Monday, October 27, 2008

Claymore DVD Vol. 1 Impression

Claymore DVD Volume 1
Yoma, inhuman monsters who prey on humans and once were human themselves. They can assume the form, memories and traits of anyone they consume. Claymore, part human, part Yoma. These women have consumed the flesh of Yoma to obtain the power and strength to sense and kill the monsters they are slowly becoming. Clare is one such Claymore, named for the swords they carry and as the story picks up Clare is on the hunt for a hidden Yoma. As the sliver eyed witch enters the village all stare at her in awe and fear except for one boy whose life will never be the same.

Claymore volume 1 from FUNimation follows the tale of Clare, one of many Claymore, hunters of Yoma. We see her hunt and destroy a Yoma, but also show a compassion to a young boy, Raki, that is very uncommon for the emotionless hunters. As Raki follows Clare her past begins to be revealed as she once in Raki’s shoes, orphaned because of a Yoma. Raki’s family was devoured by a Yoma, who assumed the role of his brother. As Clare leaves his village Raki is cast out for fear he too is a Yoma. Clare assumes the role that Teresa of the Faint Smile assumed with her. A reluctant protector and eventual mentor. As the story goes viewers learn more about the organization that runs the Claymores, sends them on their missions and collects the money from each job.

Clarymore is a tough anime to write about. Why? Because I’ve read so much of the manga and am very, very familiar with the story. I was very interested to see how the anime turned out. Very pleased I must say. The story follows very close to the source material utilizing Clare, her meeting with Raki as well as the beginnings of her back story (to be continued in volume 2). No major changes to what Yoma or Claymore are, back stories are in place and it’s pleasing to a fan of the manga. The art style translates very well into the animated form and the action pops off the screen as it danced in many a readers head as they turned the manga pages. The voice acting is solid with Clare especially good showing some emotion, but hidden under a stoic persona.

What Claymore volume 1 does very well is introduce noobs to story and settings, introduces an ample amount of info from characters to monsters to background to make you want to come back for more, but not feeling like you’ve been jipped. The question I have is how will the story progress, knowing what I do about the manga, will it continue beyond six volumes or wrap up sooner than expected. Ah, that is the lure of this series. A must have for fans of the manga and nice addition to any fan of action anime with a fantasy setting.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dark Side of the Horse VI

It’s been a while, but time for another look at the Dark Side of Dark Horse with some analysis of Star Wars comics. There are times I find myself getting behind on what I want to chat about which makes it all the more enjoyable when I finally sit down and put my thoughts and impression on virtual paper. So I hope that my joy and relief comes through in this latest chapter of Dark Side of the Horse.

Star Wars: Rebellion #13 - Small Victories Part 3Star Wars: Rebellion #13 - Small Victories Part 3
The side story continues as Luke and Leia must free themselves with the hop that Deena Shan can assist their escape. Meanwhile Admiral Ackbar finds himself with a tough decision, leave two of your greatest assets in the Imperials hands or send the non-battle tested B-Wings to the rescue. The answer, a little B-Wing action, clone trooper named Able and some good ol’ Jedi type luck for Deena.

This story takes place on the Imperial Bannistar Station, a refueling depot that is the lifeline of the Imps in this sector of space. Unlucky to be captured, Luke and Leia take a backseat to the real stars of this book, Deena, Able and the B-Wings. Seeing how new, well known, Star Wars ships first get into action is a treat, as is seeing an older clone trooper, Able, in action with the original trilogy stars, ties the trilogies together in more ways (also makes you wonder how the hell Obi-Wan got so dang old). The art in these books is some of the best in the Dark Horse Star Wars line; the story is interesting, a nice side-story, but not much more. Worth the pickup if you’ve already started this series, but I’d wait for trade paperback.

Star Wars: Rebellion #14 - Small Victories Part 4Star Wars: Rebellion #14 - Small Victories Part 4
The fight continues as, having escape here assailant, Deena manages to take out an entire Star Destroyer with one little detonator, something Luke compliments her on later. The resulting explosions, confusion and arrival of the B-Wings all tie into on sweet escape for Luke, Leia and the rest of the survivors. Our heroes are safe, the B-Wings have been battle-tested and it’s time for the next story arc.

Not much more I can add here than what I said for Part 3 above. Really good art, action packed story and characters more secure in their spots in life … Deena folks, I’m talking about Deena.

