Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heroic Age DVD Set 1 and 2 Impression

Fans of Fafner, get ready for a story that will please you in both telling and design. Heroic Age from FUNimation delivers a galactic tale of conflict, succession and growth. The power to dominate one another leads a group of races to discover more about themselves and their place in the galaxy and it all begins with a young boy on a devastated planet.

Heroic Age DVD Set 1Heroic Age Complete Series Part 1
The Gold Tribe, a race of beings with the power to shape and create planets, to create starways along the universe, a race that left for a higher state of existence and thus left the universe in the hands of the remaining tribes. First the Silver, powerful and close in stature to the Gold, next the Bronze, a bug type of race eventually put into servitude for the Silver. Next the Heroic tribe, a race of war driven destroyers locked away by the Gold tribe and finally the Iron tribe, man, looked upon as the weakest race but one that holds so many keys. The Heroic tribe did so much damage the remaining five members were punished by the Gold tribe, forced to server the lesser tribes and fulfill a series of labors, task, in order to gain their freedom. These Heroic tribe members are referred to as Nodos, and it’s the Iron tribes Nodos, Age, his alignment with humans that begins a conflict with the Silver tribe as each race seeks to fulfill the Gold tribes prophecy as to whole will succeed them.

Age is discovered on a ruined planet, found by the human princess Dianeira who has her own special powers. As Age joins the humans he comes into conflict with the Bronze tribe sent to destroy him and the human ship. An incredible transformation occurs as Age changes into the Nodos Bellcross, his true Heroic Tribe form. After this conflict Age agrees, in all his childlike simplicity, to join the humans as their Nods and he begins his education in what are his 12 labors to fulfill. As their journey begins conflict awaits in the form of Karkinos, one of the Silver tribes Nodos, a battle on the neutral planet of Titarros. Not a battle to the death but one where Nodos fight and try to reason with one another. There are further conflicts as the humans look to regain their long lost planet, Earth, a conflict which ends with dire consequences as more Nodos enter the fray and two royal brothers cause mass destruction in the hopes of furthering their own agenda. As the battle comes to an end it’s Age who enters a frenzy, a state in which the universe could be destroyed.

First up the animation. This is just, dead on, like Fafner. The characters all have unique, long, sleek looks but nothing too spectacular. Rock solid each one, but yeah, just like Fafner. The Nodos design are interesting as they are not mech, but rather creatures, ones with intense and scary power and while their human like appearance are usually gentle, once they change, Age and his other Heroic tribe buddies look plain badass. The story is very enjoyable and a lot of this is due to Age. He grew on a planet by himself, partly raised by the Gold tribe, so his exposure to the princess among other thing is fun to watch. While the background is well explained in each intro sequence overall it moves very quickly. We’ve got tribes and conflict, a prophecy to fulfill and some military and royal hierarchy not fully explained. What issues did I have, first the races. There is a neutral planet, Titarros, but its inhabitants don’t seem to fall into any one tribe. The humans don’t really reveal where they come from, but they want to get earth back. They talk of military and there is a princess, but overall structure is left unanswered. Ditto for the Bronze and Silver tribes. There just seems to be a lot of background missing, but at the end of the day the story still moves along. Age is the center and as long as viewer can keep their eye on the target, Age, then they will enjoy this series.

Heroic Age DVD Set 2
Heroic Age Complete Series Part 2
The princess steps in to help Age back from the brink of utter chaos as the battle for the Sol system resumes. This battle leaves one Nodos, Mehitok, weakened but he joins Age as he’s now fulfilled his labors. With a devastated Earth retaken the Iron tribe now decides to go after the Silvers home planet, to end their conflict. Very sure of their power, what Age provides them, it’s again the brothers who decide to battle in neutral space. The fight almost leads to the destruction of the Bronze home planet before it’s realized they are just slaves. The reasons for the conflict between Silver and Iron come to light as the Silver are not ruled by their emotions, have no true home planet to speak of and see themselves as the children of prophecy set by the Gold. They look to wipe out an inferior race in the Iron tribe and have no qualms about using their Nodos and the Bronze as pawns. As the Nodos continue to battle and fulfill their labors, it’s the Silver and Iron tribes who connect and seek to understand one another, an understanding that may be too late as there are those in the Silver tribe who seek destruction.

The princess works with the Silver tribe and learns of how to create Starways, a method only possible by the Gold before, a method that leads to the Gold’s home planet and hopefully revelations about the path the Gold took and what the answer to their prophecy is. The final conflict is at hand as two Nodos, Age included, enter a state of Fury. The final path is revealed, the Silver look to take it and the fate of Age and his fellow Nodos is set.

