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Initial D: Third Stage (a J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

May 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Initial D” makes its return on DVD with the animated film “Initial D: Third Stage”.  Featuring three exciting races and also the conclusion of the Takumi/Natsuki storyline, this film sets the pace for the TV series “Initial D: Fourth Stage”.  If you are a fan of this racing anime series, street racing or modifying your car, definitely give “Initial D: Third Stage” a try!

Image courtesy of © FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Initial D: Third Stage

DURATION: 1:44:37

DVD INFORMATION: 4:3, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese 2.0, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: 13+

Release Date: May 11, 2010

Originally created by Shuuichi Shigeno

Directed by Noboru Mitsusawa

Anime Production by Pastel

Featuring the following voice talent:

Shinichiro Miki/Joel McDonald as Takumi Fujiwara

Ayako Kawasumi/Brina Palencia as Natsuki Mogi

Kazuki Yao/Eric Vale as Koichiro Iketani

Masahiko Tanaka/Christopher R. Sabat as Kyouichi Sudou

Mitsuo Iwata/Josh Grelle as Itsuki Takeuchi

Takehito Koyasu/J. Michael Tatum as Ryosuke Takahashi

Takumi Yamazaki/Chis Ayres as Miki

Tomokazu Seki/Todd Haberkorn as Keisuke Takahashi

Tomomichi Nishimura/Chuck Huber as Yuuichi Tachibana

Unshou Ishizuka/Kent Williams as Bunta Fujiwara

Anyone can drive fast. Only one driver can be the fastest. It takes nerve, skill, and the right car – and Takumi’s got all three. His rep as a dominating downhill racer is growing, but when he’s invited to drive for an all-star team that could change the face of local racing, Takumi’s got to beat his stiffest competition before he’ll join their ranks: himself.

With graduation approaching, his classmates drift toward uncertain futures. For Takumi, looking ahead means putting as many challengers in his rearview mirror as he can. If he can prove to himself that he’s ready, the next stage is waiting, and it’s all downhill from there.

For over 15 years, “Initial D” has been a favorite anime series for those interested in drag racing and drifting.  Originally created by mangaka Shuichi Shigeno and serialized in Kodansha’s “Young Magazine” back in 1995 and still ongoing in Japan, the first season of “Initial D” was shown on television in 1998.

The manga and anime is about Japanese street racing and focuses on a teenager named Takumi Fujiwara, son of Bunta Fujiwara, who owns a tofu shop.  Takumi works at a gas station but when he’s at home, he delivers tofu at 4:00 a.m. and is known to speed through the mountain slopes at high speed driving his father’s AE86 Trueno.  The purpose of this is that his father Bunta has wanted to develop his driving skills and sure enough, his skill is top notch.

In the first season of “Initial D”, we are introduced to the Japanese racing scene at Mt. Akagi and a racing group known as the Speed Stars who are in dire need of a member who exceeds in downhill driving after their team leader Iketani gets involved in an accident.  The group hears a rumor about an AE86 speeding through the roads early in the morning.  Needless to say, the group finds out that the driver is the son of Bunta Fuiwara, the great street racer known as “Ghost of Akina” and sure enough, Takumi ends up participating in races and receiving challenges which leads to the battle between Takumi and one of the best, Ryosuke Takashi (the Whte Comet of Akagi).

“Initial D” then continued on with the “Second Stage” continuing Takumi’s development as a racer and developing his technique.  The series was then followed by two OVA’s titled “Initial D: Extra Stage” (which focuses on the female racing duo Impact Blue) and “Initial D: Extra Stage 1.5″continuing the storyline from 1.0.

The first animated feature film of “Initial D: Third Stage” was then released in theaters in 2001 and nearly a decade later, the movie makes its first appearance in the US on DVD courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.

“Initial D: Third Stage” features three main storylines.  The first major storyline deals with Ryosuke who is planning to start a new racing team which consists of the best in the Gunma Prefecture.  But Takumi is not interested in making a decision until he beats Team Emperor’s leader Sudou Kyouichi who has made fun of Takumi and his AE86.

The second storyline features the rival of Takumi’s father, Bunta –  Kogashiwa Kai is wanting to challenge his rival’s son Takumi.  This leads a battle between Takumi’s AE86 vs. Kogashiwa Kai’s Toyouta MR2 (SW20).

The third storyline in the film features the return of Takumi’s former love Natsuki who wants to patch things up with Takumi and her ex-boyfriend Miki has gone crazy since she had broken up with him and poses a major threat to Natsuki.

Can Takumi beat his father’s rival?  And can he save Natsuki from Miki?  And most of all, will Takumi join Ryosuke’s new racing team?

“Initial D: Third Stage” focuses on the following characters:

Takumi Fujiwara – The son of Bunta Fujiwara, a former racer now tofu shop owner.  Takumi delivers tofu for the shop early in the morning and has developed his skill on the road and works with his friends at a local gas station.  After several races and developing his technique, Takumi who drives his father’s AE86 Trueno has become one of the best racers on Akina and has set his goal higher to become the best.

Bunta Fujiwara – The father of Takumi who was the legendary downhill racer of Mt. Akina.  He has his son Takumi delivering tofu to deliver his driving skill.

Ryosuke Takahashi – The leader of the Akagi RedSuns.  A racing strategist and very skilled but loses his first race against Takumi.  Known as “Akagi’s White Comet”.

Keisuke Takahashi – The #2 racer of the Akagi RedSuns. Unlike his brother, he has a hot temper and is rivals with Takumi.

Other Characters:

Itsuki Takeuchi – A member of Akina SpeedStars and Takumi’s best friend that works at the local gas station.  The comic relief character who talks a big game but is not a great racer.

Kouichiro Iketani – Works with Takumi and Itsuki at the gas station.  He is the leader of the Akina SpeedStars.  Once dated Saori.

Kenji – A member of the Akina SpeedStars and Iketani’s best friend.  Very hardcore in his interest when it comes to his friends racing.  Always teased by his friends for not having a girlfriend.

Natsuki Mogi – The love interest of Takumi but somehow ends up in a mess as she makes money via sexual relations with an older man.  She has also been with Miki.

Miki – The jock at Takumi’s school who constantly brags about his sexual exploits of Miki and goes even further in “Initial D: Third Stage”.

VIDEO:

It’s important to note that “Initial D: Third Stage” is an older animated film released back in 2001.  So, for those used to today’s modern, digital animated films will need to know this is an older animated film.  But even though this film is not HD , it still looks great.   “Initial D” has always had its own unique style courtesy of Shuuichi Shigeno’s character designs.

A lot of CG work (2001 CG) detail is seen when it comes to the cars, the roads and the trees but the CG actually holds up in certain areas of the film.  Artistic background is well-done.  The film is full of detail and shading and a lot of the animation like the series takes place during the night and also during the winter.  Lighting effects were really well done.  Definitely an improvement animation-wise compared to the TV series.  I did notice some dust and speckles but they were not numerous and show up a few times throughout the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the audio, similar to the recent FUNimation Entertainment “Initial D: Third Stage is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Japanese 2.0 Stereo.  There is an obvious difference in terms of sound volume and more of a presence of the sound effects (such as the cars revving and tires screeching) which come out much more clearer through the English dub track.  But if you have a modern home theater receiver, for me, I chose to have my audio set on stereo for all channels.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Initial D: Third Stage” does not come with any special features but trailers for upcoming FUNimation Entertainment releases.

When it comes to animated films, most of the time, the films have no connection to the television series.  But for “Initial D: Third Stage”, the film is actually quite important to the series and definitely sets the stage for “Initial D: Fourth Stage” (which is being released in the U.S. on DVD at the same time as “Third Stage”).

The film definitely showcases quite a bit of racing, especially Takumi taking on three major competitors including a rematch between Takumi and Ryosuke Takahashi.  The races are all exciting but as it is something to expect from “Initial D”, one thing that I was surprised when I first watched this film was that one storyline that has kept people wondering for quite awhile…what will happen between Takumi and Natsuki?  For longtime viewers of “Initial D”, for so long people wondered how the relationship between Takumi and Natsuki Mogi would end and if there would be any romantic connection between the two and “Initial D: Third Stage” answers that question.

As for the DVD release, it’s pretty much a barebones release but I have to admit that I’m very grateful for FUNimation Entertainment in picking up the series.  Tokyo Pop changed the names of the characters for the first volume (and going back to the Japanese names in volume 2) in order to reflect the changes made by Sega in the “Initial D Arcade Stage” video games.  But further edited storylines in the manga release but most noticeable by replacing the Eurobeat tracks with hip hop to capitalize on the import scene.

When Tokyo Pop’s original distributor went bankrupt, there has been a lull and the “Initial D” series went through years of hiatus but fortunately FUNimation Entertainment has rescued this series and re-dubbed the entire series.   Also retaining the original Japanese Eurobeat music and will be releasing “Third Stage” and the “Fourth Stage” first but also has plans to re-release the earlier stages.

Overall, I’m pleased with the release of “Initial D: Third Stage”.   Again, there is plenty of racing and fans who want to get ready for the “Fourth Stage” will definitely want to purchase this DVD.  Definitely recommended for “Initial D” fans!

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Dragon Ball – Season Four (a J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

May 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Action-packed and enjoyable throughout!  Season four of “Dragon Ball” brings us an action-packed volume featuring battles against between Goku vs. Tien, Krillin and features the King Piccolo saga!

Image courtesy of © BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA, TOEI ANIMATION. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Dragon Ball – Season Four

DURATION: Episodes 93-122, 5 DVD’s (745 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: 4:3, English Voice Track with Original Japanese music 5.1 Surround, Japanese Voice Track with Original Music Mono

COMPANY: Toei Animation/FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV 14

Release Date: May 4, 2010

Originally created by Akira Toriyama

Directed by Daisuke Nisho and Minoru Okazaki

Music by Shusuke Kikuchi

Character Designs by Minoru Maeda, Yuki Ikeda

Anime Production by Toei Anime

Featuring the following voice talent:

Masao Nozawa/Stephanie Nadolny as Son Goku

Hiromi Tsuru/Tiffany Vollmer as Bulma

Daisuke Gouri as Umigame

Eiko Yamada/Julie Franklin as Mai

Kenji Utsumi/Christopher R. Sabat as Shen Long

Kohei Miyauchi/Mike McFarland as Kame Sennin (Master Roshi)

Mayumi Shou/Laura Bailey as Chi Chi

Mayumi Tanaka as Krillin

Naoki Tatsuta/Brad Jackson as Oolong

Naoko Watanabe/Monika Antonelli as Pu’erh (Puar)

Christopher R. Sabat as Grandpa Gohan and Turtle

Shigeru Chiba/Chuck Huber as Pilaf

Tohru Furuya/Christopher R. Sabat as Yamcha

Takeshi Aono/Christopher R. Sabat as Piccolo

Brendan Hunter as Tien

Goku’s headed for a showdown with a sinister green fiend!

A new breed of evil – more powerful than anything ever experienced – is taking the world’s greatest martial artists down for the count. Goku is quick to join the fight, but he’s about to meet his match in the form of King Piccolo. This menacing monster has the power to pulverize the planet, and his murderous rampage will not stop until he controls the power of the seven magic Dragon Balls.

When Krillin is the first hero cut down by the monster’s minion, the stage is set for a brutal grudge match between Goku and Piccolo. Earth’s greatest champion vows to avenge the loss of his best friend, but first, he must journey to Korin Tower on a quest for the Ultra Divine Water: a magical elixir that could give him the strength to save humanity – or send him straight to the grave!

