Posts Tagged ‘nis america’
Katanagatari Set 1
Taking place in the Edo era of Japan, a young man and his sister are the last survivors of the Kyoto Ryu martial arts family on an island their family was exiled to after the previous revolution. One day, a woman named Togame arrives looking for the head of Kyoto Ryu, currently seventh generation Shichika. Working for the shogunate as a master strategist, Togame needs Shichika to be her sword as she searches for twelve legendary swords made by the legendary sword maker Shikizaki Kiki to bring ultimate power to the government.
Good and the Bad
I admit it, I’ve been having a torrid love affair. The name of my affections vary but the source is always that which adapts the works of NisiOisin. It started innocently enough with Bakemonogatari but then I met Katanagatari and knew that my heart would be forever stolen by these series. In my defense however, it’s only because this one in particular is so good.
For the entire length of this set, Katanagatari is going to challenge the audience in many different ways. First of all, this is an action series that chooses to go a slightly different route with as an action series. Yes, there is action in every episode but they aren’t always the defining moment of the episode. If you’re looking for an action series that is going to deliver this non stop, you’re in for a world of disappointment.
What truly defines this series is the artwork and writing which make this series stand far away from all of its predecessors of the genre. For the look of this series, studio White Fox went with liberal use of colors and the character designs from Tsuyoshi Kawada are cartoony and lack any real definition. The look of the series is admittedly something to get used to but it’s also thanks to these unique fixtures that this series looks nothing like any other series in recent history that I can think of.
Then there’s the writing and storytelling. The endless writing. The writing that will go on… and on… and on sometimes. As a twelve episode series told in hour long chunks, Katanagatari keeps itself moving forward by being a dialogue and banter based series. The good news is that this banter and storytelling is constantly doing something interesting to keep the viewers attention and this is where the series earned it’s highest marks with me.
Katanagatari is plain fearless when it comes to playing with the audience and constantly taking them on journeys or detours that they were not expecting to take. Most of the time, the audience is allowed to go along and enjoy things as they come. Some times, things are made a little easier with episodes flat out spoiling what is coming next or breaking the fourth wall for a short joke.
Still other times, the series goes with a bait and switch approach. In one episode, the next episode preview features an epic battle as Shichika does battle for one of the twelve swords… and that ends up being the most you ever see of the battle as the next episodes features none of it. In yet another instance, a certain character will be introduced with one personality, only to be revealed to be almost yandere and delivering the line “My apologies. I must commit torture now.” These are just a few examples of the many ways Katanagatari keeps the audience guessing and wanting to see more with a sense of humor.
Like the animation, the background music composed by Taku Iwasaki is interesting in its many different styles and genres being brought together. For quieter scenes involving lots of dialogue, there are more traditional sounds including strong, full string themes. But then there are times when things are the complete opposite and you’re hearing a soft hip hop beat for a lecture from Togame or one of the battle scenes. The unique mix worked well for this series and felt particularly well in place during the funnier or more flirtatious moments featuring the lead couple.
As with all NIS America sets, it’s hard to complain about the packaging or extras. Along with the oversized box there is the collector’s book included with this set which is a wealth of artwork and information including episode and character guides as well as liner notes (which would’ve been easier to read had they been alphabetized).
This is going to stand out as one of the better releases of the year. The quality of the series is high and the packaging is just an appropriate bonus. This is a different type of action series and it’s better because of it. Stylish and fun, this is worth going onto your shelves.
|Our Home’s Fox Deity Collection 2
Released By: NIS America
In the second half of Our Home’s Fox Deity, the brothers will continue to get into supernatural trouble thanks to Ku and Ko living with them. First, the second half starts with the brothers taking in a mysterious girl wrapped in enchanted cloth. It seems that she was actually to be delivered to the oni who are making a bigger ruckus than usual. After that, the brothers will get tied up with werewolves while Sakura gains a new rival for Noboru’s affections (not that he ever notices).
Good and the Bad
In the second half of OHFD, the audience gets pretty much exactly what was delivered in the first half with only a couple of new tricks added to the mix. Changing from the first half, in the second half the majority of the episodes belong to multi episode story arcs. Even if the stories are being stretched out over multiple episodes though, there are still no real changes to the flow of the series. These are still people living everyday lives and hopefully being entertaining in the process. This doesn’t end up being that true but we’ll get to that in a bit.
