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Kiznaiver (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 10, 2018 by · 1 Comment 

If you are looking for an anime series that is short but yet has a solid storyline with cool animation, definitely give “Kiznaiver” a chance!

Image courtesy of © TRIGGER, Mari Okada. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Kiznaiver

DURATION: (12 Episodes) 300 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9), Japanese and English Linear PCM, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex of America Inc.

RATED: Suggested 13 and Up

Release Date: December 26, 2017


Originally Created by Mari Okada

Original Character Design by Shirow Miwa

Directed by Hiroshi Kobayashi

Series Composition: Mari Okada

Music by Yuuki Hayashi

Character Design: Mai Yoneyama

Art Production by Masanobu Nomura

Anime Production: Trigger


Featuring the following voice talent:

Hibiku Yamamura/Natasha Strickey as Noriko Sonozaki

Yuuki Kaji/Ryland Strachan as Katsuhira Agata

Junichi Suwabe/Michael Adamthwaite as Kazunao Yamada

Kōtarō Nishiyama/Hans Wackershauser as Yoshiharu Hisomu

Mie Sonozaki/Jennifer Cameron as Mutsumi Urushibara

Misaki Kuno/Katrina Salisbury as Nico Niyama

Nobunaga Shimazaki/Scott Roberts as Tsuguhito Yuta

Rina Satou/Lori Bachynski as Honoka Maki

Tomoaki Maeno/Lucas Gilbertson as Hajime Tenga

Yuka Terasaki/Caitlynne Medrek as Chidori Takashiro


An original TV anime series by acclaimed animation studio TRIGGER (Kill la Kill) and the renowned writer Mari Okada (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, The Anthem of the Heart).

The story is set in Sugomori-city, built in a reclaimed land, which was once prosperous as a futuristic city. Katsuhira Agata, a high school boy who is living in the city, has a strange body which can feel no pain at all and he doesn’t know why. Before summer vacation, by the guidance of a mysterious girl named Noriko Sonozaki, he is chosen as a member of “Kiznaiver,” a group of people who share pain. Then he finds his classmates who are also connected as “Kiznaiver,” however, they originally belong to different groups that never got along.

Sonozaki says, “This is an experiment to guide the world filled with wars to peace.” Following her words, they have to face various trials.

One summer story of boys and girls who have to share each other’s wounds begins.


From Trigger (“Kill la Kill”), Aniplex and Crunchyroll comes a collaboration that would lead to the anime series “Kiznaiver” written by Mari Okada and features the directorial debut of Hiroshi Kobayashi.

The 12-episode anime series aired on April – June 2016 and now the series will be available on Blu-ray courtesy of Aniplex of America Inc.

“Kiznaiver” begins with an introduction to Katsuhira Agata, an apathetic and emotionless person who suffered something in his past, which changed him for the worst.  He is often bullied and beaten up because he doesn’t care, and because he shows no emotion when being hit, it angers his bullies even more.

He often gets an earful from his childhood friend Chidori Takashiro, who had loved Katsuhira when he used to smile and show emotion but she has been concerned for him since he had changed.

Meanwhile, while getting beaten up, he is rescued by Hajime Tenga.  An impulsive person, who bullies the bullies and protects people he cared about.  But even when rescuing Katsuhira, Hajime is shocked by the lack of emotion from Katsuhira, especially when he was getting beaten and bullied.

One day, a mysterious girl named Noriko Sonozaki, who lacks human kindness and also is emotionless appears to Katsuhira and tells him that his high tolerance to pain and his submissive nature is what leads to him being bullied.  Noriko pushes Katsuhira down a flight of stairs.

When Katsuhira awakes, he is inside an underground hospital facility along with Chidori, Tenga and several others.

Noriko appears and tells them the true nature of the city they live in, Sugumori City and how it was actually created to test a large-scale experiment known as the Kizna system, which connects people through shared pain and suffering, both physical and emotional.

Those who are connected to the Kizna system are known as Kiznaivers.  And Katsuhira and his classmates that they have been selected to become Kiznaivers.  And sharing each other’s pain which allows them to build relationships and bonds with other different people.

But will these individuals, who are very different from each other, actually bond with one another?  And what is the mysterious connection that Noriko has with the other Kiznaivers?


VIDEO:

“Kiznaiver” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16:9). Colors are vibrant and backgrounds are extremely detailed. Character designs are well-done and I like the overall look and style created by Trigger. I didn’t notice any banding issues while watching the series.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Kiznaiver” is presented in Japanese and English Linear PCM.  Voice acting are well-done on both soundtracks and dialogue is crystal clear through the front channels.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Kiznaiver” comes with the opening and ending credits.

EXTRAS:

“Kiznaiver” comes with a slipcase and six collectible pin-up cards.


For those who are looking for an entertaining, sci-fi and short anime series, will no doubt want to check out “Kiznaiver”.

A series about a group of people who find out they are Kiznaiver and were experimented on for world peace via the Kizna System, which connects people through shared pain and suffering, both physically and emotionally.

And we start to see how each of these individuals are suffering through some sort of pain.

The series main protagonist, Katsuhira Agata, is apathetic and barely has any emotions.  While others have certain issues which each episode slowly tries to deconstruct each person and show how they tried to hide their pain, but learn that they need to confront the inner struggle that they deal with, head on.

As one would expect, these individuals are all different in background and style, if I have to make any comparisons, I would like to think of it as a sci-fi “Breakfast Club”, where people are annoyed by each other but slowly become friends.  In the case of “Kiznaiver”, they have a shared pain that they feel from other individuals and are forced to endure it.

As the first eight episodes focuses on the main kiznaiver group, it’s episode 9-12 that explores the mysterious connection that Noriko has with Katsuhira and the others.

For the most part, the anime series is fascinating, as anime series don’t solely focus on character emotions and inner pain as a collective, especially when their pain somehow affects the city they live in. But I did enjoy the series for having a refreshing storyline, cool voice acting (for both Japanese and the English dub) and overall art design.

While the series looks and sounds great in HD, unfortunately the Blu-ray set is lacking when it comes to the special features (just the opening and ending theme only).  But you do get a slipcase and collectible pin-up cards.

Overall, if you are looking for an anime series that is short but yet has a solid storyline with cool animation, definitely give “Kiznaiver” a chance!

Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season (a J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

March 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Blast of Tempest” is a series that captivated me from beginning to end.  “Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season” is rather unique, well-written, unpredictable and complex but the second season was much more enjoyable than the first!  An awesome anime series that I highly recommend!

Image courtesy of © Kyo Shirodaira, Arihide Sano, Ren Saizaki/Zetsuen Project, MBS. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season

DURATION: Episodes 13-26 (300 minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, 16:9 LB, Dolby Digital

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

RATED: Suggested 13 and Up

RELEASE DATE: February 25, 2014

Originally created by Kyo Shirodaira

Directed by Masahiro Ando

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Michiru Oshima

Character Design by Tsunenori Saito

Art Direction by Ayumi Sato, Tomoaki Okada

Mechanical Design by Masahisa Suzuki

Art Design by Ayumi Sato

Anime Production: Bones

Featuring the following voice talent:

Kouki Uchiyama as Yoshino Takigawa

Toshiyuki Toyonaga as Mahiro Fuwa

Miyuki Sawashiro as Hakaze Kusaribe

Hirofumi Nojima as Junichirō Hoshimura

Hiroyuki Yoshino as Tetsuma Kusaribe

Junichi Suwabe as Natsumura Kusaribe

Kana Hanazawa as Aika Fuwa

Miyuki Sawashiro as Hakaze Kusaribe

Nana Mizuki as Evangeline Yamamoto

Rikiya Koyama as Samon Kusaribe

Shintarō Asanuma as Takumi Hayakawa

Yuuki Kaji as Megumu Hanemura

A month has passed since the showdown at Mt. Fuji, but the world is once again thrown into chaos with the appearance of the “Mage of Exodus.” In order to discover the truth behind Aika’s murder, Hakaze decides to return to the past. There, she meets Aika and is told something completely unexpected. If everything happens for a reason, is Aika’s unfortunate death actually a blessing in disguise? All the puzzle pieces finally come together to reveal the shocking truth!

As Yoshino Takagawa and Hakaze Kusaribe begin to work closely together, Hakaze starts to find herself falling in love with Yoshino, unaware that his girlfriend Aika was murdered a year ago.  Meanwhile, Mahiro Fuwa is destined to find out who killed Aika and who her mysterious boyfriend is.  Also unaware that his best friend is the mysterious guy that he has been looking for.

Meanwhile, along comes a guy who may be the Mage of Exodus but also what happens when Hakaze’s love for Yoshino makes her want to go back to the past to find out once and for all, who is responsible for Aikawa Fuwa’s death.

All this and more in the conclusion of “Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season”, now available on DVD from Aniplex of America!

What is “Blast of Tempest”?

In 2009, “Zetsuen no Tempest” was released as a manga by Kyo Shirodaira with illustrations by Arihide Sano and Ren Saizaki. In 2012, the anime series received an anime adaptation courtesy of BONES and in August 2013, Aniplex of America will be releasing the series with the title “Blast of Tempest” with the first season (first 12 episodes) on DVD.

The series is directed by Masahiro Ando (“Sword of the Stranger”, “Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home” and “CANAAN”), series composition by Mari Okada (“AKB0048”, “Aria – The Natural”, “Anel Tales”, “CANAAN”), music by Michiru Oshima (“Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Gokusen”, “Arc the Lad”, “Gokusen”), character designs by Tsunenori Saito (“Sword of the Stranger”, “Towanoquon”, “Halo Legends”) and art direction by Ayumi Sato (“The World God Only Knows”, “Heroman”, “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2” and “Eureka 7: Astral Ocean”) and Tomoaki Okada (“Banner of the Stars”, “Darker than Black”, “Crest of the Stars”, “Star Driver”, “Wolf’s Rain”).

“Blast of Tempest” begins with an introduction to two teenage students, Yoshino Takigawa and Mahiro Fuwa. Mahiro gives his step-sister Aika a ride back home and with her attitude towards Mahiro, Fuwa believes that his sister dislikes his friend.

Meanwhile, we see a woman breaking out of a barrel and is stranded in an uninhabited island. Her name is Hakaze Kusaribe, the leader of the Kusaribe clan and the “Mage of Genesis”, a princess who’s goal is to protect the “Tree of Genesis”, which is the source of magic used by her clan. But it appears that she was betrayed by her aide named Samon, who had put her in the well and put her in an island to block out any of use her mage powers. His intention, to awaken the Tree of Exodus to prevent the advent of the Tree of Genesis, which he and the Kusaribe clan believe will recreate the world and destroy mankind.

Fast foward to the near future and it was revealed that Aika was murdered and Fuwa has not been seen for months after the incident.

As Yoshino wonders what has happened to Fuwa, a woman named Evangeline Yamamoto arrives and with her weapons, threatens to kill Yoshino unless he provides her with information in regards to his connection to Mahiro. Yoshino explains that he has not seen Mahiro in months and that he has been mourning the death of his sister, Aika.

All of a sudden, butterflies show up everywhere and we see how humanity has been affected with some strange disease that turns people into metal. But as Yoshino tries to fight back and escape, Evangeline shows how dangerous she can be and before she hurts him, out of nowhere, Mahiro teleports and beats Evangeline.

Mahiro explains to Yoshino that he was given this power by a mage named Hakaze, who he can communicate via a wooden doll that Hakaze had made (and Mahiro found it inside a bottle on the beach). Hakaze makes a deal with Mashiro that she would find Aika’s murder in exchange for his help in stopping the resurrection of the Tree of Exodus.

Yoshino decides to help Mahiro find out who murdered Aika as well, but what is his real motivation of assisting Mahiro? Meanwhile, Yoshino is given some of Hakaze’s power via a magical talisman that has been left behind in the city. As Mahiro and Yoshino try to find the murderer and the magic talismans, they receive word from Hakaze that there is no magic to track the culprit, which can only mean that a member of her clan may be responsible.

But with Hakaze now brought back to the world of the living and everyone willing to work together to prevent the elimination of the human race, things become more complicated as Yoshino is suspected of being the Mage of Exodus as he and Hakaze grow closer.  As Hakaze’s emotions for Yoshino eventually becomes a realization of love, others start to wonder if Yoshino is manipulating Hakaze.

But what happens when a young man shows up with abilities to show that he may be the Mage of Exodus.

