Strike Witches Complete Season 2
Director: Kazuhiro Takamura
Available from Manga Entertainment 24th September, 2012 on DVD
The mysterious aliens known as the Neuroi are back in the Gallian theater and are causing mayhem in the cities of the continent. In order to save the region and the world from this menace, aerial combat specialists known as witches are put back into commission. Even the aged Striker captain Mio Sakamoto plans to return to the battlefront despite her fading magical abilities. Compelled by the distress of her friends and of humanity, Yoshika Miyafuji returns to the front lines to put an end to the long war between Neuroi and mankind.
It’s an odd world that Strike witches inhabits, where a war with an alien force is fought primarily by teenage girls in their undies with jet booster legs using magic. The underwear situation isn’t just a war fatigue or military uniform of some kind, in fact every woman in the world seems to have sworn off any lower garments except underwear. It’s a strange and little off putting concept but if you can overcome the initial hurdle Strike witches is worth a watch.
It’s almost a shame how Strike witches feels the need to cram as many crotch shots in as possible as the show stands up quite well without them, the battles are spectacular and are beautifully animated (again when not zooming in on crotches) the characters are well developed with good interactions between all the cast, helped in the English dub by improved voice acting over the first season.
Fans of the first season will obviously want to pick this one up, new fans should consider trying the first season, Strike Witches can also be recommended to fans of alternative histories as the whole show is based loosely on World War 2, or if you just want to see some good old fashioned fan service in a similar vein to Najica Blitz Tactics. (3 out of 5 stars)
Words > Jason Potter
Dragonball Z Season 1
Director: Daisuke Nishio
Studio: Toei Animation
Released by Manga Entertainment 1st October, 2012 on DVD
Waiting for Dragonball Z is like waiting for a bus it seems; you wait ages for them and they all come at once. So, after years of waiting, this year it finally arrived on our shores and after only four months we are already on our third box set spanning a generous six disk covering the Frieza Saga.
The ever escalating battle to decide the fate of the universe kicks up a notch on the distant Planet Namek, the seven magic Dragon Balls have been brought together summoning the dragon Porunga, Goku and his friends (known colloquially as The Z-fighters) are all that stand between the series iconic big bad evil Frieza and his wish for immortality. Having survived their encounters with his minions, Goku and his friends are now left to contend with the ruthless Frieza himself .
And thus begins a trend that will forever continue throughout anime till the end of time: The Super Saiyan. This is a moment in anime history that flipped anime fans and makers’ minds and has formed the basis of countless anime and video games ever since. If you’re not familiar you’ll recognise a similar scenario or situation; Goku struggling against Frieza and overcome with rage from the death of his friend taps into a legendary hidden power transforming into a Super Saiyan (a scene, as I said, that is replayed in some fashion through countless shows such as Naruto’s many fox forms, Ichigo’s hollow form).
It’s hard to point a finger of criticism at Dragonball Z for being cliched however, because at the time it was made such clichés didn’t exist yet, as in many ways it was the originator (or at least the one that brought it to main stream attention) of the modern action anime show. Dragonball Z is shonen anime at it’s finest a must have for fans new and old alike. (5 out of 5 stars)
Words > Jason Potter
Released 8th of October by Manga Entertainment
Since Highschool of the Dead took the Western zombie genre and added panty shots and sailor outfits, these East meets West horror crossovers are starting to pile up like victims in a slasher film. Though vampire lore is rampant in many series, Studio Bones (Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka Seven) have now brought it to the new incomparable Japanese rural countryside with the adaptation of light novel series Shiki. Though it’s a little inconsistent in its delivery, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel no mortal should fear.
Noted for its tradition of burying the dead (a mostly Western phenomenon in Japan), the isolated village of Sotoba proves to be too inadequate for the fashion oriented lifestyle of Megumi Shimizu. After begging for change, it arrives in the form of a new gothic castle and its mysterious inhabitants. Oh and then she dies. But Megumi isn’t alone in death as residents, old and young, fall by the way side, leading to fears of an epidemic. As other villagers inexplicably disappear and sightings of the deceased are noted, it seems the new neighbours may have graver ambitions that go beyond the scenic beauty of their new surroundings.