A couple of times in this half, the series tries it’s hand at multi episode story arcs. In these stories, the tone and pacing is the same with episodes often times feeling rushed throughout. The main issue that the series has is the way it lays its stories, and subsequently, its episodes out. Every story is laid out and written but ends up being broken up in all of the wrong places. A great example of this is the werewolf story which ends on an episode that begins with the fight and filled the last half of the episode with emotional wrap up. Had this episode ended with the fight and tightened the emotional wrap up, there could have been something really special here.
Tragically, this and every other story in this half just falls victim to a pacing that grows frustratingly worse. Perhaps it was just the increasingly draining feeling that I felt from these characters but looking back, it’s weird to think about just how quickly this series was finished and I’m not being complimentary. While the multi episode arcs had trouble with where the split the episodes up, the single episode stories have their own problems with simply rushing through each episode. Sometimes there is resolution, sometimes there isn’t but the pacing always felt like a race to get there.
What is fortunate for the series is that there is just enough ‘new’ here in order to keep the audience at least halfway awake. While Mubyo was the one who stole my heart in the first half, the second half features another character named Miyabe who is there as the rival for Sakura. Though to say that Sakura needed a rival is laughable in itself since it was already a foregone, predictable conclusion that her story was going to go absolutely nowhere. Let’s face it, no matter how many times they might have hinted at a rivalry it wasn’t as though anyone ever thought that there was going to be any sort of romantic wrap up. It was just never going to happen and all of this time spent trying to play up that drama is a waste at best.
What’s nice about this series are the same things that kept it warm and fun in the first half. These are simple stories that anyone in the family could enjoy simply because they are cute and non threatening. At its most dramatic moments, this is a series that won’t have anyone on the edge of their seats wondering what is going to happen next. This isn’t the type of series where you ever have to worry about the good guys not finding a way to get through their latest situation. It’s just that kind of warm show that doesn’t need to challenge anyone’s intelligence. For what it is, it does it well enough.
Beyond the new ending theme that starts with episode 19, there really wasn’t anything new or exciting about the soundtrack to this half. The music is a strong supporting full orchestra but there isn’t anything that ever stood out about it beyond select moments. Early in the half when Toru is watching his new friend being driven away, there is a nice violin theme and xylophone theme that accompanies the mountain scene in the final episode are both examples of momentary moments but for the most part this is a very average score for a very average series.
This collection contains all of the same extras that the first half did such as the ridiculously sized art box and hardcover character guide. Also included in this half however is a special bonus disc which contains multiple special events in Japan and original commercials.
If I really had to make a judgment call I’d say this is a series that really should’ve been kept at 13 episodes as there just isn’t enough story to keep it that interesting all the way through. However if you push past the whole inviting feeling being a little weaker and the terrible episode pacing, this is still a cute series. If you enjoyed the first half a lot, you won’t be disappointed by how things end. However if you were only on the fence about the first half, you can skip this without feeling like you’re missing out. This was an average second half that was nice to watch but won’t be revisited.
|Wagnaria Complete Collection
Released By: NIS America
At a family restaurant in Hokkaido, the crew is made up of various bizarre people. There’s the newest recruit Takanashi who only joined because of the cute, pint sized, senior named Poplar. Joining them are the man fearing Inami, katana carrying head waitress Yachiou and the do nothing manager Kyoko. This sounds like this would be enough to create some crazy times but then you have to add in the head manager who is constantly on a search for his direction less wife, the runaway teenager who lives in the attic and the snarky kitchen staff all trying to get along together in an odd family type of way.
Good and the Bad
You might remember series better as Working as that was what it was called when it was first released in 2009. However, it’s not called that anymore so let’s just get used to this and deal with it even if the series is littered with references to the former title.
Much like Office Space was the movie for those stuck in cubicles, Wagnaria is the series for anyone who has ever worked a crappy customer service job. In particular, those who have ever worked a crappy customer service job in a restaurant. Based off the 4koma manga, this is a fun comedy that brings the audience in with its off the wall cast of characters in a not so off the wall setting.
