Archive for the ‘Complete Series’ Category

Azumanga Daioh (Complete Series)

November 9, 2008

azumanga_daioh_002Azumanga Daioh is one of those quintessential animes that have the unfortunate distinction of being written about all the time. Anything I write here will doubtlessly be at best second rate, or at worst just another johnny-come-lately. Still, it would be derelict to my duty to ignore such a show on this site.

Whatever the reason, it seems to be the duty of anime producers to crank out as much anime as possible with a school setting. Reasons could be as innocent as wanting to capture the sweet wistfulness of high school–something people tend to feel an iconic amount of nostalgia for. Then again, it could boil down to playing on the all-too-common school girl uniform, umm, interest. Which even phrased in such a euphemistic-ladden way feels really creepy. I will admit readily to admitting that the four years of high school were some of the best of my life. And Azumanga Daioh can stand quite well on its feet without resorting to any objectionable fanservice, which is a fantastic relief.

The show has a fairly large cast of characters to play with, although the picture above depicts the six girls the show rotates around. Notable is Chiyo, the child genius who skipped right over middle school and landed in the teenage wonderland of high school. Her character is ingeniously crafted to embrace both innocence yet knowledge, being friendly yet sometimes naieve, a leader and a follower. That she can have so many dichotomies in her personality, yet still come off feeling real and natural is amazing. While she gets along with everybody, especially those in her friend-group, she and Osaka have a special affinity. Osaka is the Southern girl that starts at school wanting to change everyone’s stereotypes regarding people from the South. Unfortunately, it is hard to change a mind when you are stare into space, get lost in conversations, speak with a lazy accent, and don’t cross the street at the proper times. Despite being such a spot-on embodiment of the Southern stereotype, she feels like a character that is more than just a stock stereotype character. It is obvious that care and thought went into crafting these characters so that they feel more like people than just tools for storytelling.

Of course, using the phrase “tools for storytelling” would imply that there is actually a story to be found throughout the series. Not in the slightest. While the series follows them through high school, that is merely a guideline for the setting and not any kind of real plot device. It is rather a slice-of-life type show, where the everyday becomes interesting through the eyes of the characters. They mix in a sketch comedy feel, allowing them to add in elements of the absurd without making it out of place.

There are a ton of side characters or situations I could highlight about Azumanga Daioh, but as with Chiyo or Osaka above I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. All I can do is say that Azumanga Daioh is one of those stunning examples of anime that shows off what can be done with the proper mix of characters and humor. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially those who run screaming from anything with “cute” aspects, but for everone else this is a treat.

Title: Azumanga Daioh
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 26
Availability: Very available in a new thinpack. In fact, ADV is re-releasing the thinpack set in the next month or so, so this show will stick around for a long time. Can be found used, although expect the savings to be kind of disappointing. I’d recommend waiting for a RightStuf sale or going to dvdpacific.com.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 95

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Kino’s Journey (Complete Series)

October 30, 2008

What could possibly be better than an episodic show that features a girl with deep thoughts and deadly guns who rides a motorcycle? Try adding in a motorcycle that thinks and talks. It is a crazy, out-there idea that spells insta-win for just about everyone. In fact, it works so well you might almost think that every series would be greatly benefited by having a motorcycle with a personality.

It might be tempting to write off Kino’s Journey as a show that simply rides its intriguing concept for all that it is worth. But the series doesn’t really treat its motorcycle (named Hermes) any different from any other character. At the same time, it isn’t so disconnected from reality that it doesn’t throw other characters for a loop when he talks. It is a great mix and one that should be made note of by those who want to use non-human characters effectively.

Kino’s age is never really stated, nor is the gender made a point of until a sudden, surprising flashback episode. All we know initially is that Kino is on a journey with a talking motorcycle. More-or-less each episode takes place in a different locale, each country acting as an isolated area that seems like a different world from its surrounding areas. Thus Kino is able to visit a wide variety of places with different kinds of people. They go around talking to the people to find out what the country is about, enjoying the local color.

