Bleach Season 12 Parts 1 & 2
Studio: TV Tokyo, Dentsu & Studio Pierrot
Released on DVD 23December 2013 by Manga Entertainment
Although currently blade deep in a heavy battle between Soul Reapers and Arrancar, Bleach’s 12th season has put that story aside for yet another filler arc, the third thus far. Because the anime cannot continue without overtaking its original ongoing manga, these sagas are completely standalone and original to the show; a writing cop-out with plenty of cons which have received fair criticism on Rhythm Circus. Aside from taking us away from our main plot, the previous filler arc was by and large poorly written and uninteresting, and whilst most of season 12 and its Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale arc is a vast improvement with a good set up and interesting ideas, it’s flaws are still subject to the same broken tools.
In the Soul Society, a mysterious man appears before the Soul Reaper captains and lieutenants, telling them he has kidnapped the head captain. When the warrior spirits try to attack, they find their transforming swords the Zanpakuto are completely useless. Worse, each one has been brought to life as a fully thinking entity, ready to wage war against their former masters. Even Ichigo, the only one left with a working weapon, is soon forced to rely on his unique Hollow powers, much to interest of the Soul Reaper’s mysterious adversary.
By premise alone, this storyline is a decent watch. The stakes are immediately racked up, and the episodes are nicely paced and interjected with the interesting ethical question of whether the Soul Reapers are exploiting the zanpakuto’s power, without regard to the soul within. The fact that each sword gets a humanised counterpart leaves many opportunities for original characters, with a particular highlight being Ichigo’s Zangetsu: a one armed, sunglasses wearing badass voiced by Richard Epcar.
Sadly, a noticeable slow down doesn’t take long to encroach. That initial spark of urgency and real danger for our heroes feels tapered by the enemy attacking only in limited bursts, and, as per usual with filler arcs, it’s hard to get too invested knowing no established characters are at risk of being killed. Unlike previous filler arcs, this one actually sets up a new set of villains for its third instalment. We’ll let you know next time if things pick up as we drawn nearer the end of this surrogate sword. >GA
Dragonball GT Season 1
Director: Minoru Ozaki
Studio: Toei Animation
With the mighty Dragonball Z finally arriving on our shores last year, fans may have been wondering if the Dragonball universe would continue in the UK. Well, that question has been answered with the arrival of Dragonball GT Season 1: a massive five disc collection.
For those who may not know, Dragonball GT is the series which followed on from the genre-defining Dragonball Z. Series creator Akira Toriyama had exited the scene after DBZ, not wanting to continue the series, (he had previously been planning on calling it a day) but understandably Toei were not keen to drop Dragonball whilst it was still a massive success, and so GT was born – the first Dragonball series to not come from Akira Toriyama, or indeed a manga series.
Our heroes are a little older now, and have settled in to mundane family lives in the times of recent peace. B original Dragonball villain emperor Pilaf puts an end to the harmony by attempting to steal the Dragonballs before Goku stops him. Frustrated by his repeated interference, Pilafs desire for Goku to become a child again so he could beat him, becomes a reality. The Dragon takes this as an official wish, and Goku is reverted back to his childhood form.
From a design point of view, the animation and artistic style aren’t as high quality as previous projects, and the action has been scaled back somewhat to a more original Dragonball trpe of adventure. The writing, whilst more varied, is not as refined, but having said that, it’s still unmistakably Dragonbal,l and fans are sure to like it even if it isn’t quite the series is forbearer was. > JP
Eureka Seven AO
Director: Tomoki Kyoda
Released on DVD and Bluray from Manga Entertainment out now.
The original Eureka Seven is an animé classic, so fans around the world will be keen to finally tuck into this sequel….
The year is 2025. Earth is caught in the crossfire between massive warring alien life forms which leave the earth in a state of near annihilation. During this, a young boy named Ao is searching for clues about his past when he is caught in an attack, and in order to save himself, he is forced to fly a giant humanoid fighter craft. Ao is now faced with finding out how this machine of war is connected to his mother and the monster that now pursues him because of it.
Eureka Seven is somewhat of a visual treat – the colours are bright and vivid, and the designs of the mechs themselves are varied and unique.
Sadly as a whole AO fails to capture the spirit or feel of the original: the original Eureka Seven told a well-planned story with characters whom you grew to love more and more as the series progressed. AO cannot claim the same.
It’s off to a rough start for Eureka Seven AO, and although it’s just about watchable for newcomers, the poorly planned narrative means it might be one for die hard fans only. >JP
Guilty Crown Part 1
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Studio: Production IG
Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment
Politics, anarchy and high school drama; anime can pretty easily juggle all these and more. The key is making sure your series adds a new trick to the performance, and doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors. Guilty Crown isn’t terrific at hiding its attempt to appeal to the same science-fiction/mecha fans won over by, say, Code Geass, but if after something in the high end production scale Guilty Crown certainly lives up to its namesake.
When high school student Shu Ouma is embroiled in a terrorist plot to overthrow the fascistic anti-disease organization GHQ, his gateway into the madness is an undercover popular singer named Inori Yuzuhira. She carries a genetic weapon that makes him an invaluable asset to the rebels, particularly as the threat of a deadly virus outbreak – the same one that ravaged Tokyo prior to the story – lauds over Shu and his friends.