Star Wars: Legacy #23Star Wars: Legacy #23
Fresh from the Sith Temple what is Cade Skywalker to do … clear up some debt and get a ship back of course. A visit to former colleague Rav, who happened to issue a bounty on Cade, is visited by his intended mark only to see a more stern, Force wielding Skywalker smack him down, force him to swear a blood oath as well as release the Grinning Liar from it’s debt. With ship in hand it’s time to head to safe harbor, which just happens to be under attack by the Black Sun.

So earlier I stated that Rebellion has the best art, well only slightly ahead of Legacy. Legacy carries a more realistic style, where even Luke looks like his silver screen self as opposed to the more action oriented Rebellion. The story, it’s a transition story, common in comics and manga. We just finished with the Sith Temple story arc and it’s time for Cade to lay low. Some loose ends are tied up here, but not much else.

Star Wars: Legacy #24Star Wars: Legacy #24
Black Sun disposed of, Cade, Deliah Blue and Jariah Syn all settle in for some good food and relaxation on the Rawk’s Nest. Not all is fun and games as a bounty hunter has tracked our young Skywalker and there is a confrontation brewing as Cade questions is Uncle Nat about his mother, and why Nat abandoned being a Jedi himself. There is also the lecture from both Cade’s Father and Luke, guess dead Jedi just can’t leave the living to themselves. That bounty hunter we touched on, it’s Azlyn Rae, an old friend of Cade’s and one who touches off the next story arc in our adventure.

As the Imperials show up to question the confrontation with the Black Sun , Azlyn proves her trustfulness by convincing the Imps all is well and to leave the planet. As Nat and Cade come to the realization the nest is no longer safe, they conclude it’s time to get packing and the decision is made to head to a secret Jedi location, temple, hidden from only those who helped discover it, including Nat during his days as a Jedi. Unknown to the group a cloaked Imperial Knight ship is following them. The story, it speaks for itself, it involves the Sith, Empire, Imperials and a Skywalker. Jedi on the run with great art, this is a good book and a great jumping in point for anyone new to the book.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #28 - Vector Part 4Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #28 - Vector Part 4
Celeste Morne comes to realize the power she now contains within her as the amulet looks to exert it’s power. She makes the choice to have Zayne seal her in a chamber which will contain the Sith power so that he may transport her to a planet full of Sith relics and a solution can be found to the Rakgoul powers she now carries. Before Zayne can transport Celeste the Mandalorians in orbit decide to decimate the planet from orbit, sealing Celeste fate and setting in motion events that will ripple across generations.

This fourth part of Vector is just the beginning as Celeste now will become part of the future, and Zayne will move onto his next path of action. These two paths, one that will keep you with KOTOR, the other following Vector, both offer enjoyable reads are Zayne is just a small fish in a grand story, very refreshing, while Celeste is about to become much larger than the chess piece she is in KOTOR. The art, worst of the lot. Very, very cartoony, like Cartoon Network tweens action hero tooney, but with body proportions that just don’t seem right. Good story, great cover at, but inside is a mixed bag.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #29 - Exalted Part 1Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #29 - Exalted Part 1
To avenge Celeste and reveal the secrets of Lucien, Zayne and crew head to a secret storehouse of Sith artifacts. The storehouse is hidden on the home world of the Feeorins where one of Zayne’s murderous masters, Feln, commands. Using a guise of Celeste to gain admittance Zayne and Gryph spend days cataloging the artifacts for proof before making their exit … where they are promptly captured.

While the art does improve the story takes a hit as there is very little action. The bit of excitement we get is the conclusion which leads to Zayne’s facing off with one of the Jedi Covenant, Feln. The best thing about this book is it’s lead into the next chapter.

Star Wars: Dark Times #11 - Vector Part 5Star Wars: Dark Times #11 - Vector Part 5
Bomo and the crew of the Uhumele, having faced many losses, choose to sell As Bomo and the crew of the Uhumele decide to sell the package they so dearly paid to obtain. Seems things can never go right for Bomo as the crew is yet again betrayed as Darth Vader is there to claim the package for himself, a package which contains Celeste. As she awakens and the plague begins to spread again the amulet senses a dark presence, one more powerful than Celeste, Vader himself. Vader sees an Old Republic Jedi, who serving with him can overthrow the Emperor. Battle begins and Bomo must work fast to escape.

Excellent art, very realistic mixed with great action as we learn what happened to Celeste, how her package has been passed around through the ages and as she awakens she must deal with her new, harsh reality and a confrontation with a Sith. Great story and fight that leads into the next issue.

Star Wars: Dark Times #12 - Vector Part 6Star Wars: Dark Times #12 - Vector Part 6
The fight continues as Celeste decides to pass on Vader’s offer and to prevent the amulet from claiming a new host. As she resigns herself to a new fate of isolation and Vader leaves the planet the crew of the Uhumele must deal with another set of losses and just where their path will take them.

