Yona of the Dawn Part 2 Review

Some spoilers ensue…

Crimson-haired Princess Yona, the only child of murdered King Il of the kingdom of Kouka, is on the run from the forces of her cousin Su-Won, who has killed her father and seized the throne. She is the reincarnation of her ancestor, the heroic Crimson Dragon King, and is searching for his four loyal Dragon Warriors, also reincarnated, to help her take back the throne from her usurping cousin (and unrequited crush). This quest is proving a harsh lesson in reality for the sheltered princess, not least as she comes to hear – incognito, of course – from her impoverished countrymen that her dearly loved father’s pacifist policies have resulted in widespread misery beyond the capital city. But Yona is made of stern stuff and determines to play her part in bringing about reform and righting injustice. She resolutely practices bowmanship and refuses to be treated like a princess by her entourage.

But what of new King Su-Won? In spite of cultivating the outwardly gentle, tea-drinking aesthetic persona that has deceived Yona and the rest of the court, the young king is out to unify his crumbling kingdom. In Episodes 15-16, the focus shifts to Su-Won and we see – through the eyes of bored and dispirited General Lee Guen-Tae of the Earth Clan – that the new king might yet prove to be a force for good and a man worthy of his loyalty.

Yona is helped by the White Dragon Kija to locate the Blue Dragon, whom she names Sinha, then the search for the remaining two dragons continues. But the Green Dragon, Jae-ha, proves frustratingly elusive and as Yona and her friends enter the port city of Awa, they soon learn that the citizens are living in fear of its brutal governor and his men. Encounters with pirates and human traffickers will test Yona to the limits of her endurance – but also help her to grow in self-confidence and maturity. By Episode 24, Yona and her four dragons entourage return to consult Ik-su, the high priest oracle, to seek his advice… and that’s where the anime version ends, leaving us, as the French so aptly say, sur notre faim. Viz Media are now bringing us the original manga by Mizuho Kusanagi in their Shojo Beat list but with only 4 volumes out in English at the time of writing and 23 so far in Japanese, it’ll be quite a while until we even catch up with the end of the TV series (Volume 8) and venture into new territory.

Much of Part 2 of Yona of the Dawn is taken up with the Awa arc, an important development for Yona in that she is shown as determined to conquer her own fears and put right some of the wrongs that have come about through her late father’s policies. Thanks to Kazuhiro Yoneda’s slick direction, the story-telling throughout is traditional but no less exciting for that, and there’s a light but refreshing use of humour as well. The creative team and the voice actors ably engage our sympathy with Yona and her followers, and it’s difficult not to get drawn in and care about what becomes of them. I recommend this series as a great watch for younger anime fans (it’s a 12) for (as with Bodacious Space Pirates) it delivers a sympathetic, relatable but self-confident young heroine. And even though there’s a little light flirting (and a great deal of joshing) the emphasis is very firmly not on ‘who will Yona pair up with?’ but ‘how will Yona get her kingdom back?’ (There’s also a great older woman role-model in pipe-smoking Pirate Captain Gigan.) However, this traditional quest may not appeal to viewers looking for more edgy fantasy fare. And it’s frustrating that the series stops just as it’s getting really interesting, proving especially tantalising with all the plotlines left unresolved. There are three OVA in Japan but these have not been made available to watch so far. Will there be a third season? Or will we just have to go and read the manga (as yet unfinished too!)?

The Funimation US dub makes a good alternative to the original Japanese cast, with a lively script. In my review of Part 1, I mentioned that Monica Rial has a tendency to veer into the shrill at times but here she brings a greater vocal range to the part, ably showing how Yona is growing up and changing. Both Junichi Suwabe and Joel McDonald convince as Jaeha, the charming lady-killer, and it’s a shame we only get to hear Josh Grelle and Hiro Shimono in Episode 24 as Jeno.

The stirring orchestral Opening Theme “Akatsuki no Yona” (Yona of the Dawn) by Kunihiko Ryo (eps 1-14) is replaced by the upbeat electronic J-pop “Akatsuki no Hana”  (Flower of the Dawn) sung by Cyntia. The gentle first Ending Theme “Yoru” (Night) by vistlip is also replaced from Episode 15; “Akatsuki” (Dawn) by Akiko Shikata features a solo on the erhu, the oriental two-stringed violin whose expressive sound has come to be associated with China. (Jae-ha is seen playing the erhu in these episodes.)

This Funimation R2 release of Part 2 comes on Blu-ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles. Extras include Episode 16 & 24 Audio Commentaries, Promotional Video & TV Spots, Textless Songs and Funimation Trailers.

In Summary

Yona of the Dawn is a traditional but genuinely likable, watchable fantasy quest series with – a big plus-point, these days – a self-possessed, sympathetic heroine whose adventures should appeal to viewers of all ages.

Title: Yona of the Dawn Part 2
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers.

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” – Sam Levenson

In this collection we see the return of some horrific faces from the past and some rather unusual teamwork.

Previously, the Fairy Tail guild were under attack from a group called the Legion Platoon, a group of wizards working under the Zentopia church. The Legion, consisting of the Earth-Land versions of wizards they met in Edolas, managed to take the metal rod that Michelle had given to Lucy, which was actually the hand for a clock.

Lucy, Natsu, Gray, Erza, Happy and Wendy make their way to Lucy’s old family mansion to see if there are any clues as to why the Legion may have taken it, and ultimately find that the clues lie in an old children’s book that Lucy used to love. But while they are trying to figure everything out they are attacked again by another pair from Legion, this time a brainy Exceed named Samuel and a fighter named Dan Straight, who instantly falls in love with Lucy. Samuel gets what he needs from the book and they make their escape.

