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John Thomas Anderson (Southern Ontario, Canada)

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Busou Shinki Armored War Goddess - Complete Collection
Busou Shinki Armored War Goddess - Complete Collection
Price: CDN$ 42.15
14 used & new from CDN$ 38.40

3.0 out of 5 stars A miniature entrant in the android fighting genre!, May 21 2016
Busou Shinki is yet another entry in the robotic fighting android genre. You know the drill, one or more female androids devoted to and living with their master. Although in this case instead of being human sized; they're doll sized and are merely part of a whole slew of robotic dollies which populate the world doing everything from guard duties to making sure their masters wake up in time for school. It's not an overly complicated plot.

There are battles but mostly between Shinki and most take place in holographic battlegrounds so the falling buildings are not real. Not that the beginning battle and some of the ending battles aren't intense, they are! But when battles do take place in the real world; it's usually limited to a room or two as they're only six inches high with firepower to match!

Instead most of the series is related to more mundane things like trying to get an umbrella to master in a driving rainstorm because he forgot his. Or sneaking off to a secret Shinki road race in a nearby park. Or dealing with the arrival of a new Shinki who's the warrior type and not overly friendly! Or trying to figure out how to get to Okinawa when they accidentally get left behind! Smaller things like that. If it wasn't for the fact that there's no dub; it could be a great kid's introduction to anime.

As for this collection, it's 13 episodes long, no dub and has a simple stereo soundtrack. Extras are minimal consisting of clean Op's and Ed's, promos and trailers and comes on 3 discs in a simple litebox case. There is no reversible cover or inserts. No French subtitles either.

So it's not going to compete with the likes of a Chobits or a Mahoromatic or my personal favourite Angelic Layer which are full length series with serious adult undertones. But as a lighter half series, it's a fun way to relax before going to bed. 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Strawberry Marshmallow: TV Collection
Strawberry Marshmallow: TV Collection
DVD ~ Ayako Kawasumi
Price: CDN$ 44.09

4.0 out of 5 stars A pure and gentle Shojo series!, May 20 2016
Strawberry Marshmallow is a sweet and gentle little series that originally came out a decade ago under the Geneon label and has now been license rescued and reissued by Sentai. It's a perfect example of a Shojo (Girls) slice of life comedy series similar to Azumanga Daioh, K-On or Lucky Star. Except where they are aimed at teens, Strawberry is aimed at the pre-teen crowd.

As a result the storyline revolves around 12 year old Chika, her neighbour Miu who prefers visiting via their 2nd story bedroom windows, Matsuri the shy and timid one and their new classmate Ana who is British but has been in Japan so long she's practically forgotten the English language and culture. And Chika's older sister Nobue who has to keep them out of trouble when she's not getting into it herself. It's a great little ensemble cast and like a lot of older Geneon properties has a very good voice actress cast in either the Japanese or the English versions.

Everything else is pretty much identical to the older Geneon release. 16x9 Anamorphic widescreen, simple DD 2.0 for both the dub and sub audio tracks and similar extras. Even the 5 min. parody short called episode 0 is included.

Now I'm not going to claim it's as good as Daioh, K-On or Star but it comes pretty close and is just as cute as it looks in the Amazon preview pictures. It is without a doubt one of the most laid back anime series I've ever seen so don't expect a lot of action. It's simply the day to day interactions of four pre-teens and Chika's older sister Nobue's eternal attempts to bum or earn enough money for cigarettes. Just 12 episodes of cuteness and laughs without any overlying plot, fan service or villains. It's as simple as that.

