Anime DVD Review: Naruto Shippuden Box Set 19

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 19 is a two-disc set that contains episodes 232 through 244 of Naruto Shippuden. The first disc contains seven episodes, and the second disc includes six episodes and the set’s special features.

The vast majority of the episodes in this set are filler material. In fact, out of the 13 episodes included on this set, 11 of them are filler. Only the final two episodes include canon material.

When it comes to the filler material, a lot of more of it focuses on what’s happening in the village while Naruto is away, and less of it focuses on Naruto’s journey at sea. The filler that takes place in the village includes stories that focus on Hinata, Shino, Tenten, Sai, and Kiba. Of these stories, my favorite is “Sai’s Day Off,” where he goes for a stroll through the village and he thinks about the bonds he shares with Naruto and Sakura. For a filler episode, this one did a fantastic job of providing some character development for Sai. He’s definitely not the character that we first met at the beginning of Naruto Shippuden, and I liked how reflective he got in this episode as he seems to realize for himself how much he’s changed.

For the comedic filler episodes, my favorite was “Kiba’s Determination.” Kiba’s frustrated over how much a loser like Naruto has improved and become the village hero. After being chided by both his mother and Shino, Kiba decides to train to become stronger. When he tries to get Kakashi to help him, Kakashi summons his ninja hounds and has them work with Kiba. The training with the ninja hounds was really amusing, especially when the ninja hounds bite Kiba as he’s trying to defeat them to get a scroll from Pakkun. The funniest part of that is when Big Bark Bull bites the top of Kiba’s head and almost looks as if he could devour Kiba.

Most of the Naruto filler stories weren’t that good, except for “Naruto’s Vow,” which was the final filler episode before returning to canon material. Here, Naruto meets Akatsuchi and Kurotsuchi from the Hidden Stone village, who have an assignment to deliver a letter from the Tsuchikage that’s addressed to the Mizukage. This filler episode provided some background for the conflict between these two villages, and I was almost convinced that it was actually canon material from the manga. However, after doing some research, I discovered that this was actually a filler episode. It ended up being a well-done filler episode, and it definitely ranks up there as one of the better filler episodes to appear in this section of Naruto Shippuden.

And then, we finally return to canon material when Naruto arrives at his destination and meets Killer Bee. When Naruto learns that Killer Bee is the jinchuriki of the Eight Tails, he asks Bee to help train him so he can learn to control the Nine Tails. Bee refuses because he’s on “vacation.” After Naruto gets to know Motoi, he is taken to the Waterfall of Truth, since this is where Killer Bee started his training to control his tailed beast. Naruto meets another version of himself, the part of him that exists that still harbors ill will toward the people of his village for shunning him for so long. The final episode in the set sees Motoi telling a story about himself and Killer Bee when they were growing up, which gives the audience a glimpse into Killer Bee’s backstory and what his life was like before we met him in the series.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, there are four bonus features included. The first is storyboards, which contains three pages from Episode 238 and three pages from episode 239. This feature is pretty much what’s shown up in previous box sets for Naruto Shippuden. However, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t an Art Gallery included.

“Clean Openings and Clean Endings” includes three versions of the opening and the closings that appeared on this set: a version without any text, a version with English subtitles, and a version with Romaji subtitles. The English credits are also available.

“More From Viz Media” includes links to a lot of trailers for properties that Viz Media was promoting at the time this DVD set was released.

After watching this set, I would primarily recommend it for the canon material that appears right at the end of the set. There’s also the occasional filler episode that’s decent to watch, but you can skip a lot of the filler and not miss terribly much.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Naruto Shippuden Box Set 19 that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Anime DVD Review: Tweeny Witches Volume Two

Tweeny Witches Volume Two is a two-disc set that includes seven episodes of the Tweeny Witches television anime series. Technically, each “episode” included on this set is made up of two 8-9 minute-long episodes, so there’s actually 14 episodes here. The first disc includes four “episodes” and the second disc contains three “episodes.”

A human girl named Arusu who is a fan of witches and magic, mysteriously enters the world of witches. She meets two witch apprentices named Eva and Sheila, and discovers that they are capturing sprites. Arusu doesn’t like this, and she sets them free; this gets her branded as a troublemaker. Sheila is put in charge of Arusu, and Sheila and Eva are given the job of trying to reclaim the sprites. It’s quickly revealed that Arusu has the ability to do magic; in fact, a book she had with her in the human world that came with her into the world of witches turns out to be an important book from the witches’ world.

This set sees Sigma helping Arusu, Sheila and Eva enter the Wizard World; unfortunately, he’s actually trying to get the True Magic book from the girls. On their way there, they are attacked by warlocks. Sigma claims the Arusu and Sheila are afflicted by a curse that will kill them in 24 hours. Eva hears him mention something about a flower, and musters up her courage to go find it to save her friends. She finds it, but it’s revealed that they weren’t really cursed.

