are often wanting to have fun.  She is a guitarist.

OTHER CHARACTERS:

  • Ui Hirasawa – Yui’s younger sister who tends to get Yui out of a jam. Unlike Yui, Ui is more responsible and mature and takes care of her older sister and is good friends with Azusa.
  • Nodoka Manabe – Yui’s childhood friend and confidant. Smart and intelligent, despite how Yui is at times, Nodoka always supports her.
  • Sawako Yamanaka – A beloved teacher known for her kind heart, she also carries a secret, she is a former member of the Keiongaku music club during her high school years and was a member of a death metal band known as “Death Devil” as the lead guitarist and vocalist. She has tried to hide her past but when the members find a photo and music of her past, as part of a deal for them to keep it a secret, she becomes their advisor. Despite seeming to be responsible, she is quite wild and an airhead like Yui. And also making the members dress up in costumes that she creates.

VIDEO:

“K-ON!” has always been an anime series that is stylishly created but also features beautifully painted art backgrounds. Presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen), one thing that I love to see when it comes to anime series is the attention to detail when covering a modern setting.

A lot of TV series tend to not make the backgrounds of a city landscape so detailed and tend to put a lot of recycled trees, dirt and sky but “K-ON!”, is not one of those anime series. There are scenes and also still images of natural settings that are beautifully painted and added to the series. There is detail for the instruments, for the desserts and I felt that with each episode, aside from the practice room and the wideshot image of their school, there was always something new being featured in terms of location. So, the color palette of the series is full of color and nothing is stale or seemed regurgitated.

With that being said, “K-ON!: The Movie” expands on the look by much better shading and a really beautiful look of London scenery with beautifully painted backgrounds.  As one can expect for a recent animated film, the Blu-ray release features a colorful palette, vibrant colors, inky black levels and during my viewing, I saw no problems of banding or artifacts.

AUDIO:

If there was anything that I was critical of “K-ON!” in the past was its 2.0 soundtrack for the TV series, but this time around, because this is an animated film, the lossless audio is presented in English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  It’s important to note that I spent most of my time watching this animated film in Japanese but checking both lossless tracks during certain scenes to see how they utilize the surround channels.  For the most part, the music is crystal clear and sounds fantastic in HD.  There are use of surround channels for crowd scenes but for the most part, the film is dialogue and musically driven and sounds fantastic.

While I am biased towards the original Japanese voice talent (which I found each to be fantastic with their performance and music vocals), fans who have watched the original “K-ON!” TV series releases in the last three years via English dub and enjoyed it, should be satisfied with the animated film.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“K-ON!: The Movie” comes with the following special features:

  • Minami Tanaka’s Dubbing Investigative Recording – (22:38) TBS announcer Minami Tanaka visits voice actresses Aki Toyosaki, Ayana Taketatsu, Minako Kotobuki, Satomi Satou and Yoko Hikasa and each take part in tongue twisters.
  • London Bus and Press Conference at TBS – (19:00) A featurette with the five Japanese voice actresses riding a London red bus to the TBS headquarters to discuss the the film.
  • Navi Show 1-2-3 is K-ON! – (23:59) Featuring TBS announcers Haruka Kobayashi and Sylvia Kato hosting the program and cast interviews with TBS announcer Minami Tanaka.
  • Movie Premiere Event – (21:40) TBS announcer Sylvia Kato and the cast members of “K-ON!” at the movie premiere event for “K-ON!: The Movie”.
  • Director Naomi Yamada in London – (28:59) A featurette on “K-ON!” director Naomi Yamada visiting London and her thoughts of the area, while doing research for the film.
  • Good Luck Music Hall – K-ON! Music Hall – (4:43) TBS Anime Meister and announcer Masao Mukai discusses the music of “K-ON!: The Movie”.
  • Japanese Trailer – (1:38) Japanese theatrical trailer for “K-ON!: The Movie”.
  • Japanese Teaser – (:41) Japanese teaser for “K-ON!: The Movie”.
  • Japanese Spots – (2:44) Japanese commercial spots for “K-ON!: The Movie”.
  • Clean Opening and Closing Animation
  • Trailers – Sentai Filmworks trailers

I have been vocal about “K-ON!” being one of my favorite anime series, from its combination of humor, music but also fun character interaction and magnificent voice acting of the Japanese cast.

In my last “K-ON!” review, I wrote about how sad it was to say goodbye to the members of Hokago Tea Time as they graduate and go their separate ways.  While the manga series continued and possibly in the near future, we may see another animated series with the four members as college students and Azusa continuing the tradition of the club in high school, the fact is that there has not been a series that I found so colorful, fun and amazing when it captures all-female band members (which is common to see in Japan) trying to form a band, performing live and just grow with each other as friends.

In Japan, you can watch variety TV shows such as “Gakkou e Ikou” (Let’s go to School) or films such as “Linda Linda Linda” and there are many young people who want to play music. And its evident from the various young bands that have come from Japan straight out of high school that have become signed to a major label.

While here in the West, there are shows and events that spotlight this, in Japan, its a bit more magnified because these storylines are brought to television, film and manga. There are constant music auditions throughout Japan featuring many young teenagers who want to make it and these auditions are featured on television. Especially female students who create a rock band.

