Anime DVD Review: Naruto Shippuden Set 21

Originally written for WatchPlayRead.com

Naruto Shippuden Set 21 includes episodes 258-270 of the series on two DVDs. Audio options include the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Naruto Shippuden Set 21

Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: DVD
Release Date: January 20, 2015

Nauto Uzumaki, the star of the series, has gone through incredible growth since the beginning of the Naruto franchise. At this point, he’s gone from being the boy with the Nine-Tailed Fox demon sealed inside him who was shunned by his village to a young man who became a hero after saving his village when it was attacked by Pain from the Akatsuki. Naruto is currently hidden away, training with Killer Bee in order to learn how to control the Nine-Tailed Fox’s chakra, while the rest of the ninja world is gearing up for the Fourth Great Ninja War.

But before we get to see what’s going on with Naruto’s training or the war, the viewer must first sit through three episodes of a four episode 10th anniversary special, which recaps roughly 90 episodes of the first Naruto series. It seems that the point of this special is to emphasize the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke, but it feels disconnected from the current story arc. Unfortunately, all this special does is to reuse footage from the original episodes and adds nothing new, which makes it feel pointless. Not only that, the flow of the narrative was choppy due to how awkwardly time skips were handled. For a 10th anniversary special, this was very disappointing. It felt more like a way to kill time to allow Masashi Kishimoto to get a little further ahead in the manga before continuing the canon storyline in the anime.

Luckily, the remaining 10 episodes in the set return the viewer to material that progresses the storyline. At first, it looks like the Allied Shinobi Forces are going to fall apart due to grudges that the various villages have against each other. But Gaara delivers a powerful speech and brings the forces together. As a viewer, I think I was just as moved by Gaara’s speech as the characters were.

As the forces mobilize toward the enemy, they discover that Kabuto has used a Reanimation Jutsu to bring many dead shinobi back from the dead and force them to fight for him. In addition, an army of White Zetsu is unleashed to support the Undead Army. As the Undead Army is deployed and encounters the Allied Shiboi Forces, the matchups cause reunions of former friends and former enemies to continue their battles from the past.

Of the reunions that we see in Naruto Shippuden Set 21, the most touching is when Sai comes face-to-face with Shin, his “brother” from The Foundation who had died. While we received backstory on Sai when he first introduced in the early episodes of Naruto Shippuden, this encounter with Shin allows the audience to see how different Sai was when he was younger and how he became the unemotional young man that we’ve seen up to this point. But the most important thing to come out of this reunion is Sai finally allowing himself to show his first real emotions since he was first introduced in the series.

In this set, Kankuro is able to have a rematch with Sasori, and Kakashi and Sakura get to see Zabuza and Haku again. I thought it was interesting to see that while Sasori was more than willing to fight Kankuro, Zabuza and Haku were only attacking their opponents because they had no control over their actions. We get to see flashbacks of Kakashi and Team 7 from the Land of Waves arc, but instead of simply reusing the original footage, a decision was made to reanimate the scenes. Personally I didn’t think the new animation worked very well, and I would have preferred to simply see the original footage.

Outside of the first three episodes, Naruto doesn’t appear much in Naruto Shippuden Set 21. He gets one episode that’s devoted to his training with Killer Bee, and there were occasional times where we might see him briefly before returning to the action taking place in the war. Hopefully we’ll see more of Naruto’s story mixed in with the war material in future episodes of the series.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, there were only three bonus features. First are “clean” versions of the opening and both of the endings that appeared on the episodes in this set.  There are three versions of the clean opening and endings: a version without any text, a version with English subtitles, and a version with Romaji subtitles. There are also English credits, along with trailers for other properties that VIZ Media was promoting at the time this set was released.

Unfortunately, the bonus features on Naruto Shippuden Set 21 are rather lacking when compared to previous Naruto Shippuden releases. Set 21 didn’t include any production art or storyboards, which had always been a feature previously. I don’t know if this is due to the Japanese rights holders not sending these materials to VIZ Media, or if the company chose not to include those features on this release.

Even with the three filler episodes and the relative lack of bonus features, Naruto Shippuden Set 21 is still a “must get” for Naruto fans who want to own the entire franchise in their anime home video collection. The canon material included on this release more than makes up for the filler, especially the backstories and the ninja from the series’ history that the audience has never seen before now.

Anime DVD Review: Bleach DVD Set 16

Bleach DVD Set 16 includes episodes 230-242 of the series on three DVDs. Audio options include the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Bleach DVD Set 16

English Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: DVD
Release Date: March 12, 2013

Set 16 starts into the arc referred to as Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale, which consists of anime exclusive material. Unfortunately, the canon storyline was stopped just as another battle between Ichigo and Ulquiorra begins in Hueco Mundo in order to include this filler arc that runs for 36 episodes.

