Posts Tagged ‘J. Michael tatum’
Heroic Age Set 1
Funimation scores a massive win with the space epic, ‘Heroic Age’.
As with all good epic space adventures, the story of ‘Heroic Age’ takes place in the future with humans colonizing outwards. Before the story begins however, there are a few things you should know because the series isn’t going to tell you these things until episode three. Out in space there was a tribe with the ability to see into time and know the future of the galaxy. Apparently they got tired of doing that because they sent out a message to other tribes scattered throughout the galaxy to journey forth into space and find their new destinies (intergalactic cult?).
Initially three tribes answer the call; The Bronze Tribe which is made up of very large space worms, The Silver Tribe, a human like race only with vastly superior powers and finally the Heroic Tribe. Unfortunately the Heroic Tribe was made up of monsters called Nodos and they were so powerful that they were making just a few too many other tribes go extinct including the ones who hadn’t answered the Golden Tribe’s message. Stepping in, the Golden Tribe eliminated the Heroic Tribe down to five and imprisons them as servants of the weaker tribes.
With a slot now open, the final tribe to answer the call ventures off into space. This would be the humans, the Iron Tribe, who are now capable of psychic abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis (No I’m not sure why, they just are). Led by Princess Dihanalia, the tribe has been searching through space for the fifth Nodos which is destined to help them claim their rightful destiny as leaders of the galaxy. What they find is Age, a teenage boy who has been living alone on a desert planet on a ship that crash landed.
With the fifth Nodos, Belcross, within him, Age goes with the humans and takes his place among the soldiers fighting against the other tribes. Over the course of the first half, Age will face a number of challenges: The Iron Tribe is slow in taking a liking to him and four other Nodos who have already sided with the Silver Tribe are all too happy to kill Age to ensure victory for their tribe.
So, as promised, here is the interview that I conducted with Funimation voice actor J. Michael Tatum at SakuraCon. In the interview, Michael talked to me about the premieres of both ‘Heroic Age‘ and ‘Romeo x Juliet‘, some of his previous roles and the challenges he faced as a writer, actor and director in both series.
~ So I’m sitting here with voice actor J. Michael Tatum at SakuraCon 2009, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. So have you been enjoying yourself so far? This is your first SakuraCon isn’t it?
J. Michael Tatum (JMT): This is my first SakuraCon. It’s actually my first time in Seattle and I am having a great time! I came to this con with Joel McDonald, who’s done a lot of great stuff, and this is his first con. And it’s so much fun to be with him while he’s taking it all in because he’s just so impressed with everything. This is a party; this doesn’t feel like work at all.
Another weekend has come to a close and it’s time for another con wrap-up. SakuraCon 2009 set new attendance records with all early estimates from staff members falling north of 20K. Navigating the con this year was vastly easier meaning that I have a vast amount of panel updates for everyone…
Day 1 of SakuraCon was all about the dub premiere of Heroic Age from Funimation. Hosted by J. Michael Tatum and Joel McDonald, the premiere seemed largely well received from the audience in attendance. A space opera that pits a young boy who has raised himself on a desert planet against the universe, the story seemed almost hard to follow at most points however. One of the more humorous moments of the premiere was during the start of episode three when a collective ‘oh!’ of understanding came from the audience as the story was finally explained in more detail.
If there was something important to see at SakuraCon, Saturday was the day to see it starting with the yearly ‘State of the Industry’ panel. Moderated by Roland Kelts, the panel also featured Adam Sheehan (Funimation), Carl Horn (Dark Horse) and Philip Simon (Dark Horse). A lot of optimism came out of this panel with Sheehan noting how Funimation is releasing 17% more titles this year than they did last year. Naturally fansubs and scanlations were brought up multiple times as well as Crunchyroll.
For the most part though, the comments towards these niches were largely benign in nature. The point that seemed to be hit on the most from the panel is that it isn’t so much the downloading that hurts the industry. What really hurts the industry is when those people who download do not in turn buy legitimate copies once they become available.
For those of you who stuck around for my Funimation live blog on Saturday afternoon, you saw that not much of anything came out of the panel. Lots of release dates are now available but in terms of announcements, fans can begin looking for Funimation titles on AnimeNewsNetwork.com starting later this spring.
A second premiere took place Saturday night with con attendees getting to hear the dub for Romeo x Juliet for the first time. This time the reaction from the audience came largely mixed with some fans enjoying the constant switches in dialogue styles while others just wanted to see more action. The one thing that many audience members seemed to agree on however is that ‘You Raise Me Up’ translated into Japanese is one of the worst anime themes in recent memory. The first box set will be released 6/24 by Funimation.
And that was basically it for SakuraCon this year. I did manage to snag an interview with voice actor J. Michael Tatum which will be posted later this week along with photos on the official MySpace page so keep checking back for those!
BUT… it’s not over yet; let’s break this down…
Attendance Estimates: over 20,000
Most Popular Cosplay: Vampire Knight, Gurren Lagann
Most Surprisingly Underrepresented Cosplays: Death Note, Trigun
Word of the Weekend: Girugamesh!