“K-ON!” captures that essence of those female students wanting to create a rock band and the series gives life to those characters and while keeping the stories fun and light-hearted, I was very impressed with how music is integrated into the series. From the instruments featured, the focus on chord progression and hand/finger movements. While there is an anime series such as “La corda d’oro ~primo passo~” that does focus on intricacies of instruments and focuses more on classical music, the show is more magical in a sense that a fairy gives the protagonist the power to play the violin.

Most often there are dramatic series about girls and guys  ala “NANA” or one that is geared towards idol pop such as “Hummingbird” and “Idolm@ster”, but “K-ON!” didn’t even go that direction, it focused on the music and the friendships with each individual.

What “K-ON!: The Movie” does with amazing efficacy is to give us a clear look at how the four founding members of “Hokago Tea Time” felt about leaving Azusa behind and wanting to do something special for her before they leave.  So, as the TV series focused on the school life of the students, the film features a vacation as the five visit London but also the four wondering what goodbye present to give to Azusa.

Not only was the adventure in London entertaining and a lot of fun, the way the film is handled as the group are about to graduate felt much better than the TV animated series, because you can feel the emotion of the four members towards Azusa and what the four decide to give her as a final present.

The music for the film is catchy and upbeat and just to hear things in lossless audio is fantastic and the picture quality was vibrant with beautifully detailed backgrounds.

But one of the reasons why this animated film is also worth owning on Blu-ray is the amount of bonus features included.  From the TBS Japanese special features to promote the film, featuring fun games and interviews with the Japanese voice talent, there is also the premiere event, the pre-promotional event in Japan and even a featurette with director Naoko Yamada and staff going to London and sharing their thoughts and experiences of the locations they researched and featured in the film.

And no, this is not your typical 3 minute special feature, each of these are 20-30 minutes long.  So, you are getting a good amount of special features included on this Blu-ray release, more than what you usually see in anime Blu-ray releases these days, so this release is really jam-packed with “K-ON!” awesomeness!

Overall, if you are a big fan of “K-ON!”, this animated film is a must watch, must own Blu-ray release!  A fantastic animated film that fans will absolutely love and a Blu-ray release that is jam-packed with lengthy, awesome special features!

5 stars and a Blu-ray release that is not only highly recommended but definitely on our list for one of the best anime Blu-ray releases of the year!

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K-On! Season Two, Collection 2 (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The immensely popular “K-ON!” anime series is back with the final episodes of season two.  Graduation time has come for the members of the Light Music Club, but before they go on their own separate ways, enjoy the final episodes featuring Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa. Definitely one of my favorite anime series to be released in 2012!  If you are looking for a lighthearted, fun and hilarious anime series, “K-On!” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of ©Kakifly/Houbunshua/Sakura High Band. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: K-ON!: K-On! Season Two, Collection 2

DURATION: Episodes 14-26 + OVA (350 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen), Dolby Digital, Audio: English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Subtitles: English

RATED: TV 14

COMPANY: TBS Animation/Sentai Filmworks

RELEASE DATE: August 28, 2012

Originally Created by kakifly

Directed by Naoko Yamada

Screenplay by Jukki Hanada, Katsuhiko Muramoto, Masahiro Yokotani, Reiko Yoshida

Music by Hajime Hyakkoku

Character Design by Yukiko Horiguchi

Art Director: Seiki Tamura

Chief Animation Director: Yukiko Horiguchi

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Featuring the voices of:

Aki Toyosaki/Stephanie Sheh as Yui Hirasawa

Asami Sanada/Karen Strassman as Sawako Yamanaka

Ayana Taketatsu/Christine Marie Cabanos as Azusa Nakano

Chika Fujitō/Laura Bailey as Nodoka Manabe

Madoka Yonezawa/Xanthe Huynh as Ui Hirasawa

Minako Kotobuki/Shelby Lindley as Tsumugi Kotobuki

Satomi Satou/Cassandra Lee as Ritsu Tainaka

Yōko Hikasa/Cristina Vee as Mio Akiyama

Yoriko Nagata/Michelle Ann Dunphy as Jun Suzuki

Sometimes music and words come together so perfectly that the combination is far more powerful than either would be alone. In much the same way, the five members of the Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School’s Light Music Club have become far more than just a group of girls with similar interests. More, even, than just a group of friends. Through the medium of music they’ve found a common course in life, and whatever the future may bring, they know they can get through it if they stand together. Which makes the coming end of the school year and the graduation of the four older members something that’s dreaded as much as it’s looked forward to. But in the meantime there’s so much going on, it’s as life has decided to throw everything it can at them. Going to music festivals won’t be hard to swing, but running a marathon? That will be a stretch! Yearbook photos? The horror! And a school play with Mio and Ritsu cast as Romeo and Juliet? Ooo, VERY awkward. And then, of course, there’s one big final performance for the band! The tempo is rising and emotions run wild as the final encore approaches in K-ON! Season 2 Collection 2!!

All good things must come to an end and for the Light Music Club at Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi are graduating high school and will be moving on their own separate directions.  And for sophomore Azusa, will she be left alone or will new members join the Light Music Club?  Find out in “K-On! Season Two, Collection 2”!

The girls of Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School’s Light Music Club (K-On!) are back in season 2 of the hit Japanese animations series known as “K-On!”.