Meanwhile, the investigation to the death of Aika Fuwa has yielded no results for the groups, especially as they depend on Mahiro’s efforts in saving the world.  But what happens when Hakaze, who’s love for Yoshino, makes her want to go into the past and find out who is responsible for the death of Aika?  Could it be Yoshino?  Could it be a future her?  Or something else more sinister?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Blast of Tempest” is an anime series that I expected wonderful animation, especially with director Masahiro Ando behind-the-scenes. When it comes to BONES anime productions, Masahiro Ando is one of my favorite directors because he brings quality to a film or animated series and having watched “Blast of Tempest”, I am absolutely pleased with the animation. From character designs, shading to lighting, Tsunenori Saito and staff did a wonderful job in bringing out the emotion of the characters but also to capture the action and the mechanical designs as planes and tanks go to war against the unknown.

And as one can expect from BONES, the art direction by Ayumi Sato and Tomoaki Okada is absolutely beautiful. From oceans, forests, hills, cities and just the ambiance of a certain area, they captured the environment with wonderful detail.

While I wished this series was released on Blu-ray, as some Aniplex releases are released in Japanese with English subtitles on DVD, perhaps this series will receive a Blu-ray release in the future with an English dub included.

For now, the series is presented in 16:9 LB with audio in Japanese linear PCM stereo with English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season” features the following special features:

  • Textless OP – “Blast of Tempest” opening theme without text.
  • Textless ED – “Blast of Tempest” ending theme without text.

EXTRAS:

“Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season” comes with a slipcover with a 2-sided reversible cover, a 16-page special booklet and a reversible mini-poster.

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After watching the first season of “Blast of Tempest”, I was instantly captivated by the first season as it delved with a complex story about the Tree of Genesis and the Tree of Exodus, a yin and yang storyline which involved characters from both sides, wanting to protect each other’s interests.

We were introduced to the character of Mashiro Fuwa, is a boy who has been born under privilege and has always been treated differently because his family comes from a powerful background. While Yoshino was the person who rather keep to himself and not be involved in anything. Due to circumstances, Yoshino ended up having to help Mashiro and in the process, their relationship was not of mere friendship, as one would think. But a friendship of convenience.

The first season went into how this friendship lasted from their younger years to their older years, it is because of one important connection which one will find out as the series progresses.

But it’s the protagonist Yoshino that you are amazed to see how his storyline unfolds as each layer is peeled and you get to see a side of him that he has kept secret all this time. But how damaging will his secret be? And for Mashiro, why is his drive to find Aika’s killer, made him change to this person only seeking nothing but revenge?

The other storyline that captivates you is the storyline that surrounds the character Hakaze. She appears to be a beautiful, naive teenager but in truth, she is the powerful “Mage of Genesis”, born to be the leader representing the “Tree of Genesis” and like the concept of ying and yang, opposing the “Tree of Genesis” is the “Tree of Exodus”. Both trees locked up into an epic battle that has spawned generations and for Hakaze, she has been left on an island, hidden by a sphere and no way to use her power to leave the area.

Kept on the island, as a viewer, you feel bad for the character because she doesn’t have a mean spirit. If anything, she wants to help Mashiro and Yoshino find the murderer of Aika, but she needs their help to get her out of the island. And thus, it becomes a cat and mouse game as the Kusaribe clan now led by Hakaze’s former aid Samon sends his clan after Mashiro and Yoshino, but unlike regular humans, they have been given part of Hakaze’s power to defend themselves and others.

By the second season, there was no doubt that the storyline would become much more complex as it interweaves a story that now goes from more-action, to something more emotional but also incorporates the Shakespeare stories of “Hamlet” (a tragedy) and it’s opposite storyline of “The Tempest” (which was not a tragedy).

The second season features both Yoshino and Hakaze growing as not just people trying to solve a problem in the world, but Hakaze’s emotions as a teenager, noticing that she is starting to fall deeply in love with Yoshino, but at the same time, trying to keep her emotions in check, knowing that he has a girlfriend (unaware that his girlfriend was mysteriously killed a year prior).

As Mahiro continues his path for revenge in the name of Aika, a step-sister that he, himself had loved.  But also wanting to know who her mysterious boyfriend was.  Not knowing that his best friend, Mahiro, was secretly dating her behind his back.

And when those who have worked with Hakaze start to worry that Yoshino may be the Mage of Exodus, because of the way that he is able to affect Hakaze’s emotions.  Another person shows up, claiming to be the Mage of Exodus.

And as we start to see a mystery storyline combined with a teenage romance drama, things start to escalate as the search for Aika Fuwa’s murderer comes into play but also the final fight and a revelation that surrounds both the Tree of Genesis and the Tree of Exodus.

Suffice to say, while the first season was driven by it’s action, the second season is much more complex, much deeper and more satisfying because it becomes more character-based, more emotional and we get to see each episode escalate until the final battle at the end of the series.And I love the fact that the series does end rather nicely (so keep watching the credits).

Because of its character development and its complex but yet fascinating and enjoyable storyline, “Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season” was much better than the first.  I understand those who expected an all out action series may be disappointed that the action of season two doesn’t match up with season one, but personally, I would rather have more a better storyline, better character integration rather than banal action.

With this DVD release, the animation looks great and the Japanese voice acting is top-notch, but it is without an English dub which may detract people from this DVD release.

As for Aniplex swag, you do get a slipcover, a 16-page special booklet and reversible mini-power plus a 2-sided reversible cover. The booklet features episode synopsis and character artwork. While the poster features Yoshino, Mashiro and Hakaze on one side, while Aika, not Hakaze along with Mashiro and Yoshino is featured on the other side.

Overall, “Blast of Tempest” is a series that captivated me from beginning to end. It’s unique, unpredictable and complex series that was well-written and is a smart series that you just don’t see coming along often.  The fact that the second season focused on better writing, less on banal action and better use of character integration was rather well-planned.  The emotional/romantic elements in my opinion, made the second season much more captivating and a better written second half compared to the first.

If you are looking for a deep anime series that combines action, mystery and romantic drama, “Blast of Tempest: Complete 2nd Season” is highly recommended!

AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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If you enjoy sci-fi anime but with an idol twist, whether you are a Shoji Kawamori, AKB48 or just wanting something different and entertaining, “AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is recommended!  The second season features a much more serious tone and also features awesome AKB48 music and plenty of action!

Image courtesy of © 2013 SATELIGHT/PROJECT AKB0048. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 13 Episodes (325 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks

RATING: TV 14 V

Release Date: September 3, 2013

Originally Created by Shoji Kawamori

Chief Director: Shoji Kawaori

Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Hiroshi Takaki, Slavomir Stanislaw Kowalewski

Character Design by Risa Ebata

Art Director: Akira Ito

Mechanical Design by Shoji Kawamori, Stanislas Brunet

Art Design by Thomas Romain, Yann Le Gall

Anime Production by Satelight

Backgrounds by Hyoin Entertainment, Korea Easter Studio, Studio Easter

Featuring the following voice talent:

Amina Satō/Monica Rial as Yuuka Ichijō

Haruka Ishida/Genevieve Simmons as Kanata Shinonome

Karen Iwata/Luci Christian as Nagisa Motomiya

Kumi Yagami/Juliet Simmons as Sonata Shinonome

Mao Mita/Molly Searcy as Makoto Yokomizo

Mayu Watanabe/Emily Neves as Chieri Sono

Sawako Hata/Caitlynn French as Suzuko Kanzaki

Sayaka Nakaya/Brittney Karbowski as Orine Aida

Sumire Satō/Carli Mosier as Mimori Kishida

Akemi Kanda/Tiffany Terell as Yūko Oshima the 9th

Ayako Kawasumi/Beth Lazarou as Sayaka Akimoto the 11th

Kana Ueda/Allison Sumrall as Tomomi Itano the 11th (Tomochin)

Mai Nakahara/Shannon Emerick as Sae Miyazawa the 10th

Mamiko Noto/Nancy Novotny as Haruna Kojima the 8th (Kojiharu)

Miyuki Sawashiro/Sasha Paysinger as Atsuko Maeda the 13th (Acchan)

Momoka Kinoshita/Meaghan Avocado as Megumi Wanibuchi

Ryoko Shiraishi/Cynthia Martinez as Minami Takahashi the 5th (Takamina)

Yui Horie/Margaret McDonald as Yuki Kashiwagi the 9th (Yukirin)

Yukari Tamura/Hayley Adams as Mayu Watanabe Type 3 (Mayuyu)

The road trip to war has already been brutal for the 77th generation of understudies to AKB0048, the combination singing group and combat squad seeking to bring peace and entertainment back to the universe. However, the competition between the individual candidates, as well as the remaining 75th and 76th generation understudies, is about to get even rougher. With the opportunity to become a successor to one of the original members of the legendary singing squad hanging in the balance, the fights on stage and on the battlefield will become even more cutthroat, and things are only going to get nastier when it turns out that someone has been feeding critical information to the opposing DES forces. Will the revelation of the source of the Kiraras prove to be a deadly misstep in the intricate choreography that’s allowed the team to keep dancing out of danger? Will public opinion prove to be more important than actual skill and valor as the squad undergoes a series of grueling trials by fan? The harmony and harmonization that’s held this band of sisters together will be pushed to the breaking point in AKB0048: NEXT STAGE!

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In the first season of “AKB0048”, we have watched a group of young girls who dreamed to become entertainers during an era where entertainment has been banned.

We have watched Nagisa, Chieri and friends go through the grueling training sessions, to grow as kenkyuusei (research students) and become members of AKB0048 but now as AKB0048 members, it’s the next step of their career, to be part of handshake sessions, to be on televisions and magazines but also take part in the general elections to see who will become the center of AKB0048.

Meanwhile, there are a few things happening behind-the-scenes, Yuko is trying to find out what happened to Atsuko Maeda; Chieri’s father has taken a major interest in his daughter’s popularity; and the government tries to increase their DES forces to take on AKB0048.  But also, behind-the-scenes, one of the members of AKB0048 may be working for the other side?

Get into the idol groove and sci-fi action with the second season of AKB0048 with the Blu-ray release of “AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection”!

What is “AKB0048”?

Shoji Kawamori, one of the well-known anime creators in the industry and well-known to fans of mecha anime series.

Kawamori was the original series concept creator for “The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross”, creator of “Macross Plus, “Macross Zero”, “Macross Frontier” and also created series such as “The Vision of Escaflowne”, “Aquarion Evol” and many countless mecha anime, as well as a mechanical designer for “Ghost in the Shell”, “Dangaih”, “Glass Fleet”, “Eureka Seven” and many more.

In 2012, Kawamori went to work on his new anime series “AKB0048”, an anime series that ties the mega popular idol group from Japan, AKB48 and sets the story in the distant future where entertainment is banned and a rogue group that continues to bring entertainment to the masses is AKB0048. Trained as idols but also to train warfare to fight against the DES (anti-entertainment) and their large mecha.

With AKB48 creator Yasushi Akimoto as an executive producer, the anime production would be done by Satelight and bringing in talent such as director Yoshimasa Hiraike (“Solty Rei”, “Kaleido Star”, “Aria – The Natural”), writer Mari Okada (“Vampire Knight”, “Black Butler”, “Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”, “Red Garden”), composer Hiroshi Takaki (“Beet the Vandel Buster”, “Tytania”, “Kaidan Restaurant”), character design by Risa Ebata (“Macross Frontier”, “Macross FB7: Ore no Uta o Kike!”, “Prism Ark”) and art direction by Akira Ito (“Bodacious Space Pirates”, “Durarara!!”, “Elfen Lied”).

“AKB0048” is set in the 21st century after Earth’s ecosystem was badly damaged by interplanetary war and humanity had to flee the planet. As humanity populated other planets to create a new society, any entertainment that would affect humanity such as music and art has been declared as forbidden.

48 years later, a rogue group known as AKB0048 modeled after the idol pop group AKB48 was created in which members are chosen through auditions to train and those with special talent will become the latest generation of the original member’s name. So, a person can be the successor of Minami Takahashi (Takamina), the next Atsuko Maeda (Acchan), the next Yuko Oshima, and so on.

While AKB0048 are looked at as hero’s for those who support entertainment, they are branded as terrorist by anti-entertainment establishments.

One day, four young girls: Nagisa Motomiya, Chieri Sono, Orine Aida and Yuuka Ichijou snuck into a tunnel to watch AKB0048 perform and were touched by their music and saw them fight against the DES, who are sent by the government to stop them. The four declared that when they get older, they will be come members of AKB0048.

Fast forward many years later and the girls are now teenagers. Nagisa, Orine and Yuuka find out that AKB0048 will be throwing auditions and the group can now make their dreams come true.