Sigma then leads them into the Wizard World. Unfortunately, they are discovered and captured by the wizards, but they manage to escape. But before they do, Sigma shows Sheila the truth at the Sanctuary. And while Arusu is in the Wizard World, she learns that another human had been there years earlier, and that he says things that are similar to what Arusu says when it comes to magic. Unfortunately for Sigma, he is imprisoned for his failure to obtain the book.

When they return to the world of witches, Sheila talks to the Grand Master and tells her about what she learned at the Sanctuary; the Grand Master then tells Sheila the rest of the story. Later, the Grand Master collapses; other witches begin collapsing as well and an epidemic of witches losing their magic begins. This is all being caused by the destruction of the magic world.

One night, after Arusu falls asleep, Sheila takes her to a ship to cross the Interdimensional Sea and return to the human realm. Unfortunately, the ship is attacked by a pirate named Lennon. Arusu helps to protect the ship, and she discovers that what she’s been fighting are apparitions sent by Lennon, and that Lennon is actually sick. Lennon also declares that he is Arusu’s “mirror.” The other witches on the ship find Arusu and Lennon and declare that they’re all going back to the magical realm.

Arusu finds her way back to Sheila and Eva with Lennon, and they heal him. At the same time, Eva is starting to gain a little more courage and confidence in herself when it comes to magic. Sheila is also given a mission to find a traitor among them who performs Black Magic.

I have to admit that the story of Tweeny Witches starts getting a little more interesting; unfortunately, the storytelling gets rather choppy at times. This part of the story also starts incorporating the parallels with the novel, Through the Looking Glass, because this is a book that Arusu’s mother read to her when she was a little. She is starting to wonder if there are parallels, and also wonders about the similarity between her name and Alice’s name.

The animation in the episodes in this set deteriorates drastically over the course of it. It starts out by simply seeing the animators using less and less detail on the characters, and then it progresses to various cheating methods; these include having characters speak when their back is turned to the camera and suddenly pausing the action as a character is speaking. All I can figure is that either the production budget had been cut at this point or the animators were in a rush to get episodes produced on time. To be honest, I’m rather scared about how the animation will look in Tweeny Witches Volume Three.

As for the DVD set itself, Media Blasters used one menu design and used it for both discs; the only difference is the disc number changes. Both menus claim to have trailers and bonus features; however, if you choose “Bonus Features” on the first disc, all you get is a splash screen that tells you the bonus features are on the second disc. And if you try to access the trailers on the main menu of the second disc, you get a splash screen telling you the trailers are on the first disc.

The first bonus feature on the second disc is a Round Table with Sachiko Kojima, Houko Kuwashima, and Ryoh Hirohashi, the three main voice actresses for the series. It runs for about 14-15 minutes, and they talks about recording the voices, what they would do if they had magic, and what they find interesting about the series. The three of them seemed to have quite a sense of camaraderie, so that helped to make this an enjoyable viewing experience.

There’s also two-and-a-half minutes of test animation, as well as a three minute promotional animation feature.

I can only truly recommend this DVD release to viewers who are already familiar with Tweeny Witches and want to add the series to their anime library.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Tweeny Witches Volume Two that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Anime DVD Review: Bleach DVD Set 10

Bleach DVD Set 10 is a three disc set that contains 11 episodes. The first two discs in the set have four episodes and bonus features, while the third disc has three episodes and bonus features. The episodes on these discs can be watched either with English dialogue or with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles.

The set picks up right where Set Nine ended, with Uryu in the middle of a battle with Cirucci Sanderwicci. He’s able to use an energy sword called Seele Schneider, which he uses to defend himself against her attacks; by the end of the episode, he is able to defeat her.

Chad is also in the middle of his battle against Gantenbainne Mosqueda; during his battle, his full power awakens and his right arm turns into a giant shield called Brazo Derecho del Gigante. He then transforms his left arm for offense, and he calls it Brazo Izquierdo del Diablo. With his new strength, Chad is able to defeat his enemy. Unfortunately, he then encounters the Espada Nnoitora Gilga, who overpowers Chad and seriously wounds him.

Renji, along with Dondochakka, run into the Espada Szayel Aporro Grantz. When Renji tries using his bankai, it shatters due to Grantz designing the room so it would negate his bankai. Just as it seems Grantz has the upper hand, Uryu and Pesche arrive; Uryu uses his ability to surprise Grantz. This ultimately leads to Renji and Uryu teaming up together to try to take Grantz down, but Grantz is a tougher opponent that they’d bargained for.

