Thursday, December 28, 2000

Clanned After Story review

"Clannad" received an anime adaptation in 2007 with a total of 23-episodes and was released on DVD earlier this year in the US from Sentai Filmworks. The second season known "Clannad ~After Story~" (which takes place after the first season of Clannad and then ten years later) is now being released in the US. The anime series is directed by Tatsuya Ishihara ("Air", "Kanon", "Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya") and a screenplay by Fumihiko Shimo ("Full Metal Panic!", "Air", "Burst Angel", "Gravion", "Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya"). The character design for the anime series is by Kazumi Ikeda ("Kanon") and is faithful to the original designs by Itaru Hinoue ("Air", "Kanon").

"Clannad" was an anime series that focused on high school students Tomoya Okazaki and a girl he meets his senior year named Nagisa Furukawa. Tomoya, who was a brash teenager who got into a lot of fights with his father and Nagisa, a frail teenager who has been out of school for periods of time due to an illness but somehow along the way, these two have found a special bond and love for one another.

As the first season of "Clannad" focuses on these two characters and their friends, the first part of "Clannad ~After Story~" continued with storyline of high school life and focusing on a storyline for each of the main and supporting characters and life for Tomoya and Nagisa after he has graduated from high school.

But with "Clannad ~After Story~ - Collection 2 , the final half of the series focuses primarily on the two as they now prepare for marriage and having a family life and the story moves forward ten years later. Needless to say, as the series has had its share of emotional episodes, the end of those story arc's have ended with happy endings. With this second collection, things grow much darker and tragic and if you thought the prior episodes were emotional, this final volume is much more deeper than ever.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

So far, each anime series that were based off a Key video game such as "Kanon" and "Air" have both been fantastic anime series featuring vibrant animation, colorful backgrounds and just many settings that really make the series stand out. The same can be said about "Clannad ~After Story!", the animation and production is absolutely fantastic. Kyoto Animation has done a wonderful job with the artistic backgrounds. Also, the animation is solid and character designs are also done very well. "Clannad ~After Story~" is featured in 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen and picture quality for the anime series on DVD is wonderful! The OVA "Another World: Kyou Chapter" wasn't aired in Japan as part of the TV series but because its an OVA, has better production quality than the TV series with more detailed background art and more shading in the animation.

As for the audio, the audio of the series is in Japanese 2.0. Japanese voice acting is solid and a lot of well-known Seiyuu are involved in the series. Dialogue is understandable and clear. Personally, I chose to have my receiver play the series with "Stereo on All Channels" for a more improve soundscape. As for English dubs, there are no English dubbed dialogue available for "Clanand" or "Clannad ~After Story~".

Subtitles are featured in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"Clannad ~After Story~ - Collection 2 features the clean opening and closing animation and Sentai Filmworks trailers.

JUDGMENT CALL:

This is the part I have waited for and have heard so much about from fans of the series. "Clannad ~After Story~ Collection 2 becomes more real as Tomoya and Nagisa now live their adult lives as a married a couple and eventually wanting to start a family. We have received hints from the opening of the anime series with a girl and a robot but the storylines were vague until you reach this final half of the season.

The final half of "Clannad ~After Story~" is fantastic and emotional. I don't think I have cried this hard for an anime series since I have watched "Grave of the Fireflies", that is how depressing and emotional that "Clannad ~After Story~" has gotten and episode after episode, I couldn't stop, it was that captivating and suffice to say, you are pulled in as you have watched many episodes of Tomoya and Nagisa grow from their high school years and now to their married years and you have two bombshells dropped on you that is so emotionally hard to take in.

Also, knowing that those emotions and what you see, mirrors reality in knowing that there are fathers who have had to deal with a similar situation that Tomoya had to go through. The series does have a happy ending and of course, the realism of the storyline can be lost but in the context of what we experienced throughout this series, especially with the Fuko and Yukine storyline, there are magical things that happen in the world of "Clannad". The balls of light that we have seen in several episodes and the discussion of alternate universes (especially with the two OVA's), the screenplay plays off possibly like its video game counterpart that this is not a an anime series based on reality, it's a series based on possibilities and anything is possible.

For the realists, one can feel that with episode 21, the tragedy that unfolds is their true conclusion. For those who want that magical, happy ending... episode 22 and the final episode summary gives you that other option. It's interesting because typically, you don't get a choice in the matter at the end of an anime series. Pretty much at the end of a series, what is done is done (unless there is a movie or OVA version reimagining the series). Not for "Clannad ~After Story~", the series has always had its enjoyable happy moments and its emotional moments. As a viewer, part of me felt that episode 21 is how things should be, to capture that realism of the storyline. But knowing how things happened during the Fuko, Misae and Yukine storyline in "Clannad" and "Clannad ~After Story~", magical things happen in the town where Tomoya and Nagisa live which can't be explained and thus episode 22 and the summary episode is an ending that makes sense.

In the end and now watching this series from beginning to end and almost like a marathon, so captivated that I couldn't stop, I realize why this acclaimed series is loved by many.

5/5

Wednesday, December 27, 2000

Haibane Renmei review

hat a divine series this is - in every aspect of the word. I finished watching Haibane Renmei I began enthusiastically recommending it to my friends. When one asked "So what makes it good?", funny thing was, I couldn't really answer it. There's almost no conflict or action in the series. There's no traditional good guys VS bad guys, no spellbinding magic, no science fiction - not a trace of computers, aliens or mecha. There are fantasy elements, but they're kept to such a small, human level that you can't really call this series a fantasy in the traditional sense. So what is Haibane Renmei?

It tells the story of a group of angel-like beings called Haibane. They're born from cocoons, grow wings, given halos, and have no memories of their past other than the dream each has in the cocoon. They all live in a protected city called Glie, where nobody is allowed to go beyond the walls. The Haibane are watched over and protected by a group called the Haibane Renmei. Haibane must each work to support themselves, and do their best to be a "good Haibane". It tells the story of one such Haibane - Rakka - coming into the world, and learning how to live in it. The supporting cast of Old Home (where they live) is equally essential. Towards the finale, much of the focus shifts from Rakka to Reki - one of the elder Haibane, who is a mother figure to those in Old Home. Then there's Kuu, Kana, Hikari, and Nemu whom all have very different, but likable personalities.

Haibane Renmei moves at life's pace. Slow and deliberately it moves through its stages - dealing with many humanistic themes along the way. Moving through seasons and emotions with dignity and grace. It would be very easy for fans of traditional anime to consider this series "boring", as it's certainly not exciting in any traditional sense. You really have to be in a certain mood to appreciate Haibane Renmei's charm.

Yoshitoshi ABe (Original Story, Character Designs) said when he began Haibane Renmei that he had no set idea where he was going with it all, creating the story in the moment. In this light, Haibane Renmei becomes like a stream of conscious meditation on life. He also said that while Haibane Renmei has a religious feel, it is not about any particular religion. It is really a type of spiritual and emotional journey. There are anime series that that are very much allegorical. Haibane Renmei works more like CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia in that it deals more in allusions than strict allegory. This means its more open to personal interpretations - and all the better because of it.

In a way, this series reminds me of the anime equivalent of Yasujiro Ozu's films. Ozu is a director who focused on regular people in everyday life confronting life's small, but meaningful moments. His films, like Haibane Renmei, rarely have any big emotion or big drama. It's all about calm reflection as we move through life. The viewer is never forced into the story or the characters. Rather, we're given time to relate these characters to our own life. Their moments of sorrow and pain, as well as joy and triumph has been our own. Their search for meaning has been our own. It's through this very human level that we're able to connect with the Haibane and share in their emotions. This makes moments like Rakka's monologue inside Kuu's room profoundly moving.

The animation is superb. It's easy to miss in such a quiet setting, but almost every frame reveals subtleties of the Haibane's world. They use a wealth of Earth hues - wonderful greens and browns - that provide a very warm and inviting tone. The animation itself is beautifully fluid as well. But it's probably the town itself that's best rendered. The world of Glie is so well conceived and drawn, giving a real sense of a heartwarming environment. The skies, for example, are almost always drawn like beautiful paintings - often reflecting the seasons. Beyond the animation, the direction and cinematography is superb as well. The ease at which the viewer can get lost in this beautiful world is astounding. ABe mentioned that previous to working on anime he was a Japanese style artist, and his works show it. I think more than anyone currently working in anime, ABe understands what a visually powerful medium anime can be. The music is equally as accomplished; consisting of mostly simple, elegant orchestral pieces. The infusion of music in the series is adeptly applied as well - entering at all the right times and evoking all the right moods.

If there are flaws in the series, they are almost too insignificant to mention. The voice acting is not the best (sub or dub), but the cringe worthy moments are kept to a minimum. The finale perhaps comes too suddenly, making it perhaps less dramatic than it should have been. I also felt some of the characters could've been better developed, and a bit more history and background given about them. I especially wish they would've slowly developed Reki's history, instead of saving it for the end. But all of these are minor grievances, and really not worth even subtracting a single star for.

I've seen Haibane Renmei three times, and each time I'm extremely saddened by the end. Not because the story is sad, but because theirs is a world I'd never want to leave. This series has a great, meditative "zen" like quality, and for those in the right frame of mind, you will become thoroughly engrossed in both the lives of its characters and the world in which they exist. You'll smile at their joys and triumphs, and you'll cry at their losses and sorrows. In the end you will be left with a wonderful feeling akin to a spiritual cleansing. The result is nothing short of divine.