For Nagisa Motomiya, it’s not that easy. Her father works for the government to ban all entertainment activities and forbids her from dancing, putting up posters of AKB0048 in her room. And as Nagisa wants to badly attend the audition, she know her father will not let her.

Orine decides to leave her job at the metal factory to pursue her auditions, while Yuuka turns down a relationship with the boy she likes to pursue her dream of becoming a member of AKB0048.

As for Chieri, it is revealed that her father is responsible for creating the DES mecha that attack AKB0048 and she has been declared as missing.

But all four girls made a promise to pursue their dreams to become members of AKB0048 and the four have gone through a lot of training in order to become members of AKB0048.

Originally as training members, the girls have now began to shine as members of AKB0048, but now their training has gotten to become much more challenging as they must take part in television, photo sessions, general elections and more!

Meanwhile, there may be a spy amongst AKB0048 and Chieri’s father is starting to become very interested in his daughter’s progress in AKB0048.  Why is that?

The main characters of “AKB0048” are:

  • Nagisa Motomiya – A 13-year-old who can’t sing or dance that great but she dreams to become a member of AKB0048. The problem is her father works for the government and is involved in banning all entertainment activities.
  • Chieri Sono – The daughter of the CEO who builds the mecha for the DES. She is a fan of AKB0048 and can’t stand the fact that her father makes the weapons that tries to hurt AKB0048 and thus runs away from home to pursue her dream career to be a member of AKB0048. Chieri is often with a Kirara that she found when she was young at her first AKB0048 concert. A kirara can detect idol radiance and it upsets her that the Kirara has never glowed around her but only Nagisa, so she looks at Nagisa as her rival.
  • Orine Aida – A friend of Nagisa who worked at the factory after the death of her parents. She dreams of being the successor to Sashiko.
  • Yuuka Ichijou – A 14-year-old with a fiery temper and is very protective of her friends.
  • Suzuko Kanzaki – An AKB0048 trainee who wears glasses and knows a lot about AKB history but is not interested in becoming a successor.
  • Sonata Shinonome – A ten-year-old who failed the first round of the audition but sneaks aboard to audition for AKB0048. Her older sister is Kanata.
  • Makoto Yokomizo – A trainee who is often scared and stressed out about her body.
  • Kanata Shinonome – Sonata’s older sister and part of the unlucky 75th Generation who have not been able to join AKB0048 for some apparent reason. A big fan of the current Takamina.
  • Mimori Kishida – A 17-year-old who loves pheromones and often sings alongside Kanata and also belongs to the unlucky 75th Generation.
  • Megumi Wanibuchi – A 76th generation trainee who is resentful of others that came after her who have become successors. She is good friends with the current Sae (Youko).
  • Yuko Oshima the 9th – Current AKB0048 member. Her dream is to become the “Center Nova” and wants to know what happened to the previous Center Nova’s.
  • Minami Takahashi the 5th – Current AKB0048 member and the Team Captain. She is affected when the Kirara show the new successor for Takamina and it’s no longer her. Torn between graduating and her desire to stay as the current Takamina.
  • Tomomi Itano the 11th – Like the original Tomomi Itano, from a long line of Tomochin, she also lacks taste (and can eat anything).
  • Sayaka Akimoto the 10th – The fitness enthusiast of AKB0048.
  • Yuki Kashiwagi the 6th – A current member of AKB0048.
  • Haruna Kojima the 8th – A member of AKB0048 who loves pheromones.
  • Sae Miyazawa the 10th – A member of the 76th Generation who became successor of Sae.
  • Mayu Watanabe Type 3 – An android that has a gun built into her forearm and current member of AKB0048.
  • Atsuko Maeda the 13th – A former member of AKB0048 who was the Center Nova and mysteriously disappeared during a performance like two other previous Center Novas.
  • Tsubasa Katagiri – AKB0048’s manager and producer, formerly known as Mariko Shinoda the 7th. She was with Atsuko Maeda when she disappeared and joined management to find out what happened to Acchan.
  • Sensei Sensei – The mysterious head of AKB0048.
  • Mr. Ushiyama – The choreographer of AKB0048.
  • Mikako Minamino – A photographer of AKB0048 and in reality is Minami Minegishi the 5th of AKB0048. She makes a vow to Tsubasa that she will never ever let the Center Nova happen again.

Here is a brief spoiler-free synopsis of what happens in “AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection”:

  • EPISODE 14 – It is announced that the AKB0048 General Elections will return and fans can nominate kenkyuusei and successors to participate in a single.  Also, the revival of the Center Nova position.
  • EPISODE 15 – Chieri has been captured by DES and her trial is being broadcasted throughout space.  Can AKB0048 rescue her?
  • EPISODE 16 – The understudies must participate in a pre-election handshake, but Chieri is concerned that her new popularity was not by her talent but by her dad’s work.
  • EPISODE 17 – It’s the day of the General Elections, but Chieri said that she will quit AKB0048 if she is announced as one of the top 10.
  • EPISODE 18 – The 77th generation of AKB0048 must infiltrate a nearby military base.
  • EPISODE 19 – When images of Atsuko is shown via the Kirara of Succession, it is foretold that someone will be the successor of Atsuko Maeda.
  • EPISODE 20 – Mimori suddently becomes sick with a fever, why has she suddenly become sick?
  • EPISODE 21 – Why is Yuko practicing alone?  Yuko makes an important decision.
  • EPISODE 22 – The traitor has been revealed.
  • EPISODE 23 – The trainees must go to a planet and gather data and Yuka and Orine come across strange creatures.
  • EPISODE 24 – Chieri and Nagisa arrive on Sagittariusstar, home of Chieri.  But Chieri reveals to Nagisa of why she ran away from home.
  • EPISODE 25 – A major death, meanwhile the WOTA try to take back Akibstar which was taken by the DGTO.
  • EPISODE 26 – FINAL EPISODE: AKB0048 returns to Akibastar to perform but instead, they find an audience who feel betrayed by AKB0048 and unite against them.  Can AKB0048 win them back?  And the successor to Atsuko Maeda is revealed.

akb0048-s2-c

VIDEO:

“AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is presented in 1080p High Definition and as one can expect from a Shoji Kawamori anime series, the anime series looks absolutely fantastic. Character designs are done amazingly well, backgrounds are one of the best I have seen for a TV series with a lot of detail, vibrant colors and I did not see any problems with artifacts or major banding issues.

For a TV series, I was very impressed by the anime production from Satelight. Everything about this series is full of detail, great use of CG. Mechanical designs as one can be expected from a Kawamori series is well-done! Definitely one of the better, high-budget produced TV series that I have watched.

“AKB0048” looks magnificent on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is presented in Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue and music is crystal clear, I do wish this series was given a 5.1 soundtrack for better dynamic range and more immersive sound from the surround channels but for the most part, for this lossless stereo track, dynamic range for a stereo track is clear and understandable and sounds good via the front channel speakers.

While I do prefer the Japanese soundtrack over the English dub, I did watch the second season with English dub and while some characters are well-cast, the one thing that irked me a bit is that the pronunciations of the names are inconsistent.  The biggest example is the name Atsuko Maeda (a prominent member of the real AKB48 and while not a main protagonist of AKB0048, her storyline is even more important in “Next Stage”), there are occasions where the voice talent got the name down in terms of pronunciation.  But for “Next Stage”, Maeda (mah-e-da) has been changed to Madea (mah-day-ah).  Atsuko was pronounced as Atsuku.

But unless you are an AKB48, perhaps most people will not notice.  But as an AKB48 fan and also having loved the first season, to hear the name of Atsuko Maeda’s name incorrectly pronounced a few times was a bit of a surprise.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” comes with the Japanese promos and clean opening and ending animation.

akb0048-s2-d

As a fan of Shoji Kawamori’s work and a fan of AKB48, my interested in the anime series “AKB0048” is quite biased.

As a mecha fan, especially a “Macross” fan, you can’t help but be in awe of Kawamori’s work. And to see this collaboration with Yasushi Akimoto and tapping into the popular AKB48 fandom, the whole concept involving AKB48 and the training as kenkyuusei (idol trainees), handshake events, gravure shots, the wota fans, etc. and incorporating it into an anime series is rather fascinating.

But let’s discuss what I enjoyed about this anime series. Having watched Akimoto’s “Ice” and utilizing AKB48 members in his animated film, I’m glad that he tapped into notable talents for this series. Kawamori’s work not only brings attention, but it also entices mecha fans because you know that it will be a sci-fi-based series. The other thing is tapping into writer Mari Okada, one of the more talented anime writers in Japan at this time. And last to incorporate the popularity of AKB48, you have the original music, the use of the original member names plus a new AKB48 sub-unit, No Name, singing the opening and ending theme.

With the second season of “AKB0048” titled “AKB0048: Next Stage”, the situation is much different than the first season.  The first season focused on the core four becoming trainees and going through major training and getting involved in AKB48 activities, but with the second season, the series starts to include as many characters who are trainees and current members of AKB0048.  So, the character of Yuko plays a major important role this time around and also Mimori.  While for the trainees, it focuses more on Chieri and Nagisa, moreso for the character of Chieri.

So, the focus on certain characters is much more prominent this time around and what I liked about the first season is the training, the challenges and camaraderie.

The camraderie is still evident in season two, but not like the first season.  This time, there are higher stakes involved as being a member of AKB0048 and things become more chaotic and hostile, one character also ends up getting killed.  So, there is somewhat of a serious tone for the final episodes for season two.

But I do love the fact that it features an huge cast. To know AKB48G (the AKB48 groups), there are many members of Team A, Team K, Team B and their sister groups in Japan right now and as a fan, I don’t know everyone’s names but I love the fact that the series features a lot of names based on real-life AKB members and pays homage with the successor and the Center Nova storyline.

For “AKB0048: Next Season”, they also dwell on the General Elections and incorporate some of the real-life senbatsu election situations that happened to actual AKB48 members to the AKB0048 characters.  Such as Chieri’s walking to the stage and having a hard-time breathing (a common situations for real life AKB48 member Yui Yokoyama), the character of Haruna Kojima giving her speech is exactly the same as Mayu Watanabe’s frustration speech in the second general election and more.  Also, the tie-in of the real life Minami Minegishi scandal to the Minami Minegishi of AKB0048 is touched upon a little in the series.

But there is also a deep storyline about entertainment not being allowed in society and music used to defeat the enemy, a connection to Kawamori’s “Macross” work as music played a big part in the original series and also “Macross 7”.

For AKB48 fans, several AKB48 members are voice talent in this series. Karen Iwata has the lead role as Nagisa but you also have Mayu Watanabe playing Chieri and many others in their first time as voice actresses.

As for the Blu-ray release, “AKB0048: Next Season” features stunning visual backgrounds, beautiful character designs especially the close-up of the eyes, the use of CG in combination with the artwork… for a TV series, you can tell that this was a higher budget anime series as their is detail galore in “AKB0048”. On Blu-ray, the anime series looks stunning and colorful and it is by far one of the most impressive looking anime series on Blu-ray.

As for audio, if there was one small thing that I wished, it would be the fact that I would have loved to have heard a more immersive 5.1 lossless soundtrack considering the action and the music featured in the series. Both soundtracks are good, but while I am biased towards the Japanese soundtrack, I did watch the English dub soundtrack and the inconsistent pronunciation of Atsuko Maeda’s name (sometimes pronounced as Madea or Atsuku) was a bit irritating.

And as far as special features go, there is only the Japanese promos and clean opening and ending animation.  Nothing else.  I was hoping the No Name music videos would have been included.

Overall, I absolutely enjoyed the “AKB0048” series and while I enjoyed the more upbeat and fun antics featured in season one much more over season two, the more serious tone in season two was no doubt bound to happen as fun and games are over and the trainees had to learn that to become a member of AKB0048, there is a lot of work involved and also the importance of the general elections and winning your fans over.  But also the importance of being a center and also a successor.

I know that idol-based anime series is not for everyone. From the old school “Hummingbird” OVA’s to the “Idolm@ster” anime and video games, I enjoyed them and as for “AKB0048”, I think it’s the best idol-based anime series that I have ever seen and the fact that Shoji Kawamori is tied to the series and brought his attention to quality and mecha makes “AKB0048” even more special.

If you enjoy sci-fi anime but with an idol twist, whether you are a Shoji Kawamori, AKB48 or just wanting something different and entertaining, “AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is recommended!

Aquarion Evol: Part One (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

aquarion-evol

If you enjoyed the original “Aquarion”, “Aquarion Evol: Part One” is an action-packed and fun mecha anime series worth recommending!