This particular arc sees the zanpakuto, the Soul Reapers’ swords, assuming human form and declaring war against their wielders. They are led by a mysterious man named Muramasa, who is a former zanpakuto. Unfortunately, I have a hard time buying this particular story, especially when the Soul Reapers and the zanpakuto seem to not recognize each other. Early on in the series, when Ichigo met Zangetsu in his human form, it seemed like meeting the human form of the sword was a rather common thing for Soul Reapers to experience. If the Soul Reapers and the swords in their human form had met previously, how come they don’t recognize each other now? I’m willing to give a pass to Toshiro and his zanpakuto, though, since it was blatantly stated that when his sword became human, he had lost his memory. Ichigo and Zangetsu didn’t have this issue, which also seems to contradict what the other Soul Reapers were experiencing.

But with the zanpakuto taking on human form and going on a rampage in the Soul Society, chaos ensues. Genryusai is captured and sealed away, Byakuya disappears, and there’s quite a bit of damage. Rukia manages to escape to the World of the Living, where she finds Ichigo. After learning that Byakuya has disappeared, a wounded Rukia returns to the Soul Society. Ichigo goes after her, and finds himself embroiled in the war with the zanpakuto.

There are several battles that take place throughout these episodes where some of the Soul Reapers find themselves going up against their own zanpakuto. They discover that if a Soul Reaper can defeat their zanpakuto in battle, the sword will return to its master. At most, only two or three of the Soul Reapers manage to regain their zanpakuto before the end of this box set.

Filler story arcs aren’t always bad, but this one runs way too long. Not only that, I have a hard time caring about what’s going on due to the fact that the writer(s) for this filler seemed to completely ignore a fact that was established in the canon material. To me, this is a sign of lazy writing. I also think this is insulting to the audience to expect them to forget such a major detail from the manga.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, the omake are still cut off from the end of the episodes and only appear as part of the “Omake” feature that’s included on each disc. Unfortunately, the omake included in this set really weren’t that funny or amusing; in fact, these were probably the weakest omake I’ve seen for Bleach up to this point. And the main menu on each disc continues to be silent, which I find to be rather annoying because of my dislike for silent DVD menus.

Each disc includes Production Art, which range from 11-14 pages on each disc. Most of the production art is line art of the characters that appear in these episodes; however, there is some color art that’s been mixed in with the regular line art.

Each disc also includes a “Clean Ending” option in the bonus features. All three discs include the same ending theme, since the same theme appeared on each episode included in this set.

If you’re a Bleach fan and want to have all the episodes of the series in your anime home video collection, then you need to get a hold of this set. Unfortunately, it’s filled with episodes from a filler arc that may not be very enjoyable, so keep this in mind if you decide to purchase a copy of Bleach DVD Set 16.

The reviewer checked out a copy of this item through the King County Library System

Anime Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review: Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 2

Originally written for WatchPlayRead.com

The Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 2 Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack includes the remaining 23 episodes of Season 1, as well several exclusive bonus features. Audio options include the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the new English dub produced by VIZ Media.

Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 2

Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Before I begin this review, I need to disclose that I did not watch Sailor Moon when it aired on American television in the 1990s. Instead, I am coming at this series as a viewer who has already read all 12 of the Sailor Moon manga volumes, both of the short story volumes, and both volumes of the Codename: Sailor V manga. I also started watching the Sailor Moon Crystal simulcast before I watched the previous home video release, Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 1. I should also add that when I watched the episodes on this set, I saw them with the original Japanese audio with English subtitles. All I know of the new English dub is some of the footage that was included in the bonus features on this set.

Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 2 opens with Usagi’s friend, Naru, learning the truth about Nephrite but still caring about him anyway. Just as it seems Nephrite will accept Naru’s love and turn good, he’s killed by some of Zoisite’s servants. Naru is there when Nephrite is killed, and is understandably upset. However, what should have been an emotional scene ends up being unintentionally comical when Naru spends more time crying over the fact that she never got to share chocolate parfaits with Nephrite than the fact that Nephrite died.

The set returns to canon material from the manga with the introduction of Makoto Kino, an unusually tall girl with physical strength. The way Makoto saves Usagi the first time they meet is a little different between the manga and the anime, but both versions convey Makoto’s strength. By the end of that episode, it’s revealed that Makoto is Sailor Jupiter.

Then we reach a stretch of seven filler episodes that introduce the anime-only concept of the Rainbow Crystals. It’s said that when all seven are gathered, the Legendary Silver Crystal will appear; however, the Rainbow Crystals also extend into the next couple of episodes that contain canon stories from the manga. To be honest, I hated the concept of the Rainbow Crystals, and I felt these episodes only truly served two purposes: to stretch the series out a little longer in order for Naoko Takeuchi to get a little farther in the manga and to introduce love interests for Ami and Rei. And I think the only reason the love interest for Rei was created was so she would have someone after Mamoru dumps her when the anime catches up to an important plot point from the manga.

We then get two episodes that included canon material, which covers the introduction of Sailor Venus and Usagi and Mamoru learning about their past lives. I would have liked these episodes more than I did if they hadn’t forced the Rainbow Crystals into them. But the series quickly returns to filler, which lasts for seven episodes. These filler episodes either rely on the concept of the Rainbow Crystals again or introduce plots that really had nothing to do with the overarching story. There really aren’t any well-written episodes within this batch of filler, and these seven episodes felt even more like they were there to kill time than the first batch of Rainbow Crystal episodes.