5/5

Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Death Note review

his show is a must see not just for anime fans but for anyone who enjoys well written and well thought out drama. The story follows the young and brilliant Light who happens upon a notebook with the power to kill people. With the best of intentions at heart he sets out to use this new power to create a better, safer world. Unfortunately for him not everyone agrees with his methods and Light soon finds himself under investigation lead by the world's premier super detective know only as "L".


The intellectual struggle between Light and L is nothing less than riveting. I was stuck helplessly watching episode after episode because I couldn't wait to see what these two boys were going to come up with next. I also found that Light's decent from good natured student to sociopathic mass murder was really well done and an interesting look at how power corrupts.

I'm always reading these reviews to see what people think before I buy stuff but this is the first time I've ever bothered writing one myself. I was just that impressed with this one. Warning though, it is pretty dark and somewhat depressing so if you're looking for happy,happy,feelgood this is probably not your cup of tea. But, if you're looking for a great original storyline that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish then I highly recommend you give this one a try. It's one of the best shows I've seen.

5/5

Monday, December 25, 2000

Fullmetal Alchemist review

Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those stories that while you're watching, you wonder how anyone could have come up with such a complex and original plot. The anime is based on the manga "Fullmetal Alchemist" but the stories go two separate ways. They share a few similar plot twists, but ultimately the outcome for the two characters is completely different.

This DVD is a great buy for people who enjoy learning about the behind-the-scenes stuff from the show.

5/5

Sunday, December 24, 2000

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit review

If you're a fan of series like Shonen Onmyouji or Twelve Kingdoms here's another fantastic series worth your time. The basic story-plot of the series is that the second prince of the kingdom is feared cursed and will be about the destruction of his peoples lands but his mother forsakes this prophecy and enlists the aid of a wandering female warrior who rescued her son previously from drowning and feels she will be able to protect her son from the machinations of the royal courts decree. Along the way of the series we see the true reason of the royal courts fears as well as the true destiny of the young prince, the one thing that endears you to the series other than the fantastic story, animation, and characters is actually the prince himself. I thought that like previous series with this kind of story you would have the prince as a young pampered brat, but this prince turns out to be actually sincere in his desires to help the people and his own personality to do the work and interact with the people on a personal level not acting at all like a stuck up royal prince. The series won't be for everyone if you're expecting some hardcore supernatural fights or powerful demons to cause destruction that you'll be disappointed, but if you've seen the series mentioned above or another one called Princess Mononoke than this series will be just for you. The audio and video are done well with the added bonus extras being a nice touch, if there's any complaint it would be the box set itself like mentioned before the set is eight dvds put into a single dvd case with a center spindle to stack one dvd on top of another which I found annoying but hey for the price of $15.00 dollars instead of the $95.00 dollars for the other set I can look pass this. So for a great Edo era action anime with a great cast and story-line here's a wonderful choice for anyone.

4.75/5

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 | 9

First off, a lot of people called this series slow and boring. DO NOT LISTEN. The first few episodes are building up the story for the later episodes, which will have you on the edge of your seat at the end of almost every episode! It especially picks up at the second season with some epic battle scenes and some tension-building political and economic dilemmas.

I did have a few problems with it though. For one, a few of the characters came across as whiny and annoying, namely Saji, Allelujah, and Feldt, although this might be because it was the dubbed version.

Also, although the last 10 or so episodes were incredible, it became increasingly hard to discern which Gundam was which, especially in the finale. I had hardly no idea who was still alive until the "epilogue" scenes.

And, oh yeah, the animation? Absolutely astounding. Probably the best I've ever seen.

Saturday, December 23, 2000

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner 8.0

While Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs the Soulless Army isn't actually an SMT game, it is a member of the franchise. It is actually part of a family of spin-off games in the MegaTen series that is just using the SMT name to establish connections between the different series in the franchise finally appearing in America. While not too many people are familiar with the games past, this one takes the series in a new direction.

Devil Summoner is the first game in the MegaTen franchise that has moved past the traditional or tactical RPG style combat and gone straight into the action/RPG genre. In this game you play as a young man who has just attained the title of Kuzunoha Raidou the 14th, the successor to a long line of Devil Summoners tasked with the protection of the capital city. With his ability to see and control demons, Raidou must solve a mystery that becomes increasingly more and more twisted as the game progresses.

The story begins with the player earning the Raidou name (essentially this is the tutorial) and being assigned to work at a detective agency in the capital. One day you get a mysterious phonecall from a girl pleading for help and wants to meet with you late at night. Reluctantly Raidou and his partner at the detective agency head out to meet her. They find out the girl who contacted them has an odd request; she asks them to kill her. Before anyone can respond, she is kidnapped by mysterious men in red and so sets forth a tale of demons, evil, and curses.

Essentially the game progresses much the way you would expect a MegaTen game to, you travel to different locations via world maps and explore the different locations on larger area maps. While wandering around the areas searching for clues and information, there will be several random encounters (the franchise is known for high encounter rates) that will allow you the opportunities to capture new demons for aid. More on that later though. While exploring the areas you are able to have a demon deployed to follow you around (keep in mind the normal people can't see it though). Every demon type has special skills that can be used in the areas such as flying to reach far items, scouting to find hidden items and enemy info, and even mind reading to get some extra information from people. These skills are essential to getting the information you need, so it is wise to keep a demon of every type as often as possible.

Now for the battles. This is where fans of the series will either love the game or hate it. Gone are the pressed turn systems used in Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga. Instead they are replaced with real time action battles. You directly control Raidou and can use combinations of sword strikes and gun shots to defeat your enemies. Raidou can't use magic, so the only way he can deal elemental damage is using special bullets. Luckily for him though, he is able to have a demon deployed with him in battle (but only one!). It will typically act on its own, but you are capable of assigning it specific orders or general strategies. By using your monsters in battle, they will grow in loyalty to you. When their loyalty is maxed out, they will often give you bonuses and can then be used in fusions to create new demons. Essentailly the system can get a little bit repetitive and while it will takes a while to get used to, once you do it becomes a matter of knowing what enemies are weak to which attacks. Once you figure that out though, it's just a matter of keeping your levels high enough and capturing and fusing demons to keep gaining strength.

The style of capturing is brand new as well. Gone is the negotiation system used in Nocturne and the original SMT games. Instead it is replaced by a system that forces you to exploit enemy weaknesses. When you hit an enemy with an element it is weak too, it will become stunned and give you the chance to capture it by repeatedly pressing circle until a meter empties out. You must empty the meter before the creature revives or you will not capture it. The easiest way to do this is to wear down its health ahead of time before attempting a capture. One note though, you will automatically fail to capture if the enemy is a higher level than Raidou, the moon is full, or it is a boss battle.

The graphics and music in the game are a little different from what was seen in previous SMT releases here in North America. It still uses the same form of cel shading, but they are a little bit more defined and detailed. Nothing too major, but it is enough to really change the visuals overall appearance from the other games. Also, this game is not as dark and gritty as Nocturne or DDS. In fact it has several amusing scenes and is much brighter and more vibrant overall. This is greatly illustrated by the music which is often much more lighthearted and is comprised of a lot of horns and brass instruments. Not nearly as dark and brooding as the other two games. But since this game takes place in 1920's Japan and not a post-apocalyptic world this time, it fits in quite well.

Overall, Devil Summoner is a new spin on an old franchise. While it does display that full action battles aren't as well suited for the style of the game, Atlus was able to do it well enough that it still remains fun and keeps the game enjoyable. For a lot of people who found the turn based systems of Nocturne and DDS overbearing and cumbersome, this could be a nice way to ease into the world of the MegaTen franchise. While it is not nearly as epic as the previous games, it holds its own and the story alone is enough to keep a fan of the franchise sated long enough to finish the game off regardless of whether or not they like the change of style. Definately not the best game in the franchise, but a nice refreshing change that is fun none the less.

The Twelve Kingdoms review

I ALMOST passed on this spectacular anime series because I was initially put off by the main character at the beginning of the story. Boy am I glad I didn't and you shouldn't either!

At first, the set-up for Twelve Kingdoms is somewhat similar to Fushigi Yuugi: A rather annoying whiny schoolgirl and her friends get sucked into another world similar to ancient China. They can't get back home, they get separated, and undergo several harrowing encounters. But fortunately for us, the resemblance ends there.

The main protagonist Youko Nakajima develops from a very insecure and self conscious high school girl to a courageous and self-aware young monarch of the Kingdom of Kei. All the supporting characters including villains are complex and add to the multilayered storyline.

Twelve Kingdoms is a very detailed mythological fantasy that's like an Asian version of Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia without the religious undertones or allegory. The animation is gorgeous and the soundtrack specially the opening theme is epic in scope. It's just too bad the series is incomplete. Nevertheless this is one you should not to miss.

5/5

Friday, December 22, 2000

Clannad review

This series is an excellent buy. If you're unsure of it but watch a bunch of anime then I'd say to give it a try at least. I wasn't sure when I first saw it but it quickly grew on me as one of my favorites. From making you roll around laughing to inducing tears, this series is full of all kinds of emotional twists. Upon first glimpse, I thought it was just another Anime involving high school students, but the more I watched, the more I realized how much of a masterpiece this was. Definitely check it out. Tomoya Okazaki is a bitter, sarcastic, pranker in his senior year of high school, spending most of his time ridiculing his friend and fellow lethargist, Sunohara. However, it all seems to change when he meets Nagisa Furukawa, a kind-hearted, yet unsure, girl who wishes to revive the drama club. The journey the two go through together with the friends they make along the way, is one you shouldn't miss. The new English Dub was rather well made and interesting.

