Fairy Tail Collection 13 Review

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers

“Hans [Christian] Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES!” – A note in Charles Dickens’s house.

Last time the Fairy Tail wizards were trying to find the pieces of a magical clock, while all the time battling against the Legion wizards working for the Zootopia Church. However, by the time Fairy Tail manage to collect the pieces, they learn too late that this is actually the one thing that they should NOT do.

The pieces are part of a gigantic magical device called the Immortal Clock, which, when activated, will release a spell called “Real Nightmare” that has the power to alter the perception of time and cause chaos across the world. They also learn of the identities of the people who are responsible for all this troublemaking – the Dark Guild Oracion Seis – or rather, the reformed Dark Guild Neo-Oracion Seis.

The guild, consisting of among others the poison Dragon Slayer Cobra, old Sir Erigor of Esienwald who now refers to himself as Grim Reaper and controls storm magic, and Midnight who now calls himself Brain II, have been responsible for the attacks on churches. Except that it is not the buildings they have been attacking, but celestial wizards protecting the clock. They have been manipulating everything to suit their own ends, including which ones of Fairy Tail’s wizards end up facing them in battle. To top it all off, Neo-Oracion Seis has another member called Imitatia, a wizard capable of impersonating people. The person she has been imitating all this time is Michelle Lobster, Lucy’s supposed relation, who takes Lucy and Natsu prisoner.

Natsu is locked in Zootopia’s prison, while Lucy is taken to the Immortal Clock, because for it to work it must be controlled by a celestial wizard, and she is to be forced to make it go. The rest of Fairy Tail, and later the previously tricked Legion wizards, end up having to try and bust Natsu out of the nick and free Lucy from her plight.

After this is all over, there then comes the matter of some other important guild business. Makarov decides to make Gildarts the new master of Fairy Tail, but before he does so, Gildarts goes away on another trip leaving just two instructions: allow Laxus back into the guild, and make Makarov guild master again.

The other important matter is that over the past seven years (during which many of Fairy Tail’s wizards went missing) Fairy Tail has now become the worst ranked guild in the land, with the new top guild being one called Sabertooth, which has two Dragon Slayers in it: the White Dragon Sting and the Shadow Dragon Rogue. The fastest way to reach the top is to enter into a competition called the Grand Magic Games tournament, which Makarov agrees to, chiefly because of the vast prize money. The problem however is that the likes of Natsu, Gray, Erza and Lucy are all seven years behind mastering the magic abilities, with only the worst wizards making any progress in that time.

Thus they need to make progress over the next three months, but then Lucy is summoned by Virgo to the celestial spirit world which is in danger, taking several other wizards with her. As a result, time that could be used for training might be getting wasted.

In this collection, one of the main attractions is the difference in tone between the two story arcs that appear in it. The first is dark, menacing, and contains its fair share of conspiracy in the Zootopia Church. You also have the subject of betrayal when you discover Michelle’s true identity, but this becomes even more so when you discover that not all the members of Neo-Oracion Seis are who they appear to be, with their memories being manipulated. The story does however have a nice pay-off with the relationship between Lucy and Michelle being fully explained.

The second story arc appears to be jollier, with it seemingly about a contest between wizard guilds, although we have only just started the arc. There is, as seems obligatory with long-running anime series like this, a beach episode, but also we start to learn more about the dragons as well.

One other major factor to be highlighted in this second arc is that it is also arguably the last arc. We are now coming to the end of the first series of Fairy Tail, which ended in March 2013 and then went away for a year. There are only two more collections in the first series left to go, so it is interesting to see how this conclusion builds up.

This time, all the extras in this collection are just on the second disc. There are episode commentaries, trailers, interviews with Todd Haberkorn and Newton Pittman (the English dub voices of Natsu and Gray), and textless opening and closing. This includes new pieces of music, “Break Through” by Going Under Ground for the opening; and my personal favourite of the two, “Kimi ga Kureta Mono” by Shizuka Kudo.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 13
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: 275 minutes

Score: 7/10

Archive: Review of Gurren Lagann Ultimate Collection

On 1st April 2007, Gurren Lagann debuted. To mark its 10th anniversary, we have republished our review of All the Anime’s Ultimate Edition boxset which was first put on sale in 2014. The series has since been re-released as a Collector’s Edition exclusive to Zavvi (details here). Sections in italics (except the top quote obviously) specifically concern the Ultimate Edition boxset.