It was painful for me to watch the filler episodes, because many of them had ridiculous premises going into them. While some of the filler episodes attempted to provide some kind of character development, this development didn’t seem to add much in the long run.

The final three episodes not only return to the canon material from the manga, they’re also the final three episodes of Season 1. While there may be basic ideas and concepts that came from the original manga, the way they were executed ended up differing greatly from the original source material. And I have to add that I absolutely hated how the first season of this anime ended, because it’s nothing like how the first arc ended in the manga.

Overall, I have to say that I liked the episodes of Sailor Moon Season 1 Set 1 better than the episodes on this release. With these episodes, Toei had changed so much of the story by this point that the overall concept was weakened considerably. I still strongly dislike how Rei’s character was changed so drastically from the manga, because she comes across as a major bitch in this anime adaptation. The petty disagreements and arguments between Usagi and Rei, and the tension they cause, undermine the message of teamwork that Sailor Moon is trying to convey.

After watching the entirety of the first season of the original Sailor Moon anime, I have to say that it wasn’t as well done or as enjoyable as I had hoped. From what I’ve seen of the Sailor Moon Crystal reboot anime, I think it has a stronger and tighter story going into it. About the only thing that the original Sailor Moon anime has going for it is the fact that the animation doesn’t look as awkward as it does in Sailor Moon Crystal. I’ve seen it commented on the Internet on several occasions that Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of the Sailor Moon, was never entirely happy with the original anime adaptation. After seeing all of the first season, I can see why she feels that way if there’s any truth to those comments.

When it comes to the extras in this set, there are a lot more features available on the Blu-ray Discs than there are on the DVDs. For the DVD part, only the third disc includes any features: the Sailor Moon Day Highlights and a trailer for the first Sailor Moon Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. Both of these features also appear on the third Blu-ray Disc that’s included in this set.

The first and second Blu-ray Discs each contain an art gallery. The first disc focuses primarily on Sailor Jupiter, while the images included in the second disc’s art gallery focus on Sailor Venus.

The third Blu-ray Disc contains all of the remaining bonus features. The first is “Moonlight Memories Pt. 1,” which runs for nine minutes and cosplayers, super fans, industry professionals, and a couple of other people share their favorite moments from the first season of Sailor Moon. The answers are intercut with the scene that each person is talking about. To be honest, I felt like I was watching a bunch of random people talking about the show. I would have liked this better if perhaps the current English dub cast or the original cast had been brought in to share their favorite moments of the show or favorite memories of working on the dub.

The longest feature is the AX Sailor Moon panel, which runs for 26 minutes. This panel features the introduction of the new dub cast for the series, as well as a Q&A panel with the new cast. The panel is hosted by Charlene Ingram, VIZ Media’s senior manager of animation marketing. Of the bonus features included on this set, this panel was probably the best one.

Then the official Sailor Moon cosplay teams from both Anime Expo and Otakon are interviewed for a 10-minute feature titled, “Cosplay Teams Interview.” I’m really not into cosplay, so this particular feature didn’t interest me as much as it could have. The Sailor Moon Day Highlights feature runs for almost six minutes, and includes footage from Anime Expo, San Diego Comic-Con, and Otakon. For me, at least, this wasn’t a very interesting feature.

The third Blu-ray Disc also includes another art gallery, which focuses on Serenity, Endymion, and objects associated with them. There’s a clean opening, as well as clean versions of both endings; however, the first ending is under the label “Clean Ending,” while the second is under the label “Ending Song.” The textless versions of the opening and ending can be watched with English subtitles, Romaji subtitles, or with no subtitles. It was a little disappointing to see the second version of the opening not receive a textless version. The song may not have changed, but there’s some very different animation sequences included in it. This omission could have been due to the fact that Toei didn’t provide a textless version of that opening when they sent materials to VIZ Media for this release. The same trailer for the first Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack that appears on the DVD also appears on the third Blu-ray Disc.

When all is said and done, I can only truly recommend this release to fans of the original Sailor Moon anime. However, the fans of the original series who would most appreciate it would be the ones who don’t have a problem with VIZ Media restoring the series into its original presentation and providing a new English dub.

While I may not be enjoying Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 2 as much as I hoped I would, I’m still glad to have the opportunity to see this series. It’s a classic anime from the 1990s that ultimately helped to bring more girls into anime fandom, so it’s good for me to view the whole series at least once in order to have more knowledge about this piece of anime history.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

Anime DVD Review: Bleach DVD Set 15

The Soul Reapers and the Fraccions battle it out in the fake Karakura Town!

Bleach DVD Set 15
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: December 11, 2012

Bleach DVD Set 15 is a three disc set that contains episodes 218-229 of the Bleach television anime series. Each disc in the set includes four episodes and bonus features, and the episodes can be watched with either the English dub or with the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

The first nine episodes in this set focus on the battle between the Soul Reapers and the Fraccions in the fake Karakura Town. Over the course of these nine episodes, we see battles that feature Yumichika, Kira, Izuru, Hisagi, Komamura, Soi Fong, Omaeda, Kyoraku, Ukitake, and Matsumoto. Matsumoto’s battle even includes a surprise appearance by a character that we haven’t seen for a while in the series.