“K-ON!”, happens to be one of the hottest anime series in Japan that has not only dominated in the TV ratings but also on Japan’s Oricon music charts!

The series has been a phenomenon as it has attracted fans all over the world, those who want to cosplay as the characters, those who want to sing like the characters and those who want to play the music of the characters. Just one look on YouTube and all over the Internet and you can see how passionate fans have been for this series!

“K-ON!” began as a four-panel comic strip written and illustrated by kakifly and the manga would then be serialized in Houbunsha’s seinen manga magazine “Manga Time Kirara” between May 2007-October 2010. In April 2011, the manga was relaunched on both “Manga Time Kirara” and Houbunsha’s magazine “Manga Time Kirara Carat” with two separate storylines.

The popularity of the manga series led to a 13-episode anime TV series which aired in Japan on April-June 2009, an OVA episode in Jan. 2010 and a 26-episode second season titled “K-ON!!” which aired in Japan from April through Sept. 2010, a new OVA released in March 2011 and an animated film last winter.

The series would also lead to a Sony PSP music rhythm video game and now,  for American audiences who have been wanting more K-On!, “K-On!” Season Two, Collection 2 will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sentai Filmworks.

What is K-On!?

“K-ON!” is a play on the Japanese word “keiongaku” (light music) and the series follows four high school students of Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School who are members of the “keiongaku” club. The four characters featured thus far in the series are Yui Hirasawa, a naive and clumsy student entering high school who is not entirely sure what she wants to do in terms of extracurricular activities. While she tries to figure out what she wants to do, two other students, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama join the keiongaku club to find out that most of the members have graduated and the only way they can keep the club open is if they have four members.

Because Ritsu plays the drums and Mio plays the bass guitar, they hope they can find other musicians and form a band.

Fortunately, a new member joins the group, Tsumugi Kobobuki, a student from a wealthy family who plays a Korg Triton Extreme 76-key keyboard. Now all they need is one member.

While Yui is trying to think of activities to do, she sees a flyer for the keiongaku club and in her mind, she remembers light music as something she did when she was young student in elementary school and so she joins. Meanwhile, the other three members are happy because with a fourth member, the club will stay alive but also the fact that maybe Yui is a guitarist and now, they can start their own band.

But Yui is not a musician and if anything, what she loves about the club is the ability to eat desserts and drink tea with the other members but when the three members perform in front of her, she becomes inspired and wants to be a member of the club and be part of the band.

Eventually Yui learns the guitar rather quickly and the four would go on to form a band known as Hokago Tea Time thanks to the advice from their advisor and former K-On! Club member and rocker Sawako Yamanaka.. By the end of the first season, the club gains a new club member named Asuza Nakano, a best friend of Yui’s younger sister Ui.

And the first season featured the band performing live in a non-school related event.

So, what happens in Season 2?

As the first season focused on group dynamics and the group wanting to perform live and work on being a band, as expected with the first season, they were character building episodes. Getting to know Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa as well as their friends Nodoka and advisor Sawako.

The second season now features some music related episodes but now focuses on their senior year and high school. Wondering what they will do after graduating and for young Azusa, being sad that her friends will be graduating and wondering what will happen to the Light Music Club after they leave and will they find any new members.

For their final senior school year, their music advisor Sawako Yamanaka is now their teacher and to make things interesting, she has brought together all senior classmates of the Light Music Club and also Nodoka into the same class. So, a lot of the episodes focus on their senior year in high school, rather than focusing on strictly music.

We are also get to see the introduction of Azusa’s friends who have an interest in joining the club, after seeing how much fun Asuza has with her bandmates.

For the second half of the series, the storyline becomes more emotional as the members know they are graduating high school and for Azusa, she realizes how much her new friends have made an impact on her life and wondering if she can continue the Light Music club without them.

Here is what to expect in the second half of episodes of “K-On! Season Two, Collection 2” (spoilerless summaries):

  • EPISODE 14 – Ritsu and Tsumugi hang out, but what happens when Tsumugi wants to be hit, like how Mio hits Ritsu in the head?
  • EPISODE 15 – Summer vacation is over and the girls participate in a school-wide marathon.
  • EPISODE 16 – Azusa wants the group to practice more but can she get them to do that?
  • EPISODE 17 – The Light Music club room is closed down as it will be undergoing repairs.  Now the group have to figure out where to practice.
  • EPISODE 18 – What happens when Mio is nominated by the club to be Juliet and for Romeo…Ritsu?
  • EPISODE 19 – It’s the big day for the “Romeo & Juliet” play but with the light music club’s upcoming live concert, she fears they haven’t had enough time to practice.
  • EPISODE 20 – It’s time for the girls to perform live at the school festival!
  • EPISODE 21 – The girl’s prepare for their graduating yearbook photos and think about what kind of haircut they should have for their senior photo.
  • EPISODE 22 – Azusa wants to make a chocolate cake for the members of the Light Music Club to celebrate Valentine’s Day but also their upcoming graduation.
  • EPISODE 23 – Members of the club want to hang out before their big graduation day.
  • EPISODE 24 – It’s graduation day and the final day that the Light Music Club with its current members, will be together in high school.
  • EPISODE 25 – A story that takes place after episode 21, Azusa finds the Light Music Club’s recruitment video.
  • EPISODE 26 – A story that takes place before episode 23, Nodoka shows the club a sample of their graduation yearbook.
  • OVA – The storyline takes place before episode 14 and features the girls wanting to go overseas.  But can they?