I have to say that the battle with Grantz was probably the most frustrating one to appear in this set. There were a couple of times when it seemed like Grantz was finally defeated, but then he stands back up and is still able to fight. This definitely gets the award for being the most drawn out battle in the set, and it doesn’t even finish in Set 10!

Rukia is able to finish off her battle with Aaroniero, but she’s also injured pretty badly; in fact, she’s injured enough that the Arrancar believe she’s dead. When Ulquiorra informs Ichigo that Rukia had died, he doesn’t believe her. The two of them battle, but Ulquiorra gets the upper hand and leaves Ichigo for dead. Grimmjow sneaks Orihime out of the room she’s being kept in and orders her to heal Ichigo so he can fight him. Before she can finish, Ulquiorra arrives and gets into a fight with Grimmjow. Grimmjow uses a special device to trap his opponent in an alternate dimension for a few hours, and Orihime ends up healing Ichigo.

Then most of the remaining episodes in the set focus on the battle between Ichigo and Grimmjow, and it also includes a flashback of Grimmjow remembering the time that he was a Hollow. The way the flashback was introduced was a little abrupt, so I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at first. However, once I realized that what I was seeing was a flashback that provides some character development, I was okay with it.

By the end of Set 10, we get to see eight different battles, and all but one are brought to a conclusion by the end of the set. The battle with Grantz, which is the one I was the least interested in, is still going. I’m sorry, but Grantz come across like a major “prissy boy,” especially when he decides he needs to leave to change his clothes because what he was wearing got so tattered and torn during the fight with Renji and Uryu. And I also found myself wondering why Renji and Uryu don’t try to make a break for it while Grantz is gone. But then again, Grantz had his Fracciones around, so they were probably concerned that the Fracciones would attack them if they tried to leave.

Overall, this story arc is still progressing slowly, and it didn’t help that a lot of the episodes on the set relied on a significant amount of backtracking from the episode that precedes it in order to fill time and stretch out the story. Hopefully this story arc will progress a little more in Set 11.

When it comes to the DVD set 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 appears on each disc. I’m still disappointed by that, since that means that technically, the episodes on the set aren’t uncut. Hopefully this will be rectified in one of the future box sets for Bleach.

Each disc has Production Art, which is line art of the characters and locations that appear in these episodes. The first disc has 17 pages of art, the second disc has 10 pages, and the third disc has six pages. Each disc also has a “Clean Ending” option in the bonus features.

Each disc also has omake, the exact same “sneak peeks” appear on all three discs, and the “Manga Preview” on each disc has the same six pages of advertisements for Viz Media’s manga releases.

If you’re a Bleach fan, then you need to get a hold of this set in order to have the episodes that start the new story arc in your anime home video library.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Bleach DVD Set 10 that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Anime DVD Review: One Piece Season Three Second Voyage

One Piece Season Three Second Voyage is a two-disc set that contains episodes 157-169 of the One Piece anime series. The first disc has seven episodes, while the second disc has six episodes, a commentary on episode 166, 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.

This set continues the episodes that make up the Skypiea arc. At the beginning of this set, Chopper, Robin, Nami and Zoro are abducted by a giant shrimp while they’re on the Going Merry; they’re being taken to Upper Yard for judgment. Conis escorts Luffy, Sanji, and Usopp to get a boat to take them to Upper Yard; when they reach the boat, she admits that this is a trap and she’s almost hit by “Heaven’s Judgment.” Conis is saved by the Sky Knight.

Luffy, Usopp, and Sanji enter Upper Yard and make it to the Ordeal Gates, where they enter the Ordeal of Balls and encounter the Priest Satori. At the same time, the group on the Going Merry arrives at the sacrificial altar. Chopper is left on the ship while the others go to explore. After the others leave, Chopper is attacked by the Priest Shura; just when it looks like Chopper will be defeated, he is saved by the arrival of the Sky Knight. When the Sky Knight (who is named Gan Fall) is defeated by Shura and falls into the water, Chopper jumps in to rescue him, not thinking about the fact that he can’t swim. They are both saved by a bunch of giant Southbirds, who tell Chopper that Gan Fall is God.

Luffy, Usopp, and Sanji defeat Satori and head to reunite with the others. Meanwhile, Nami, Zoro, and Robin discover that Upper Yard is actually part of the island of Jaya that was sent up into the sky instead of falling into the ocean. After both groups are reunited and share what they learn, they discover that the Going Merry was repaired by a mysterious benefactor. Also going on in the background is a group known as the Shandians launching an attack on Upper Yard to defeat God Eneru and reclaim their ancestral homeland.