Image courtesy of © 2013 FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Aquarion Evol: Part One

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: Episodes 1-13

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0, Subtitles: English subtitles

COMPANY: FUNimation

RATING: TV 14 V

Release Date: December 3, 2013

Originally Created by Shoji Kawamori

Chief Director: Shoji Kawamori

Directed by Yusuke Yamamoto

Series Composition: Mari Okada

Screenplay by Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Mari Okada, Masahiro Yokotani, Shinsuke Onishi

Music by Ayako Otsuka, Yoko Kanno 

Original Character Design: Chinatsu Kurahana, Kana Ishida

Character Design by  Hirotaka Marufuji, Kana Ishida

Art Direction by Shunichiro Yoshihara

Mechanical Design by Stanislas Brunet, Takeshi Takakura

Anime Production by 8-Bit, Satelight

Backgrounds by Studio Biho

Featuring the following voice talent:

Ai Kayano/Brina Palencia as Mikono Suzushiro

Yuuki Kaji/Christopher Bevins as Amata Sora

Ayumi Fujimura/Alexis Tipton as MIX

Daisuke Namikawa/Eric Vale as Shrade Elan

Hiroki Yasumoto/Mike McFarland as Izumo Kamurogi

Jun Fukushima/Todd Haberkorn as Jin Muso

Junichi Suwabe/Justin Cook as Donar Dantes

Kana Hanazawa/Caitlin Glass as Zessica Wong

Keiji Fujiwara/Brandon Potter as Fudo Zen

Kenichi Suzumura/Jason Liebrecht as Cayenne Suzushiro

Kensuke Satou/Ian Sinclair as Malloy

Kouki Uchiyama/Taliesin Jaffe as Kagura

Kousuke Toriumi/Josh Grelle as Andy W Hole

Megumi Nakajima/Tia Ballard as Sazanka Bianca

Sakura Tange/Carrie Savage as Crea Drosera

Sanae Kobayashi as Suomi

Yui Ogura/Luci Christian as Yunoha Suroor (Thrul)

Yūichi Nakamura/J. Michael Tatum as Mikage Towano

With Kanuka having returned to New York, the search is on for her replacement as Ohta’s backup. The pressure on Shinshi to step up is so severe that he contemplates leaving for a civilian job. At the same time, the powers that be are taking the opportunity to make some other sweeping changes, introducing an experienced new member to the team in the form of Takeo Kumagami.

However, the addition of another female to the SV2 is the least of Noa’s problems. A new series of stunning Labor-related crimes rapidly escalates into an all out war against the Mobile Police. Unlike any previous encounters, the SV2 are now up against a superior form of Labor – and possibly even better pilots! And just to make the disaster complete, the Police Chief’s proposed new economic move to cheaper Labors may ultimately result in the scrapping of Division 2’s Ingrams. As the terrifying Griffin stalks the streets and skies of Tokyo, the Second Special Vehicles Division must fight a battle for survival on multiple fronts!

The sequel to the 2005 anime series “Genesis of Aquarion”, “Aquarion Evol” brings us back to the same universe but 12,000 years after the original series.

Mankind is now living on the planet Vega but all of a sudden, humanity is under threat by those from the planet Altair, a female population that was wiped out by a mysterious disease known as “Curs eof Eve”.

Similar to Shadow Angels, the Alteans have invaded the cities and are trying to steal all female inhabitants to preserve their race.

But to defend humanity is the Neo-DEAVA organization which pairs males to females and each pilot a machine known as Aquaria.

Can the Aquaria defeat the Alteans? Find out in “Aquarion Evol: The Complete Series”, now available on Blu-ray+DVD combo from Funimation!

What is Aquarion?

For anime fans, Shoji Kawamori and Hiroshi Onogi are both a legendary anime industry powerhouse duo.  The two are known for their work on the popular “Macross” (parts of the storyline is known in the US as “Robotech”)  and “Macross Plus” series.

Kawamori is also known for creating anime series such as “The Vision of Escaflowne”, “Earth Girl Arjuna” and known for his mechanical designs from Macross but also for series such as “Eureka Seven”, “Dangaio” and “Ghost in the Shell”.

Hiroshi Onogi is known for his many screenplays and writing for anime such as “RahXephon”, “Eureka Seven”, “Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo” and many other titles.

The two teamed up together again in 2005 with the anime studio Satelight, Inc. (a studio in which Kawamori is an Executive Director) to create the series known as  “Genesis of Aquarion” (Sosei no Aquarion) which aired on TV Tokyo from April 2005 to September 2005.  And in Japan, whenever Kawamori and Onogi team up, fans can always expect an entertaining and deep anime series.

“AQUARION” takes place during a time in the planet in which human kind is facing near extinction.  The series takes place during a time when “The Great Catastrophe” had destroyed many areas around the world with many of the humans now living on the streets.  After the catastrophe, the Shadow Angels (winged-beings that have been dormant for nearly 12,000 years have re-appeared on Earth and use humans (aka “wingless ones”) to harvest on.

Humans have become food for the Shadow Angels, who depend on humans to supply them with prana (life force) as a source of energy but also to feed their Tree of Life.

A human named Gen Fudou had excavated three advanced mecha fighters with absolute strength and the power to defend human kind against the Shadow Angels.  With Fudou gone missing, an organization known as Deava is responsible for the three machines known as Vectors and researching them and how it behaves in battle against the Shadow Angels but most importantly, how certain humans that are known to be “Element Users” can pilot and control them but can combine the vectors to create a powerful machine known as Aquarion.

Depending on which element users are using the machine, they can turn Aquarion into the following forms: Solar Aquarion, Aquarion Luna, Aquarion Mars, Aquarion Soluna and Aquarion Angel.

The series focuses on the adventures of the element users who work together and face challenges in their lives as pilots.  A lot of them don’t know their true potential and a lot of them don’t know the potential of the Aquarion, but everything changes when they encounter a young man living on the streets known as Apollo (who appears to have element capabilities)  but also a return of the man who discovered the Vectors, Gen Fudou.

Aside from the battle between the humans and the Shadow Angels, there is also a storyline about reincarnation and how certain element users may be tied to the ancient past.  We also learn about the drive of the Shadow Angels, especially with the character of a Shadow Angel named Toma who has this hatred towards the humans and we slowly discover why.

Fast forward 12,000 years later and now we have…”Aquarion Evol”.

What is Aquarion Evol?

In 2011, “Aquarion Evol” was announced in Japan.

Wanting to explore character reincarnations and a connection of the original series and the sequel 12,000 years later, “Aquarion Evol” was created and aired on TV Tokyo in Japan in 2012.

The series is directed by Yusuke Yamamoto (“Sgt. Frog”, “Welcome to the NHK”, “B Gata H Kei – Yamada’s First Time”), series composition by Mari Okada (“AKB0048”, “Angel Tales”, “Darker Than Black”, “Black Rock Shooter”, “Black Butler” series), music by Ayako Otsuka and Yoko Kanno (“Aquarion”, “Cowboy Bebop”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone complex”, “Macross Plus”), character design by Hirotaka Marufuji (“Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story”, “Nobunaga the Fool”), Kana Ishida (“Eden of the East: Paradise Lost”, “Mahoka Koko no Rettosei”) and art backgrounds by Shunichiro Yoshida (“Ah! My Goddess”, “Attack on Titan”, “Giant Robo”, “Gurren Lagann”).

In the future, the Neo-DEAVA has been protecting the planet Vega.  But one day, the Alteans from the planet Altair have attacked Vega and are kidnapping the women and girls in order to preserve their race.

During that day, a young man named Amata Sora, who has the element power of Anti-Gravity (which he has a hard time controlling when he is excited) which he tries to keep secret, goes on a date with Mikono Suzushiro, a fellow movie lover.

But as it looks as if Neo-DEAVA is about to be defeated and before Amata and Mikono are nearly killed, Amata Sora activates the sealed power of Aquarion Evol. a process that allows male and female to to unite to form a mecha robot known as Aquarion Evol.  A long banned union that no one has tried for a very long time.

Because Amata and Mikono have unsealed Aquarion Evol, Neo-DEAVA makes the two join their forces and seeing the power of Aquarion Evol., Neo-DEAVA becomes a co-ed institutional but there is one strict rule: No one is allowed to fall in love with each other if they are in a program together.

As Neo-DEAVA wants to build the program with their male and female students, Kagura of Altair has developed an obsession towards Mikono’s scent and wants her badly.  But can Amata protect Mikono from him and will Neo-DEAVA have what it takes to protect the planet from the Alteans?

And what happens when Amato is revealed to have a connection to a figure from 12,000 years ago?

VIDEO:

“Aquarion Evol: Part One” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1).  The series looks absolutely vibrant.  Characters are well-shaded, CG and special effects are colorful and for the most part, the series features wonderful character designs and detailed art backgrounds.

If anything, the art backgrounds for this series is quite amazing and 8-Bit and Satelight did a wonderful job!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Aquarion Evol: Part One” is presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0.  As one can expect with the English dub having a 5.1 soundtrack, the English dub utilizes the surround channels especially during the more action-driven sequences.  Voice acting for the English dub is very good as with the Japanese soundtrack.  It’s just that the soundtrack is lossless 2.0, so primarily front channel-driven.  But I would have loved to see this series with a 5.1 Japanese soundtrack but that’s how series in Japan are typically presented, so you get lossless stereo soundtrack and and an English dub track that features better dynamic range.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Aquarion Evol: Part One” features the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Episode 1 – Audio Comentary by Christopher Bevins (voice of Amata), J. Michael Tatum (voice of Towano Miyakage) and Brina Palencia (voice of Mikono).
  • Audio Commentary – Episode 9 – Audio Commentary by Christopher Bevins (voice of Amata), Alexis Tipton (voice of Mix) and Josh Grelle (voice of Andy W. Hole).
  • The Myth of Ten Thousand Years and Two Thousand More Returns – A special feature about the announcement of the series, background on the original series and its connection to the new sequel.
  • Textless Opening and Ending Theme
  • U.S. Trailer – FUNimation trailer for “Aquarion Evol”.

When I first reviewed the original “Aquarion” back in 2009, I discussed how the series was quite original in its way of incorporating reincarnation scenes, almost sexual merging with its pilots but also its humor and seriousness.

It was an original style of mecha series that caught a lot of attention because Shoji Kawamori and Hiroshi Onogi were involved.

Kawamori is also known for creating anime series such as “The Vision of Escaflowne”, “Earth Girl Arjuna” and known for his mechanical designs from Macross but also for series such as “Eureka Seven”, “Dangaio” and “Ghost in the Shell”.

Hiroshi Onogi is known for his many screenplays and writing for anime such as “RahXephon”, “Eureka Seven”, “Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo” and many other titles.

But this time around, this story does feature Kawamori as the executive producer but gives more leeway to its creative staff at Satelight to create a new original story that somehow connects to the original storyline.

The director for this sequel is Yusuke Yamamoto (best known for “Sgt. Frog” and had worked with Shoji Kawamori on “Arjuna” several years ago).

But with “Aquarion Evol: Part One”, the storyline which takes place 12,000 years in the future is rather interesting as Evol. has been outlawed and perhaps because of the unity between the pilots and its sexual nature, the program was stopped and tried to focus on individual pilots for a mecha.

But after a new threat has disturbed humanity and the new character protagonist, Amata Sora along with his date Mikono Suzushiro were able to united and bring the Aquarion Evol back, Neo-DEAVA brings back the program and makes their academy co-ed and tries to find perfect matches among male and female students.  But also implementing a no-relationship rule.

The first half of the 26-episode series is more or less about character development.  Introducing people from other teams, the young men and ladies trying to co-exist and work together to pilot a mecha, but most of all, just try to get along with each other.  And as hard as Neo-DEAVA tries to prevent love with their young pilots, love is going to exist somehow, someway.

Meanwhile, Kagura of the Alteans becomes overly obsessed with Mikono’s scent and wants her to himself, but Amata will do anything to protect her.

But as these young pilots continue to train and get used to each other, will they be ready for the next fight with the Alteans?

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of “Aquarion Evol” is amazing.  Characters are well-designed and shaded, while art backgrounds are just detailed and beautiful to look at.  Colors are vibrant, mecha action scenes are also well-done and for the most part, the first half of the series is pretty fun and exciting.

While I did enjoy the more seriousness of the original series, I do look like the change of making things much more simplistic and fun for the storyline of “Aquarion Evol” and not having to rely on the union segments or reincarnation.

