Posts Tagged ‘season 1’
Strike Witches Season 1 Collection
In an alternate 1939, the world is fighting against an entirely different enemy. Strange life forms called Neuroi have begun attacking earth leaving most of it in ruin. The only effective means that humans have developed to fight back is a team of teenage girls capable of using magic. Sent into the skies with propeller powered personal leg units, these girls fight the enemy in close range aerial combat. The name of this unit is the 501th Airborne, also known as the Strike Witches.
The series opens on a young girl named Yoshika who uses healing magic. When a brash military officer named Mio comes to recruit her into the war, Yoshika initially refuses but after learning that she might be able to learn more about her missing father she finally agrees to accompany Mio. Still completely oblivious to being manipulated into fighting the war, Yoshika arrives at the base and meets various other girls from around the world also recruited to fight with her and find her place amongst the unit.
Good and the Bad
I’ve had Strike Witches on my radar for months. I always knew I was going to watch it, I was just never in a hurry to get to it. Finally setting aside some time, I stuck it in and instantly found myself wanting more. This is a series that is not only better than I ever thought it would be, this is a series that is better than it has any right to be.
To put it out there, if you’ve heard anything about this series already it’s probably true. It is a military loli series about girls with guns and no pants. It’s also a series capable completely disarming even the most cynical members of the audience with its capable and moving stories of friendship and loss. At first, watching Strike Witches can be almost disconcerting. The panty shots are quite random but impossible to miss as many come in the form of close ups or flybys. It’s never hidden from the audience and animation studio Gonzo never attempts to be coy with how often they appear. If you don’t believe me, watch the breezy episode in the second half.
Generally when a series gets that kind of description, you’ve pretty much hit the limit for finding any real depth. What makes Strike Witches special is that once you get past the shiny loli surface, there are deeper layers. Layers that pull the audience in with an emotional story about girls fighting together and finding new families after losing their own in the war that they’re trying to end.
As the girls bond closer and Yoshika finds her place among the witches, it becomes easy to forget about everything else. Amongst the girls, there are a variety of characters all featuring their own unique looks and personalities. No matter what character type you might like, there will be someone amongst the witches to catch your attention. For the record, Mina, Charlotte, Francesca and, to some extent, Lynne ended up being my moe switches. Even if there are some amongst the troop that irritate you to no end (looking at you Yoshika and Perrine), there will always be someone else to make up for it.
What hits me as the most impressive fact about Strike Witches is the amazing amount of detail put in by the staff. Even if you wanted to just pass this off as ‘just another moe’ series, no one can deny the fact that it is at least ‘just another moe’ series that has done some serious homework. While it is never directly talked about all of the various names used are references to real life counterparts (i.e. the Akagi was a real ship used in the Japanese navy in this era). Even the various strike units the girls use are modeled after real planes of the era while the girls themselves are all named after real pilots (some of which are still living; wonder if any of them have watched this?).Music
Before catching this series, I had no idea that the same man who composed the scores for two series I consider beloved, El Hazard and Petite Princess Yucie, did this one as well. But after 12 episodes, I should’ve figured it out. Another category with completely unexpected quality, the score composed by Hagaoka does a wonderful job of adding an extra layer of emotional weight behind the scenes. In the brighter and darker moments, soft melodies are always present to support all of the characters in their moments of happiness, sadness and fear. Constantly using soft duets, heavier moments are captured by a soft harp and string melody. When Mina looks out the window at night in a moment of weakness (which she likes to do because she’s deliciously angsty), this theme shares her burden and carries an emotional weight of its own.
Dub vs. Sub
While switching between the Japanese and English tracks, I noticed that in some cases that were like night and day with both casts containing performances that made me wish I were listening to the other track. In the English track, for instance, Kira Vincent-Davis delivers a completely flat performance for Mio. Every word is delivered in the same low tone and that rarely has inflection beyond ‘loud’ and ‘louder’. But then again, in the Japanese cast Kaori Nazuka performs Lynne in a constantly high pitched, annoying whine that is the mirror opposite to Kate Bristol’s gentle, sweet and quiet voice that fits the character much more naturally. No matter how many episodes I watched however, I always found myself happier when I was listening to the Japanese track. While not every voice was dazzling, the performances always sounded much clearer and more natural to the ear.
