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John Thomas Anderson (Southern Ontario, Canada)
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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$ 24.98
19 used & new from CDN$ 20.50

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 high quality but 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 cost is essentially doubled.

Everything else is pretty much like the older series good or bad. 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......) With simple stereo tracks for both sub and dub and only one subtitle stream. Which means basically nothing in the back channels of a 5.1 system and if you want to see sign or episode titling while watching the English dub you have to turn on the dialogue subtitles. They do have a few more extras like a voice actor featurette but otherwise it's Viz's normal scarcity of extras. They do however have it 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. It's about the same quality in this first boxset 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$ 62.99
12 used & new from CDN$ 35.98

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$ 29.39

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.

Towanoquon: The Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
Towanoquon: The Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 89.99
24 used & new from CDN$ 36.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A high quality animated series of six mini-movies!, April 21 2016
Towano Quon reminds me a lot of the older theatrical quality OVA series that were released quite often back in the old days and sadly we don't see too much of anymore. Series like Blue Submarine No 6, or Bubblegum Crisis or my favourite Macross Plus. Animated series that are of theatrical or near theatrical quality in sound and animation but really too short and interconnected to really qualify as real movies. Which fits Towano Quon to a tee as each of it's six episodes is only 45 min. long with another 8 min. or so for the extended ending episodes. So even though they were each shown in Japanese movie theatres, calling them movies to me is a bit of a stretch. Still it's nice to see a new high quality series to add to the small list of older titles.

As for the series/movies/whatever. It's your typical one that's been done to death of mutants being hunted by an evil quasi governmental organization in a future world that's under the control of a secret organization called 'The Order." And things play out about the way you would expect. A lot of reviewers compare it to X-Men but I think a more accurate comparison would be Towards the Terra. Very dark at times, lots of action, a very predictable plot with a heroic hero, a city and police that seem to be as dense as lead bricks, a villain who sees the light and ultimately your usual megalomaniacal out to destroy everything main villain. It's that type of storyline. It's a good storyline but claiming it's an instant classic is definitely pushing it a little bit too far.

Where the series does shine is in it's theatrical quality and audio quality. Episodes 1 to 4 are on the first Blu-ray disc and episodes 5 to 6 on the second. They are a true 1080P, 16x9 with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in both the Japanese sub and English dubs. So kudos there. But there's precious little in extras other than a separate commentary track with the English voice actors on episode six and a few trailers.

Overall I'd give it 4 stars out 5.

J. A.

Princess Tutu: Complete Collection
Princess Tutu: Complete Collection
DVD ~ Nana Mizuki
Price: CDN$ 37.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Part Swan Lake, part Grimm's Fairy Tales, but always deep, dark and magical!, April 17 2016
Princess Tutu is a modern classic from the old ADV stable that came out back in 2006. And has been re-issued every few years since first in a thinpack boxset, then stackpacks and now in a simple litebox (1 case, 6 DVD's) collection under Sentai's Section 23 label! And despite the cutesy name, this is NOT a series aimed at the Barbie crowd!

So how do I explain this series to someone who has never seen it? First of all despite it's name that might make you think of a Disney or a Barbie fairy tale; this is more along the lines of the old Germanic Grimm's Fairy tales which could be quite dark at times. With strong elements of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet in all it's glory and darkness thrown in. And while the main character Duck does transform into Princess Tutu calling this a magical girl anime simply won't do. It's much more than just that.

The plot at first does remind one a bit of Swan Lake as a girl named Duck or perhaps a duck who can become a girl gets a magical pendant that allows her to transform into Princess Tutu to rescue her beloved Prince and recover the shattered remnants of his heart. But of course it's a lot more than that with a behind the scenes puppeteer similar to the Nutcracker but far darker. Plus other characters with deep and compelling storylines all of their own. Frankly that's about as much of the plot as I can reveal without spoiling it for you as it's that complex deep and convoluted.

Basically in two major arcs, each of them 13 episode long. This is a truly unique series that will especially appeal to classics lovers with it's glorious music from Tchaikovsky, Chopin and many other musical greats, full fledged romantics with it's tales of unrequited love, ballet lovers for it's very realistic and researched dance pieces and those who like more darker, adult and at times very twisted tales. In other words, while girls will love it for the ballet and fairy tale aspects; it's essentially a series made for adults who will appreciate it on a whole other level.

Obviously this is not a series for everyone. There is no fan service and the closest I can compare this to might be something along the lines of a Kaleido Star without the humour or perhaps Kanon with lots of ballet added. It's definitely a unique series that you will either love or have no interest in whatsoever. There's no middle ground.