But I do look forward in seeing how “Aquarion Evol” progresses during its second half of the series.  But for now, for the first 13 episodes is primarily about character development and learning about each character’s strengths and weakness, but I imagine the second half of the series becoming more serious and expect to see a different tone and more action!

If you enjoyed the original “Aquarion”, “Aquarion Evol: Part One” is an action-packed and fun mecha anime series worth recommending!

AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

patlabor-a

If you enjoy sci-fi anime but with an idol twist, whether you are a Shoji Kawamori, AKB48 or just wanting something different and entertaining, “AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2013 SATELIGHT/PROJECT AKB0048. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 13 Episodes (325 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks

RATING: TV 14 V

Release Date: September 3, 2013

Originally Created by Shoji Kawamori

Chief Director: Shoji Kawaori

Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Hiroshi Takaki, Slavomir Stanislaw Kowalewski

Character Design by Risa Ebata

Art Director: Akira Ito

Mechanical Design by Shoji Kawamori, Stanislas Brunet

Art Design by Thomas Romain, Yann Le Gall

Anime Production by Satelight

Backgrounds by Hyoin Entertainment, Korea Easter Studio, Studio Easter

Featuring the following voice talent:

Amina Satō/Monica Rial as Yuuka Ichijō

Haruka Ishida/Genevieve Simmons as Kanata Shinonome

Karen Iwata/Luci Christian as Nagisa Motomiya

Kumi Yagami/Juliet Simmons as Sonata Shinonome

Mao Mita/Molly Searcy as Makoto Yokomizo

Mayu Watanabe/Emily Neves as Chieri Sono

Sawako Hata/Caitlynn French as Suzuko Kanzaki

Sayaka Nakaya/Brittney Karbowski as Orine Aida

Sumire Satō/Carli Mosier as Mimori Kishida

Akemi Kanda/Tiffany Terell as Yūko Oshima the 9th

Ayako Kawasumi/Beth Lazarou as Sayaka Akimoto the 11th

Kana Ueda/Allison Sumrall as Tomomi Itano the 11th (Tomochin)

Mai Nakahara/Shannon Emerick as Sae Miyazawa the 10th

Mamiko Noto/Nancy Novotny as Haruna Kojima the 8th (Kojiharu)

Miyuki Sawashiro/Sasha Paysinger as Atsuko Maeda the 13th (Acchan)

Momoka Kinoshita/Meaghan Avocado as Megumi Wanibuchi

Ryoko Shiraishi/Cynthia Martinez as Minami Takahashi the 5th (Takamina)

Yui Horie/Margaret McDonald as Yuki Kashiwagi the 9th (Yukirin)

Yukari Tamura/Hayley Adams as Mayu Watanabe Type 3 (Mayuyu)

The year is 0048, and in the wake of the great wars, all forms of entertainment have been banned by the dystopian and iron-gloved rule of the anti-music DES. To combat this threat to intergalactic harmony, a group of bold young women have resurrected the legendary J-Pop band AKB48 and formed an all new Band of Sisters – AKB0048! But these rocking rebels aren’t simply singers! Trained in combat as well as choreography, these striking strike team members are equally at home in concert halls and in the trenches. Under the leadership of the mysterious Sensei Sensei, they’re ready to lay down their lives in order to make the universe a safe place for getting your groove on! And as a fresh new team of singer-soldiers join the cause and enter basic training, the batons and battle gear are about to be passed to a new generation of daring divas! Get ready to polish your dancing boots and dive into danger with the latest hard hitting hits as the new recruits take the staging ground and the veterans provide the musical soundtrack to their own action epic in AKB0048!

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Shoji Kawamori, one of the well-known anime creators in the industry and well-known to fans of mecha anime series.

Kawamori was the original series concept creator for “The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross”, creator of “Macross Plus, “Macross Zero”, “Macross Frontier” and also created series such as “The Vision of Escaflowne”, “Aquarion Evol” and many countless mecha anime, as well as a mechanical designer for “Ghost in the Shell”, “Dangaih”, “Glass Fleet”, “Eureka Seven” and many more.

In 2012, Kawamori went to work on his new anime series “AKB0048”, an anime series that ties the mega popular idol group from Japan, AKB48 and sets the story in the distant future where entertainment is banned and a rogue group that continues to bring entertainment to the masses is AKB0048.  Trained as idols but also to train warfare to fight against the DES (anti-entertainment) and their large mecha.

With AKB48 creator Yasushi Akimoto as an executive producer, the anime production would be done by Satelight and bringing in talent such as director Yoshimasa Hiraike (“Solty Rei”, “Kaleido Star”, “Aria – The Natural”), writer Mari Okada (“Vampire Knight”, “Black Butler”, “Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”, “Red Garden”), composer Hiroshi Takaki (“Beet the Vandel Buster”, “Tytania”, “Kaidan Restaurant”), character design by Risa Ebata (“Macross Frontier”, “Macross FB7: Ore no Uta o Kike!”, “Prism Ark”) and art direction by Akira Ito (“Bodacious Space Pirates”, “Durarara!!”, “Elfen Lied”).

And now the first season of the anime series will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sentai Filmworks.

“AKB0048” is set in the 21st century after Earth’s ecosystem was badly damaged by interplanetary war and humanity had to flee the planet.  As humanity populated other planets to create a new society, any entertainment that would affect humanity such as music and art has been declared as forbidden.

48 years later, a rogue group known as AKB0048 modeled after the idol pop group AKB48 was created in which members are chosen through auditions to train and those with special talent will become the latest generation of the original member’s name.  So, a person can be the successor of Minami Takahashi (Takamina), the next Atsuko Maeda (Acchan), the next Yuko Oshima, and so on.

While AKB0048 are looked at as hero’s for those who support entertainment, they are branded as terrorist by anti-entertainment establishments.

One day, four young girls: Nagisa Motomiya, Chieri Sono, Orine Aida and Yuuka Ichijou snuck into a tunnel to watch AKB0048 perform and were touched by their music and saw them fight against the DES, who are sent by the government to stop them.   The four declared that when they get older, they will be come members of AKB0048.

Fast forward many years later and the girls are now teenagers.  Nagisa, Orine and Yuuka find out that AKB0048 will be throwing auditions and the group can now make their dreams come true.

For Nagisa Motomiya, it’s not that easy.  Her father works for the government to ban all entertainment activities and forbids her from dancing, putting up posters of AKB0048 in her room.  And as Nagisa wants to badly attend the audition, she know her father will not let her.

Orine decides to leave her job at the metal factory to pursue her auditions, while Yuuka turns down a relationship with the boy she likes to pursue her dream of becoming a member of AKB0048.

As for Chieri, it is revealed that her father is responsible for creating the DES mecha that attack AKB0048 and she has been declared as missing.

But all four girls made a promise to pursue their dreams to become members of AKB0048 and decide to leave their planet and tryout for the audition to become trainees and future members of AKB0048.  Will they pass the audition?

Meanwhile, for the current AKB0048 members, they must deal with the fact that their will be a new successor to their title when they graduate.  Also, other current members especially the current Yuko wonders what happened to those who became a “Center Nova” and mysteriously disappeared.

The main characters of “AKB0048” are:

  • Nagisa Motomiya – A 13-year-old who can’t sing or dance that great but she dreams to become a member of AKB0048.  The problem is her father works for the government and is involved in banning all entertainment activities.
  • Chieri Sono – The daughter of the CEO who builds the mecha for the DES.  She is a fan of AKB0048 and can’t stand the fact that her father makes the weapons that tries to hurt AKB0048 and thus runs away from home to pursue her dream career to be a member of AKB0048.  Chieri is often with a Kirara that she found when she was young at her first AKB0048 concert.  A kirara can detect idol radiance and it upsets her that the Kirara has never glowed around her but only Nagisa, so she looks at Nagisa as her rival.
  • Orine Aida – A friend of Nagisa who worked at the factory after the death of her parents.  She dreams of being the successor to Sashiko.
  • Yuuka Ichijou – A 14-year-old with a fiery temper and is very protective of her friends.
  • Suzuko Kanzaki – An AKB0048 trainee who wears glasses and knows a lot about AKB history but is not interested in becoming a successor.
  • Sonata Shinonome –  A ten-year-old who failed the first round of the audition but sneaks aboard to audition for AKB0048.  Her older sister is Kanata.
  • Makoto Yokomizo – A trainee who is often scared and stressed out about her body.
  • Kanata Shinonome – Sonata’s older sister and part of the unlucky 75th Generation who have not been able to join AKB0048 for some apparent reason.  A big fan of the current Takamina.
  • Mimori Kishida – A 17-year-old who loves pheromones and often sings alongside Kanata and also belongs to the unlucky 75th Generation.
  • Megumi Wanibuchi – A 76th generation trainee who is resentful of others that came after her who have become successors. She is good friends with the current Sae (Youko).
  • Yuko Oshima the 9th – Current AKB0048 member.  Her dream is to become the “Center Nova” and wants to know what happened to the previous Center Nova’s.
  • Minami Takahashi the 5th – Current AKB0048 member and the Team Captain.  She is affected when the Kirara show the new successor for Takamina and it’s no longer her.  Torn between graduating and her desire to stay as the current Takamina.
  • Tomomi Itano the 11th – Like the original Tomomi Itano, from a long line of Tomochin, she also lacks taste (and can eat anything).
  • Sayaka Akimoto the 10th – The fitness enthusiast of AKB0048.
  • Yuki Kashiwagi the 6th – A current member of AKB0048.
  • Haruna Kojima the 8th – A member of AKB0048 who loves pheromones.
  • Sae Miyazawa the 10th – A member of the 76th Generation who became successor of Sae.
  • Mayu Watanabe Type 3 – An android that has a gun built into her forearm and current member of AKB0048.
  • Atsuko Maeda the 13th – A former member of AKB0048 who was the Center Nova and mysteriously disappeared during a performance like two other previous Center Novas.
  • Tsubasa Katagiri – AKB0048’s manager and producer, formerly known as Mariko Shinoda the 7th.  She was with Atsuko Maeda when she disappeared and joined management to find out what happened to Acchan.
  • Sensei Sensei – The mysterious head of AKB0048.
  • Mr. Ushiyama – The choreographer of AKB0048.
  • Mikako Minamino – A photographer of AKB0048 and in reality is Minami Minegishi the 5th of AKB0048.  She makes a vow to Tsubasa that she will never ever let the Center Nova happen again.

Here is a brief spoiler-free synopsis of what happens in “AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection”:

  • EPISODE 1 – Four young friends discover AKB0048 and are dream to become members of AKB0048 one day.
  • EPISODE 2 – Nagisa, Orine and Yuuka managed to make it to the auditions, but what happens when their transportation is attacked by DES?
  • EPISODE 3 – As part of their auditions, the trainees must learn to protect AKB0048 during a guerilla concert.
  • EPISODE 4 – Introduction to 75th Generation trainees, Mimori Kishida and Kanata (older sister of Sonata).
  • EPISODE 5 – The trainees are given a day off and they learn about the Center Nova.
  • EPISODE 6 – The trainees will take part in their first handshake event, but Orine receives a message from a hater.
  • EPISODE 7 – As AKB48 successors take part in a peace ceremony, Kanata, Mimori, Chieri and Megumi must be stand-ins.  Meanwhile, Chieri’s father’s occupation becomes public among the AKB0048 trainees.
  • EPISODE 8 – A story about Megumi’s jealousy and her backstory.  Meanwhile, Takamina is having difficulties focusing on her job after finding about her status as a successor to Takamina.
  • EPISODE 9 – Kanata is asked to fill in for Takamina after the injuries she succumbed in her battle with DES.
  • EPISODE 10 – The trainees must take part in a gravure photoshoot and the identity of the AKB0048 photographer Mikako Minamino is revealed.
  • EPISODE 11 – The trainees find out they will have a concert in their home planet of Lancastar, which has now become an anti-entertainment planet.
  • EPISODE 12 – While in Lancastar, Nagisa finds out her father has been imprisoned by DES because of his daughter’s involvement in AKB0048.
  • EPISODE 13 – The trainees perform their live concert in Lancaster but will they be able with all the DES forces prepared to attack them?

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VIDEO:

“AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection” is presented in 1080p High Definition and as one can expect from a Shoji Kawamori anime series, the anime series looks absolutely fantastic.  Character designs are done amazingly well, backgrounds are one of the best I have seen for a TV series with a lot of detail, vibrant colors and I did not see any problems with artifacts or major banding issues.

For a TV series, I was very impressed by the anime production from Satelight.  Everything about this series is full of detail, great use of CG. Mechanical designs as one can be expected from a Kawamori series is well-done!  Definitely one of the better, high-budget produced TV series that I have watched.