Relying entirely on the characters, the humor in this series is based around the relationships between the workers and their growing affections for each other (or in some cases, murderous intent). While it has the romantic comedy angle to keep things moving forward, most of the humor here is based around these characters and the ways that their unique quirks affect their relationships with each other. In some cases, you’ll be laughing at the relationship between Takanashi (who loves small cute things), Poplar (who is a small cute thing despite her efforts to grow) and Inami (who likes Takanashi despite her fear of men). Many other times it’s Yamada attempting to keep up her false life around a crew who really want to know what her story is. At all times, it’s the interactions all of these characters share with each other keep things fresh.
With its sharp gags and off the wall crew, this series is approachable because of simple things it does within the adaptation. While the gag manga tend to be very short and to the point, the anime takes the time to create a smooth flowing story. The punch lines stay sharp in this one but the set ups are always given more than enough time to keep the audience interested along the way without making the series feel like it’s jumping from one joke to the next. This is comedy that hits its mark more than Inami hits Takanashi.
While occasionally dipping into the familiar (just how many times do we have to sit through another female character afraid of men?), Wagnaria works on another level because of the twists in each of the characters. Instead of the delinquent character being a tough teenage boy, this time it’s the manager with a doting head waitress, Yachiyo, willing to follow her to the ends of the Earth. In the kitchen, there is a blackmailer along with the stoic head chef who wishes to be seen romantically by Yachiyo but doesn’t stand a chance in her eyes. It’s different and that makes for happy viewing.
Produced by A-1 Pictures, nothing is skimped on and this creates a warm inviting atmosphere just like an actual restaurant. The character designs however have the most interesting aspect especially when you start getting into Takanashi and his four sisters. While all having a distinct look, the sibling resemblance makes for fun comparison shots as you can actually see the artist putting extra care into creating the vaguely similar looks.
Beyond having one of the catchiest opening themes and animations ever, the music throughout Wagnaria kept a very easy going almost elevator feel to it. Always soft and airy, the music provides the proper amount of support while rarely being used to sell the punch lines which made it a nice addition without overshadowing any of the characters or writing.
Along with the hardcover box, the series comes included with the standard oversized fan book. Like other books, the special attraction to this book is a series of translated manga. In the manga, characters and simple story elements are introduced which serve as a nice introduction to the comedy style of the series. It makes for a lovely keepsake but you’ll likely only look at it a few times before putting it away.
Successfully in its adaptation, Wagnaria does a great job of balancing the story with its humor to create a smooth flowing final product. With the romantic plot thread manages to keep the episodes moving forward, everything else is simply able to catch on and keep the audience laughing in the meantime. This is a fun release that deserves your attention and a solid addition to your collection.
|Our Home’s Fox Deity Set 1
Released By: NIS America
After the younger one is attacked by a demon in his dreams, brothers Toru and Noboru are summoned to their family estate by their grandmother. There they break the seal on their family’s guardian spirit Kugen to defeat the demon. Unwilling to seal it back up, the brothers agree to take on the fox spirit as their personal guardian deity and take it home to live with them along with another guardian shrine maiden named Ko. Now with two unexpected house guests, the family learns to adjust and has adventures including meeting and doing battle with local gods getting jobs and going on vacation together. All while the older brother, Noboru, is left to deal with mounting expenses tied to housing a guardian deity and being completely oblivious to the obligatory best friend character named Sakura. Good and the Bad It’s easy to look at this series and just take a pass. It’s another fantasy slice of life and really, who among us haven’t seen enough of those to last a lifetime? Just for that reason alone I could see many people passing on this and never even thinking twice about it but then those people are the unlucky ones missing out on something sweet, charming and unexpected. This isn’t a series that designed to blow anyone away with its amazingness. Produced in 2008 by ZEXCS, this is an episodic romp through a fantastic world that is now the Takagami household. As the members adjust to their new additions, wrinkles will pop up that need to be smoothed out from episode to episode. Sometimes the wrinkles are large such as with Toru constantly being attacked by demons or local gods Mubyo and Eibyo start causing a ruckus. Other times, the wrinkles are much smaller such as when shrine maiden Ko proves herself to be a complete klutz and has to get a job in order to pay for damages made to the house along the way. In spite of this and the lack of any real overarching story, Our Home’s Fox Deity works mostly thanks to its fun characters. Led by the fox deity Kugen, with it the audience gets the best of both worlds with a character that can change gender at will. This eliminates