After this, Lucy concludes that the book is telling them to find the rest of the clock pieces, so the guild decides to send five different teams to find the parts: Levy, Pantherlily, Gajeel, Jet and Droy; Gray, Juvia and Lyon; Natsu, Happy, Lucy, Michelle and Romeo; Erza, Wendy, Charle and Cana; and lastly Elfman, Mira and Lisanna. Each of the teams comes across their own clock piece, but also finds a member of Legion ready to take them on. However, in Natsu’s case, they also make a terrible discovery: both Fairy Tail and Legion Platoon are being targeted by a dark guild. What is worse, it is a reformed dark guild that the Fairy Tail wizards know about all too well.

There is less to write about concerning this collection because it feels like the start/middle of a much larger arc. Most of this collection concerns the fights that each of the teams have against the Legion wizards. Later on, we learn more about what is really going on with the arrival of the dark guild, and at the end, new teams again are formed in order to defeat the dark wizards.

This does however make for at least one positive for this collection, in that we get to see the main characters relating to other characters in the show that they tend not to spend so much time with. For example, in the end one of the teams that appears is Gray and Fried; another is Bixlow and Wendy; a third sees rivals Erza and Evergreen team up. It is building up to be something interesting.

These episodes therefore are probably best seen as a light starter before the main entertainment. We’ve seen the first opening bouts of the fighting between Fairy Tail and Legion Platoon, but when the real baddies are revealed, we know we can expect to see something bigger.

Again, you have pretty much the same extras as last time, with textless opening and closing, episode commentaries and trailers. One difference is that this time there is a video commentary as well as an audio one. New theme tunes appear too, and both the opening theme, “Te no Hira” by Hero, and end theme “Yell – Kagayaku Tame no Mono” by Sa Ta Andagi make for good listening.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11

Warning: this review contains episode spoilers.

“I never think about the future – it comes soon enough.” – Albert Einstein

This collection of Fairy Tail episodes is possibly the best yet, primarily because it has one of the most dramatic endings to a story arc I’ve come across.

It begins with the Fairy Tail guild having managed to defeat the dark guild Grimoire Heart, but Grimoire Heart have other problems. Zeref has appeared before their leader Hades to reveal that there was no point in their plans to revive him as he was never sealed away to begin with. Zeref then kills him, claiming that Hades has released something called “Acnologia”.

Back down on Tenrou Island, things are already pretty dramatic as Cana finally reveals to Gildarts that they are daughter and father respectively, but shortly after this they find that the whole island is under attack from the aforementioned Acnologia, which turns out to be an incredibly destructive dragon. It was this dragon that resulted in Gildarts losing an arm, a leg and some of his innards. Natsu, however, is partly glad to see the dragon, because it proves that dragons are still alive and therefore possibly Igneel is alive too. Any happiness is short-lived, though, as Acnologia proves to be so violent that no-one on the island can stop the beast – not even Makarov using his magic to make himself gigantic (and thus the same size as the dragon) can hold things off. Eventually, the only thing they can do is hold hands and cast a defensive spell to protect themselves from one final blast from Acnologia – who obliterates the entire island.

No trace of the wizards can be found. The Fairy Tail wizards are assumed to be dead. The story then moves forward seven years into the future.

By this point the Fairy Tail guild is a shadow of its former self, what with the deaths of the best wizards. Among the many changes that have happened, Macao is now acting as head of the guild, his son Romeo is now a full-up member of the guild using multi-coloured flame magic, Alzack and Bisca have got married and have a daughter named Asuka, and Reedus has slimmed down in size. They are also no longer the most powerful guild in town and are in debt to a new guild that has moved in.

However, thanks to some help from their old friends in the Blue Pegasus and Lamia Scale guilds, they learn that Tenrou Island may not have been totally destroyed after all. They take a voyage by ship where they discover that a woman has protected the island. There, they find that the old members of Fairy Tail are not only still alive, but they have not aged in the past seven years, thanks to the woman’s spell. The woman claims to be the spirit of Mavis, the guild’s founder, and vanishes after completing her task.

With the whole guild reunited, they soon take care of their rival guild and start to re-establish themselves. Lucy, though, has to come to terms with the news that just a few months ago, her father died. After dealing with some normal guild business (i.e. a few episodes of filler before the main story continues), Lucy then receives a visit from a distant crybaby relation named Michelle Lobster, who has delivered her a memento from Lucy’s father: what looks like a metal rod covered in bandages. But when Michelle drops it, some ancient writing appears on it. Lucy and Levy learn the rod is actually part of a clock face, but they have bigger problems when the guild is attacked by some wizards that look strangely familiar.

The reason why this collection of episodes is so entertaining is the drama. As far as things go, seemingly having the whole of the main cast obliterated by a dragon is a pretty big way to end the season. OK, let’s face it, we all know there was going to be some way for the characters to come back, but witnessing the guild knowing that they have finally come across something that even they know they cannot defeat and thus have to prepare for the worst makes for very gripping viewing.

It is also interesting to see just how much of Fairy Tail depends on the characters, as is evidenced by what happens to the guild once it is only left with a handful of members, especially its weaker ones. Macao does get to keep his job as guild leader when Makarov returns, but you sort-of know his effectiveness is questionable, given what has happened to the guild in the past seven years. Things may change now that the best wizards are back.