The story, Vector, is moving along very nicely, and this chapter in Vader’s past is very interesting as it draws parallels to The Force Unleashed in that Vader was always looking for an apprentice to use against the Emperor. The title is so proper as Bomo has nothing but dark times and you wonder what keeps him going. The real gem is the further indoctrination of Celeste into the Star Wars universe, something I for one am very interested to see continue. The art takes a turn for the simpler, but not on the level of KOTOR. As Bomo and Vader leave the planet there is also a very real sense of hopelessness as Celeste is isolated on planet with only her Rakgouls.

That does it for now, and there is more to come. Dark Side of the Horse is one of my favorite pieces to prepare and write for, but it takes time. So let me get cracking on the next part and May the Force Be with you (cheesy I know, but so cool).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Q3 Gaming Report on The Examiner

Something I started earlier this, my quarterly gaming review, is now being continued on The Examer DC. Q1 and Q2 I posted here on AnimeSentinel, but for Q3 you'll need to check out the links below. There are three part, next-gen (Xbox 360 and PS3), Nintendo with Wii and DS then PS2, PSP and one PC title. Few tweaks is I don't go school house and grade each title, and I also don't have a top 5 for the quarter, just one 'best of' game. So check it out, make some comments and enjoy, I hope I'm getting better.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Afro Samurai Manga vol. 1 Impression

Afro Samurai Manga volume 1
Afro Samurai manga volume 1 from Tor/Seven Seas takes all the action found in the FUNimation released anime and delivers better than expected. Made famous by its run on Spike TV as well as support and voice work by Samuel L. Jackson, Afro Samurai follows the tale of No. 2 headband wearer Afro Samurai. At a young age Afro witnesses his father, then the owner of the No. 1 headband, slayed before his eyes by No. 2. Fast forward and Afro, now as No. 2 must fend off the attacks of any and every challenger for only No. 2 can challenge No. 1, but anyone can challenge No. 2. The owner of the No. 1 headband gains power, what power we shall learn, but it seems to be godlike, if not eternal life at the least.

As the manga progresses through it’s five chapters we see Afro face off with assassins sent by a group of brothers called the Empty Seven, confront an old warrior on the run from the brothers, use an innocent as a shield, then take on three of the brothers as well as a teddy bear assassin who seems to have a bone to pick. The story ends with Afro, bloodied and close to being buried tossed into a waterfall.

This manga by creators Takashi Okazaki is beautiful. It takes a vivid anime and loses nothing as it moves to 2D black and white pages. The only color used is red, for blood to emphasize the brutality and it works so well. Red, black and white, simple colors yet they work so well to bring the story to life. The art is a mirror of the anime, you can almost hear the hip-hop playing as you read, the style is intact. Learning that Afro Samurai started as a doujinshi manga then evolved into the anime, back into a manga, quite a road and a change in art style. This is an anime East and West collaboration that the industry should be proud of. Storyline you get the basics in place, No. 1 vs. No. 2, the Empty Seven, Teddy Bear assassin, but the stories along the way vary and this is more than enough reason for fans to pick the book up.

This is my first experience with a Tor/Seven Seas published manga, but I assure you it won’t be the last. Like Dark Horse the subtle additions of color and a very premium feel to the book make me proud to have this as a reviewer, fan and collector. High praise, but well deserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Black Lagoon: Second Barrage 001 Impression

Black Lagoon The Second Barrage 001
Revy, Rock, Dutch and Benny. The crew of the Black Lagoon get ready for more gun toting, fast paced action in Black Lagoon The Second Barrage 001 from FUNimation. Murder, gruesome and targeted at Hotel Moscow, have left the city shaken and leaders on guard. As the murders continue those who perpetrated the crime come to light, twins. One young boy, one young girl, who thirst for the kill, for the taste of blood. As the murders continue a bounty is put out on Hansel and Gretel, a bounty nobody can ignore including our twisted sister Eda as she teams with Revy to hunt down our twins. Things get really dicey as Balalaika calls in her old Russian special ops unit to handle the twins, which she does with her own style and voracity. As the curtain closes on our blood drinking twins it opens on some slick counterfeiters on the run. When on the run from Miami mafia, where do you go? Why you stumble on the doorstep of the Rip Off Church.

