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John Thomas Anderson (Southern Ontario, Canada)
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Gun X Sword - The Complete Series (S.A.V.E.)
Gun X Sword - The Complete Series (S.A.V.E.)
DVD ~ Not Available
Price: CDN$ 29.95
26 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A fairly good sci-fi action series if you can make it through the first disc!, Feb. 24 2015
Every full length anime series usually has some filler, especially later on as the creators try to pad out the series before the major windup occurs. However Gun Sword may be unique in that it soon becomes apparent that all the filler is in the first 8 episodes! And only around episode 9 does the main storyline really kick in.

As a result, the first disc is mostly silly monster (or more accurately bad boys with mech's) of the week that have to have their butts kicked! In fact so predictable, silly and boring had it become that I seriously considered quitting the series with disc one. However, I decided to check out the second disc and all of a sudden, it started to develop into a fairly good series. With a main villain who's quite a bit different from what you would expect, a bunch of very interesting subordinates and the hero (or more accurately anti-hero) developing his own set of fellow travelers. And from there on it improved considerably.

Now of course it does have a number of serious drawbacks. It's very disjointed and very little time is spent showing the back stories on their opponents. And it's never really explained in a believable manner where the various tech comes from or exactly who the main villains band of techies (cultists) come from. Plus the final showdown spread over the last disc has all the usual clichés of various heroes making one last stand, overwhelming enemy mech's (is there some sort of Mech's R Us on this semi-civilized western themed planet that we didn't know about?) and heroes who always show up just in the nick of time. That sort of thing. It just never fully develops into a believable world. However the action is pretty fast and furious and it does have a decent if somewhat silly ending.

The series has a standard dub and sub with nothing of significance in the back channels and is in a 16x9 standard widescreen. Extras are minimal and mainly involves a short and silly set of finger puppet parodies on the first 13 episodes which are all located on a fifth disc. I found it quite boring. But like most SAVE budget editions, it does have a very nice reversible cover so you don't have to worry about that Green banner!

So overall, I'd give Gun Sword 2-1/2 to 3 stars for the beginning (episode 3 with it's Voltron parody 3-1/2), 3-1/2 to 4 stars for the ending and 3 to 3-1/2 stars for everything in between! Overall 3-1/2 stars out of 5. It's okay but could have been significantly better.

J. A.

Tales From Earthsea [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Tales From Earthsea [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Timothy Dalton
Price: CDN$ 29.96
19 used & new from CDN$ 26.38

3.0 out of 5 stars Good visuals and audio, confusing plot!, Feb. 17 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Tales from Earthsea is the very first movie from the newest generation of Studio Ghibli, namely Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro. And while it's pretty darn good for a first attempt; there are some glaring weaknesses. So don't expect quite the superb finish of a Ponyo or a Kiki's Delivery Service here. This ranks a little bit lower in the Studio Ghibli pecking order.

First of all, visually it's almost as good as his father would have done. Not surprising considering Goro was able to call on the superb talents of his father's veterans. So it's fine there. While musically it is also very high in quality with haunting melodies that perfectly match the sweeping panoramas. In addition audio is also up to a very high standard with good bass and surround sound right into both the side and back channels. Plus the dubbing was also the usual high fare. That's the good points. So where does it falter slightly? Three main areas.

Firstly Goro is not quite the master storyteller that his father is. At least not yet. Based on a very popular series of fantasy novels by Ursula K. Le Guin; it's a tale that in his hands never quite gets fully developed. It has all the elements to be great, but seems to be aimed at only those with an intimate knowledge of the book series. And as a result, many elements of the storyline never really get explained, especially a startling element near the end that's never explained whatsoever! And even those familiar with the books find some of the divergences downright baffling. Not something you want to do with a mainline movie!

Secondly, the Le Guin books can be pretty dark in places and this shows in the main character who seems to alternate between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for no discernible reason. As a result this is a tale without any humour whatsoever in it and a main character that at times you just want to knock up the side of the head and say "What's wrong with you!" So that hardly helps matters either.