Lamest Panel: Oddities of the Internet
Best Panel: Anime That Scarred Me for Life
Overheard at a Con: “If it’s going in my pants, it’s going on vibrate.” – My friend Jesse
Ouran High School Host Club Set 1
Ouran High School Host Club (from now on referred to OHSHC) contends strongly for best recent bishie comedy release.
Attending the very upscale Ouran High School, Haruhi goes through her daily life doing her best not to stand out and just blend in. All that changes when she stumbles into the host club and accidently breaks a vase worth eight million yen! Indebted to the club, Haruhi is made into a member who will work off the debt by working as a host entertaining the ladies who come in to gawk at pretty boys. What most of them don’t realize until later though is that Haruhi is actually a she.
What follows are thirteen episodes of outrageous comedy filled with keeping Haruhi’s gender a secret, members of the host club developing crushes on their new host, cosplay, managers, beach trips, secret police forces and much more taking us through the first half of this hilarious series.
Good and the Bad
Wasting absolutely zero time in getting the story and characters set up, OHSHC does an incredible job of pulling the audience into this series without a moment of hesitation. Within moments of the first episode beginning, the audience is set up to know exactly what is coming. I can tell you this because running gags are an important part of OHSHC’s comedy and the first one they set up is a blinking, audible arrow pointing to anything that the staff thinks you need to pay attention to.
From there the running gags just keep on coming in as many different forms as the staff can think of. It will start with Tamaki’s jokes about poor people and how they must live. Haruhi may attend a fancy rich high school but she’s just as common as the rest of us. The rest of the club however is super rich. Obscenely rich. Rich enough that it would make normal people cringe with annoyance. From there the gags expand outwards and onwards. In one episode the club discovers the wonders of instant coffee and constantly sends Haruhi out to buy more, then there’s the banana peels and Renge’s rising platform every time she enters the series or a number of other things coming from every character.
Running gags are just the beginning of the hilarious comedy in this series however. If running gags are just the tip of the iceberg, character jokes are going to be the base that everyone stands on. Not including Haruhi or the ever growing number of supporting characters, OHSHC has six characters to draw from that each fill a bishie character type. At the top is Tamaki, the president (or king as he refers to himself) of the club who reigns surpreme in the club with his dashing good looks and instant crush on Haruhi (after he figures out that Haruhi is a female). Next up are the twins, Hikaru and Kaoru (Twincest anyone?), Mori who fills the quiet cool type, Honey the boy loli and finally Kyoya who wears glasses and handles the business side of things.
What impressed me about the comedy in this series however is how layered it is. While there are a wealth of sight gags and character jokes to make the audience laugh, another section of the audience are going to enjoy this series in an entirely different way. Littered throughout this series are a number of cultural and language jokes that are going to be completely missed by most of the audience. This can be frustrating at certain points since its obvious sometimes that you’re missing out on a big joke because you don’t know why it’s funny.
The only real nagging flaw that is sticking out at me from the rest of the series in one major plot hole that no one bothers to fix. Late in the series Haruhi dreams about her entrance to Ouran High School. While they never really go into when she cuts her hair, does no one at this high school even know that Haruhi is a female? No one at all? I know she’s the poor kid but that is one point I could never get past.
To look at this series, it’s hard to find any real flaws with the animation style or quality. The colors throughout this series are always very bright but not blinding. Going through each episode nothing really stands out as flawed beyond some bad facial expressions. In particular this stands out with the entrance of Lobellia (another language joke, look it up) High’s Benio where the lines on her face look terrible when she first enters the club room with Haruhi. Beyond lapses along those lines, the character design and artwork for the series really plays on the bishie and bishoujo theme never letting up for a moment. If you like reverse harems, this is your eye candy.
Like the writing, the music throughout the series stays solid for almost the whole way with few misses. Most of the music really plays well into the scene and helps sell the dialogue with few issues. The one place where OHSHC really fails at this however is during the scenes where the series does their best to be “dramatic”. Every time one of these scenes come up, Yoshihisa Hirano came up with this incredibly overdramatic sweeping full string orchestra though. Now I realize that these scenes are meant to be firmly tongue in cheek but the music just comes across as way too over the top and killed the comedy for me more often than not.
As has become common with Funimation releases, both the opening and ending theme songs have English versions attached to each episode (along with the original Japanese naturally). The opening theme is sung by Funimation regular Kristine Sa and really comes across well. This is another theme by Funimation that had I heard on its own without the anime behind it I would likely want to add it to my own personal music collection to just enjoy. One can hope that Funimation has plans to release their English themes songs to fans at some point this year if they are going to keep on producing great themes on this for their releases.