Ok, so there are a lot of story points I’m glazing over, many revelations by the Nodos, how they realize and coming into their own power, but unless I want to write an episode by episode synopsis I’ll stick with the above. The story is one of discovery. The Silver and Iron discovering each other and their place, the Nodos learning from their labors. The Gold tribe laid out an elaborate plan which (SPOILER) sees the silver follow them to the next plain via a gate created only by the cooperation of the Nodos and sees humans truly inherit the galaxy to continue to grown and evolve. The sad thing about the ending is what happens to Age, it’s quite bittersweet. The ending will leave viewers a bit happy, but also sad, it’s one of those.

Overall while I went over 20+ episodes pretty quick Heroic Age is a well designed anime that delivers a story, while filled with holes and gaps in background, does deliver some charming characters and the fulfillment of a prophecy that leaves viewers satisfied at the end. There is resolution, this is no Evangelion needing movies to make fans happy, and at the end of the day it’s a good mech-ish anime in the vein of Fafner. Enjoy, I do recommend this series.

Friday, September 25, 2009

GoGo Monster Impression

GoGo Monster
Every once in a while a manga comes along which does not have the best art but it has a story that captures the reader in a manner overlooked by most manga. Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster from Viz is one of these books and for fans of the paranormal, the softer, more realistic side, it’s a must read.

Yuki Tachibana is not the average first grader. He keeps to himself, draws on his desk and is ignored and made fun of by his classmates. Yuki sees things, he talks about the others, about their leader, who he’s named Super Star. He spends time on the roof playing his harmonica and tending to the school garden with the old groundkeeper Ganz. New student Makoto Suzuki begins to take an interest in Yuki, talking to him even at the expense of being made fun of. Yuki tells him about the others, the danger Super Star is in and why the students cannot go to the abandoned levels of their school. There’s also the unique IQ, a student who cares about the schools rabbits and always wears a box on his head. Through spring to winter and back to spring, Yuki must grow and confront the others, his disconnection with Super Star and the other side.

The art is simple, like something sketched out in Mushi-Shi, a Miyazaki sketch but at the same time powerful. No anime characters, no crazy settings, just plain everyday life for school age kids. No, where GoGo Monster shines is its story. Wondering what Yuki sees, how he changes over a year, the outside perspective from Makoto, it all adds up to a ‘is it really true feeling’ that scary enough has to be answered yes. Ganz makes the comments to some teachers that he’s seen this before, kids who see things much as Yuki does, but he states they all grow out of it. What’s compelling about Yuki and this story is not so much what’s going on in the story but how true it is, that this happens in real life. Kids have senses, see things, and have open channels that have long since closed in adults. What Yuki sees, the fact he knows as he grows he becomes disconnected, rots, is so thought provoking. The practice or Reiki, opening you channels, fixing the flow of energy, is something adults can do and practice to help understand. Understand what, well that is up to the one who practices. Yuki could be any child in any country in real life.

Overall GoGo Monster is not about the art, it’s about the story, the thoughts and ideas it passes. What Yuki sees, how others view him and even Ganz view is all very real. As adults it’s easy to lose sight of what we were as kids, the innocence and connection with the other side. Children are not burdened with all the adults’ thoughts, ideas and teachings. They are pure and simple and can accept what science cannot prove. This is easily one of my favorite manga for these thoughts alone. The other side is real, GoGo Monster is not just a work of imagination.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Domo the Manga Impression

Domo the Manga
A picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s a good thing that the one word speaking Domo is getting such a vivid and fun to read manga. Domo the Manga from Tokyopop takes the mascot of Japan’s NHK TV and with the blessing of creator Tsuneo Goda, crafts a manga of six stories that young and old alike will enjoy. The stories are short, light on text and printed on high-quality, slick paper. The format is larger, between a manga and comic, but the real charm is the story. While not much is known about Domo here in the states you will recognize him from specialty shops, even Target. Let’s see what adventures Tokyopop has lined up for readers.

Don’t Try This at Home – Art by Rem. Cartoony and bright, this first story pops to life in a style nailed by Rem, a style that reflects what Domo is all about. See it to believe it. The story, careful what you see on TV. Domo watches, imitates and destroys much in Mr. Usaji’s house.

Hero For a Day – Art by Rem with the same style as before. After watching some super hero’s on TV Domo decides to become a hero and runs around helping others. He does more damage than good and is confronted with being not a super hero but rather a super villain. Oh the horror.

