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Anime Round Up September 2012

Sengoku Basara

Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
Director: Kazuya Murata
Studio: BONES
Released by Manga Entertainment 3 September 2012 on DVD & BR

Manga Entertainment releasing the two Fullmetal Alchemist movies together? Seems a logical thing to do, until you realize these are films separated by seven years and an entire series between them. Marketing aside, does this non-sequel bring something new to the table or just alchemically transmute the table into something else and hope you’ll recognize it?

Set during the Brotherhood series, the Elric brothers’ search for the legendary philosopher’s stone to restore their afflicted bodies finds them following an escaped alchemist convict to Table City. This twice stolen piece of land sits on the border between Amestris and Creta, where revolution sits on everyone’s tongues and a bunch of Batman rejects cause mayhem daily. The boys are lead to Julia Crichton, an orphan who’s deceased alchemically expert parents and their research may lead to the salvation of her people, or to those willing to put the ‘deadly’ into ‘deadly weapon’.

First thing to get out the way is the baffling shift in animation style. Unrecognizable from either series, it feels so flat and bereft of detail that it borders between a stylistic choice and budget decision. Another major flaw is the use of established Fullmetal favourites like Armstrong and Mustang; the former stars in one purposeless scene, and the other in a handful in which he serves no purpose. What this suggests is that writer Yuichi Shinbo had a great story to tell, but was forced to shoe-horn established FMA iconography unfortunately in the form of beloved characters.

The story itself is fairly intricate once it gets going. After a bit of clunky exposition explaining why the brothers are so far south west and the history of Table City, the action climbs up with a plethora of twists on twists and emotional revelations. But just like before there really doesn’t seem to be a real reason to involve Ed and Alphonse at all, and even ideas (such as, without spoiling much, swallowing the ‘deadly weapon’) seem ignorant of the series’ mythology.

Clap your hands if you know what clapping hands in Fullmetal Alchemist does! If you didn’t clap (or perhaps even just clapped awkwardly) then despite Star of Milos being a standalone film in the franchise you’re either going to find yourself left out or bored. Fans meanwhile may find themselves enthralled by the time they reach the credits, even if it felt like their heroes were strung along for the ride. (2.5 out of 5 Stars)

Words > Graham Ashton

Full Metal Alchemist: Conquerer of Shamballa
Director: Kazuya Murata
Studio: BONES
Released by Manga Entertainment 3 September 2012 on DVD & BR

In the canon of Fullmetal Alchemist, the ultimate taboo is attempting to use alchemic arts to resurrect someone from the dead. Well now we get to see a microcosm of this as Manga Entertainment brings back the original Fullmetal Alchemist movie: Conquerer of Shamballa from 2005 as part of its double re-release with Sacred Star of Milos. With an entire remake series filling in the seven year gap, does this original ‘made up’ ending still materialize into something watchable?

Set two years after the original series left main character Edward Elric stranded in 1920’s Germany and his newly restored younger brother Alfonse suffering from amnesia, the two’s search for each other becomes intertwined in a plot to open the gate between the two worlds by a politically weak Nazi party, in order to gain weapons to kick start their doomed global conquest.

Unless you’ve got a friend who can describe the plot without squealing Roy Mustang’s name, newcomers to Fullmetal Alchemist are going to be beyond lost here. However, with no shortage of anime movies that sacrifice real drama to be standalone from their source series, it’s still a relief to see an actual continuation to a story rather than something pointless. Whilst not every fan was satisfied with the conclusion upon its initial release, or the minimized role major character’s got dealt, it’s still true to Fullmetal Alchemist in every way possible.

The historical context also gives it a profound edge; many characters from Fritz Lang to Rudolf Hess were indeed real people, and the way the brother’s story arc is encompassed in the Third Reich without screwing up recorded accuracy is commendable. There is a lot that doesn’t make sense in terms of how these inter-dimensional gates work, but the spectacular action sequences fuelled by deep rooted drama should help distract you from this.