Dub vs. Sub
Both the English and Japanese casts really play well off each other creating a fun viewing experience each time. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of cultural jokes throughout this series however and those always sound better in the Japanese track. However, if you’re just watching for the sight and character jokes than the English cast is going to provide you with more than a few laughs. Caitlin Glass and Vic Mignogna both turn in absolutely amazing performances as Haruhi and Tamaki respectively. Caitlin absolutely amazed me with this performance (while also serving as ADR Director) as she sounds like nothing I’ve heard from her before.
On the first disc, episodes 1, 4 and 5 all have commentaries with members of the dub cast. All three episodes will feature Caitlin Glass but who joins her changes with each episode. On episode 1, Caitlin will be joined by Vic Mignogna. On episode four it is J. Michael Tatum and Monica Rial and finally its Greg Ayres and Todd Haberkorn for the last episode. Whenever commentaries are included with a release there are times when listening to the commentary is the least interesting part of the release. They can always be interesting but it’s rare for them to be really fun to listen to. In this instance though, listening to the cast members go back and forth about the series can be as fun as the episodes themselves. The main reason for this is the tone in all of their voices, every cast member loved being in this series and you can tell by how much fun they all have when talking about their experiences recording it.
On disc two, no commentaries are featured but there are manga pages (as released by Viz Media) though the pages are again hard to read and blurry. Also included on the disc are a series of outtakes from the dub cast. The fifteen minute extra has flubs, bloopers, slips and alternate lines that are good for some extra laughs and there’s always Vic’s token Star Wars line. Not all of them are going to be funny but the joke lines are good for some laughs. This extra might’ve been a bit better had they edited out the cue beeps before each line of dialogue but those are easily ignored.
There has been absolutely no shortage of bishie comedies this season but this one is in a class all by itself. Always hilarious but not lacking in story, OHSHC is a great comedy to pick up for the bishie lover in your life!
Baccano Vol. 1
‘Baccano’ certainly ranks high for its ambition but perhaps they were just a little too ambitious?
For hundreds of years, a group of alchemists from around the world have been working on the secret to eternal life. In the year 1930 New York, one of them finally succeeds (but pretend like you don’t know that until episode three) but is unable to deliver it to his colleagues after being robbed in an alley. Fast forward a little and you get to five families within the city.
The Runorata crime family has declared war on the Gandof and Martillo families though they also have problems of their own. The missing Dallas Jenoua has pointed a finger at them from beyond the grave for the death of his father. Meanwhile, Luck Gandof and his brothers are trying to figure out who is making the call to have them rubbed out. While the newest rising star of the Martillo family, Firo Prochainezo, and his mentor Maiza are doing what they can to help out without getting involved.
All of these families are going to become even more involved with each other as a train heist begins to take shape. The ‘Flying Pussyfoot’ is leaving Chicago headed towards New York. On board is the psychotic killer Ladd Russo along with his fiancé Lua and his followers, two dim thieves names Miria and Isaac, the family of an influential senator, a gang made up of physically scarred criminals and other less than reputable characters. Most of them are on board for one reason though; the train is carrying a brand new type of bomb that will give a decided advantage to whoever has it and they all want it.
Good and the Bad
From moment one, ‘Baccano’ makes absolutely no secrets that it plans to do its very best to confuse and bewilder you as you attempt to figure out what is going on. Need proof? The opening animation sequence is just over a hundred seconds long and in that time audiences will see at least seventeen character portraits. Then by the time the fourth episode is over, the audience will have met at least 75% of them.
That’s really just the start of ‘Baccano’s ambition however. On top of the huge cast that is thrown at the audience right away, there are about half a dozen storylines going on throughout most of the episodes. Some of them will tie into each other directly and some of them will only barely manage to get involved with the others but they will always be put at the forefront. Logic indicates that not all of these stories are going to be relevant for the entire series which leaves the audience to figure out for themselves which stories and characters are important and which ones are just there to fill space.
This is where things become even more challenging due to the absolutely insane storytelling that the series decides to employ. Alright, let me backtrack a little because perhaps ‘insane’ is not quite the right adjective to use. The first episode begins with a man and a girl. The girl, Carol, is pouring over old news articles trying to figure out how to tell the story of a long string of events. From there the story moves to New York and the beginnings of the mafia wars. Soon after the story will shift again to Chicago, then back to New York earlier in the year, then to California, then back to Chicago, then onto the train… you see where I’m going with this?
It’s never that ‘Baccano’ tells a bad story; it’s that it tells it in a way that is almost impossible to follow. Constantly shifting from one place or even year to another, trying to follow throughout the four episodes proves to be one of the most difficult tasks I’ve undertaken in recent memory. Before long I finally gave up and had to re-watch the volume with a notepad handy to start creating a timeline.
Getting away from the insane (there’s that word again) storytelling, the characters and story is where ‘Baccano’ is going to get most of its fans. Moving the setting into roaring 1930’s New York is bound to call some comparisons to another series set in the same time and era, Chrno Crusade. Luckily fans are going to find that’s where the comparisons between the two series will end and can be put to rest.