Phew! Due to how the story progresses in this set, there ended up being several storylines going at the same time. For the most part, they converge together near the end of the set. The main one that doesn’t entirely converge with the others yet is the Shandians and their fight. It turns out the Shandians are the ones who attacked Luffy and the others when they first arrived in Skypiea, but their paths only cross once on this entire set.

Of the new characters introduced in this set, the one that stands out the most is God Eneru. He’s this muscle-bound guy who wears pants that look an awful lot like Hammer Pants and has a lot of decorations around him that look kind of like the Sharingan from Naruto. He’s definitely a rather lazy, pompous, and gaudy-looking person. I’m looking forward to seeing when the eventuality of God Eneru being defeated happens. The other memorable character introduced in this set is Priest Satori. His extremely rotund figure and his speech patterns definitely left an impression on me as a viewer.

The next set will definitely continue the Skypiea arc, and it’ll be interesting to see what direction this story heads into.

As for the DVD set itself, there are two selections for bonus features on the second disc: “Textless Songs” and “Trailers.” The “Textless Songs” features includes “Hikari E” and “BON VOYAGE” (the two opening songs that appear on the set) and “FAITH” and “A to Z” (the two ending songs that appear on the set). 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 157-169. 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 Three Second Voyage that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Anime Film Review: X: The Movie

X: The Movie is based off of an apocalyptic manga series by CLAMP, and it was released in Japan on August 3, 1996. In the United States, the film received a limited theatrical release on March 10, 2000, and was released on DVD on September 25, 2001. X was directed by Rintaro and co-scripted by Nanase Ohkawa.

In X: The Movie, the end of the world is rapidly approaching, and people with superhuman powers gather in the city of Tokyo and take sides for the final battle. The protagonist of the story is Kamui Shiro, a powerful esper who is believed to be the one who holds the key to the fate of the world. He returns to Tokyo after a six-year absence to protect his childhood friends, Kotori and Fuma Monou. Kamui is also trying to fulfill his mother’s dying wish.

When Kamui returns to Tokyo, he is contacted by The Dragons of Heaven. They are a group of people who are guided by Hinoto, the dreamgazer for the Legislature of Japan. The Dragons of the Earth are also trying to court Kamui to join their side. The Dragons of the Earth are on a mission to unleash death and famine, in order to “cure” the Earth of the “plague” of humanity; this group is assembled by Hinoto’s sister, Kanoe. As the film continues, it becomes clear that Kamui and Fuma are destined to fight each other during the final battle.

Unlike the manga, the film focuses on the roles of Kamui, Kotori, and Fuma, and the roles they play in the Apocalypse; however, this abbreviated story reduces the Dragons of the Heavens and the Earth to minor characters that the viewer never really gets to know. And since so little character development has been done for the Dragons of the Heavens and the Earth, it’s hard to feel any sense of loss as each of these characters are killed off during the film.

There is also very little done in the film in the way of plot development, which can make the film hard to follow if you don’t already have some familiarity with the property through the manga or the X anime series that was produced several years later. However, I have to give the film credit for its animation; unfortunately, the animation doesn’t make up for the lack of plot and character development.

When it comes to the DVD itself, there are five special features included on it. The first is labeled as, “Tarot Cards.” There are three sets of cards: The Seven Dragons of Heaven, The Seven Dragons of Earth, and The Dream Watchers. Under each section, you select a name, and you see a picture of a character in a “tarot card,” and information about the character is provided. For many of the characters in the film, you get much more of their backstories through this feature than you ever get in the film.

The next feature is a photo gallery, which just includes some stills from the movie. Next is the “Director’s Interview,” which is 23 pages of text that the viewer reads through. There is also a theatrical trailer for the film in English. The final extra is labeled as “Manga Extras”; this includes video previews, Manga Entertainment’s DVD catalogue, Manga Entertainment’s Merchandising & Catalogue information, and links to websites for sputnik 7 and Palm Pictures.

If you like blood and gore and very little in the way of plot or character development, then you might find some enjoyment in this film.  However, if you prefer more substance for plot and character, or if the sight of animated blood makes you queasy, then you should avoid X: The Movie.

I wrote this review after borrowing a copy of X: The Movie from Blockbuster.

Anime DVD Review: Wolf’s Rain: Leader of the Pack

Wolf’s Rain: Leader of the Pack is the first DVD released for the anime series, Wolf’s Rain, and it contains the first five episodes of the series. The episodes are available with an English dub or with the original Japanese audio and English subtitles.

In the opening scene of the series, a white wolf is seen laying out in the snow. A voice-over narration explains that according to an old legend, Paradise will appear when the end of the world comes. However, only wolves will be able to find Paradise; they will be led there by a Flower Maiden.