It’s the series that started it all… “Dragon Ball”. Originally, a manga series written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama for “Shonen Jump”, the manga series lasted from 1984 through 1995 and since the manga series has produced several anime series which include “Dragon Ball”, “Dragon Ball Z”, “Dragon Ball GT” and currently in Japan, a new HD broadcasting of “Dragon Ball Kai” and in 2009, an American live action film titled “Dragonball Evolution” was released worldwide.

“Dragon Ball” is the first arc of the series which aired in Japan from 1986 through 1989 and lasted for 153 episodes. The series was released by Harmony Gold USA in the late 80’s and then by FUNimation Entertainment in 1995 and uncut episodes were released on DVD in 2003.  The episodes focus on Son Goku’s childhood, searching for the dragon balls and training to become stronger to protect his friends and the world.

With the uncut episodes released in the U.S., remastered and digitally restored, the fourth season of “Dragon Ball” is here and features the martial arts tournament against Tien and also the beginning of the King Piccolo saga.

“Dragon Ball” focuses on the following characters:

Son Goku – Not much is known about Goku’s past. He was found by a man he calls Grandpa Gohan and trained to be a boy who loves nature and people. And has incredible strength and fighting ability. He was warned by his grandfather to never look at the moon but one day he did and turned into a giant ape and accidentally killed his grandfather. Although not too familiar with humans, he meets a female named Bulma for the first time who is trying to look for Dragon Balls.   Now Son Goku continues to train to help his friends and protect the world from evil.

Bulma – A teenager who’s father is a scientist and owner of the Capsule Corporation. A technology that people can store vehicles, homes and storage into a tiny capsule. When thrown, the capsule turns into the actual object that was stored. She’s rather impulsive and outspoken. Her dream is to find the Dragon Balls and make a wish in order to get a perfect boyfriend.

Oolong – A pig who has a fascination with women’s panties. A perverted pig who once terrorized a village. Has the ability to transform to anything for five minutes. Attended a class with Puar in transforming but failed and never learned to stay in a object for more than five minutes. He joins Bulma and Goku in their mission to find the Dragon Balls.

Yamcha – A banded who is accompanied by his shape-shifting animal Puar. With his Wolf’s Fang Fist fighting ability, he trains under Master Roshi and joins Goku to fight evil.

Krillin – A former monk who has been bullied by his other monks. He goes to Master Roshi for training and trains alongside Goku and becomes good friends with him.

Master Roshi (Kamisama-sen) – An old lecherous man who trained Grandpa Gohan and the Ox King to fight. Despite looking like an old man, he has a tremendous fighting ability and is known for his devastating attack known as the Kamehameha. During the martial arts tournament, he disguises himself as the world champion, Jackie Chun.

Other Characters:

Puar – A shape shifting animal who can shape-shift for a long period of time and hangs around Yamcha.

Launch – A shy and attractive maid of Master Roshi who has a dissociative identity disorder. When she sneezes, she goes from the shy/beautiful blue haired woman to a blonde, attractive and dangerous weapon-toting, foul-mouth woman.

Korin – The guardian of Korin Tower who has the sacred water which Goku needs.

Fortuneteller Baba – Master Roshi’s oldest sister who uses her psychic abilities for financial gain.

Master Shen – An old rival/friend of Master Roshi who trained under the same master but went towards a darker path. Also, the brother of Mercenary Tao.

Tien – A stuent of Master Shen and a dangerous martial arts fighter with three eyes. An enemy of Goku in the beginning, he learns his ways and trains under Master Roshi.

Chiaotzu – A good friend of Tien and trains alongside with him.

Yajirobe – A warrior with strength but also constantly hungry.  Not the one to get involved in anyone’s battles but somehow ends up getting involved.  The second person after Son Goku to climb the Tower of Korin.

The Villains:

Master Shen – The brother of Mercenary Tao and the master of the Crane School of Martial Arts which Tien and Chiaotzu has trained under.  After the death of Tao, he wants revenge against Goku.

King Piccolo – Escaping his prison, now Piccolo wants to destroy Earth piece by piece and kill all living things.  His minions include Tambourine, Cymbal, Drum and Piano.

“Dragon Ball – Season Four” features a total of 30 episodes on five DVD’s. Here is a spoiler-less summary of each episode:

DISC 1:

  • EPISODE 93 – Tien Shinhan vs. Jackie Chun – It’s the semi-finals and Jackie Chun (Master Roshi) takes on Tien.
  • EPISODE 94 – Stepping Down – Jackie Chun wants to try and change Tien’s evil ways.
  • EPISODE 95 – Goku vs. Krillin – In the semi-finals, it’s friend vs. friend – Goku vs. Krillin.
  • EPISODE 96 – Tail’s Tale – Krillin knows one way he can fight against Goku.
  • EPISODE 97 – Final Match: Goku vs. Tien – It’s Goku and Krillin to the end, who will with the match?
  • EPISODE 98 – Victory’s Edge – It’s the finals – Goku vs. Tien.
  • EPISODE 99 – Tien’s Insurrection – Something happens to Goku during his battle with Tien.

DISC 2:

  • EPISODE 100 – The Spirit Canon – With Tien losing the match, he uses his last resort against Goku.
  • EPISODE 101 – The Fallen – Goku takes on Tien’s tri-beam.
  • EPISODE 102 – Enter King Piccolo – Goku’s friend is killed and now he wants revenge against the menacing monster, King Piccolo.
  • EPISODE 103 – Tambourine Attacks! – Piccolo sends his killer minion Tambourine to slaughter the most powerful martial arts fighters in the world.
  • EPISODE 104 – Mark of the Demon – Piccolo sends his minions to find the dragon balls.
  • EPISODE 105 – Here Comes Yajirobe – Goku meets the samurai warrior, Yajirobe.
  • EPISODE 106 – Terrible Tambourine– Master Roshi and Chiaotzu try to find the dragon balls before Piccolo’s minions find them.

DISC 3:

  • EPISODE 107 – Tien’s Atonement – Tien must make a choice…pursue the life of good or evil.
  • EPISODE 108 – Goku’s Revenge – Goku vs. Tambourine
  • EPISODE 109 – Goku vs. King Piccolo – The first battle between King Piccolo and Goku.
  • EPISODE 110 – Piccolo Closes In – Master Roshi and Tien try to get the dragon balls.
  • EPISODE 111 – Roshi’s Gambit – Master Roshi vs. King Piccolo
  • EPISODE 112 – King Piccolo’s Wish – Another friend of Goku’s perishes in battle and Piccolo uses the dragon balls.
  • EPISODE 113 – Siege on Chow Castle – Goku and Yajirobe climb Korin’s Tower.

DISC 4:

  • EPISODE 114 – Conquest and Power – Goku asks Korin for more training in order to fight Piccolo.
  • EPISODE 115 – Awaken Darkness – Goku looks for the Ultra Divine Water.
  • EPISODE 116 – A Taste of Destiny– Goku is put through the test in order to find the water.
  • EPISODE 117 – The Ultimate Sacrifice – Tien masters the evil containment wave and now he goes to fight Piccolo.
  • EPISODE 118 – Prelude to Vengeance – King Piccolo makes his decree to the world.
  • EPISODE 119 – Battle Cry – Tien vs. Drum
  • EPISODE 120 – Goku Strikes Back – Goku returns for a rematch against Piccolo.

DISC 5:

  • EPISODE 121 – The Biggest Crisis – The battle between Goku vs. Piccolo continues.
  • EPISODE 122 – Final Showdown – King Piccolo uses Tien to fight Goku.

VIDEO:

When I first saw “Dragon Ball”, it was probably back in 1992 and the quality of this raw Japanese video was so rough and hard to watch, it was just bad. Several years later, I was able to catch the first few episodes that aired on television but the problem was that the schedule was inconsistent and our television network was quite bad.

So, it is great to see this uncut, remastered and digitally restored version on DVD. Presented in its original format of 4:3, one thing I noticed is how good this anime series looked on DVD. The series is nearly 25 years old and just watching it, FUNimation Entertainment did a great job in bringing this series out and making it look very good. Granted, it is not free of blemishes, there is some dust, you will see a bit of compression but for the most part, compared to what we had available years ago or over a decade ago, I’m quite content with this remastered version of the series.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the audio, similar to the recent FUNimation Entertainment “Dragon Ball Z” and “Dragon Ball GT” releases, the English voice track with original Japanese music comes in 5.1 Surround, while the Japanese voice track is in its original Japanese mono. I watched both English and Japanese and of course, there are some changes in the English dialogue (ie. Master Roshi and in the Japanese track, Kamesama Sennen) and grew up watching the original Japanese version but for the most part, I have enjoyed the “Dragon Ball Z” and “Dragon Ball GT” dub work and similar to those two series, I found the English dub work for “Dragon Ball” to be quite solid. Dialogue is clear and understandable and for audio settings, for both audio tracks, I found the best setting for me was to select on my receiver “Stereo on all Channels”.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Dragon Ball – Season Four” comes with the textless opening and closing theme songs and FUNimation Entertainment trailers plus a 24-page booklet with character information and episode synopsis.

This is the volume of “Dragon Ball” that I have been waiting for!

For many people familiar with the characters of “Dragon Ball Z”, many people who were only familiar with that series were probably unclear about Goku’s rival Piccolo and why the two had an uneasy relationship in the first season.  Also, a lot of people may not know that Tien and Chiaotzu were also one time enemies and rivals of Goku and friends.  But this latest season definitely ramps things up in terms of action in the “Dragon Ball” storyline which would extend through “Dragon Ball Z” and partly with “Dragon Ball GT” (despite GT not being an official manga by Akira Toriyama).

But for any fans of “Dragon Ball”, the martial arts tournaments have always been exciting and fun to watch and in this case, this latest tournament is no different as we get to see Goku vs. Krillin but also Goku vs. Tien.  We also can see how ruthless Piccolo was back then and definitely a 180 to what people are familiar of the character today from “Dragon Ball Z”.

Also, the fourth season introduces us to the samurai warrior Yajirobe who is the comedy character for his hunger and naivety but for some reason, he’s just a hilarious and silly character that somehow ends up saving the day and continues that way even through “Dragon Ball Z”.

And if you have collected the first three seasons, it just gets better from there and the next volume of “Dragon Ball” should be the final in the series, just in time as FUNimation Entertainment prepares its HD release of “Dragon Ball Z Kai” (note: “Dragon Ball Z” is currently available, also in its uncut Japanese version featured in the “Dragon Box” DVD sets from FUNimation Entertainment”. Hopefully, we will see a re-release or maybe a Blu-ray release of the “Dragon Ball” films.

Overall, “Dragon Ball – Season Four” is another awesome, action-packed volume and it just gets better and better with each release. Definitely recommended!

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Hong Kong Godfather (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Excessively violent, very bloody and the most entertaining yet over the top Shaw Brothers triad film that you will ever see!