The writing in this series really goes out of its way to sell the era and setting as well calling in as many clichés and phrases from the era as they can sneak in right down to the stereotypical kid who gets whacked mere minutes after he finishes his rant on how it’s finally his big day to become the new train conductor. Sorry kid.
Early in the series, ‘Baccano’ does its best to keep the audience laughing with subtle jokes thrown in. Most of these jokes however are character jokes and when you’re still trying to establish characters, relying on character jokes can be a dangerous thing indeed. In some cases, the character jokes work really well such as with Isaac and Miria. Sure, they’re not the most brilliant characters but with a cast filled with criminals and murderers, that’s what keeps them charming.
Some jokes don’t go over nearly as well though such as with the Vice President and Carol. A running gag established early in the series is for Carol to figure something out only to have the VP give her a certain amount of points. This inevitably leads to Carol sounding disappointed as she asks out of how many. Would someone care to explain to me why this is funny or am I going to have to wait until the end of the series just to find out the point of that one running gag?
With four families at war with each other, a group of alchemists working on eternal life and a train robbery being set up within the first four episodes, it seems fairly obvious that the action is going to be based with guns. Not all of the action is done with gun play but the more graphic action certainly is. While watching this series, a second person watched with me who has been shown much more graphic violence than this but once she saw the kid getting his head blown off at point blank range she was done. That should probably serve as a pretty fair warning to everyone else who plans to watch ‘Baccano’; people are going to die in quite a few different and graphic ways. Blood is going to fly and it’s not going to be sugarcoated so be prepared for anything.
Following the theme of the series, the opening theme for ‘Baccano’ is a jazz theme that strongly calls to the era. Filled with a strong brass lead, the jazz theme may not be something that you’ll be throwing in when you want to practice your jitterbug but it does set the perfect mood. The closing theme, on the other hand, is a much more traditional Japanese ballad titled ‘Calling’ sung by Kaori Oda.
The ending theme unfortunately doesn’t fit the series nearly as well. While not a bad song, many of the episodes on this volume end on rather graphic notes (early on, for instance, an episode will end with Ladd Russo waving around half an arm… luckily it is his own). When the last impression of an episode is an image like that, a soft ballad is just not the type of song that the audience should be eased into. What a waste of a perfectly good Yuki Kaijura composed theme.
The background music is much more in line with the opening theme: lots of brass and lots of jazz. Always keeping an upbeat tempo, it seems that you can never go a few minutes without hearing some kind of jazz theme kick up in the background. Usually these themes are going in line with someone making a getaway (Isaac and Miria get a couple of very nicely done getaway themes) but they’re always fun to listen to.
Dub vs. Sub
With a cast of characters this large, it’s only natural that you’re going to hear quite a few familiar voices in either language. Finding actual standouts unfortunately is much more difficult due to how little screen time the characters tend to get. From the original cast, it’s hard not to notice Masaya Onosaka as Isaac and Sayaka Aoki as Miria. Always scheming and plotting, it’s hard not to listen to these two characters and not laugh at just how simple they are. With roles like this, it’s painfully easy to overplay it and go for the laughs with every single bit of dialogue. What’s great about the performances from Onosaka and Aoki though is that they never go for the laugh. Always playing it fairly straight, the two always come across as genuine. When these two sound like morons, they don’t SOUND like morons… they are morons and this is funny.
On the other side of the coin, Todd Haberkorn absolutely wows with his portrayal of Firo. Playing up the tough New York accent just enough, Firo comes across very real in these episodes. If only you could say the same thing about Joel McDonald as Jacuzzi Splot. Playing the hyperactive character that is afraid of his own shadow, McDonald delivers his lines at a mile a minute pace in a voice that grates and then continues to grate.
Comparable to the annoying little yellow dog who hung out with Spike the bulldog in the old Warner Bros cartoons, McDonald does nothing to make the first impression of this character likable. The character itself is barely likable as secondary comic relief but even as a younger character, it would be great to hear the character performed in a lower register… in any language.
The extras on this first volume are fairly slim with only a commentary for episode four along with a clean animation. In the commentary track, Tyler Walker (ADR Director), Caitlin Glass (Miria Harvent), J. Michael Tatum (Issac) and Brian Massey (Ladd Russo) share their thoughts on the episode in question. As with other commentary tracks, what you get out of this commentary is going to depend entirely on how engaging you found the first four episodes. The content is fun (Caitlin Glass in a commentary track always ups the entertainment factor by a notch or two) but nothing particularly ground breaking is shared amongst the actors as they view the episode.
The opening four episodes of ‘Baccano’ do a wonderful job of creating a world and bringing the audience into it. Unfortunately the staff is unable to use that same charm to create an entirely likable cast of characters or a coherent story. The story makes me want to continue but more for general curiosity instead of actual interest. If this series does prove worth seeing in the end, it certainly won’t be in its single disc format.