Though it occasionally tracks side characters, Shiki mainly follows three protagonists; the rational 15 year old Natsuno Yuuki, the dean of the local hospital Toshio Ozaki and junior monk and part time novelist Seishin Muroi. It’s a unique vampire story in that it focuses almost entirely on the victim’s perspective and the way they deal with the death and resurrection of their loved ones. We see Natsuno deal with the grievances he caused his friends when they stalked him (in and out of the grave…), Toshio’s frustrations as a doctor who can’t heal his patients and Seishin’s attempt to relate this all to his faith.
Things move very slowly with the story, and while that can be frustrating it allows us to become familiar with the setting and a cast so vast on-screen text is called upon to name them all. As a horror it’s quite strong starting off, but as the vampires take to the stage it devolves into silliness and occasionally it’s just a bit Twilight-esque. Just a bit.
This is one of the most evenly matched language tracks you’ll come across. Both English and Japanese handle the cheesier aspects well and even the annoying characters don’t out way those more deadpan. Fans of former Malice Mizer frontman and Japan super celeb Gackt will delight in hearing his first regular anime role, though I won’t tell you who he voices (trust me it’s not hard to guess).
Shiki has a lot of potential for its second instalment, and is at its core engaging and oddly lively. It seems to move at the lifespan of one its undead villains, but if the drama won’t grab your attention then some of the wildest hair styles ever seen in anime surely will. (3.5 out of 5 stars)
Words > Graham Ashton
Puella Magi Madoku Magica
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo/Writer: Gen Urobuchi
Released 29 October by Manga Entertainment
Credited as one of the genres that helped popularize anime with its now growing and growing up Western audience, Magical Girl series continue to multiply by the bucket load. Very rarely though do they seek attraction beyond their targeted audience of young girls and…figurine enthusiasts. All this makes the trap door experience of watching Puella Magi Madoku Magica more likely to floor you with its sublime storytelling and harrowing allegories on the nature of nature.
The day after she dreams of taking on magical powers to save a girl, 14-year old Madoka Kaname aids her schoolmate Mami Tomoe in saving an alien creature from the figure in her prophetic vision: Homura Akemi. Madoka and her best friend Sayaka Miki are then invited to join Mami as magical girls; super-powered heroines contracted by the mysterious life form, named Kyubey, to hunt down grotesque witches in a separate dimension. As payment for this duty Kyubey will grant any wish they desire, but as the purpose of their powers and Homura’s own status as a magical girl are revealed it turns out that whilst the contract isn’t too good to be true, it is far too tragic.
If you want a review quote, ‘Sailor Moon on crack’ should suffice, but this accounts only for the animation. Without exaggerating, there are things going on here that have not been done before. When entering the witch’s domain, the labyrinth, traditional anime styles are transposed with that resembling Monty Python crossed with Richard Williams to create something truly eye-mazing. Paired riveting fight scenes in every episode, live-action epics are matched in both scale and scope.
Writer Gen Urobuchi also deconstructs the genre in every way possible, whereby the fantastical and much marketed aspects of being Japanese super heroines (from the cute familiar to the brooding anti-hero) collapse into little more than a façade. It takes the gutsy approach not only with a main character that isn’t necessarily the focal point, but with a tentative status quo and an attempt to relate everything from Japan’s high suicide rate to historical femmes into its cycle of rebirth and destruction.
Indeed not since Evangelion has an anime had such strong symbolism within its cels. The undercurrent theme of entropy slowly anchors its way into the root of the plot itself, as well as the way the series dissolves from fantasy into cold science fiction, evidenced by a futuristic setting that’s barely fussed over. The scene in which Madoku’s mother and teacher drink in front of The Creation of Adam will hopefully speak volumes in religious/feminist analyses of the episodes, should they sustain.
Puella Magi Madoku Magica is a piece of animation/storytelling/allegorical/philosophical/technological art in every sense of the word. Aside from a lacklustre English dub there is no reason to skip out on this future classic of the industry. (5 out of 5 stars)
Words > Graham Ashton