The interesting thing about the show is that it rarely tells the viewer what they should think about the way other countries do their thing. Instead, Kino asks questions and discovers, but unless the country directly affects their journey (like the one that takes all visitors and puts them in a Rome-esque Gladiator tournament), they tend to not pass judgement or let things prevent them from having a good time. That doesn’t mean they don’t ask tough questions of the inhabitents. While they could be constrewed as being indictive of a certain moral judgement on Kino’s part, they tend to come across as more logical curiosity–they let the countries make their decisions without interferring unless it is thrust upon them to do so.

A few clunker episodes during the first 1/3 of the series can make this a slow one to get into, but it is definitely worth it. Seems like the sort of series that would do better on a replay, too. Still, it is slower paced and a lot of viewers might get impatient with it. However, it is a work of art that is a must-have for anyone who likes ponderous anime series that asks some deep questions.

Title: Kino’s Journey
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Quite available as both a reasonably priced thinkpack (especially when a RightStuf sale rolls around) and singles.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 83

Fullmetal Alchemist (Complete Series)

October 24, 2008

When a series at 51 episodes feels shorter than most series at 26 episodes you know you’ve got a treasure on your hands. Time melts away as episodes fly by and all of a sudden you realize that you failed to write that paper for English and it is already past midnight. That is what all-nighters are for, right?

Lets just get this out of the way right away. Fullmetal Alchemist is epic. It is so well put together that you can just watch a short clip and tell that the series has serious epic-potential. In fact, I should just end this review right now by saying “see this now.” Seriously. Just do it.

…Are you still here? Well, ok. I applaud your desire for a more in-depth review. So lets have at it, ok?

I have long been of the opinion (and have probably stated as much in at least half of my reviews) that characters are the most important part of a series for me. I can handle crappy plot, mediocre animation, derivative concepts, and just about anything else that can go wrong with an anime… as long as I find interest in the characters. Everything else an anime does right is a bonus in my book. Fullmetal Alchemist does characters very well and builds up relationships in such a way that they feel genuine and urgent.

At the same time, the plot is top-notch. Random things that happen in the first few awkward episodes wrap around and become important in the later 1/3 of the series. Almost everything seems to happen for a reason so that it can be recalled later for use. So not only does the series engage on a character level, but also from a plot standpoint.

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric discoverer early on in their life that they have the skill of alchemy that their long-gone father had. Their mother encourages them, savoring the memories of her absent husband. When she dies, however, the brothers use their skills to perform dark, restricted alchemy. Their transgression transforms their life forever as, in Alchemy’s equivalent exchange law, Al loses his body (Ed quickly rescuing his soul by attaching it to an empty suit of armor) and Ed loses his right arm and left leg. And thus the stage is set as Ed is driven by one goal- restoring them (particularly Al) to the way they were. The solution Ed sees as most viable is the quest for the ever-elusive Philosopher’s Stone. With the stone the law of equivalent exchange would become moot and such an exchange should be possible.

I could spend all day summarizing this show and failing to do it justice. But that little set-up should suffice. Still, the show goes heavy places that most anime–or any other form of media–don’t go. These areas left me shouting noiselessly at my screen, shocked at what the writer(s) did. Do not be decieved… this is not a children’s anime. There are dark issues and unspoken taboos crossed. Then they take the taboos and cross them again. They left me (me!) feeling queasy (and I didn’t even know I could feel that way anymore). And that, in my mind, is awesome.

Of course, as with any series 51 episodes in length, there are some flaws. However, they cannot dampen my enthusiasm for this show. Everything else is done so well that the show rises way above any flaws and becomes a work of art near unequaled by anything else anime has to offer.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist
US Distributor: FUNimation
Number of Episodes: 51
Availability: In print in both singles and Naruto-style sets of 3 discs each. Though rumor has it that early next year there will be a reasonably priced complete box set releasing.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 98

Haibane-Renmei (Complete Series)

October 22, 2008

Haibane-Renmei is a show that has haunted me since I first found out about it by browsing the used anime at my local CD Warehouse. The cover art was highly attractive and caught my eye. They only had two volumes, so I refrained from making the purchase, but read up about the show and decided it a must-see. RightStuf still had copies of the box set, however I wasn’t about to put down $100 for a series. Still, when RightStuf had one of their patented 40% off sales I decided the time was ripe and struck. (A good thing too, considering the title is out of print and RightStuf sold out.) A week and a half later I get the package in the mail and I excitedly sat down.