And last but not least because of the way the plot is laid out, the first half of the movie which explores the lands of Earthsea and the City tends to be a lot more interesting than the second half which mainly involves a farmstead, the villains run down castle and a half dozen guards. Couple that with a villain who gets downright creepy at the end, appears to have no way to actually do whatever in heck he's supposed to be doing(?) and it's not a great way to end a movie either. But it does look and sound great!

As for this Blu ray edition. The audio track is very good. The Japanese track being the best as it's a full 6.1 DTS-HD while the English track is almost as good being a 5.1 DTS-HD with ES encoding for the back channel. The third track being a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 French track. Extra's include the entire movie storyboards, a one hour feature on the music (one of the best parts of the movie) and a short 4 min. piece on why and how they made the movie. Plus a handful of original Japanese promos and TV trailers.

The DVD is identical to the original DVD release from 2011. So as a result the Japanese audio track is a simpler Dolby Digital 5.1 track, the English track has the same audio glitch as the 2011 edition in which it tries and fails to give me a DD 5.1 track and falls back on a simpler DD stereo pro-logic mix and there's NO French track! Plus in the extras there are no storyboards (they were on a second DVD back then) and no featurette on the music. But it does retain a fun little interactive map piece on the various Studio Ghibli movies and a handful of Disney trailers which aren't on the main Blu-ray release. (I'm guessing there wasn't room.)

So summing up, a good first attempt from Goro Miyazaki marred by a rather confusing plot. (He admits in a Director interview later on the Blu-Ray of his second movie "Up on Poppy Hill" (which is much more rounded) that he should have spent more time on Earthsea and that he could have done better.) So as a result I give it 4 to 4-1/2 stars for the animation, 4 stars for the music and 3 stars for the storyline. 3 stars overall. It's okay, but could have been much better.

J. A.

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Planet Of The Beast King) - Complete Series - S.A.V.E.
Jyu-Oh-Sei (Planet Of The Beast King) - Complete Series - S.A.V.E.
DVD ~ Not Available
Price: CDN$ 29.95
23 used & new from CDN$ 20.36

3.0 out of 5 stars A dark and depressing sci-fi action series!, Feb. 16 2015
At first glance Jyu-Oh-Sei looks like the typical Japanese sci-fi action series. In a modern space colony twin brothers Thor and Rai appear to have everything until they come home one day to find their parents murdered and the next thing they know they've been exiled to a murderous planet where only the worst criminals are sent. And from then on it's survival of the fittest. In other words the storyline goes from glittering space colony to Lord of the Flies within one episode! It's that sort of anime series.

The story certainly had promise. From trying to fit in, discovering how the plants and humans interact and the determination of one young man to survive and avenge his parents. But despite the high quality animation and some pretty damn good fight scenes especially at the beginning it never quite jelled for me. As certain things just never really get explained, far too many characters suffer from a cultural death wish and certain things as it nears it's end just never really add up or make any sort of logical sense. In other words it's the sort of series that starts out with great promise but as it goes on you begin to wonder exactly why you bought it?

However it does look good and those who like them dark and angsty may enjoy this a lot more than I did. Recommended mainly for those who like them dark, with no humour and with lots of self-sacrifice! So 4 stars for those folks and 3 stars for the rest of us.

J. A.

Girls Und Panzer: TV Collection
Girls Und Panzer: TV Collection
Price: CDN$ 52.49
24 used & new from CDN$ 37.94

5.0 out of 5 stars A superb sports anime using tanks!, Feb. 9 2015
At it's heart, Girls und Panzer is basically a sports anime. Mind you a very unusual sports anime as instead of kicking soccer balls around; it's tank shells instead! But otherwise it's basically the same type, underdogs with inferior equipment going up against the top dogs with superior everything and eventually coming out on top. And boy does this anime deliver that in spades!

So in this alternate universe (that the Japanese do so well), a small Girl's Academy decides to get back into Tankery. A sport using WW2 tanks that for some strange reason only Girl's Academies compete in. And drafts a young freshman (Miho Nishizumi) who specifically came to Oarai Academy to get away from Tankery because it's known that her family are the top champions in the sport! You can pretty much tell where it's going to go from there.