Guilty Crown’s clichés are an open secret amongst its critics, and its easy to see why. Whilst the focus on disease control is a little intriguing, the story of an ordinary boy getting superpowers from a love interest amongst a host of rogue smugglers is but a little of the frivolous borrowing going on. There’s maudlin high school antics to fan service throughout, but these aren’t always sufficient to atone for uninteresting and all too familiar characters. The early tendency for single episodes reminiscent of GitS: Stand Alone Complex is interesting though, as is the attempt to re-establish the status quo at the end of this half of the series.
As a work of animation though, it’s hard to recommend this series more highly though. Individual shots, from the Sauron like searchlight of the Tokyo tower to the slow moving scene of Shu rising like an angel to catch Inori feel like they should be framed for your wall. Even if, for example, one ruthless killing scene doesn’t feel as emotionally tightening as it wants to be, the art direction, and character/costume design by Redjuice, work to its advantage. The soundtrack is interesting, mixing Engrish popsongs with tribal beats, helping action scenes that are remarkably well thought out and captivating to a superficial level. Both language tracks are on the polished side, though the English is abound with groan-worthy one-liners. >GA
Naruto Shippuden Box set 15
Director: Hayato Date
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Out now on DVD from Manga Entertainment.
After the massive build up and finale of the evil Pain’s attack, the Leaf Ninja are faced with their next challenge: that of rebuilding their village.
Regular characters Naruto and Sakura are reunited with Tazuna and his grandson Inari from the Land of Waves – who have arrived to help out with the rebuilding effort. Whilst the restoration proceeds, the Leaf Ninja and their friends take the time to reflect on previous events which influenced the village throughout it’s history.
As mentioned, these episodes are set after a massive conflict, so the series has dropped the usual pace and gone for a lighter feel, which isn’t appreciated initially, but when looking back over the series in years to come, will probably help the necessary overall pacing of the show.
As always, not much of a recommendation can be made for Naruto outside of the basics. But if you’ve been dedicated up to now, a few filler episodes are not going to stop you, and if you’re a newcomer you will definately want the first season of Naruto.> JP
Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing Part 1
Director: Koichi Chigira
Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment.
Still continuing to soar as it finds new audiences, the 2003 series Last Exile remains idolized as an ideal anime of steampunk and fantasy – Rhythmcircus included. The three year old spin-off/sequel series, Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing, doesn’t tend to get as much press, and there may be pressing reasons for this. Aesthetically it’s as much a spiritual successor as one could hope for, but in trying to reach the same depths it’s clearly not running on the same quality fuel.
Set some 200 years after Claus and Lavi lead the people of Prester to a new world, we pick up with a new duo of sky-pirate protagonists: the lively and always loud Fam Fan Fan, and her navigator Giselle Collette. Though joined by Dio from the original series, theirs is a new story revolving around the unstoppable armies of the Ares Federation. When this typically tyrannical empire conquer an ancient regal Kingdom called Turan, Fam and Giselle join with the disposed princess Millia to reclaim her kingdom.
Despite taking place in the air just as much as it’s predecessor, Fam, The Silver Wing doesn’t carry nearly the same reverence for aviation and the skies. The revered art of flying is given as much technical grace as Star Wars does for spaceflight, allowing for the very poorly paced plot to jump from action set piece to the next. Scores of large airships ships do battle almost every episode, but right from the opening seconds they never pay much lipservice as to why we should be concerned. Our near-all-female heroic cast is squandered meanwhile with flatly written dialogue, mostly consisting of exposition. A segment in which Fam herself flashes back to when she was a baby is perhaps conclusive evidence of the rather lazy storytelling.
If you’re after a parachute, the ship and building designs have much of the Industrial Revolution inspiration still buried in them, but with the occasional modern updates that look great. The 3D computer animation is remarkably improved and even more seamlessly integrated, though most on-land segments look pretty bland. Audio-wise the score is serviceable, but the dub is horrendous; after so long, the excuses for such un-convincing and un-convicted English accents must be pretty thin.
Occasionally the animation and political intrigue in Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing rises to a point that allows its huge shortcomings to get some cover under the clouds, but never for long. It’s a disappointing follow up at its best, and a lousy series overall.> GA
Sword Art Online Part 1
Director: Tomohiko Ito
Released on DVD and Bluray from Manga Entertainment out now
The year 2022 sees the launch of next-generation game Sword Art Online (SAO) dubbed the world’s first true VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). Using an ultra-realistic virtual reality helmet known as ‘Nerve Gear’, a player enters the world of SAO, and is able to make ‘Full Dives’ into a virtual dimension possible. SAO has generated worldwide buzz (presumably irritating the daily mail at some point), and on its official launch day, one player, Kirito, immerses himself in its virtual world. But Akihiko Kayaba, the developer of SAO, states the following chilling message to all players. “This game is inescapable unless all levels are cleared. And in this world, ‘Game Over’ is equivalent to death in the real world.”… and you thought day one dlc was bad.
On a technical level, the show has impressive character design, and is distinctive and fluid, however the storytelling – particularly in pacing is not what it could be, which is a shame, as the show feels like it could have amounted to more. But it’s still early days, and at very least the constant expansion on themes in the world means you are never bored.
So maybe it’s not an original story. Hack did it not so long ago, and the concept itself raises questions which the show can’t clearly answer, but Sword Art Online is still worth a watch, and will probably appeal more to gamers. >JP