Funimation announced this morning via Twitter that the upcoming released of ‘Romeo x Juliet‘ will have a dub cast directed by J. Michael Tatum and R. Bruce Elliot. Tatum has previous experience directing episodes of ‘Aquarion‘ and ‘Jyu Oh Sei’, this will be Eliot’s debut as an ADR director. The GONZO animated series debuted originally in the spring of 2007 and presents a futuristic re-telling of the classic tragedy.
Along with the ADR directors, the cast has been revealed via a mailer just sent out:
Romeo: Chris Burnett
Juliet: Brina Palencia
Antonio: Maxey Whitehead
Cordelia: Colleen Clinkenbeard
Benvolio: Sean Michael Teague
Conrad: R Bruce Elliott
Francisco: Eric Vale
Curio: Robert McCollum
Mercutio: Christopher Bevins
Amelia: Larissa Wolcott
William: J. Michael Tatum
Hermione: Carrie Savage
Tybalt: Mike McFarland
Lord Montague: Sean Hennigan
ETA: Added dub cast members
A good series that could have been a great series.
In the second half of Aquarion, things pick up right where we left off. Apollo and Silvia are slowly becoming even more aware of their pasts as the Shadow Angels continue their attacks against the world. Between that and the build up to the final battle though there are four episodes dedicated to developing Pierre, Rena, Tsugumi, Silvia and Reika. In these four episodes, the story will take a backseat as the characters and their pasts are revealed to the audience via battles, diets and cosplay.
In the final episodes, Deava and the military will find new ways to combat the Shadow Angels including capturing one of their enemies and finding a way to use their power against them. This will change the course of battle and lead to Apollo, Silvia, Serius and others into the homeland of their enemies; Atlandia. While there they will learn the truth about what happened 12,000 years ago while fighting someone that they once considered a friend.
Good and the Bad
The four episodes that develop the supporting cast could have been eliminated. It’s not that these episodes were bad. All of them were enjoyable in their own ways. Starting the second half of the series however, the story for Aquarion had already started to move into a very solid groove. The story was moving at a strong pace and new developments were coming in quickly. But to insert four episodes in a row that focus on the supporting cast completely kills that momentum. It wouldn’t have been nearly as bad had some of this development been important but very little of what is revealed in these episodes actually comes back into play later. All of these episodes could have been much better served to the audience one at a time spread out throughout the series.
Even more frustrating about these episodes however are the very simple resolutions that each of them end on. Every episode in this gap manages to end on a very simplistic note. Sometimes they will give the impression that something is going to come into play again later such as at the end of episode 15 with Jun playing with the cup but again, nothing.
Once you get past these episodes however, the story starts to move in new and very dramatic directions. With pacing that kicks into high gear and plot twist after plot twist, the staff behind Aquarion is determined to make sure the audience is always on their toes. Again though, what audience members are apt to find instead is a big pile of wasted potential. From episode twenty up until the end, the writing takes constant twists and reveals new things that audience members won’t see coming. This creates entirely new issues for the series as none of the twists ever come across as that shocking. Surprising sure, but never really that shocking.
Ignoring the storytelling flaws however, there isn’t a single audience member out there who can say that this isn’t a beautiful series to look at. Very rarely does this series ever give a reason not be impressed by the wonderful effects and animation. From the 3D attack in episode eighteen to the battles in the final episodes, the series almost always has something pretty to look at.
The keyword in the previous sentence however is ‘almost’. Despite all of the beautiful animation, even Aquarion can be charged with being lazy sometimes. The easiest example that anyone would point out would be the introduction of episode nineteen. Straight lines everywhere, no definition, horrible proportions and perspectives; the first couple of minutes are unwatchably bad!
Consistent with the first half of the series, the writing in the second half tries its best to keep audiences interested. The character jokes, for instance, that Aquarion tried so hard to get past during the first half work so much better now that the audience has had a chance to get to know the characters. Some of the best dialogue of the series belongs to Commander Fudo however. Constantly using kanji to teach lessons to his pilots (and the audience for that matter), Fudo will give viewers quite a bit to think about as he imparts whatever wisdom he can.
Before I lost my iPod in an accident, the soundtrack to Aquarion was on regular play rotation and for good reason. Yoko Kanno has created an absolutely amazing soundtrack for this series. Just about every character has their own theme that fits them so perfectly: the Shadow Angels have a beautiful aria; Rena has a gorgeous piano/string theme, Pierre gets a very driving Latin guitar them and even Seliane gets a beautiful soft vocal theme to close out episode 25.
Somehow though Aquarion finds a way to make a great soundtrack into just a good soundtrack when used within the series. If the first half of the series didn’t have you absolutely sick of the first opening theme already than the second half certainly will. Luckily this is corrected with a new theme starting with episode eighteen. ‘Go Tight!’ sung by AKINO is an almost similar sounding pop theme but after listening to the first theme eighty billion times it remains a welcome change.
Dub vs. Sub
Both the Japanese and English tracks have standouts that will please both sub and dub viewers. On the Japanese track, Tomokazu Sugita (Serius) and Yumi Kakazu (Silvia) really play well off each other and create a very nice bond that is easy for the audience to feel. On the English side, Brina Palencia and Eric Vale do much the same though perhaps with not the same emotional depth.