“‘Space’, it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…’” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Past reviews of this anime, including on this website, frequently say that Gurren Lagann is not perfect. In response to this, I reference the following true story. When Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life won the 1983 Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival it was seen by the film director Henry Jaglom, who claimed that it was the best thing Python had ever done. In response Terry Gilliam said to him: “No, there’s great bits in there, but there’s crap in there as well.” Jaglom replied: “No, that’s why it’s great, because the crap is there to balance the greatness.”

This is how I feel about Gurren Lagann. OK the humour is not the most sophisticated, the plot is perhaps not that original, and the animation of one episode was so shoddy that it led to one of Gainax’s co-founders, Takami Akai, having to resign because of the way he handled the criticism. However, when you look at the way that it was made as a whole, the story that was created, the characters that were portrayed, and the sheer scale of the entire project, it all combines into what is probably one of the greatest anime of all time.

People also said at the time that you “shouldn’t believe the hype”. I didn’t believe the hype, because I was unaware of any hype. This was because Gurren Lagann was one of the very first anime I had ever watched, and when it was first shown to me back when I was in the University of Teesside Animation and Comics Society back in 2007, I had never heard of it before. I knew very little about anime at all, but when I watched it I thought: “Yes, that just sums it up. This is one of the best things I have ever seen.”

It was because of Gurren Lagann that I am became interested in anime. Without it I would not be here reviewing stuff for this website, which in turn would mean I would not be reviewing manga for MyM Magazine, which was my first regularly paid job. This was my gateway show. Of course, a single piece of work cannot sum up an entire art-form, but if you wanted to encourage people to take an interest in anime, this would be an ideal title to show.

Now I realise that at this point some people may be rather annoyed that I haven’t actually started reviewing this collection yet, so let’s start.

This “Ultimate Edition” of Gurren Lagann has been in the pipeline for some time. All the Anime announced their plans to release the series back in June 2013, and eventually said this collection of just 2,000 sets would be released in June 2014. However, several problems have meant it has not come out until four months later. This of course is a big deal, not just for the fans but for All the Anime too.

For a six-disc Blu-ray box set with an RRP of £149.99, consisting of the entire TV series, both films (never released in the UK before), the OVA “Parallel Works” (also making their UK debut), a hardback art book and various other extras, this release needed to be perfect. If they messed this up it could ruin the entire company’s future reputation. Have there been any problems – well, there have been some complaints.

In some collections, and I have to report this is true with mine, the glue used on the third Digipack tray is loose and thus it slips around the box. In my opinion this is nothing major and it is not the fault of All the Anime, but of the people who put the box together and All the Anime have made complaints to the manufacturers. Other people have complained about images freezing in Episodes 5, 7 and 10, and some talk about a skip in audio. The company has since issued this statement saying that: “we had to switch in the DVD footage as the best solution since no re-supply was possible in this case. Otherwise, you would have had 9 seconds, 13 seconds and a momentary image freeze with ongoing audio in its place. Not ideal. These are the only instances and as you can tell they are not over any crucial moments, so whilst annoying it doesn’t impact the overall viewing pleasure & quality of watching Team Gurren on your big TV.”

Some people, including on our own forums, have expressed complaints about these cock-ups, especially given how major a release this was for them. Some have been put off by All the Anime altogether; others are complimenting them about their response to the problem. For me personally, I haven’t noticed anything major that disturbs my pleasure from this collection, and I would rather have this series available on Blu-ray, in Region B, that it not be available at all.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Gurren Lagann is set in a post-apocalyptic future, in which humanity has been driven underground, living in isolated villages. The central character, Simon (pronounced “See-mon” in Japanese), works as a digger, using his conical drill to dig holes to expand the size of the village, as well as to find his own treasure. These bits of treasure include a rather small drill-like key known as a “Core Drill”, and later on some kind of large face. Simon’s friends consist of a shades-wearing “mole-pig” creature called Boota, and a troublesome guy named Kamina. Kamina, normally seen wearing a pair of trademark pointy specs, dreams of going to the surface where he once went as a kid, but no-one else apart from Simon believes him. Things all change however when a gigantic mecha crashes through the village ceiling and chaos ensues.