There are a few things about this collection that are somewhat questionable however, mostly concerning the way Funimation has released the episodes. For starters, given that the Tenrou Island arc is dealt with in about four episodes, you have to ask why those episodes were not put on the previous DVD collection. Surely it would have been better to have kept the arcs separate, or to put just the last one or two episodes on this collection and end the last collection on a cliffhanger, making the viewers wonder whether the wizards survived the blast from Acnologia. Funimation does keep the arcs separate across the two discs in the collection, but that means you end up with seven episodes on the first disc and only four on the second.

Mind you, the second disc does contain most of the extras. The first disc only has one episode commentary, but the second has a commentary, trailers, footage of Todd Haberkorn (the English voice of Natsu) at Otakon 2013, and the textless opening and closing music, including some new title sequences. Out of the two, the end sequence “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity is better than the opening, “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus.

It is hard to tell how well the next storyline will pan out, but it is going to have to pull something big out of the bag to top what happens at the end of this one.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Naruto Shippuden – Box Set 27 Review

Naruto Shippuden presses onwards in the 27th two-disc “box set”, featuring episodes 336 – 348. As with any kind of long-running series, you get some chunks of episodes that are mostly wasteful filler, then sometimes you get a batch of episodes that move the main plot along and are generally really good, and thankfully that’s what you get with these discs.

The last set ended with Sasuke and his resurrected brother Itachi facing off with Kabuto, a side-villain that has been in the works since pretty much the beginning of the Naruto franchise, and the man responsible for resurrecting all the dead shinobi and having them fight the allied Ninja forces. We get a good long flashback to see just how Kabuto fell under the influence of Orochimaru and why he has started to turn himself into a facsimile of the snake-themed demon. It does a good job of letting you understand his motives, and the way in which he’s defeated is very satisfying. I’ll leave the details out, but with the resurrection ninjutsu broken, Itachi says his tearful goodbye to Sasuke, imploring him to do what was right, and the allied forces watch on and celebrate as their resurrected foes crumble and return to the afterlife.

That was just the first two or three episodes! We switch to the five Kage (top-of-the-pile ruling Ninja in each of the five major hidden ninja villages) battling legendary baddie Madara Uchiha, who reveals he rescinded the resurrection spell and is very much still around. Meanwhile Naruto, Kakashi and others confront the mysterious masked Tobi, who is unfazed by the resurrected ninja falling apart, and instead moves forward with his plan to restore the ten-tails demon and bring about the Infinite Tsukuyomi (a worldwide ninjutsu that will put everyone in a pleasant dream for all eternity). This leads to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Naruto breaks his mask, eventually revealing the man behind it all. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone at this point in time, if you’re into the series you’ve no doubt found out already, or if you’ve been watching just through the DVDs, you’ve probably noticed which eye socket Tobi’s sharingan eye has been located in and its familiar powers, but I still won’t straight-out spoil it… even if the DVD cover does its best to do so…

The next bunch of episodes spells out how Tobi got from Point A to Point B, then to the present day. It does sometimes reek of retconning in order for something to fit, rather than “it was the plan all along”, which was previously evident when Tobi went from silly comedy character to serious lead antagonist at the drop of a hat (although that is also sort of addressed…) It works well enough that you buy it without much resistance. The last two episodes of the set are actually filler, but the kind of filler you don’t mind because they fill in a blank that doesn’t necessarily need to be filled in, but it’s fun to watch. It deals with the formation of the Akatsuki and shows how Nagato and his Paths of Pain became the front men of the villainous group while Tobi stayed in the background (and acted like a silly fool, for some reason). That, my friends, is the last time I refer to the character as Tobi! Hooray!

“Tsuki no Okisa” by Nogizaka46 is your opening song for all 13 episodes, while “Black Night Town” by Akihisa Kondo is your ending theme for Episodes 336 to 343, then it switches to “Niji” ( or “Rainbow”) by Shinkū Hollow. The extras are your normal affair, clean opening and ending, plus trailers.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 27 then. It’s a fine example of the show when it isn’t filled with filler and focuses on the story. Plus, even better, this set barely focuses on Naruto himself, who can often suffer from overly-nice-protagonist syndrome, with the side effects of predictability and changing the hearts of the bad guys with his niceness. In fact the backstories of both Kabuto and Tobi (okay, I guess that’s the last time I call him that…) are sad and extremely dark, respectively, and are well written excuses for some of their actions over the past few years of DVD releases. I mean, I’m not saying they’re justified in what they do, but at least if you see how they ended up on their paths and understand it, it makes for more interesting villains.

If you’ve been collecting Naruto “box sets” instead of the… collected box sets, and trying to avoid certain volumes that are skippable, this is NOT one of those. It covers many key points that have ripple effects both backwards and forwards across the timeline we’ve been seeing unfold for over a decade. This is one not to miss for anyone with even a passing interest in the series.

 

Title: Naruto Shippuden Box Set 27
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Studio: Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

Before starting, it should be pointed out that this Yu-Gi-Oh! GX boxset has many of the same problems as the sets for the original Yu-Gi-Oh!: yes, you do get a lot of episodes (52), but you can only have them in the English dub provided by 4Kids (now 4K Media Inc.); there are no subtitles, no DVD extras, the scene selection is rubbish, some of the accents used in the show are dodgy, and if you didn’t like the voice actors in the original show then you should also know that they reuse the same actors here. GX also has problems of its own, with the animation at times being so poor it is laughable. There are some unusual translations from Japanese into English, if you find the catchphrases of the characters annoying you will be annoyed in almost every episode, and the least said about the song in the opening titles the better.