4.5/5

Thursday, December 21, 2000

Ghost in the Shell SAC review

First of all, I just want to mention that I was always interested in GITS SAC, but between the other expensive collection floating around and the fact that it only airs once a week at 4am, I've never really had the chance to take a closer look. That is, until this convenient, affordable set-up.

Well, anyway, GITS SAC revolves around the investigation of a cyber-terrorist known as the "laughing man." Throughout the series attempts are made to stop this heinous criminal only to reveal that the plot is much thicker and deeper than first imagined.

Along with the overlying plot, stand alone episodes act as avenues for character development, philosophical questioning as well as world building. Perhaps two of the better (or at least entertaining in my point of view) episodes consist of Batou's backstory while investigating a fighter and the tachikoma's consistent questioning of life and death.

Though these stand alone episodes offer much in the way of development, they have a habit of breaking the pace a little. If you are not intending to watch large chunks of the series at a time or in reasonable succession, important details can easily be forgotten.

All and all, GITS SAC offers espionage, action, philosophical debate and characters that you can't help to feel for. Just remember one thing while diving through the GITS SAC world: Nothing is at it seems. And one other thing: it doesn't hurt to keep the remote in hand to rewind to what you missed.

4/5

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Vision of Escaflowne review

An astounding series brought to us by some of the top talents in anime, Escaflowne is in fact a story about the discovery of the lost city, Atlantis', secret and about the consequences of Isaac Newton's reactions to this discovery. On the somewhat atypical surface, however, Escaflowne is about a young Japanese girl's romantic involvements with the other main characters.A medieval setting allows for an all new and original interpretation on traditional mecha, as the behemoth battle armors, or "Guymelefs," are composed primarily of gears and use swords, as opposed the Gundam type servos and beams. Nevertheless, the animators found ample opportunity to include some flashy digital effects, stealth cloaking will impress you.Although I found Hitomi Kanzaki, our main character, difficult to relate to, Van Fanel and Allen Schezar, a descendant of Atlantis and a royal knight respectively, steal the show. Thier efforts against a powerful military regime known as Zaibach Empire, who seek not only control over the planet, but over the laws of casaulity (fate) itself, are truly a sight to behold. A seemless blend of science fiction and medieval fantasy produce some of the most memorable anime characters and scenes you'll ever set eyes on. A superb musical score and acceptable dubbing round out this awesome package.Unfairly labeled a "girl's cartoon" in some sects, Escaflowne is some of Japan's very best anime and is truly deserving of this fantastic box set edition (thanks bandai). Episodic anime just doesn't get any better than this!

5/5

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Mobile Suit Gundam Seed

This has got to be one of the best Gundam shows out there today. The animation is everything modern technology can offer, amazing choreographed fighting sequence and perhaps, one of the most intriguing plots.

The basic plot to Gundam SEED is a war has broken out between the Earth Alliance (Naturals or normal human beings) and ZAFT (Coordinators or genetically enhanced human beings), and two friends, Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala are pitted against each other. Mobile Suits come into play when the Earth Alliance secretly begin to produce Gundam Mobile Suits, to which Zaft is intent on obtaining. The attack on Heliopolis not only allowed Zaft to capture four of the Alliance's mobile suits, but reunites Kira Yamato with his childhood friend, now enemy, Athrun Zala. Kira like Athrun is a Coordinator and his decision to help the Naturals deem him a traitor and pit him against his fellow Coordinators. Kira must now fight in the Strike Gundam against Duel, Buster, Blitz, and Aegis Gundams as the seemingly never-ending war continues. Casualties will amount on both sides, forcing both Athrun and Kira to battle relentlessly.

One of the first things that drew me into the show was the vibrant colors and the character development. You have the protagonist, Kira Yamato, who is a conflicted and emotional teenager. And though he is extremely skilled at piloting a Gundam, he rather live peacefully rather than fight. Every time a death occurs on or off the battlefield, he feels it's his responsibility, thus the toll of characters that die throughout the show, effect and burden him immensely. He is extremely sensitive to other people's feelings and does not like taking the life of an other. Some may accuse him of crying too often, but I view his breakdowns as human, which is a reason I like his character so much.

His relationship with his old childhood friend, Athrun Zala, is extremely heartfelt, because it is obvious the two don't want to fight each other and care immensely for each other, yet they're forced to fight against each other. Notably, the supporting characters in this show are extremely memorable. Athrun's teammates, Yzak, Dearka, and Nicol have interesting character developments, rare in a lot of anime shows. We see Nicol as an aspiring pianist with hope for a piano playing future. He looks upon Athrun as an older brother and is very kind and supportive of Athrun. Both Yzak and Dearka's personalities are further developed later on in the show when we see them both make surprising decisions and completely different sides to their characters. There are also characters on the Naturals side like Mwu La Fllaga, Murrue Ramius, Sai Argyle, Fllay Allster, that are memorable, especially in their relationship with Kira and how they affect him to fight.

For once, the main female leads are not annoying. Lacus Clyne and Cagalli Yula Attha actually have important roles in the series. Lacus as the emotional and physical healer and supporter for Kira, while Cagalli is the tie between Kira and Athrun. The awesome aspect of this show is that it has characters worth caring about and excellent voice overs. The only disappointing factor is, if you're watching the Cartoon Network version, a majority of the more violent and graphic scenes are completely edited out and makes the events happening in the show, lose it's full potential and true effect.

The music for Gundam SEED is extremely compelling and perfectly accompanies the show. In my opinion the best songs you hear are "Invoke"

by T.M. Revolution, "Meteor" by T.M. Revolution, and "Anna ni Isshodatta no ni" by See-Saw.

Overall, Gundam SEED is an excellent anime show with compelling characters, and fantastic animation.

Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya review

The first season of "Haruhi Suzumiya" is guaranteed to cheer you up with cute sexual innuendos, scientific mumbo-jumbo and a symbolic religious message hidden underneath the fan service.

The show is based on an oddball story, focusing on a high school boy named Kyon, who meets an unusual high school girl named Haruhi Suzumiya. The girl is a strange firebrand, who is more interested in aliens, espers (psychics) and time travelers than in actual humans. Somehow, Kyon strikes up an unusual friendship with this girl.

However, Kyon never planned on getting involved with starting up Haruhi's own club, the S.O.S. Brigade. The club's mission is to spread happiness around the world, through all the fetishes that anime geeks would love. Aliens. Psychics. And an adorable time traveler girl with big breasts. The show pretty much covers all of Kyon's experiences with Haruhi, the bossy dominatrix who may have mysterious powers of her own.

Although it is hard to discuss this series without revealing some major spoilers, the show is a major hit with college anime clubs in America for many reasons. The first episode is a big home movie spoof, where the high school characters try to act like Haruhi's favorite anime characters in an embarassing film project loaded with weird jokes. The ending credit sequence features the funniest and most infamous anime dance, performed by Haruhi and the other members of the S.O.S. Brigade. And the philosophical members of the S.O.S. Brigade always treat Haruhi like she's a supernatural being who has the willpower to change humanity as we know it.

Religious pundits will no doubt scoff at this off-kilter combination of sexual tension and philosophical dialogue. However, they will no doubt remember this series for all the jokes that seem to come out of nowhere. This is one of the few series that packs all the goofy anime-style fetishes that fans will love. You know, like girls in bunny suits, speedy fights with alien girls and philosophical jokes about the meaning of life. Even the broadcast of the show presented the episodes in an unconventional manner, like a anime-style version of "Pulp Fiction."

The show was also a milestone series which featured many new story-telling styles for an animated film. The narrative is told completely from the first-person perspective of Kyon. The first episode presents the animation from the lens of a shaky, indie-style camera. The tone of the series can switch drastically from light comedy to an apocalyptic thriller sequence. Unlike most anime shows with romantic comedy, "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" features some frightening scenes in the fifth episode, with blood and gore.

The gutsy cinematography effects and genre bending stories all contribute to make this one of the most unusual anime series ever made. Although plenty of other romantic comedies delivered similar conservative themes of love and codependency, "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" was the only one that flooded the love story with the best gut-busting pop culture references. And anime has only gotten better because of it.

5/5

Monday, December 18, 2000

Tales of Xillia PS3 review 8.5

Ever since I first played Tales of Destiny way back in 1999 I have been in love with the Tales franchise. While not as immediately recognizable in the mainstream gaming community as the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest/Warrior RPG juggernauts, the "Tales of" series of games have always had a loyal fan base due to the great stories and combat that is the hallmark of the games. The question of whether or not to purchase the latest game in the franchise was a no-brainer for me, and I can say with 100% certainty that I am so happy that I indulged myself.

Controls, Music, & Animation

Every Tales game is painstaking in its delivery of beautiful graphics and music, and Tales of Xillia (henceforth referred to as "ToX") continues in that tradition. Simply put, this game is gorgeous and takes every advantage of the PS3 hardware to simply amaze me. The world of Xillia is bright, colorful, and varied. Environments are dynamic; each exploration area is divided by little "breaks"; while this may seem annoying, the lack of lag when going through a doorway into the next room is practically non-existent. The screen flashes black for one moment and then you are free to control your character.