Images courtesy of © 2006 Celestial Pictures, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Hong Kong Godfather

DURATION: 95 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: NTSC, Region 1, Anamorphic Widescreen 16×9, Mandarin Mono

RATED: Not Rated: Parental Guidance Suggested

COMPANY: Celestial Pictures/FUNimation Entertainment

Released on April 27, 2010

Written and Directed by Lung Wei Wang

Produced by Mona Fong

Original Music by Chen-hou su

Cinematography by Wen Yun Huang

Edited by Hsing-ling Chiang, Pao Hua Fang

Art Direction by Yung-tsai Hau

Set Decoration by Ching-Shen Chen, Kuang-hsien Teng

Starring:

Kar-Yan Leung as Yim Gou-wai (Wei)

Richard Cheung Kuen (Segeant Wen)

Norman Chu as Fa Tsai-lung (Playboy Lung)

Shek Kin as Uncle Han

Shu-Yuan Hsu as Connie

Lung Wei Wang

Wayne Archer

Ken Boyle

Errol Chan

Kuan Chang

The Triad underworld is at war in 1985’s Hong Kong Godfather, a blood-splattered tale of revenge, sex, and corruption. A violent new gang is hacking away at crime boss Szetu Han’s power. When the old man and his family are viciously murdered, Han’s three most trusted men – retired killer Mad Wei, hitman Playboy Lung, and city cop Sergeant Wen – undertake a brutal campaign of street justice.

The Shaw Brothers have created over a thousand films and with several having been aired on US television and some being released on video, and as most people tend to think of martial arts when it comes to the Shaw Brothers, they have also done several films outside of martial arts.  A perfect example is their 1985 film “Hong Kong Godfather” (Jian dong xiao xiong).

“Hong Kong Godfather” revolves around three buddies who are part of a triad gang.  Playboy Lung is one of the higher ups in the triad, while Wen is now a sergeant in the police and Wei is the former hack and slash member who has retired from the gang and now living a peaceful life and raising his teenage daughter.  Each of these men are loyal to triad leader Uncle Han.

But there is a bit of dissension within the gang as one of their own members who doesn’t get along with Playboy Lung is working with the rival gang and planning to kill of Uncle Han, his family and everyone who is a member of their triad.

When the rival gang goes after Playboy and nearly kills him, both Wei and Sergeant Wen know they must help their friend out and avenge their fallen uncle the best way they know how…by machetes.

VIDEO:

So far, each Shaw Brothers release that FUNimation Entertainment has looked quite solid. Thanks to Celestial Pictures going through major remastering and restoration for many of the Shaw Bros. films, “Hong Kong Godfather” looks pretty good for a 1985 film.  But where there martial arts film doesn’t seem so dated, “Hong Kong Godfather” reeks of ’80s fashion and music.  From the “Miami Vice” clothing, the Crockett and Tubs hairstyle (yes, the mullet is in full-effect) and more.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Hong Kong Godfather” is presented in Cantonese with an optional English stereo dub.  As mentioned, this is a 1985 film and for the most part, dialogue is clear but the film sports some major ’80s synth music that is more like listening to early ’80s music from the old televison show C.HI.P.S.   I don’t remember music being like this in the mid-80’s, probably early 80’s but for the most part, the music doesn’t hold up all that well over 25 years later.   I prefered to watch this film with its original Cantonese language.  I briefly listened to the English dub but it wasn’t for me.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Hong Kong Godfather” comes with trailers of upcoming releases.

EXTRAS:

The DVD release comes with a slipcase cover.

“Hong Kong Godfather” was definitely an interesting and entertaining triad film.

I use the word “interesting” because I have watched many triad films and I don’t think I have seen a film this bloody or violent.  In some way, it’s like playing a video game like “Resident Evil” or “Dead Rising” in which your constantly hacking and slashing or killing so many zombies.  In this case, “Hong Kong Godfather” is a film about exact justice and three men taking on a lot of triad members with machetes and a lot of blood spurting while still maintaining some martial arts during the fight sequences.  But for the most part, this is a film that focuses on machete slashing.

So, in many ways, “Hong Kong Godfather” is an “interesting” Shaw Brothers film for its mere content.  Granted, today’s violent films look more realistic while “Hong Kong Godfather” sports the “Miami Vice” clothing and hairstyles, bad ’80s synth music but because of how crazy this film gets, you can’t help but be entertained and in awe of what takes place.

The film has violence against men, women, children.  Tons of blood and hacking.  Many foreign, non-Chinese actors (makes me wonder if the Shaw Brothers was trying to make this film more accessible to a wider audience) as triad gang members (working for the rival gang),  full frontal nudity and if your only exposure to Shaw Brothers films was martial arts films, “Hong Kong Godfather” definitely brings something new and over-the-top.

Overall, if you are looking for a crazy, bloody and violent Shaw Brothers film, “Hong Kong Godfather” is definitely for you!

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Opium and the Kung-Fu Master (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

April 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A fantastic martial arts film that is packed with kung-fu action but also dramatic and tragic scenes as the film deals with drug (opium) addiction.  Definitely recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2006 Celestial Pictures, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Opium and the Kung-Fu Master

DURATION: 90 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: NTSC, Region 1, Anamorphic Widescreen 16×9, Mandarin Mono

RATED: Not Rated: Parental Guidance Suggested

COMPANY: Celestial Pictures/FUNimation Entertainment

Released on April 27, 2010

Directed by Chia Tang

Screenplay by Ying Huang

Produced by Mona Fong

Music by Chin Yung Shing, Chen-hou Su

Cinematography by Hui-chi Tsao

Edited by Chung Yiu Ma, Shao Feng Yu

Art Direction by Ching-Shen Chen, Kuang-hsien Teng

Costume Design by Chi-Yu Liu

Starring:

Ti Lung as Master Tieh Chiao-san

Robert Mak-Tak Law as Guang Si

Shen Chan

Kuan Tai Chen

Miao Ching

Pei Chi Huang

Choi Kwok Keung

Phillip Ko

Feng Kuan

Kuan-chung Ku

Wai Lam

Hoi Sang Lee

Yiu Ging Lee

Hsueh-hua Liu

Film legend Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, The Legend of Drunken Master) battles the scourge of the orient in this epic final film from director Tang Chia. Schooled in the martial arts by the Peking Opera, Chia’s deft touch guides the gut-wrenching tale of a Kung Fu master wrecked by opium. Starring a legitimate champion of the Gibbon Fist style as the film’s villain – Chen Kuan Tai (The Flying Guillotine, Big Brother Cheng) – Chia’s masterpiece showcases the talents of at least six different martial arts directors.

The Shaw Brothers, the company known for their many releases of Hong Kong films for many decades ran by producer Sir Run Run Shaw, knighted by the British government and founder of Shaw University in Hong Kong and even founded the HK-TVB TV network was a major power behind the company and his third brother Runme Shaw (who founded South Sea Film), the film company would become known as Shaw Brothers Studio and become the first studio to bring Hong Kong cinema with sound in 1934.

The Shaw Brothers have created over a thousand films and with several having been aired on US television and some being released on video, the 1984 film”Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” (Hung kuen dai see) gets its release on DVD.   It’s important to note that the DVD and Blu-ray was released by BCI Eclipse in Jan. 2009 but because parent company Navarre shut down the company due to the recession, FUNimation Entertainment (who’s parent distribution company is Navarre) is re-releasing the movie on DVD as part of its Hong Kong Connection Shaw Bros.  DVD releases.

“Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” revolves around Master Tie Qiao San (played by Ti Lung), one of the legendary Ten Tigers of Guandong and the chief of a town in which his martial arts students police the street to capture criminals.  As his students Guang Si (played by Robert Mak Tak-Law) and Da Niu are policing the city, they come across two thieves.

Next thing you know, there is chaos as the thieves happen to be talented martial artists and not even the students can stop them.  That is until Master Tie arrives and beats them (and ends up killing one of them).  The escaped thief tells his master about what has happened and it appears the ring leader is a rival of Master Tie Qiao San.

So, the criminals try to find a way to take over the city and that is by infiltrating it with the use of the drug opium.  The criminals immediately create an opium house in the village and next thing you know, several of Master Tie’s students become addicted to the opium.  Guang Si’s father and his Master Tie also get hooked on the opium as well.

Guang Si, the young spirited student of Master Tie has seen how opium has corrupted the city, his friends and his master.  It’s so bad that people he has loved is being corrupted and even killed because of the opium.  So, Guan Si, wants to put a stop to the opium by burning down the opium house.  With no one to turn to, especially his own Master, Guan Si must take care of it on his own.

Meanwhile, Master Tie is slowly being consumed by opium and it’s effects are taking a toll on his body, his martial arts and his role as a master.

VIDEO:

So far, each Shaw Brothers release that FUNimation Entertainment has looked quite solid.  Thanks to Celestial Pictures going through major remastering and restoration for many of the Shaw Bros. films, “Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” looks very good.  I saw no major blemishes, the film doesn’t look aged and for the most part, the fact that this film is over 25-years-old, it doesn’t show.  I hope that FUNimation Entertainment considers a Blu-ray release of “Opium and the Kung-Fu Master”.  Granted, it was released last year from it’s sister company BCI/Eclipse, but with the company no longer in existence, these Shaw Brothers are look fantastic and I can imagine how much better they would look on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, the film is presented in English Dolby Digital stereo and Mandarin Mono. Personally, having endured these Shaw films with the terrible (yet humorous) English dubs back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, just watching it again with the English dub just didn’t make sense anymore (unless you get a kick of how bad they were acted). So, watching it with the Mandarin mono track was my choice and preference.

I felt the English stereo soundtrack was OK but felt the Mandarin mono to be much better. For listening, I had my receiver set for stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundtrack.  Some may be wondering why the film is presented in Mandarin when Hong Kong films are typically in Cantonese. The Shaw Brothers Studio had films split into Mandarin and Cantonese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” comes with trailers of upcoming releases.

EXTRAS:

The DVD comes in a slipcase.

“Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” was definitely an entertaining film that definitely delivered when it comes to action and dramatic, tragic scenes.

Also, the storyline about drug addiction when it comes to a martial arts film is rarely seen.  You actually see how various people have been consumed by opium and in this case, one wanting to be a hero and taking down the opium establishment and then the hero seeing his master and his friends and other students being consumed by it.

Ti Lung and Robert Mak Tak-Law are excellent onscreen.  The fighting scenes are just wonderful to watch and to watch Ti Lung go from this quick and awesome fighter and then to see him consumed by opium and then to see him go through the withdrawals and suffer while undergoing his treatment was definitely a sight to see. You just don’t see this in a martial arts film and the only time I can even recall seeing a film’s main protagonist having to undergo treatment and watch as they must go through the major withdrawals was the the 1975  John Frankenheimer film “French Connection II” in which hero Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) had to undergo a similar situation.

So, this was very unique to see in a martial arts film.  “Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” is an awesome martial arts film about opium addiction and it’s great to see FUNimation Entertainment release this on DVD (knock on wood, hopefully it’s considered for a Blu-ray release).

As for the DVD, I’m glad that you do have the option of the Mandarin or English dub track and the restoration of the film definitely adds to the enjoyment of the film as well. A shame that there are no special features but then again, since the Shaw Bros. churned out films one after the other, I’m not sure if that type of footage of the making of the film is lost.  The BCI/Eclipse Blu-ray did come with a special feature but nothing that had to do with the film.

Overall, FUNimation Entertainment and Celestial Pictures are doing a great service for fans of these classic martial arts films by releasing it on DVD in the US. If you are a fan of the Shaw Brothers, these restored DVD releases are worth watching!  “Opium and the Kung-Fu Master” is definitely recommended!

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Soul Eater – Part Two (a J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

April 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

If you enjoyed the action and craziness from the first part of “Soul Eater”, this second part features more intense action and hard hitting battles!   Get into the trippy, dark fantasy world of Atsushi Okubo’s “Soul Eater”. Definitely an anime series worth watching!