Soapbox Road Warrior – Art by Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges. A style with less vivid tones, more shading, a more serious Domo is that term can really be used. This time the story is about a crazy soap box race and the pains Domo will take on to win.

The Ultimate Beetle – Art by Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges with the same style as before. The story now is about fighting beetles. Domo observes his friends putting their beetles 1:1 then decides to train his own, only to have a very odd ending. A Rocky story this is not.

Life is Just a Game – Art by Sonia Leong. The most basic looking, simplistic art in the book, it’s bright, vivid and the most original of the bunch. Domo plays Tashanna’s Wii only to break the screen then turns life into a giant Wii game. No gamer is spared as Domo recruits his players.

Living In The Now – Back to Rem for more art and a short story about how not ready the cast of Domo is for their own cell phones. Everyone gets in trouble, a good ending to a good book.

Finally there is some fan art, but it’s the stories that are so much fun. This is the only volume for now but this character, not just Domo but the rest could really use more stories. From Mr. Usaji (rabbit), Tashanna (weasel), Maya and Mario (bats), Fox Boy, Bear Boy, Hungry Bear, Esther (fox) and Brother Fox everyone seems to get along really well, feels like a kinda twisted Winnie the Pooh. A great book with great art in a very readable format perfect for kids, but no lost on adults. Pick it up, thumb through and spend a few bucks, support the industry that brings unique titles like this to the states.

Bleach: The 3rd Phantom DS impression

I just posted this over on The Examiner so check out the intro, then head over to The Examiner for the rest ...

Anime and video games go hand-in-hand … in Japan. A successful anime will always spawn a gaming adventure if not a franchise. Here in the states this has not been the trend, due in large part to anime still being very niche even with the expanded content available. Titles like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto are recognizable to even the non-anime fan and gamer and Shonen Jump’s Bleach is hot on their heels. While not as well known as the other titles, Bleach still maintains a spot on Adult Swim and is one of the most stylish, deep and plain outstanding manga and anime series yet to be released in the States. The latest game offering for Bleach, titled Bleach: The 3rd Phantom for the Nintendo DS, does not take the usual anime game route that of a fighting game, but instead places gamers into a strategy RPG. While this may seem like an odd mix it works very well and both anime and strategy gamers should take notice, here’s why posted on The Examiner, enjoy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Wallflower DVD Complete Series Impression

When the director of Excel Saga takes on the pretty boy meets ugly girl genre of storytelling the result is something funny, scary and delightful all mixed into one twisted package. The Wallflower is that package and any fan of Ouran High School Host Club will 100% love The Wallflower.

Four pretty boys living the pretty life. Kyouhei Takano, Takenaga Oda, Yukinojo "Yuki" Toyama and Ranmaru Morii all reside in a vast mansion with nothing to do but go to school and fend off the ladies … and then there’s dealing with their Auntie. Seems the boys are doing a bit of freeloading and now it’s time to pay the rent or take on a challenge. That challenge, Sunako, Aunties niece. The boys must change her into a lady, a proper young dame and if they succeed they live rent free, if not it’s time to pay up. How hard can this be? As Sunako reveals herself it’s as if deaths daughter has emerged from the underworld. She loves slasher flicks, worships Halloween and has a few skeletons outside her closet that are her best friends. What’s her issue, a boy once told her she was ugly so she retreated into herself and became dark, very, very dark. The boys, she looks at them as creatures of light, pretty, popular, everything she is not but a challenge is a challenge and no matter how much Sunako objects Kyo, Take, Yuki and Ranmaru has to overcome their fear and change Sunako, for better or worse … but how can she get worse?

So going in reverse order, let’s touch on the art first. This series has an art style that totally screams Shojo, is way more girly looking (on the cover) than even Ouran and may turn off buyers just looking on shelves, but DON’T LET THAT FOOL YOU!!! This series uses this look to further the excellent humor with plenty of overreactions and an SD version of Sunako is just too funny. This series go to polar opposites with its humorous reactions to serious character designs. The voice work is excellent, spot on perfect. I for one loved the fact the voices from Ouran made the transition in many characters, it makes the series feel so familiar and Sunako is over the top many times, yeah, it just fits perfect.