In addition to the beautiful backgrounds, the characters are 3D mirrors of their anime-inspired sprites used in the cut scenes. While you do notice the difference between the 2D drawing of Milla (the female protagonist) and her 3D avatar, the seamless transition negates any of the very minor aesthetic details. Finally, each character in the game is unique, sporting their own look, and enemies are just as varied and detailed as the "good guys".

Musically speaking, Tales of Xillia boasts an amazing orchestral arrangement with songs to suit every zone in the game. It is truly beautiful and lends itself well to the atmosphere of the story. When you are in an ominous, dark dungeon the music is creepy, with violins and woodwinds playing higher and slightly off-key, creating the ambiance of a thriller movie. Sound effects cover every aspect of movement, helping to bring the world of Xillia to life. If your character is moving through shallow water, swishing noises will occur with each step. The crackle of fire whispers through a zone, subtlety lighting a path. Birds chirp. When the graphics and sound come together, you will find yourself immersed in a world of magic, mysteries, and more than a few baddies to kill.

The controls in ToX are spot-on. Combat is real-time, so players need to be aware of their characters and the baddies on the screen. At the beginning of the game you can alter whether you want harder enemies, a longer input time for combos, and your X- and Y-axis movement [meaning whether pressing upward with the control stick will move the camera up (normal) or down (inverted)]. I chose the hardest setting and kept the input time as "Normal". In the beginning enemies attack slower, which is good as it gives you time to acquaint yourself with the mechanics of combat. While pressing the "X" button will make your character charge forward and attack a target, you also have different magic/elemental-based attacks that can be access from the menu (the "▲" button) which vary based upon who you chose as your protagonist to control. Thus, combat sometimes needs a good strategy; just jumping in and whacking enemies with your weapon does not always work. In this way ToX enhances the gameplay by adding a level of strategy. Once you form a party, coming up with a plan of attack becomes critical; you will be able to combine attacks and setup AI strategies to maximize your combat proficiency (your cohorts will be controlled by AI; from the party menu you can adjust their combat focus, for instance: should that character conserve TP (mana) or go all out and cast the most powerful spells each battle? Do you want a character to heal exclusively or to heal AND attack?)..

Finally, in regard to the map and character control, Xillia has everything nailed. The camera rests comfortably in a 3rd person perspective of your character. The camera rotates freely, enabling you to see a complete map and minimizing the risk of an enemy sneaking up from behind. Since enemies are seen on the map and battles are not random encounters, this is a very important function.

Story

ToX has an over-arching plot of determining why the elements are out of harmony and how to restore mana to the world. When one of the kingdoms in the world of Xillia experimented with powerful magic, they unwittingly caused widespread devastation by draining the world's mana. It is your job to figure out what happened and how to fix it before the other kingdoms start an all-out war.

While the story itself is your basic good-vs-evil RPG fare, the depth of the storyline, the complexity of the characters (their personalities and motives) and presented in a manner to both intrigue the player and to soldier onward to learn more. In addition, ToX gives you TWO games in one; at the beginning you choose either the male (Jude Mathis) or female (Milla Maxwell). In either case, the story will unfold from the perspective of THAT character. Thus, while you will travel with the other person regardless, you will only interpret events through the eyes and mind of your protagonist. This, of course, means that you will want to play through the game AGAIN to see another side to the story!

As the story progresses, you will find yourself watching numerous cut scenes and work to cultivate not only new abilities for combat but also the friendships of others in your party. Using a robust crafting system, ToX adds another level of depth by encouraging the player to explore and find items. All of this combined will suck you into the game and make you want to press onward (maybe to the detriment of your job... make sure that you don't miss work in your zeal to beat the game!).

Overall

To simplify this review, let's recap:

Pros:
1) Beautiful combat system that keeps enemy encounters fun and challenging,
2) No random encounters! Enemies are seen on the map and can be avoided, if desired,
3) Beautiful environment, unique characters, and an amazing soundtrack,
4) Game controls are easy to pick up and play,
5) LOTS of replay value: play through the character-specific storyline depending upon the hero,
6) Wonderful and often-humorous storytelling, encouraging dialogue with others,
7) Lots to explore and many items to find; exploring the world is visually rewarding!

Cons:
1) It costs money; but I guarantee that you will find this to be the best $60 spent on a game this year!
2) The cut scenes can be a little long at times, but this is a minor irritation at best,
3) That Tales of Xillia 2 won't be available in the U.S. for a while!

Thus, simply put, ToX is one of the best games that I have acquired and played in 2013. The story is entertaining, the gameplay is fun, combat isn't random and does require strategy (you can't just button-mash and expect to win), and you can replay the game a second time to see the story from another viewpoint. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the graphics are gorgeous and the soundtrack is amazing?

If you haven't already clicked that "Buy" button, you should really do so. This game is a must-have for PS3 owners, Tales franchise fans, or the RPG-lover in your life.

Mushishi review

Ginko is a Mushishi - an expert on Mushi, odd spirit-like creatures not everyone can see and that occasionally cause harm to unwary humans. Ginko travels Japan studying Mushi and helping solve problems related to them, such as a village paralyzed by rust mushi, or a bamboo mushi that traps travelers in its forest. Each episode stands on its own, telling of a different place with different mushi, with Ginko observing and assisting when needed.

This is a very languid, beautiful series. Ginko does have a backstory that is eventually revealed, but the series focus is individual episodes. The scenery and mushi combine to create a delightful viewing experience, and the stories are engaging, quickly drawing you in to the world they create. Watching this show made me feel relaxed and I came away from each episode with a contented, peaceful feeling. Not that the stories are boring - since Ginko is a healer like character, most of the stories involve people who are suffering from their contact with the mushi. But the resolutions are normally uplifting and satisfying.

If you are looking for an action show, this is not it. If you are looking for a show that has an continues storyline, this is also not it. But if you want a show that you can just watch and enjoy on an episodic basis, that has emotional stories and beautiful scenery, please give this show a try. So far everyone I've showed this series to has enjoyed it, and I hope you will too!

Random Trivia: "Mushi" is the Japanese word for "bug", which is what the mushi of this show often resemble.

Sunday, December 17, 2000

When they cry 8.5

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni starts off in a quiet, peaceful little village that looks quite ordinary and amiable to anyone.

But, of course, there's always something horribly wrong.

Higurashi was first brought into the world in the form several PC games, with the covers designed to look quite disarming so any person would think that this series was harmless. But once you get into the meat of it, things aren't looking so rosy. You'll be pulled, dragged, and unwillingly shoved into a head-spinning mystery that you wished never surfaced in the first place, fighting for your life against people you trusted, and digging through graves and lies in order to survive.

There are four "question" arcs, consisting of four different viewpoints of the fateful Hinamizawa festival and two "answer" arcs (in the anime), which will reveal what went wrong in two of the question arcs.

What's best of all is the horror, both physical and psychological. If the blood won't get to you, the emotional tension will. With a cast of memorable and lively characters, you won't be able to watch this anime only once.

Higurashi no naku koro ni, based off very popular Japanese PC games, is a horror anime about a town named Hinamizawa, formerly known Onigafuchi, or 'Demon's Abyss'. There is a rumored curse, the curse of Lord Oyashiro, making people disappear every year. The story is told in 4 Question arcs and 4 Answer arcs (The last 2 aren't planned to come out in anime form as of yet).

Each question arc shows the story happening in different ways, with different victims each time, and the answer arcs fill in info missing from the question arcs.

The story starts out with Keiichi Maebara, a high school boy who's just moved to Hinamizawa. He soon starts learning about the strange happenings called Lord Oyashiro's curse, and gets very involved.

This show is the first horror anime I've ever actually enjoyed (granted, I haven't seen that many), It's fun trying to figure out what exactly is going on in the town. I don't think Sherlock Holmes could solve this case, for for you anime fans, Shinichi Kudou.

There are FOUR of them now. Yes, you'll have to deal with four creepy girls instead of one like a normal horror film would. They'll be cute and bouncy for one moment, then murderous and psychotic the next. Full of twists, turns, and unpleasant surprises, after watching this, you won't be able to close an eyelid for some time.

The Wire Review

Imagine a show that every critic on the planet loves. Imagine a show so deeply layered that it makes every other drama seem simple. Imagine a show where each character is equally important. Imagine a show that reinvented itself every season, yet still felt like it was part of the world it created from the outset. Imagine a show so complex that you will always discover something new the next time around.

Doesn't this sound like perfection to you? Trust me, it is, in more ways than you can fathom.

THE WIRE is a show so meticulously crafted and executed that it would take me a dozen reviews to scratch the surface of what makes it great. After catching the very first episode on HBO, I immediately bought the 1st season. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'm so afraid to ruin anything that I don't even want to give away characters' names. To even let you go in expecting certain traits from a character would spoil the fun. So instead, I'm deliberately being vague about what occurs. If you've never heard about this series, you deserve go in cold.

But I'll give you a few details, starting with the very first scene. THE WIRE begins when a detective is questioning a young hoodlum who witnessed a murder. The detective asks why the guy and his friends allowed the victim to continue rolling dice, after he'd been known to snatch the money & run. The scene closes when the kid says, "Got to, man. This America."