Christopher Bevins in the role of Apollo remains one of the weaker performances of the series. Never sounding quite believable, it always remained hard to get into Bevins’ performance in the lead role. Throughout the second half of Aquarion, Apollo goes through many emotional changes and growths but if you were to listen to Bevins without the picture one would never know it. No matter what happens, the voice always sounded the same with not nearly enough changes within the inflection and tone.
On the first disc of this set, one extra is included in the form of a commentary track with second half ADR Director J. Michael Tatum (who also played the role of Toma) and Christopher Bevins. Though the commentary is only listed in the episode selection menu making it very easy to miss.
On the second disc there is a nice treasure of extras for fans to enjoy including a twenty two minute ‘making of’ feature, a video of a 2005 stage drama, music videos, a silent movie featuring manga style artwork, original commercials and clean animations.
In the stage drama feature, the actors will act out a story involving more special training with Commander Fudo. These stage dramas are often put on at cons in Japan and are usually written in a very tongue in cheek style and this production is no exception. Starring Takuma Terashima (Apollo), Tomokazu Sugita (Sirius), Hiromi Satou (Rena) and Tsugumi Higasayama (Tsugumi) the ten minute production is worth watching for a good laugh.
Filled with twists and turns, Aquarion does its best to tell a fun story that touches audiences emotionally. While unlikely to convert a wave of fans that need to see more, the twenty six episodes of this series don’t feel like wasted time either. While it will rarely be described as ‘great’, it remains a mech anime worth watching once.
A buildup lacking intensity leading to an ending lacking conclusion.
While Jiro is out searching for Kotaro, Mimiko is out searching for her informant and Kotaro is searching with Mimiko with the help of Zelman. All of this searching is going to bring everyone together though for the final battles. Cassa has managed to sneak into the special zone and the ultimate plan of the Kowloon Children is finally put into motion. Along the way to the final battles, answers will finally be revealed. Jiro’s past will be completely revealed and the mysterious woman from his past will have an identity. With the city overwhelmed, everyone will be fighting to keep the city from being destroyed.
Good and the Bad
In the final four episodes of this series, Black Blood Brothers attempts to pick up on the tense note that volume two ended on. Plans are starting to go up in smoke and the enemies are closing in. The audience was right there with them and was ready to jump in. The opening episode to this final volume manages to keep some of the momentum strong. The constant searching of everyone comes across as a little slow though. Just about every single character in our primary and supporting cast has phenomenal powers and yet no one can find each other on an island city? Getting past this nitpick though, the episode starts setting up the major conflicts solidly.
The fights in these episodes are very brutal; in particular the first fight between Yafuri and Cain really caught me off guard. While this series has never shied away from blood before, there will be rivers of it in these final episodes and all throughout the episodes the fights will maintain a very nice presentation. Cain is particularly interesting to watch as his powers manifest themselves.
What none of these fights actually have though is any sort of intensity. All of the fights are put together well but most of them are very short and generally end in a very sudden way. There’s never any sort of lingering build up or drama, it’s straight action from start to its end usually a couple of minutes later.
The writing in the final episodes is where the series fails itself the most though. Dialogue has always been a solid part to this series; the introductions before each vampire duel were always a nice touch. Pay close attention for the mayor’s big pep talk in episode twelve though. This bordered on cheesy so closely I almost went to grab crackers. Dialogue isn’t the only hiccup that this series faces though, as the climax to the series is another letdown.
Few of the conflicts from this series are settled by the close of this series. The ending ties up most of its loose ends but fails to do more than that. Even beyond that though, the solution to the Kowloon Children’s master plan comes across as ridiculously easy it makes you wonder why anyone was panicking in the first place.
The scenes that go into Jiro’s past stand out as the strongest points about these final episodes. Finally letting the audience in on the secret, the story of Jiro’s birth and his relation to the woman from his past really come across well. There are still a couple of loose ends that no one bothers to tie up but beyond that these are very nice scenes to watch.
The string music in the background of this series drove the scenes that revealed more of Jiro’s past very well. These scenes were usually made all the stronger by the use of the strong score. There were times while watching this volume that a score would stand out slightly such as during the battle scenes but they never stood out as particularly strong. They were noticeable but nothing stood out about them as anything special.
Dub vs. Sub
While some of the dialogue in this volume could be classified as cheesy, there were still some wonderful exceptions. Early in the volume, Luci Christian does an absolutely phenomenal job with Cassa. In particular there is a line of dialogue when she is alone with Mimiko that is just delivered with the precision that Luci has shown throughout her career. Both casts have been very strong since the beginning. The English dub has always had solid performances from J. Michael Tatum as Jiro and the Japanese cast has always had a wonderful performance from Ryoko Nagata as Mimiko.
