Friday, July 31, 2009

Orange Crows vol. 1 Impression

A little bit Tim Burton, a bit J.K. Rowling. Lofty comparisons, but for anyone that picks up Orange Crows volume 1 from Tokyopop the reasons will become apparent. This is not a 1:1 knockoff but rather the third cousin twice removed from Harry Potter and any Burton feature.

Cierra is a witch, left in the wilderness for five years for the crime of trying to create her own magic. Having survived in this deadly land Cierra is recruited back into the ranks of witch society she was cast from by the best friend she injured. The choice was pretty much non-existent, return or be killed. Having survived her banishment Cierra must now try to discover her place in life, her role with the S.W.S., Special Witch and Warlock Squadron the Orange Crows and how to deal with her new leader who just happens to be her old best friend Natalie. As Cierra meets the … unique members of Orange Crows she is sent on a mission with them which reveals her inner power, a left eye which can absorb magic but at what cost? In this land where fairies are evil and prey on witches will having such power make Cierra an asset or just another outcast?

The comparisons mentioned earlier hold true in this story crafted by James Perry II with art by Ryo Kawakami. First the art has an edge and style just made for Hot Topic t-shirts, bags and whatever else they sell now. It’s like a Tim Burton film, with a morbid, dark and gothic style that is just that, stylish. Gotta love the talking hats which turn our attention to the story and Harry Potter comparison. No this is not a school for wizards but the world of magic is, rules and society with various levels from the poor to elite, this is the ties that bind to Harry Potter. But where Harry has his normal human world the outside in Orange Crows is full of killer fairies and outcast rebels who pirate the skies as fairies thus creating the need for the S.W.S. So that is the basics but why a reader would and should come back is the background on Cierra’s mother, whom she keeps trying to duplicate with her illegal work and the eye. That little experiment that got her banished also gave a unique eye with fairy powers that can both empower and consume her.

Overall the art is excellent and the story mixes in humor, decent background, funny and quirky characters and just enough questions left unanswered and to be revealed to really wet the appetite of readers. Not too much like traditional manga, but that’s a good thing as Orange Crows is unique and fun to read.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Claymore DVD vol. 4 & 5 Impression

Volume 4 of Claymore see the action and fights with the awakened in the North get hot and heavy while volume 5 of Claymore steps up the action with elite awakened taking to the filed of battle. The question of survival is the only question worth answering in the fourth and fifth volumes of Claymore.

Claymore DVD Volume 4
Now hunted by the Organization Claire searches in disguise for Rocky while pretending to be a man. She is successful as she suppresses her yoma power and moves from town to town. She encounters more Claymore in one particular town who just happen to be hunting a awakened being. The fight goes wrong and Claire gets involved leading to the defeat of the awakened but also an encounter with a Beast of the Abyss. This creature is not looking to kill Claymore but rather turn them for her army. As number 9 Jean and number 3 Galatea get involved the stakes escalate leading to a look at the three Beast of the Abyss, their history and how these three creatures divided up the map as their territory. Seems there are scarier things than yoma in the land. As the battle rages the assembled Claymore learn to push past their limits but still come back. A pact is formed between these lambs offered up to slaughter and they are soon reunited in a town to the North in a battle they can’t hope to win.

Volume 4 of Claymore does not change in look or feel from the first three volumes. The overall style follows the manga but does not keep the same level of detail found in the penned page. The settings and mood is dark and bleak as is the manga but this is one of Claymore’s charms. By volume 4 the stage is set for any DVD collection and in this volume that is the case. The main revelations are three fold. First is the revelation that one can past their limit and come back. Second is the Organization being involved with awakened ones, using them to ‘clean up’ not so loyal Claymore. Third is the history of the Creatures of the Abyss, how there are worse things than Yoma and the Organization has a loose agreement with them. Until now the story has been about Claire and her journey but now with the trip north and reveal of monsters such as Silver King Isley, well there are bigger, nastier things to worry about going forward.

Claymore DVD Volume 5
The battle in the northern town of Pieta continues as the Claymore must take on aggressive awakened looking to score a quick kill. Slowly the larger invasion begins and as the Claymore proves they are more than capable of taking down awakened ones a new threat takes to the field, the Silver Eyed Lion King Rigaldo. Rocky continues his journey and learns that Pricilla is indeed a Yoma and is taught by Isley the history of the Claymore and their organization. Claire also reflects on how she gained her new, more powerful arm, an arm needed to keep Rigaldo from slowly eliminating every high level Claymore on the field. Can Claire hope to hold off Rigaldo or will she suffer the fate of so many of Rigaldo’s victims.