So she reluctantly has to assemble a team, dig up tanks, get them and their crews in working order and then go up against a series of increasingly difficult opponents with superior equipment. While along the way building bonds of friendship, re-learning her love of Tankery and the eventual showdown against her very own family! And unlike a lot of anime out there; this one pulls it off superbly.

So what makes it so good? The same things that make a Tenchi Muyo, a Bamboo Blade, a Best Student Council or an Angelic Layer so good. Namely that once they establish the basic parameters of that world (no matter how ridiculous they may be); they then stay true to those boundaries. Making that world come alive.

So the World War 2 tanks really are World War 2 tanks right down to the smallest details. And they handle and fight pretty much as WW2 tanks would. Only once with the speed of the British Matildas (in reality they were dead slow); did I see a mistake. Then show little details like the girls trying to load shells into their tank (they're bloody heavy) or the first year girls panicking during their first combat and fleeing their American Lee (Grant in the British version). Or despite the fact that you have dozens of schoolgirls in short skirts clambering all over the big armoured beasts; there's absolutely no fan service! And at only 12 episodes, there's no filler either! And you realize that it really is all about the sport and school girl camaraderie

Then couple this with great character development and an absolute ton of characters that required every voice actress in Sentai/ADV's stable to dub. Then throw in everything from the fact that their academy and village is on a giant floating aircraft carrier, little jokes like the English commander is named Darjeeling or the Russian commander Katyusha (the famous Russian rocket launcher) or watching battles like a tiny Hetzer (built on the tiny Czech 38t chassis) going up against a Mause (Mouse - a gigantic beast that only 2 prototypes were ever built) is just a hoot to watch! Of course it's silliness waaaay over the top, but like a Tenchi Muyo, the crazier it gets; the more fun it becomes.

Extras are minimal with two important exceptions hidden in the extras. Those being a couple of extras marked "Introductions" and "Introductions 2". Which are actually full length recap episodes that were originally broadcast after Episode 10 when the final two episodes were delayed in production. "Introductions" being a recap of the first four episodes. You can safely skip the first half which simply shows them starting all over again; but I'd suggest you watch the second half as it goes into details on all of the various tanks and their crews and will point out things you probably missed during the first four episodes. I'd suggest you watch it (at least the second half) before going on to episode 5.

"Introductions 2" is similar being a recap from episodes 5 to 10. But here I'd suggest you watch the whole thing as it goes into lots of details on the special shells used, why the crews don't get killed, how the scoring is done and all of the various other tanks and their crews from the American Shermans up to the Pravda T-34's. Plus the upcoming Nishizumi Tigers and Jagdpanzers and the new Oarai tanks and upgrades which will be added to their roster before the final battle. I'd suggest you watch it like it was originally broadcast, directly before Episode 11.

Girls und Panzer is definitely one of the best action/comedy series out there. I just wish it had been 24 episodes instead of 12. Definitely recommended if you like the genre! 4-1/2 stars out of 5.

J. A.

Mayo Chiki - Complete Collection
Mayo Chiki - Complete Collection
Price: CDN$ 40.48
18 used & new from CDN$ 36.73

3.0 out of 5 stars Another typical harem/comedy series!, Feb. 8 2015
Mayo Chiki is yet another in a long, long line of waaaay over-the-top harem comedies. In this case that being that a young man by the name of Kinjiro (who routinely gets beaten up every morning by his little sister who is following in his wrestler mother's traditions) discovers that the surprisingly pretty butler to Kanade (the Alpha female of the school) is actually a girl! Then throw in a cat eared glasses fetishist, a lonely martial artist who can't make friends and the fact that Kanada (who is always seen with glowing red eyes) loves to play with Kinjiro and the growing harem like a cat with mice and well...... you get the picture! Typical Japanese harem comedy all the way.

And that's where it tends to falter slightly for me. Everything in Mayo Chiki has indeed been done somewhere else and probably slightly better. So while I did enjoy watching it, it never really brought anything new to the table. And while funny, it never achieves the uniqueness of a K-On or a Tenchi Muyo or the comedy of a Best Student Council or a Bamboo Blade. And since the manga is still ongoing, it doesn't really have an ending either. There is a semi-ending at Episode 12 where a crisis is resolved but then it slides into Episode 13 which appears to be the lead in to another 12 episode season which either never happened or has not yet happened. So it just well......, stops.

