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John Thomas Anderson (Southern Ontario, Canada)

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A-Channel: Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
A-Channel: Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Aoi Yuki
Price: CDN$ 48.74
7 used & new from CDN$ 44.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A nice little slice of life school comedy!, Jan. 24 2015
A-Channel is another one of those nice little school comedies that the Japanese do so well. Like others of it's breed; it's derived from a popular Japanese Manga and is very true to it's roots. So each episode is self contained and often has smaller mini stories on the same theme inside each episode. In tone, style and quality, it's very similar to Media Blasters Girl's High Complete Collection. But not quite as good as Azumanga Daioh or K-On! - Season 1 - Complete Collection which I consider the best of this breed. But a very nice series all the same.

This particular set is a Blu-Ray re-issue of the 2012 DVD set and contains two Blu-Ray discs. The first disc contains the entire twelve episode series. While the second Blu-Ray contains only two sets of extras. One set of extras being an hours worth of videos called A-Channel TV showing various interviews with the main voice actresses. Watching so many in succession is about as entertaining as watching your car rust.

The other set of extra's being eleven mini-episodes of about 2 to 3 min. each which appear to be designed to match with the individual episodes. They are very entertaining and a delightful extra. Make absolutely sure you watch them! However, since Sentai had to go to two discs anyways; I would have much preferred them to put six main episodes on each of the two BD's with their corresponding interviews and mini-episodes. That would have made much more sense and made the interviews less boring than doing it this way. There are no other extra's other than a clean ED.

As for the audio, despite what Amazon has listed; there is NO English dub track. It is Sub only, with the standard Japanese Dolby Digital stereo of the original DVD collection being boosted up to a DTS-HD 2.0 track. The 16x9 widescreen format remains the same but is now a 1080P. I give it 4 stars for it's genre (it's quite delightful), but only 3 stars for value. High School girls for example is similar in overall quality and enjoyment (although no Blu-Ray); but only half the price.

J. A.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [Blu-ray] [Import]
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 32.36
6 used & new from CDN$ 23.18

4.0 out of 5 stars Visually and audibly superb but you may find the plot too depressing!, Jan. 24 2015
This is a Blu-Ray re-release of a 2013 DVD release (now apparently out of stock) which in of itself was a new license rescue by Discotek (Eastern Star) of a 2002 American release which originally came out under the old Banda label. It is a superb looking movie!

Jin-Roh was and is one of the best crafted animated movies ever made. Written by Mamoru Oshii and animated by Production I.G.; this is a movie that visually and audibly can hold it's own with his other high quality creations like Ghost in the Shell and the Patlabor's 1 and 2. So why have you never heard of it? In a word, because this is a very dark and angsty film!

Set in an alternate 50's/60's timeline; this is a semi-totalitarian society in a dark and depressing upheaval. Anarchists and demonstrators and revolutionaries are running wild and there is no easy solution, no magic bullet to end the chaos. Beautifully rendered and visually stunning; this just makes the opening scenes of bloodshed and the death of a child soldier all the more horrific as one elite officer and one grieving sister try to come to terms with the chaos that surrounds them. Then throw in all sorts of inscrutable Japanese plots within plots and a pace that at times seems to slow down to a crawl. And then couple this with an overall storyline in which not only is there no guarantee that anybody will live happily ever after but in which you're not even sure who or whether there actually is any good guys? And it's no wonder this movie will never achieve the fame or popularity of a Ghost in the Shell!

So while Jin-Roh will always sit in my permanent collection of top quality animated films; this is also a film that like Akira, Vexille or Grave of the Fireflies will also tend to very rarely if ever actually end up in my Blu-ray player because it's just too damn depressing!

The film comes with both the original English and Japanese audio tracks but Eastern Star lists only Dolby Digital under it's audio heading. No other indication. So you can probably expect the English track to be DD 5.1 and the Japanese track to be a simpler stereo pro-logic. Unlike the original Bandai Japanese track which had a DTS 2.0 option. There is also no French track and no high definition audio either. Video is a standard 1.85:1 16x9 widescreen. And extra's are minimal, mostly director/creator and cast interviews. Plus trailers. Just like the previous releases.

Five stars for the undeniable quality of the animation and audio. Four stars for the convoluted and at times slow pace. And three stars for not including either DTS or High Definition lossless audio! Four stars overall and recommended mainly for those who like them very dark and very gritty!