It has been believed that wolves were hunted to extinction nearly 200 years before the start of the series. But, it turns out that wolves still do exist, except they have taken on human forms in order to survive. The main characters are four of these wolves: Kiba, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe. Kiba is lured to Freeze City while following the scent of the Lunar Flower, which is a sign of the Flower Maiden. It is here where he meets the other three wolves.

Kiba is a white wolf who wants to find the Lunar Flower and open the way to Paradise. He acts on his instincts, which causes Kiba to act rashly. Tsume is a gray wolf with a scar across his chest; he is tough and very self-reliant. He doesn’t actually believe in Paradise at first; he only goes along with the group on their journey out of boredom.

Hige is a tan wolf, and he has the strongest sense of smell of the group. He has a carefree attitude, and he’s very comfortable living in human societies. Toboe, a brown wolf, is the youngest of the group. He has the strongest sense of hearing of the group, and he was raised by an old woman who found him as a puppy outside of the city.

Wolf’s Rain has beautiful animation, an excellent musical score (which is provided by Yoko Kanno), and the viewer is presented with a potentially interesting concept and characters. However, by the end of the first five episodes, not much information is given to explain why the wolves were being hunted to extinction in the first place, and not much information is really given as to why the viewer should care for the characters. Maybe the series gets a little better later on, but the five episodes that appear on this disc weren’t able to sell me on the series.

When it comes to the DVD itself, there are seven bonus features included. The first extra is a cast interview, which runs for about seven minutes; this is an interview with the Japanese voice actors for the four main characters (Kiba, Tsume, Toboe, and Hige). The audio is in Japanese, and English subtitles are provided.  The next two features are a textless opening and a textless closing.

The next feature is labeled as “Pilot Film.” This feature runs for two minutes and 20 seconds. The audio is in Japanese, and it also includes English subtitles. Next is “Promo Film 1,” which runs for one minute and 44 seconds; it uses the opening credit music in the background. This extra is also in Japanese with English subtitles. This is followed by “Promo Film 2,” which runs for one minute and 30 seconds. This uses the closing credit music in the background; and just like the previous two features, it features Japanese audio with English subtitles.

The next feature is “15 Second Promos.” There are four promos in all; you can either choose which one you want to see, or select the option to “Play All.” All four of these promos use the exact same visuals, but there is a slight change to the voice over at the end of each one.

The next link is for “Trailers,” and it includes trailers for properties that Bandai Entertainment was promoting at the time this DVD was released. The feature labeled as “Credits” takes you to the DVD credits.

Wolf’s Rain: Leader of the Pack is a decent release for a single disc DVD. However, I would only recommend this DVD to anime fans who enjoy the Wolf’s Rain series. Unfortunately, this disc is now out of print; if you’re looking to acquire a copy of it, I would suggest searching both online and brick and mortar stores that sell used DVDs and see where you can find it for the best price.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Wolf’s Rain: Leader of the Pack that I was given as a gift.

Anime Film Review: The Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers is an anime film based on the novel of the same name by Hiroshi Mori. The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, and was released to Japanese theaters on August 2, 2008. Sony Pictures Entertainment holds the rights to distribute the film outside of Japan.

The story of The Sky Crawlers is set in an alternate history, where the world is at peace. However, private corporations contract fighter pilots to engage in combat against each other, in an attempt to ease the tension of a populace used to fighting and war. The film also introduces the concept of “kildren,” genetically designed humanoids who are designed to live eternally in adolescence.

At the beginning of the film, pilot Yuichi Kannami is reassigned to Area 262. He meets Towa Sasakura, the chief mechanic, and he inquires about the fate of the pilot of his new plane, since it’s standard protocol for a pilot to meet a plane’s former pilot if he or she is not dead. Towa tells him to ask Suito Kusanagi, the base’s commanding officer.

When he meets Kusanagi and inquires about the pilot, she quickly dismisses him and simply informs him about a sortie the next day. As the film progresses, the truth about Kannami, Kusanagi, and the other pilots at Area 262 are revealed. There are also other battles that take place to keep the action moving.

The Sky Crawlers utilizes CG, some of which looks rather photorealistic, and combines it with traditional 2D animation. I personally found how these elements were combined to be a rather jarring viewing experience, and this was ultimately a distraction to me as I watched this film.

Unfortunately, with the way the film was written, I felt rather detached and I never came to truly care for any of the characters. I also felt that the “big reveal” of the mystery surrounding the “kildren” to be rather anti-climactic; blatant hints were dropped rather early on in the story, so I had basically already figured out what was going on before the “big reveal.” I don’t know if this is a problem in the original novel, or if this was introduced when the novel was adapted for a screenplay.