So overall, while it is a fine little comedy (even if a lot of the plot is preposterous even by anime standards); there's nothing new or unique here and it never finishes. So three stars out of five.

J. A.

.Hack//Sign - Complete Series
.Hack//Sign - Complete Series
DVD ~ Not Available
Price: CDN$ 28.97
13 used & new from CDN$ 28.97

4.0 out of 5 stars The original MMORPG based Anime series back in stock!, Feb. 7 2015
Long before there was a Sword Art Online or a Log Horizon RPG based Anime series. There was a Multiplayer Video game series called .hack which became so popular that it spun off a number of .hack Anime series from it including .hack//SIGN, .hack//Legend of the Twilight and .hack//Roots. Of which .hack//SIGN was the first and arguably the best one of the bunch. It was then licensed and distributed in North America by the late Bandai U.S.A. back in 2003. First in single disc sets and limited edition sets and finally in an economy Anime Legends brick set. So it's nice to see it license rescued and re-released by Funimation in a new economy set.

The plot in this Massive Multiplayer Online Real Player Game Anime appropriately entitled "The World" is that there is one player (Tsukasa) who suddenly finds himself trapped, unable to log out and no longer knows who he is. And slowly as the plot unfolds, it's up to him and the other important players in this world within a world to figure out why he can't log out, why he can do things that other players can't and for that matter, who and what is his real out of game location and persona? While at the same time dealing with disturbing events that indicate that something is going terribly wrong inside the game itself. That's the essence of the plot.

Where it significantly differs from newer offerings like SAO is that it's not basically about the fighting or trying to survive. Instead it's more of a slow based mystery series as they gather clues and try to get to the heart of the matter both for him and the world itself. Which is why this may not appeal as much to the more action oriented crowd as a SAO would. As more of the time in this series is spent leisurely travelling up the canals, wandering around the world and long expositions! So where it will more likely appeal might be to older Otaku and Game Players who remember fondly their first forays into role-playing games. It's very true to it's RPG roots!

It's also a very nicely animated series for it's time being in a true 16x9 widescreen format (rare back then), very nicely detailed backgrounds and an outstanding musical soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura who has done some of the very best anime music around. If you've ever heard her musical compositions for Noir or Madlax; then you'll know what I mean.

In fact .hack//SIGN is very similar to Noir and Madlax. Anime series that proceed at a very slow pace with lots of exposition interrupted from time to time with great action and always great musical accompaniment. If you like series like this, then you'll undoubtedly like SIGN. If you find series like this boring, then you'll find SIGN equally so.

As for this Funi re-release, it contains both the original series and the later Bonus/OVA's. (The series actually ends at Episode 25!) With the remaining three Extras/OVA's being two Flashback/Clip Shows intended to lead you into the actual Video Games (so you can safely ignore them if you like) and only the last OVA (Reunion) being a final epilogue both to SIGN, all the spinoffs and the entire Video Game series. Which you will want to watch!

So I'm not sure how to rate this? For older Otaku like myself, for those who like good backgrounds and outstanding music or for those who like Noir or Madlax? It's definitely a 4. But for younger Otaku, those who like lots of action, those who don't have any memories of the beginnings of RPG's and those who get bored easily? It will more likely be a 3 to 3-1/2. Therefore I'll rate it at 4 stars for my own preferences (I love the musical soundtrack). But your mileage may vary!

J. A.

Pom Poko [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Pom Poko [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Price: CDN$ 29.96
20 used & new from CDN$ 25.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A fantasy/action/comedy with adult overtones!, Feb. 4 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Pom Poko is an animated action/comedy film from Studio Ghibli's co-founder Isao Takahata. As a result it has the same high quality production values as a typical Hayao Miyazaki film but loses some of that wistful fantasy Miyazaki does so well and instead tends to be a bit more cynical and adult in nature. Not surprising coming as it does from the man who created "Grave of the Fireflies", one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made!