“AKB0048” looks magnificent on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection” is presented in Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.  Dialogue and music is crystal clear, I do wish this series was given a 5.1 soundtrack for better dynamic range and more immersive sound from the surround channels but for the most part, for this lossless stereo track, dynamic range for a stereo track is clear and understandable and sounds good via the front channel speakers.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection” comes with the Japanese promos and clean opening and ending animation.

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As a fan of Shoji Kawamori’s work and a fan of AKB48, my interested in the anime series “AKB0048” is quite biased.

As a mecha fan, especially a “Macross” fan,  you can’t help but be in awe of Kawamori’s work.  And to see this collaboration with Yasushi Akimoto and tapping into the popular AKB48 fandom, the whole concept involving AKB48 and the training as kenkyuusei (idol trainees), handshake events, gravure shots, the wota fans, etc. and incorporating it into an anime series is rather fascinating.

But let’s discuss what I enjoyed about this anime series.  Having watched Akimoto’s “Ice” and utilizing AKB48 members in his animated film, I’m glad that he tapped into notable talents for this series.  Kawamori’s work not only brings attention, but it also entices mecha fans because you know that it will be a sci-fi-based series.  The other thing is tapping into writer Mari Okada, one of the more talented anime writers in Japan at this time.  And last to incorporate the popularity of AKB48, you have the original music, the use of the original member names plus a new AKB48 sub-unit, No Name, singing the opening and ending theme.

I loved the fact that it features an huge cast.  To know AKB48G (the AKB48 groups), there are many members of Team A, Team K, Team B and their sister groups in Japan right now and as a fan, I don’t know everyone’s names but I love the fact that the series features a lot of names based on real-life AKB members and pays homage with the successor and the Center Nova storyline.

For those not familiar with AKB48, Minami Takahashi is the General Manager of the entire AKB48 groups and her job as a leader is important.  Atsuko Maeda and Yuko Oshima have been the more popular members of the group and both have battle for the #1 center position for AKB48 and both have achieved center status and it’s good to see how the series focused on that.

But the series also manages to incorporate things such as the Mayuyu android (as AKB48’s resident otaku, has joked about it many times before, especially in her solo acts) but also incorporating AKB48 member personalities such as Tomomi Itano’s ability to eat anything, Haruna Kojima’s sweet and sexy image, Sayaka Akimoto’s dedication to working out, Takamina’s previous dedication to having hair ribbons and more.

But there is also a deep storyline about entertainment not being allowed in society and music used to defeat the enemy, a connection to Kawamori’s “Macross” work as music played a big part in the original series and also “Macross 7”.

For AKB48 fans, several AKB48 members are voice talent in this series.  Karen Iwata has the lead role as Nagisa but you also have Mayu Watanabe playing Chieri and many others in their first time as voice actresses.

As for the Blu-ray release, “AKB0048” features stunning visual backgrounds, beautiful character designs especially the close-up of the eyes, the use of CG in combination with the artwork… for a TV series, you can tell that this was a higher budget anime series as their is detail galore in “AKB0048”.  On Blu-ray, the anime series looks stunning and colorful and it is by far one of the most impressive looking anime series on Blu-ray.

As for audio, if there was one small thing that I wished, it would be the fact that I would have loved to have heard a more immersive 5.1 lossless soundtrack considering the action and the music featured in the series.  And as far as special features go, there is only the Japanese promos and clean opening and ending animation.

Overall, I absolutely love “AKB0048” but I know that idol-based anime series is not for everyone.  From the old school “Hummingbird” OVA’s to the “Idolm@ster” anime and video games, I enjoyed them and as for “AKB0048”, I think it’s the best idol-based anime series that I have ever seen and the fact that Shoji Kawamori is tied to the series and brought his attention to quality and mecha makes “AKB0048” even more special.

If you enjoy sci-fi anime but with an idol twist, whether you are a Shoji Kawamori, AKB48 or just wanting something different and entertaining, “AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection” is highly recommended!

 

Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

fairytail-v5

“Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is a sexually-charged, darker version of the world of Lupin the III but focusing on the femme fatale, Fujiko Mine.  Featuring a unique presentation for an anime series and edgier, sensual storyline more faithful to Monkey Punch’s manga, longtime fans of Lupin the III will no doubt enjoy this series.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2013 FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 13 Episodes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), DolbyTrue HD 5.1, Japanese DolbyTrue HD 2.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: FUNimation

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Originally Created by Monkey Punch

Directed by Sayo Yamamoto

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Naruyoshi Kikuchi

Character Design by Takeshi Koieke

Art Director: Seiki Tamura

Art Design by Takashi Miyano

Anime Production: po10tial, TMS Entertainment

Featuring the following voice talent:

Miyuki Sawashiro/Michelle Ruff as Fujiko Mine

Daisuke Namikawa/Mike McFarland as Goemon Ishikawa XIII

Kanichi Kurita/Sonny Strait as Arsene Lupin III

Kiyoshi Kobayashi/Christopher R. Sabat as Daisuke Jigen

Kanji Kodate as Count Luis Yew Armied

Katsumi Chou as Owl Head

Kouichi Yamadera/Richard Epcar as Inspector Zenigata

Yuuki Kaji/Josh Grelle as Oscar

She’s a thief. A killer. A saint and a scandal. She’s whatever you need her to be to get the job done. After sizing you up with one sinful glance, she disarms you with a touch. You’re powerless to resist. She’s walking seduction, with an insatiable itch for the priceless and a fetish for mischief. She takes your breath away to get what she wants. She takes everything else just because she can. It’s all in a night’s work for the woman called Fujiko Mine. She’s the slinky, sultry thread that holds Lupin III’s crew together – and this is the heist that started it all.

In Japan, “Lupin III” is one of the most appreciated manga franchises that still continues in Japan for nearly 50 years.

Originally created back in 1967 by Monkey Punch and first appearing in Weekly Manga Action, the popular manga series has have had many manga, anime TV series, five animated feature films, a live actoin film, three OVA’s and many specials including music CD soundtracks, video games and a musical.

“Lupin III” is about Arsene Lupin III, the world’s greatest thief.  But what makes this thief so different from other thieves is the fact that he sends a calling card to owners of the items he plans to steal.  And over the years, we have watched Lupin III and his allies such as Daisuke Jigen (the marksman), Goemon Ishikawa XIII (the master swordsman) and Fujiko Mine (femme fatale) taking on various missions while being pursued by police inspector Koichi Zenigata of ICPO.

In 2012, TMS Entertainment and Po10tial wanted to create an anime series but this time focused on the femme fatale Fujiko Mine and how she met Lupin III, Daisuke Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII.  The series marks the first time that Lupin was not the main protagonist, the series is more faithful to the manga by featuring  a darker and serious story and also a series in which a Lupin series was directed by a female, Sayo Yamamoto (“Michiko and Hatchin”, “Galaxy Angel”, “ERgo PRoxy”, Texhnolyze”).  The series is also written by a female, Mari Okada (“AKB0048”, “Angel Tales”, “Black Butler”, “Black Rock Shooter”).

The series features music by Naruyoshi Kikuchi (“.hack//Legend of the Twilight”), character designs by Takeshi Koike (“Afro Samurai”, “Trava”, “World Record”) and art direction by Seiki Tamura (“Bakuju Gasshin Ziguru Hazeru”, “Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya”, “K-ON!”).

The 13-episode sereis focuses on Fujiko Mine, a deadly thief who takes on a variety of missions in disguise to get whatever she wants.  “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” also shows how Fujiko met Lupin the III, Daisuke Jigen, Goemon Ishikawa XIII and Koichi Zenigata.

VIDEO:

“Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is one of the most unique anime series that I have watched when it comes to animation.  Featuring a manga sketched out character design and backgrounds, you really don’t come across anime series that try to be this visually creative in an artistic type of way.  So, in many ways, to see the anime series done in this style is quite refreshing and also unique.  With that being said, it’s not an anime series that one would go search for vibrant colors or excessive detail as a lot of the artwork is line-art via sketch.  While colors for characters and their face and clothing are nicely painted, buildings or vehicles tend to have this matted look.

But it’s hard to criticize a series that looks much different from other series.  Black levels are nice and deep, I didn’t notice any banding issues or artifacts.  If anything, for an artistic and creative anime series, “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” looks very good in HD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0.  The lossless audio may not be immersive but the dialogue and music are crystal clear and sound fantastic. As one would expect with the English dub receiving the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, the dynamic range is much better with the English dub.  But both soundtracks are very good and well-acted.

While I grew up watching “Lupin the Third” back in the ’90s via its original Japanese presentation I eventually started listening to the English dub and my foray into Sonny Strait’s work as Lupin.  But watching “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”, Michelle Ruff literally won me over with her voice of Fujiko.

While there are many female voice actresses that can sound seductive, sexy, independent or strong, somehow voice actress Michelle Ruff really gets into the character of the femme fatale.  And for this series, you need to be at your best and she rocked it!  Amazing voice dub performance!

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” features the following special features:

  • Episode 6 Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Brina Palencia (Co-ADR Director) and Josh Grelle (voice of Oscar).
  • Episode 9 Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Christopher Sabat (Co-ADR Director) with Sonny Strait (voice of Lupin III).
  • Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine Cast Reunion – (26:34) Featuring Richard Epcar (Zenigata), Mike McFarland (Goemon), Michelle Ruff (Fujiko Mine), Sonny Strait (Lupin) and Christopher Sabat (Co-ADR Director)
  • Fujiko Mine at OkraTron 5000 – (5:46) Michelle Ruff visiting OkraTron 5000 Studios and talking about playing the character of Fujiko Mine.
  • Textless Opening Song
  • Textless Closing Song
  • U.S. Trailer – FUNimation trailer for “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”
  • Trailers – FUNimation trailers

EXTRAS:

“Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” Blu-ray also comes with the DVD version.

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunities to watch the Lupin films, to meet creator Monkey Punch and also to be around when these special or films were released in Japan.  Growing up as an anime fan during the ’90s, “Lupin the Third” was well-received by anime fans at the time and it’s been awhile since I have seen anything Lupin related.

So, as a fan of the series, I was very excited to watch “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”, a series focusing on the sexy femme fatale and also starring all the other characters that we have seen in the past.

But this series is rather interesting because of its presentation, its edginess but also how Fujiko Mine is portrayed.

This is a woman who calls her own shots, doesn’t need a man to get things done, she is deadly and she gets what she wants.

But it’s probably the most mature presentation I have seen of Fujiko Mine in an anime series.  From the opening theme alone, she is fully nude and is probably the most mature opening theme for an animated TV series that I have ever seen.  It is important to note that because of the sexuality of the series and the nudity featured, the show was broadcasted in Japan at 1:29 a.m.

She’s not afraid of her sexuality, she’s not afraid to walk around nude in front of people and many of the guys that cross her path are taken by her.  Especially Lupin who seeks to conquer Fujiko Mine but finds her to be ravishing and lusts after her.  He knows she is deadly, using him but he sees her as a one of a kind rarity and loves when he is around her.

But we also get to know more about the woman and her tragic past and what drives her to do the things that she does.

The series is also fascinating because it shows how she met Lupin, Daisuke Jigen, Goemon Isikawa XIII and how she has this close relationship with Koichi Zenigata and why Oscar (Zenigata’s assistant) despises her.  And also learning about this mysterious owl investigation that has been watching over her for some apparent reason.

As mentioned earlier, the presentation of “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is fantastic! As a storyline that tries to be more faithful to the manga in terms of a darker storyline, it also features characters and art backgrounds that look like they came out of a page of a manga.  Sketched out, featuring line art and a unique presentation that you don’t see with anime series.

Also, I like the fact that the series is directed and written by a woman.  I think there are some who would think by looking at the opening theme and the use of sexuality that this is some man’s perspective of trying to sexualize a popular character of a well-known anime series but that is not the case.

Both Japanese and English soundtracks were well-done but as one can expect from the English receive the 5.1 lossless soundtrack, the dynamic range is much better with the English dub.  And I have to say that I was pleased that FUNimation tried to bring back the original cast but also bringing back Sonny Strait as Lupin III.  But I was very impressed with Michelle Ruff’s voice acting for Fujiko Mine.  She literally put her voice and it embodied the character and giving one of the best performances I have heard from her.  I was very impressed with her voice acting and her ability to switch from going seductive, manipulative to emotionally losing i, she was able to put herself in the shoes of Fujiko Mine and was amazing!