J. A.

K-On! - Season 1 - Complete Collection
K-On! - Season 1 - Complete Collection
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 41.24
17 used & new from CDN$ 36.94

4.0 out of 5 stars A great little family friendly anime series!, Jan. 22 2015
Originally released by Bandai back in 2012 and considered to be one of the better slice of life anime series; it's nice to see this first season of K-On license rescued and picked up by Sentai to add to their already released second season collection. While a few minor extras were dropped from the Bandai release, the dub and sub remain intact! So what's it all about?

First K-ON! is an absolute delight! Unlike a lot of anime series that are full of conflict, monsters, sci-fi or fan service; K-ON! has none of this! Instead it's simply a wonderful little slice-of-life school comedy. That's it.

The whole story revolves around an after school club called "The Light Music Club." Unfortunately the club is facing disbandment unless they can have a minimum of four members so they end up recruiting a spacey freshman who doesn't even know how to play music!

What makes the series so good is the interactions between the four main members. You have Yui who can't fit both music and schooling into her head at the same time! Mio who is extremely shy yet in times of crisis has to come to the fore whether she wants to or not; Ritsu the club president who keeps forgetting important things like organization and Tsumugi who has some surprising family connections! Throw in half-a-dozen other characters including their teacher who used to secretly be in a rock band and it becomes a great little ensemble piece! This series would make a great intro to Japanese animation for non-anime family members.

This collection is season One and consists of 14 episodes in anamorphic widescreen with both English and Japanese stereo tracks. Both are well done with great voice acting and a couple of great concert pieces.

Highly recommended and very popular among otaku; this series is suitable for families of all ages. I'd rate it at 4-1/2 stars out of 5. (My review on the concluding 2 part Season Two can be seen here - K-ON! Season 2, Collection 1 )

J. A.

Comic Party Complete Original Series [Import]
Comic Party Complete Original Series [Import]
Price: CDN$ 34.51

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun little romp into the Japanese world of doujinshi!, Jan. 14 2015
Comic party was originally released by Rightstuf back in the early 2000's. A 13 episode series it delved into the world of doujinshi (fan comics) through a young high school artist (Kazuki) who gets forced/tricked into the world of massive comic conventions by his Otaku crazed friend Taishi. And spends the rest of the series trying desperately to figure out how it works, get his own comic finished and survive the experience.

It's quite a fun little romp at times and a real primer on exactly how the Japanese doujinshi market really works. From creating your story, finding a printer through to the interactions with the fans. So it's nice to see this series license rescued and re-released by Eastern Star. I don't know if they'll be able to get all of the extra's that Rightstuf had, probably not. But they will have the original Righstuf dub in addition to the Japanese sub so that's a nice bonus!

Now the series is not perfect of course. Being an older series it's in a 4:3 Full Screen and has a simple stereo soundtrack. And while it was a fun series to watch, I did find it a little uneven at times with one episode really hitting the mark while another might fall a little flat. Plus I found his friend Taishi really grated on me at times being far too crazy, but luckily the other characters pulled it back from the brink. So I'd rank this series (and it's sequel Comic Party Revolution: Complete Series (S.A.V.E.) - see my review on it) a little below Genshiken: Premium Collection which I consider the best of this class. Still it's well worth picking up if you're a serious Anime/Manga fan.

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

J. A.

Majikoi-Oh! Samurai Girls: Complete Collection
Majikoi-Oh! Samurai Girls: Complete Collection
Price: CDN$ 52.49
18 used & new from CDN$ 44.05

4.0 out of 5 stars A pretty good harem/fighting girls anime!, Jan. 3 2015
Majikoi Oh! Samurai Girls is another in a long line of harem/fighting girls anime. You know the drill. One nerdy guy, up to half a dozen girls who all want him, lots of action mostly of the fist and sword variety interspersed with a pretty good mix of comedy. It doesn't disappoint.

Basically in three stages. It starts off with a slam bang (literally cast of hundreds) warfare as two rival senior classes clash in their annual battle for supremacy of their school and which sets the stage for the introduction of the harem. But then surprises by basically dropping this rivalry and proceeds to a quieter more balanced set of episodes surrounding the individuals and their quirks. Which in the last half of the series then proceeds to some more fantastic battle royal action as the two main protagonists show their true hand and abilities. Overall it's a pretty decent action/comedy series though there does run underneath quite a bit of deep rooted cynicism towards the political class. But it never really interferes with the girl on girl action. If you like series like Ikki-Tousen or Queen's Blade; then you'll like Majikoi equally as well.