Is it just me, or do Kubo’s designs for the Arrancar and the Fraccions make them look like the freakiest villains up to this point in the story? It almost seems like Kubo keeps challenging himself to up the ante in how freaky the villains look with each new story arc. One of the freakiest things I saw in this set was when the three female Fraccions merged their left arms into a giant, grotesque and stupid creature named Ayon.

These nine episodes feature a lot of action due to all of the battles going on, but the pacing for the overall arc in this set is slow, due to how much recap is utilized at the beginning of each episode to help stretch out this section of the story. Closer to the end, it became even worse when Ichigo suddenly starts narrating an additional recap at the beginning that goes all the way back to when he first met Rukia at the beginning of the series! With the way this recap was done, it wouldn’t be of use to anyone just starting out in the series at this point, so it felt rather pointless. It definitely felt like this was added in order to have another way to make the battle in the fake Karakura Town last longer and hopefully not catch up to the manga source material too quickly. The worst, though, was in Episode 226, when the recap runs for nearly five-and-a-half minutes! This particular arc would have been more enjoyable if it could have been animated with a more natural pacing.

Right at the end of Episode 226, the story finally returns to Hueco Mundo, where we get to see Ichigo and Ulquiorra clashing swords. As this battle is just getting started, the episode ends… but then in the preview, it’s revealed that the canon story is taking a break at this point in order to focus on filler episodes. Ugh! This is the second time the anime teased the audience with the beginning of a major battle and then switched to filler episodes. I was upset enough when this trick was used the first time, so I was rather unhappy to discover that this trick was used a second time.

This set includes a total of three filler episodes to finish it off, all of which either serve as a prologue for the story or take the viewer back in time to somewhere within the actual series continuity. Of the three filler episodes, the first one is the only one that’s truly worth anything.

The first filler episode is set on Ichigo and his classmates’ first day of high school, and we get to see what happened that day. This episode also shows that at the same time in Soul Society, Rukia receives her orders to patrol Karakura Town and Renji receives his promotion to lieutenant of the sixth division. I recognized some of what happened at the school from reading the manga, but the rest, as far as I can tell, was created for this episode. At least this filler shows the pieces falling into place for what was seen in the very first episode of the series, so it feels like it’s actually adding something to the series.

The second filler episode was definitely the worst of the three in this set. I can’t pinpoint exactly where in the series this would have been set, and it simply feels like an excuse for Bleach to be able to have the “beach episode” that a number of anime series seem to have at some point in their run. It also felt like an excuse for the animators to be able to draw many of the female characters in bathing suits in order to provide “fanservice” to the audience. When I finished this episode, it just felt like a pointless waste of time.

The final episode in the set sees Ikkaku and Yumichika being sent to Karakura Town on an assignment to catch a particular Hollow. They need to find a place to stay, and they end up being forced to stay at the home of Ichigo’s classmate, Keigo. Keigo’s older sister Mizuho is all over Ikkaku because she loves men with shaved heads, so Yumichika tries to help Ikkaku out by gluing a wig to his head. I think this was an attempt at a humorous episode, but I didn’t find it as funny as I think I was supposed to. I’ve never been much of a fan of Keigo’s older sister to begin with, so that didn’t help. And I found the overall story to be rather lame and stupid. Both this and the beach episode felt like the anime production crew was struggling to come up with story ideas for filler episodes.

When the series briefly returned to Hueco Mundo, there was one section that bothered me when it came to the animation. It’s a scene where Renji and Chad are in a fight, and both of these characters are animated in a way where it’s obvious that the animators skimped on details. They looked much less defined than usual, and it really bugged me just how noticeable this was. Either they got the C team animators in to animate these two characters, or corners had to be cut due to not having enough time to finish the episode.

Unfortunately, I have to say that Bleach DVD Set 15 wasn’t as enjoyable of a viewing experience as I had hoped it would be. The stretched out canon material, combined with overall unenjoyable filler episodes, made this set more of a chore to watch than usual for me when it comes to the Bleach DVD sets.

When it comes to the DVD itself, the omake continue to be cut off from the end of the episodes and only appear as part of the “Omake” special feature that’s included on each disc. I still hope this will be rectified in one of the future DVD box sets for Bleach. Not only that, but the main menu on each disc continues to be silent; personally, I have a dislike for silent DVD menus.

Each disc has Production Art, which is line art of the characters that appear in these episodes. All three discs include 10 pages of Production Art on each one.

Each disc also has a “Clean Ending” option in the bonus features; all three discs have the same ending theme included on them. Each disc also has the omake that should have been included with the episodes that appear on the disc.

If you’re a Bleach fan and want to have all the episodes of the series in your anime home video collection, then you need to get a hold of this set. However, if the earlier part of the review didn’t make it clear, this set may not be a very enjoyable viewing experience.

The reviewer wrote this review after watching a copy of this item that was checked out through the King County Library System.