Then the show begins its title sequence, in which The Blind Boys of Alabama's cover of "Way Down In The Hole" plays over a montage of seemingly random clips of police activity & urban life. But as you'll learn the more you see this title sequence (and song), this montage is actually filled with clues, both literal and metaphorical. The greatest crime dramas throw clues in your face without telling you how important they are. Believe me, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, one of the greatest films of all time with its labyrinthine plot, has nothing on THE WIRE. And we're only just getting started.

What you'll also notice from the opening scene is the dialogue. It actually took me two viewings to find out what the detective and the dice-roller were saying. As if that wasn't enough, I eventually had to turn on the English subtitles just to find out what each character was saying. The dialogue flows so naturally that THE WIRE never feels like a TV drama. There are no scenes where the characters recap what happened in the previous episode, unless the characters would actually take a moment to remind each other. This sounds like a challenge, and indeed it is. THE WIRE requires (and deserves) your undivided attention. Pause if you have to. Rewind if you have to. Use the subtitles if you have to. Many have called THE WIRE "a visual novel", and they couldn't be more right. You see how much attention I've given to just the first few minutes? Guess what, the entire series clocks in at 63 hours.

So, what's the premise of the series? The first season's main story begins when a team of Baltimore police is assembled to take down one of the city's high-profile drug dealers. The investigators and surveillance teams endure what real cops would endure: long hours, cold trails, bad weather, tedious paperwork, crummy offices, and worse...smart criminals. THE WIRE gives the justice officers an equal amount of screen time as the targets they pursue. The dealers aren't delightfully vicious or glamorous in the least. Sort of like the Corleone Family or the protagonists in GOODFELLAS, THE WIRE portrays its criminals as guys who either can't do anything else for a living, or refuse to do anything else for a living. The series goes even deeper, as we're engaged in the lives of judges & lawyers, homicide detectives & their office-dwelling superiors, drug kingpins & their corner workers, and even the homeless. Calling this "epic" is an understatement. If you're as interested in the urban drama as you are in the police procedural, then you're on the right track. Don't worry, you will get to see the cops bust a few doors and arrest a few thugs, but just be aware each event it treated as ordinarily and naturally as anything else in THE WIRE. To the characters, these events are just another day.

Now bear in mind, I've only given a little info on the first season! I won't give away any details, but Season Two continues in the exact opposite way you'd expect a sequel to. The cops and criminals shared equal halves of TV time on Season One, but for the seasons that follow, they share equal parts with a completely new side of Baltimore. Just wait until THE WIRE continues through its next few seasons, it gets even more deliciously complex. If you think Season One sounds like a beastly Rubik's Cube, wait until you get a load of Season Two, not to mention the seasons afterwards. After all, you can't predict how a single story is going to proceed if you're too blindsided by how it begins. One of the most interesting aspects is that slowly over time, THE WIRE becomes more than a crime drama --- the series evolves into a multi-layered epic, where crime is only part of the picture. Each of the five seasons feels like its own individual story, but naturally connects with the season that comes before and after it.

I don't want you to be discouraged by this onslaught of convoluted storytelling. There is a method to the madness. Audiences (including me) are too used to knowing where we are at every given point of the story. THE WIRE purposefully refrains from the kind of clarity we're used to. This challenge that will stimulate your mind in ways that no other TV show has. In so many ways, it's the kind of entertainment we've always wanted: Surprising yet Natural --- isn't that always the goal?

THE WIRE is so great that everyone is going to take something different from it. This show can be interpreted in a million ways. Nobody is right, and nobody is wrong. How can that be? Well, creator David Simon is to be credited for this neutrality. Simon is as hands-on as any other TV series producer, writer, or creator. Every single aspect of the show is exactly what he wanted it to be. THE WIRE was never the victim of a writer's strike, or cancelled seasons, or poor broadcasting schedules, or any other excuse. If there is a character or story arc you don't care for, it isn't Simon's fault; your personal taste just doesn't mesh with it. Sure, I have one or two nitpicks about what THE WIRE should've been in my eyes, but not once did I believe it was for a lack of focus. For example, one particular season takes a more didactic approach to the series. We witness moral dilemmas with an ambitious mayor, unethical cops, and newspaper staff --- all tackle the immortal question, "Do the ends justify the means?" This more black-and-white angle is exactly what David Simon wanted to use. I preferred a more gray-shaded tale, but Simon decided that this tale needed a more direct statement. Now, even though this isn't my preference, I overlooked my own criticisms because this season was built this way. There are a couple of other little things that might not sit well with some viewers, notably how the "star" of the show's cast disappears for most of one season (don't worry, you'll know it's coming before it happens). The point is that THE WIRE never once strayed from its intended path.

I think that's what I'm going to take away most from this show: It tells every story it wants to tell. It answers every question it poses, unless we're meant to ponder. It forces us to sympathize with those we'd normally condemn, and to relate to those we'd usually ignore. This television drama is a masterful work of art, from the page to the screen.

The Wire Review

Imagine a show that every critic on the planet loves. Imagine a show so deeply layered that it makes every other drama seem simple. Imagine a show where each character is equally important. Imagine a show that reinvented itself every season, yet still felt like it was part of the world it created from the outset. Imagine a show so complex that you will always discover something new the next time around.

Doesn't this sound like perfection to you? Trust me, it is, in more ways than you can fathom.

THE WIRE is a show so meticulously crafted and executed that it would take me a dozen reviews to scratch the surface of what makes it great. After catching the very first episode on HBO, I immediately bought the 1st season. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'm so afraid to ruin anything that I don't even want to give away characters' names. To even let you go in expecting certain traits from a character would spoil the fun. So instead, I'm deliberately being vague about what occurs. If you've never heard about this series, you deserve go in cold.

But I'll give you a few details, starting with the very first scene. THE WIRE begins when a detective is questioning a young hoodlum who witnessed a murder. The detective asks why the guy and his friends allowed the victim to continue rolling dice, after he'd been known to snatch the money & run. The scene closes when the kid says, "Got to, man. This America."

Then the show begins its title sequence, in which The Blind Boys of Alabama's cover of "Way Down In The Hole" plays over a montage of seemingly random clips of police activity & urban life. But as you'll learn the more you see this title sequence (and song), this montage is actually filled with clues, both literal and metaphorical. The greatest crime dramas throw clues in your face without telling you how important they are. Believe me, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, one of the greatest films of all time with its labyrinthine plot, has nothing on THE WIRE. And we're only just getting started.

What you'll also notice from the opening scene is the dialogue. It actually took me two viewings to find out what the detective and the dice-roller were saying. As if that wasn't enough, I eventually had to turn on the English subtitles just to find out what each character was saying. The dialogue flows so naturally that THE WIRE never feels like a TV drama. There are no scenes where the characters recap what happened in the previous episode, unless the characters would actually take a moment to remind each other. This sounds like a challenge, and indeed it is. THE WIRE requires (and deserves) your undivided attention. Pause if you have to. Rewind if you have to. Use the subtitles if you have to. Many have called THE WIRE "a visual novel", and they couldn't be more right. You see how much attention I've given to just the first few minutes? Guess what, the entire series clocks in at 63 hours.

So, what's the premise of the series? The first season's main story begins when a team of Baltimore police is assembled to take down one of the city's high-profile drug dealers. The investigators and surveillance teams endure what real cops would endure: long hours, cold trails, bad weather, tedious paperwork, crummy offices, and worse...smart criminals. THE WIRE gives the justice officers an equal amount of screen time as the targets they pursue. The dealers aren't delightfully vicious or glamorous in the least. Sort of like the Corleone Family or the protagonists in GOODFELLAS, THE WIRE portrays its criminals as guys who either can't do anything else for a living, or refuse to do anything else for a living. The series goes even deeper, as we're engaged in the lives of judges & lawyers, homicide detectives & their office-dwelling superiors, drug kingpins & their corner workers, and even the homeless. Calling this "epic" is an understatement. If you're as interested in the urban drama as you are in the police procedural, then you're on the right track. Don't worry, you will get to see the cops bust a few doors and arrest a few thugs, but just be aware each event it treated as ordinarily and naturally as anything else in THE WIRE. To the characters, these events are just another day.

Now bear in mind, I've only given a little info on the first season! I won't give away any details, but Season Two continues in the exact opposite way you'd expect a sequel to. The cops and criminals shared equal halves of TV time on Season One, but for the seasons that follow, they share equal parts with a completely new side of Baltimore. Just wait until THE WIRE continues through its next few seasons, it gets even more deliciously complex. If you think Season One sounds like a beastly Rubik's Cube, wait until you get a load of Season Two, not to mention the seasons afterwards. After all, you can't predict how a single story is going to proceed if you're too blindsided by how it begins. One of the most interesting aspects is that slowly over time, THE WIRE becomes more than a crime drama --- the series evolves into a multi-layered epic, where crime is only part of the picture. Each of the five seasons feels like its own individual story, but naturally connects with the season that comes before and after it.

I don't want you to be discouraged by this onslaught of convoluted storytelling. There is a method to the madness. Audiences (including me) are too used to knowing where we are at every given point of the story. THE WIRE purposefully refrains from the kind of clarity we're used to. This challenge that will stimulate your mind in ways that no other TV show has. In so many ways, it's the kind of entertainment we've always wanted: Surprising yet Natural --- isn't that always the goal?