I watched the whole first volume (episodes 1-4) in one sitting without even thinking about it. Never before has the first four episodes of a series gone by as quickly as those four episodes did. In fact, the only other time four episodes have been so easy to watch is last year when I marathoned Naruto– some of those canon arcs fly by. Haibane-Renmei was, from the opening sequence to the ending credits, one of the greatest things I had seen. I tried to space out the remaining discs in an appropriate manner (forced more by my busy schedule than a desire to save the experience), but only found the series more and more engaging as it went on.

Imagine, for a moment, that you wake up with nothing more than a vague sense of a past life and a dream. You are in a world different from anything your hazy sense of the past can pinpoint as normal, however, a group takes you under their wings and guides you. Such is the scenario Rakka is presented with: a rebirth, a strange land, and the need to relearn what it means to exist.

The series starts off feeling very comfortable in the slice-of-life genre (with the assumed fantasy twist) before suddenly spiraling into something darker–a change both blessed and cursed. On the one hand, 13 episodes that were as happy-go-lucky as the first four would continue to go down as smooth as the first four did. Still, the sudden turmoil brings about necessary change in the characters which gives the series depth.

The series is chock full of great characters, from those who are in Rakka’s immediate group to those whom they interact with. The storyline is engaging and well written (albeit with a few a few minor plot holes). Just about everything about this series says “win.” The only people who might be put off by the series are those who overload easily on cute–but if they stuck around beyond the first handful of episodes even their minds might be changed. Definitely a landmark series in the annals of anime history and a must-see.

Title: Haibane-Renmei
US Distributor
: Geneon
Number of Episodes
: 13
Availability: Out of print, although the singles are still available off RightStuf for a pretty good price. Used are readily available, too, though be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for any edition with an art box.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 95

Magical Play (Complete Series)

June 16, 2008

Magical Play (also called Magical Witchland on ANN) is a queer little series that is an amusing mix of magical girls, sketch comedy, slice of life, and fanservice. It is technically 22 (really short) episodes long, however for the DVD release they smashed them into four (fairly long) episodes. It is unfortunate that they did that, as the four long episodes wear on too long, although they do distinguish between the various segments by displaying the title of each new one before it plays. The series originally aired on the internet before migrating to the television (and eventually the States in the form of the DVD).

It is a simple little anime that centers around Padudu, a girl who wants to become a magical warrior by compiling a good record sheet. The land is scattered with various competitions and exercises with which to fill her record (which looks a lot like a bingo board where the goal is to get a sticker on every square). Padudu meanders around, encountering one-off and recurrent characters, none of whom become friends or foes. In most stories this set up wouldn’t really work, but with the sketch-like randomness of Magical Play, it works.

In Padudu’s home world the people gain an animal friend at an early age (a concept not too far removed from that of The Golden Compass movie/book), and her animal companion is a fish which she wears as a cloak. The fish, as an alive creature, is a constant food source with the unsettling idea that it can regrow its flesh: all Padudu has to do is scoop some flesh out from under her cloak and it will grow back. For those reasons, and others I won’t go into here, the fish is a character that the viewer feels sorry for if they view the show as anything more than a sketch-style comedy where the absurd is reveled in.

It wouldn’t be prudent to go over any other elements of plot: what little plot there is would be best discovered on your own. However, there is an evil witch queen, a crazy subordinate, a girl who wears two flat cats for clothes, and a road that never ends. Magical Play never really reaches a satisfying conclusion, however how many Monty Python shows or movies reach satisfying ends? If you find yourself understanding what I mean, give the show a try. It can be picked up on the cheap through the internet.