Another big feature of the film is the various battles in the skies; while these had some gorgeous photorealistic CG animation, I found myself not caring about these battles, either. By the time I finished the film, I felt that there was an interesting premise being presented, but that the execution of the film didn’t do the premise any justice.

The DVD of The Sky Crawlers includes three bonus features. The first is a 30 minute documentary titled, “Animation Research for The Sky Crawlers.” This documentary has interviews with Mamoru Oshii, as well as footage of the crew doing their animation research in Poland and work on some of the early art. Unfortunately, this documentary felt more like random footage that was slapped together rather than an actual documentary.

The second bonus feature is a 32 minute documentary titled, “The Sound Design and Animation of The Sky Crawlers.” This documentary includes footage of Oshii and his crew going to Skywalker Ranch for audio mixing, work being done on the animation in Japan, voice actor recording sessions, and music recording sessions. Like the first documentary, this felt like a lot of random footage was simply thrown together, and that there wasn’t much of an effort to make this feel like an actual documentary.

The final extra on the disc is a menu of previews for properties that Sony Pictures Entertainment was promoting at the time this DVD was released.

To me, the audience who would have the greatest appreciation for The Sky Crawlers would be fans of Mamoru Oshii and viewers who are more interested in the visuals of a film than in the story being told.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of The Sky Crawlers that my husband and I purchased.

Anime DVD Review: The Galaxy Railways: The Complete Collection

The Galaxy Railways: The Complete Collection is a six disc set that is part of FUNimation Entertainment’s S.A.V.E. line of DVD releases. It appears that this set compiled the six individual DVDs that were originally released for The Galaxy Railways into one set. The first two discs each contain five episodes and bonus features, while the remaining four discs contain four episodes and bonus features.

The Galaxy Railways is a science fiction anime series that features flying trains that are capable of interplanetary travel. The trains are protected by the Space Defense Force against such things intergalactic terrorists, meteor storms, and hostile alien life.

The main character of The Galaxy Railways is Manabu Yuki, a young man who had dreamed of joining the Space Defense Force in order to follow in the footsteps of his father and his brother. After both his father and brother died in the line of duty, Manabu’s mother tries to keep him from joining. However, Manabu is determined to pursue his dream and joins the force.

Manabu trains hard and ends up joining the Sirius Platoon, which his father used to command. The other members of the platoon are Louise Fort Drake, Schwanhelt Bulge, Bruce J. Speed, David Young, and Yuki Sexaroid.

When I started watching The Galaxy Railways, it felt like it was going to have an overarching story. The first episode focuses on Manabu and shows what happens from the time he was a child to when he leaves home to join the Space Defense Force. However, once Manabu is established in the Space Defense Force, the arc is suddenly dropped for a significant number of episodes; instead, each episode in this portion focuses on vignettes about the various supporting characters. It isn’t until the final few episodes of the first season when the overall story arc finally returns.

I have to give The Galaxy Railways credit for the excellent job the series did in terms of character development. However, I didn’t think the overall storytelling in the first season of the series worked as effectively as it could have.

When it comes to the character design, Leiji Matsumoto’s touch is very evident. Manabu’s uniform looks very similar to Susumu Kodai/Derek Wildstar’s in Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers, and Manabu’s facial features look very similar to Kodai/Wildstar. Whenever I saw Manabu, I had to keep reminding myself that the character I was seeing on the screen wasn’t Kodai/Wildstar.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, the first disc contains six bonus features. The first is an interview with Leiji Matsumoto, the creator of The Galaxy Railways. This interview, which runs for about five minutes, has Japanese audio with English subtitles. The second feature is part of a recording session in Japan for the second episode, “Knot In Time.” This runs for almost 13 minutes, and it’s in Japanese with English subtitles. You see the footage of the voice actors performing their lines in the studio, and it’s intercut with footage from the show for the scene they’re recording.

The third extra is the “Title Announcement Press Conference,” which runs for about five minutes. This is the press conference where Leiji Matsumoto, along with the script supervisor, announced The Galaxy Railways; this feature also has Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Next is “Character Profiles,” which contains profiles for Manabu, Louis, Layla Destiny Shula, Wataru, Mamoru, and Kanna; the profiles include a picture and a write-up for each character. The “Textless Songs” are textless versions of both the opening and the closing; however, the subtitles are still included.  The final extra is trailers for properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this set was released.

The second disc has five bonus features. The first is commentary from the ADR Director and the cast for the sixth episode, “Reason To Love, Part 1.” Next is “Character Profiles,” which contains profiles for Bruce, Bulge, David, and Yuki. The third feature is “Textless Songs,” and this is the exact same feature as on the first disc.