Cast commentary featuring ADR Director Scott Sager, Kate Bristol (Lynne) and Cherami Leigh (Yoshika) and clean animations on disc 2.
I cannot emphasize enough just how much Strike Witches caught me off guard just by being good. In 12 episodes, this series tells a solid stories at a pace that makes hours just completely fly by. Not everyone is going to sit down and see this series as a sweetly told emotional story about girls coming together as a unit but if that’s what you’re looking for I really believe that most anime fans won’t be steered wrong with this one. If you enjoy moe or girls with guns, you owe it to yourself to give this one a chance. This is easily one of the best DVDs of the year and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.
Spice and Wolf Season 1
Taking place in a fictional medieval world, Spice and Wolf centers on Kraft Lawrence who works as a traveling peddler. While visiting a village, Lawrence happens to pick up a stray girl in his cart named Holo. The local goddess of harvest, she has been providing the villagers with plentiful wheat for years but now that they have converted to the one true god and have found ways to grow wheat for themselves, they no longer need to rely on her. Forgotten and abandoned, Holo asks Lawrence to take her with him as he travels to the north so that she can return to her homeland. Following the pair for thirteen episodes, the first season will take the audience into different towns as Lawrence sells his wares and attempts to avoid swindlers, robbers and the church who would love to destroy the heathen goddess.
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.
Aria the Animation Season 1 Box Set
Right Stuf presents the anime equivalent of Lithium with this slice of life sci-fi series.
On the planet Aqua, there is a city fashioned after the Italy of Manhome called Neo-Venzia. Within this city are a few gondolier companies such as the Aria Company run by Alicia with her trainee sylph Akari. Over the course of thirteen episodes, the series will follow Akari and her trials as she trains and practices. Along the way Akari will have adventures and experiences with her friends and fellow trainee sylphs Aika and Alice and their seniors Akira and Athena.
Many characters will wander in and out of Akari’s life including the girl Ai that she exchanges emails with, the mailman Woody, the salamander who works to regulate Aqua’s atmosphere Atusaki and others. With their help, Akari will get to experience the past by delivering a letter and visiting a bridge, visit hidden islands and learn lessons about life.
Good and the Bad
To qualify the introduction of this review here, Aria is a series that takes its time with doing anything. And when I say doing anything I mean not actually much of anything. Those within the anime audience who require a driving story or nail biting drama and conflict are going to be sorely disappointed with this series. What this series promises to deliver is a series about the daily events of a girl and her gondola. No real conflicts, no romance and just a bit of comedy to keep things interesting.
It succeeds on this promise on all levels and the thirteen episodes of this first season move at its own slow pace. Aria refuses to compromise its standards and do anything that is out of sync with the feel of the manga and insert anything that is unnecessary. All it wants to do is tell simple episodic stories that occasionally weave into each other. If you can’t get past this, you won’t last through one disc.
Now, for those within the audience who are more than happy to sit through a beautifully animated series that tells mostly cute stories about a girl and her gondola; you’re in luck. Directed by famed Junichi Sato (Sailor Moon, Kaleido Star), the animation in this series rarely has a flaw within it. The backgrounds and canals have such a strong real world influence and it’s very apparent in the artwork. Occasionally the computer animation looked over produced such as the snow in episode thirteen. Occasionally though, such as during the hot spring episode, the animation is so simply done that its mind bogglingly beautiful.
The character designs in Aria are all done with such a soft touch. All of the characters look very nice in their gondola uniforms and Alicia in particular is just so perfectly designed. Her motherly look matches her soft tones easily and creates a very warm character for the audience to gravitate towards.