“K-ON!” features the following characters:

  • Yui Hirasawa– Yui is a naive and clumsy student who likes to sleep, eat and go shopping. But when she joins the Keiongaku club, she becomes the group’s newest member and the band’s guitarist. She tries to learn how to play a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul standard electric guitar.
  • Ritsu Tainaka – The most vocal person of the Keiongaku club. She is a drummer that plays a yellow Rick Marotta Signature Yamaha hipgig drum kit and always upbeat, energetic, sarcastic and often always playing jokes on her good friend Mio. Sometimes she can get in the nerves of the other members but she is the most determined in wanting to make sure the club exists and that they form a band.
  • Mio Akiyama – The levelheaded person of the group and the smartest student among the four. She plays a Fender Jazz Bass. She originally was planning to join the literary club but her friend Ritsu tore up her applications and made her join the Keiongaku club. Although a person who knows quite a bit about music, she is also quite shy and is easy to scare. She can’t take anything that deals with anything scary, ghosts, blood, injuries or anything macabre.
  • Tsumugi Kotobuki – The daughter of a very wealthy family. Known as “Mugi”, she plays a Korg Triton Extreme keyboard and is a piano prodigy. She is known for her blonde hair and thick eyebrows. Because her father owns a variety of businesses including a maid cafe, she often brings desserts to the club meetings.
  • Azusa Nakano – The same class as Yui’s sister Ui, Azusa joins the Keiongaku music club but not sure if she wants to stay because the members do not appear to be taking their band practices that seriously.

OTHER CHARACTERS:

  • Ui Hirasawa – Yui’s younger sister who tends to get Yui out of a jam. Unlike Yui, Ui is more responsible and mature and takes care of her older sister.
  • Nodoka Manabe – Yui’s childhood friend and confidant. Smart and intelligent, despite how Yui is at times, Nodoka always supports her.
  • Sawako Yamanaka – A beloved teacher known for her kind heart, she also carries a secret, she is a former member of the Keiongaku music club during her high school years and was a member of a death metal band known as “Death Devil” as the lead guitarist and vocalist. She has tried to hide her past but when the members find a photo and music of her past, as part of a deal for them to keep it a secret, she becomes their advisor. Despite seeming to be responsible, she is quite wild and an airhead like Yui. And also making the members dress up in costumes that she creates.

VIDEO:

“K-ON!” is an anime series that is stylishly created but also features beautifully painted art backgrounds. Presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen), one thing that I love to see when it comes to anime series is the attention to detail when covering a modern setting.

A lot of TV series tend to not make the backgrounds of a city landscape so detailed and tend to put a lot of recycled trees, dirt and sky but “K-ON!”, is not one of those anime series. There are scenes and also still images of natural settings that are beautifully painted and added to the series. There is detail for the instruments, for the desserts and I felt that with each episode, aside from the practice room and the wideshot image of their school, there was always something new being featured in terms of location. So, the color palette of the series is full of color and nothing is stale or seemed regurgitated.

With that being said, the colors are a bit saturated but for an anime TV series (which is expected) but the OVA does feature more vibrant colors and a bit more detail.

For the many decades I have watched Japanese animation, for anime series that are set in a modern Tokyo setting, I prefer anime series that focused on the smallest details, such as what is inside their bedrooms and home. What’s inside the stores when they go shopping, etc. I love seeing those details instead of the typical walls or trees that are part of the banality anime TV series.

“K-ON!” is one of those series where those little things matter and for me, those attention to small details enhanced my appreciation for the series.

AUDIO:

If there was a weak side of this Blu-ray release, I’m sure the audiophiles might be a bit cranky that the soundtrack is not Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA. What you get is an English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. What surprised me is the fact that even with the work for the English dub version, there was no change to make it a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack or to increase the bitrate for Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA. But for a Blu-ray release, those who are expecting immersive lossless audio may fret about it, while those who have been waiting for this series to come out to the U.S. will be perfectly fine with the its 2.0 lossless soundtrack.

Personally, I chose to have my receiver play the anime series with stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundscape. As for the voice acting, I am a bit biased to the Japanese voice acting but I did watch the series also with the English dub soundtrack and for the most part, both are well-done and the voice acting should appeal to fans who prefer their anime in Japan or English.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“K-On! Season Two, Collection 2” comes with the following special features:

  • Clean Opening and Closing Animations
  • Trailers – Sentai Filmworks trailers.

Since I first began reviewing “K-On!” and enjoying the series a lot, playing the video games to even purchasing the “K-On!” Figma figures, suffice to say, I always wondered if the series would go on for several seasons before the girl’s would graduate.  I just never thought that it would happen in season two.  But all things come to and end, but there is always a new beginning and this second half of “K-On!” is about one chapter ending, another chapter begins.

And for the Light Music Club, the music will continue.

As a fan of “K-On!”, we have watched as Yui looked for a club to join, purchasing her first guitar, hanging out with her friends during the holiday season, sleepovers, New Year’s Eve and we have seen them work hard to make their music (although, they possibly did more eating and having fun that practicing) but eventually growing their friendship and carrying the Light Music Club to new heights at Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School.