Kamina starts to fight it, with Simon wanting to hide away, but then a buxom girl named Yoko comes down from the surface with a big rifle and starts firing at the mecha, which she tells the guys is known as a “Gunmen”. Simon comes to realise that the big face he has found is actually that of a small Gunmen and his Core Drill is the key to activating it. Together they use their big-faced Gunmen, which Kamina christens “Lagann” and appropriately enough for Simon it uses drills as a weapon to defeat the Gunman attacking the village. Simon also uses the Lagann to help Kamina, Boota, Yoko and himself to escape to the surface of the world, now a barren wasteland.

Simon and Kamina learn from Yoko that the humans on the surface are constantly attacked by a race of creatures known as the “Beastmen”, who serve a man known as the “Spiral King”. To fight back, Kamina steals his own Gunmen, which he names “Gurren”, and eventually comes up with the idea that Simon’s mecha should combine with his. Amazingly Kamina’s idea works, with the combined “Gurren Lagann” seemingly being stronger than anything else.

With this humanity begins to fight back against the Spiral King, with Simon and Kamina gaining more followers. These include Leeron, a camp gay mechanic from the same village as Yoko; Rossiu, an intelligent boy who originally came from a village where they worshipped an old Gunmen as a god; two young and excitable children from Rossiu’s village called Gimmy and Darry; and a group of Beastman hunters known as the Black Siblings: eldest brother Kittan and his three sisters Kiyoh, Kinon and Kiyal. Together they continue to collect more mecha and fight against the Beastmen, with their most common foe being the shark-toothed Viral of the Human Eradication Army.

As the story progresses, we encounter comedy, tragedy and love in equal measure. The mecha become bigger, as do the battles and the danger. The story itself extends over a period of years. We see the characters, Simon amongst them, growing up but still encountering even more terrible dangers, which not only threaten humanity, but the whole of the Earth.

As stated already, there are several reasons why people might be put off Gurren Lagann, whether it be errors made in this box set or the quality of the series in general. But the positives by far outweigh the negatives. The first thing to mention is the way Gurren Lagann combines so many elements. There is comedy, drama, tragedy, action, romance and science-fiction. It works a bit like the “Gurren Lagann” mecha itself, in that one genre will combine with another to make the show more powerful.

It works brilliantly, and also rather strangely. You will be watching a sequence where there is a huge battle going on, and there is fighting, chaos, carnage and death – the whole scene is full of fear and tension, and while this is all happening, little Boota is hiding away, seeking shelter from all the horror and the hurt, hiding away… in Yoko’s huge tits. You get the feeling that this is what a mecha series would be like, if it was being filmed by the Carry On team.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the sixth episode which is set in a bathhouse. For most of the episode Kamina, Simon and Gimmy constantly try to get a glimpse of the ladies who are also bathing. In this episode there is one scene in which Gimmy sticks his finger up Simon’s arsehole, another in which you see Gimmy totally naked, and in the end Yoko’s bikini flies off Barbara Windsor style.

When this episode was first broadcast in Japan it had to be cut, but the “Director’s Cut” version is all the collections. You also have the original broadcast version of the episode as one of the extras in the “Ultimate Edition”. However, I think that this is one of the best moments in the series, as this is humour that we British can relate to. I feel that it is also important to state, given recent news events [i.e. the then recently introduced UK laws on cartoon pornography], that I feel that there is nothing wrong with the “Director’s Cut”, including the depiction of the naked Gimmy, whose penis is visible in the episode and in some of the other “Ultimate Edition” exclusive features. A person should not feel pressured into thinking that just because you are seeing a picture of a naked child that this automatically makes you some sort of suspect sex offender. Everyone in the world has been seen naked by at least one person, and you cannot and should not criminalise the act of just seeing a person naked, whether they are fictional or in real-life – if you did you’d have to arrest an awful lot of midwives who had just delivered new-borns.