Anime DVD Review: One Piece Season Four Voyage Two

One Piece Season Four Voyage Two is a two-disc set that contains episodes 218-229 of the One Piece anime series. The first disc has six episodes and a commentary on Episode 218, while the second disc includes six episodes, commentary on Episode 229, and the set’s bonus features. You can watch the episodes with either the English dub or the original Japanese audio with English subtitles. It should also be noted that in addition to watching episodes or using the “Play All” option, there is also a marathon feature, which allows you to watch all the episodes on a disc back-to-back without interruption. In the marathon feature, the opening credits only plays once, there are no next episode previews, and the ending credits are not included.

The first two episodes in the set concluded the story arc of the Davy Back Fight between the Straw Hats and the Foxy Pirates. Fortunately, all that was left was the final fight between Luffy and Foxy; of course, it’s obvious that Luffy had to win in order for the series to continue. But I thought it was awesome, although not entirely surprising, that after Luffy takes Foxy’s crew, that he turns around and orders them to leave. But by this point, Foxy, Hamburg, and Porche have left in a small boat, so the remaining crew members take Foxy’s old ship and try to catch up to him in order to rejoin his crew.

But right at the end of this arc, something rather nice and unexpected happens for Tonjit, the man the Straw Hats met on Long Ring Long Island. To be honest, this surprise was probably one of the best things about this particular story arc. I’m sorry, I found Foxy to be annoying and I was glad to see him go away.

The next five episodes in the set turn out to be part of a “filler” arc that sees most of the Straw Hats losing their memory after they anchor off of an island. The only member to still have her memory is Robin, which she quickly deduces is due to the fact that she stayed awake all night while the others slept. This arc sees the crew having to find a way to regain their memories and to find out who was responsible for taking their memories in the first place.

Overall, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this particular filler arc. While the idea of most of the crew losing their memory is an interesting premise to work with, the way it was executed just didn’t work for me. My worst issue came with the ending, though. Why would the Straw Hats know who took their memories after they were restored but not any of the villagers on the island? I know the idea was to use this as a way to have a humorous scene, but I just couldn’t get past the lack of logic or explanation for that phenomenon.

But then, Foxy, Hamburg, and Porche return when the Straw Hats encounter their small boat during a storm. The Straw Hats rescue them and help them reunite with the Sexy Foxy ship. But when they get on the ship, they discover it’s being captained by someone else. Foxy declares a Davy Back Fight to regain his ship and crew. Foxy quickly wins, but then Foxy betrays them. In the end Luffy and Nami work together to take down Foxy and return to their own ship.

When I saw Foxy return, I nearly groaned because I’d hoped that we were rid of him. Fortunately, he didn’t stick around this time quite as long as he did in the first Davy Back Fight arc. After watching this, I discovered that Foxy’s return was added filler, and it certainly felt like it. Unfortunately, it meant that the majority of the episodes in this set weren’t very strong and made this primarily feel like a painful viewing experience.

At least the final three episodes in the set are worth watching. The Straw Hats meet Marine High Admiral Aokiji. He appears to be rather lazy, but we learn that he and Nico Robin know each other; he has pursued her in the past since she has a bounty on her head. He keeps claiming he isn’t going to turn Nico or Luffy in, and he also works with the Straw Hats when they discover people who have been shipwrecked on the island.

But it turns out Aokiji has eaten a Devil Fruit and has the power to turn things into ice. He freezes Robin, but the other crew members are able to get her and thaw her out. Luffy fights with Aokiji, but it’s harder than he bargained for due to Aokiji’s ability. At first, the freezing ability seems kind of creepy, but then I quickly realized that it fits in with the various other Devil Fruit abilities that we’ve seen in the series up to this point.

The very last episode sees the Going Merry narrowly miss being hit by a sea train, and the Straw Hats meet an old woman and her granddaughter at a nearby train station. While they’re there, they receive a map of Water Seven, the next location that Nami’s Log Pose is directing them to. Admittedly, not very much happens in this final episode, since it’s setting the stage for the next story arc. From things that were said in some of the episodes in this set, it looks like Luffy and the Straw Hats will be looking for a shipwright while they’re at Water Seven. From what I see, it appears the next set will focus heavily on canon material from the manga, so that definitely makes me interested in wanting to watch the next DVD set to see what happens. Lord knows the episodes on it can’t be anywhere near as bad as most of what appeared on here!

As for the DVD set itself, there are three bonus features on the second disc in addition to the episode commentary. There is a textless version for the opening song that appears in this set (“Kokoro no Chizu”), as well as a textless version for the ending song in this set (“Eternal Pose”). There are also trailers for other properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this DVD set was released.

If you’re a One Piece fan and are trying to collect the episodes on DVD, you can purchase this set for episodes 218-229. More recent DVD collections are packaging 24-25 episodes per set, and those releases would also be worth considering if you want to add One Piece to your home video library.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of One Piece Season Four Voyage Two that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Anime DVD Review: Martian Successor Nadesico Complete Collection

Martian Successor Nadesico Complete Collection is a seven-disc set released by Nozomi Entertainment that includes all 26 episodes of the television anime series, the Martian Successor Nadesico film, the Gekigangar III OVA, and bonus features. The episodes are available with both the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

The series takes place in 2196, a year after a race of aliens known as the “Jovian Lizards” attacked Earth’s colonies on Mars. Earth is now at war with the aliens, and a company called Nergal designs a battleship known as the ND-001 Nadesico.