Lots of story elements left out above, and done for a reason. Long have I read comparisons of Black Lagoon to Cowboy Bebop. Long have I said whatever, until now. I found Black Lagoon to be lacking, not in action or unique characters, it has and has had those in spades. No, it’s been lacking in story, until now. The same solid animation and character design seen in the Geneon released first round of Black Lagoon returns, ditto for the solid voice work, but the story really steps up with these twins, and begins to feel like the dark side of Bebop. Three episodes are dedicated to the murders, Hotel Moscow and the hunt for the twins. Learning who hired the killers, their origins and the emotion, it’s a rock solid offering that is propelled by a dark and gothic art style. I found myself drawn to this story, sucked into it like the vampire these children were supposed to be. They were not just more fluffy characters, they had depth and a history, tragedy mixed with a very sad ending. Three episodes that changed my perspective on a franchise. The final, to be continued, episode about a US counterfeiter on the run is ok so far, but it’s not over yet, so more on that soon. This episode has potential thanks to Groovy Guy Gus who’s on the hunt for some funny money makers on the run, so we shall see.

Hmmm, one more thing. These episodes which hooked me had limited, almost no interaction from the crew of the Lagoon until the final part of the final episode. There is an interaction with Gretel but its ties to Rock feel forced. Revy’s hunt with Eda is more a side-story to a story that the twins and Balalaika take over. I now have great hope for Black Lagoon. I may be a bit scattered in my summary but it’s tough when you don’t want to ruin a story this good, worth the purchase.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aquarion Season 1 DVD Box Set 2 Impression

Aquarion Volume 2 DVD Boxset
Question answered, past lives revealed, enemies unite and lost allies rise in the second volume of Aquarion from FUNimation. After over 12,000 years will the past repeat itself or will a new destiny be forged for Shadow Angel and mankind alike? As Apollo, Sirius, Silvia and the other vector pilots continue from one confrontation to another they are faced with not only physical encounters but mental challenges just as, if not more dangerous. The dangers of merging come to light as Pierre becomes addicted, and is almost destroyed and Sirius is lured to the other side. The girls decide to diet only to see the earth’s food supply ravaged and all the pilots enjoy some cross-dressing to better understand each other. Aquarion itself also faces its own battles as its Aquarion vs. Aquarion and a biting battle with a vampire.

All these encounters lead to one fateful capture as the only Shadow Angel child is isolated and captured by the planets government, is experimented on and finally ‘harvested’ himself allowing for the creation of single pilots who can control three vectors at once, a mixture of both races who are unleashed en-mass on Atlandia in one final battle where Sirius, Toma and Apollo must decide to doom the world, or unite and save it. This final decision is … well it’s for you to see, and not for me to tell.

This second collection of Aquarion, the final fifteen episodes, is more of the same and a very satisfying ending. The animation is really good, not movie quality good, but above 50+ episode series good and the voice acting is sufficient with each character acting like they should, meaning their personality types. There are attempts to go outside these norms, Pierre with his addiction and one single romance, but overall this series is about the Shadow Angels vs. Mankind. The single-episode stories from Pierre’s addition to the vampire, food shortage build a bond with the characters, but it’s not until Sirius betrayal that the show gets darker and much more interesting. The vectors are no longer whole and everyone must come to grips that they may lose this battle. When the new Vectors appear and the source of their power is revealed the series really gets good as its epic, final battle time, and truth be told I did not see the twist coming at the end. I’d really like to mention them, but I just can’t ruin this series. I left wanting more, and that is one of the best compliments I can give a series.

Here’s the deal. If you purchased Aquarion volume 1, then you must get this second set. If you are on the fence about getting Aquarion I am very confident in giving the thumbs up as it delivers great action, humor and interesting characters with all the giant robot merging action you need … if you can get over some unanswered questions, mainly about origin. I’ll be thinking about Aquarion for a long time to come, not because it’s a legendary anime, but because it did so many things right to stick with me.

Naruto Uncut Boxset Vol 8 Impression

Naruto Uncut Box Set 8
An epic battle, beginning of the end all in Naruto Uncut Box Set 8. The search for the Fifth Hokage comes to a stunning conclusion as both Jiraiya and Orochimaru wait on Tsunade for an answer, a wait that sparks a legendary confrontation between the three Sannin and their summoned allies. Naruto’s near-death battle with the superior Kabuto snaps Tsunade back to reality and allows her to become what she is destined to become, the Fifth Hokage, meanwhile Orochimaru sees the power in Naruto and tries to destroy it himself. As blows are traded and the battle is determined everyone leaves with their bruises and the fight will continue another day. Tsunade proceeds back to the Village Hidden in the Leaves with a reminder of her gambling past as some hot springs then proceeds to step into her new role and heal Kakashi, Sasuke and forces Rock Lee to face his life outside the ninja elite.