The writing and dialogue, like the rest of the series, is very dry. None of the stories are ever provocative in nature. If there is any conflict within the series it is resolved with a gentle life lesson by the end of the episode. And most of the time those life lessons come with a healthy side dish of heartwarming. Occasionally the series tries to throw in some comedy. Very early in the series Aika establishes her ‘No sappy lines allowed!’ catch phrase whenever Akari says something remotely poetic or romantic which happens about two or three times per episode.
The oddest bit of artwork in the entire series is in the animal designs. A tradition in the series is that each gondola company chooses a cat with blue eyes to be their president. The president of the Aria Company is Aria the cat… one of the oddest designs for a cat I’ve ever seen. At one point while I was viewing this series my housemate sat down to watch some with me. Within a couple of minutes I said ‘It’s supposed to be a cat,’ to which she replied ‘Oh, thanks.’
Much like the rest of this series, the music tends to blend into the background more than anything and rarely does it do anything that makes it stand out. There are other things about it though that does make it special. The soft ballad opening theme does not have its own animation for instance. Every episode begins with a short introduction dealing with the episode. While its rare for anything important to be revealed during these first ninety seconds, the scenes are still nice to watch and enjoyable to sit through.
If the soundtrack to this series contains any of the vocals from Athena though, it becomes an incredibly easy sell. This applies even more so for the insert songs that are sprinkled in throughout the last couple of episodes. The only one of these songs that I felt was a bad match for the series occurs in episode thirteen. The hard pop sound and upbeat tempo completely went against everything that the series had built up.
Dub vs. Sub
It seems like there are so many of the cast members that have something memorable about their performances. Sayaka Ohara as Alicia is memorable for the ‘my, my, my’ catchphrase that starts every other sentence. Erino Hazuki as Akari hangs onto her syllables way too long and Ryo Hirohashi delivers great straight man punch lines. The cast didn’t have particularly complicated dialogue to master for these roles but the emotional impact of certain episodes had to be felt.
All four discs in this set contain a few extras for fans to enjoy including interviews, segments and animations. On discs 1 and 2, an interview with cast members Erino Hazuki (Akari), Chiwa Saito (Aika) and Ryo Hirohashi (Alice) is shown. In the interview, the actresses talk for almost half an hour about the series, their characters, the setting for Aria and much more. A lot of this interview drags but there are certainly some interesting gems of information to take away from the actresses as they talk.
On discs three and four, a second interview segment is shown featuring Sayaka Ohara (Alicia), Junko Minagawa (Akira) and Tomoko Kawakami (Athena). The interview here is roughly the same length as the other interview and many of the questions are similar. Sayaka Ohara though is certainly someone to watch. Constantly going off topic or saying other weird things, Ohara gives one of the more interesting interviews audiences will see for awhile.
On all four discs, another segment is shown titled ‘Venice, I’m Sorry…’ In this segment, director Junichi Sato sits down with cast members to talk about his research trips to Venice, Italy. The segments show Sato taking tours of the canals, eating local food, touring the gondola warehouses, eating food, riding in gondolas, eating food and much more. These segments are going to be deeply interesting for those who really grew attached to the idea of gondolas from the series but in the end it doesn’t really come across as any more interesting than watching someone else’s vacation videos while learning a bit more about the background of the series creation.
Finally there are trailers and clean animations scattered throughout the set for fans to enjoy as well.
As stated before, fans that are capable of sitting through a very relaxed anime where nothing really happens are going to be find happiness with this series. The artwork remains beautiful from start to finish and the characters are charming in their own ways. Because of this though, this is certainly a niche series that the few instead of the many are going to find satisfaction with. I would recommend this series to many people but only with the qualifier that they should test drive the first volume. If you don’t make it through that much at least, the rest of the set is just going to put you to sleep.
Final Grade: B-
IFC will be airing all 26 episodes of Hell Girl season 1 starting September 30th. New episodes will air every Tuesday starting September 30th at 8pm ET/PT with an repeat airing happening every Friday at 11:30pm ET/PT. The dark drama follows the character Ai Enma who makes deals with people to ferry the souls of those they seek vengence against to Hell.