The main protagonist of the series is Akito Tenkawa, a young man who had once resided in Mars’ Utopia colony and escaped its destruction. When he escaped, he awakens on Earth with no memory of how he got there; however, he has a fear of the Jovian Lizards. He doesn’t want to fight and dreams of becoming a chef. After a chance encounter with his childhood friend, Yurika Misumaru, he ends up on the Nadesico; Yurika is the ship’s captain. After coming on board, Akito is constantly asked to act as a pilot for an Aestivalis, which is a humanoid combat robot.

While on board the Nadesico, Akito meets Gai Daigoji, who is a rabid otaku of an anime series called Gekigangar III. While Akito was also a fan of the series, he becomes very devoted to it over the course of Martian Successor Nadesico. And Akito also finds that he’s become popular with some of the females on board; not only does Yurika have a crush on him, but so does communications officer Megumi Reinard and pilot Ryoko Subaru.

There are actually quite a few characters among the crew of the Nadesico, and they all add something important to the mix. Ruri Hoshino is the youngest member of the crew and is responsible for keeping the ship’s computer running, first officer Jun Aoi, helmswoman Minato Haruka, Mr. Prospector the accountant, mechanic Seiya Uribatake, head chef Howmei, and pilots Izumi Maki and Hikaru Amano. As the series progresses, other characters are added to the mix.

But even with all of these characters, the primary focus falls onto Akito. The series follows him as he changes from the frightened young man who’s forced to pilot a mecha and fight the enemy to someone who’s more decisive and realizes what it is that he needs to do. As part of this development, he meets and interacts with other characters who are introduced during the series; a couple of them even hold a key to the mystery of how Akito managed to escape from Mars. But the biggest shock, not just for Akito, but all of the crew, is the truth behind who the Jovian Lizards are. The Gekigangar III anime series that Akito is always seen watching also plays an important role in the series. I liked the whole “anime within an anime” concept, especially after it becomes clear that the anime within an anime is actually an important part of the main anime’s storyline.

Martian Successor Nadesico has a mix of comedy and drama, but the mixture works well for the story that’s being told in the series. While the characters either fall into character types or may be exaggerated at times, I still came to like them and to care about them. Ruri was one of my favorite characters, and I never got tired of her constantly referring to the rest of the crew as “fools.”

As I watched Martian Successor Nadesico, I found myself recognizing references from some earlier mecha and space opera anime series. I was primarily finding references to Space Battleship Yamato and Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and I believe I even found a couple of references to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mobile Suit Gundam in this series. When it comes to the Gekigangar III footage that’s seen throughout the series, there are definite references to Super Robot shows, such as Getter Robo, Beast King GoLion, and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. A couple of the names of the characters in Gekigangar III are the same as a couple of protagonists in Gatchaman, so I wonder if those are supposed to references as well. As someone who’s familiar with many of the titles that are being referenced, these references really added a lot to what I was seeing. For viewers watching this who may not know the references, they will probably still find some of these scenes to be humorous even without understanding that something particular is being referenced.

The film, Nadesico The Movie: The Prince of Darkness appears on Disc Six. The film is a direct sequel to a videogame titled, Nadesico: The Blank of Three Years. Unfortunately, the film was written in a way where it was assumed that the viewer had played the videogame, so nothing is explained to the viewer as to what happened between the end of the television series and the beginning of the film. Since I’ve never had exposure to the videogame, I found myself feeling very lost during the early part of the film. From reading, it appears that the videogame came out in Japan a month after the film hit theaters, so moviegoers at the time were probably just as confused as I was with the film.

The film is set two years after the end of the television series, and there’s an uneasy peace between the Earth and the Jovian Federation. Akito and Yurika have disappeared and are presumed dead, and an older Ruri is the new captain for the next version of the Nadesico. As part of the story, there ends up being a reunion of most of the characters from the original series because they are needed to help carry out a mission.

In addition to the confusion at the beginning of the movie, I have to say that another major flaw the film has is the fact that it seems to be too short in runtime for what was trying to be accomplished. A little over half the film is spent building up the story, and then during the last 20 minutes or so, the story is rushed through to its conclusion. For me, the movie was not a satisfying viewing experience, and I definitely prefer the television anime series over it. To be honest, I think the story for the movie was big enough that it probably should have been a second television season, except maybe with 12-13 episodes instead of 26. There’s an interesting story being presented, but the film doesn’t do it any justice.