any need for the character to have to act in a particular way for any given situation and creates the perfect moe for any given instance. While most of its time is spent in its female form, sometimes a guy needs to make a good impression and that’s where it’s handy to be able to become a bishounen (certainly a skill that I wish I had). As mentioned though, sometimes you need to ask for a favor directly and sometimes that’s just so much easier to do as a female. While every character had their own unique quirks (I loved Ko’s very animated explanations and Kugen’s throaty laugh), the god Mubyo stands for being one of the most unique god characters from recent memory. Clad in an overcoat, Mubyo spends much of her time communicating to others through the hand puppets that are always covering her hands. While a larger secret lies behind her, Mubyo provided some of the strongest laughs and even tears in this half keeping her a welcome addition to the second half of the set. Where the series really fails to capture the imagination of the audience are in the brothers that the entire series is centered on. While Toru is vaguely more interesting because of how often he gets attacked, Noboru proves to be one of the least interesting characters of the series. For a series completely filled with spirits, gods and demons this creates nothing but opportunities for the audience to realize just how boring these brothers are by comparison. Always stuck in their roles, there is nothing to indicate in these episodes that they are even headed towards something greater. Being only 3 years old, the animation quality within this series isn’t something that deserves any sort of trashing. Going with the general feeling of the series, the animation in this series is made up of mostly light colors and muted backgrounds. It’s much rarer for Our Home’s Fox Deity to do anything particularly flashy but on the few occasions that it does (such as when a god needs to unleash an attack), it always manages to appear as a nice accent to animation rather than an unneeded burden. Unfortunately not everything is perfect as NIS America has once again put out a product with errors. While some fans were already aware of the packaging recall that already occurred with this series, while watching the discs I found some noticeable errors with encoding leading to blurry or completely unwatchable picture. Luckily these instances were few and far between but just their mere presence is an annoyance that I’m sure many fans will be grumbling about upon receiving their sets. Music Matching the pace of the episodes, the music here rarely grows into anything that I would call intense. Almost always using soft flutes or strings to get its point across, the music is a sweet and sentimental pairing to the picture and story. In particular, music fans will want to pay attention to the themes accompanying Mubyo due to the wonderfully simple string themes that follow her everywhere she goes. Extras As with other NIS America releases, I have to complain about the size of the packaging. Measuring 11 inches long, these releases always have to be turned one way or another in order to fit into my shelves and I wish they would shrink them down. That said, this is still another release filled with wonderful extras for fans. Beyond the art box to keep it all in, this set includes a special full color hardcover collector’s book with nice notes on the episodes and characters. You’ll want to wait until after you’ve finished the set to look at it to avoid the spoilers within it but another package of great extras are here for fans. Overall I enjoyed this set so much more than I thought I would. Charming and easy going, this was never a series that I had any issue with popping into my player so that I could enjoy another couple of episodes. The episodic nature flowed well from episode to episode making it easy to just take in episodes at whatever leisurely pace you’ve decided on. While it’s not a series of the year contender or something that is going to blow you out of the water, there’s more than enough here to make this worth watching. This is a solid first half that doesn’t rely on moe tropes to get by and instead goes the old fashioned route of using decent storytelling to bring the audience in. This is worth checking out!
I have made absolutely no secret about how much I loved the series Working that premiered this past spring. The slice of life comedy following the staff of a family restaurant earned a strong following (and impressive DVD sales to boot) thanks to its hilarious characters and catchy opening theme. A strong argument could even made for Working to be a series of the year contender. Have I oversold this series yet? Hope not because I still have a few months more to talk about this one.
The rumors began yesterday afternoon but late last night the press release came through from NIS America confirming that they had picked up the anime for a DVD release. Being released under the name Wagnaria!, it was announced that the first 13 episodes would be released in a special premium edition set in March which includes a hardcover series guide and larger than necessary packaging.
If you’re wondering about the name change, Wagnaria is the name of the restaurant that the staff works at. I reached out to NIS America for a comment on why the name of the series was being changed from one easy to remember English word to one not so easy to remember Japanese word but didn’t receive a reply by the time this post went up. As near as I can figure (which, again, means that I have no confirmation), there could be a copyright issue with the name ‘Working’ due to programming that has aired on TV in the US.