For those who fall in love with it, this is definitely a 5 star piece. Even for those who don't, it's definitely worth at least a 4 to 4-1/2 stars for it's sub and dub voice acting, beautiful music and a very compelling dark and unique storyline. So I'll rate it accordingly. Highly recommended for those into this type of series. 5 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Sakura Wars  TV: The Complete Collection
Sakura Wars TV: The Complete Collection
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 29.44
12 used & new from CDN$ 29.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Metal Mech's done Jules Verne steam punk style!, April 14 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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. Both of these OVA's 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 resolution; 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 in a 1920's world of steam powered everything with maidens from the karate champion Kanna Kirishima, sharpshooter Maria Tachibana, the child psychic Iris Chateaubriand, klutzy gadgeteer Ri Kohran, and the prima donna Sumire Kanzaki among others. Who when they're not fighting off demons in their spirit powered metal battle suits called Oobu are either fighting 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 Giant Mech, 21st century storylines. Seeing them performing a Hollywood type 1920's musical extravaganza and then hoping into their steam powered Oobu's soon after can be a real hoot.

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

J. A.

Gasaraki Comp Series Collection - Anime Elements [Import]
Gasaraki Comp Series Collection - Anime Elements [Import]
Price: CDN$ 35.47

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best failed classics ever made!, April 14 2016
Gasaraki is an older mech series that came out from ADV back in the late 90's, early 2000's. It was intended to be THE series to beat Evangeleon! And in many respects it almost succeeded at first with some of the best looking animation, music, realistic mechs (that could actually exist) and a middle eastern scenario that in the first couple of volumes (it originally came out on 8 discs) could have been lifted right out of the Gulf War. With Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles that were the real thing down to the smallest bolt. It also had one of the best dubs that ADV ever made. Couple this with some intriguing going's on back in Japan and plots within plots and it looked like a real winner. For the first third of the series I was completely hooked and then.........

The plot that had been slowly developing began to lapse more and more into techno-babble, various political machinations half of which never made any sense while the actual mech battles became less and sometimes more like filler and the more silly or at least incomprehensible parts of the storyline about the Kai's summoning of the mystical Gasaraki or purifying Japan just sputtered into half baked philosophy with an ending that's almost like an art film at times and makes EVA's look good in comparison.

So basically, I can sum up Gasaraki three ways. For the first third it's a series that can highly appeal to the Gundam, EVA or Full Metal Panic crowd. With great animation and fight scenes coupled with a great soundtrack and dub. The fight between a squad of enemy mechs and an American armoured division still sticks in my mind after all these years and I wonder how the Gulf War would have gone if Saddam had had those mechs instead? It was a beautiful, I wonder what's going to happen next series up to that point.

Then the second third of the series kicks in and I realize that this is a series that now would probably more appeal to the G.I.T.S.-S.A.C. crowd. Less fighting and much more complex political and personal machinations. And then the third part of the series develops and it becomes something that would probably appeal mostly to the Paranoia Agent or Serial Experiments Lain crowd with it's technobabble and incomprehensible plot threads. And so for me it became a failed classic which I still highly value but mainly for the first half of the series.

As for this license rescue reissue (it's been out of print since ADV folded). It's in Rightstuf's Nozomi Anime Elements budget/re-release line at less than a third of the price I originally paid for my ADV box set. Now reduced to 5 discs in a simple lite-box with both the original Japanese subs and ADV dubs. Rightstuf will probably retain as much of the extras as they can. So it's a pretty good deal if you want to check out the beginning of this coulda been classic for it's mech battles or the middle for it's GITS-SAC machinations or if you're a real fan of Japanese mythology and half baked political philosophies then the whole series.

So 5 stars for the first ten episodes or so; they're very good. 4 stars for the middle as it starts to sink into mythology and 2 stars for some of the ending episodes. I still recommend it to this day but mainly for the first half. 3 to 3-1/2 stars overall but I'll rate it a 4 because of it's high quality beginning!

J. A.

El-Hazard: The Wanderers Complete Series [Import]
El-Hazard: The Wanderers Complete Series [Import]
Price: CDN$ 26.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Old school fantasy/comedy at it's best!, April 13 2016
El-Hazard is an older fantasy/comedy series along the lines of a "Slayers" or a "Those Who Hunt Elves". Although in terms of goofy action and interesting characters it's closer to and the fantasy equivalent of "Tenchi Muyo". It's that type of show. First issued back in the late 90's by Pioneer/Geneon as a 7 episode OVA series called "El-Hazard: The Magnificent World." It proved to be pretty popular. This in turn then spun off a 26 episode TV series called "El-Hazard: The Wanderers" which was a rebooting with a slightly different and more family friendly plot. Which were then followed by a 4 episode sequel called "El-Hazard: The Magnificent World 2" and finally in the early 2000's it was followed by yet another sequel of 13 episodes called "El-Hazard: The Alternative World" both of which proved to be two sequels too many in both popularity and plot.

However while the original OVA series is in my opinion the best in terms of both quality and an adult storyline. And I wish somebody would license rescue it. It's the Wanderers TV series that has proven over the years to be the most popular and funny. So it's nice to see Rightstuf re-release this older classic TV series once again in their Nozomi budget/re-release "Anime Elements" line. At this lower price point it's a pretty good deal.