Set in the 60's/70's, the story revolves around a bunch of racoon dogs (a species similar to but not identical to our own racoons) which in Japanese mythology along with foxes have the ability to shape shift and their struggle to prevent Tokyo subdivisions from encroaching on their forest homes. It's quite funny in spots especially at the beginning but gets more serious at times as well and doesn't hesitate to show casualties, both Racoon and human which is why I'm not sure I'd want to show it to small children. It's not a bad film but it tends to ramble at times and it simply doesn't have that extra spark of magic that Miyazaki's films contain.

As for this Blu-Ray/DVD Combo edition; it's a re-release of the original Disney DVD edition from 2005 upgraded to a 1080P. It's slightly better than the original release but since the film is 20 years old, don't expect miracles here. It's also why the audio is a simple 2.0 DTS-HD for both the English and Japanese tracks. The French audio track being an even simpler Stereo Pro-logic mix. So don't expect state of the art sound either.

As for the included DVD, it's a direct copy of the original 2005 edition right down to the ten year old trailers and menu. It's also why it has no French track (the original DVD didn't have a French dub) and only one extra being a few Japanese trailers and promo's for the film.

Overall, this is not one of Studio Ghibli's best efforts. It has the ingredients to be so but somehow it just never quite jells. So I can't really rate this any higher than about 3 stars. It's okay, but nothing more.

J. A.

Porco Rosso [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Porco Rosso [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Michael Keaton
Price: CDN$ 29.96
15 used & new from CDN$ 25.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A good little family film re-released on Blu-Ray!, Feb. 3 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Porco Rosso is an older but still equally charming animated film from Studio Ghibli and the master animator Hayao Miyazaki. Originally released by Disney on DVD a decade ago; it is now being re-released here in a newer DVD/Blu-Ray Combo edition. The charm and quality remain the same.

The story is set between the World Wars and revolves around Porco. An ex World War One pilot who has been turned partially into a pig by some strange curse. Strangely enough, this really plays no further part in the story and frankly Miyazaki could have simply left him as a man without altering the storyline in any measurable way. So instead the storyline revolves around his job as a mercenary seaplane pilot hired out to protect shipping from air pirates. It's as simple as that.

Although over two decades old, the animation is still very, very good. While not up to the standards of a Princess Mononoke or a Spirited Away; it's still a prime example of how good pure cell animation can be. And as you watch it, you'll see many similarities to his other films. So the little girls at the beginning of the film will definitely remind you of Ponyo, the air pirates of Castle in the Sky, Gina a bit of Lady Eboshi and Fio of numerous young Miyazaki heroines like Kiki and Arrietty. It's that same magical blend of whimsical fantasy and comedy with a few added jabs at the rise of Fascism in Italy. So both adults and children will love it equally as well.

As for this new combo edition; don't expect a major upgrade. The DVD is identical to the original release right down to the same THX intro and ten year old movie trailers. Plus the same simple Stereo Pro-logic surround tracks in English, French and Japanese as well.

As for the newer Blu-Ray, Disney says it has been remastered and it is a bit improved over it's DVD counterpart. But being over two decades old, don't expect it to be another Spirited Away or a Ponyo in quality. In addition the audio is boosted slightly to a 2.0 DTS-HD track in both English and Japanese (French remains Dolby 2.0). But there still is no sub-woofer track. So don't expect a great improvement there either as like the original DVD; there's very little in the rear tracks. But visually, it is very good with lots of animation in the crowd scenes and if you don't have it, it is well worth acquiring. If you already do have it? Then it's up to you to decide if you feel it's worth upgrading.

Oh yes, one final note. Unlike the recent Princess Mononoke Blu-ray release which was dubtitled; Disney has NOT tinkered with the subtitle track on Porco and it's fine for those who prefer to watch this in the original Japanese!

Bottom line, I'd put Porco Rosso about middle of the Ghibli pack. 4 stars out of 5!

J. A.

A-Channel: Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
A-Channel: Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Aoi Yuki
Price: CDN$ 48.74
14 used & new from CDN$ 35.96

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$ 32.18
13 used & new from CDN$ 23.66

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.

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