The Gekigangar III OVA sees Akito, Yurika, and a couple of the other characters going to a movie theater to see a Gekigangar III movie. The first bit of the OVA puts together all the pieces of footage of the series that was shown as Akito watched them in Martian Successor Nadesico. The rest of the OVA shows one of the stories from the Gekigangar franchise. This OVA isn’t bad for what it is, but I would recommend watching this in between the Martian Successor Nadesico television series and the movie. Not only does it fit there for the series chronology, but the OVA was released in Japan before the movie was.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, there’s a least one bonus feature on each disc. The first disc contains the Textless Opening and a couple of Nozomi Entertainment trailers, while the second disc contains the Textless Closing and a couple of Nozomi Entertainment trailers. Discs 3 through 5 just have Nozomi Entertainment trailers on them.

Disc Six includes bonus features that are connected to the Martian Successor Nadesico movie. The first is the music video for “Dearest” by Yumi Matsuzawa, which was the theme song for the film. The song isn’t too bad, although it’s a little on the long side. Unfortunately, the music video is so uninteresting that it makes the song feel longer than it really is. There’s a promotional video for the “Dearest” single, a pre-release trailer for the film, other trailers for the film, and two trailers for Nozomi Entertainment releases.

The majority of the bonus features are on Disc Seven, along with the Gekigangar III OVA. First is a 45 minute extra titled, “Welcome to Belle Equipe,” which was made as a video that was sold in Japan to help promote Martian Successor Nadesico. Unfortunately, this feature ends up feeling very choppy; while it tries to cover a lot of different aspects in regards to the series, it simply jumps around without any real warning that it’s about to switch topics. All I know is that at least it came as part of this set and that I didn’t have to pay extra for it like Japanese fans would have back in the day when this promotional video was originally released on home video.

Next is “Nadesico Sorekara,” which runs for about 22 minutes. It appears that this video was put together to help promote the film some time before it came out in theaters; I say this, because everyone involved keeps mentioning that the film is still early on in production. This video ended up feeling just as choppy as “Welcome to Belle Equipe”; it didn’t help that a live stage event that’s included in here was so obviously edited to the point where it felt really jumpy.

There are also nine Nadesico TV spots included as a bonus feature. For the most part, they contained the exact same footage, but there was some differences in the narration. This feature may have only run for three-and-a-half minutes, but constantly seeing the same footage being shown over and over got tiresome rather quickly. “Other Nadesico Promotional Videos” ran four four minutes, and included ads for CDs, the “Welcome to Belle Equipe” promotional video, home video releases for the series, and CD-ROMs.

“Interviews with Nadesico Cast” wasn’t actually interviews; instead, it’s a compilation of footage of several of the voice actors that was shot for the Japanese laserdisc releases. Unfortunately, there’s no “Play All” for this feature, so you have to constantly return to the menu if you want to watch more than one voice actor’s footage. There are also two trailers for Nozomi Entertainment properties included on the disc.

Even with some of the issues I had with the movie and with some of the bonus features, I’m still glad I have this box set and have been able to see all of Martian Successor Nadesico. If you’re a fan of the Nadesico franchise and haven’t added the series to your anime home video collection, then this box set from Nozomi Entertainment is worth picking up and adding to your collection.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Martian Successor Nadesico Complete Collection that my husband purchased for me as a Christmas gift.

Anime Blu-ray Review: Sunday Without God: Complete Collection

Sunday Without God: Complete Collection was released by Sentai Filmworks as a 3-disc DVD set and as a 2-disc Blu-ray set on October 21, 2014. The set contains all 12 episodes of the television series as well as the OVA. The episodes can be watched with either an English dub or with the original Japanese audio with English subtitles. This review will focus on the Blu-ray release, since that is the version that I watched.

The series is set in a fictional world where 15 years prior to the start of the story, people stopped giving birth, and the dead cannot find rest unless they are buried by individuals known as “gravekeepers.” The story goes that God abandoned the world on a Sunday, and this is why these things have happened.

The main character of Sunday Without God is a girl named Ai Astin. Her mother was a gravekeeper, and she died when Ai was seven years old. At that point, Ai ended up having to take on the gravekeeper responsibility. She was also taken in by a couple named Yoki and Anna.

One day, after Ai had dug up enough graves for all the people in her small village, she returns home and encounters a man named Hampnie Hambart. The name surprises her, because this is the name that Ai’s mother gave for Ai’s father.  Ai thinks this is her father, but he’s adamant that it’s not him. After learning that Ai is a gravekeeper, he says he needs her to do a job for him. He leads her to the village, where she discovers that all of the people in her village are dead. It turns out Hampnie killed them all. At the end of the first episode, Ai ends up following Hampnie because she has nowhere else to go.

During the second episode, Ai and the audience is introduced to another gravekeeper called Scar, which is a nickname for someone who has been blemished. Through questioning, Ai learns the gravekeeper has undergone many nicknames and has never had an actual name. This gravekeeper also lacks any emotion. He tries to use this information to prove that Ai isn’t an actual gravekeeper. However, when Hampnie asks Scar to properly bury the people Ai already buried, Scar says there aren’t any deceased nearby, and that she can sense that people have been properly buried. Hampnie is confused as to how Ai can be a gravekeeper.