On three discs of 4 episodes apiece, the only extra's of note are an equal number of shorts on each disc from the original Japanese cast (about 4 to 5 min. apiece) in which they comment on that weeks episode. That's about it. Audio is standard stereo in both the dub and sub and I noticed very little surround effect. But being the typical DBZ type fight series, it's fine the way it is.

4 stars for the fighting scenes, they're very, very good. 3 to 3-1/2 for the comedy, 4 stars for the dub done by a very competent set of ADV veterans and 2 stars for the underlining cynicism which tends to drag down and slow down the action at times. However, overall it's still one of the better girl on girl fighting series out there, so I'll give it four stars!

J. A.

Himawari  Too! S2 Collection
Himawari Too! S2 Collection
Price: CDN$ 44.09
21 used & new from CDN$ 25.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly more monster of the week than the first season!, Dec 11 2014
This review is from: Himawari Too! S2 Collection (DVD)
Himawari Too is the final 13 episodes of the Himawari Himawari! Season 1 Collection action/comedy series. While the characters are the same, the series changes tone from Himawari being the duck out of water to a more seasoned kunoichi who can more than hold her own. While at the same time the series itself moves on to a more villain of the week orientation at least for the first half of this 2nd season. And as a result I found it a little bit less interesting than the first season was. Only in the last few episodes does it really start to pull itself together again answering the questions of her real origin and slowly gets away from the villain of the week mentality.

Like the first season it's a sub only with a simple Japanese stereo track and English subtitles. And also like the first season it's in a true 16x9 anamorphic widescreen format, not the 1.33:1 full frame format listed by Amazon.

Overall it's still a good series. Just not quite as entertaining as the first season was. So where I gave the first season 4 stars, I'd rate this second season at 3 stars.

J. A.

The Wind Rises [Blu-ray]
The Wind Rises [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Price: CDN$ 29.96
17 used & new from CDN$ 29.96

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An adult film from Studio Ghibli, Dec 6 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Wind Rises [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Hayao Miyazaki's final swan song is not your usual Studio Ghibli fare. No whimsical fantasy here, no action adventure storyline intended for the whole family. Instead this is a much more sober and dark tale set in a pre World War II Japan of a young aeronautical engineer by the name of Jiro Horikoshi who would eventually go on to design the Mitsubishi Zero. In tone the movie is much closer to his Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies (which details the final destruction of Japan and it's aftermath) than the usual Ghibli fare. It's definitely not the sort of film you'd use for family entertainment!

Visually, as the most recent (and last movie Hayao Miyazaki intends to make), it's up to the usual high Studio Ghibli standards. More than holding it's own against movies like Arrietty and Poppy Hill which are also visually very good. And while it takes quite a few liberties with the storyline such as his fantasy dreams with the Italian aero engineer Caproni; it also shows the darker side of pre-war Japan and Germany. This is instead a movie about one young man's obsession to build aeroplanes and his love for a woman. Basically nothing more. With no guarantees of a rousing finale or even a happy ending.

The audio track is also surprising for a modern Ghibli movie being nothing more than DTS-HD 1.0. In other words old-fashioned Mono! This being done deliberately at the request of Miyazaki himself in order to give a pre-war feel to the film. Surprisingly it works pretty well as the movie is mostly drama and quiet introspective spots anyways. The only part being in the early part of the movie during the Great Tokyo Earthquake where a proper 5.1 audio track would definitely have been appreciated to show and feel the true power of nature. Plus maybe a few of the (very few) flight scenes. But it's what he asked for and desired. It's also one of the few Studio Ghibli films that has no French Audio Track. Only English and Japanese plus French subtitles.

So bottom line, if you're looking for a typical rousing upbeat Studio Ghibli film, this ain't it! But if you want a darker and more mature film along the likes of Akira or Grave of the Fireflies or Jin-Roh then this may just be your cup of tea. But a family film it is not!