“Mr. Stain” contains a preview of one of the Mr. Stain on Junk Alley CG shorts that were produced by FUNimation Entertainment. This short is “Magic Crayon,” which was the fifth one produced; this feature runs about seven minutes. After watching this short, my husband commented that it made him think of “Aardman on acid.” The final bonus feature is trailers for properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this set was released.

The third disc contains four bonus features. The first is footage from the Japanese recording session for episode 12, “Twilight.” The next feature is another copy of the “Textless Songs.” The third feature is another preview from Mr. Stain on Junk Alley; this one is “Binoculars,” which was the seventh short produced. The final extra is trailers for properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this DVD set was released.

The fourth disc also contains four bonus features. The first is ADR director and actor commentary for episode 18, “Life and Death.” This is followed by another copy of the textless songs. The third is another preview of Mr. Stain on Junk Alley; this one is “Clay,” and it’s the 11th short produced for the series. The final extra is trailers for properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this set was released.

The fifth disc has three bonus features. The first is yet another copy of the textless songs.  The second is another preview from Mr. Stain on Junk Alley; this one is “Cassette Tape,” which was the sixth short produced. The final extra is trailers for properties that FUNimation was promoting at the this this set was released.

The final disc also contains three bonus features. The first is an ADR director and actor commentary for episode 26, “Eternal Hope.” Next is another copy of the textless songs. The final extra is trailers for properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this DVD set was released.

For the DVD set, I felt a little too much emphasis was put on Mr. Stain on Junk Alley in the bonus features. I also wish that on some of the later discs, that character profiles had been included for the characters in the Spica and Vega squadrons. Personally, I can only truly recommend this box set to people who are already familiar with and enjoy The Galaxy Railways.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of The Galaxy Railways: The Complete Collection that my husband purchased for me as a gift.

Anime Film Review: Steamboy

Steamboy is a film directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film was in production for 10 years and utilized more than 180,000 drawings and 440 CG cuts. The film was finally released to Japanese theaters on July 17, 2004, and was released in the United States on March 18, 2005.

Steamboy is set in 19th century England, but employs an alternate history. The story opens in 1863, where Lloyd and Edward Steam have discovered a pure mineral water that they believe can be harnessed and used as an ultimate power source in steam engines. An experiment in Russian Alaska goes horribly wrong, and Edward is engulfed in freezing gas. A strange ball-like apparatus is also seen being “born” from the destruction.

Three years later in Manchester, Edward’s son Ray is an avid inventor who works at a textile mill as a maintenance boy. At home, where he lives with his mother, he also works on a personal steam-powered monowheel.

Ray’s life is disrupted by the arrival of a package from his grandfather. Inside the package is the metallic ball from the accident, accompanied by its schematics. There is also a letter instructing Ray to guard it and get it to Robert Stephenson. Two members of the O’Hara Foundation, who Lloyd and Edward work for, appear and demand the ball.

Ray grabs the ball and papers, and makes his escape on his monowheel. More O’Hara Foundation agents, riding on a large steam automotive, give chase. Ray gets onto the locomotive tracks and thwarts his pursuers; he is rescued and brought onto the train.

It turns out Ray’s rescuers are Robert Stephenson and his assistant, David. Stephenson claims to be on his way to Manchester to meet with Ray’s grandfather. As the train approaches the station, a zeppelin descends over their compartment, and Ray is kidnapped; the Steam Ball is taken with him.

Ray finds himself in London, right before the 1866 Great Exhibition. Ray meets Scarlett O’Hara (the granddaughter of the chairman of the O’Hara Foundation), Archibald Simon, and his father. Edward has been disfigured by the accident, and required to have some machinery to replace some of his body. Edward takes Ray and an insistent Scarlett on a tour of Steam Castle, a flying military fortress Edward designed for the O’Hara Foundation. Edward enlists Ray’s help to finish Steam Castle, and Ray develops a love/hate friendship with Scarlett (who has become attracted to Ray).

Ray later encounters his grandfather, who has escaped from his cell in the castle, and Lloyd is trying to sabotage the castle from within. Ray discovers an arsenal of war machines in the castle’s underbelly, and Ray has to struggle with reconciling the influences of his father and his grandfather. As the film progresses, Ray also learns that other people and things aren’t as they seem, either.

The animation in Steamboy is very well done, and the viewer can tell that a lot of time was taken to produce the film. As you watch, you can also see how torn Ray is when he’s having to decide whether to help his father or his grandfather.

A viewer can also tell that an alternate history was utilized. While steam is the main source of power, there are some elements of the technology utilized that either wouldn’t have existed yet, or progressed faster than they did in our timeline.

Overall, I have to say that Steamboy had an interesting story to it. Admittedly, it takes a while to establish the major characters and plot points, so the early part of the film can feel like it’s dragging at times. However, once the story got going, I found myself becoming much more interested in what was going on and wanting to know what would happen next.