Recommended if you like them slow, gentle and uber cute. Not recommended if you need lots of non stop action. 4 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Little Snow Fairy Sugar: Complete Collection
Little Snow Fairy Sugar: Complete Collection
DVD ~ Masumi Asano
Price: CDN$ 37.09

4.0 out of 5 stars An animated series as cute and sweet as it's title character!, May 18 2016
Sugar A Little Snow Fairy is a Japanese series (with full English dub) that came out back in 2003 under the Pioneer label, was subsequently license rescued by Sentai as a two part collection in 2009 and is now being re-released once again under Sentai's budget/re-release "Sentai Selects" label. Which means a single case, 4 disc release with a very nice reversible cover at about half the price of the previous collections. It's a wonderfully sweet and gentle series that is suitable for kids of any age from the little ones to the grandparents. And will be equally enjoyed by both!

The storyline revolves around a young girl named Saga who lives with her Grandmother and has become too industrious while loosing too much of life's spontaneous moments. That is until she meets Sugar who is a little Snow Fairy that loves waffles. And the rest as they say is history. The growing attachments between Saga and Sugar. The arrival of more and more fairies and the fact that only Saga can see and hear them becomes a wonderfully sweet and adorable tale of a young girl's slide into teen hood and of a young fairy learning to stand on her own two feet or is it wings? It's a great little series at the price and if you like Disney's Tinkerbell movies; you should definitely give this a try as well.

The collection contains the entire 24 episode series plus the 2 episode Summer Special. Video is 16x9 Anamorphic widescreen (rare back then) and audio is simple stereo for both the English and Japanese soundtracks. There is no French track. Extras include interviews with the creators, location hunting (it's set in Germany) and trailers. 4 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Azumanga Daioh: Complete Collection
Azumanga Daioh: Complete Collection
DVD ~ Chieko Higuchi
Price: CDN$ 44.09

5.0 out of 5 stars The original slice of life school anime and still among the very best!, May 18 2016
Azumanga Daioh first came out from ADV back in 2004 and has been re-issued every few years since. It's the quintessential slice of life school comedy in the same way that Tenchi Muyo is the quintessential space opera or Gundam defined the Giant Mech genre. It's a true classic in the full sense of the word!

Based on a 4 panel manga. Each episode is not your typical series. Rather the anime is done similarly to a comic strip with up to half a dozen or so mini-stories within each episode usually but not always following a similar theme and often with Kanji text similar to what you'd find in a manga.

The storyline revolves around seven girls and their everyday lives at a typical Japanese high school. No angsty romances, evil villains, sci-fi visiting aliens, excessive fan service or even a major storyline. Just a normal slice of life school comedy with some of the most interesting characters you'll ever meet. From Chiyo the 10 year old prodigy who's the cutest thing you'll ever see to Osaka who's completely spaced out to Sakaki who absolutely adores cats but can't find even one who likes her in return plus their hard drinking teacher and her rival. It's just a great ensemble cast.

The closest I can compare this to would be series like Lucky Star or K-On. It's definitely among the best of the best if you want a simple slice of life school comedy. And you don't require some over arching save the world storyline.

However there is one small caveat if you want to watch the dub (which was among ADV's better ones). And that is that on this new re-issue I've been told you can no longer watch the dub with the subtitles turned on! A real bother as there's times when it really comes in handy to flip the subtitles on and off to better get a handle on what's being said. But sadly in this new release you can only choose from the main menu either Japanese with subs or English without. However I have been told that they have partially made up for this by putting in more on-screen text translations than the older re-issues had. So that's at least good.

As for this re-issue it's in Sentai's new budget/re-release "Sentai Selects" label. That means a simple one case, 5 disc collection with a clean reversible cover. While the discs and series itself are identical to the older re-issues. That means a simple 4x3 full frame video, Japanese stereo and English 5.1 with very little if anything in the back channels. But not being an action series you won't miss anything anyways. Extras are limited to Op's, Ed's, some production sketches and trailers.

So overall I still highly recommend this classic slice of life school comedy and I'll still rate this at 4-1/2 to 5 stars despite the quirky subtitle option.