Regardless, I’ve already started setting aside a little cash to make sure I can get this one as soon as its released. I’ll even go one further and urge everyone who works any kind of crappy customer service job to do the same. If you’ve ever felt like no one out there feels your pain, this is the series that talks to all of us who have to deal with odd customers and worse co-workers.
Updated 12/7: So it’s a little late but I have gotten an email from NIS America explaining the reason for the name change. According to NIS America PR Manager Nao Zook, “We decided to change the title to Wagnaria!! due to a series concern with existing IPs.”
Oh well, Wagnaria is a good name too.
| Persona – Trinity Soul – Set 1 Collector’s Edition
Released By: NIS America
After losing their parents and youngest sibling to an accident, Shin and his younger brother Jun moved to Tokyo to be raised by their aunt. 10 years later, the brothers have decided to move back to their hometown of Ayanagi City to stay with their older brother, Ryo, who happens to be chief of police there. Arriving in town, Shin and Jun are treated coldly by Ryo who tells them that they should leave right away. Refusing to listen, the brothers stay and slowly start to learn about the history the city and their brother is trying to hide.
10 years earlier, the city underwent massive damage due to citizens falling into vegetative states from what was referred to as Apathy Syndrome while a crew manning a submarine in Toyama Bay all mysteriously disappeared without a trace. In the present day, more incidents are happening involving people disappearing while others are dying by literally turning inside out. Through their friends at school, Shin and Jun also learn of a new trend amongst the teenagers called Shadow Extraction involving forcibly making someone’s spirit leave their body giving them an overwhelming sense of relaxation and euphoria. In the middle of all this, Shin stumbles across a secret plan to target people like him who are capable of using Personas, incarnations of their spirits which take on the form of mechanical beings and battle against others.
Another series that I started blindly, Persona – Trinity Soul - (referred to as simply Persona from here out) is billed as a supernatural action series and had I watched this series weekly upon its premiere I can say without a doubt that I would have dropped it within only a couple of episodes. Thanks to the benefit of having it on DVD I know now that this eventually would have been a mistake… but it certainly took a long time to get to that point.
Starting slow, Persona gets in its own way early thanks to clumsy storytelling that takes many episodes to find its footing. In the first three episodes, the tone of the series is very heavy. That’s not automatically a bad thing but one of the key elements to this entire first half is a very slow story introduction and rarely elaborated past the surface level. This creates the first issue of story information being delivered on such a small level that the tone drags the pacing to a crawl. And it takes another 11 episodes to fix the problem.
It’s never that Persona is trying to tell a particularly weak story. Throughout the series, there are quite a few interesting elements that are hinted at to keep viewers intrigued. By delivering the story information in such small doses however, those interesting tidbits become increasingly frustrating. Almost entirely dialogue driven, the series continues through each arc by spending entire episodes exploring new relationships or story elements but rarely elaborates much further than surface level of what is happening.
For a series that is steeped in mystery and intrigue, any viewer would naturally expect many elements to be obscured from view in order to keep them guessing. Persona goes far beyond that scale however by creating elements and cliffhangers that may never even be brought up again for the entire first half. As frustrating as this was to watch as a viewer, looking back I can’t help but wonder how much this frustration was just due to all of it being delivered by such a flat cast of characters.
With dialogue being the primary source of moving forward, the loudest thud that comes from Persona dropping the ball occurs with its characters. Flat and lacking in general personality, it was exceedingly difficult to feel any sort of real attachment to the characters. While occasionally managing to develop new sides to their personalities, the main and supporting characters are fairly 2 dimensional in their presentation. This isn’t a completely generality as there are certain one off events and running stories which show some new sides Shin and his brother, Ryo. However other characters such as their friends at school will remain almost entirely the same people throughout the half despite any new events or interactions that they come across along the way.