Bleak, the town of Pieta, colors, mood is all bleak. Only the action and flashbacks show any color. So a bit more background is revealed but the fight with Rigaldo is the main aspect of this volume. The battle feels like it’s in the final stages, which in a sense it is. So a volume all about the fight, good times but it means nothing without the first four volumes of background and buildup.

Overall both volumes keep the action going but its volume 5 that really shows what Claymore is all about with over the top Yoma fighting large groups of Claymore with death the only outcome. Things are coming to a head, hey its volume 5, so it will be very interesting to see how volume 6 brings it home.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Baccano! vol. 4 Impression

This can’t be it! Are you serious, this is the end of Baccano! in only volume 4? For a series that has no main character or solid story it’s surprising such an ending would bother this Otaku so much, but it has. Just when story was starting to make sense and plot points were getting, well direction, it’s over … say it ain’t so!

The fight on the top of the train continues with a promise made. A quick visit to the past reveal show Firo came into his power and leads to a confrontation with Slizard and a not so happy ending for him. With the train ride over the survivors go their separate ways. The action is not over as immortals are bound to find one another as is the case with Boss Russo. Rachel recounts what happened on the train while Benjamin lives to see another day when he thought he’d be absorbed. Jacuzzi has an encounter with a wrench wielding SOB while the origins of his scars are revealed and why he goes through the lengths he does to fight. And … that’s it.

Yeah, see what I mean. Even trying to recount what the hell happened is a jumbled mess. There are tons of characters, some immortal, some created. Some dark demon or something created a pact with immigrants in the past each of which, if they drink, become immortal. They interact in the future as they can absorb each other, memories, etc (like Highlander with no swords). They come to climax in the 1930’s through a series of mob interactions and a chance train ride. Relationships are never fully explained or carried out but a few characters by the end do stand out. This series has good animation but if it’s really over after four volumes it could have been better. The 1930’s setting is really cool and the mix of the occult and alchemy is sweet but there is craziness, a nonsensical course of actions not seen since Fooley Cooley and Excel Saga. Where they concentrated on the crazy, Baccano takes on the crazy serious, bloody … you get the point and if not welcome to the club.

Baccano! is not like any other anime. Good animation mixes with great setting and design and weaves into a story that just needs a bit more fleshing out. The alchemy will remind at times of Fullmetal Alchemist but will only leave viewers sad that Baccano! did not flesh out more. Is this really it, just four volumes, dang.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Trailer

Old games become new again thanks to tweaked graphics and downloadable content on PSN and Xbox Live. The latest, on my radar, is Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes which goes back to a simpler time of gaming where it was all about flash special moves and over the top action. Here are two trailers, strategy for Zangief and the Hulk that really highligh the over the top action. Good times, old gaming is back.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Future Diary vol. 1 Impression

In Sakae Esuno manga Future Diary from Viz technology is key as cell phones take center stage in a haunting and dangerous game where the winner becomes a god. You’ve never read a manga like Future Diary.

Yukiteru is that guy never noticed in class. He sits back, does not get involved and is always on his cell phone. Unlike most students on their phones Yukiteru is not talking but rather recording, keeping a virtual diary of everything going on around him. When he’s home he dreams of the imaginary Deus Ex Machina, King of Space and Time, but soon what he thought was just his imagination takes a drastic turn. The game is simple, organized by the very real Deus Ex Machina, there are twelve diary users, each with their own motivations for wanting the ultimate prize which is to be crowned king of a new world. Participants are eliminated when their cell phones are destroyed as Yukiteru learns upon using a dart to destroy a user’s diary before even knowing about the game. Each diary serves a different purpose from seeing briefly into the future to tracking crimes, escape routes and even the fate of individuals. Only with the help of fellow diary users can Yukiteru survive, such as classmate Yuno, but with some users out for blood it will be a dangerous game until the end. The real world is a battlefield where average people must protect their cell phones with their lives if they hope to win.

As far as stories go a manga based on an end game is nothing new but using the cell phone as the elimination device is very modern. As phones get more advanced why not use them as the main device in a new story. Yukiteru is a clueless protagonist who must come up to speed very quickly and the fact he is the first to take out one of the 12 is not lost on the remaining 10. He is now a target but finds allies with their own unique powers. In this first volume the story is just beginning (duh) but the mystery and questions that are set really urges the reader to want more. A great story is nothing without matching art and Future Diary is outstanding in it’s haunting design and delivery. The level of detail in character design, emotions, and settings is spot on perfect for the story and there is a haunting feel to the art reminiscent of the anime When They Cry. Each character has a bit of crazy to their look; it’s a very unsettling style that works well. Just check out the cover art of Yuno, a nice little girl that looks like something out of Ringu on the cover.