Now we come to story and its here in which the art, humor and vociework all bring it home. Like Ouran, yes you will hear this often, each of the four boys has a back-story on how they came to the mansion but it’s Kyo with his good looks and tough time because of them, who takes center stage with Sunako. They may be good looking but all four have issues which are revealed as the story progresses and unlike Ouran they don’t have money, so good times there as they have to get jobs. Sunako is dark, gloomy and creepy and her darkness mixing with the creatures of light is the classic opposites attract story. Converting Sunako is the premise but the little encounters, a Halloween party a few days late, visit by the parents, hot spring trip, school fair, boys learning to cook, clean and do manual labors mix in with some odd kidnappings, one each for Sunako and Kyo. Crazy (funny) story after crazy story is what The Wallflower is all about. You’ve got dark Sunako, with pretty normal parents, pretty boy Kyo who’s one hell of a fighter, Noi, the prettiest girl in school who befriends Sunako and a crazy extravagant Auntie. I’m not even touching on the other boys or their stories. Lots of fun stories and at the center Sunako and Kyo, it’s a great anime.

So where do my ramblings and praise leave us? While not my favorite character designs the SD version of Sunako and scared version of the boys is spot on excellent, voice work is superb and the stories, the encounters and adventures will have you coming back for more. It’s a great series, an excellent package that any fan of Ouran will love. I really enjoyed The Wallflower, was sad to see the anime end, but when a series leaves you wanting more, that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

KimiKiss vol. 1 Impression

KimiKiss volume 1 from Tokyopop is just what US dating-sim gamers have been craving … in a manner. A long running gaming franchise in Japan, KimiKiss is being released as a manga here in the States by Tokyopop. Why should gamers even lift an eyelash to KimiKiss? Let’s take a look.

Its high school time for Kouichi Aihara and he has more objectives than just good grades. Kouichi wants to become popular with the ladies and to score his first kiss. Enter childhood friend Mao, his soon-to-be coach on becoming popular and so much more. The Mao which Kouichi remembers is far removed from this very free spirit and attractive young lady who helps him now. As Kouichi progresses through Mao’s lessons something else happens, something unexpected by both but very welcome. Will Kouichi reach his goal, become the ladies man he wants or will he follow his feelings and grow in his lessons? The journey is the joy for both Kouichi and Mao.

So story wise, a quick snippet. Readers are introduced to the basis of dating sims, boy working with one or more attractive ladies to become more popular and score with the ladies. There are scenes which feel pulled out of any number of dating simulation, those face to face conversation boxes. While gamers may want to drive these conversations what is presented in KimiKiss is that sideline view of watching someone else play a game and make the choices, so it’s not a bad tradeoff. It does not hurt that in Japan the KimiKiss franchise has seen release on PS2 as well as a series of manga and other media, even an anime. The art is fantastic. Each character is well designed and the clothing hugs and hangs just right to cause butterflies as readers follow Kouichi on his journey. With most dating sims it’s the ladies look that drive the desire to play and in this sense KimiKiss loses zero steam not just for Mao but the other characters in the book. The situations, at the pool, at home and school are all helped along by well drawn and detailed backgrounds. Overall the well told story and situations are brought to life with excellent art and the investment is minimal. This first volume is the whole story for Kouichi as volume 2 will kick in with another story, another character type.

Back to the main point, why should gamers care? Excellent art, design by Taro Shinonome highlights every butterfly creating encounter in the true to dating simulation story weaved by Enterbrain, Inc. A combination gamers just cannot get localized in the states on any major console. KimiKiss hits on all cylinders and should not be missed by manga or dating sim fans, period.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Animal Academy vol. 1 Impression

Not every school is about fighting clubs, delinquents or wizards. Some are plain normal schools where students go to learn and then some are schools where animals go to learn how to be human in human form. Welcome to Animal Academy volume 1 from Tokyopop, a unique school isolated from the human world where animals of every variety enroll and learn to be as human as you or me.

Neko Fukuta is not the best student. In fact she’s had quite a bit of trouble getting accepted to any school but the day comes when she’s accepted by Morimori Academy. On the train to school she meets a fellow student and again encounters her in the woods while searching out the school. Things seem a bit odd, but it’s a school and that’s all that matters. Only a few hours into her stay and Neko gets summoned to what is apparently the principal’s office. Her suspicions are confirmed, this is an odd school, in fact it’s one where animals practice transforming into humans and learn skills to survive in the human world. She pleads to stay, even knowing the odd situation and is granted her request, but what exactly is she getting into? Her new roommate, Miiko, whom she met on the train, is a cat and slowly she encounters fox, raccoon and more. Will she be able to maintain her secret of being human while balancing school life? Time will tell.