And yet despite this laundry list of complaints that I feel the need to lodge against the story and characters, there were just as many moments throughout the set in which it was impossible to turn my eyes away. Produced by A-1 Pictures (Black Butler, Senkou no Night Raid, Occult Academy), the animation in this release is another stellar feast for the eyes. Deeply detailed, the visual eye candy that A-1 Pictures creates for Persona is evident in the first few minutes. From the first time Shin and Jun make it back to their house and again later when the audience sees personas being used for the first time, many times throughout this series the scenery surrounding the characters will create an atmosphere that feels almost real. When one character has a moment of weakness on the beach at night, the glow of the moon along with the background behind the characters it can almost make a person feel the chill from the wind blowing against the characters.
Composed by Taku Iwasaki (Katanagatari, Samurai X, Soul Eater, Black Butler), the score for this series is one of the more amazing highlights that keeps the series moving forward while also playing one of the largest roles in creating the heavy tone and atmosphere that was mentioned earlier. In the first few moments of the series, Iwasaki plays the series in with a soft string melody to match the snowfall while later turning to a warm piano theme for the brothers return home. That’s just the first episode though; throughout the series Iwasaki’s music will only serve to compliment the heaviness of the series with tones that rarely let any part of the story move forward too quickly. The exceptions to this occur mostly during car scenes when things are mixed up with new elements ranging from hip hop to modern pop with insert songs. Long after you’ve left this series behind though, it’s the softer tracks, such as the haunting choral piece that fills the background in episode 4, that will stick with you.
Like their release for Toradora, NIS America filled this release with extras both on the discs and in the packaging. Packed inside a large art box along with the DVDs is a collector’s art book filled with series information and artwork. Filled with profiles on the characters, setting, the various persona and 4 panel manga representations of each episode; the book is an interesting to read through once you are done watching the set (there are spoilers within so I do suggest waiting until the end to read through it entirely). It wasn’t until I read through the five interviews and thoughts from various staff members the the book provided the most interesting looks into the series that expand very slightly on what was trying to be accomplished through the animation and storytelling.
On the other side of the book, NIS America has also include a full color reprinting of the book ‘A Whale’s Feather’ written by the parents of the brothers and occasionally featured throughout the series. All created on high quality thick cardboard, fans of the series will appreciate having wonderful keepsakes to add to their collection. However just like their Toradora release, the main complain with this set is the sheer size! Measuring 11 inches tall, 8 inches wide and 1 inch thick, I’m left once again with no choice but to ask NIS America… make them smaller!
Moving onto the discs themselves, extras featured on the second disc include original commercials and a promotional movie released prior to the series premiere.
The good news about Persona is that eventually the series does find its footing and creates one shocking cliffhanger leading into the second half. The bad news is that the story is so completely desperate to keep its secrets well guarded to the end that I couldn’t blame a single person who had already decided to give up on the series long before they reached this point. While pretty to look at, the first half of Persona proved to be more of a challenge to complete than a treat to sit down and enjoy.
To feel a particularly strong connection to this series audience members are going to have to work at it and be ready to put their patient hats on while they wait for answers to the questions constantly being raised. This is not something to pick if you’re looking for something light that you can have on for background noise. Persona will require and demand your full attention. Unfortunately the effort it takes to get anywhere severely outweighs the enjoyment it gives back along the way. You can find better ways to spend your time than pushing your way through this.
| Toradora Set 1 – Collector’s Edition
Released By: NIS America
In this romantic comedy, the hero is high school student Ryuji Takasu. Cursed with his father’s mean eyes, Ryuji has a bad reputation when he’s actually just quiet, hard working and domestic. Above all that however, he’s in love with his classmate Minorin Kushieda. Always watching from a distance, his fate changes when he runs into Taiga Aisaka at school; a pint sized classmate who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone around her (except her best friend Minorin) thanks to her violent, loud outbursts. After a failed attempt to deliver a love letter (and a later failed attempt to kill Ryuji for learning her secret), Ryuji learns that Taiga actually has a crush on his best friend Yusaku Kitamura. Both seeing opportunities to get what they want, Taiga and Ryuji form an alliance to get the other hooked up with their best friends. Along the way however, the two will become close friends that rely on each other for both emotional and physical support when threats to their plans appear.
Good and the Bad
In the interest of full disclosure, this isn’t my first go around with Toradora. When it first premiered in Fall 2008, I actually checked it out and dropped it shortly after. It was cute and occasionally funny but at the time I saw it as nothing particularly special. Now that I’m halfway through the series, it’s amazing how long I’ve been missing out.