Image courtesy of © Atsushi Okubo/Square Enix. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Soul Eater – Part Two

DURATION: Episodes 14-26 (315 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, Japanese 2.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV 14

Release Date: March 30, 2010

Originally created by Atsushi Ohkubo

Directed by akuya Igarashi

Series Composition by Akatsuki Yamatoya

Music by Taku Iwasaki

Character Design by Yoshiyuki Ito

Art Director: Norifumi Nakamura

Sound Director: Kazuhiro Wakabayashi

Director of Photography: Yohei Miyahara

Anime Production: BONES

Featuring the following voice talent:

Chiaki Omigawa/Laura Bailey as Maka Albarn

Kouki Uchiyama/Micah Solusod as Soul Eater Evans

Yumiko Kobayashi/Brittney Karbowski as Black Star

Kaori Nazuka/Monica Rial as Tsubaki Nakatsukasa

Mamoru Miyano/Todd Haberkorn as Death the Kid

Akeno Watanabe/Jami Marchi as Liz Thompson

Narumi Takahira/Cherami Leigh as Patty Thompson

Toru Ohkawa/Vic Mignona as Death Scythe (Spirit)

Rikiya Koyama/John Swasey as Shinigami-sama (Lord Death)

Yuya Uchida/Chuck Huber as Dr. Franken Stein

Chieko Honda as Mari Mjolnir

Emiri Katou/Leah Clark as Blair

Houchu Ohtsuka/Barry Yandell as Little Demon

Houko Kuwashima/Luci Christian as Medusa

Junko Noda as Mira Nygus

Keiji Himeno/Sonny Strait as Ragnarok

Maaya Sakamoto/Maxey Whitehead as Chrona

Masafumi Kimura/Kent Williams as Sid Barett

Michiko Neya as Arachne

Takehito Koyasu/Troy Baker as Excalibur

Toshiko Furukawa/Chris Patton as Asura/Kishin

Maka is a Meister and Soul is her Weapon – literally. When Soul transforms into a razor-sharp scythe and Maka wields him against the supernatural forces of evil, he gets more deadly with every defeated soul he sucks down. They’re a freakin’ lethal team – but that bond is about to be tested.

The witch Medusa and her ghoulish minions are out to unleash the Kishin, who isn’t just a demon: he’s the greatest force of darkness ever known; a wicked fiend of unspeakable power. Luckily, Maka and Soul are used to saving the world from evil. But if they can’t stop Medusa’s freakish army in time, Maka, Soul, and their fellow Weapon/Meister classmates will be fighting to save themselves!

In 2003, mangaka Atsushi Okubo created his Japanese manga “Soul Eater”. Published by Square Enix, the manga had several one shots and eventually serialized in Square Enix’s “Monthly Shonen Gangan”. The manga went on to receive an English translation in 2009, several video games on various consoles but in 2008, the series received its anime adaptation by Bones and shown on TV Tokyo and featured a total of 51 episodes. FUNimation Entertainment released volume 1 earlier this year and now the second volume covering episodes 14-26 has been released.

“Soul Eater” is directed by Takuya Igarashi (“Ashita no Nadja, “Ojamamo Doremi”, and many “Sailor Moon” episodes), series composition by Akatsuki Yamatoya (“Blue Dragon”, “Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Inuyasha”, “To Love-Ru”), character designs by Yoshiyuki Ito (“Fullmetal Alchemist”) and music by Taku Iwasaki (“R.O.D.”, “Gurren Lagann”, “Getbackers”, “Persona – trinity soul-“).

“Soul Eater” is a series that focuses on a group of students who attend the Death Weapon Meister Academy in a place known as Death City in Nevada. The school is run by the Shinigami known as Death and human wielders train with their weapons which are known as meisters. The meisters and their weapons collect various souls that they are assigned to, but at times, the missions are quite difficult, challenging and can be deadly. And if they do not collect the correct soul, by the rules of academy, their soul collecting is reset to zero.

The main characters of “Soul Eater” are:

  • Maka Albarn – One of the primary characters who is dedicated as a scythe meister of the demon scythe known as Soul Eater (Soul Evans). She and her partner Soul Eater want to collect 100 souls in order to make Soul Eater into a Death Scythe and surpass her father Spirit, who she doesn’t get along with. She cares about her partner Soul.
  • Soul Eater (Soul Evans) – Maka’s partner and a cool person who loves to eat souls and crazy about sexy women with big boob. He and Maka tend to argue quite a bit but he is loyal to her.
  • Black Star – A very egotistical young ninja/meister who thinks he is the best there is. He is the sole survivor of his Black Star ninja clan and is partners with Tsubaki. He is very athletic and very persistent but at the same time, sometimes his emotions get in the way and thus prevents him and his partner from collecting souls.
  • Tsubaki – Black Star’s partner and is a “dark arm” weapon. She can turn into various ninja weapons and in human form, very calm and quiet girl.
  • Death the Kid – The son of the Shinigami and partners with Liz and Patty Thompson. He is a powerful fighter but is obsessive compulsive about things being in symmetry and that everything must be balanced in his life. This obsession also affect his focus.
  • Liz and Patty – The weapon partners of Death the Kid. They can turn into guns. The eldest Liz tends to bicker with Death the Kid but is often scared while Patty is always cheerful. These two can wield each other if needed.
  • Shinigami (Lord Death) – The founder and head of Death Weapon Meister Academy. Often secretive and playful.
  • Spirit Albarn (Death Scythe) – The weapon of the Shinigami and also the father of Maka who is divorced from her mother and is often drunk and messing around with women. All he wants is his daughter’s attention but she doesn’t give it to him and thus it makes him depressed.
  • Dr. Franken Stein – The mad scientist of the Academy. Always wants to research and dissect things. Also, a three star meister who can fight.
  • Crona – The child of Medusa who was forced by Medusa to become evil (even though she didn’t want to) but with a mean weapon named Ragnarok and being locked in the dark, she now becomes the ruthless enemy of DWMA.

“Soul Eater – Part Two” features episodes 14-26 on two DVD’s. Here is an episode listing featuring spoiler-less summaries:

DISC 1:

  • EPISODE 14 – The Super Written Exam – Heart-Pounding, Reeling, and Restless. You’re Kidding!? – The students of the DWMA must prepare for a big test but a few decide to resort to cheating.
  • EPISODE 15 – The Soul Eating Black Dragon – Scaredy-Cat Liz and Her Merry Friends? – Kid, Liz and Patty investigate the Black Dragon.
  • EPISODE 16 – Fierce Battle Aboard the Ghost Ship – The Hell Inside My Head? – Kid vs. Crona and Ragnarok.
  • EPISODE 17 – Legend of the Holy Sword 2 – Wanna Go Drinking, Gambling, and Playing? – A story about Ox Ford and his encounter with the legendary sword Excalibur.
  • EPISODE 18 – The Eve Party Nightmare – And So the Curtain Rises? – Medusa and crew begin their attack on Death City.
  • EPISODE 19 – The Underground Battle Commences – Break Through Medusa’s Vector Arrow? – Lord Death talks about the threat and the origin of Asura.  Meanwhile, the battles begin!
  • EPISODE 20 – The Black Blood Resonance Battle! – A Small Soul’s Grand Struggle Against Fear? – Maka and Soul versus Crona and Ragnarok.

Disc 2:

  • EPISODE 21 – May My Soul Reach You – A Dry Heart Inside Unbearable Isolation? – In order to fight Cronus, Maka allows madness to consume her.
  • EPISODE 22 – The Seal Shrine – The Immortal Man’s Tricks? – Kid and Free continue their fight but Kid gets some help from Black Star.
  • EPISODE 23 – Dead or Alive – In the Rift Between Revival and Dazzlement? – Stein and Medusa fight to the death, while Kid and Black Star take on Free and Eruka.
  • EPISODE 24 – The Battle of the Gods – Death City on The Verge of Collapse? – Asura attacks Death City and Lord Death is forced into battle.
  • EPISODE 25 – The Death scythes Convene – Stop Dad’s Staff Reassignment!? – With Asura now free, Death summons the Death Scythes.  Spirit fears that because he was unable to protect Death Scythe, he will be demoted.
  • EPISODE 26 – The Exciting and Embarrassing Trial Enrollment! The DWMA New Lifestyle Support Fair Is open? – Maka and Marie try to help Crona with her new surroundings at DWMA.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Soul Eater” is an interesting anime series when it comes to animation and character design. With mangaka Atsushi Okubo inspired from Tim Burton and David Lynch films, “Soul Eater” is anime series that features many vibrant colors but also uses minimal detail. Character designs are quite simple and not detailed nor are they shaded, but the art backgrounds are detailed and colorful and thus enhance the look of the character designs.

Typically, I’m not a fan of anime series that feature minimalistic character designs but in the case of “Soul Eater”, because of its Burton-esque flavor, Okubo’s world around these characters is brought to live in animation and for the most part, the quirkiness and creative style works for this action-driven anime series.

As for the series, the anime is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound and Japanese Stereo. Voice acting on both the Japanese and English dub is well-done but of course, the action scenes are much more pronounced audio wise for the English dub. Although, for those with modern home theater receivers, you can definitely enjoy the Japanese stereo track via setting stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundscape.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Soul Eater” comes with a few special features. Included are:

DISC 2:

  • Episode 23 Commentary – Audio commentary by Vic Mignona (Death Scythe), Chuck Huber (Dr. Stein) and Lucy Christian (Medusa) talk about watching the fully rendered episode and hearing the other voice talents voices.  Also, what they love about the show.
  • Soul Eater Late Show – (22:24) Featuring episodes 14-26 Japanese promo/teaser spots for each episode. That range from opening and closing theme, naughty-like teasers, bumper art galleries to character-based goofiness. Each promo spot lasts around a minute and a half each.
  • Textless Opening Song – T.M. Revolution – “Resonance”
  • Textless Opening Song Version 1 – Style
  • Textless Closing Song  Version 2 – Style
  • Trailers – FUNimation Entertainment trailers.

“Soul Eater” is becoming a pretty awesome action/comedy anime series.  This latest volume is pretty cool because it’s more action-driven as Medusa and her group begin their attack on the DWMA.  And where the first volume was somewhat lighthearted when it came to the action scenes, things get a bit more darker with this series.

Especially some of the enemies, as one enemy who looks like a thin, frail man….has the ability to stretch his skin to attack.  In some way, it’s kind of a disgusting character to watch as it’s mannerisms of fighting was unlike a character I have seen before.  Typically stretching characters ala “Fantastic Four” Mr. Fantastic or Justice League’s Plastic Man look cool when stretching and fight in battle but this character of Free is just disgusting to watch as he just stretches out skin from his arms and each hit smacking their enemies with such force.

The storyline with Crona is quite interesting as well because you feel bad for her character and what Crona had to put up with.  The battle between Medusa and Stein is also awesome to watch.

But overall, this second part of “Soul Eater” really steps up the action and definitely sets things up for the third part as they will have to deal with a powerful nemesis that can bring the DWMA down.

For those who appreciate what Tim Burton was able to do for his own dark films can easily appreciate the twisted, dark world created by Atsushi Okubo.  The look and feel of “Soul Eater” is quite different from any other anime series that I have seen and that’s a positive. Sure, character designs may be a bit minimal without the usual shading and detail that people expect from an anime series, especially from Bones. But I really dig the character designs because it’s fresh and different from what I’m usually seeing and for the most part, it works.

Overall, “Soul Eater – Part Two” was even more enjoyable than the first part and the series has turned out to become an action-packed anime series which left me wanting more!   I look forward to part three!

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Strike Witches – The Complete 1st Season (A J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

April 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Humorous, action-packed, girl-power anime series with a lot of fan service.  “Strike Witches” has its share of ups and downs but overall, an enjoyable series.