Title: Magical Play
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 4 (or 22)
Availability: Apparently out of print, but easy to find used… particularly via Amazon.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 65

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Complete Series)

June 12, 2008

Regular readers will notice that I have reviewed a number of romantic series before and actually liked them fairly well. In fact, I’m starting to think that romance might be the genre of anime to best submerse me into whatever world is being portrayed in any given show. Zaion, unfortunately, fails on almost any account with which to compare it.

The context surrounding the romance in Zaion is that of a futuristic society where a virus turns humans into vicious monsters. Our main characters are out to kill these monsters when they appear. This gives the show an Evangelion-esque feel as humans get in their suits and battle large monsters.

In the midst of all of that is Ai, a quiet girl who is, essentially, a research project who has the ability to defeat the monsters without the sacrifice of human lives. Yet her own humanity makes her less than controllable to the scientists in charge of her. Even so, her humanity is no longer seen by those in charge, except by the woman who works closest to her. Tamiya is one of the monster battlers. He is not too fond of his job, a feeling that intensifies when he is injured in combat. It is in the lab’s atrium that he meets Ai and his life is changed.

There are so many problems with the series it would be cruel to go over them all. But in lieu of any real positives, I do what I have to do. Zaion lacks any real character development. Tamiya is rather flat and uninteresting through the series. We don’t know anything about his past, or what makes him who he is. His decisions seem to come out of nowhere without any real guiding factor. Ai is a sympathetic character, but only because of her circumstances and not because the series goes into who she is. All of the characters are viewed as if from the other side of glass: impersonal and boring. As such the relational sparks between Tamiya and Ai only exist because the creator demanded they exist: there is no real chemistry between the two to cause the relationship to be at all believable.

The plot, beyond the relational possibilities, is paper-thin. There really isn’t anything more than what was described in the (short) second paragraph. The plot could have been expanded upon and become something vaguely satisfying, but as is the makers must have viewed the plot as nothing more than a vehicle to drive the relationship, since there is no real resolution to it. It is obvious that it is just a context for the relationship and nothing more. Yet, even with a conclusion, the plot would still need a fairly major overhaul to bring the anime up to a worthwhile level. What is there works as a bare outline, but you’re not supposed to just throw bare outlines onto the page as-is. They need to be fleshed out in their own right, which Zaion lacks completely.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here is a blessedly short series. At only four episodes it feels like an OAV (original animation video, aka an anime series that went straight to DVD instead of showing on television), however it is labeled as a television series on ANN, so whatever. Four half-hour episodes, albeit short by most series standards, is really way too long. Then again, if you make the mistake (like me) of actually seeing this, then I guess you get what you deserve.

Title: Zaion: I Wish You Were Here
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 4
Availability: Readily available both used and new… both prices ridiculously low.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 30

Midori Days (Complete Series)

June 11, 2008

Midori Days starts off with typical male angst: “I can’t get a girlfriend, gahh!” Seiji is known as a brawling fighter, yet even so his luck with the fairer gender is incalculably bad. He realizes with growing horror that he is facing the real possibility that his right hand may be his only girlfriend, ever. Until one day he wakes up and finds his right hand gone, replaced with a perky, bright-eyed female named Midori. A girl who happens to be madly in love with Seiji.

It, like many anime romance stories, has definite roots in pandering to common or not-as-common male fantasies. I mean, what lonely guy, resigned to a life of solitary singleness, wouldn’t want to wake up in a similar situation? It is a scenario that screams of a bunch of frustrated guys, at a bar drinking, saying, “Man, girls suck. They have no interest in me. If only I had a girl instead of a hand, then life would be about perfect!” Imagine the bawdy laughter that ensues. And yet what separates a show like Midori Days from some erotic internet fanfic is the noble constraint by not going where one automatically would think a show spawn from fantasies (as such) would go.