Toradora establishes itself as a romantic comedy very early. Within only a single episode, Ryuji and Taiga have already formed an alliance and, at the time, it feels almost certain that this story is going to be the primary direction going forward. Only a couple of episodes later though that certain direction is changed almost entirely. Eventually the romantic angle that brought the lead characters together becomes a bit blurrier and instead the focus is shifted to the developing relationship between two new friends. At first this change of direction can feel understandably frustrating, especially when you consider that the secret crushes harbored by Taiga and Ryuji are pulled up repeatedly in the future whenever it’s convenient.
As viewers move further into the series, what starts as a little issue with storytelling direction eventually becomes invisible as Toradora steps up to become much more. Without leaving the bounds of the romantic comedy label, Toradora strives to become much more than just another rom-com. Carrying this series forward is one of the more dynamic anime pairings of the last few years. Working in an almost perfect balance, Taiga and Ryuji are written to provide the series with a broad spectrum of genuine emotion. Always hiding behind a wall, Taiga is a bundle of emotion and frustration trapped in a tiny body. In Ryuji, Taiga is given an outlet to let down her defenses and show the softer side to her tsundere personality. When Taiga is at her most fragile and emotional, it will always be his quiet voice standing as her voice of reason and making both sides of her personality so pronounced and effective.
As I mentioned earlier however, once upon a time I did drop this series after only 3 episodes and while watching this set, I tried to identify what it was exactly that took me out so quickly last time. At first I thought it might’ve been the romantic story that gets stilted early or the artwork used by JC Staff. But it wasn’t until I got to episode 5 that I truly realized what the problem was: up until this point, comparatively speaking, Toradora is boring!Up until this point, Toradora spends most of its time with Taiga and Ryuji as they get to know each other and start to form their plans. At this point, characters are still fairly undeveloped and Taiga is usually in full tsundere mode. This doesn’t automatically mean anything in itself but as the romantic angles get pushed to the side, Taiga becomes less tsundere and more just loud and annoying. Despite Ryuji being her means of support, Taiga completely overwhelms things early making it difficult to move forward. In the 5th episode however, things become much different with the introduction of Ami Kawashima.
While others may argue with me, Ami is one of the most interesting characters of the series and easily one of the deepest. Two faced and manipulative, there is an intense hatred between her and Taiga and the start of an amazingly fun rivalry. With Ami, the audience gets something that was completely lacking up until this point: a completely bitchy character actually driven to accomplish her (sometimes twisted) goals to get what she wants. More importantly, the addition of Ami to the series gives Taiga a rival that will challenge her and fight back which is proven early with a string of sharp words which reduces even the ‘Palm Top Tiger’ into a mess of tears. After the two get back onto equal footing however, the battles that these two wage in each episode quickly became a favorite thing to look forward to.
Beyond its characters that are more than just simple archetypes, the reputation that Toradora has earned over the last couple of years is mostly thanks to its storytelling. Switching to a new story arc every couple of episodes, Toradora does an amazing job of telling short stories that change in tone without ever losing its pacing. No matter what the actual story behind the current arc is, the staff takes care in making sure there is always something happening within the details such as during the 2 episode vacation arc late in the set.
While the primary story belongs to Taiga and Ryuji attempting their latest ‘White Knight’ plan; Toradora never gets weighed down by their own desire to forcibly insert adventure or events. Instead of creating a series of silly mishaps, every character during this time is given their own time to shine and step forward: Ryuji and Minorin share some time together in a quiet moment of near confessions, Taiga and Ami quietly express what they are feeling and even the normally serious Kitamura shows new parts of himself. Without exaggeration I say this was one of the best vacation arcs I’ve seen in a very long time, if not ever.
Unfortunately this isn’t a perfect set from NIS America. While watching this set, some fans complained about issues with video quality (ghosting, etc). I never ran into that problem myself but while watching my set, I noticed very short video glitches during each episode preview. This issue never created gaps or playback issues but it was very noticeable and is hopefully something that will be eliminated in future releases.