The commentaries continue on this final volume and the alcohol is continuing to flow. In the first commentary, it will be Mikako Takahashi (Hibari), Kana Ueda (Swan Chen), Hiroki Yasumoto (Cain) and original author Kouhei Azano in the commentary booth. If you’re wondering, Ueda is hammered by the time the first commentary starts (as I would assume by her ‘we are not on the third bottle or anything’ comment) making this a bit more interesting to listen to.
While a lot of the time during these commentaries is spent with the actors talking about nothing while going on rants (wine and desserts will do that to you) or sometimes saying nothing at all, they do occasionally talk about the series and answer questions that you might have wondered about. In the final three episodes, the crew sticks with Takahashi, Ueda and Azano as the commentary guests with Ryoko Nagata joining in episode ten and special letters from the director Yoshikawa and Nagata during the final episode.
In the ‘sneak peeks’ extra, there is a five minute feature which highlights the Japanese cast by name while choosing out select scenes. Naturally, the first one chosen for Ryoko Nagata is her first orgasm from Jiro’s bite. Finally there are clean animations.
It’s not perfect but Black Blood Brothers at least manages to cross the finish line. The conclusion to this series however left me mostly unsatisfied. While questions were answers, battles were left unfinished and the climax happened way too fast. While this is never going to go down as a classic, it might entertain vampire fans for a little while. Ultimately you won’t be missing anything if you skip this series.
Final Grade: B-
Now moving into the second half, this volume of xxxHolic gives the audience just enough to keep going.
In the first three episodes of the volume, the first half of the series will end and the second half will begin with more lessons for Watanuki to learn. In episode thirteen, Watanuki will meet a girl named Mie. She seems nice enough, very polite and everyone loves her but something about her has been changing lately. Her personality has grown darker and Watanuki is seeing wings growing out of her back. With a warning from Yuko, Watanuki will investigate further and find out the truth behind the wings.
In the next two episodes, Doumeki and Watanuki meet twin sisters. While they may look alike though, their personalities are completely different. One is always cheerful and talkative and one does nothing but sulk and lets out a negative attitude. As the four go out on a couple of double dates, Watanuki will learn the true power of words. Especially their ability to bind ourselves and others to a dark fate.
Finally in episode sixteen, Watanuki has grown tired of his full sized pipe fox. Yuko helps him to get the fox back to its travel size but along the way, will also help reunite him Ame-warashi and Zashiki-warashi.
Good and the Bad
As with the three previous three volumes of xxxHolic, the four episodes on this volume accomplish their intended purpose of keeping the audience interested. In the first three episodes, the series moves into short story arcs before building to another episode that creates a new interest in seeing more.
In this case, Watanuki is learning about words and wings. Episode thirteen comes across as once again largely filler. The audience is going to see a few noteworthy things in this episode. The festival scenes spent with the three main characters are fun for the most part but it takes very little time for Watanuki absolutely fawning over Himawari’s every word and desire to get old. Even in the end though, the entire festival sequence feels as though it were placed to simply serve as the transitional setting for Mie.
The next two episodes serve as the launching point for the second half of the series. In the two episodes, Watanuki and Doumeki go out on a couple of double dates learning about the twin who constantly bounds herself to failure with her own negative words and thoughts. The premise for the episode and theme behind Yuko’s lesson for Watanuki is a slightly new twist on the tried and true ‘think positive’ message. The change in the older twin though really happens way too suddenly. Just a couple of small nudges to think positively and suddenly her world is changed? As though she had never heard that once before in her life?
Seeing character return for the final episode of the volume is where this series once again manages to bait me in. The episode itself has a strong story and premise within it. Yuko helping Watanuki to get the pipe fox back to normal size works as a solid premise to get Watanuki into the setting he needs to be in. While the relationship development between the characters is still rather weak, the scenes they spend together come across well. The primary reason for this is that while there is some physical comedy with Zashiki-warashi, most of these scenes were played down. xxxHolic is a series that never lets herself enjoy the quiet moments nearly enough so letting these two have some time to just be quiet and smitten is fun.
As with previous volumes, the development of characters in xxxHolic remains much too slow. In this volume Watanuki will see his token development but there is one piece that gets completely cut off. In episode thirteen, Maru and Moro have a very sudden and abrupt piece of character development inserted. The scene will catch audiences off guard as they learn a new truth about these characters… before it is just as abruptly cut off by a Watanuki/pipe fox gag. I can’t imagine how many audience members would have loved to have heard those two continue their little speech for just ten more seconds.
Episode thirteen features some very nice background music. There is a very nice string melody in particular while Watanuki and Doumeki are having lunch. The haunting feeling that this music instills within the dialogue plus the progressive beat really adds a lot to this scene. Later in the episode, the soft piano that plays with a jazzy bass beat during the festival is also very well placed. It segues well into a nice traditional sounding beat.
Starting with episode fourteen, the series will feature a new ending theme. The new song, “Kagerou” by BUCK-TICK, is a soft rock song that fits well with the closing each episode. The song is accompanied by Maru, Moro and Mokona doing air band to the song as the closing animation. That proved to be interesting to watch a couple of times.