I will remember Mio’s fear of scary stories, I will remember Ritsu’s jokes and lackadaisical approach to music and of course, who can forget Tsumugi’s cheerfulness, her tea and sweets.

But here we are now with “K-On!” Season Two, Collection 2 and its time for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi to graduate from high school.  And as the first half featured the girl’s taking part in several events and having fun during summer vacation, this time around it’s about their final activities in school.  From taking part in a school play and performing at their last music festival at school but most importantly, seeing how this affects their young member Azusa.

Azusa has always been strong and not the type to express her emotions.  Sure, she may be frustrated as the group had slacked off from practicing but she also learns that her friendship has taught them a lot.  That it’s OK for her to show her sweet side, it’s ok for her to show off her emotions but most of all, what it feels like to have older sisters and friends who will be by you, no matter what.

And these last episodes are a culmination of that friendship and the final months leading to their graduation and a new beginning for the Light Music Club.

While the series is the end for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi as members of the Light Music Club, the story has continued in an animated film which ties into the final episode of the series.  But one of the cool things about this Blu-ray release are the inclusions of the two extra episodes and the OVA.

The two extra episodes are more or less episodes that take place before a certain time of the series and the OVA takes place before episode 14, if anything, episodes to prolong the fun times that these members have together.  But nevertheless, these final episodes for season two were fun and very emotional.    Graduating is emotional, saying goodbye to friends is emotional but as one chapter ends, another begins.

And I like to think that “K-On!” will exist.  Maybe not with the same members, but it will hopefully continue on with maybe Azusa or a whole new group of students.

But after watching season two, my feelings for the series have not changed.

I really love this series! And loved the progression of the Hokago Tea Time band and how each of these young ladies grew up together to become a band that can actually perform quite well and start playing their first major gig to now growing together and getting ready to prepare themselves to whatever happens after high school but for now, enjoying this final year together.

My favorite episodes of the second half of season two includes episode 20 featuring the group performing their songs as the school festival, episode 22 which features the girl’s taking their entrance exams for college but Azusa wanting to go the extra mile of doing something special for her friends before they graduate.  And of course, episodes 23-24 were great but episode 24 being the graduation episode, will no doubt bring a fan to tears, as it is the final goodbye.

I enjoyed every episode of the series and I just enjoy how lighthearted and fun they all were.  I love the fact that it focuses on normal high school life but also the formation of a band and the dynamics with each of the members as they go through their ups and downs but also the little cute quirks that come with each character.

I typically don’t go crazy over anime series, nor am I the hardcore fan that goes out and buys anything after I see a series but this is probably the first time since I watched an anime series such as “Ranma 1/2″ back in 1992, where I went out and started buying merchandise related to the series. In fact, I have purchased the PSP video game, the Figma figures and it has become one of my favorite series that I have really got into in a very long time in this manner.

The music is awesome! The characters are entertaining. The animation and art backgrounds were very good and for the most part, it has been a long time, possibly since “Azumanga Daioh” in which I really enjoyed gakusei-based anime series (student anime series – focused on a school setting).

As for the Blu-ray release, I know one of the major criticisms that the first season (released by Bandai Entertainment) was its price and that it only came with four episodes per volume. And many wondered if Sentai Filmworks would follow the same path. And fortunately, for fans, Sentai Filmworks included 13-episodes with this first collection and the second half, you get 14 episodes total.

As for picture quality and audio quality, “K-On!” also receives a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless soundtrack for both English and Japanese. And the TV series looks great on Blu-ray! And as for special features, the first season never really came with any and the second only comes with the clean opening and ending themes. But fortunately, fans should be happy that this second season Blu-ray release comes with the first 13-episodes, instead of just four episodes.

If you are an anime fan who loves a straight-up, feel-good anime series with nothing dark, nothing to risque but something just all out-fun, give “K-ON!” a chance! It’s a wonderful anime series on Blu-ray and there is really nothing like it out there (although one may want to check out the live action film “Linda Linda” if they are interested in a storyline of all-girl rock bands).

Overall, a fun, hilarious and entertaining second season of “K-ON!”.  It’s sad to see the character’s saying goodbye, especially after enjoying each episode for season one and two and watching the adventures and wild club meetings featuring the members of the Light Music Club.  But like life for many, after high school graduation, everyone moves on in their own separate direction and begins life anew.  But I will remember “K-On!” for its characters, its bubbly and happy storyline, its music and upbeat energy.

Definitely one of my favorite series to be released in 2012 and an enjoyable anime series overall!

I highly recommend both “K-On! Season Two, Collection 1 and 2.  Definitely recommended!

 

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K-On! Season Two, Collection 1 (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The immensely popular “K-ON!” anime series is back with its second season on Blu-ray. Featuring the first 13 episodes of the series, “K-On!” focuses on the senior year of high school for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi, but also a new recruiting year in hopes to gain new members to join sophomore Azusa.  If you are looking for a lighthearted, fun and hilarious anime series, “K-On!” is highly recommended!  Definitely one of my favorite anime series to be released in 2012!