Over the last couple of years, a section dedicated to reviewing DVD extras has become increasingly obsolete. Thanks to their debut releases however, NIS America has brought this section back and created a ridiculously high set of standards for themselves to match in the future. Included in the Collector’s Edition release is a hardcover collector’s book and premium art box to house it and the discs in. Inside the book, the included episodes are broken down episode by episode with story and character notes, seiyuu interviews and even liner notes for some of the more hardcore cultural references.
The artbox is made of a thick cardboard which withstood general barehanded twisting and pressure without any signs of bends or wear. I cannot praise NIS America enough for this release. Not only were these extras a well crafted treat for the hardcore fans who already love the series but useful as well. Toradora isn’t completely steeped in cultural references but every often a character will drop a rather obscure joke. More than once I actually found myself glad to be able to refer to the episode guide and in order to find out why a certain scene was supposed to be funny.
The one issue that I took with this release is the sheer size of it. The artbox which houses the discs and book is 11 inches tall, 8 inches wide and an inch thick! While very nice to look at, I can’t imagine that this is going to fit on many DVD shelves easily. I can’t applaud the effort put in by NIS America enough but perhaps shrinking them future releases a bit for easier storage could be arranged?
On the actual discs themselves, two additional extras can be found on disc 2 titled ‘Toradora SOS: Hurray for Gourmands’. In these 5 minute extras, the characters are on a constant search for the best types of food. They’re not very funny and turn the characters into chibis but it’s nice that they were included regardless.
A well told story so far; Toradora is filled with a lot of reminders of what I love about anime. A romantic comedy that breaks out of the standard mold, Toradora contains genuine drama and characters with real depth to their personalities. You can argue that many of these characters are shaped from broad outlines and tropes (Taiga IS a pretty a-typical tsundere) but anyone who starts this series will quickly find that argument becoming weaker as it progresses. I recommend this one to others with one warning: be careful because if you find yourself sucked in by any one of these characters you won’t be going anywhere for a long time. Very recommended.
So after waiting for weeks, fans have finally been able to get their hands on the first releases from NIS America; Toradora and Persona – Trinity Soul –. Unfortunately, in just a matter of days threads have already popped up on both Anime on DVD and the official NIS America forums indicating issues with the video quality on the releases. In the threads, viewers are complaining of poor encoding which is leading to ‘ghost images’ and other issues with playback.
While some fans are reporting zero errors with their sets, I actually put in the first disc of Toradora into my laptop last night and noticed a few issues with playback freezing during the second episode. That means you can’t even chalk this up to fans trying to complain over nothing. Springing into action quickly, NIS America released a statement yesterday reading:
It came to our attention that there are some video quality issues with our first anime titles, Toradora! and PERSONA -trinity soul-. We are taking these issues seriously and are currently working on fixing the problems. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience it may have caused. We will announce our steps to solve this issue as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.
This is obviously an embarrassing blunder for NIS America especially after putting so much effort into creating an attractive, high quality premium edition for fans to collect. Hopefully NIS America is able to get their act together enough for fans to return for Pandora Hearts later on. You know what the worst part about this is for them though? This is all happening the weekend of Anime Expo, the most important annual anime weekend in the country, making them unable to win even for losing right now.
Update 7:30pm: Just when I thought it was safe to put work away for the evening, NIS America had to spoil it all by doing something silly like fix the problem right away. In a notice posted to their site, NIS America is offering free remastered replacement discs to anyone who got caught with faulty copies. All you have to do to claim the replacement discs is fill in this form.
Great job NIS America for jumping on the issue right away and handling it quickly and professionally! Now let’s hope that no one figures out that since you’re not asking fans to return the faulty discs that virtually anyone who owns a copy could put in their UPC number and get a free set of extra DVDs…. oh crap, ignore what I just said!
Two weeks have passed which means it’s time to pick the two lucky winners of the Toradora and Persona trinity soul Box Sets along with limited edition posters from NIS America! This was by far the most popular contest to ever be hosted on the site with hundreds of entries coming in from all over. In the end it came down to two people who correctly identified the two characters in this image:
Congratulations to Zachary Tan who will be receiving the Toradora Box Set and Alcario Tuzon who will be receiving the Persona trinity soul Box Set. Emails will be sent to both of you in the near future so be on the look out for those. Thank you again to everyone who entered the contest! If you didn’t win this time, there will be more coming in the future so keep checking back!