So 5 stars for the animation which is superb and 3 stars for the simple Mono soundtrack. 3 stars if you don't like them dark and 4 to 5 if you do. Since I personally don't really get into movies like this and I doubt I'd want to watch it more than once every five years or so, I'll rate it a 3. Your rating will undoubtedly vary!

J. A.

Bleach: Uncut - The Assault (Season Five)
Bleach: Uncut - The Assault (Season Five)
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 24.98
28 used & new from CDN$ 16.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The Bount Arc comes to a satisfying conclusion!, Dec 1 2014
With 18 episodes spread over 4 discs the Bount arc concludes with the remaining Bounts entering the Soul Society. And like the 3rd boxset of the original Bleach series; this third boxset of the Bount filler arc saves the best to last bringing out the heavy guns in the form of the various Court Guard Captains to confront them.

While it's not as exciting or as surprising as the original Ichigo & company versus Captains storyline was in the Season Three finale which was superb! Has some plot holes that you could run a Zanpakuto through. Tends to be a little long-winded in spots and conveniently makes sure that only Ichigo will end up confronting Kariya. It's still surprisingly good for a filler arc. Plus it also has a neat little epilogue/series recap episode at the very end.

Not as good as the original three seasons but much better than fillers such as Naruto have ever had. I'd give it 3-1/2 to 4 stars overall.

J. A.

Princess Mononoke [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Princess Mononoke [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Billy Crudup
Price: CDN$ 29.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 25.51

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hayao Miyazaki's epic masterpiece FINALLY comes out on BLU-RAY!, Nov. 21 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Of all of Studio Ghibli's many award winning films produced by it's co-founder Hayao Miyazaki; none has ever achieved the critical acclaim that Princess Mononoke did and there is no doubt that it is and will forever remain his most monumental achievement. Not to mention that It is also considered without a doubt to be one of the ten best animated movies ever made! So it is nice to see this masterpiece released on a North American Blu-ray where it rightfully belongs!

So what makes this film so incredibly good? First and foremost is the stunning level of detail. Although made back in 1997; it's level of detail and animated movement is so great that only a handful of cell based animated films has ever approached it and ironically half of them like Spirited Away and Ponyo are also Studio Ghibli films! Then throw in a complex storyline two and a quarter hours long (and never boring) that's constantly weaving new elements (always stunning in their visual beauty) into the mix and that never adheres to simplistic western ideas of good and bad and you have an animated movie that bears as much resemblance to a Frozen or a Sleeping Beauty as a B movie does to The Ten Commandments or Lawrence of Arabia.

For example in a typical animated movie the so-called heroine (San who has been raised by the Wolf God Moro) would be all noble and kind. But in this real world of myth and legend, she's quite willing to kill the odd innocent wagon driver if that's what it takes to preserve her beloved forest! And as for Lady Eboshi who rules Iron Town and in a typical western storyline would be a greedy tyrant. In Mononoke while yes, she may be destroying the forest and is also intent on killing the Great Forest spirit. She's also taking in girls from all the neighbouring brothels to run her forges and making them the equals of the men. Plus sheltering and protecting Lepers who she uses to make her guns and weapons. It's that sort of adult quality in plot and detail we're talking here!

As for this new Blu-ray release, video wise it's definitely worth upgrading from the older Miramax DVD release. Good as the DVD was, the new Blu-ray is even better! This is definitely the way a movie of this quality should be seen. Audio wise it's not quite as important as the original soundtracks are from the late 90's and were already in a DD 5.1 format. The DVD's tracks being boosted up to DTS-HD 5.1 tracks in English, French and Japanese. I didn't really notice that much difference over the DVD's existing DD 5.1 audio which already was quite good.

As for the included DVD release; it's essentially identical to the earlier Miramax DVD release right down to the menus which is why they don't match with the BD's menus which are similar to the new Kiki's Delivery Service Blu-ray that also just came out. So if you don't have a Blu-ray player and only intend to watch the new DVD; there's no point in upgrading from the older Miramax release.

Finally a few extra points. On the back cover Disney lists the DVD English track as 2.0. But not to worry as it is the same 5.1 track as the older Miramax release. Also because switching audio tracks also switches screen credits; you can only change audio options from the main menu! And finally on a more important note, if you prefer watching this with the Japanese audio track; please note the following. The literal translation track of the older release has been replaced with a newer subtitle track on both the BD and DVD that's essentially identical to the closed captioning track just without the extra sound effects captioning. In other words, it appears to be dub titled. So if you preferred the older literal translation track; you might want to hold on to your older release!