While they’re in the village, Hampnie is shot by a huntsman named Julie Dmitrievich, who was once friends with Hampnie. Even though Hampnie is shot, he is able to get back up; it turns out that Hampnie never ages and never dies. Julie claims he’s getting revenge for Hampnie killing his wife, but Hampnie points out she had died a year earlier, and that Julie had been living in hiding with his wife and daughter. After Hampnie deduces that Julie’s daughter is now also dead, he realizes Julie’s motive is to have Hampnie kill him. Hampnie tells Julie to meet him at the village square at sunrise. Instead of meeting with Julie, Hampnie and Ai decide to leave.

In the third episode, Hampnie is attacked by a gang of deceased; however, before they attack, he kicks Ai off of a bridge into the water below. When Ai awakens, she finds Julie tending to her. At first, Ai is angry at Hampnie for kicking her into the river, but after Julie explains what happened, her anger subsides. And thanks to a picture that Julie has, it is proven that Hampnie is indeed Ai’s father. Unfortunately, Hampnie dies after learning at Ai is his daughter. Ai also learns that the people she had been living with in her village were deceased who had not yet been buried.

With Hampnie’s death, Ai decides to go on a journey to save the world. Accompanying her on the journey are Julie and Scar. As the series progresses, Ai finds herself going to the town of Ortus, being kidnapped and made to attend Goran Academy, and accompanying her new friend Alice Colors to try to free his world from a time loop.

I originally watched Sunday Without God when it was streaming as a simulcast on Crunchyroll during the Fall 2013 season. Being able to watch the episodes within a three night period instead of over 12 weeks made for a different viewing experience. By being able to watch the series in larger chunks, I discovered that Hampnie’s death touched me a lot more than it had when I had to see his story arc over a three week period.

But by being able to see the series in a bigger chunk, I realized that Alice and Dee’s introduction into the story felt more forced than it did when I was only watching the episodes once a week. There’s truly no explanation given as to exactly how Alice and Dee were able to keep a watch on Ai while she was in Ortus, so the audience is just simply expected to accept that this happened.

This viewing experience also made it much clearer just how forced the ending of the series feels and how it ultimately doesn’t really make sense. I haven’t read the light novel that served as the source material for Sunday Without God, but I would guess that this ending was created for the anime since the light novel was still ongoing at the time this series was being produced and aired.

It was also made clear just how much Ai’s story and motivation were watered down over the course of the 12 episodes. Right at the beginning, she’s determined to do whatever it takes to save the world. Yes, her experiences in Ortus and at Goran Academy did bring about some doubt for Ai, but it felt more like she was just doing whatever as the series went along instead of sticking to her self-determined mission to save the world.

Now that I’ve been able to rewatch the series about a year later in bigger chunks, I find that while I like the ideas and questions that are presented in the series, the execution of the overarching story wasn’t quite as strong as it seemed when I was watching the series once a week.

But what Sunday Without God may be lacking in some of its writing is made up for with the animation. The animation is overall of a higher quality is able to maintain its look and feel for the vast majority of the series. The main weak points would be shots that try to use CG in them. The CG didn’t look quite as noticeable when I was watching the series as a simulcast on my computer, but seeing these shots on a bigger screen made the CG stand out a lot more.

The color palette for Sunday Without God is very vivid, and this was much more noticeable on a larger screen. This color palette looks really good on the Blu-ray; to my eye, the mastering of the video for the Blu-ray release actually looks good. The video on the Blu-ray is in 1080p High Definition with a 16×9 aspect ratio.

When I saw that the OVA was included on this release, I was looking forward to watching it. Unfortunately, after seeing it, I was rather disappointed in it. The OVA is split into three “episodes,” and the first appears to be set in between the episodes “Where Gravekeepers Are Born” and “Class 3-4 I.” In this episode, the group comes across a hot spring, and it’s basically an excuse to insert “fanservice” that usually wasn’t included in the television series; to be honest, this episode added absolutely nothing to the overarching story. The second episode is a flashback of Alice’s, where we see that he had encountered Hampnie at some point before the series started. The third story shows how Hampnie met Ai’s mother. With the second and third episodes of the OVA, it felt like the idea was to try to fill in gaps in the story; but to be honest, these were gaps that really didn’t need to be filled. Knowing that Alice had met Hampnie wasn’t important to the overarching story, and seeing how Hampnie met Ai’s mother wasn’t necessary, either. Also, the animation quality on the OVAs wasn’t anywhere near the quality that the television series received. The tone and atmosphere of the OVA just felt too different from the rest of the series. If you’ve never seen the OVA for Sunday Without God, then I can say that you’re not missing much.

When it comes to the Blu-ray release itself, there is at least one bonus feature on each disc. The first disc has a couple of trailers for other properties released by Sentai Filmworks, the disc credits, and a clean opening. The second disc only has a clean closing as a bonus feature. While there’s not much in the way of bonus features, at least there’s something included. It’s better to have this than to have Sentai Filmworks decide not to include any bonus features.

If you’re a fan of Sunday Without God and want to own the series in your anime home video library, then I would recommend picking up this release. If you have the capability to watch Blu-rays, then I would recommend going with the Blu-ray release for the series.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of the Sunday Without God: Complete Collection on Blu-ray that my husband purchased for me as a Christmas gift.