J. A.

Rideback: Complete Series [Blu-ray / DVD Combo]
Rideback: Complete Series [Blu-ray / DVD Combo]
Price: CDN$ 34.98
24 used & new from CDN$ 28.35

4.0 out of 5 stars A great little sci-fi action series!, May 15 2016
Rideback is an interesting little series that revolves around Ridebacks. Motorcycle hybrids that can rise up into small personal mechs although the riders always remain on top of them rather than in them. And which one day a young girl by the name of Rin Ogata who was an aspiring ballerina before an accident discovers that she can do things with a Rideback that nobody else can due to her dancing skills. You can pretty much figure out how it's going to go from there.

Then throw in a semi-totalitarian world government called the GGP that's throwing it's weight around on the local government leaders and terrorists riding Ridebacks and it gets really really interesting really really fast. At 12 episodes there's simply no space for filler though it also means that certain characters don't always get properly developed either. But unlike a lot of anime, it does get a proper non-death wish ending. It was one of those series that actually turned out better than I expected and really deserved to be better known.

This release is in one of Funimations early pre-SAVE Bluray Combo editions. That means two DVD's of 6 episodes each and two Blu-rays with 8 episodes on the first and 4 episodes on the second housed in a standard multi-disc DVD size case rather than the normal Blu-ray cases they use now. In a true 1080P native resolution it's a beautifully animated series. Audio on the BD's being 5.1 TrueHD English and 2.0 TrueHD Japanese. The DVD's are DD 5.1 English and Stereo Japanese. Extras are limited to a couple of episode commentaries, Op's and Ed's and trailers.

I found it an excellent under rated sci-fi action series with the emphasis on the action rather than fan service or comedy which is very little. Who knew that a combination of motorcycles, small mech's and ballet could be so interesting? 4 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Sound of the Sky:  Complete Series [Import]
Sound of the Sky: Complete Series [Import]
Price: CDN$ 51.63
15 used & new from CDN$ 29.71

4.0 out of 5 stars A charming and gentle little series!, April 30 2016
Originally distributed by Rightstuff first in a 4 disc thinpak boxset and now in this more budget oriented litebox format. (1 DVD size case, 4 discs.) Sound of the Sky is yet another of those little gems that never got the attention it rightly deserved.

Set in a possible future where most of the advanced weaponry and technology has been lost due to war. And half the planet is no longer habitable. The storyline is set at a remote outpost on the edge of no man's land in an old fortress called the Clocktower where five young women from the Helvetia Army live a day to day existence. It's a charming little tale.

While it does get a little more serious in the last couple of episodes and each of the characters have had bad experiences of war. It's mostly just little slice of life episodes revolving around their newest recruit who just wants to learn to play the bugle and their interactions both with each other and the nearby townsfolk. It's a nice little blend of action, comedy and a few more serious parts. But never too angsty.

The main storyline is 12 episodes long with the 12th episode having it's own ending animation. In addition there's also a 13th episode which makes a fine little epilogue, an alternate 1st episode which removes some of the text making the opening scenes a little more clear (and which I recommend you watch instead of the original 1st episode) and a 7.5 episode which comes directly after one of the most serious episodes and is an absolute wonderful parody on every war film cliché you ever saw! It's a very nice mix.

Like most of Rightstuf's newer titles, it comes only with a simple stereo sub only audio track. Don't let that turn you off though as it's a beautiful sounding musical soundtrack, the subtitles are easy to read and it has beautiful 16x9 widescreen animation. Plus there are on disc character bios, line art galleries and trailers on each disc. The only thing missing from this budget litebox edition appears to be the 40 page art booklet which came with the original thinpak release.

I really liked this series with it's gentle understated stories and positive attitudes. So different from a lot of Japanese anime with crazed villains and crazy people. So big kudos there as well. 4 to 4-1/2 stars out of 5. You could do a lot worse.

J. A.

Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 2 (Season 1: Original and Uncut)
Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 2 (Season 1: Original and Uncut)
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 15.49
18 used & new from CDN$ 15.49

5.0 out of 5 stars It's all about the Kunoichi's!, April 29 2016
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Naruto Shippuden Boxset 2 carries on where Boxset 1 left off with Team Kakashi fighting Itachi and Team Guy up against the shark like Kisame while Gaara is slowly drained of his Demon Spirit and his lifeforce! But the real action really starts after these initial battles as they have to break into the cave and confront the Akatsuki members Deidara and Sasori who have been left behind to deal with them!