The plot is both convoluted and simple. Because of a jealous rivalry between high school students Makoto and Jinnai. They, Jinnai's sister Nanami and their alcoholic teacher Fujisawa get thrown into an alternate fantasy world called El-Hazard. Here they get separated and over the course of the series have to deal with everything from an invading Bugrom (Giant Bug) invasion, a romantic interest from the young ruler Rune Venus towards Makoto, Nanami's wheeling and dealing, Jinnai's being appointed the Bugrom's new General not to mention dealing with three very strong Priestesses of Water, Wind and Fire who don't always get along! While also dealing with a floating ultimate weapon in the sky and a Demon God named Ifurita who could prove very deadly if she didn't have the brainpower of a melon! It's a very funny over the top show.

The series is 26 episodes long and comes with both the original stereo Japanese sub and Pioneer English dub. Video is in the 4x3 aspect ratio standard at the time and extras include line art galleries, clean OP's and ED's, trailers and some animated comics.

Not recommended if you like your fantasy real and respectful. Highly recommended if you like your fantasy with large dollops of goofiness and silliness. 4 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Dai Guard Complete TV Series [Import]
Dai Guard Complete TV Series [Import]
Price: CDN$ 56.63
10 used & new from CDN$ 36.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Pacific Rim meets Dilbert!, April 12 2016
Dai-Guard is a Giant Mech series from the early 2000's that was last released by ADV in an economy brick collection back in 2006. So it's nice to see it license rescued and re-issued here once again by Discotek (Eastern Star). It's definitely not your normal Giant Mech series!

Yes it has all the normal elements that you would expect in a Giant Mech series. Strange outlandish monsters that appear from time to time and only our noble Dai-Guard can defeat them. But that's about where it ends. For Dai-Guard is basically a comedy and a parody on the entire genre.

Firstly it's been 15 years since the monsters last attacked, Dai-Guard has become old and clunky and has been returned to it's original builders who use it as a marketing gimmick until the monsters return. At which point three of their employees have to pilot it while keeping within budget and handling all the paperwork afterwards. And if they use too much firepower or cause too much collateral damage? Well....... it's going to come out of the budget! Think Evangeleon run by Dilberts company! It's funny as hell and a great parody.

As for this reissue, it comes with both the original Japanese sub and the ADV English dub and is in a standard 4x3 full frame format. Extras were pretty minimal back in the day so you can probably expect the same here. But it was well animated for the time.

It's a pretty good older series and has some pretty funny moments. Especially for anyone who's ever worked for a large corporation. 4 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Magic User's Club Complete Ova Series Collection [Import]
Magic User's Club Complete Ova Series Collection [Import]
Price: CDN$ 25.33
10 used & new from CDN$ 14.95

4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent example of an old school OVA sci-fi/comedy series!, April 7 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Magic Users Club first came out back in 1996 from Media Blasters. It consisted of this 6 part OVA series which was followed up shortly thereafter by a 13 part TV series. And like most OVA's of the period, it tends to be one notch up from it's TV sequel in both length of episodes and slightly better animation. So it is nice to see this older series license rescued and re-released once again under Rightstuf's Nozomi label in a litebox (1 case, 2 DVD's) edition. Nozomi has also re-released the TV series sequel as a litebox (1 case, 3 DVD's) edition as well.

As for this OVA series; it's your typical fan service heavy, sci-fi comedy of the time. The storyline revolving around an Earth that had an alien invasion a year earlier by one single huge alien space craft (called the Bell) which is now sitting quietly in the ocean and whose ball shaped alien scouts simply observe and nothing more. And which the nerdy President of the local schools Magic Users Club decides that maybe they should try tackling it themselves since the Military failed big time. That's basically the plot.

It's a pretty funny series for the first four episodes becoming a little more serious in the last two. There's the nerdy President who's an outright pervert with an over developed imagination. His V.P. who's openly gay and keeps trying to seduce him and three new female recruits with varying degrees of ability. The popular girl whose actually the most talented, Sae the main character who's a klutz but may have the strongest magic of them all if she would just believe in herself and her BFF who's the earnest tomboy type who's only there to support her. And over the course of the six episodes, they fly on brooms, develop their powers, get into heaps of trouble (usually of the perverted type) when things go wrong and eventually have a big showdown with the Bell! It was a pretty good OVA series. And had a pretty good 13 episode TV follow up as well.

As for this license rescue, it contains both the original Japanese sub and English dub. It also contains all the original extras (karaoke clips, promotional videos, clean OP's and ED's) plus a couple of undocumented hidden extras. One each after the last ending credit on the end of each of the two DVD's which consist of outtakes from the English dub recording sessions. Like all Rightstuf DVD's, the sound and audio of this series are first rate.

As for this series it does have some pretty good action scenes; but don't mistake it for a continuous action series. There's also plenty of more quiet innuendo comedy bits as well. And it does get more serious in an old school way at the end. However it is a very good example of old school OVA's from the period and you could do a lot worse.

3-1/2 to 4 stars out of 5.

J. A.

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