Now despite the niggling over the subtitles; overall I can't praise this movie enough! It is and still remains one of the finest animated movies of all time. And if you have a screen big enough; the new Blu-ray should definitely be picked up if you want to see just how good a true animated movie can be! FIVE BIG STARS OUT OF FIVE !!!

J. A.

Kiki's Delivery Service [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Kiki's Delivery Service [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Kirsten Dunst
Price: CDN$ 29.96
20 used & new from CDN$ 25.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ghibli's most popular film comes to Blu Ray. But with one small caveat., Nov. 19 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Kiki's Delivery Service was the very first Studio Ghibli movie ever licensed and distributed by Disney and it is still considered by many of us to be one of the very best family movies that has ever been made! So it is nice to see it re-issued yet again in a bluray edition but there is one little caveat that I will get to later.

The story is simple and sweet and utterly charming. Set in a mid-50's type world of black and white TV's, trams and automobiles. It's a world in which witches are completely normal (though rather rare) and on their 13th birthdays; they have to venture out into the world to advance their training and decide how they will use their gifts of magic. And so our plucky heroine ends up in a small city by the sea that hasn't seen young witches in decades. It's quite a revelation for both sides!

It's an utterly wonderful tale of a young girl passing from childhood into adulthood; overcoming her own fears and doubts and of an absolutely wonderful supporting cast from the boy with a crush on her to the baker and his wife who offer her a place to stay. Not to mention the city folk having to come to terms with a young flying witch in their midst!

In fact that's one of the very best parts of this movie; there's really no superhero's or villains in the entire movie. Just ordinary folk going about their ordinary lives. Some are friendly, some are neutral while others may be a little arrogant or even a little rude or greedy but there's nobody who's really bad. And unlike a lot of movies, family or otherwise; there's no villainous plot and no violent ending. Just a wonderful uplifting movie that teaches you don't have to settle things with force and that girls don't always have to depend on a boy to protect them. Unless of course they want him to! It's a perfect family movie especially if you have young girls. (Though boys will love it too.)

Animation is first rate as always and is even better on this Blu Ray bringing out every nuance of the movie's original release. (Though the DVD is pretty damn good as well.) Plus there's a nice little collection of extras (non of which is overly long) that have been carried over from the previous DVD release and the stereo pro-logic track has been bumped up to a DTS-HD 2.0 for the English, Japanese and French tracks. Not that I noticed much difference since the original 1989 film had a very simple audio track.

However, here is where that little caveat comes in. Kiki's Delivery Service along with Castle in the Sky (Laputa) have had two different English Disney soundtracks over the years. The original l998 soundtrack (on the 2005 DVD) which was enhanced with new English opening and closing songs, some boosted sound effects and other musical embellishments where it was quiet on the Japanese release and quite a bit of additional ad-libbing from Phil Hartman's Jiji which considerably livened up the dub.

However in 2010 when the DVD was re-released; Disney revised the English track to adhere more closely to the original Japanese track. This resulted in cutting out the two English songs as well as a good number of the embellishment and crowd comments and as a result this newer version feels slightly more flat to me than the older 2005 version did (though it's still wonderful) and as a result could prove disappointing to some. So when you read a review claiming that the movie has been cut or it's not as good as it used to be; this is what they really are referring to!

So like last years release of the Castle in the Sky BD; some of us feel that the original English dubs of Kiki and Castle should have been kept or at least included along with their newer English dubs so that viewers could get whichever they preferred. As this is one of those rare situations where many otaku feel the original English enhancements actually improved these two movies. And in the case of Kiki's Delivery Service, made a great movie even slightly better! So like Castle if you have and/or loved the original English DVD releases, you may want to hold onto them just in case. Of course if you've never heard the 2003 release of Castle or the 2005 release of Kiki then you won't miss the differences and will be perfectly happy as they're still wonderful soundtracks.

As for the movie itself, despite that little caveat; this is a movie that will still wow you whichever version you watch! Though in a quiet and unassuming way. It's a virtually perfect family movie and I've never seen anyone who didn't fall in love with it at first sight. I consider it one of the top ten family animated movies of all time! 5 big stars out of 5!

J. A.

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