And this is where Sakura and Lady Chiyo really come into their own! As Team Guy gets conveniently sidelined and Kakashi and Naruto get pulled away after Deidara leaving only Sakura and Chiyo to deal with the creepy puppet master Sasori in the Akatsuki hideout. It's a fantastic battle royal for those three from there on which is why this boxset is appropriately titled "Kunoichi vs. The Puppet Master!" and I very much enjoyed it! As it shows just how far Sakura has come and just how great Granny Chiyo really is! But like a DBZ battle, it gets stretched out a bit too far consuming the entire rest of the boxset with only little nods here and there to what the other teams are up to. And ends in a cliff hanger which will require the third boxset to fully appreciate. But for a Kunoichi battle it is superb!

Everything else is similar to the first boxset. Three thinpaks in a nice lightweight box, sub and dub stereo with some pro-logic surround and in a standard 4x3 format. Once again only one subtitle stream and a couple more English voice actor extras. That's about it. If you liked the first boxset then you'll equally love this.

Contains episodes 14 to 26. (Ignore Amazons running time, it's incorrect.) But at 13 episodes with a cliff hanger ending and over half of those for just this one battle; I'll have to rate this boxset at 4 stars for value and 5 for the storyline. 4-1/2 stars overall.

J. A.

Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 1 (Season 1: Original and Uncut - Episodes 1-13)
Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 1 (Season 1: Original and Uncut - Episodes 1-13)
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 15.49
17 used & new from CDN$ 15.49

5.0 out of 5 stars More grown up but still the same Naruto!, April 27 2016
Naruto Shippuden is a continuation of the original Naruto series which ran over 8 boxsets for a total of 220 episodes. And revolved around a group of Ninja from the Hidden Leaf Village and their incredible adventures. It was and is one of the greatest multi-season series ever made! (At least the first 5 boxsets, the last 3 were lower quality filler waiting for Shippuden to appear.) And if you haven't seen them? Then even though this series stands on it's own two feet......., I'd strongly advise you start with it first! Not only for it's quality but in order to see just how far the main characters have come from their humble beginnings. You can see my review of the first two Naruto boxsets here - Naruto Uncut: Season 1, Box Set 1 (ep.1-26)

Now on to the Shippuden series itself. This first boxset starts 2-1/2 years after the end of the Naruto series and Naruto, Sakura and the others have gone from young teens to much more mature teens. So Naruto is bigger and more battle experienced while still remaining reckless and rash. Sakura has blossomed into a highly trained healer with formidable power yet still retains her fierce loyalties and determination. And Gaara has matured into a formidable Kazekage in his own right determined now to protect his people no matter what the cost. I won't bother going into any more details of the plot as Charles Solomon has already summed it up quite nicely. I'll just say it stays up to the usual high quality standards of the original series and it's quite impressive to see them all growing up.

As for this first boxset, there's good news and bad news. The good news is it's a real boxset of 3 thinpaks in a nice looking lightweight box. Unlike the compact bricks of the previous series. I quite like it. However the bad news is each boxset now consists of only 13 episodes and costs about the same as the older series sets which averaged 26 episodes. So the series will cost more.

Everything else is pretty much like the older series. They've retained the same English voice actors for the dub. So no unwelcome surprises there. But the new series is still in the same 4x3 format (no modern 16x9 sigh......) and still has only one subtitle stream. Which means that if you want to see sign or episode titling while watching the English dub you have to turn on the dialogue subtitles. However the sub and dub stereo tracks do have some surround in the rear channels which wasn't often the case with the old series. And they do have a few more extras like a voice actor featurette but otherwise it's Viz's normal scarcity of extras. It also appears to be completely uncut with all the usual broadcast extras, like commercial break animations, next episode previews and nice little primers at the end of each episode on the characters, techniques, relationships, etc. Particularly useful if you haven't seen the original series. So big kudos there.