Overall this is a thriller manga that is oh so enjoyable. Suspense, horror and action are just a few of the high points of this manga and with excellent design behind it manga fans owe it to themselves to check it out, period.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Darker Than Black vol. 4 Impression

What drives a contractor like BK201, the Black Reaper? The answer is in Amber eyes and begins to be revealed in volume 4 of Darker Than Black from FUNimation. The action-packed and intriguing anime continues in all its multi-episode glory with a slick new theme song.

A series of bombings target M16 then the CIA and someone named Amber seems to be behind it. Amber is tied to Hei and they both share a connection to the destruction of the South American gate. She chose to go against the syndicate but why and how is she tied to November? As more of the past is revealed more questions surface that question current motives. A bit of jealousy surfaces in new adversaries which end badly for the young Maki. Yin shows emotion which dolls are supposed to be devoid of and a young wanna-be gangster named Kenji finds he has the courage to step out on his own to free and guide a newly surfaced doll. They are not as empty as once thought. The past collides with the present to influence the future in Darker Than Black.

Volume 4 of most 6 disc DVD series is where the story kicks into high-gear. The first three volumes usually set the stage, introduce characters and touch on key story points while the final three volumes, roughly 12-13 episodes, bring home the bacon. Darker Than Black is no different for one reason, Amber. Her introduction and back-story begins to explain not just BK201’s motivations but hints at the origin and reason for the gate. Four episodes, two stories continue what DTB does, deeper, episodic stories, so nothing new there. The animation is on par with the current generation of 20+ episode series, good but not film or OAV quality. No, with Darker Than Black it’s the story that stands out with contractors and a world that is larger than the main characters. A really good series is about to get much better and at this point it’s all thanks to Amber.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Punisher: No Mercy on PlayStation Network

(Also published on The Examiner)
The Punisher: No Mercy is a first-person shooter to be played on the PlayStation 3. The cost, about $10, the hook, it’s downloadable. For quite a few years the downloadable space consisted of puzzle games, add-ons and just smaller apps. Now gamers are seeing the evolution of downloadable content thanks to better connection speeds and the desire of publishers not to spend on physical disc productions. For ten bucks, roughly two rentals, gamers get a pretty robust shooter with a great FPS license attached in The Punisher. Marvel heroes have had a mixed bag when it comes to games and this release is a low risk approach that works. No shipping, production, shelf space cost, no worries about the mature content (which Wal-Mart for example tends not to carry) or the shoddy past of Punisher games. This is right there in digital format for gamers for an easy price. The trailer below shows off what seems to be a fairly engaging FPS built on the Unreal Engine 3 this title is offering up some fun multi-player that again does not take a $60+ commitment from gamers and their buddies. There is single-player also but let’s take a look back at the point we started with.

Gamers are now getting full, downloadable, less expensive gamers to play online with their buddies or alone that are not some schlock from the backend of big name publishers. This is the beginning of something truly special for gamers so take a look at The Punisher: No Mercy, download if desired and enjoy where the gaming landscape is headed.

The Punisher: No Mercy - PSN Trailer

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone Trailer

Evangelion 1.0
Many times when watching an older, from the 90’s, anime I wonder what it would be like if recreated today. Dragon Ball Z for example looks mega sharp in video game form now but the older episodes just don’t’ hold up. Gundam is another great example with the new Seed series vs. the original look and feel. Animation quality changes and it impacts how our beloved series look. Robotech and Transformers come to mind also. For me Evangelion was always one of these series, but no longer. The story of Tokyo-3, NERV, Shinji and the Eva’s is about to get an outstanding makeover in Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone. The trailer is hot and shows off the points I mention above. This series is getting revamped in a great way. The voice work is very familiar but the animation is rock solid with tweaks to the Angels, looks sooooooo good. Anime fans should be very familiar with the series but now noobs can get on board with one of the best anime of all time and hopefully they get to avoid the sad sack original ending (Death and Rebirth was solid). So check out the trailer on Apple and check back with FUNimation for more detail. This is going to be so money!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hayate Cross Blade vol.3 Impression

Shizuru Hayashiya has created a very fun and enjoyable series in Hayate Cross Blade but in volume 3 there is a deep Keeling of been there, done that which just nags this manga fan. Hayate is still a fine series but keeping it fresh in a combat manga where one moves up the ranks is not an easy task. No doubts that the series will keep moving ahead, it is very popular, but why did it hit a snag, lets see.