You also get a few special features from audio commentaries plus a cast reunion included on the Blu-ray as well.

Overall, “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is a sexually-charged, darker version of the world of Lupin the III but focusing on the femme fatale, Fujiko Mine.  Featuring a unique presentation for an anime series and edgier, sensual storyline more faithful to Monkey Punch’s manga, longtime fans of Lupin the III will no doubt enjoy this series.  Recommended!

Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season (a J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

July 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

blueexorcist-complete

“Blast of Tempest” is a series that captivated me from beginning to end.  It’s unique, unpredictable, complex and so far, the first half of the storyline has been nothing less than great!  If you are one of those anime fans who have been wanting something original, smart and entertaining…then “Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season” is recommended! It’s definitely one of my top picks for “best anime series on DVD” to watch in 2013!

PLEASE PURCHASE THIS ANIME SERIES FROM RIGHTSTUF or BANDAI ENT. ONLINE STORE

Image courtesy of © Kyo Shirodaira, Arihide Sano, Ren Saizaki/Zetsuen Project, MBS. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season

DURATION: Episodes 1-12 (300 minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, 16:9 LB, Dolby Digital

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

RATED: Suggested 13 and Up

RELEASE DATE: August 13, 2013

Originally created by Kyo Shirodaira

Directed by Masahiro Ando

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Michiru Oshima

Character Design by Tsunenori Saito

Art Direction by Ayumi Sato, Tomoaki Okada

Mechanical Design by Masahisa Suzuki

Art Design by Ayumi Sato

Anime Production: Bones

Featuring the following voice talent:

Kouki Uchiyama as Yoshino Takigawa

Toshiyuki Toyonaga as Mahiro Fuwa

Miyuki Sawashiro as Hakaze Kusaribe

Hirofumi Nojima as Junichirō Hoshimura

Hiroyuki Yoshino as Tetsuma Kusaribe

Junichi Suwabe as Natsumura Kusaribe

Kana Hanazawa as Aika Fuwa

Miyuki Sawashiro as Hakaze Kusaribe

Nana Mizuki as Evangeline Yamamoto

Rikiya Koyama as Samon Kusaribe

Shintarō Asanuma as Takumi Hayakawa

Yuuki Kaji as Megumu Hanemura

One day, a sorceress princess was stuffed into a barrel and banished.  One day, a single girl was suddenly murdered, and the culprit still runs free.  And one day, a battle spanning time and space over magic and revenge began! Sanity and madness; sense and intelligence; self-confidence and convictions.  The tragic tale of this irrational world begins here…

In 2009, “Zetsuen no Tempest” was released as a manga byy Kyo Shirodaira with illustrations by Arihide Sano and Ren Saizaki.  In 2012, the anime series received an anime adaptation courtesy of BONES and in August 2013, Aniplex of America will be releasing the series  with the title “Blast of Tempest” with the first season (first 12 episodes) on DVD.

The series is directed by Masahiro Ando (“Sword of the Stranger”, “Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home” and “CANAAN”), series composition by Mari Okada (“AKB0048”, “Aria – The Natural”, “Anel Tales”, “CANAAN”), music by Michiru Oshima (“Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Gokusen”, “Arc the Lad”, “Gokusen”), character designs by Tsunenori Saito (“Sword of the Stranger”, “Towanoquon”, “Halo Legends”) and art direction by Ayumi Sato (“The World God Only Knows”, “Heroman”, “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2” and “Eureka 7: Astral Ocean”) and Tomoaki Okada (“Banner of the Stars”, “Darker than Black”, “Crest of the Stars”, “Star Driver”, “Wolf’s Rain”).

“Blast of Tempest” begins with an introduction to two teenage students, Yoshino Takigawa and Mahiro Fuwa.  Mahiro gives his step-sister Aika a ride back home and with her attitude towards Mahiro, Fuwa believes that his sister dislikes his friend.

Meanwhile, we see a woman breaking out of a barrel and is stranded in an uninhabited island.  Her name is Hakaze Kusaribe, the leader of the Kusaribe clan and the “Mage of Genesis”, a princess who’s goal is to protect the “Tree of Genesis”, which is the source of magic used by her clan.  But it appears that she was betrayed by her aide named Samon, who had put her in the well and put her in an island to block out any of use her mage powers.  His intention, to awaken the Tree of Exodus to prevent the advent of the Tree of Genesis, which he and the Kusaribe clan believe will recreate the world and destroy mankind.

Fast foward to the near future and it was revealed that Aika was murdered and Fuwa has not been seen for months after the incident.

As Yoshino wonders what has happened to Fuwa, a woman named Evangeline Yamamoto arrives and with her weapons, threatens to kill Yoshino unless he provides her with information in regards to his connection to Mahiro.  Yoshino explains that he has not seen Mahiro in months and that he has been mourning the death of his sister, Aika.

All of a sudden, butterflies show up everywhere and we see how humanity has been affected with some strange disease that turns people into metal.  But as Yoshino tries to fight back and escape, Evangeline shows how dangerous she can be and before she hurts him, out of nowhere, Mahiro teleports and beats Evangeline.

Mahiro explains to Yoshino that he was given this power by a mage named Hakaze, who he can communicate via a wooden doll that Hakaze had made (and Mahiro found it inside a bottle on the beach).  Hakaze makes a deal with Mashiro that she would find Aika’s murder in exchange for his help in stopping the resurrection of the Tree of Exodus.

Yoshino decides to help Mahiro find out who murdered Aika as well, but what is his real motivation of assisting Mahiro?  Meanwhile, Yoshino is given some of Hakaze’s power via a magical talisman that has been left behind in the city.  As Mahiro and Yoshino try to find the murderer and the magic talismans, they receive word from Hakaze that there is no magic to track the culprit, which can only mean that a member of her clan may be responsible.

And out of nowhere, Samon’s aide Natsumura tries to kill them.

Will Mahiro and Yoshino find out who killed Aika and can they also find a way to free Hakaze and rescue her out of the island?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Blast of Tempest” is an anime series that I expected wonderful animation, especially with director Masahiro Ando behind-the-scenes.  When it comes to BONES anime productions, Masahiro Ando is one of my favorite directors because he brings quality to a film or animated series and having watched “Blast of Tempest”, I am absolutely pleased with the animation.  From character designs, shading to lighting, Tsunenori Saito and staff did a wonderful job in bringing out the emotion of the characters but also to capture the action and the mechanical designs as planes and tanks go to war against the unknown.

And as one can expect from BONES, the art direction by Ayumi Sato and Tomoaki Okada is absolutely beautiful.  From oceans, forests, hills, cities and just the ambiance of a certain area, they captured the environment with wonderful detail.

While I wished this series was released on Blu-ray, as some Aniplex releases are released in Japanese with English subtitles on DVD, perhaps this series will receive a Blu-ray release in the future with an English dub included.

For now, the series is presented in 16:9 LB with audio in Japanese linear PCM stereo with English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season” features the following special features:

  • Textless OP – “Blast of Tempest” opening theme without text.
  • Textless ED – “Blast of Tempest” ending theme without text.

EXTRAS:

“Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season” comes with a slipcover, special booklet, reversible mini-poster and 2-sided reversible cover.

“Blast of Tempest” is one of the most intelligent, addicting and enjoyable anime series I have watched in the past few years.

It’s a series with a lot of twists, a series with a lot of secrets and I don’t even know how to discuss the series without revealing any major plot details.  So, the best way for me to even describe the series is a mix of murder mystery as one brother tries to find the killer of his step-sister but aided by a friend, or is he a good friend at all?

The interesting aspect of this series of its two main characters is that the character of Mashiro Fuwa, is a boy who has been born under privilege and has always been treated differently because his family comes from a powerful background.  While Yoshino was the person who rather keep to himself and not be involved in anything.  Due to circumstances, Yoshino ended up having to help Mashiro and in the process, their relationship was not of mere friendship, as one would think.  But a friendship of convenience.

How this friendship lasted from their younger years to their older years, it is because of one important connection which one will find out as the series progresses.

But it’s the protagonist Yoshino that you are amazed to see how his storyline unfolds as each layer is peeled and you get to see a side of him that he has kept secret all this time.  But how damaging will his secret be?    And for Mashiro, why is his drive to find Aika’s killer, made him change to this person only seeking nothing but revenge?

The other storyline that captivates you is the storyline that surrounds the character Hakaze.  She appears to be a beautiful, naive teenager but in truth, she is the powerful “Mage of Genesis”, born to be the leader representing the “Tree of Genesis” and like the concept of ying and yang, opposing the “Tree of Genesis” is the “Tree of Exodus”.    Both trees locked up into an epic battle that has spawned generations and for Hakaze, she has been left on an island, hidden by a sphere and no way to use her power to leave the area.

Kept on the island, as a viewer, you feel bad for the character because she doesn’t have a mean spirit.  If anything, she wants to help Mashiro and Yoshino find the murderer of Aika, but she needs their help to get her out of the island.  And thus, it becomes a cat and mouse game as the Kusaribe clan now led by Hakaze’s former aid Samon sends his clan after Mashiro and Yoshino, but unlike regular humans, they have been given part of Hakaze’s power to defend themselves and others.

Meanwhile, the government/military are trying to put a stop to whatever has unleashed the virus on humanity, which have been killing innocent people by turning them into metal.

The drive for each character is easily explained throughout the series, but within the series is this storyline about logic vs. illlogic.  In order for Hakaze and the Tree of Genesis to thrive, all actions must be based on logic.  But we see how one’s perception, may it be false, can be seen as logic in their own terms, but must be proved or discredited.

Each character is faced to evaluate situations in their life or other’s lives to find out why one is siding on Genesis vs. Exodus and the logic of why one would side by one side versus the other.  It’s a complexity that many anime do not try to touch because it requires one to think.  I just want to say that the series is not as cerebral as a Masamune Shirow animated film but it’s a TV series that stands out from other series because so much thought went into the complexities of logic and illogic and how choices affect a character and one has to prove their case.

While the first half of the series does not end on a cliffhanger, it’s one heck of a cliffhanger because you are left wanting more and more!

Because of its character development and its complex but yet fascinating and enjoyable storyline, “Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season” was a complete surprise.  It’s a unique storyline with no abundant use of old cliche’s or typical banality seen on other anime series.

With this DVD release, the animation looks great and the Japanese voice acting is top-notch, but it is without an English dub which may detract people from this DVD release.

As for Aniplex swag, you do get a slipcover, special booklet and reversible mini-power plus a 2-sided reversible cover.  The booklet features episode synopsis and character artwork.  While the poster features Yoshino and Mashiro on one side and Hakaze with Aika on the other.

Overall, “Blast of Tempest” is a series that captivated me from beginning to end.  It’s unique, unpredictable, complex and so far, the first half of the storyline has been nothing less than great!  If you are one of those anime fans who have been wanting something original, smart and entertaining…then “Blast of Tempest: Complete 1st Season” is recommended!

It’s definitely one of my top picks for “best anime series on DVD” to watch in 2013!

PLEASE PURCHASE THIS ANIME SERIES FROM RIGHTSTUF or BANDAI ENT. ONLINE STORE

Black Butler: The Complete Second Season (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 23, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

More exciting than the first season…  If you are looking for an anime series that is dark, violent but also has enough humor,  “Black Butler: The Complete Second Season”, along with the first season, are recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2012 FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Black Butler: The Complete Second Season

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2010

DURATION: 12 episodes + 6 OAV episodes (450 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (4:3), English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV PG

Release Date: April 3, 2012

Originally created by Yana Toboso

Directed by Hirofumi Ogura

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Taku Iwasaki

Character Design by Minako Shiba

Art Direction by Manabu Otsuzuki

Anime Productions by A-1 Pictures Inc.

Featuring the following voice talent:

Daisuke Ono/J. Michael Tatum as Sebastian Michaelis

Maaya Sakamoto/Brina Palencia as Ciel Phantomhive

Nana Mizuki/Luci Christian as Alois Trancy

Takahiro Sakurai/Jason Douglas as Claude Faustus

Aya Hirano/Caitlin Glass as Hannah Anafeloz

Jun Fukuyama/Daniel Fredrick as Grell Sutcliff

Junichi Suwave/John Swasey as Undertaker

Emiri Kato/Monica Rial as Meirin

Hiroki Touchi/Ian Sinclair as Bard (Bardroy)

When last we saw dear Sebastian, he was poised to feast on the ripened soul of his young master. Unfortunately for the debonair demon, there’s a new butler in town…

Enter Claude Faustus, a malevolent manservant uninspired by the drab flavor of his own contracted master, Alois Trancy. This pedestrian lad holds no allure for Claude, so the bespectacled butler sets his sights on a finer delicacy from the menu of the damned: none other than Ciel Phantomhive. And so begins a devilish dance of death starring crow and spider.