If you’re looking for back-story or an explanation of why animals school to become human, looks elsewhere. This fun manga by Moyamu Fujino takes a not so perfect student and puts her right into an odd situation where the behavior of animals does not vary much from that of humans nor do the situations. The story is very straightforward as Neko tries to succeed in school, any school. The schoolmates are varied and enjoyable and overall there is nothing offensive about the story, it’s great for young readers. The art is also very easy on the eye, very anime with big ol’ eyes, colorful characters with unique and simple designs, heck even the animal forms are cartoony. It’s a very, very kid friendly manga that some children may relate to as these are not the best students, they are not the most popular with everything easy. Things are a challenge but at the same time fun and light hearted and very easy to follow.

Animal Academy if a quick and easy read for young manga fans. It mixes story that is both relatable and fantastical and brings it all to life with crisply drawn art that is easy on the eyes. A great manga for younger readers, nuff said.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Choco Mimi vol. 1 Impression

Can a manga be sweet enough to make your teeth hurt … yes. Choco Mimi volume 1 from Viz is just such a manga. It skews young in its audience and art direction and, oddly enough, will feel familiar to fans of the older Garfield comic collections. So first up, the story then art that Konami Sonoda created …

Choco and her best friend Mimi are eight graders. They have all the world changing issues which face those of their age. What clothes to wear, which trends to follow, how to pursue that boy you like but can’t admit to liking and of course how to just get by in class. These two friends grow together along with their teacher Mr. Take, Chiffon, Mimi’s dog and two boys. Mumu is a quirky, fashion conscious boy while Ando is the cool, don’t really care type who just happens to be growing closer with Choco. The four together enjoy the seasons, festivals and each others company and everyone enjoys a good time.

Ok, so the story is young, I said that before. This is part of the VizKids line and from that aspect the story is perfect. It is not set into huge chapters and instead reads like four and five panel US comics strips, thus the Garfield reference. There is no major story thread, just kids enjoying each others company. The art reflects the audience as these are very kiddie looking characters and the fashion sense is over the top. This is the only area of caution as I could see some more conservative parents not wanting their kids to dress in this manner, but hey, those kids won’t be reading manga right? So the art and story is very kid friendly but what sets Choco Mimi apart? The extras.

This book is filled with fashion tips, cut outs that readers can color and decorate as well as recipes and a guide to one specific bear toy. Choco Mimi feels like a scrap book collection of so much sweetness that little girls will just eat it up. Fun characters, fun experiences and tons of extras make Choco Mimi the perfect book for that young fashionista in your family.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pokemon Diamond and Pearl DVD box set 1 Impression

Ash is back and as his voice and friends change the adventure remains the same. A new rival, new running mate and tons of new Pokémon wait in the Pokémon Diamond & Pearl DVD set 1 from Viz. There is no denying Pokémons appeal as it’s decade spanning success is testament but why should fans of the anime, video games, toys and trading card game get excited about this latest DVD release, lets take a look.

Her name is Dawn – Dawn is the primary focus from the beginning as she looks to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a top Pokémon Coordinator. A job that’s a bit different from the adventuring that Ash takes on. There have been strong female characters in past Pokémon series but Dawn is the first to really take control and reinvent the new to catching them all that fans fell in love with when Ash first met Pikachu. While Ash and Brock are present, bridging the gap from the previous series, Dawn opens up a whole new aspect, that of the Coordinator.

New Pokémon – What is a new Pokémon anything without some new cuties taking center stage and a new region, the Sinnoh region. Apon is front and center for Ash as are a ton of new(er) Pokémon such as Turtwig. The story and concepts remain on a relatively similar path but the introduction of new Pokémon, seeing them in action outside the video game, this is the joy that is watching Pokémon.

Something old, something new – Ash and Brock as like brothers to so many that have grown with Pokémon and being able to continue adventuring with them is a treat for fans. The something new is Paul, stepping up to be Ash main rival. He is brash and competitive and does not have that connection with his Pokémon, something Ash takes in on with. Team Rocket is also back, but they are clumsy as ever.

Overall Diamond & Pearl is more of the same with a few new tweaks. Ash and Brock journey, battle, collect and meet new people. That’s the same old. Dawn is the wild card as she is learning so many lessons, ones Ash is now guiding her on, while introducing a new role, the Coordinator, in much great detail. For fans of Pokémon this is a no-brainer to pick-up and for new, younger fans, this is an excellent jumping in point as they can follow Dawn from the start and learn everything from scratch. Pokémon just keeps on rolling.