Ayana and Hayate continue to move up the ranks and its time for another battle as the duo must take on Ayana’s roommate Kuga Jun and her ever sick sister-in-arms Shizuma Yuho. The history behind this rivalry is revealed and no quarter is given as Ayana honors Kuga Jun with a worthy match.

Short synopsis, the same a what is says in the book but what else can I add. The story takes a familiar path with Ayana and Hayate facing an opponent with a grudge. There is history told followed by some intense fighting. Hayate’s humor continues and does not get old but most of the story revolves around history … again. The encounters with the yakuza girl’s mother is funny and what makes this series such a joy to read, but do we need to know every detail about every major opponent? Can’t a fight just happen with little to no talking at least once in a while? The girls are moving up the ranks and the fights look to get even crazier so we have that to look forward to as fans so if you feel as I do about volume 3, don’t fret too much. The excellent design really focus on the characters in volume 3, backgrounds are inconsequential and while the story hits a lull this beast of a manga will not remain slumbering for long.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Buso Renkin DVD Box Set 2 Impression

While feeling like a Bleach lite after its first DVD collection the second Buso Renkin DVD set from Viz distinguishers the series as unique and utterly enjoyable. How is this possible in a series that felt like just another action series, let’s count the ways with a quick look at the story. Oh, I do talk about some very cool points so don’t ruin it for yourself, just know the series gets really good and is totally worth the purchase … its anime fun.

The battle with Victor begins as Kazuki himself undergoes his own transformation due to a black Kakugane. After the intense encounter and the departure of Victor the group decides to head to the beach for some fun in the sun and little do they realize the end of their normal lives. Seems that Kazuki’s new power comes with a price that has marked him for extermination by the same Captain Bravo he called a mentor. Dubbed Victor III, Kazuki is now the hunted and the extermination is put into motion. Tokiko and a new warrior named Gota decide to abandon their post and help Kazuki avoid the newly formed re-extermination squad and seek out a course of action to save Kazuki. The solution lies in Victor’s past with his not so dead wife and daughter. As history is explored Kazuki must not only battle the re-extermination squad but old foe Papillon and Victor one final time. As the battle with Victor shifts into high gear the Alchemist Warriors and the Great Warrior Chief must put in motion plans that call on friend and foe alike and the path to Kazuki’s fate are laid bare.

Hmmmm, ok so I really wanted to reveal the entire story but I’ve left out just enough so the ending will give the same feeling I had, a very pleased feeling. This series did feel very much like Bleach but that took a turn with Kazuki’s transformation, and no this is not a mirror of Ichigo’s inner hollow. There is a much deeper emotional connection in this second half of Buso Renkin as characters really begin to grow on the viewer, especially Kazuki in all his bravado and sacrifice. Even a character like Victor has a very sympathetic history. The ending surprised this anime vet and for that I must recommend it. Some series take a few episodes to hit their stride, it just took about 14 for Buso Renkin to hook me. The animation is actually a bit sub-par for such a short series. It has a feel of a longer series like DBZ or Naruto, good but not great, which is really not acceptable for a short run series. This may be reflective of the source manga but still could have been helped along in the animation process.

Overall, so-so anime aside if you are an anime fan, an action fan wanting a fun and exciting series that does not last for 50-100+ episodes then check out Buso Renkin. It shares a lot in common with the Bleach’s of the world which is a good thing. Hey, not everyone can marry the super model but they can take her less attractive little sister out for a few dates.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ponyo Trailer & Art Book Impression

Legendary. This one word describes not only Hayao Miyazaki but his body of work with Studio Ghibli. In his latest movie, Ponyo, Miyazaki puts a different spin on the tale of The Little Mermaid. The tale of a fish who wishes to be with a little boy who was so kind to her looks as innocent as any Miyazaki tale. From the trailer the animation is so sharp and crisp one has to wonder why computer animation is so popular. This is the pinnacle of animation that will no doubt pull on any viewers heart strings ... and this is just how the trailer hits me. I've also been fortunate enough to get the official Viz Ponya art book which shows original concept art and really details how the film came to be. As an anime fan this is a must see and a must own once it hits on Blu-ray, but if you consider yourself a fan of film, of Oscar worthy pictures then Ponyo will be on your must see list. Check out the trailer then count the days till the films release.