Image courtesy of © 2010 FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Strike Witches – The Complete 1st Season

DURATION: Episodes 1-12 (300 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0 Stereo, English Subtitles

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: 17+

Released on March 30, 2010

Originally created by Humikane Shimada

Directed by Kazuhiro Takamura

Series Composition by Tsuyoshi Tamai

Music by Seikou Nagaoka

Character Design by Kazuhiro Takamura

Art Director: Hiromasa Ogura

Anime Production by GONZO

Featuring the following voice talent:

Misato Fukuen/Cherami Leigh as Yoshika Miyafuji

Ami Koshimizu as Charlotte E Yeager (Shirley Yeager)

Chiwa Saito/Trina Nishimura as Francesca Lucchini

Erika Nakai/Caitling Glass as Eila Ilmatar Juutilainen

Kaori Nazuka/Kate Bristol as Lynette Bishop

Mai Kadowaki/Jennifer Forester as Sanya V. Litvyak

Mie Sonozaki/Stephanie Sheh as Gertrud Barkhorn

Miyuki Sawashiro/Jad Saxton as Perrine-H. Clostermann

Rie Tanaka/Anastasia Munoz as Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke

Saeko Chiba/Kira Vincent-Davis as Mio Sakamoto

Sakura Nogawa/Luci Christian as Erica Hartmann

The year is 1944 and the world lives in fear of unidentified flying objects called Neuroi. With the old-boy old guard unable to thwart this deadly menace, humanity turns its desperate eyes to an aerial attack force with much nicer legs. Meet the girls of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, better known as the Strike Witches. These darlings of the great blue yonder may not have standard issue uniforms, but they do have all the right stuff. Where the average flyboy falters, these dolls blast aliens to bits in the bat of an eyelash. With a little magic and a whole lot of leg, the girls of the 501st are winning the war on pants, and aliens!

In 2006, Humikane Shimada (“Sky Girls”) began his “Strike Witches” illustrated columns. The popularity of the columns led to a light novel series, a manga series an anime OVA and a 12-episode TV anime series which is now available on DVD via “Strike Witches – The Complete Series” courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.

The TV series is directed by Kazuhiro Takamura (“He is My Master”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Seed”, “Mahoromatic”, “This Ugly Yet Beautiful World”) and also was responsible for character designs, series composition by Tsuyoshi Tamai (“Galaxy Angel”, “Chobits”, “Azumanga Daioh”), art direction is by Hiromasa Ogura (“Patlabor”, “Nadia – Secret of Blue Water”, “Ghost Hound”) and music by Seikou Nagaoka (“El Hazard” series, “Tenchi Muyou” series”).

“Strike Witches” is a series that takes place in 1939 in an alternate universe of Earth.  During this year, the Earth was attacked by an alien force known as Neuroi.  The Neuroi has shown up sporadically but various military around the planet have fought back with the use of Strike Witches, a female witch gifted with powerful magic and technology.  And thus, the war between Earth vs. the Neuroi but it’s up to the 501st division to train the Strike Witches from all over the world and prepare them for battle.

The main characters of “Strike Witches” are:

  • Yoshika Miyafuji – The main character of the series from the Fuso Empire (alternate version of Japan).  She has the power of healing and her father was responsible for designing the Striker Units for Strike Witches.  Because of her father’s death, Miyafuji hates the war but because people are in need of help, she joins the 501st.
  • Mio Sakamoto – The first Strike Witch and is the squadron leader.  Also from the Fuso Empire, she trains the new recruits and is responsible for scouting Miyafuji.  Has the magical ability to fight Neuroi with a magical katana.
  • Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke – The ranking officer of the 501st and takes care of her subordinates.  Because of the death of her boyfriend, she fears of losing people.  Also, is a very good singer.  She has the power of spatial awareness.
  • Lynette Bishop – A Strike Witch from the Britannian Commonwealth.  Can be clumsy but an excellent sharpshooter.
  • Perrine-H. Clostermann – The wealthy Perrine is a Strike Witch very attached to Mio and dislikes Miyafuji because of the attention she gets from Mio and is constantly jealous of her.  Has the power of using lightning.
  • Erica Hartmann – Quite sloppy and disorganized, Erica is a Strike Witch from Karsland and is an ace Strike Witch known for her victories.  Her skill is her ability to barrel storm.
  • Gertrud Barkhorn – A Strike Witch from Karsland known for her shot tally.  Has the magic power of strength.
  • Francesca Lucchini – A Strike Witch from the Duchy of Romagna and the youngest soldier and most childish member of the Strike Witches.
  • Charlotte E. Yeager – A Strike Witch from the United States of Liberion who is known for her buxom body and her enjoyment of speeding through the air.

The following 12-episodes are featured on two DVD’s. Here is a spoiler-less summary of each episode of “Strike Witches – The Complete Series”:

DISC 1:

  • EPISODE 1 – Mio Sakamoto tries to recruit Yoshika Miyafuji to join the 501st.
  • EPISODE 2 – The Neuroi attack an aircraft carrier that Akagi, Mio and Miyafuji are riding.
  • EPISODE 3 – Miyafuji is introduced to the other Strike Witches.
  • EPISODE 4 – Perrine becomes jealous of Miyafuji.
  • EPISODE 5 – The Strike Witches train in the Britannian Coast.
  • EPISODE 6 – Miyafuji trains with Sanya and Eila on night patrol and fight against the Neuroi.

DISC 2:

  • EPISODE 7 – When Erica misplaces her panties, everyone thinks their is a panty thief nearby.
  • EPISODE 8 – Akagi starts to become overprotective of Miyafuji when people start to show their praise to Miyafuji.
  • EPISODE 9 – Perrine’s jealousy gets out of control and  thus she challenges Miyafuji and challenges her to an aerial duel.
  • EPISODE 10 –  After contact with a new type of Neuroi, Mio is injured and Miyafuji is confined in her quarters.
  • EPISODE 11 – The 501st is disbanded and a new anti-Neuroi unit known as Warlock is created.
  • EPISODE 12 – Warlock is now out-of-control and Miyafuji goes against it alone.

VIDEO:

“Strike Witches” is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.  For a television series, “Strike Witches” focuses on the battles over sea and in the skies.  So, there is a not a whole lot of detail going on in the series.  If anything, more emphasis is put on the special effects and characters up-close especially showcasing the Strike Witches and their weapons.   Also, a good amount of detail for the mechanical designs especially the Neuroi and the vehicles.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Audio for “Strike Witches” is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Japanese Stereo 2.0.  Dialogue is clear and understandable.  Voice acting for both English and Japanese are done well.   The series doesn’t really showcase an immersive soundtrack but overall, dialogue is clear and understandable.  Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Strike Witches – The Complete Series” comes with the following special features on disc 2:

  • Episode 12 Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Scott Sager, Kate Bristol (voice actress of Lynette Bishop) and Cherami Leigh (voice actress of Yoshika Miyafuji).
  • Textless Opening and Closing Songs
  • Trailers – Trailers for upcoming FUNimation Entertainment releases.

In some way, “Strike Witches” can be seen as an anime series that looks as if it’s been overused, you’ve seen this kind of anime before but there are a few things that makes “Strike Witches” quite different from the others and that is a focus on character development, introducing many characters but yet fleshing them out throughout the series and last, the series has its share of naughty bits.  There is nudity, there is plenty of fan service and lesbian-teases.

Here are a group of teenagers who are star pilots and responsible on taking on the Neuroid and defending the planet but at the same time, these girls have teen impulses and curiosities.  So, needless to say, this is the kind of series that will appeal to the anime action fans by the aerial dogfights and mecha usage and then of course the number of pantie shots, face in boobies and more will appeal to the perverted otaku.  But seeing the younger characters in their underwear is going a bit far in anime series and for me, it definitely lessened the series appeal.

Overall, “Strike Witches – The Complete 1st Season” is an  action anime series that has its moments of enjoyability but also has its share of problems.  If anything, this series is a girl-power, fun, action-packed anime series but in the end, it’s an average anime at best.

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Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ – The Complete Series (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The sequel to “Gunslinger Girl” is not more of a sequel but side missions featuring members of the Section 2.  If you thought the cyber-enhanced girls of Section 2 were deadly, “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” introduces us to a young male killer who has his sights in killing the cyber girls.  Plenty of action and story-wise, an improvement over the first season.

Image courtesy of © Yu Aida/ASCII MEDIA WORKS. Marvelous Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ – The Complete Series

DURATION: 15 Episodes inc. OVA (360 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9), Dolby TrueHD English and Japanese 5.1, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV MA

Release Date: March 16, 2010

Originally created by Yu Aida

Directed by Hiroshi Ishiodori

Series Composition by Yu Aida

Screenplay by Tatsuhiko Urahata, Yu Aida

Music by Ko Otani

Character Design by Noboru Sugmitsu

Art Director: Chikara Nishikura

Anime Production by Artland

Featuring the following voice talent:

Kana Akutsu/Lauria Bailey as Henrietta

Risa Mizuno/Alese Watson as Claes

Atsuko Enomoto/Caitlin Glass as Triela

Kana Hanazawa/Monica Rial as Angelica

Anri Shiono/Luci Christian as Rico

Masaya Matsukaze/Masashi Ebara as Hirscher (Hilshire)

Takehito Koyasu/Eric Vale as Jean

Kazuki Yao/Jim Foronda as Marco

Kozo Mito/John Burgmeier as Jose

The girls of the Social Welfare Agency are no ordinary children. They are the grisly remains of human wreckage pieced back together with cybernetic implants and trained to kill by the government.

The oldest, Triela, pursues her targets with a ferocious enthusiasm, unwilling to settle for less than total annihilation. Her mirror in this bloody stalemate is Pinocchio, a shell of a boy raised as an assassin by the FRF: a terrorist faction at war with the SWA. Cold and cruelly efficient, he wields sharpened steel as though it were an extension of his own hand.

Once human, these shattered souls have become murderous machines with only vague recollections of what it meant to be real – and a brutal compulsion to be the last killer standing.

In 2002, mangaka Yu Aida had her first manga “Gunslinger Girl” published in the monthly shonen magazine “Dengeki Daioh”. A year later, her manga series was adapted into a 13-episode anime television series airing on Fuji TV. The manga and anime series would continue with another 13-episode anime television series titled “Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-” in 2008 and has also inspired video games for the Sony PlayStation 2.

“Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” the sequel to the popular anime series would start anew in terms of animation by this time going with Artland for the anime production instead of  Madhouse Studios.  Hiroshi Ishiodori (“Peach Girl”, “Chrono Crusade”, “Bubblegum Crash”) would take the role as chief director,while Rei Mano (“Cardcaptor Sakura”, “Guardian Hearts”) would be the main director of the series.  Also, this time “Gunslinger Girl” mangaka Yu Aida would have a more hands on approach to the screenplay for the sequel.  Character design for the series would be by Noboru Sugimitsu (“Mushi-Shi”, “Infinite Ryvius”, “Turn A Gundam”), art direction is by Chikara Nishikura (“Fatal Fury: Legend of the Hungry Wolf”, “Koi Kaze”, “Story of Saiunkoku”) and music by “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, “Pumpkin Scissors”, “Blade of the Immortal”, “Eyeshield 21”).

The series has been released by FUNimation Entertainment on DVD but the series makes its High Definition on Blu-ray along with the original “Gunslinger Girl” which were both released on March 16, 2010.  Also, included on the “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” Blu-ray are the two “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” OVA’s which were released separately on DVD.