Indeed, the focus is largely on the characters, how they become friends, and the various struggles one would go through in such a situation. In this way Midori Days is like a situation sketch: oddball situation presented… and GO. No real explanation given (or needed), it just has to be taken at surface level. It is definitely not a show to think too hard about. For example, it is apparently assumed that Seiji doesn’t ever need to take a shower and that clothes magically appear on his body, two everyday occurrences that would immediately present awkward situations in such a scenario. But this never comes into play in Midori Days. Yet I would argue that it is good these aren’t shown, as it would transform Midori Days from a comedic situational romance into, well, a cheap erotica.

The animation style is neither good nor bad. It works for what it is going for without being distracting, while at the same time no one would accuse it of being ground breaking. But they switch things up now and then when need demands: there are several times in the series where an older look is needed. They avoid the awkward images of how Midori is actually attached to Seiji’s arm by simply never showing it: a good thing he likes wearing long-sleeved shirts, huh?

Ultimately, Midori Days is a highly flawed series. And yet there are too many fun elements that make it hard to dismiss. It is a series that would drive people who think too hard absolutely nuts. They’d reaction an “oooh, brain freeze!” fashion, like they just slurped on a slushee too quickly. But to those who can accept the logical leaps of faith, and who enjoy the romantic comedy genre, it is worth checking out Midori Days. There is a lot more heart present than one would initially suspect.

Title: Midori Days
US Distributor: Anime Works
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Quite, both used and new for pretty good prices.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 70

ef – a tale of memories (Complete Series)

June 7, 2008

ef – a tale of memories (yes, it is capitalized like that–or more accurately, not capitalized) is an intertwining tale of romance. There are two main romances involved coming from two different sets of characters and which largely do not intersect. These two stories are the emotional tug to drive the series.

The first character is Hirono Hiro (pictured), a manga artist who skips way too much school to try and meet deadlines. No one but his best friend, Shindou Kei, knows about his job and he wants to keep it that way. His life suddenly goes topsy-turvy when his bicycle is stolen by Miyamura Miyako, a feisty girl who goes to his school. Somehow she manages to skip more school than Hiro, and this common element (plus Miyako’s outgoing personality) turn them into friends. Kei sees this increasing attention to Miyako as an unwelcome intrusion, and thus the triangle is formed.

The other sphere of characters centers around Asou Renji, a quiet spoken boy who lives with his mother. He encounters a girl, Shindou Chihiro, sitting on the platform of an abandoned train station. They strike up a conversation and enjoys it, asking if she will be back the next day. However, a warning comes to Renji from Chihiro’s caretaker telling him not to pursue the friendship. Failing to heed the advice, Renji is flung into a whirlwind that he can’t quite define or grasp. By the time he figures out what the caretaker’s warning signified, he is too emotionally attached to back out.

The two story lines, by themselves, are too common and simplistic to be of interest by themselves. But they are interwoven in such a way that keep things moving nicely through the twelve episode series. The lion’s share of the attention goes to Renji and Chihiro, probably due to the more romantic, less definable obstacle. But what really drives the series is the stunning visuals that are crafted for the viewer.

The first three or four episodes are jaw-dropping as the viewer becomes accustomed to the artistic style presented. It is a style that refuses to remain static, switching from a full palette of colors to black and white. From watercolor skies to complete silhouette. Each scene in the series is a treat as lines go from wavy to angled. Furthermore, and perhaps more impressive, is that this show in flexibility doesn’t distract from the story, which makes it all the more beautiful. Definitely one of the most impressively animated series I have seen.

In the end, though, the story is merely adequate and will probably only be of interest to those who already enjoy romantically-themed animes. However, everyone should check out at least one episode to get a taste of the visual delights which are presented. As a romantic anime there is enough going for ef – a tale of memories to make it quite memorable and pleasing.