However, when it does something good, it does it well indeed, and the characters and scenario do give it some credit.

GX is set a decade after the original events of Yu-Gi-Oh!. By this time, Seto Kaiba has created his own institute, Duel Academy, to teach the best young duelists all about the “Duel Monsters” game. The series follows Jaden Yuki, who on his way to the entrance exam literally bumps into Yugi Moto (not that you see his face), who gives him a card for luck: a “Winged Kuriboh”, whose spirit Jaden is able to hear.

At the exam, he manages to pass by beating one of the teachers in a game, the ugly and pompous Dr. Crowler, who instantly dislikes him for beating him. Jaden moves in to the school, but is put into the weakest of the three student bodies, “Silfer Red”, which has the fewest resources. He shares a room with a friend he makes on the day of the exam, shy and nervous Syrus Truesdale, and gluttonous dunce Chumley Huffington who has failed to graduate twice. There are all looked after by the eccentric cat lover Prof. Banner.

At the beginning of the series, most of the stories concern Crowler trying to get Jaden expelled, often using students from his top student body, Obelisk Blue, to do his work. Among the students in this class are Chazz Princeton, who thinks all of the worst performing students should be kicked out and thus hates Jaden; Alexis Rhodes, a more kindly student who forms an interest in Jaden and whose brother Atticus is missing; and Syrus’s older brother Zane, the best duelist in the whole school. Aside from them, there is also the middle student body, Ra Yellow, whose main student is Bastion Misawa, a genius with the top grades who also became friends with Jaden at the entrance exam.

The second half of the series is the more interesting, with the plot concerning a group of villainous duelists, the “Shadow Riders” who want to get their hands on three destructive cards, the “Three Sacred Beasts”, which are kept at the Academy. The cards are locked away and can only be accessed by seven keys, which are given to Jaden, Chazz, Zane, Alexis, Bastion, Crowler and Banner. As the story progresses, they find themselves having to take part in the “Shadow Games”, and one of the people controlling the keys appears to be a traitor.

Let’s get onto the negative points first. Most of them have been covered in the first paragraph, but concerning specifically this collection there are some that stick out. For example, when it comes to the animation one scene in which Alexis walks is just done by shifting her animation cell up and across until she is off-screen. Nothing is done to realistically animate her movement. Meanwhile, the attempts to translate everything so it is understandable to American kids take some odd turns. For example, there is a scene where the characters eat rice balls, but these are translated into “stuffed pastries”. I personally have no problem with the catchphrases used in the programme, like Jaden’s “Get your game on”, although I suspect others will find them tiresome, especially with egotistical Chazz telling his fans to chant “Chazz it up” repeatedly. The opening title song though is just rubbish.

But as I said, it is not all terrible. There is plenty to like about GX and the main thing that makes it likable is the characters. Jaden is a loveable idiot; Syrus is timid but approachable; Chumley has his own artistic talents; Chazz has an ego, but is dependable when it counts; and Alexis is kind and loving. Then you have the plot itself. When I first came to it I thought that the idea of having an entire school devoted to a trading card game would be rubbish and it would be mainly about trying to plug the game, but you don’t sense that when you are watching it. Perhaps it is that if you have already seen the original Yu-Gi-Oh! you have already created a sense of expectation around it. You know that it is not going to be the most enlightening anime you have ever seen, and you know that this show would not be here if it wasn’t trying to sell you the game, but because you know this, you know that you should treat the series as a bit of fun – in the same way you would treat the game itself as a bit of fun.

As I have said before, this show is not as bad as other titles concerning trading card games, primarily because the manga came first and the game followed, rather than the series being created just to promote the game. Even the fact that GX is a sequel doesn’t make it as bad as some other series in my view.

Another thing I’ve said before, is that I think that because you know that these series have so many faults, the best way to watch it is to turn the anime into a game itself, and to watch it as a drinking game, which again I have done. This time, I watched the third disc consisting of nine episodes, and again selected three key phrases on which I would drink every time I heard them mentioned. In this case I went with “Life points” because you are always going to hear it; “Elemental Hero”, because Jaden plays with a deck consisting of these kind of cards; and “Winged Kuriboh”, the card Yugi gave Jaden. Here, I heard “Elemental Hero” 39 times, “Life points” 10 times and “Winged Kuriboh” five times, getting through around 2½ pints of beer in the process, although I know I would have got through more had I picked different phrases.

Is GX better than the original series? No, but it is fun and entertaining in its own way. Also, if you are annoyed by the fact you can’t listen to it in Japanese, there is a way to get around it: watch the series on Crunchyroll. The entire series is available to watch in original Japanese on the site.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Gaming, Fantasy, Non-School
Studio: Studio Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 5/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 15

Episodes 349-372, may contain spoilers.

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha.

We continue the “Thriller Bark” arc where we left off, with the Straw Hats battling against all sorts of ghosts and ghouls. The crew have come to realise that Thriller Bark is not an island but the world’s biggest ship, captained by one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea: Gecko Moria, who plans to rule the sea without lifting a finger, by getting other people like Dr. Hogback to do the work for him.

Moria has the power of the Shadow-Shadow Fruit, allowing him to control his own shadow and steal those of others. Thus it was he who stole Brook’s shadow, and he has now also stolen the shadows of Luffy, Zoro and Sanji, who will also be destroyed if they come into contact with sunlight. Moria has been inserting shadows into corpses, made stronger by Hogback, in order to create a zombie army. In the case of Luffy, his shadow is put into the 900th zombie, a giant called Oars. Perhaps somewhat fortunately, the zombies still retain some memories of the original owner, so when Oars first awakens, he is too busy looking for meat and his straw hat to do any of Moria’s bidding.