So how does it rate compared to the original Naruto collection. I'd say it's about the same quality as the original but at only 13 episodes double the price. So I'll have to rate it at 4-1/2 stars instead of 5.

J. A.

Happiness: Complete Collection [DVD] [Blu-ray]
Happiness: Complete Collection [DVD] [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 38.13
12 used & new from CDN$ 36.39

3.0 out of 5 stars A short little sci-fi action comedy series., April 24 2016
Happiness is your typical slice of life school comedy series that revolves around a school where some of the students are in the magic section while the rest are in the normal section. However if you think that means a clash of cultures? Nope that's not what it's about at all. It's really just a light easy going action comedy series about young mages trying to learn their crafts and their day to day interactions with their fellow students. Only in the last third or so of the series does it turn a little more serious with a secret that must be guarded or everything could be lost.

The plot is pretty predictable. Girl (Haruhi) from magic section meets boy (Yuma) from the normal section and you can pretty much figure out where it's going to go from there. Then throw in her fellow mages, his friends Hachi the pervert and Jun the crossdresser. Add in an adorable baby sister and a mysterious new magic student with her own secret agenda and it pretty much covers all the bases. A simple action comedy series 12 episodes long with it's own ending credits and a 13th being a bonus comedy stand alone episode.

Video is a standard 16x9 widescreen and there is no dub. The sub is your standard Stereo Pro-logic mix. Extras are limited to just clean OP's, ED's and trailers. It's a nice little fantasy comedy series but nothing extraordinary. 3 to 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Sakura Wars TV: Complete Collection
Sakura Wars TV: Complete Collection
DVD ~ Chisa Yokoyama
Price: CDN$ 41.98
12 used & new from CDN$ 25.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Giant Mech anime done Jules Verne style!, April 23 2016
Sakura Wars is based off of a couple of old Sega games from the late 90's, early 2000's and originally came out from ADV in two high quality OVA's. Based in the early 1920's, the first OVA series consisted of four 30 min. episodes that revealed how Sakura Shinguji a masterful swordswoman with spiritual energy was recruited into the Imperial Floral Assault Unit. A secret unit of maidens tasked with protecting the world from demonic warriors using battle suits powered by their spiritual energy that could have come straight out of a Jules Verne novel. It made a good intro to the series. This was then followed by a second OVA series which consisted of six 30 min. episodes that were basically stand alone stories about the individual members. It was a great character study which I quite enjoyed but got criticized because the mechs were barely used and it had no resolution. Sadly both of these OVA series have been out of print for over a decade.

However that's not the case with this 25 episode TV series which came out just after the OVA's in the early 2000's and which in one form or another has been consistently re-issued every few years. First from ADV and then later by their successor Sentai. And is now being re-released yet again in their Sentai Selects budget/re-release label. While of TV quality animation rather than the OVA quality animation; this TV series is more complete covering Sakura's arrival to a more or less complete ending.

It's a fun little 25 episode sci-fi action series set in a 1920's world of steam powered everything with a great assortment of maidens from all over the world including karate champion Kanna Kirishima, sharpshooter Maria Tachibana, the child psychic Iris Chateaubriand, klutzy gadgeteer Ri Kohran, and the prima donna Sumire Kanzaki among many others. Who when they're not fighting off demons in their spirit powered metal battle suits called Oobu are either arguing with each other or performing on stage at the Imperial Theatre which is a front for their real underground activities. It's an intriguing combination.

While not for everyone, this is a series that you might want to check out if you want something a wee bit different from the usual 21st century Giant Mech storylines. Seeing them performing a Hollywood type 1920's musical extravaganza one minute and then later on hoping into their steam powered Oobu's can be a real hoot.

3-1/2 to 4 stars depending on your own tastes.

J. A.

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