When it comes to the DVD itself, it contains several special features. On the special features menu, they are split out into: Featurettes, Animation Onion Skins, Production Drawings, and Previews.

Under “Featurettes,” there are a total of four items included. The first is an almost 19-minute documentary about producing the English dub of Steamboy, which includes interviews with some of the voice actors and some of the crew members involved with the dub.

Next is a five-minute interview with director Katsuhiro Otomo. Otomo speaks in Japanese, but instead of putting subtitles on the bottom of the screen, an American voice-over is dubbed over Otomo’s voice. Personally, I found this rather annoying.

Next is a “Multi-Screen Landscape Study,” which is a 19-minute piece that aired on three screens at a Steamboy exhibition. Here, subtitles are utilized to translate the spoken Japanese. “The Adventure Continues” is a textless version of the ending credits, which serve as a kind of epilogue for the film.

The “Animation Onion Skins” runs for about four-and-a-half minutes, and shows the various developmental stages of five scenes; this shows everything from rough animation to final scenes. “Production Drawings” runs for almost six minutes, and it shows paintings that had been done as the sets were developed. The “Previews” menu includes several previews of both anime and non-anime releases from the studio that released Steamboy.

From reading Internet chatter over the years, I know that there are both very strong positive and very strong opinions of this film. While I do enjoy the film, I wouldn’t put myself in the “very strong positive” opinion group. Like I mentioned earlier, the pacing of the film is a little slow early on as everything is being established. But even with that pacing issue, I do enjoy the overall concept and ideas that were presented in Steamboy.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Steamboy that I purchased for my husband as a gift.

Anime Film Review: Space Adventure Cobra

Space Adventure Cobra is an anime film based on the Cobra manga series by Buichi Terasawa. The film was directed by Osamu Dezaki, and it was released to Japanese theaters on July 23, 1982. As of this writing, Discotek Media holds the North American license for the film. Some footage from this film would later make an appearance in Matthew Sweet’s music video for his song, “Girlfriend.”

The film opens with a bounty hunter named Jane nabbing a bounty. She runs into Cobra at a bar, but doesn’t believe it’s him at first, because he doesn’t look anything like the man on Cobra’s wanted poster. When the two of them are pursued, Cobra uses his cybernetic arm laser “Psycho-Gun”; this is the proof that Jane needs to know that he is Cobra, since he is the only man who is known to have the “Psycho-Gun.”

Jane and Cobra appear to suddenly fall in love with each other, and Jane asks Cobra to assist her. Jane wants Cobra to help her free her sister Catherine from a prison that she’s being held in. The prison is run by Cobra’s archenemy, Crystal Boy. Cobra also learns that Jane has another sister named Dominique, and that all three of the sisters are a group of triplets.

When Cobra makes it inside the prison and finds Catherine, he is surprised to hear her say that she doesn’t want to be rescued. By the end of the battle, Jane is killed. Cobra goes off on a search to try to locate Dominique, and the rest of the film progresses from here until it reaches a climax.

I apologize for the vagueness in the plot summary, but saying too much more than I have would wander into some very serious “spoiler” territory. Because of all the spoilers I have to try to avoid, it will make reviewing this film a little on the difficult side; however, I will try to do my best.

When I watched this film, quite a bit seemed to happen with little to no explanation. For example, the viewer finds out that Cobra has changed his appearance, but never learns why this happened. From reading a synopsis for the manga series this film was based on, I would assume that Dezaki expected viewers to already have familiarity with the original manga source material, so he didn’t want to take the time to explain this during the film.

The story of the film is a little on the strange side, especially in regards to the triplet sisters. However, from what I’ve read about the anime series that retells the story of the film, I get the impression that their storyline is a little less strange in the television series. If you’re willing to simply accept some of the things that are presented in the film, then you will probably get some enjoyment out of it.

When Discotek Media released the film on DVD in 2012, they included three audio options for the film: Japanese Dolby 5.1 with English subtitles, Japanese Dolby Stereo with English subtitles, and English Dolby Stereo.

The only items included on the DVD are the film itself and trailers for other properties that Discotek was promoting at the time this DVD was released. Considering the age of this film, I wasn’t terribly surprised that there were no special features included on it; to be honest, I would have been surprised if there had been any.

Discotek appeared to put what effort they were able to into this release. I would recommend purchasing this DVD if you have an interest in anime from the 1980s or already have familiarity with the Space Adventure Cobra franchise. This film is definitely worth viewing if you remember the Matthew Sweet music video and are curious about where exactly that anime footage originally came from.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Space Adventure Cobra that my husband and I purchased.