The Straw Hats also have one other advantage when Brook reveals the zombie’s greatest weakness: salt. If a zombie consumes salt, the shadow will leave the body and return to its owner. Thus the Straw Hats start to look for salt in order to return the souls of their crewmates back to their bodies. Brook also reveals what his one great ambition is: to return to see his one last crewmate. As it happens, this crewmate is someone that Luffy and some of the Straw Hats are already familiar with: Laboon, the whale who kept hitting his head into Reverse Mountain back when they entered the Grand Line.

However, there are more pressing matters to deal with. Brook and Zoro duel with a samurai zombie who has Brook’s shadow; Usopp faces Perona, the controller of the ghosts that make people negative – but he has the advantage as he is already the most pessimistic person in the world; Chopper and Robin deal with Hogback and learn just how greedy he was in the past in terms of whom he loved; Nami comes out of a coma just before she ends up being married to someone she doesn’t know; and a group of friendly pirates whose shadows have also been stolen help Luffy fight against Oars by feeding him shadows – 100 of them, turning him into a nightmarish hulk.

The best bits of this collection are the ongoing battles that the various characters face. This all eventually comes down to a battle between the Straw Hats and Oars, who ends up being controlled by Moria himself. Moria is able to get inside the zombie’s body, with the torso as a kind of cockpit. Thus Oars turns into some kind of undead mecha. It is interesting to see how each of the crew is able to use their strengths to combat the creature, even if not all of them are that motivated, as evidenced in a funny sequence where Franky encourages his fellow crew members to grab onto his body as if he was a mecha – although Robin refuses because it looks stupid, annoying everyone else.

Some viewers however, might be annoyed that one of the episodes is almost entirely in flashback, and could arguably be called a clip show, when Luffy and some of the others recall the time they met Laboon. Although watching it does make you appreciate how far One Piece has developed visually: the difference in aspect ratio, the way the animation has developed and so on.

However, the really annoying point is that there are only a few episodes of the “Thriller Bark” arc left, but this collection does not complete the story. You think it would have been better to include some more episodes in these collections, but instead we have to wait for the next one to see the very end.

In terms of the contents of this collection though, there is a textless opening, episode commentaries, and interviews with English dub voice actors Christopher R. Sabat (Zoro) and Eric Vale (Sanji).

Title: One Piece, Collection 15
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

One Piece, Collection 14 Review

Episodes 325-348, may contain spoilers.

On the day I was born, the nurses all gathered ’round;
And they gazed in wide wonder at the joy they had found;
The head nurse spoke up and she said leave this one alone;
She could tell right away that I was bad to the bone.”
– George Thorogood

A quick look at the DVD cover will reveal that this collection of One Piece is very special, as at last we see the debut of the final (at the time of writing) member of the Straw Hat Pirates.

However, we don’t see him right away. Following the conclusion of the “Water Seven” arc, the collection begins not with Monkey D. Luffy and his crew, but with his older brother Portgas D. Ace, who has tracked down Marshall D. Teach, aka Blackbeard. Blackbeard, a former member of the Whitebeard pirates of which Ace is also a member, is now wanted for murdering another Whitebeard pirate and stealing a Devil Fruit: the Dark-Dark Fruit that allows him to control gravity. Thus a battle between his crushing powers and Ace’s control of fire begins.

But this is just one episode. After this, and perhaps not surprisingly following the massive “Water Seven” arc that preceded it, there is a “filler” arc. Here, the Straw Hats find what appear to be an abandoned group of fishermen who were attacked by a group of pirates. They go to help, with Chopper tending to one member of the ship’s crew who is on the verge of death. It is discovered that this is not a crew of fishermen, but the “Phoenix Pirates” who have suffered the greatest of humiliations: having their Jolly Roger flag stolen. The man being tended to by Chopper happens to be their despondent captain, Puzzle the Phoenix. The Phoenix crew try to poison the Straw Hats, but they easily spot the trick and the Phoenix pirates tell them all that has happened.

Then, what appears to be a group of marines arrives. Fortunately, new crewmate Franky is able to use the modifications on the Thousand Sunny to help both crews escape, such as turning the ship into a super-fast cola-powered paddle boat. Unfortunately, it turns out that the marines are fake, and the pirates find themselves in an arctic region governed by a family of bounty hunters, the Accino family. The head of the family, Don Accino, likes to collect pirate flags and is responsible for the theft of Puzzle’s flag. The family then steals the Straw Hat’s flag, meaning that the rest of the crew have to try and get it back before Luffy finds out.

After this escapade (and a one-episode filler of spoof superhero “Chopperman”), the Straw Hats find themselves on the move again, and spot a barrel that is supposedly offering food and drink to the god of the sea. Luffy opens it to reveal the barrel is empty, except for a flare that is fired. The crew then find themselves blown into the dangerous and perpetually-dark Florian Triangle. Here they encounter an old, wrecked ship, which has only one resident on it: a rather pervy skeleton with a huge afro, singing to himself. Luffy, Sanji and Nami climb on board to investigate, and Luffy is so impressed by him he instantly offers the skeleton the chance to join his crew, which the skeleton, named Brook, appears to accept.