Purist fanboys may further decry this film’s disregard to Hiromu Arakawa’s original manga, but in terms of what Fullmetal Alchemist should feel like, this hits it home. It’s totally unwelcome to newcomers, and it prefers to tease rather than satisfy diehards, but with top yen animation and voice work the laws of equivalent exchange have created the best anime spin-off you’ll ever hope to find. (4 out of 5)

Words > Graham Ashton

Princess Jellyfish: Deluxe Collector’s Edition
Director: Takahiro Omori
Released by Manga Entertainment 3 September 2012 on DVD

When Tsukimi Kurashita’s mother saw her daughter staring at a tank of jellyfish with an enamoured wonder, she promised that when she grew up into a beautiful princess she’d make her a wedding dress modelled just like them. What Tsukimi’s mother didn’t realize was that if your daughter goes through life with an obsession in aquamarine sea life she’s not going to become a ‘princess’, but instead a sweaty nerd.

Worse than that, Tsukimi now lives in an apartment block with four other otaku devotees, each obsessed with trains, Records of the Three Kingdoms, traditional Japanese kimonos and old men, respectively. If that wasn’t enough, this all female version of The Gorillaz are layabouts living off allowances from their parents, and all are virgins – hence their clever name: The Sisterhood.

The big shake up occurs when Sukimi is saved from social suicide by a ‘stylie’ girl, who turns out to be the cross-dressing illegitimate son of a politician. As this gorgeous male specimen infiltrates the nunnery, Sukimi must not only protect his sexual identity from being discovered, but also must deal with the constant intimacy of both him and his no-nonsense brother and a looming threat to demolish the only place she can call home.

Unlike Clannad or any other romance anime reviewed here, Princess Jellyfish is unabashedly for the females, yet there is plenty for either gender to laugh or get misty at. Whilst the characters may seem archetypal, the main cast particularly possess underlying psychological reasons for their behaviour and habits, making them feel round, grounded and real. The several plot strands balance the line between pathos and wacky antics, keeping you gripped for the story to develop but profoundly entertained throughout.

This is another killer Funimation dub too. Maxey Whitehead, who voiced Alfonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (seriously) is terrific as Tsukimi, filling the role with genuine emotion and truly excelling when she goes otaku crazy. It was no doubt difficult to make the man-girl sound man-girlish, and to make the loud Mayaya not annoying, but they succeeded on all counts.

Princess Jellyfish stands as the quintessential josei comedy series for Western viewers. It’s never uncomfortable to watch, it’s easy for any growing gal to relate to and most of all its addicting as all hell. The last episode tries to squeeze a bit too much into a rushed finale, but other than that it’s well worth squeezing some cash out for.  (4 out of 5 stars)

Words > Graham Ashton

Princess Resurrection Complete Series Collection
Director: Masayuki Sakoi
Studio: Madhouse
Released by Manga Entertainment 10 September 2012 on DVD

Schoolboy Hiro Hiyorimi has lived apart from his older sister Sawawa ever since their parents died, until Sawawa gets a job as a maid/house keeper and can have Hiro live with her at the mansion of her new employer.

As Hiro heads in to town he spots a blonde haired gothic looking girl about to be crushed by falling support beams from a near by construction site and is killed. If anime has taught us nothing else it’s that all gothic looking women are witches, vampires or something else supernatural and this one is no exception, Hiro is resurrected by the girl’s flame of life power, the catch being that he is now for all intents and purposes a member of her demonic entourage security team. Everything is wrapped up nicely however when it turns out that Hime (the gothic looking girl) is actually the new employer that Hiro’s sister has gone to work for, as well as a member of the royal family in a battle for the throne.

Surprisingly though Princes resurrection does not have the presentation quality usually connected to stylish gothic style shows, the background artwork is unremarkable and the animation standard is less than that, with some fight scenes (that would usually be a highlight in a show that has werewolves fighting a Goth girl with a chainsaw) being reduced to merely static images connected by a very small amount of animation almost like the old American Marvel superhero cartoons.

Thankfully the audio is of a better quality particularly the music, managing to be both up tempo for the shows opening and more erie when required. The newly added English voice dub (previously Princess Resurrection had been released in some English speaking countries as subtitled only) is performed well by the cast with no one sounding out of character when compared to the original Japanese language track. (2 out of 5 stars)

Words > Jason Potter

Naruto Shippuden box set 10
Director: Hayato Date
Released by Manga Entertainment on 10 September 2012 on DVD

The mighty, unstoppable anime ninja juggernaut known as Naruto steams on with its tenth box set of its second incarnation: Naruto Shippuden.