Images courtesy of ©Kakifly/Houbunshua/Sakura High Band. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: K-ON!: K-On! Season Two, Collection 1

DURATION: Episodes 1-13 (325 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen), Dolby Digital, Audio: English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Subtitles: English

RATED: TV 14

COMPANY: TBS Animation/Sentai Filmworks

RELEASE DATE: August 11, 2012

Originally Created by kakifly

Directed by Naoko Yamada

Screenplay by Jukki Hanada, Katsuhiko Muramoto, Masahiro Yokotani, Reiko Yoshida

Music by Hajime Hyakkoku

Character Design by Yukiko Horiguchi

Art Director: Seiki Tamura

Chief Animation Director: Yukiko Horiguchi

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Featuring the voices of:

Aki Toyosaki/Stephanie Sheh as Yui Hirasawa

Asami Sanada/Karen Strassman as Sawako Yamanaka

Ayana Taketatsu/Christine Marie Cabanos as Azusa Nakano

Chika Fujitō/Laura Bailey as Nodoka Manabe

Madoka Yonezawa/Xanthe Huynh as Ui Hirasawa

Minako Kotobuki/Shelby Lindley as Tsumugi Kotobuki

Satomi Satou/Cassandra Lee as Ritsu Tainaka

Yōko Hikasa/Cristina Vee as Mio Akiyama

Yoriko Nagata/Michelle Ann Dunphy as Jun Suzuki

For two full years, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi have worked together to keep Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School’s struggling Light Music Club alive, and along the way they’ve begun to build a reputation as real rock musicians… especially since the previous year’s addition of underclassman rhythm guitarist Azusa. But as a new school year begins, there are new and scary challenges ahead.

With four fifths of the club graduating at the end of the year, replacement members have to be recruited. There are college exams to prepare for, colleges to choose, and friends to prepare to say goodbye to. But no matter what happens, they’ll have their faculty adviser and secret former death metal guitar/vocalist Sawako Yamada there to help them in her own unusual way, especially since she’s now their homeroom teacher as well!

Most of all, they’ll have each other. The group of amateur musicians who barely knew each other has become much more than just a band, and by the time this school year is over, they’re going to achieve something so amazing it requires multiple exclamation marks!!

The girls of Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School’s Light Music Club (K-On!) are back in season 2 of the hit Japanese animations series known as “K-On!”.

“K-ON!”, happens to be one of the hottest anime series in Japan that has not only dominated in the TV ratings but also on Japan’s Oricon music charts!

The series has been a phenomenon as it has attracted fans all over the world, those who want to cosplay as the characters, those who want to sing like the characters and those who want to play the music of the characters. Just one look on YouTube and all over the Internet and you can see how passionate fans have been for this series!

“K-ON!” began as a four-panel comic strip written and illustrated by kakifly and the manga would then be serialized in Houbunsha’s seinen manga magazine “Manga Time Kirara” between May 2007-October 2010. In April 2011, the manga was relaunched on both “Manga Time Kirara” and Houbunsha’s magazine “Manga Time Kirara Carat” with two separate storylines.

The popularity of the manga series led to a 13-episode anime TV series which aired in Japan on April-June 2009, an OVA episode in Jan. 2010 and a 26-episode second season titled “K-ON!!” which aired in Japan from April through Sept. 2010, a new OVA released in March 2011 and an animated film last winter.

The series would also lead to a Sony PSP music rhythm video game and now, the first half (13 episodes) of “K-On!” Season Two will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sentai Filmworks.

What is K-On!?

“K-ON!” is a play on the Japanese word “keiongaku” (light music) and the series follows four high school students of Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School who are members of the “keiongaku” club. The four characters featured thus far in the series are Yui Hirasawa, a naive and clumsy student entering high school who is not entirely sure what she wants to do in terms of extracurricular activities. While she tries to figure out what she wants to do, two other students, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama join the keiongaku club to find out that most of the members have graduated and the only way they can keep the club open is if they have four members.

Because Ritsu plays the drums and Mio plays the bass guitar, they hope they can find other musicians and form a band.

Fortunately, a new member joins the group, Tsumugi Kobobuki, a student from a wealthy family who plays a Korg Triton Extreme 76-key keyboard. Now all they need is one member.

While Yui is trying to think of activities to do, she sees a flyer for the keiongaku club and in her mind, she remembers light music as something she did when she was young student in elementary school and so she joins. Meanwhile, the other three members are happy because with a fourth member, the club will stay alive but also the fact that maybe Yui is a guitarist and now, they can start their own band.

But Yui is not a musician and if anything, what she loves about the club is the ability to eat desserts and drink tea with the other members but when the three members perform in front of her, she becomes inspired and wants to be a member of the club and be part of the band.

Eventually Yui learns the guitar rather quickly and the four would go on to form a band known as Hokago Tea Time thanks to the advice from their advisor and former K-On! Club member and rocker Sawako Yamanaka..  By the end of the first season, the club gains a new club member named Asuza Nakano, a best friend of Yui’s younger sister Ui.

And the first season featured the band performing live in a non-school related event.

So, what happens in Season 2?

As the first season focused on group dynamics and the group wanting to perform live and work on being a band, as expected with the first season, they were character building episodes.  Getting to know Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa as well as their friends Nodoka and advisor Sawako.

The second season now features some music related episodes but now focuses on their senior year and high school.  Wondering what they will do after graduating and for young Azusa, being sad that her friends will be graduating and wondering what will happen to the Light Music Club after they leave and will they find any new members.