Dub vs. Sub
As with previous volumes, the constant use of Japanese words and phrases make this series much more enjoyable in the original Japanese. Brina Palencia does a great job with the role of Zashiki-warashi, J. Michael Tatum as Doumeki and Colleen Clinkenbeard remain highlights of the dub cast. The original Japanese makes all the terms and phrases sound much more natural though.
The extras for xxxHolic continue to remain slim with only an image gallery and clean animations included.
Once again I find myself torn on how much I actually like xxxHolic. While the characters are continuing to encourage curiosity on what will ultimately happen to them, I’m still not excited to see more. With its very slow story pacing and yet more overreliance on sight gags, xxxHolic has so far not lived up to the hype. With the second half now completely underway though, the series has at least earned enough passing notice to pull me in for the rest. Recommended but with very little enthusiasm.
Final Grade: C+
Alright, now we’re starting to go somewhere.
The theme that surrounds this volume is fate and the one that you are figuratively tied to. In the first episode of the volume, a young woman wanders into Yuko’s home. While she doesn’t seem to have a wish that needs to be granted, Yuko does notice that she has a very bad habit that needs correcting and Watanuki learns just how powerful a pinky promise can be.
In the next three episodes, we’ll make out way up to episode twelve and the focus will remain on Watanuki and Doumeki. With summer in full swing, Watanuki is depressed that he won’t get to see Himawari. To fix this, Yuko invites them both out for a night of ghost stories… at Doumeki’s temple. This is followed by an episode taking place on the day of the Oban festival. When Yuko suggests that he give a treat to someone special, Watanuki heads out only to have things go nowhere near how he expected. Instead of finding Himawari, he has to chase after a sprite to save Doumeki from an eternal sleep.
In episode twelve, Yuko takes Watanuki, Doumeki and Himawari out to a summer rental home so that everyone can relax. Strange things begin to happen after they arrive though and the house has another resident that no one knew about before. While on the other side, everyone seems very intent on getting Watanuki to ask Doumeki for help doing something. Anything.
Good and the Bad
After two previous volumes and nine episodes, this series is finally starting to capitalize on its potential. From the beginning this series has hinted at what its true aim is and while some fans gathered around that, others grew frustrated. Finally these episodes deliver a pay off.
Unfortunately we still have to wait through an episode that delivers little. While episode ten serves as a nice set up for the theme, it ultimately does little. The story of this episode is entertaining but I was ready for it to be over all too quickly.
In these four episodes, xxxHolic delivers solid development between Doumeki and Watanuki is very well done on this volume. While it still refuses to actually tell the audience what their overall goal is, these episodes really work hard at making the audience see these two as a team. With an emphasis placed on the powers Doumeki has, this volume really played up the pairing. It will be very interesting to see where this series finally leads these two characters.
What is the most frustrating about this revelation though is that in order to tell it, many of the supporting characters felt pushed aside. Beyond episode nine, Yuko seemed to serve in a facilitator role. Instead of having episodes that seemed to focus on her and the guidance that she gives Watanuki, she more appeared to be around purely to keep things moving along with occasional suggestions.
The addition of more bit characters is also proving to be another frustrating part of xxxHolic. Every volume more bit characters are added and while this is normally not a big deal in any series, this one challenges that. In the previous episodes, a number of one time characters have appeared at various times and while enjoyable I haven’t spent a lot of time memorizing who each of them were and why they appeared to begin with. These episodes will challenge the memory of the audience though as previous characters will either be referenced or appear for return visits. Luckily the characters on these episodes were easier to remember but it makes me wonder if I’m going to remember other characters when they appear later.
While most of the music on this volume fit into the standard mold of melting nicely into the background the music that plays during the Zashikiwarashi’s introduction during episode eleven is quite nice. The soft strings really capture the sad moment of the scene and provide a very memorable introduction for the character. During episode ten, the very soft music that plays during the storytelling adds to the ambiance of the scene. While the soft gong pattern would be boring out of context, it led a very eerie feeling to the scene.
Dub vs. Sub
J. Michael Tatum is still doing a great job with Doumeki. The character has such a flat personality and very few facial expressions but Tatum is really finding a way to keep the character interesting. As we approach the end of the first half, the series has yet to really show the character break out but audiences have something to look forward to the day that this character finally shows a facial expression.
Both the English and Japanese tracks provide great entertainment on both ends. While the English cast deserves credit for how much of the original Japanese was left untranslated in the dub script, things like this really sound much better in their original Japanese.
An image gallery and clean animations.
There is still more than half of xxxHolic season one to go and so I am not convinced that the character development on this volume is a sudden trend. I assume that as we start working out way through the middle of this season, the series will continue its slow hinting style until the audience is much closer to the conclusion. Still, the series manages to redeem itself with these episodes by proving that the production staff does have something that resembles a plan so far. While I am hoping that we will at least get more frequent hints, this volume proves far more entertaining than the previous two and has regained my interest.
Final Grade: B+