Three years prior, Sasuke Uchiha turned against his fellow team 7 team mate Naruto in his search for greater power, joining forces with the evil Orochimaru. But Orochimaru, had other plans for his new apprentice in the form of a juitsu that would transfer himself into Sasuke’s younger and healthier body. When Sasuke catches onto his plot a battle ensues with Sasuke coming out the victor, absorbing Orochimaru and becoming far more powerful in the process, hell bent on revenge against his older sibling Itachi.While Sasuke forms his own team of ninja to exact his revenge, Naruto and the other residents of the hidden leaf village continue their search for him and both sides clash with the fearsome Akatsuki.

This particular box set is a bit of a mixed bag with some really disappointing battles that had been building for a while fizzling out with little fanfare and some parts of the story paced badly. Luckily this is balanced out by some better episodes later in, with Kakashi in particular stealing the show.

By this point in time you’ll be firmly in one camp or another regarding Naruto, so non fans steer clear, while fans should lap it up. (3 out of 5 stars)

Words > Jason Potter

Sengoku Basara Samurai Kings Complete Season 2
Director: Kazuya Nomura
Studio: Production I.G
Released by Manga Entertainment 17 September 2012 on DVD (complete season 1 & 2 also available 17 September 2012)

Based on video game Company Capcom’s huge-at-home-but-small-abroad video game series Sengoku Basara comes the second season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings 2. Gaming fans may recognize it from the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii title Sengoku Basara Samurai kings or even further back at the series international debut on Playstation 2 as Devil Kings.

The show is loosely based on the real life time period and conflicts of the Sengoku era of Japanese history, featuring real historical Samurai warlords such as Nobunaga Oda and Yukimura Sanada, all played out in a stylish anime fashion. To give you a measure of it’s popularity in Japan it was even licensed to McDonalds – a British equivalent to those unfamiliar with Japanese history would roughly be something like King Henry the eighth trying to sell you a big Mac with fries and a large coke.

Following on from the events of the first season, Japan’s various warlords and their armies are on the move; Masamune Date, Shingen Takeada, and Kenshin’s Usagi find themselves embroiled in a three way battle after the defeat of the Demon King Nobunaga Oda, when Hideyoshi Toyotomi joins the fray in an attempt to unify Japan under his rule.

Through the course of the show allegiances are formed allies are betrayed and some very fine fight scenes play out in beautifully animated battles in an over the top nature that suits the character design. Needless to say when a guy is wielding six swords you known it’s about to get exciting.

The large cast of characters is undoubtedly a considerable part of the appeal of the show (and indeed the actual history). Seeing all the various conflicts play out in super heroic fashion that the anime medium brings is awesome, but at times it could serve as a double edged sword to fans unfamiliar with the game or perhaps the history itself, who may feel a bit bewildered at times as an anime show is never going to have the time in a 25 to 30 minute episode to fully explain the various conflicts and motivations of all the warriors.

Even with this minor fault Sengoku Basara can still be fully recommended to anime actions fans (though you may want to opt for the complete season box set also available) the pace is lively and the story telling has matured as it’s progressed, the road from video game to anime is never easy (though it fairs better than the movie industry) Sengoku Basara however is a complete success. (4 out of 5 stars)

Words > Jason Potter

Fairy Tail Part 4
Director: Shinji Ishihira
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Released by Manga Entertainment 17 September 2012 on DVD

All across the Fiore kingdom, wizards join guilds and make their living by filling magical request, but one guild stands above all as the roughest, rowdiest, most dangerous of all: Fairy Tail. We can now continue following their adventures with the forth box set spanning episodes 37 to 48 over two action packed discs.

Fairy tail 4 is as exciting as ever – the evil wizard Jellal has just completed building his Tower of Heaven, a structure designed to summon a demon of unimaginable power. The Fairy Tail guild’s wizards set out to stop this plan with Jellal’s childhood friend Erza leading the charge, meanwhile there’s trouble from within as the powerful lighting wizard Laxus decides that the guild has become complacent and weak, and turns on his own grandfather Makarov (who as it happens is also the guild leader), turning guild member against guild member with Natsu caught in the middle.

As with previous volumes Fairy tail continues to go from strength to strength, chief amongst which continues to be it’s storytelling, humour and superb supporting cast. All members of the Fairy Tail guild are given a chance to shine and moments that develop their characterisation, making them more rounded and likeable.

Fairy Tail has really found it’s rhythm and continues to deliver with each new volume. A must for fans. (4 out of 5)

Words > Jason Potter

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