Brook tells his story, about how the crew for whom he was a musician were attacked by a much stronger force, but he survived by eating the Revive-Revive Fruit, which allowed his soul to return to the living world. But as the Florian Triangle is so dark, it took a year for his soul to find his body, by which time all that survived were his bones and hairdo. Brook also reveals that actually, he cannot join the crew, because someone has stolen his shadow. He can only live in the dark Florian Triangle, because if he is touched by sunlight he will be destroyed. Luffy decides to help Brook find his shadow again.

However, the Straw Hats find that the boat has somehow arrived on an island, which Brook knows to be the ghost island Thriller Bark. Brook leaves the rest to try and find his shadow on his own, while Nami, Usopp and Chopper venture out first, onto an island that is full of ghosts and zombies. There Chopper learns to that the island is reportedly the home of Dr. Hogback, the greatest doctor in the world, but they eventually learn that his experiments have a dark purpose.

Concerning the first arc in this collection, it is not that bad as far as filler stories go. The main entertainment comes from the rest of the crew desperately trying to prevent Luffy from realising that their flag has been nicked because of all the problems that would follow caused by him. Thus you end up with action and fight scenes being mixed in with some rather farcical comedy.

On the downside, neither the Phoenix Pirates or the Accino Family are really that remarkable. Out of the Phoenix Pirates, the best one that comes across is the cabin boy Jiro, the only member of the crew that seemingly hasn’t given up on finding the flag again. Meanwhile, in the Accino Family, Don Accino has a Devil Fruit power, but his Hot-Hot Fruit which allows him to raise his body temperature to up to 10,000 degrees feels too similar to Ace’s Flame-Flame Fruit.

In the Thriller Bark arc, the main point of interest is Brook. With him now in the show, it feels as if we have made a big development. The whole unit is finally here. Although, it has to be said he doesn’t appear that much in the first part of the arc. It mainly features the regular Straw Hats venturing onto Thriller Bark and battling the evil monsters on the island. These range from a zombie that Luffy attacks by simply pushing it back into his grave; ghosts that cause anyone they pass through to feel instantly depressed; and a gigantic bridezilla boar-zombie who tries to attack Nami whom she sees as a rival for the zombie she loves – but Nami gets out of it by claiming to be a crossdressing man.

One other detail of note is of cultural differences. The main fights the Straw Hats have on Thriller Bark are with these zombie creatures, but rather than in the west where they are killed by going for the head, they are instead frightened by fire. Thus all the really successful attacks are coming from cowardly Usopp using his “Exploding Stars”.

In this collection there are extras including episode commentaries, interviews with Luci Christian (English voice for Nami) and Stephanie Young (English voice for Nico Robin), and the really long textless openings – as there are no endings except for a “To Be Continued” caption and details of the next episode. Among these openings include a new one, “Jungle P” by 5050.

Title: One Piece, Collection 14
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

Fairy Tail, Collection 10 (Ep. 109-120) Review

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“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’ – probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” – Woody Allen.

It has been nearly two years since the last Fairy Tail collection was released on DVD in the UK, previously brought out by Manga Entertainment. Now All The Anime (Anime Limited) has brought the series back, which is a relief – particularly as we were partway through a storyline, so either people have been waiting over 18 months to see the end of it, or have had to import the US release and are thus perhaps not tempted to get this. Thus, not only is it a brave move for All The Anime to bring it back, but there is a need to recap where we have left off.

At the Fairy Tail guild, eight of the wizards are taking on the “S-Class Wizard Promotion Trail”, each assisted by another wizard in the guild. This is on Tenrou Island, an island with a gigantic tree with another island on top of it. The island is home to the grave of Mavis Vermillion, the founder of the guild, and the current task is to be the first to reach the grave. However, as the task has unfolded a dark guild named Grimoire Heart has attacked the island, using a group of seven powerful wizards including Zeref, the wizard who caused massive destruction around the world 400 years ago. The last collection ended with various wizards fighting their own battles, the current head of Fairy Tail Makarov being knocked out, and Celestial wizard Lucy being put to sleep by the wizard she is meant to be helping, the chronic alcoholic tarot user Cana.

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Moving on to the actual episodes in this collection, Lucy awakens from her sleep only to be attacked by a dark wizard who controls people using a voodoo doll, while fiery Natsu and his feline friend Happy are in the battle with another wizard who can manipulate time, and sword-and-armour-changing Erza and water manipulator Juvia deal with someone who makes blades seemingly out of light. Meanwhile, Cana attempts to find Mavis’s grave, where in the flashback we learn that one of the reasons she is so keen on obtaining an S-Class rank is because when she does she will reveal her identity to her father, who happens to be another one of Fairy Tail’s wizards. As the episodes roll on, Lucy, Natsu, Erza, ice-maker Gray, young Wendy and others attempt to battle against the Grimoire Heart wizards, and upon meeting the head of the guild discover that he happens to have a connection to Fairy Tail as well.

The first thought concerning this collection is simply the fact that it is good to see it released in the UK again. Being away for so long you’d suspect that no-one would touch it, as British distributors would assume that most British anime fans would just go for the American release. However, we should praise All the Anime for at least giving it a go.

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It is also good just to see the episodes again. If you haven’t watched it since the last British release it is probably worth dipping into at least the last collection again, but it is worth it as the things that make Fairy Tail good are still there, such as the great action sequences and the fun characters.