THE WIRE is so great that everyone is going to take something different from it. This show can be interpreted in a million ways. Nobody is right, and nobody is wrong. How can that be? Well, creator David Simon is to be credited for this neutrality. Simon is as hands-on as any other TV series producer, writer, or creator. Every single aspect of the show is exactly what he wanted it to be. THE WIRE was never the victim of a writer's strike, or cancelled seasons, or poor broadcasting schedules, or any other excuse. If there is a character or story arc you don't care for, it isn't Simon's fault; your personal taste just doesn't mesh with it. Sure, I have one or two nitpicks about what THE WIRE should've been in my eyes, but not once did I believe it was for a lack of focus. For example, one particular season takes a more didactic approach to the series. We witness moral dilemmas with an ambitious mayor, unethical cops, and newspaper staff --- all tackle the immortal question, "Do the ends justify the means?" This more black-and-white angle is exactly what David Simon wanted to use. I preferred a more gray-shaded tale, but Simon decided that this tale needed a more direct statement. Now, even though this isn't my preference, I overlooked my own criticisms because this season was built this way. There are a couple of other little things that might not sit well with some viewers, notably how the "star" of the show's cast disappears for most of one season (don't worry, you'll know it's coming before it happens). The point is that THE WIRE never once strayed from its intended path.

I think that's what I'm going to take away most from this show: It tells every story it wants to tell. It answers every question it poses, unless we're meant to ponder. It forces us to sympathize with those we'd normally condemn, and to relate to those we'd usually ignore. This television drama is a masterful work of art, from the page to the screen.

Full Metal Panic review

I just received this set and have watched through roughly 4 episodes and a little bit.

For those that don't know, Full Metal Panic (or FMP) is a show from early 2000 based on a series of short novels. The story involves a boy soldier (well, mercenary), sent by a secret organization to protect a girl who is known to be a "Whispered." Being a "Whispered" means that the person holds knowledge of "black technology" without really knowing they know it. Mostly it's about Sagara Sosuke, the boy soldier, being clumsy with people and having an obvious crush on the girl he is supposed to be protecting. The feeling is mutual and the girl he is protecting, Chidori Kaname, is just as awkward in dealing with Sosuke.

Giant robot action is also included as a sort of bonus. Think of the show as a romantic comedy with serious drama and military action thrown in.

In terms of the Blu Ray, this release is an upscale of a standard definition release as the studio that animated it, Gonzo, was only animating in SD at the time of its release. Either way, a proper software upscale done on a Blu Ray will always look better than an upscale done through hardware (watching a DVD via the PS3 upscaled to 1080p for instance). This release is no exception.

The nice thing here is that the opening sequence is unaffected by the upscale this time around, unlike Funimation's release of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Box Set [Blu-ray] where the opening was improperly encoded and skips frames.

Picture quality is nothing short of amazing. Crystal clear and from everything I can tell, there are no artifacts or other weirdness brought in from the upscale. If you had this on DVD and want an upgrade in picture quality, this is a worthy purchase as it looks perfect. If upscaled DVD looks good to you, well there may be no point in upgrading to Blu Ray.

Something to keep in mind is that this show was originally done in the 4:3 aspect ratio (SD). The opening, while widescreen, isn't anamorphic and wasn't actually animated in HD, so it will always contain bars at the top and bottom of the picture. This is as it was originally animated and FUNimation has taken no liberties to try and stretch it to a widescreen format, which is appreciated.

The opening and endings are the same as the ADV DVD release so the opening/ending title cards are all in English. If you're looking for the Japanese title cards, you'll need to purchase the Japanese releases to have Japanese title cards as they are not included in any ADV or FUNimation release.

In terms of audio, you have 2 options. You can watch the show in Stereo Dolby True HD in spoken Japanese (the original show was 2.0 stereo in Japan, so you are getting the audio as originally intended by the Japanese producers for the Japanese market) and you are also given the option of Dolby True HD 5.1 in spoken English. When ADV released the series oh so many years ago, they upgraded the 2.0 audio to a 5.1 mix in the US. The result in English, for me, is a mixed result as much of the time it still feels like a stereo mix. I also generally watch Anime in Japanese, so I was really just swapping around during action sequences to see how the channel separation sounds and it's good, but nothing amazing.

Overall the audio sounds pretty good. There are no drop outs or other audio issues and the added bitrate afforded by Blu Ray and True HD, but then, there weren't really any issues with the original DVD mixes either.

Some nice extras are included, including one that wasn't in the original single release from ADV (nor was it included in previous ADV sets). The new extra is the interview with the show's producers and original author of the novels. This was recorded for the Japanese Blu Ray release (or possibly to air during the re-airing of the series on Japanese TV, I'm not sure), I believe, so it actually is encoded in HD, 1080i. It's a look back on the show's release and is really good.

There is something missing from the extras. The original DVD release included some production sketches in video form. These do not exist on this release, which means it isn't "complete," however they weren't amazing. It is disappointing they aren't here though.

You have 8 episodes per disc, on 3 discs. I was worried there would be audio or video issues trying to cram so many episodes on a disc, however the bit rates are high throughout and it really looks quite amazing.


If you love the series and want the release with the best video quality yet released, this is the one to pick up. If you need to have all the extras, you'll need this release (or the DVD equivalent) and the original ADV release for the production sketches.

If you've never seen the show and don't own a previous version, this is the one to get.

5/5

Saturday, December 16, 2000

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing 9

While I understand that the point of a review is to inform, I am honestly disappointed in the ones posted by my peers. Most of the reviews are either blindly positive or blindly negative. I hope that this review proves to be informative and unbiased, so that it attracts the attention of interested parties.

The plot of Gundam Wing is standard fare for the epic Gundam saga: in the near future, orbiting space colonies are unfairly repressed by a greedy terrestrial government. On the anniversary of a great colonial leader's death, five young rebels go to Earth to wage guerilla warfare on the Earth Alliance. Their weapons: Gundams, giant humanoid battle machines of immense power. As the five boys fight for independence, the Alliance is overthrown by OZ, a secret society run by a powerful military-industrial complex that has been pulling the strings all along. Soon after, the Gundam pilots, their civilian allies, and like-minded members of OZ join forces to take down the warring factions and bring real peace.

With the characters, we have a group of young people who are highly misunderstood by the anime community. Heero Yuy, pilot of Wing Gundam, is a teenage soldier who's been trained to keep his emotions in check to the point where almost seems inhuman. On the civilian side is Relena Darlian, an introverted girl whose lonely upper-class childhood has left her seeking real friendship. The connection that begins with their chance encounter on a beach eventually leads to great emotional growth in them both, as Heero learns to live with his humanity - and his mistakes - and Relena becomes a more assertive, well-rounded person. Completing this classic triangle is ace pilot Zechs Marquise, Relena's long-lost brother, who entered the military so he could exact revenge for the slaying of their parents and the destruction of their homeland. Aiding Heero in his battles are the other four Gundam pilots: the cheerful Duo Maxwell, the somber Trowa Barton, the caring Quatre Winner, and the brash Zhang Wu Fei. On the side of OZ, we have the anachronistically noble Treize Khushrenada, his multi-faceted aide Lady Une, Zechs' old friend Lucrezia Noin, and Dorothy Catalonia, Relena's war-loving rival. Rounding out the main cast are the civilians: rebel soldier Sally Po, the Maganac Corps (a group of soldiers allied to Quatre, junk dealer Howard, and the "mad" scientists who built the Gundams.

The story is carried out pretty well. Most older Gundam series have the problem that they focus on the main character so much that it almost seems like the world revolves around him. With Wing, time is spent with a large number of varying characters, giving us a better picture of the After Colony world. The characters are well-written and exhibit a lot of growth, keeping with the central theme of communication between people. The mechanical designs are skillfully handled by three Gundam veterans: Kunio Okawara, Hajime Katoki, and Junya Ishigaki. The soundtrack features slick pop tunes by Two-Mix and a large number of well-orchestrated background tracks that underscore the action perfectly.

Admittedly, there are some pacing problems (such as two consecutive clip shows), but it all evens out in the end. A lot of people like to trash certain characters (Relena in particular), but as I've seen, most of this springs from their forming an opinion of the characters within their first five minutes on screen and never changing it. Some people complain that the Gundams are too powerful, ignoring the fact that they HAVE to be strong to fight entire armies by themselves. Also, while some say that Wing is "a complete rip-off of the original series", it's actually more original than Gundam Seed, a more recent addition to the family. And there is a bit much in the way of stock footage, but that can be expected with almost any anime.

There's another stumbling block, though: a disproportionate amount of people insist that the entire male cast is homosexual. Despite what the fangirls may say, this is not official. The actual series, and its sequels, show Heero and Relena as very close, with subtle hints at a deeper relationship than the princess and her knight in shining armor.

So, what's the final verdict? Personally, I love this series, so obviously I'm going to recommend it. But I will say this: if you decide to watch Gundam Wing based on my comments, ignore everything you read or hear about it. Watch the series with an open mind and no preconceptions. Don't listen to anyone else, because in the end, the opinion that matters the most is your own.

Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid review

Funimation has taken one of its most well respected mecha franchises and decided to give it digital remastering treatment for an upcoming Complete Series box set release.

Coming in at a total runtime of 320 minutes, Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TSR) The Complete Series spans 3-discs packaged in a pair of thin packs within a nice cardboard outer slipcase. As with the previous release, the set comes complete with the TSR OVA, Episode 000, 7-part featurette (scouting in Hong Kong), textless songs and a crop of Funimation anime trailers.