Title: ef – a tale of memories
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 12
Availability: fansubs (if I remember right, conclave-mendoi did a pretty bang-up job)
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 90

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (Complete Series)

June 6, 2008

Sasshi and Arumi (pictured to the right, except flipped) are childhood friends living in a fading business district. Shops are closing, buildings being demolished, and business is slow. To top it all off, Arumi’s family is moving away to start a restaurant in a more affluent area. Yet after an accident involving Arumi’s grandfather, strange things are afoot. Sasshi sees dragons flying around at night, people turn into bouncing mushrooms, and buildings are paper-thin. All of a sudden Sasshi and Arumi are in a place that is definitely not home, experiencing things that do not happen in reality, with no way in sight to get home.

During the first two-thirds of the series each episode takes place in a different kind of world: one episode takes place in a world based around the concept of RPGs (roll-playing games), another is a pre-historic land, yet another a crazy war zone. Sasshi and Arumi have to discover what is going on in each and figure out how to find the creature that can transport them back to their world.

There are great positives and disappointing negatives to Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. The most immediate area of enjoyment is the two lead characters, Sasshi and Arumi. Both individually and as a team they are fantastic. Arumi is more confident and carefree than Sasshi. She hides any sadness she might feel regarding their pending departure with the carefree phrase, “Bein’ human, havin’ your health… that’s the most important thing.” Everything else is simply details. On the other hand, Sasshi fails to construct a successful facade to hide his anxiety over Arumi’s move. He’s moodier and doesn’t like the changes encroaching upon his happy life. He is like a Peter Pan type character who prefers to rebuke the process of growing up.

About 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the way through the series the flow alters dramatically. The change is sudden and disorienting. Assumptions that you held about how the series was going are suddenly torn asunder. This could have been really good, but they fail to navigate the change in a way that properly leads the viewer. But at least they tried. It was a noble, albeit not exactly a success.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a series that started off incredibly, then tailed off. But it is still a funny series that I rather appreciated. Some of the revelations were great, others seemed a bit anticlimactic. But take a gander, you might enjoy.

Title: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Both new and used, with used leaning toward the cheaper side.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 80

Zombie-Loan (Complete Series)

May 31, 2008

The stereotypical zombie is kind of boring. It is slow-moving, doesn’t think, likes eating brains way too much, and is pretty ugly to look at. Thankfully the stereotypical zombie has been harder to come by in recent years, what with the speed-demons of Dawn of the Dead, the intelligent bastards of Resident Evil 4, and with the anime Zombie-Loan the undead can seamlessly integrate with society.

Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana are both in debt to the Zombie-Loan, where they must kill zombies and other such undead who are not supposed to be on Earth. Each kill leaves money (kind of like in a video game) and with this money they pay back their loan. Nothing is that straightforward, though. They are both zombies themselves and the debt they owe is the one which allowed them to cheat the afterlife in the first place. Zombies killing zombies? That is pretty much the greatest concept ever, right?

In the mythos of Zombie-Loan everyone has a ring around their neck that turns dark the closer they come to death. Naturally for the zombies, whom are technically dead, this ring is black. Only Shinigami (Death Gods) can see this ring, making the chore of sorting out the living from the dead somewhat difficult for Chika and Shito. And then they meet a quiet, diminutive girl at their school, Michiru Kita. Michiru happens to have the eyes of a Shinigami and can see the rings. In exchange for not killing her, Chika and Shito allow her to spot rings for them.

Zombie-Loan is a series that just seethes coolness. The aura of ridiculously awesome drapes every scene. Unfortunately there is a big problem: Zombie-Loan fails to present an engaging plot. And the characters aren’t engaging enough to truly carry the series. As a result it flounders for twelve episodes (rumor has it that will be bumped up to fourteen for the DVD releases) and does little to create any lasting impact.

Thankfully a twelve (going on fourteen) episode series is just short enough that it will survive on style alone. It will sell its dvds as well as any other short niche series. But it won’t create that feeling of “wow!” that a series like Soul Eater does (another highly stylized series). Watch it and enjoy it like me, but watch it and enjoy it before making a purchase* to find out if it is something that will click with you beyond “hey, this is cool!”

*DVDs are not yet available in the States, but it would surprise me if it doesn’t cross the ocean before too long.

Title: Zombie-Loan
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 12
Availability: fansubs can be found
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 73