The series was released to DVD earlier this year by Funimation and earned a ‘series of the year’ nod from this website.
The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya Vol. 1
Jumping into a series that I really should’ve done more research on first… after all, a series like this doesn’t gain a worldwide cult following for no reason.
One of the most innovative animes to come out in recent history because of its viewing style, this anime is about a boy named Kyon entering high school and meeting a girl named Haruhi who is only interested in aliens, espers and time travelers and it isn’t long before he’s drawn into her club at school along with three other people.
This is where things get interesting because the first episode on this volume is actually from the middle of the series in which the characters are all together working on the movie for the SOS Brigade.
The first real episode of the series though is the second episode on the volume. In this episode (episode 01), we meet Kyon for the first time and are taken to the point where he first meets Haruhi Suzumiya in class. He’s warned right away that she’s very odd and has quirks that go way beyond normal but he just can’t help notice things about her. After awhile though, Kyon becomes the first person to ever strike up a real conversation with Haruhi and before long, she strong arms him into helping her create her own after school club which is formed after practically stealing a room from another club and kidnapping a few members from around the school and a name is chosen: Spreading Excitement All Over The World With Haruhi Suzumiya’s Bridade, or SOS Brigade for short.
In episode 02, Haruhi has decided that the SOS Brigade needs stuff so after blackmailing the computer club into giving her a computer and internet connection, she dresses herself and Mikuru in sexy bunny outfits to recruit more members. Meanwhile, the other member of the SOS Brigade, Yuki, has pulled Kyon aside to tell him that she is an alien.
In the final episode of the volume, Yuki lays it all out for Kyon. She explains what Haruhi is, what she is capable of and what his role in her life is now that the two have come together. Naturally most of it is hard to believe but he grants her the benefit of the doubt for now. Back to the SOS Brigade though as Haruhi finally gets her wish and a “mysterious” new student has entered the school named Itsuki Koizumi and in absolutely no time, she has gotten him to join the club.
After the fifth member is added, the club is made official and the goal is made clear: find aliens, espers or future men and play with them. I’m guessing that Haruhi meant that in an innocent manner… though with how much she has roughed up Mikuru within this volume, it’s hard to say. The club meets up over the weekend and decides to go on a city search for phenomena. Haruhi, Itsuki and Yuki exploring the east side while Kyon and Mikuru explore the west. While on their walk though, she reveals that she is from the future and once again, Kyon learns that he has a role to play. And then the next day at school, its Itsuki’s turn to reveal that he is an esper and he lays out his theory for what has happened.
The Good And The Bad
Naturally the first thing that someone has to mention here is the “first” episode, episode 00 which is the student film. A lot of other critics have said that if you know nothing about the anime, starting with this episode is a chore and the audience will get bored but I watched it first knowing almost nothing about the anime that I didn’t learn from its incredible build up and laughed myself silly throughout the entire episode.
From the stupid plot that made absolutely no sense, the narrator having no idea what was going on half the time, the purposely terrible writing and acting and the terrible camera work and editing, I just laughed myself silly because of how bad it was. I suppose that since I had no idea who any of these characters were, I was able to just view it as a stand alone feature and laugh at how bad it was as opposed to knowing who the characters were and laughing at them being stupid in a film that they made. As long as you go into it with that first attitude, you should be able to laugh along with it.
I wasn’t able to keep up with the opening animation too much as a lot of it just went by so quickly but the closing animation was quite fun to watch with the SOS Brigade dance sequence which always fun to watch. Normally I will watch the opening and closing animation sequences once so that I can get a feel for what they are like and listen to the theme songs but with this series, I just couldn’t make myself skip over the closing animation because I enjoyed the dance sequence so much and I just wanted to see it again and again. I wouldn’t be shocked if by the time I’m done with this series I’ve already learned how to do the dance and get up to do it along with the characters every time an episode ends.
The animation is really quite good and the character design is really wonderful. In particular I absolutely adored the designs of Haruhi and Mikuru. They were just so well designed and wonderful to look at throughout the entire volume. The animation in this volume is also just plain incredible with its vibrant colors and gorgeous use of smooth flowing animation with obvious CG animation being used in select scenes.