The concept of “Gunslinger Girl” revolves around the Social Welfare Agency which is a charitable institution sponsored by the Italian government. Known by the public to help those who are physically injured, the truth is that the agency is a a military organization that specializes in counter-intelligence and counter terrorism. Their soldiers, young orphan girls enhanced with cybernetic implants and are taught to kill and pare of the SWA’s “Section 2”.

The girls have synthesized muscle implants giving them super-human strength and reflexes, as well as the ability to be resilient to any damage. Each of these girls are partnered with a trainer/handler and together they are known as a “fratello”. Some handlers are caring for the girls they are partnered with but for the agency, they look at these girls as weapons and also as expendable.

“Gunslinger Girl” was more about episodic stories feature the female members of the group but “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” is more like side stories for certain members.  Considering the manga series is still ongoing, for those wanting to know if there is a conclusion to this series, the sequel is not a conclusion but more of extra adventures.  The main story arc of this sequel revolves around a young killer named Pinocchio who seems to have as much or even more skills than any of the cybergirls.

The main characters of “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” are:

  • Henrietta/Jose – Henrietta’s family were massacred and she was assaulted and left for dead. She has suffered from psychological trauma and had wanted to die. But since being brainwashed and conditioned for the agency, she is an assassin who feels a strong bond with Jose and cares deeply for him. As for Jose Croce, his counterparts think he has gotten to close emotionally with Henrietta.
  • Rico – Born with severe birth defects, she was signed over to the agency by her parents when she turned 11. But since joining and receiving a new body with the agency, she is happy. She is the only cyborg girl with memories of her past life.
  • Triela – Rebellious and masculine, she is one of the elder Cyborg girls that tries to help her counterparts. But for some reason, she is losing her memory.
  • Claes – A peaceful cyborg who is used more as a test subject since the death of her handler. Claes enjoys gardening and reading books more than engaging in violence.
  • Angelica – A girl that was nearly killed by her father trying to collect insurance, Angelica is the first cyborg of the agency.  Angelica has been hospitalized due to events fro the first season and now is eager to get back on a mission but will she ever be the same?

“Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~- The Complete First Season” consists of 13-episodes + two OAV’s on two Blu-ray discs. Here is a spoilerless summary of each episode:

DISC 1:

  • EPISODE 1 – Distance Between Two: Brother and Sister – Jose and Henrietta along with Jean and Rico join Hilshire and Triela to take on a group of bombers.
  • EPISODE 2 – Pinocchio – In this flashback episode, the storyline is about a young murdering child named “Pinocchio”.
  • EPISODE 3 – Simulacra – Hilshire and Triela are on a mission to find a missing Public Safety Division member and confront the young killer “Pinocchio”.
  • EPISODE 4 – Angelica’s Return – Angelica is on her first field mission since her hospitalization but when things don’t go as well, she starts to feel frustrated.
  • EPISODE 5 – Transcience and Reminiscence – Marco is worried that Angelica may not be able to be like her original self.
  • EPISODE 6 – Retiring Tibetan Terrier – Section 2 are asked to be on a mission to watch and protect the politician, Chairwoman Isabella d’Angelo.
  • EPISODE 7 – Katerina’s Annulus of Vengeance – Could their be a link between Franca and Pinnochio?
  • EPISODE 8 – A Day in the Life of Claes – Claes has these dreams of Raballo but she doesn’t know whey she has these dreams or who this Raballo is.

DISC 2:

  • EPISODE 9 – Wise Serpent, Pure Dove – Section 2 are on a mission to find out more about Giuseppe’s background.
  • EPISODE 10 – White Flowers – Triela is not doing too well and is frustrated that she was unable to beat Pinocchio.
  • EPISODE 11 – Budding Feelings – A flashback about Cristiano and the young boy who would become Pinocchio.
  • EPISODE 12 – Fighting Doll – The mission is now to find Franco, Franca and Pinocchio.
  • EPISODE 13 – And Pinocchio Became Human – The final battle between Triela and Pinocchio.  Who will become victorious?
  • OAV 1 – EPISODE 14 – The Light of Venice, the Darkness of the Heart – Jean and Rico are on a mission to take out a mafia boss supporting Roman terrorists.
  • OAV 2 – EPISODE 15 – Fantasma – A story that takes place around the time of ep. 10 and 11 of “Gunslinger Girl” during Rico, Henrietta, Jean and Giuseppe in Sicily and an episode that deals with Giuseppe dressing Henrietta in Enrika’s  (who is dead) clothing which causes some friction among the group.

VIDEO:

“Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ – The Complete Series” is an anime television series presented in 1080p High Definition (16×9) and was a series that came out in 2008.   Fans of the series have been critical because of their preference of the Madhouse Studios anime production of “Gunslinger Girl” back in 2007.  Personally, I felt the character designs were much more better in the first series, while the second series features more focus on shading and lighting of the backgrounds.

As for video, there is noticeable use of edge enhancement on the series.  One must be wondering that if this is a 2008 release anime series, we are going to get great visuals.  Unfortunately, this is where Japanese anime TV series are a mixed bag.  There are series where production companies have enough time and manpower to making a television series look great via the backgrounds and its colors, but with “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~”, the series was good but not great wen it comes to animation.  There are some scenes such as the focus on weapons which are nicely detailed but for the most part, animation was OK and some episodes looked good on HD I have to agree that the animation and production for the first series was much better than the sequel (but the storyline is much better in the sequel than the first series).

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Fortunately with FUNimation Entertainment Blu-ray releases in 2010, we are getting lossless Japanese soundtracks and sure enough, “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ – The Complete Series” features audio sporting both an English and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack.  The English dub soundtrack seems to be much more louder than its Japanese counterpart in terms of dialogue and special effects.  Certain scenes do feature good use of lossless through the surrounds during the gun battle scenes but it’s not as immersive as I would like.  But at the same time, the fact that we get a lossless Japanese soundtrack is a big step and will sure to please fans who have been wanting lossless Japanese soundtrack with their anime series.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ – The Complete Series” contains the textless songs and trailers.  Unfortunately, special features from the DVD release such as the “Japanese Cast Interview: Voice of Marco”, original TV commercials and from the OAV DVD release, “Japanese Cast Interview: Voice of Hilshire” are not included on this Blu-ray release.

EXTRAS:

“Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ The Complete Series” comes with a slipcase (note: The first season did not come with a slipcase).

“Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~ – The Complete Series” was an enjoyable series but at the same time, you kind of hoped there was some conclusions but knowing that the manga series is still ongoing, the “Gunslinger Girl” series continues and one may wonder when or if there will be another season.

As mentioned earlier, this sequel is not a series that features anything significant that will affect the series in the near future.  If anything, you can look at these episodes as “side stories” with Triela dealing with failure, Angelica being frustrated of not being the same before she was hospitalized and as for Henrietta who was prominently featured in the first series, this sequel tries to feature as many people as they can but also showing us the other perspective of the young killer Pinocchio who is featured in several episodes.

But I will say that I did enjoy this series more than the first.  Mainly because we see certain characters being shown with faults and then trying to overcome those faults. Also, it was interesting to see a boy who was just as deadly and even more deadly as the girls.  Granted, because of the introduction of Pinocchio, makes you wonder if we are going to see some major wars between cyber boys vs. cyber girls if a series is created in the near future.  Personally, I was expecting something tragic with maybe one of the primary characters getting killed.  But for the most part, the series plays off as not a sequel but “Gunslinger Girl” missions.

As for the animation, its clearly up to preference.  I preferred the first series in terms of animation but preferred the second in terms of storyline.  But that’s just me.  As for the Blu-ray release, the fact that you get two lossless soundtrack is great but video quality, was good.   It’s great that FUNimation included both OAV’s on this Blu-ray release but wished the special features from the DVD’s were included.  Not sure if it was due to space limitation but being spoiled by series such as “Claymore” and even “Witchblade” on Blu-ray with plenty of special features, I was hoping that what is on the DVD for special features would make it onto the Blu-ray release as well.

Overall, “Gunslinger Girl ~Il Teatrino~” is a series worth owning if you have the previous series on Blu-ray.  But it’s important to note that for those expecting some type of conclusion, will probably have to wait until the manga series is over or another season of “Gunslinger Girl” is released.  Nevertheless, a series worth having in your collection.

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Shaolin Hand Lock (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Featuring martial arts legend David Chiang in one of his many awesome martial arts films for the Shaw Brothers.  An awesome, action-packed martial-arts film!

Images courtesy of © 2005 Celestial Pictures, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Shaolin Hand Lock (Shi zi mo hou shou)

DURATION: 89 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: NTSC, Region 1, Anamorphic Widescreen 16×9

RATED: Not Rated: Parental Guidance Suggested

COMPANY: Celestial Pictures/FUNimation Entertainment

Released on March 23, 2010

Directed by Meng Hua Ho

Written by Kuang Ni

Produced by Mona Fong, Run Run Shaw

Assistant Producer: Po-Nan Wen

Music by Yung-Yu Chen

Cinematography by Hui-chi Tsao

Starring:

David Chiang as Li Cheng-ying

Peng Chen as Li Meng-Ping

Lieh Lo as Ling Hao

Dick Wei as Li Bai

Wai-Man Chan as Kun Shih

Shen Chan as Fang Yun-piao

Hsia Hsu – Li’s Student

Kara Hui as Li’s Student

From the director who gave Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung early breaks in film, Ho Meng-hua teams up with Mr. Kung-fu hero, David Chiang, in a funky, over the top, martial arts chiller based upon a secret kung-fu technique that is also the film’s English title, Shaolin Hand Lock. Fans and non-fans of the genre will elate to again see Chiang match fists with Shaw Brothers’ number one villain, Lo Lieh.

The Shaw Brothers, the company known for their many releases of Hong Kong films for many decades ran by producer Sir Run Run Shaw, knighted by the British government and founder of Shaw University in Hong Kong and even founded the HK-TVB TV network was a major power behind the company and his third brother Runme Shaw (who founded South Sea Film), the film company would become known as Shaw Brothers Studio and become the first studio to bring Hong Kong cinema with sound in 1934.

The Shaw Brothers have created over a thousand films and with several having been aired on US television and some being released on video, “The 14 Amazons” gets its release on DVD courtesy of Celestial Pictures and FUNimation Entertainment via their Hong Kong Connection line featuring original masters of the original film and both the Mandarin and English dub dialogue.

In 1978, the film “Shi Zi So Hou Shou” (Shaolin Hand Lock) was released in theaters and would feature action star David Chiang (who is currently regarded as a Kung Fu legend/icon).

The film revolves around brother Li Cheng-Ying (played by David Chiang) and his sister Meng Ping (played by Chan Ping) who are trained at their father’s martial arts school.  Li Cheng’s father Li Bai (played by Dick Wei) is the creator and master of the Shaolin Hand Lock which he teaches to his son.  But because the move leaves open a vulnerable spot, his father gives him his armored vest to protect him from battle.

As Cheng-Ying and his sister go out for grocery shopping, an old acquaintance visits Li Bai but immediately, goes under the attack and tells him that someone has hired to kill him.  Li Bai uses the Shaolin Hand Lock but because he gave up his armor to his son, the killer strikes him with hidden knives from his forearms in the vulnerable areas and killing him.  The killer then kills two students who he thinks is the children of Li Bai.

When Cheng-Ying and Meng Peng arrive, they find out that their parents and friends have been murdered and immediately want revenge.  Cheng-Ying goes to find the killer while his sister stays back home.  Eventually, when Cheng-Ying finds the killer, he finds out that person responsible is the rich Ling Hao who is now living in Bangkok.  So, off to Thailand and Cheng-Ying must do what he can to infiltrate his father’s killer by joining the enemy and pretending to be his bodyguard in order to kill him.