The last collection was notable for having a few errors. This time around there are fewer things to complain about. Scene selection doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore and the subtitles appear to be fine. You still have some annoying things, like the ads that pop up when you load the DVD that you cannot skip through, promoting Funimation’s shows that are released by other companies in the UK (namely Karneval and Dragon Ball Z, both of which are Manga Entertainment releases).

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Funimation do, however, provide a nice selection of bonus features in this collection. There is the textless opening and closing, including the new themes: “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus, and “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity (both of which are good). There are also two episode commentaries, a selection of trailers, and documentary “Marketing a Fairy Tail”.

This collection of Fairy Tail has been fun, thrilling and exciting. It’s good to see it back.

Title: Fairy Tail
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 1

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I think it goes without saying that the original 
Fullmetal Alchemist anime is an important series for the anime industry. It paved the way for a whole new generation of people to stumble into Japanese media, and the series is still well renowned to this day. It’s also a very special series for me on a personal level as it’s one of the very first anime I ever watched – and a solid part of the reason that I decided to watch more. After all these years, does the series still live up to what I remember?

The story of Fullmetal Alchemist is based around brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are in search of the mysterious Philosopher’s Stone that Ed hopes will allow them to change their bodies back to normal. Edward has a prosthetic arm and leg made from automail (a sort of robotic metal substitute for limbs), while his brother Alphonse lost his whole body (his soul is now tied to a suit of armour) after the two tried to perform a forbidden act of alchemy: bringing a human back to life. Some time after that day Edward became a State Alchemist, and now he and Alphonse travel the world working for the military while seeking a way to restore what they have lost.

The first two episodes focus on introducing Ed and Al while also painting a picture of what this world is like. Anyone working for the military is considered a dog of the state and hated for it. This is largely down to a war that happened a few years before the beginning of Ed and Al’s present day story. The war and the people’s hatred toward the military comes into play later in Fullmetal Alchemist but after the introductory episodes, the series jumps back to the past to tell the story of how Ed became a State Alchemist. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it also shows us why the brothers performed such forbidden alchemy to get themselves into this state.

fma_4The rules of alchemy in this world are fairly straightforward. In order to perform alchemy, you must first draw a Transmutation Circle and provide something of equal value to what you’re trying to create, which is in accordance with the Law of Equivalent Exchange. The only things that an alchemist is forbidden from creating are gold or humans, and anyone who tries succumbs to a fate similar to that of our young protagonists. Ed and Al believe deeply in the idea of equivalent exchange.

The brothers’ devotion to the Law of Equivalent Exchange is one thing that’s always stuck with me since originally watching the series. At heart, Fullmetal Alchemist is your typical shonen series filled with impressive battles and powerful characters, but it also has a very important story to tell about loss, growing up, and the hardships of the world. The plot pushes Ed and Al into dangerous situations, situations that question their beliefs and (at times) childish views of the world. Doing so paves the way for Fullmetal Alchemist to really impress the viewer. It toys with ideas that no other series had explored at the time, and that few have since. It’s truly remarkable in its storytelling and really connects with me on so many levels. With this set I’ve only watched the first 27 episodes of the series but already I’m completely immersed in this world once again.

fma_5One of the notable elements of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime is that much of it was anime original content, because at the time of its airing the manga series was not yet complete. In saying that, a lot of the episodes in this first set do follow the manga quite closely, but already it’s easy to see (if you’ve read the source or watched Brotherhood) where it differs. Usually being anime original would be a bad thing – not many studios have the ability to truly carve out their own stories in a world they’re adapting – but studio BONES do a wonderful job with Fullmetal Alchemist. They do such a good job that I actually prefer the 2003 anime to the manga and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series (although I still liked both quite a bit). It never feels disjointed or like it’s missing anything and, from what I remember, the story that BONES create for the second half is just wonderful.

On the subject of BONES, I have to point out how good the animation on offer looks. This is not an anime that was created in HD but despite that the show looks very sharp on Blu-ray. The world is full of the usual BONES style that many of us have come to know and love, and the characters make similar comedic reactions to those found in their most recent adaption, Bungo Stray Dogs. Fullmetal Alchemist just screams that it’s a BONES series and, admittedly, it is the series that made me fall in love with this studio and the way they create anime.

fma_9The soundtrack has been handled by Michiru Oshima, who has brought something really wonderful to the series. She has also worked on Snow White with the Red Hair, Blast of Tempest and provided some arrangements for the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess video game. With scores full of violins, pianos, and the odd guitar piece, Fullmetal Alchemist has something for everyone and it always blends nicely with the action on-screen. My favourite track is one titled “Brothers” and there are a few different versions of it used throughout the series, but the most memorable is a version played just on the violin. It’s a thought-provoking and truly emotional piece of music. During the 27 episodes on this set there are three opening themes and three ending themes on offer, and while I won’t name them all my favourite opening is the second OP titled “Ready Steady Go!” by L’arc~en~Ciel. The better ending is the first ED named “Inerasable Sin” by Nana Kitade.

Where voice actors are concerned, I actually find myself with a completely different opinion to my usual reviews. For Fullmetal Alchemist my favourite track is the English dub, and despite having attempted to watch the series numerous times in Japanese, my opinion hasn’t changed. To me, the series is just better dubbed. From watching the Japanese version again for the purpose of this review I can say that there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it, but I found myself quickly flipping back to the dub and ultimately I just don’t think the Japanese track works as well as the English dub does.