For their final senior school year, their music advisor Sawako Yamanaka is now their teacher and to make things interesting, she has brought together all senior classmates of the Light Music Club and also Nodoka into the same class.  So, a lot of the episodes focus on their senior year in high school, rather than focusing on strictly music.

We are also get to see the introduction of Azusa’s friends who have an interested in joining the club, after seeing how much fun Asuza has with her bandmates.

Here is what to expect in the first 13 episodes of “K-On! Season Two, Collection 1” (spoilerless summaries):

  • EPISODE 1 – It’s a brand new school and members of the Light Music Club are determined to find more club members, so Azusa will not be alone.
  • EPISODE 2 – When the members of the club find Sawako’s old guitar, Sawako asks them to try and sell it in order to have money for their club.
  • EPISODE 3 – What happens when Ritsu decides that she doesn’t want to be a drummer anymore because she does not stand out enough, like the other members.
  • EPISODE 4 – The group takes a class trip to Kyoto and Mio becomes annoyed by Yui and Ritsu’s childlike behavior.
  • EPISODE 5 – While the seniors are in Kyoto, Ui, Azusan and Jun try to have their own fun together.
  • EPISODE 6 – Trying to keep her “Gita” dry from the rain, Yui gets drenched in water and her friends try to help her change into whatever clothes they can find.
  • EPISODE 7 –  Who is stalking Mio?
  • EPISODE 8 – The seniors of the Light Music Club must fill out their University Choice forms.
  • EPISODE 9 – Yui’s friend (who she refers to as her grandmother), asks her to participate in a talent show.  Yui feeling an obligation, must perform but also study for her finals at the same time.
  • EPISODE 10 – A former member of Sawako’s band (and former member of the club) asks a favor from the current members of the Light Music Club.
  • EPISODE 11 – With the club room so hot, the members of the Light Music Club wonder if they can get an A/C installed in their room.
  • EPISODE 12 – Sawako takes the members of the Light Music Club to the Natsu Music Festival, for them to experience new bands and what happens at a music festival.
  • EPISODE 13 – While the Light Music Club senior members are studying for exams, Azusa is bored and starts to have weird dreams.

“K-ON!” features the following characters:

  • Yui Hirasawa– Yui is a naive and clumsy student who likes to sleep, eat and go shopping. But when she joins the Keiongaku club, she becomes the group’s newest member and the band’s guitarist. She tries to learn how to play a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul standard electric guitar.
  • Ritsu Tainaka – The most vocal person of the Keiongaku club. She is a drummer that plays a yellow Rick Marotta Signature Yamaha hipgig drum kit and always upbeat, energetic, sarcastic and often always playing jokes on her good friend Mio. Sometimes she can get in the nerves of the other members but she is the most determined in wanting to make sure the club exists and that they form a band.
  • Mio Akiyama – The levelheaded person of the group and the smartest student among the four. She plays a Fender Jazz Bass. She originally was planning to join the literary club but her friend Ritsu tore up her applications and made her join the Keiongaku club. Although a person who knows quite a bit about music, she is also quite shy and is easy to scare. She can’t take anything that deals with anything scary, ghosts, blood, injuries or anything macabre.
  • Tsumugi Kotobuki – The daughter of a very wealthy family. Known as “Mugi”, she plays a Korg Triton Extreme keyboard and is a piano prodigy. She is known for her blonde hair and thick eyebrows. Because her father owns a variety of businesses including a maid cafe, she often brings desserts to the club meetings.
  • Azusa Nakano – The same class as Yui’s sister Ui, Azusa joins the Keiongaku music club but not sure if she wants to stay because the members do not appear to be taking their band practices that seriously.

OTHER CHARACTERS:

  • Ui Hirasawa – Yui’s younger sister who tends to get Yui out of a jam. Unlike Yui, Ui is more responsible and mature and takes care of her older sister.
  • Nodoka Manabe – Yui’s childhood friend and confidant. Smart and intelligent, despite how Yui is at times, Nodoka always supports her.
  • Sawako Yamanaka – A beloved teacher known for her kind heart, she also carries a secret, she is a former member of the Keiongaku music club during her high school years and was a member of a death metal band known as “Death Devil” as the lead guitarist and vocalist. She has tried to hide her past but when the members find a photo and music of her past, as part of a deal for them to keep it a secret, she becomes their advisor. Despite seeming to be responsible, she is quite wild and an airhead like Yui. And also making the members dress up in costumes that she creates.

VIDEO:

K-ON!” is an anime series that is stylishly created but also features beautifully painted art backgrounds. Presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen), one thing that I love to see when it comes to anime series is the attention to detail when covering a modern setting.

A lot of TV series tend to not make the backgrounds of a city landscape so detailed and tend to put a lot of recycled trees, dirt and sky but “K-ON!”, is not one of those anime series. There are scenes and also still images of natural settings that are beautifully painted and added to the series. There is detail for the instruments, for the desserts and I felt that with each episode, aside from the practice room and the wideshot image of their school, there was always something new being featured in terms of location. So, the color palette of the series is full of color and nothing is stale or seemed regurgitated.

With that being said, the colors are a bit saturated but for an anime TV series (which is expected) but the OVA does feature more vibrant colors and a bit more detail.