Next up, all healed the team unmask Kakashi … or do they, and a new mission is undertaken to escort Idate from the Land of Tea in a race to determine land rulers, a race that is fraught with peril and revelations of a ninja who long since abandoned his village, one who learns to trust in others again, something Naruto has a knack for.

This box set is excellent as it concludes the search for Tsunade, contains one epic battle and sows the seeds to what is to come with Sasuke. A very worthy box set that has plenty of fun, transition episodes from one story arc to the next and really sets the stage for the future. The voice work is excellent, nuff said there and the animation is top notch for a TV series. The story and flow is where this box set really excels as the Sannin battle is fast and furious without going too long, giving just enough insight into the past of Tsunade and why she snaps and then snaps back. Orochimaru now has an interest in our 9-tailed hero and a new type of ninja is born, medical, you’ll see. The in-between episodes are fun from unmasking Kakashi to Konohamaru dealing with what the Hokage really is, stands for. The escort mission of Idate may seem like filler at first, but the battle where Naruto succeeds and Sasuke fails only sets the stage for what is to come in box set 9 and 10 … but that’s a story for another review.

For long running series like Naruto buying individual DVD’s is impractical. These box sets are the way to go, a trend seen with re-release of Dragon Ball Z, Bleach and other series. Less shelf space, more products, everyone wins in these trying times.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom vol. 1 Impression

Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom volume 1
Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom volume 1 from Viz is a more lighthearted Death Note meshed with a bit of Bleach. Nora is one unruly demon. He gets in fights, is hard headed and cannot take orders, not even from the big boss the Dark Liege. So what’s a demon lord to do, just send the troublemaker to Earth and put him under the servitude of any random human, in this case the super smart, super bored Kazuma Makkari. Kazuma is head of the student council and finds the day-to-day of school life very droll and boring. As he finds a cell phone and little package he is given the opportunity by the Dark Liege to form a bond, a pact with Nora to hunt down and destroy rogue demons on Earth. Why not? Now things begin to get interesting as Kazuma and Nora start the hunt, first with a demon preying on other council members, then one disguised as an old man, demon bounty hunters and finally some rebel demons who oppose the Dark Liege. The hitch … Nora cannot unleash his powers without asking Kazuma’s permission, which he is not always quick to grant. The other hitch, Nora is not just some low-level demon; he’s Cerberus and has all the powers the legends mention. So the games begin as the rebels and their tactics peaks Kazuma’s interest and Nora is treated like the dog he is.

Story and art by Kazunari Kakei, Nora is a decent entry in crowded Shonen manga where a boy meets demon or gets demon powers. We’ve seen this in Bleach, Buso Renkin, Death Note and now Nora. The story angle has so many parallels with Death Note, but as I stated before on a much lighter note. We have a smart human, who’s bored with his daily life, one getting a notebook, the other a cell phone and ‘package.’ We have a bored demon of death and a bored, rambunctious trouble making demon. From here the story splits as Light takes on investigative groups and Nora is tasked with wiping out rogue demons on earth, much like Hollows in Bleach and Homunculi in Buso Renkin. See where this is going, take a successful formula, tweak it and hope for success. That is not what I’m implying Nora has done, but I need to point this out as Nora has many, many similarities but is unique. The humor mixed with intense action sequences is a joy to read as is the most powerful character being treated like a dog (Inu-Yasha, hmmm). There is much more to come in future volumes of Nora, and this story aspect alone will keep interested parties coming back.

The art is mid-level. Not as original looking as a Bleach or Death Note, but more detailed than a Buso Renkin. I am not familiar with too much of Kazunari’s work, but this one packs in the action sequences and the humor, natural and twisted (Dark Liege has nice legs???) will be hit or miss with readers. It really depends on who you are. The series I’ve listed give some guidance on who will like this series. Not as overall solid as Bleach, as serious as Death Note but right there with Buso Renkin, Nora stands well on his four paws and is worth the read. More on this with volume 2.

Bleach: Dark Souls Bankai Trailers

Bleach: Dark Souls for the Nintendo DS is classic 2-D fighting action with a touch (pun-indended) of DS magic in the form of card abilities. The second title to hit the DS for Bleach, Dark Souls adds in some new gameplay features and the best ... a ton of new characters both good and bad. Well, let me correct that a bit. Having new characters is excellent but having their advanced abilities is just the bees knees. Here's what I'm talking about, four sweet Bankai trailers that just touch on what this game contains, enjoy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Halo Wars Field Trip to Harvest Trailer

I'll talk about this Halo Wars trailer in more depth over at The Examiner, but for now you just need to see this beauty in action. This is how you to prequel.