The second reason for why Gurren Lagann is so great are the characters. The main characters especially are brilliant for varying reasons. Simon starts off as being timid, wanting not to fight and at times wishing to return home, but as the story progresses he overcomes obstacle after obstacle. Simon matures and develops into a stronger character. Things really start to happen when Simon encounters the character of Nia, who becomes his love interest and helps Simon to overcome some of the major tragedies that has recently had to face.

Kamina is one of the best anime characters, in my personal opinion. Acting as mentor to Simon, he is the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Simon’s Luke Skywalker. However, Kamina also has the added factor of being possibly the most over-the-top character in anime. He has some of the best lines I have heard in an anime series. How can you not like a character who says things like: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” or “Reject common sense to make the impossible possible”, and, “Who the hell do you think you are? Isn’t your drill the one that will pierce the heavens, the earth, and through to tomorrow?”

There are also lots of other elements that combine to add to the greatness. While the animation in the fourth episode is admittedly poor, to the point where it cost the jobs of two staff at Gainax, elsewhere it is brilliant. The character design, the landscapes, the mecha and 3D animation neatly fit together to create a believable setting. Plus there is the soundtrack. The opening theme song, “Sorairo Days” by Shoko Nakagawa, automatically acts as a hook. The end pieces – “Underground” by High Voltage, “Happily Ever After” by Shoko Nakagawa, and “Minna no Peace” by Afromania are also fun. But probably the best is “Rap is a Man’s Soul” by Spontania. I’m not a rap fan, but even I like this. There is also “‘Libera Me’ from Hell”, a combination of rap and classical. The soundtrack should be credited to the composer Taku Iwasaki.

But the best reason by Gurren Lagann is so good is because it is so big. It starts of small, with Simon in his village with his Core Drill. But his Lagann has a big face, which combines with Kamina’s large Gurren. Later they combine with other mecha, and take on bigger enemies. Kamina has his big glasses and a massive passion for what he believes in. Yoko carries a gigantic gun and has plenty of room in her bosom to support Boota. Then the mecha themselves get bigger and bigger. They get so big it seems almost impossible to talk about their size without having to go into bold block capitals for added emphasis. The whole series is so big, brash and loud that it is the sort of show that you want to project on the biggest screen you can find and shout at those passing by to stop whatever they are doing right now and just watch this!

While the series itself is great, we need to turn our attention to the matter of this particular collection, apart from the sliding Digipack and the issues regarding freezing images. Appropriately enough, for such a big series there is plenty extras and bonus material to keep you entertained. Both the “Ultimate Edition” and the standard Blu-Ray edition contain the following extras: Yoko Goes to Gainax!, a behind-the-scenes documentary presented by Marina Inoue, the Japanese voice-actress who provides the voice of Yoko; a collection of early 3D test animation taken from the second half of the series; an animated storyboard, which features the original illustrated storyboards played over the entire 15th episode; and clean opening and closing title sequences, which include the animated music video which is used as the ending for the 16th episode (the compilation episode).

Out of these extras, my personal favourite was the 3D test animation. This is mainly because it features some ideas that did not appear in the final cut of the anime. For example there are sequences in which Nia is riding on Gurren Lagann while they are fighting some mecha that in the end she does not encounter in the anime. The only problem is that none of the written text is translated.

When it concerns the extras that are just on the “Ultimate Edition”, these are plainly obvious as soon as you open the box set. One of these is a hardback 112 page art book, containing designs of the characters, mecha and landscapes. If you are keen on your art this makes for a rather useful reference work. You also get an art card, signed by the “El Presidente” of All the Anime (and the man who has had to deal with all the complaints) Andrew Partridge, which displaying the number of your release (in my case No. 816 out of 2,000). You also get, as previously stated, the original broadcast/censored version of the sixth episode (the one in which you don’t see Gimmy sticking his finger up Simon’s bottom).

But the really big extras are two discs containing anime previously unreleased in the UK: the two Gurren Lagann films – Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky Are Stars – and the Parallel Works OVA collection, which are on the fourth disc along with the final episodes.

The two films mostly contain old footage from the original TV series, but also include new material that sometimes gives more background information on the series, and sometimes tries to make the series bigger than it already was. Childhood’s End tells the story up to the battle between the Four Generals of the Spiral King. The Lights in the Sky Are Stars starts briefly with the Battle of Teppelin and then tells the second half of the story.