But killing Lo Lieh is not going to be easy as the man is still agile and is a master of secret weapons.  Also, to make things difficult for Cheng Yang, another bodyguard of Lo Lieh is suspicious of him and Ming Ping who was supposed to stay home ends up going to Bangkok to kill Lo Lieh as well.

Will the children of Li Bai get their revenge?

VIDEO:

“Shaolin Hand Lock” is presented in 16:9 and received restoration by Celestial Pictures. I was absolutely impressed by the restoration since a lot of the older Shaw films I have seen definitely shows its age. Watching this film, I was impressed by the colors and how the film looks as if it was made recently (of course, by the clothing is a dead give away the film is from the ’70s) versus the film being made in 1978. I can definitely imagine how beautiful the print would be on Blu-ray where I’m sure the colors of the film would definitely pop.

The film utilizes quite a bit of colors and since the characters are seen during the outdoors, a good level of natural light is shown through the film. While watching the film, I saw no major scratches and a few speckles.  The remastering of this film looks very good on DVD.  Colors are vibrant, outdoor scenes are well shot (especially a scene at the temple) and blacks are very good on DVD.  Just the scene where Cheng-Ying is given a tour through Bangkok is a beautiful sight!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, the film is presented in English Dolby Digital stereo and Mandarin Mono. Personally, having endured these Shaw films with the terrible (yet humorous) English dubs back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, just watching it again with the English dub just didn’t make sense anymore.   So, watching it with the Mandarin mono track was my choice and preference.

I did watch the film again via English dub and for this film, the English dubbing is not bad.  Especially since this is an action-driven film, the dialogue is short and for the most part, I usually get irked by the English dubs for this film, I wasn’t.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Shaolin Hand Lock” comes with trailers of upcoming or previous released FUNimation Entertainment live action releases.

EXTRAS:

The DVD comes with a slipcase.

I was quite impressed by “Shaolin Hand Lock”.  There is a bit of humor in the film but it’s a film that has a good amount of action and a pretty enjoyable storyline.  David Chiang definitely shines in this film as Li Ching Yang.  He and Ling Hao (who plays Lo Lieh) really have great chemistry as the boss and bodyguard including the scenes where these two must battle each other.  Two veterans who have done a good number of Shaw Brothers films, they definitely did a really good job during their fight sequences.

There is also pretty good cinematography during several major scenes from “Shaolin Hand Lock”.   We get to see the beautiful scenery and statues of Bangkok but of course, the film is primarily all action from martial arts combat to even a boat chase scene!

“Shaolin Hand Lock” looks absolutely great on DVD.  As mentioned previously, the colors look very good and there is no way I could tell what year this film was made (I was thinking early ’80s but it was late ’70s).  Celestial Pictures really did a good job on the remastering of many of the Shaw Brothers films and it shows with the release of this film.    Also, both the Mandarin and English audio tracks are included and the English dub is not too bad, especially since the action scenes seem to be much more numerous than the actual dialogue scenes.  Unfortunately, there are no special features.

If there was any surprises about “Shaolin Hand Lock” was that the film had full frontal nudity of a woman during as a scene featured Fang Yun Biao about to make love to a prostitute in Bangkok.  Rarely do you see nudity, let alone full frontal in a Hong Kong film, let alone a martial arts film, let alone a live action film from FUNimation Entertainment.  So, for those looking to screen this film at your local college or club, although the film is unrated, aside from the violence and blood shown, the film does have nudity.

As for the violence and parents who are wondering what kind of violence in this film aside from the martial arts, there are knives being used and people being stabbed and killed.   Of course, there are no blood splurging out of limbs or anything too disgusting but “Shaolin Hand Lock” does have its fair share of blood featured in the film.

So, far FUNimation Entertainment’s entry with their first two Shaw Brothers martial arts films “The 14 Amazons” and “Shaolin Hand Lock” have been quite impressive thus far.  With over a thousand films made by the Shaw Brothers, “Shaolin Hand Lock” and “The 14 Amazons” are two films that are very well-done and are quite enjoyable.

Definitely recommended!

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Trinity Blood – The Complete Series (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Humans vs. vampires, political corruption and more!  Featuring an intricate, deep and dark storyline with strong action elements, “Trinity Blood – the Complete Series” is a stylishly dark anime series worth checking out!

Image courtesy of © 2005 Trinity Blood Partners. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Trinity Blood – The Complete Series

DURATION: 24 Episodes (600 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9), Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV MA

Release Date: February 23, 2010

 

Originally novel by Sunao Yoshida

Directed by Tomohiro Hirata

Series Composition by Atsuhiro Tomioka, Tomohiro Hirata

Script by Atsuhiro Tomioka, Yuuji Hosono

Character Design by Atsuko Nakajima, Thores Shibamoto

Music by Takahito Eguchi

Art Director: Toshiyuki Tokuda

Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nakajima

Art Design by Tomoaki Kaneko

Anime Production by GONZO

Featuring the following voice talent:

Hiroki Touchi as Abel Nightroad

Mamiko Noto as Esther Blanchett

Junichi Suwabe as Cain Nightroad

Junko Minagawa as Ion Fortuna

Kazuya Nakai as Tres Iqus

Kenichi Suzumura as Dietrich von Lohengrin

Michiko Neya as Astharoshe Asran

Shinya Kitade as Hugue de Watteau

Takako Honda as Catherina Sforza

Yoshinori Fujita as Alessandro XVIII

Yuki Matsuoka as Seth Nightroad aka Augusta Vradica

Armageddon. The ultimate sin of humanity, perpetrated upon itself, which cast the shroud of death across the world centuries ago. And out of that lasting darkness, they emerged… From the legends of ancient times, they have been called forth into the world anew… vampires.

Two races – Terran and Methuselah, human and vampire – are locked in a struggle for existence, trembling on the brink of war. Some seek the path to a peaceful coexistence, while others pursue a dangerous shift in the balance of power. The world’s enemy, Contra Mundi, is starting to move. Cooperation and goodwill between the two races may be their only chance for survival.

Abel Nightroad, a touring priest for the Vatican, walks calmly where others fear to tread. A member of the formidable AX, tasked with the protection of the fragile equilibrium. Neither human nor vampire, with an awkward yet optimistic nature, this Father is a force wholly his own. When the greater threat emerges, the enemy of my enemy is my friend… and Abel Nightroad seeks a safe path for all.

Be strong in your endeavors for the sake of the world.

“Trinity Blood”, the anime series that had captured the attention of anime fans with its vampire storyline and J-Rock feel, makes its first appearance on High Definition on Blu-ray courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.

“Trinity Blood” began as light novels by the late Sunao Yoshida (and illustrations by Thores Shibamoto) back in 2001 and serialized in Japanese light novel magazine “The Sneaker” and was inspired by real life alchemist and noblewoman Caterina Sforza.  With Yoshida’s unfortunate death in 2004, mangaka Kentaro Yasui (author of “Ragnarok”), a friend of Yoshida’s would complete the novels.

The light novels received a manga series adaptation in 2004 (and is ongoing) while a 24-episode manga series was produced by GONZO and aired in Japan in 2005 on the WOWOW network.

The anime series would be directed by Tomohiro Hirata (“Irresponsible Captain Tailor”, “Crusher Joe” OVA’s) and a screenplay by Atsuhiro Tomioka (“Eat-Man 98”, “Hikaru no Go”, “Pokemon”, “Vandread”) and Yuuji Hosono (“Prism Ark”, “Pumpkin Scissors”, “Ray”).   Character designs are by Atsuko Nakajima (“Haunted Junction”, “Ranma 1/2”, “Violinist of Hamlin”), art direction by Toshiyuki Tokuda (“Mermaid Forest”, “Major”, “Inuyasha”) and music by Takahito Eguchi (“D.N.Angel” and “Rental Magica”).

“Trinity Blood” is a series that may seem like your typical vampires versus humans but the story is much deeper.  The series begins with a priest named Father Abel Nightroad who is riding on an airship.  All of a sudden, a vampire (known as Methuselah) abruptly boards the airship and kills the pilots and inhabitants with a pilot trainee/restaurant employee taking over the airship while father Abel Nightroad fights against the Methuselah.  We learn that Abel is a Crusnik, a vampire that feeds on the blood of a Methuselah.

We learn through the series that the introductions to Methuselah and Crusnik came from Earth dealing with its population increase and trying to colonize Mars.  During the colonization, they discover alien technologies: The Bacillus and the Crusnik nanomachines and sure enough, the colonists install the Bacillus into their bodies and they became Methuselahs.  While, four test tube babies – Seth, Cain, Abel and Lilith were given the Crusnik.

Back home in Earth, Earth was going through Armageddon and when the colonists came back to rebuild, unfortunately the humans did not take kindly to the vampiric methuselah’s and a war between the two have taken place with the Roman Catholic Church as the main force to fight the Methuselah with the use of the Crusnik’s (who are part of the AX, Arcanum Cella Ex Dono Dei) who specialize in taking on powerful Methuselah.  Among the Crusnik, Cain has deserted his brothers and sisters and has gone mad.  He now heads the Rosenkreuz Orden, a vampire terrorist organization who wants to make a new world order and destroy the Vatican.

“Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” consists of 13-episodes on three Blu-ray discs.

The main characters of “Trinity Blood” are:

  • Abel Nightroad – A compassionate Catholic priest who is always broke and hungry.  But he’s also a Crusnik known for his power and hunts down Methuselah.  One of the four test tube babies injected with the Crusnik nanotechnology.    His past was filled with hatred towards humans and during the war between the Methuselah and humans (terrans), he slaughtered seven million of them.  But after his brother Cain murdered his sister Lilith (she defended the humans), he went into mourning for 900 years.  But after meeting Caterina Sforza who was trying to escape from the Methuselah, he vowed to continue his dead sister’s work and is now a member of the AX.
  • Cain Nightroad – One of the four test tube babies installed with the Crusnik Nanotechnology.  During the Methuselah and human wars, when he saw his sister Lilith trying to bring Abel to her side of defending the humans, he killed her.  In revenge, his brothers Abel and Seth tried to kill him but he survived.  Now he leads the Rosenkreuz Orden in order to destroy the Vaticans and human kind.
  • Esther Blanchett – The legitimate granddaughter of the Queen of Albion.  Esther joins with Abel and eventually becomes an AX agent and becomes close to Ion Fortuna.  Her storyline becomes prevalent as the Crusniks try to protect her from being killed by the Methesulah.
  • Astharoshe Asran – An undercover agent of the New Human Empire (Empire for Methuselah) who teams up with Abel in trying to arrest Endre Kourza, a vampire mass murderer.  She despises humanity but through her partnership with Abel, she starts to see them in a different light.
  • Ion Fortuna – A member of the New Human Empire who is also the Imperial messenger negotiating with the Vatican.  He despises humans until he meets Esther Blanchett.
  • Augusta Vradica (Seth Nighlord) – The youngest of the test tube babies and is the empress of the New Human Empire and was responsible for find a home for the Methuselah and save them from persecution.
  • Caterina Sforza – Was instrumental in changing the mind of Abel Nightroad to defend humans.  She heads the AX Agency and wants peace between humans and vampires, which her brother Cardinal Francesco is against.

VIDEO:

“Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” is an anime television series which aired on television in 2005. It’s important to note that a) “Trinity Blood” is a television series and not an animated film or OVA. The second part to note is that when it comes to anime television series, prior to 2008, pretty much a lot of the anime TV series on Blu-ray have been upconverted.