Language options are quite thorough with English (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or original broadcast Stereo) and Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or original broadcast Stereo) with the option of running English subtitles below either language track choice.

The program wears an appropriate TV 14 rating due to some violent sequences, themes of conflict, and a bit of non-suggestive female (incestual) nudity.

In my opinion the mark of a solid piece of sequel anime is a show's ability to not only present new material but to also seamlessly intertwine it with the plot of the original. Enter Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TSR) from anime master workers, Funimation. This gorgeous set represents the proper formula for improving upon the season before it (which just so happens to be the first of the series) without pulling the story off onto an unrelated tangent.

The Second Raid follows the exploits of mercenary soldier Sousuke Sagara who, right from the beginning, does an adequate job of fulfilling his undercover mission as a regular high school student. Unlike the first season, which focused more on the importance of female-lead character Kaname Chidori, this time the viewer is treated to a bit more sympathetic take on the almost child-like innocence of Sousuke. While their hot and cold romance still forms the backbone of the tale, there is no shortage of political motivation or interesting characters to accompany the action.

While Souske resumes his meteoric rise to the title of Sergeant for the paramilitary outfit called Mithril, the major struggle being presented finds Mithril locked in battle with the terrorist group Amalgam. In truth, and despite how well the good guys are presented here, it's tough not to find the bad guys terribly interesting. Among these is a lesbian pair of twin sister assassins, the enigmatic Leonard Testarossa (who just so happens to be the brother of Mithril's own cheery colonel, Teletha) and his extremely wicked robotic enforcers. Last but certainly not least is the lead villain Gates who, quite frankly, captures the concept of full ought insanity in animated form like something American animators can only dream of achieving through The Joker.

And since Full Metal Panic! initially hooked me with its near-flawless use of mecha, it's only proper that I take a moment to recognize the simple truth that TSR not only picks up where the first season left off, it may even supercede the robotic combat at times. Notable here is the ongoing struggle for Souske to make full use of the full abilities of his unit, the Arbalest, and its emotion controlled Lambda Driver. In my opinion the FMP series succeeds where other robot shows fail in both the mobility of the robots (called Arm Slaves or AS' for short) is in their sheer speed and maneuverability. Right from the beginning of the very first episode viewers are treated to an incredible display of AS stealth, speed, and power. It's cinematic showmanship in the purest form and enough to give even diehard anime fans the chills.

Although not entirely essential to the overall plot progression, I should mention that another Arm Slave, the M9 Falke, makes a few appearances that just dazzle with eerie coolness.

The discs themselves contain no shortage of bonus entertainment. The complete 13-episode series is presented across three discs in uncut, digitally remastered glory with dialog coming in the selectable form of English, Japanese or in original broadcast format with English subtitles. While the series itself technically consisted of 13 episodes, Funimation packed both a mini-bonus episode (complete with a scene that had this reviewer actually laughing out loud) and a conclusion OVA full-length episode as well. There is a 7-part featurette entirely in Japanese with English subtitles that does a few interesting things whether they were intentional or not. The first of which is that this section provides an unrivaled look at the Hong Kong lifestyle complete with unlimited comparisons to how life differs there from life in a typical US city. Next it paints the show's creative staff in an entirely different light. I'm guilty of stereotyping anime writers, producers, artists, and directors as moody, withdrawn and slightly disturbed individuals but nothing could be further from the truth with the down-to-earth team responsible for FMP. Finally, anime may be known for an unsurpassed level of detail but never is this reality made clearer than when the viewer is offered a chance to look at the actual Hong Kong locations that inspired the backgrounds of the show. It's downright mind-boggling and a testament to the amount of work that goes into putting a series like this together!

Additionally the set contains a comical little segment in which our creative team takes a trip to a Japanese Self-Defense Force expo for inspiration on the military equipment that appears throughout the series. There are Japanese (English subtitled) commentary tracks across every single episode from several of the show's voice actors and finally the set offer textless versions of the show's theme songs.

The truth is that it is very difficult if not impossible to come away from this presentation without having taken something worth remembering. The anime itself is rich, deep, and oftentimes silly enough to warrant a chuckle but there's something here even for those who wouldn't consider themselves fans of the genre. The creative process and attention to detail is downright awe-inspiring.

4/5

Thursday, December 14, 2000

Wolf's Rain review

This has a very unusual plot line without a doubt, however, I am of the opinion that if the plot had not been as unusual as it was (wolves appearing as humans, searching for paradise) that viewers wouldn't have gotten quite the same feeling from the show, it's sort of hard to describe. I went into this thinking I would be watching an unusual action flick that simply wanted to grab audiences by saying: "look we have wolves in our story!", thinking I would be forced to give up from the awkwardness of having "wolves," and that that the writers wouldn't be able to correctly compensate.
I was, to say the least, extraordinarily surprised.

Throughout the series the characters are truly easy to connect to. They all interlace and mesh, they fit together well and are somewhat of polar opposites, which makes for a great altogether feeling. In the beginning of the series I felt a little bored, but only for a little while. As soon as the second episode ended I was craving for more. The storyline is not for everyone, some would get bored with it. However, the fair amount of action coupled with the short (essentially 26 episode) series means that you wont be dealing with monotonous amounts of action. Overall the story is VERY original and definitely interesting, I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you like stories that can truly cause an emotional response, then this series is for you. It is extremely moving and deeply intense in its imagery.

The story manages to stay simple, while explicating something extremely different than the norm. All while doing so using characers that could not possibly be easy for a writer to accurately carve. I mean, what would a wolf be like in humans form? really? You wont find any dull or pointless characters here-I think they nailed it personally.

About halfway through the series you really start feeling for the characters, its then that you realize that the characters have really gotten to you-they actually mean something.

As the end draws closer, you really begin to feel the darkness and dreariness of the close. Then, as the end collapses, I can say that I for one shed a tear, and not because the series ended. I believe the series was a perfect length (30 episodes, a storyline lasting for 26 with 4 recap episodes-bleh). The storyline progresses well and there are not lulls where the characters are running around the country doing nothing useful, they are always going for their objective. As suddenly as you begin to become interested and pay attention, the action starts, and then all of a sudden you're at the end of the series-crying for each one of the characters. Its like a well written book, its not too long, its not too short, but just right, it tells the story and then ends.

A MAJOR contributor to the series was the audio/soundtrack, it truly made for a more than just wonderful experience, it made me *feel* the emotions of the story. I have only come across a few audio tracks that rival the ones in this series, those written by John Williams, (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and others), and the soundtrack from 3:10 to Yuma. The soundtrack from this was just simply staggering. I actually downloaded it right after hearing the "heavens not enough" song near the end of the series.

The art portrayed in this can be at times simple and yet beautiful. Overall the art throughout was very consistent and well made, I'm not going to say that it was unbelievable, but it was rather good. Although, the picture of the arctic wolf laying in the snow with its eyes half opened was simply amazing, and I wish I could get hold of a high quality version for use as a wallpaper. (edit: I actually got a hold of a high quality version, google images!)

I would like to note: if you watch this series, the original series was 26 episodes, then the studio released 4 extra episodes on DVD. These extra episodes were to make up for 4 episodes that were put into the series which were simply recaps of the past events in the series-a complete waste of time. If you watch this series, you MUST watch the 4 episodes released onto DVD, you will not have truly experienced this series until you have watched the last 4 episodes.

Thanks to the simple yet deep characters, the secrets kept about each up until the end, the few number of main characters (protagonists-8), the unbelievable mind-blowing soundtrack, and the rather good art, this series was an overall stunner and will be recommended by me to everyone I know. I'm giving it 9*, I was going to give it 8, but I have just realized that I haven't seen anything that quite matches up, so it gets a 9.

Eureka 7 review

If you have never seen Eureka 7 you need to see it, period. If you are a fan of Evangelion, you need to see it, period. If you love crazy mecha action, you need to see it, period.

I'm not kidding. This show has me thinking . . . . dare I even say it. . . that it is even better than my beloved Evangelion. I never thought there would be anything that could ever come along that would make me even suffer a fleeting thought like that but with Eureka 7, my mind has been flooded with that realization. . . . Eureka 7 may be the greatest anime series of all-time.

Now it has to be said, there are a lot of similarities between Eva and Eureka 7, and you can tell that BONES was highly influenced when creating this story by the classic Angel series. How only the "chosen" can pilot the Nirvash (just like the 1st, 2nd and 3rd child in Eva) and there seems at least at the beginning to be another alien race that wants to destroy mankind (like the Angels in Eva) and that the subject of rebirth for mankind (the Third Impact). But Eureka 7 seems to run with these themes and tie them all together with one of the most heart-wrenching love stories I have ever seen. Pure brilliance.

And I have to say that I have watched the series both with the Eng subtitles and with the Eng dub and I have to say the English translation on the dub is great and perhaps delivers an even more moving performance from the voice actors.

I have never teared up more at an anime. Weird. What always got to me was during the English dub at the end of every episode Renton and Eureka would both say in unison "To be continued. . ." but in a way and tone that reflects how the episode ends emotionally. At the end of many episodes they sounded happy, chipper, excited, relieved, worried. . . it really let you know how the characters were feeling.

But what really got to me was the end of episode 47 I think. They had such a sound of hopelessness in their voices like everything was done. . . and then at the end of episode 49 . . . there was only Renton uttering those words. I have never been more emotionally invested in the characters of an anime series in my life and it may be because they reel you in with 50 episodes!