The story thus far has given me headache with trying to follow it. Admittedly, the story isn’t the most complicated that I’ve ever had to try to follow but after a long week it’s definitely one that I’m starting to worry I’m gonna have to take notes with future volumes.
The one thing that I’m really curious about though is that on this volume, the episodes are shown in chronological order. When the series was originally aired on Japanese TV, the creators went with a very innovative method of airing it by airing episodes out of order on purpose which is possibly where the start of this animes huge fan base and cult following all around the world started. Fans say that while you can either watch the series in the order that it was originally aired on television or watch it in chronological order and get the same fun viewing experience, it does make me wonder what the series would be like if viewed in the television airing order instead. It would’ve been great to see volumes released that showed the series in air order as well but though I heard something about that happening, I can’t find anything about it now.
The music in this series tends to be very good though it some places it seems to go along with the over all theme of this series and becomes over the top making scenes seem much more dramatic than they really are or even really need to be. I did particularly enjoy the opening and closing themes of the series though and with over a dozen soundtracks released for this series, I’m certain that I’m going to find lots of more music that I enjoy.
Dub vs. Sub
For a cast of characters this insane, you’re gonna need some very talented and equally insane voice actors… luckily Crispin Freeman, Michelle Ruff, Wendee Lee and Stephanie Sheh picked up their phones to answer the call to this series. Crispin Freeman does a great job as Kyon, Wendee Lee does a great job as the spastic Haruhi, Stephanie Sheh is hilarious as Mikuru Asahina and Michelle Ruff does nicely as the quiet, deadpan Yuki Nagato. As an added bonus to me though, even though it’s a small role I love seeing Bridget Hoffman in the cast list as Ryoko Asakura.
I really didn’t hear anything from the sub cast which turned me away from the series though I did find that there are many times throughout this volume that not only will a character be talking but while they are talking, Kyon will start in with his inner monologue which causes even more text on the screen to appear and you’re scrambling for your pause button to keep up with it all. This problem was even worse during the third episode when Yuki was explaining everything about her side of things to Kyon and there was text everywhere. That scene alone made my head hurt with trying to keep up with everything.
There are obviously pros and cons to both tracks, I think that the plot is a little easier to understand when you’re reading it during sub mode but with all the text, it really makes you want to switch back to the dub track to give you mind a break.
The volume seems like it’s packed with extras until you realize that the reason why it seems that way is because normally these extras are strung together on one track but on this volume all of them are separated into separate tracks that you watch individually. Take that into consideration and the extras menu shrinks considerably.
There are a few extras worth noting though including a number of clean animations, individual original episode previews and original trailers from Japan for the series. Also included on the volume are behind the scenes clips of the making of this series as well as some adventures of the ASOS Brigade which is certainly something that is going to please a large percentage of the male audience.
I’ve been hearing about this series for months now but I’ve kept myself in the dark as much as possible with it simply because I wanted to be able to make my own opinion about this series and not be swayed by hype that I had heard from other fans who had followed it since its birth in 2006 or other reviewers who were going to tell me their opinion of it and have that accidently shape my own.
After watching this first volume though, I’m starting to wish that I had let other fans and reviewers talk to me about this series so that I would’ve had an idea of what I was getting myself into. The series is not terribly confusing but the pacing is non stop from start to finish and there are lots of little things that are going to make you pay attention or in my case just kind of say ‘interesting’ and then move on.
With all the hype behind it, I’m not willing to commit to a decision on if it has lived up to it yet. I will say that I am intrigued by the characters and the ideas that it has thrown out thus far. The designs are cute (I’ll admit it, I’m quickly becoming a Fanboy for both Haruhi and Mikuru) and the story is enough to make me want to learn more about what is coming down the line. I’m going to recommend this series if for no other reason than I think that this is officially one of those series that every fan is going to have to see at least once.
Final Grade: 87% – B