With that being said, “Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” is an upconvert and is presented in 1080p High Definition, 16×9 widescreen.  You can see the compression artifacts, aliasing, edge enhancement and for me, I pretty much expected this because although released in 2005, it’s before many anime companies became serious about HD and because it is a TV series (which didn’t air on a major network but on satellite via Wowow), you’re not going to see major restoration being done.  But with “Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” being an upconvert, I will say the video was not as problematic as “Samurai Champloo” or “Basilisk” when it came to the discoloration problems.

But the series does benefit from it being a GONZO production and that means beautifully painted backgrounds and solid character design.  I actually enjoyed the animation of “Trinity Blood” as well as the overall look and feel.  From the eyes, free flowing hair, the uniforms.   It’s a very dark but artistic anime series and when it first came out on DVD, many people really enjoyed the overall look.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” shines with the lossless English dub.  From the very first episode, you realize how immersive the English DolbyTrue HD 5.1 soundtrack is as the action and fight sequences literally envelop the soundscape of your home with the center, front and surround channels along with LFE being utilized quite nicely.

Dialogue is clear and understandable.  I know some anime fans will take an offense by the Japanese soundtrack not being lossless but Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0.  But overall, voice acting is well-done on both audio tracks and definitely the English lossless track is the highlight of this Blu-ray release.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” contains the following special features:

DISC 3:

  • Historical Artifacts – Text-based historical information that was used in the anime series.
  • Textless Songs -Featuring the textless theme songs from BUCK-TICK and Tomoko Tane.
  • Trailers – FUNimation Entertainment Trailers

EXTRAS:

“Trinity Blood – The Complete Series” comes in a slipcase and also comes with a 24-page booklet with interviews with light novel character designer Thores Shibamoto, character information, Kadokawa’s Editorial Department are interviewed and discussing how Sunao Yoshida wanted the anime series to be and pretty much giving them the freedom to not follow the original light novel too closely.

When “Trinity Blood” first began, the first thing I was expecting was a steampunk, “Devil May Cry” type of series.  Humans vs. Vampires and a guy who was a vampire helping the humans and my love for the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” TV Series led me to originally watch the series when it was first released on DVD.

But by episode 3, you start to realize that the series is much deeper as it begins to focus on the political and opposing sides of humanity (Terrans) and the New Human Order (Methuselah) and with each episode, the series goes much further into the corruption and politics as there are those who want peace between the two groups and those who will never accept the Methuselah.  While we try to figure how the AX Agents and those of the New Human Order can work together to protect Esther, who may be the next in line for royalty.

The storyline of “Trinity Blood” was definitely far off what I was expecting but nevertheless, I did enjoy how deep the series was and how intricate the storyline would go into the warring factions but part of the difficult of the series is that there are a good number of characters introduced and because the manga series is ongoing and the light novel series never completed, the creators of the anime series had to come up with an ending that would be satisfactory for viewers but also fans of the manga and light novel series.

As for those who have owned the previous DVD series, as mentioned, this is a series that came out in 2005 and is an upconvert.  Video quality is not going to be the greatest upgrade on Blu-ray and it doesn’t have a lossless Japanese soundtrack.  But for those who never purchase the DVD, will probably want to pick it up on Blu-ray and if you enjoy the English dub, you’ll definitely enjoy the lossless soundtrack.

Overall, “Trinity Blood” is going to attract those who love stories with vampires and for those looking for a more deeper and darker anime series on Blu-ray.  Featuring an intricate and deep storyline with strong action elements, “Trinity Blood – the Complete Series” is a series worth checking out!

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The 14 Amazons (a J!-ENT Asian Cinema DVD Review)

March 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Epic, ambitious, action-packed and bloody violence galore!  Martial arts and women who can kick some serious butt can be seen in the film “The 14 Amazons”.  The Shaw Brothers film makes its first appearance on DVD via FUNimation Entertainment’s Hong Kong Connection featuring the restored original master and also featuring the original Mandarin and English dub soundtrack.  If you are a fan of the Shaw Brothers, these DVD releases are definitely recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2005 Celestial Pictures, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The 14 Amazons (Shi si nu ying hano)

DURATION: 117 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: NTSC, Region 1, Anamorphic Widescreen 16×9

RATED: Not Rated: Parental Guidance Suggested

COMPANY: Celestial Pictures/FUNimation Entertainment

Released on March 23, 2010

Directed by Kang Cheng, Shao-yung Tung

Original Screenplay by Yang Kao

Screenplay by Kang Cheng

Produced by Run Run Shaw

Music by Fu-lin Wang

Cinematography by Hsin Chang, Chia Hsin Chu, Chieh Huang, Shan Hua, Shao-yung Tung, Toru Watanabe, Chi Yu

Edited by Hsing-lung Chiang, Kung Wing Fan

Art Direction by Chi-Jui Chen

Costume Design by Chi-Yu Liu

Starring:

Lisa Lu as the Grand matriarch

Ivy Ling Po as Mu Kuei Ying

Chen Yen Yen as Grandmother

Ouyang Sha Fei as Chai Chau Chu

Lily Ho as Yang Wen

Li Ching as Tsou Lan

Huang Chin Feng as Ma Sai Ying

Tina Chin Fei as Tu Chin Ngo

Yeh Ling Chih as Yang Chiu Mei

Liu Wu Chih as Yang Chiu Lan

Shu Pei Pei as Yang Pai Feng

Ching Miao as Wang Ching

Tien Feng as King of Western Xia

Wang Hsieh as First Prince

Nian Kung as Second Prince

Tien Ching as Third Prince

Chin Pei as Fourth Prince

Yuen Biao as Yang soldier

Long before feminism made it to Hong Kong, women proved themselves more than equal to men in this martial arts classic, a forerunner to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Set in ancient China, a matriarchal clan proves as adept with sword, fist, and gravity-defying leaps as anything conjured up by the Crouching Tiger ladies thirty years later.

The cast is a veritable “who’s who” of the golden age of Shaw Brothers swordplay adventures, and was not only a major box office hit (ranking fourth for 1972), but also a top prize winner, including Best Supporting Actress for Lisa Lu, a special citation for outstanding lead female performance for Lily Ho, Best Director for Cheng Kang, and an award for Honorable Mention For Drama.

The Shaw Brothers, the company known for their many releases of Hong Kong films for many decades ran by producer Sir Run Run Shaw, knighted by the British government and founder of Shaw University in Hong Kong and even founded the HK-TVB TV network was a major power behind the company and his third brother Runme Shaw (who founded South Sea Film), the film company would become known as Shaw Brothers Studio and become the first studio to bring Hong Kong cinema with sound in 1934.

The Shaw Brothers have created over a thousand films and with several having been aired on US television and some being released on video, “The 14 Amazons” gets its release on DVD courtesy of Celestial Pictures and FUNimation Entertainment via their Hong Kong Connection line featuring original masters of the original film and both the Mandarin and English dub dialogue.

In 1972, the film “The 14 Amazons” was released in theaters and won Best Director (Cheng Kang), Best Supporting Actress (Lisa Lu), Best Sound Recording and Honorable Mention for Drama for the 11th Golden Horse Awards in 1973 and earn Lily Ho the “Oustanding Female Lead Performance” for the 19th Asian Film Festival (1973).

“The 14 Amazons” (Shu si nu ying hao) begins with General Yang Tsung Pao being ambushed and killed in battle.  He manages to send two of his men back home to their country (Northern Sung) to inform his people of what has happened to them.

Back at home in Northern Sung, the Yang family is ran by the Grand Matriarch (played by Lisa Lu) who has all the daughters celebrating the General’s birthday but the celebrations are quickly dampered when the women are informed that General Pao was ambushed and has been killed while defending his country by the army of the King of Western Xia.

Immediately Genera Pao’s widow Mu Kuei Ying (played by Ivy Ling Po) wants revenge as does his only son Yang Wen (played by Lily Ho) and the heir to the Yang family.  So, the Yang family join together with their countrymen to exact revenge against the King of Western Xia.

The King of Western Xia rules his country with an iron fist and instilling fear to everyone.  With his sons as ruthless as he is and a much larger army outnumbering the Yang family, they look unbeatable.

Who will emerge victorious in the end?

VIDEO:

“The 14 Amazons” is presented in 16:9 and received restoration by Celestial Pictures.  I was absolutely impressed by the restoration since a lot of the older Shaw films I have seen definitely shows its age.  Watching this film, I was impressed by the colors and how the film looks as if it was made recently versus in 1972.  I can definitely imagine how beautiful the print would be on Blu-ray where I’m sure the colors of the film would definitely pop.

The film utilizes quite a bit of colors and since the characters are seen during the outdoors, a good level of natural light is shown through the film.  Details on mountains and lush scenery can be seen and of course, a lot of red for the blood seen on this film.

But aside from the colors which I enjoy, there are some problems that I did find.  There is a blurring effect when the camera pans quickly and also some parts, was not sure if it was intentional (to be artistic) when you see the picture pause for a split second.  Also, one scene where I felt the editing was cut to abruptly.

But overall, aside from those few negatives, it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the film at all.  The restoration of “The 14 Amazons” is quite impressive.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, the film is presented in English Dolby Digital stereo and Mandarin Mono.  Personally, having endured these Shaw films with the terrible (yet humorous) English dubs back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, just watching it again with the English dub just didn’t make sense anymore (unless you get a kick of how bad they were acted).  So, watching it with the Mandarin mono track was my choice and preference.

I felt the English stereo soundtrack was OK but felt the Mandarin mono to be much better.  For listening, I had my receiver set for stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundtrack.

Some may be wondering why the film is presented in Mandarin when Hong Kong films are typically in Cantonese.  The Shaw Brothers Studio had films split into Mandarin and Cantonese.  Kang Cheng spearheaded the Mandarin division and was known for his violent martial arts films which were box office hits for the Shaw Brothers.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The 14 Amazons” comes with trailers of upcoming releases.

EXTRAS:

The DVD comes with a slipcase.

“The 14 Amazons” was actually quite an epic film and at first I was expecting a cheesy film but I was very impressed by the sheer amount of action, violence and also how many talent were featured in this film to showcase the battles between the two clans.  I use the word “epic” but not in the way that you see many people onscreen like John Woo’s “Red Cliff” but for a ’70s film, there’s a lot of extras on this film to create the feeling of war.

And in some ways, I felt that this film was quite ambitious with the amount of obstacles the Yang Family had to endure during their march towards Western Xia and showing the sheer violence of the King and his sons.

Also, different compared to other Hong Kong Wuxia films is that the cast is mostly all female (for the Yang family).  Although General Pao’s remaining son Yang Wen is played by a woman (Lily Ho), the film which the actress really shines in but can see her in other Shaw Bros. films such as “The Golden Knight”, “Jade Faced Assassin”, “Silver Fox” and “Angel” films.

But “The 14 Amazons” was definitely an exciting adventure/martial arts film.  The amount of action and violence worked well with each other as well as having a clan full of women who can kick ass makes things a bit more exciting as well.  Interesting to note is a short early appearance by now world renown martial arts actor Yuen Biao (who trained with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen) who has a role of a Yang soldier.

As for the DVD, I’m glad that you do have the option of the Mandarin or English dub track and the restoration of the film definitely adds to the enjoyment of the film as well.  A shame that there are no special features but then again, since the Shaw Bros. churned out films one after the other, I’m not sure if that type of footage of the making of the film is lost.

But on its own, FUNimation Entertainment and Celestial Pictures are doing a great service for fans of these classic martial arts films by releasing it on DVD in the US.   If you are a fan of the Shaw Brothers, these restored DVD releases are worth watching!

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