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For the dub, Edward is voiced by Vic Mignogna (Matt Ishida in 
Digimon Tri, Rin Matsuoka in Free!, and Zero Kiryu in Vampire Knight), who manages to put a great deal of emotion into Edward’s character. Sometimes his pitch comes off as a bit sharp, but for a young kid like Ed this works in favour of the role. Alphonse is voiced by Aaron Dismuke (Yasuchika Haninozuka in Ouran High School Host Club, Lucifer in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!) and, quite impressively, he played the role at the age of 12. Allowing a young boy to play the role of a young male character is a rarity and something that also works in Fullmetal Alchemist’s favour, because it makes the performance feel much more realistic.

This Collector’s Edition has been brought to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and marks the first time that the series has been released here on Blu-ray. It includes 27 episodes both subbed and dubbed across three Blu-ray discs and features clean openings and endings. The Collector’s Edition also comes packed with seven art cards.

Overall the first half of Fullmetal Alchemist has proven to be everything I remember. It’s a fun shonen series that also packs a lot of emotional punch and reliving these first 27 episodes all over again has been a true joy. It still remains one of my favourite series from BONES and one of my favourite series of all time. Fullmetal Alchemist is a true wonder of animation and something that everyone should take the chance to check out.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist Collector's Edition Part 1
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Action, Drama
Studio: Studio BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2003
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 675 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 13

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Episodes 300-324, may contain spoilers.

“There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates.” – James Russell Lowell

There is one thing that needs to be said concerning the most recently release of One Piece in the UK which is this: “About bloody time!” This collection has been delayed and delayed again. The last collection came out in December 2015, and now it looks like Manga Entertainment are trying to hurry things up as the next collection comes out in November – although don’t be surprised if this gets delayed too.

Anyway, onto the review proper, which sees the conclusion of the Water Seven arc, the death of someone held deep to the hearts of the Straw Hat Pirates, but also the welcoming of new faces.

The story resumes with the continuing siege of Enies Lobby by the Straw Hats: Monkey D. Luffy is up against CP9’s top agent Rob Lucci, the controller of a Devil-Fruit that gives him the powers of the leopard. Zoro manages to defeat another agent with the powers of a giraffe, meaning that the crew now have all the available keys to the Sea Prism Stone handcuffs currently being worn by Nico Robin, who is being led away to doom by the vile Spandam. Robin refuses to go easily however, even willing to bite down hard on the stone bridge to stop herself being dragged away. Robin is also helped by Usopp / Sogeking / Sniper King, who manages to shoot at Spandam from a great distance, and eventually buys enough time for cyborg shipwright Franky to deliver the keys and free Robin. As the attacks continue, the Buster Call to destroy the whole area begins to take place. It is therefore perfectly natural that what follows next is an episode of filler. To be exact, a return to the feudal Japan parody, focusing on cherry blossom viewing.

Following this however, we witness the finals battles between the Straw Hats and the forces of the World Government. This includes Lucci’s backstory, Luffy using his special “Third Gear” attack, a rescue from the most unlikely mermaid you are likely to encounter, and an even unlikelier escape thanks to the Going Merry, which manages to somehow find the crew and get them out of Enies Lobby. However, this is also the ship’s last action. The ship, too badly damaged to sail anymore, begins to break in two. Thus there follows what has to be one of One Piece’s most poignant scenes: Luff burns the Going Merry and the rest of the crew watch on, crying. As the ship sinks, the crew somehow hear what sounds like the spirit of the ship saying goodbye, as it finally falls into the ocean. Therefore, we witness what is arguably the first death among the Straw Hat Pirates – only it is not that of a person, but of their vessel.

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After this, the crew return to city of Water Seven. Franky gets to work building a new ship for the crew, while Usopp tries to come up with ways of returning to the crew. Luffy, though, gets an even bigger shock: the marines come to visit him, and he recognizes some familiar faces. Some are people he met a long time ago during the start of his voyages who have since grown up, but the head of the group is someone that Luffy knows all too well: Vice Admiral Monkey D. Garp – Luffy’s very own and rather violent grandfather. As if this isn’t shocking enough for Luffy’s crewmates, Garp also lets loose that Luffy’s father, Monkey D. Dragon, is the head of a revolutionary army and the most wanted man in the world. Also, although they are family, Garp is not going to let Luffy get out of Water Seven easily.

This collection is certainly better than the last edition of episodes. There is less filler overall, and there are many brilliant scenes, especially the one in which the Going Merry is sunk which is surprisingly moving. We also have major plot developments with this collection finally seeing the Straw Hat Pirates recruiting their eighth member, with Franky finally confirmed as the crew’s shipwright. This in turn leads to one of the funnier moments in the show, namely the method they try to make Franky join – by stealing his swimming trunks, getting him to run across Water Seven wearing just his open shirt, and finally Robin using her powers to sprout arms from Franky’s legs and grabbing Franky’s… well, you never see what she grabs, but what she does causes Franky a lot of pain.

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On the downside, while there is less filler, some of it is placed in really annoying places, interrupting the main plot at exciting moments. The start of most of the episodes takes too long explaining the events of the previous episode. When you add on the title sequence, sometimes you have to wait about six minutes before you actually get to new material. The CGI used to animate the ships is also poorly done, and at times the subtitles refer to different spellings of Gold Roger / Gol D. Roger.

Concerning the extras, there are the textless opening sequence, episode commentaries, and interviews with two of the English-dub cast: Brina Palencia (Chopper) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Luffy).

In conclusion, things are looking up at we progress through the story. This is evident when you look at the cover for the next collection, which depicts a strange looking skeleton with a massive afro.

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Title: One Piece, Collection 13
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 520 minutes

Score: 8/10