For the many decades I have watched Japanese animation, for anime series that are set in a modern Tokyo setting, I prefer anime series that focused on the smallest details, such as what is inside their bedrooms and home. What’s inside the stores when they go shopping, etc. I love seeing those details instead of the typical walls or trees that are part of the banality anime TV series.

“K-ON!” is one of those series where those little things matter and for me, those attention to small details enhanced my appreciation for the series.

AUDIO:

If there was a weak side of this Blu-ray release, I’m sure the audiophiles might be a bit cranky that the soundtrack is not Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA. What you get is an English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. What surprised me is the fact that even with the work for the English dub version, there was no change to make it a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack or to increase the bitrate for Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA. But for a Blu-ray release, those who are expecting immersive lossless audio may fret about it, while those who have been waiting for this series to come out to the U.S. will be perfectly fine with the its 2.0 lossless soundtrack.

Personally, I chose to have my receiver play the anime series with stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundscape. As for the voice acting, I am a bit biased to the Japanese voice acting but I did watch the series also with the English dub soundtrack and for the most part, both are well-done and the voice acting should appeal to fans who prefer their anime in Japan or English.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“K-On! Season Two, Collection 1” comes with the following special features:

  • Clean Opening and Closing Animations
  • Trailers – Sentai Filmworks trailers.

As a fan of “K-On!” and simply loving the first season, the question is how you can you continue this successful series?  And the answer is to focus on the club members as seniors in high school and having their final time together as classmates.

It is sad in a way, but “K-On!” does capture high school life and the plans that the kids have of having a band but then having to decide what next in their lives.  To continue with music or to find careers?

And that’s why I’m happy to see the character of Sawako having more of an impact this season.

As a former member of the Light Music Club, now advisor and teacher for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi, she personally knows how life went for her and her friends who were musicians and having to choose a different career path.

But as the first season focused on the music and the courage of the members to perform live and create Hokago Team Time, the second season has two storylines.  One focusing on the group’s final year in high school and part of the club, but also sophomore Azusa who is now starting to feel the emotions of how these young women, friends and club members who she thought were lazy and always eating cakes and drinking tea than performing, are actually much more to her life than she ever knew.

These bandmates and club members have made Azusa happy, they experienced adventures together that help establish her as a person with confidence but also a new drive and that is to continue the Light Music Club by finding new members.

I have to say that I really love this series!  And loved the progression of the Hokago Tea Time band and how each of these young ladies grew up together to become a band that can actually perform quite well and start playing their first major gig to now growing together and getting ready to prepare themselves to whatever happens after high school but for now, enjoying this final year together.

My favorite episodes of the first half of season two includes episode 10 titled “Sensei!”, the group following Sawako and finding out that she is meeting a former club member of the Light Music Club and a former member of the band, Death Devil.  But to see a juxtaposition of what Sawako experienced and the experiences of the members of current Light Music Club.

Another favorite was “Natsu Fesu!” and in Japan, summer music festivals are huge!  From Summer Sonic to the Fuji Rock Festival, it was great to see Sawako taking the members to their first music festival and just seeing their eyes light up when they experience these various bands.

“Atsui!” was another fun episode as the group are lacking the energy to do anything because of high heat and humidity, and their room has no A/C.  So, it is interesting and fun to see how far they go to cool down.

And to tell you the truth, every episode in this first half of season one, I enjoyed a lot!

I love the fact that it focuses on normal high school life but also the formation of a band and the dynamics with each of the members as they go through their ups and downs but also the little cute quirks that come with each character.

I typically don’t go crazy over anime series, nor am I the hardcore fan that goes out and buys anything after I see a series but this is probably the first time since I watched an anime series such as “Ranma 1/2″ back in 1992, where I went out and started buying merchandise related to the series. In fact, I have purchased the PSP video game, the Figma figures and it has become one of my favorite series that I have really got into in a very long time in this manner.

The music is awesome! The characters are entertaining. The animation and art backgrounds were very good and for the most part, it has been a long time, possibly since “Azumanga Daioh” in which I really enjoyed gakusei-based anime series (student anime series – focused on a school setting).

As for the Blu-ray release, I know one of the major criticisms that the first season (released by Bandai Entertainment) was its price and that it only came with four episodes per volume.  And many wondered if Sentai Filmworks would follow the same path.  And fortunately, for fans, Sentai Filmworks included 13-episodes with this first collection and also for the second half as well.

As for picture quality and audio quality, “K-On!” also receives a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless soundtrack for both English and Japanese.  And the TV series looks great on Blu-ray!  And as for special features, the first season never really came with any and the second only comes with the clean opening and ending themes.  But fortunately, fans should be happy that this second season Blu-ray release comes with the first 13-episodes, instead of just four episodes.

If you are an anime fan who loves a straight-up, feel-good anime series with nothing dark, nothing to risque but something just all out-fun, give “K-ON!” a chance! It’s a wonderful anime series on Blu-ray and there is really nothing like it out there (although one may want to check out the live action film “Linda Linda” if they are interested in a storyline of all-girl rock bands).

Overall, a fun, hilarious and entertaining second season of “K-ON!” and definitely one of my favorite series to be released in 2012.  Definitely recommended!

 

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