There are plenty of differences between the two films and the original series however. In Childhood’s End you learn more on how the Spiral King came to be; the contents of several episodes are significantly abridged, mainly the encounters Simon and Kamina have with new characters (Kittan, Rossiu etc.), and rather than the Four Generals attacking separately, three of them gang up on Simon and his followers in a single, climactic battle.

In The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, which in my few is the better of the two films, you see how civilization developed quickly after the Battle of Teppelin, and significant changes to the battles that take place in space. For example, certain characters which are killed in the series remain alive in the film. This seems to be an excuse for the creators to make more mecha, even bigger and more powerful, ultimately creating the final Gunmen which so large that even entire galaxies are dwarfed by it. Given how big Gurren Lagann already is this just knocks the series sideways.

The Parallel Works are a series of short stories with no spoken dialogue, set to music from the original soundtrack. The stories vary wildly in terms of plot and animation style, and most have no relation to the original anime. Stories range to a European medieval retelling of the story with Simon as a knight rescuing a Nia maiden; a steampunk wild west setting with Viral as the hero; a nude Gimmy stealing people’s clothes by sticking fingers up people arseholes; how Kittan got his Gunmen; a surreal sequence in which Gimmy and Darry find a series of strange doors leading to alternative worlds (my personal favourite); and a story with Kiyal as a magical girl. Some of these stories are funny, some are interesting artistically, and others help build the context of the series more. Like with the other extras, the written text is not translated which is annoying in some of the stories, but for most of the xx?, it is about the animation, music and mini-stories, which are made more interesting the lack of any speech.

To sum up, I think the reason I like, and indeed love Gurren Lagann is because that not only can I not imagine a similar programme being made in this country, but I also can’t conceive of a programme being made on such a scale ever again. Simply being so big in terms of the setting, it’s impossible to think of a way that you can top that. While some parts of Gurren Lagann are arguably not original, when it comes to scale it seems to have dwarfed everything before it, and I can’t see anything topping it while maintaining a similar level of quality. It is only fitting that such a big show should get such a big box set. I forgive this series for the faults it has in it. I feel sorry for All the Anime for the problems it has faced during its production and for all the delays it has had.

It is hard to for me to write up a clear view about Gurren Lagann without getting emotional. Yes, I can understand why some people are put off by it, and all the hype that goes along with it, and many people will be angry with the fact this release is not 100% perfect. But Gurren Lagann has never been 100% perfect. Since it began people have complained about it, and people will always complain about it. I don’t think you could ever have a 100% perfect collection of Gurren Lagann. Look at the extras they might have included but didn’t: when Beez Entertainment brought out the series, they had things like the soundtrack and various patches and props that you could use for cosplay purposes like a lighting-up Core Drill. Also, what about episode commentaries or specially made documentaries about the series? The other thing you have to remember is that more Gurren Lagann stuff is always being made. A stage play of the anime has been made, so a future release might have something about that.

Of course, this was always going to be a problem – for an anime so huge it’s truly impossible to include everything good about it in one box set. I know there are issues of cost and licensing, plus for some the idea of making an even bigger collection is daft. You couldn’t do that, it’s just plain common sense. But to quote Kamina, I think we should reject common sense to make the impossible possible.

Title: Gurren Lagann: Complete Series Ultimate Box
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Gainax
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2007
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 986 minutes

Score: 10/10

One Piece, Collection 16 Review

Episodes 373-396, may contain spoilers.

A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction.” – Oscar Wilde.

This collection marks several landmarks in One Piece: it sees the end of the “Thriller Bark” arc and the start of “Sabaody” arc; we witness the official addition of the ninth and currently final member of the Straw Hat Pirates; and as there will be 781 episodes of the anime broadcast by the time this review is published, it means that with this collection we pass the half-way point of the entire anime adaptation.

We begin with the Straw Hats finishing their duel with Gecko Moria on Thriller Bark, with Monkey D. Luffy being able to regain his strength to return the shadows stolen by Moria to their original owners. This means that 1,000 people, including Zoro, Sanji, Nico Robin and Brook, can now safely live under the sun’s rays again. However, there is little time to celebrate as Nami recognises another terrifying figure who makes his appearance: Bartholomew Kuma, another of the Seven Warlords.