The demonic duel rages beyond the limits of good taste, culminating in a debaucherous maze of madness pitting butler against butler. Sebastian and Claude: two ravenous rakehells filled with the power of darkness and locked in a macabre battle for the soiled soul of the young master they so long to savor/devour.

This limited edition includes an artbox sized to hold both this set and the season 1 DVD/Blu-ray combo pack.

In 2006, mangaka Yana Toboso (“Rust Blaster”) began working on his second manga that year for Square Enix’s “Monthly GFantasy” magazine. The series nown as “Kuroshitsuji” (Black Butler) would receive a large fanbase due to its bishounen characters.

By 2008, “Black Butler” would receive an anime adaptation featuring production by A-1 Pictures (“Tetsuwan Birdy: Decode”, “El Cazador de la Bruja”, “Valkyria Chronicles”) directed by Shinohara Toshiya (“Lupin III: Crisis in Tokyo”, “Gurren Lagann”, “Samurai Deeper Kyo”), a screenplay by Mari Okada “CANAAN”, “Aria the Natural”, “Red Garden”, “PoPoLoCrois”), music by Taku Iwasaki (“Angel Heart”, “R.O.D. – The TV”, “Soul Eater”), character designs by Minako Shiba (“.Hack/Sign”, “Letter Bee”, “Madlax”) and art direction by “Hiromasa Ogura” (“Ghost Hound”, “Aquarian Age”, “Appleseed”). The opening theme “Monochrome Kiss” is by SID and the ending theme “I’m Alive” is by BECCA.

And since the release of the original manga series and anime series, the popularity of “Black Butler” has led to a musical, drama CD’s, a video game and books have been released in Japan.

While the manga is still ongoing in Japan, the anime series has continued with two full seasons at 48 episodes long and now both seasons are being released on Blu-ray/DVD courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.

What is “Black Butler” about?

“Black Butler” takes place in London (during the Victorian Era) and revolves around a 12-year-old named Ciel Phantomhive, who is from the Phantomhive noble family who is known for their toy and candy empire. A long time ago, Ciel used to be a happy boy but his happiness was destroyed when someone murdered his family.

Now Ciel wants to find the killers of his family and makes an exchange with a demon for his soul. He wants vengeance on those who disgraced him or the Phantomhive name and to find and kill the murderers of his family.

The demon approves and to stay close with Ciel, the demon Sebastian Michaelis will become his butler and protect him. But once Ciel’s duties are done as upon their agreement, Sebastian will be able to take his soul and kill him.

Black Butler Season 2

The first season concluded with Sebastian taking Ciel’s soul as agreed.  And the new season begins with butler Claude Faustus who works for the spoiled and vulgar Earl Alois Trancy.  We learn that Earl Alois Trancy is a bit evil to his servants, sticking his finger in the eye for one of his maids and also showing his lack of care for anyone in the world but himself and his butler Claude.

Meanwhile, his uncle Arnold Trancy, the Viscount of Druitt, suspects Alois’s legitimacy as the former head’s son and we learn that Alois had a traumatic childhood in which he was kidnapped at birth and sent to slavery.  Alois was the only survivor of a plague that spread throughout the village he lived.

Meanwhile, that night, a cloaked man carrying a trunk comes to the mansion of Earl Alois Trancy and Alois desperately wants to know what is inside the trunk.   Sebastian makes a deal with Alois that if Alois shows him a special black tea box inside the mansion’s basement, he will show him what is inside the trunk.  But immediately, Claude attacks Sebastian and during the melee, it is revealed that Ciel Phantomhive is inside the trunk.

Alois wants Ciel Phantomhive, meanwhile Sebastian manages to escape with the special black tea box and his trunk.  Inside the tea box is a blue ring, which Sebastian places on Ciel’s finger and immediately Ciel has been revived.

As the story progresses, we learn that Sebastian was not able to consume Ciel’s soul as originally planned in the contract, because Claude Faustus was able to snatch Ciel’s soul before Sebastian.

And now, because of this…there is unfinished business between Sebastian and Ciel, but most importantly between the two butler demons, Sebastian and Claude.  Meanwhile, Alois continues his pursuit of capturing Ciel.

So, you get all 12 TV episodes of “Black Butler” season two and also six OVA’s featuring more lighthearted, upbeat, humorous episodes revolving Ciel and Sebastian, Elizabeth, Bardroy, Spears and Grell and Alois Trancy and his butler Claude.

The main characters of “Black Butler” are:

  • Sebastian Michaelis – The butler for Ciel Phantomhive and also a demon who will protect Ciel until he accomplishes his task to help Ciel find who murdered his parents and avenge the Phantomhive name. When all tasks are accomplished, as agreed by his contract with Ciel Phantomhive, he will take his soul and kill him. Sebastian has taken the form of the previous Earl, Vincent Phantomhive. Although he protects Ciel, the two have an uneasy relationship as they don’t care for each other all that much.
  • Ciel Phantomhive – Once a happy boy who’s life was changed when his family was murdered. Now that he is older, he tries to avenge his family’s name and search for his parent’s killer by taking part in a contract with a demon (Sebastian). The demon will protect Ciel by pretending to be a butler, but once all duties are accomplished, he will consume Ciel’s soul. Ciel has lost his eye when he was a slave and was used as a sacrifice in a cult ritual. He has become a cold person since his family’s death.
  • Bardroy (Bard) – The American cook who uses weaponry to make the food for the household, despite not making anything edible.
  • Finnian (Finny) – The clumsy gardener who has superhuman strength.
  • Mey-Rin – The clumsy maid who wears cracked glasses because it’s the first gift Ciel had purchased for her. She has a big crush on Sebastian.
  • Tanaka – The steward who has served under Ciel’s parents and now serves Ciel. When his parents were murdered, Tanaka was there and was stabbed in the back.
  • Madame Red – The aunt of Ciel, she is a doctor who practices at Royal London Hospital. But when she was pregnant, she was in an accident in which her husband was killed and the baby died. So now she feels hatred towards those she performs abortions on and kills them along with the grim reaper named Grell Sutcliffe. Together, they are known as Jack the Ripper.
  • Grell Sutcliffe – A grim reaper who decides if a dying sould should be allowed to continue living, Grell is a gay man who calls himself a woman and is infatuated with Sebastian. He murders people alongside Madame Red.
  • Earl Alois Trancy – Kidnapped at birth and later becoming a slave, Alois Trancy had suffered major trauma as he was sexually abused by his father.  He has a contract with demon butler Claude.  Alois has been after Sebastian and Ciel as Claude had told him that Sebastian destroyed the village he lived in under the orders of his master, Ciel.
  • Claude Faustus – A demon butler who is a perfectionist.  He has a contract with Alois Trancy.  Claude also has an interest in Ciel’s soul and it is revealed in season two that he had snatched Ciel before Sebastian could consume him.
  • Hannah Annafellows – Alois’ maid and servant, who is constantly mistreated by Alois.  She is revealed to be a demon who has a contract with someone that Alois knows quite well.

VIDEO

“Black Butler” is a violently, dark and bloody anime. Anime production by A-1 Pictures, Inc. is well done as artistic backgrounds of London during the Victorian Era is painted with great shadowing and the action sequences are also well-done as we get several styles which include a serious to more fun and hilarious style of animation.  The second season is a bit dark, as Alois is a vulgar individual who does some really bad things to his maid Hannah Annafellows (ie. gouging her eye with his finger) while blood drips.  So, there are short moments of bloody violence.

What I enjoy about the series are the overall character designs and the costume designs. The series is very bishounen-driven but its combination of themes that are dark and hilarious actually work quite well for “Black Butler”. Also, the second season does benefit from being made two years later than the first season and there are good amount of details on the characters and art background.  But it’s important for people to know that this is a TV series, so the softness that usually appears on TV series can be seen in “Black Butler: The Complete Second Season”.  Neverless, for a TV Series on Blu-ray, the second season of “Black Butler” looks very good in HD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, you get a English Dolby TrueHD Audio 5.1 mix and Japanese Dolby TrueHD Audio 2.0 mix. Typically, I listen to the Japanese soundtrack but in this case, because it takes place in the Victorian era, the English voice dub and accents are done very well. The voice talent for the English dub have said that “Black Butler” is one of the most challenging anime series as the voice talent had to perfect their spoken dialect and it does give the series its own personal feel and for the most part, it works. There is also a bit more of a dynamic range when it comes to the English lossless track.

The Japanese soundtrack is also very well done especially when it comes to the more emotional moments, the voice acting is stellar. But the English dub has the advantage because of it’s 5.1 mix but if you prefer to watch it in Japanese or English, both soundtracks are excellent and should appeal to Sub/Dub anime fans.

Subtitles are in English but you are unable to switch the subtitles on or off.  When you click on the Japanese lossless soundtrack, then you will get the English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Black Butler: The Complete Second Season” comes with the following special features:

  • Episode 1 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Luci Christian (voice of Alois) and Jason Douglas (voice of Clause Faustus).
  • Episode 12 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Brina Palencia (Ciel) and J. Michael Tatum (voice of Sebastian).
  • OAV 3 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Ian Sinclair (ADR Director and voice of Baldroy).
  • Outtakes – (3:20) Featuring the audio flubs by the English voice talent.
  • U.S. Season 1 Trailer – (1:02) Season 1 FUNimation Entertainment trailer.
  • U.S. Season 2 Trailer – (1:32) Season 2 FUNimation Entertainment trailer.
  • Becca Musician Profile – A text info. on BECCA
  • Textless Opening Song – Featuring the opening theme “Shiver” by The GazettE.
  • Textless Closing Theme Song – Featuring the ending theme “Bird” by Yuya Matsushita and “Kagayaku Sora no Shijima ni Wa” by Kalafina.

EXTRAS:

“Black Butler: The Complete Second Season” comes with a slipcase which fits both “Black Butler” season one and two Blu-ray cases.

Butler Demon Sebastian Michaelis vs. Butler Demon Claude Faustus, Ciel Phantomhive vs. Earl Alois Trancy…. Total opposites from each other, both having suffered tragedy but this time around, both Sebastian and Ciel are the hunted and Alois and his butler Claude will do whatever they can to get his revenge!

There is no doubt that “Black Butler” has a strong fan following and is a different kind of anime series that most people are used to watching. For one, it deals with the occult and it does have its share of dark, violent moments but the series itself thrives on its darkness and humor. And for many of the female fans, it’s strong bishounen character designs.

The storyline for “Black Butler” is quite dark and like the first season, there is quite a bit of violence and blood featured. While the first season had a good number of upbeat moments, the second season of “Black Butler” has a more brooding theme, darker situation as so many things are revealed in regards to Ciel and also Alois, especially more that revolves around their backstory and also in regards to Sebastian and Claude.    In someways, the two are like each other’s doppelganger but  yet they are completely different in personality.

As the season does feature more darker episodes (I found the second season much more entertaining), fans who want the upbeat and humorous episodes will get them as there are six OVA’s included with the 12-episodes.  For example, the first OVA is like a “Black Butler” meets “Alice in Wonderland”, OVA 2 revolves the residents of the Phantomhive Estate in a role playing game style of episode, OVA 3 features Bardroy narrating a behind-the-scenes of “Black Butler” as if it was an actual movie set, OVA 4 returns to the “Alice in Wonderland” storyline, OVA 5 features Spears and Grell training to be grim reaper recruits and OVA 6 features Alois Trancy wanting Claude to fill his room with flowers and finding a way to keep a butterfly from leaving.

The character designs, the art design are very well-done for “Black Butler” and as mentioned, the detail is well-done for this second season but for a TV series, also incorporates the softness as expected from a TV series on Blu-ray.  As for the special features,  you do get several audio commentary tracks and also the audio flubs.   And as far as acting is concerned, the Japanese soundtrack is very good but I really have to commend the voice talent of “Black Butler” for pulling off the dialects, as I have seen many anime series that tend to fail. So, fortunately, the English dub was well-done.

Overall, “Black Butler: The Complete Second Season” is a much more exciting, darker season than the first.  I do enjoy the battling demon butlers and to see Sebastian and Ciel become the hunted and seeing how the overall storyline manages to conclude with a major twist and an ending that I never expected to happen.

If you are looking for an anime series on Blu-ray that is a bit dark and has it’s crazy moments, both seasons of “Black Butler” are worth recommending!

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