Kuma has been given the job of killing Luffy. Everyone tries to stop him, but Kuma has the powers of the “Paw-Paw Fruit” which allow his hands to reject anything he touches, as well as the ability to warp instantly from one place to another. He also reveals himself to be a type of robotic weapon called a “Pacifista”, made by the world’s greatest scientist, Dr. Vegapunk.

Kuma uses his powers to create a high-pressure bomb that devastates the whole ship, with only Zoro still being able to fight Kuma. Zoro asks for his life to be taken instead of Luffy’s, but in exchange Kuma uses his powers to make Zoro feel all the pain that Luffy felt in his battle with Moria. Kuma then departs and Zoro collapses from the pain, while Luffy ends up being perfectly fit. The Straw Hats then rest for a while, with Luffy inviting Brook to join the crew. Brook agrees, in order to fulfil his previous crew’s promise of reuniting with Laboon the whale, and thus the Straw Hats end up with nine pirates. During this time we also learn that Blackbeard has been made a Warlord and that Ace is in grave danger.

After a small bit of filler, mainly consisting of a flashback of Brook’s backstory and an encounter with an old enemy, we return to the main story. After crossing a dangerous current which includes a sea filled with waterspouts, the Straw Hats reach the Red Line, meaning that they have sailed halfway around the world. The issue now is how to cross it. Then the Thousand Sunny is attacked by a huge sea monster with Luffy defeats, but the monster vomits up two individuals: a talking starfish named Pappagu, and his master Carie, a mermaid who keeps getting caught by all sorts of monsters.

Carie learns that her fishman boss has been kidnapped by Macro, who works for a group called the Flying Fish Riders. The Riders plan to take him to the Sabaody Archipelago, which holds a slave market. Sabaody is also the only accessible route for pirates to cross the Red Line, so Luffy and his crew agree to help. Things soon go wrong however. Firstly the identity of Carie’s boss is someone known to the crew – someone who once helped to make Nami’s life a misery. Then there is the problem with the leader of the Flying Fish Riders, Duval, who is desperate to kill Sanji – because it was Duval’s sketchy face that appeared on Sanji’s wanted poster.

After finally dealing with this they make their way to Sabaody itself, which, while on the surface seeming friendly, is home to all sorts of shady business. For starters, there are 11 “Supernovas” on the island, these being pirates with bounties with over 100,000,000 berries on their heads. Two of them are Luffy and Zoro, but there are other pirates on Sabaody too, such as the “Surgeon of Death” Trafalgar Law. There is also Sabaody’s brutal use of slavery, and the power of the World Nobles, also known as the Celestial Dragons. These descendants of the founders of the World Government are so powerful that if a pirate harms them, an admiral will come down to punish the wrongdoer. It is not long before the Straw Hats end up in trouble on the archipelago.

As said at the beginning, this collection is important for being a landmark in several ways. The main one of these is that Brook is now confirmed as a Straw Hat Pirate, and we now have the full crew (at the time of writing). What we have therefore is the completion of what is arguably the best ensemble cast of characters in anime. With Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, Robin, Franky and Brook all finally together, we can enjoy the whole crew having fun and fighting it out among themselves. It is also interesting to see the reappearance of some old characters and the introduction of some new ones, with Trafalgar Law in particular playing an important role in the story later on, although he doesn’t say much in this collection.

Another plus point has been the pacing of the story. Although it was a tad perplexing as to why they ended the Thriller Bark arc in this collection rather than the previous one, this collection does end at a nice dramatic point in the story. The filler itself is not too bad either, nor is it too long. This is probably down to the fact that the two story arcs in this collection are among the shortest in the One Piece canon. Not only is the current story paced well, but we are given knowledge of a future storyline involving Ace; a plot that those who are familiar with One Piece will know counts as probably the most dramatic in the entire series.

There are however still some issues with the show, chief among these being the animation. The computer animation is still slow and clunky. Also, some of the normal animation looks a tad off. There is one short scene in which Zoro drinks a glass of water that looks a bit shoddy.

However, this aside, this is still one of the better collections, with the story building up to the next major battle. It is all looking good so far.

 

Title: Review of One Piece, Collection 16
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: 12
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

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