5/5

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society review | 8.5

Stand Alone Complex- Solid State Society. It has been two years since "Major" Motoko Kusanagi left Section 9, a Special Forces unit assigned to cyber crime and answerable only to the Prime Minister of Japan in 2034. Family man Togusa is now leading a much larger force. Chief Aramaki has visibly aged in the job, walking painfully with a cane and attended by Proto. Batou has become a brooding, depressed commander of the training school. All wonder if the Major will ever return.

This time around our heroes must deal with the seemingly unconnected rash of suicides, mass child abductions, conspiracy involving elderly healthcare, a "Wizard Class" hacker called the Puppeteer, and as always, corporate malfeasance and political wrangling. All tidied up with a terrific subtle "what if?" ending.

At $3.2 million SSS is one of the most expensive TV movie anime's yet, and all the money is up on the screen.
Increased detail in both background and foreground (missing in 2nd Gig). "Busy" scenes found only in big budget movies. Naturally smooth movement by people and machines. Small touches like the Nissan concept cars, wrinkled clothing, reflections and small lighting effects, raindrops, "Handheld" camera angles, etc. There are plenty of "remember this?" scenes and other touchstones from the series, including great music by Yoko Kanno, with Origa singing the opening and closing songs. Motoko's face is even cuter than ever and the rest of her- you just don't mess with perfection.

Ghost in the Shell:Solid State Society is an exciting,intelligent,complex and very interesting film.This movie is a real masterpiece.Director Kenji Kamiyama tells an excellent story in this movie.The animation is perfect.Solid State Society is a very intelligent entertainment,which makes us think at the same time it totally entertains us.This masterpiece is a pleasure to any lover of the cinema.

.In the first category,I would put almost all of the teen anime with melodramatic stories,girls using the school uniform,tragic heroes,giant robots,surrealistic humor and magic creatures.In the second category,I would put more serious movies made to adults where the narrative has a complexity and emotional impact: Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell.

Overall 4.5/5

Ghost in the Shell review

An existential action anime? That's what Ghost In The Shell, a.k.a. Kokakukidotai (Shell Mobile Force) is, with animation sporting top-of-the-line computer imagery in the Bladerunner-like metropolis of Newport, but that's secondary compared to the underlying intellectual theme.

Major Kusanagi Motoko is a skillfully trained cyborg assassin in Newport's Section 9, who's taking out a diplomat illegally trying to give immunity to a listed programmer, demonstrates her training, including an amazing moment when she dives off a building, picks off her target, and via a thermoptic camouflage (i.e. portable cloaking device), vanishes from sight.

She and the members of her team, consisting of the mostly human Togusa, Ichikawa, and Batou, a burly no-nonsense blond cyborg with electronic eye implants, are trying to track down the Puppet Master. The Puppet Master is a master hacker who hacks into people's brains and uses them for his dirty work, presumably to carry out espionage or terrorism, leaving his puppets no memory of their infiltration. One of his puppets keeps using a public computer to try to infiltrate the brain of his wife, who is divorcing him and wants custody of their child. When he's picked up, he is told by Section 9 that his wife, child, and divorce are all false memories imprinted by the Puppet Master, causing further distress to the man when he is told the fake memories can't be erased.

However, there are two conflicts going on. One is Kusanagi's mission to hunt down the Puppet Master. The other and the one with a deeper meaning is the search for her identity within the scheme of a whole, or rather, something beyond her individual self, highlighted by her words taken from the Book of Corinthians: "For now we through a glass, darkly." This reflects an earlier statement when she says in observation of a victim of the Puppet Master, "all data that exists is both fantasy and reality. Whichever it is, the data a person collects in a lifetime is a tiny bit compared to the whole." A postmodernist flair is introduced when the Puppet Master says "While memories may as well be the same as fantasy, it is by these memories that mankind exists."

The question thus is, is it possible for the soul to exist in a highly technological world, where special operatives have cyborg shells, metabolic control systems, ESP, and cyber-brains?
The search is also symbolized when she surfaces, and the animated image of her rising up to meet her reflection, representing her true self. She wonders if she has a ghost, an animating soul or spirit. In looking at the construction of her body in the opening credits, one sees that she's heavily mechanized, with an outer layer of flesh surrounding her.

Her attempt at defining the self begins with a unique face, voice, childhood memories, feelings for the future, and the set of mental processes producing a consciousness that is "me." However, upon a discovery involving the Puppet Master, she further worries that what if there wasn't a real "me," that "I believe I exist based only on what my environment tells me. ... What if a computer brain can generate a ghost and harbor a soul? On what basis then do I believe in myself?" In other words, what if there is no higher power to connect to, bringing into mind the word "religion," which means "to reconnect to."

The action sequences aren't extreme, ultraviolent, or gratuitous in the chase sequences, but are moderate, that is until the heavy artillery is brought out, at which point glass, metal, and rock starts to fly. A very intelligent, thought-provoking, one-of-a-kind existential, soul-searching anime, with Kusanagi despite its cyborg dominance showing some human traits.

5/5

Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness 9.0

So I picked up this little bundle of madness yesterday... And I can feel my addiction being refueled with high octane Gasoline and many other forms of volatile chemicals.

This is my impressions as a returning Disgaea Player. Having played 1 - 4 multiple times each, and done hundreds of hours of grinding and the like.

First I'll start with the characters. Laharal, Flonne, and Etna once again take center stage and to be honest? It doesn't matter to me. I have never been a big fan of the original cast personally, And Flonne's English VA Makes me quiver with rage. On top of that Laharal's VAing seems... almost rushed/sub par. Everyone else is fine... at least so far.

The Story is simple, as all of them are, and doesn't get in the way. But only being in Chapter 3 I can't really say much more about it as it's just starting. The Dialog so far has been the traditional Disgaea madness. Sillyness abound and strange sentences everywhere! It's been mostly entertaining thus far so I have no real complaints about it yet.

Now, onto the meat and potatoes of Disgaea... the gameplay. The first few battles are a tutorial to learn the basics of the game if you are new. If not, you can skip the Tutorial aspect and just start fighting. Immediately I noticed some amazing changes.

1. The Movement panels are much easier to see, it's a simple but nice improvement

2. Throwing.... OOOH throwing is more awesome now. you can throw all around you instead of in a straight line. Those that haven't played the game before have NO FREAKING idea how useful that is.

3. The Sounds, Animations, Even the Font have all been altered and I love it all. Battle feels more... well just more. your Characters will occasionally say random things about combat, they will support each other on occasion even if they aren't standing beside each other, the attacks are quick and explosive... it's fantastic. Often I'll attack with 3 units only to have 7 attacks go off because they constantly support each other.

4. Mounting is a new feature and it's unlocked pretty much from the stat (battle 2 I think) and it allows any human character to use a Monster unit as a mount. This allows the monster to use it's movement and defense while the Human unit attacks. This may seem silly but... it's potent as all hell. Put a Mage on the back of a Mothman your mage now has 6 movement, higher defense, and can fly... WIN. Mounting also gives you access to powerful Mounted Skills which Become more powerful the more the two units like each other. Mounting doesn't have duration like Monsterchange did... so yeah that's awesome.

5. Which brings me to the Likability, each unit has a Likability meter towards other units. The higher it is, the higher the chance of support attacks, combo attacks, higher powered monsters skills etc... They can even defend each other. This can be raised and lowered in a few ways, using items, helping out, and Being a Master/Apprentice will increase it. Attacking/killing/using a specific item will lower it.

There are far more added things than this but they were the Biggest changes to combat, It's hard to explain why the combat is better than the previous Disgaea games if you haven't played them. Even if you have it's still something you just have to experience to see what I mean.

Outside of combat has changed as well! From a redesign of the menu structure/UI to the changes in items and Weapon shops to even how Item world (Sea) and the Dark Assembly work, heck even Items themselves have changed.

1. The game now has a new UI, it's quite nice actually. It shows all the details you could even need to know about your units, including the stat bonuses gained from jsut the items they are wearing, to how skilled they are with weapons and other attacks. It's impressive how much it's different... and yet still familiar. The only thing I miss is being able to display All the stats on one page in combat. So I could see the HP, and SP values as well as the ATK, DEF, etc... Just something i have to get used to is all. On top of this the game now shows if your stats are affected. If you get a Buff or Debuff it's reflected with an up or down arrow on your stats screen.

2. Items Rarity has been removed completely. Previously Items had a Rarity of 0-255. 0-10 was a Legendary Item, 11-50 or so was a rare item, everything else was common. That has been taken out, there are now just Common, Rare and Legendary Items.

3. Item Sets - Previously in Disgaea games if you equipped items of equal rarity you got a "set" bonus. This has been carried over, however it's much simpler now. If you equip 2+ rare items each gets a bonus for each one equipped. Same with Legendary. It's a pretty decent bonus too! And not only that the game tells you that you are getting the bonus.

4. Character World has been removed completely, and I'm kinda happy with that. Character world was interesting, but it was just another long time sync that Disgaea really didn't need. (personal opinion there). Evilities are still here but they are somewhat different. Each class has 3 evilities to chose from and all have wildly beneficial effects. I can't possibly go into them all but they do change how combat works significantly. You have to know what evilities your enemies have (It shows it in combat so don't worry) and how to plan around them. For instance Dragons could be immune to wind, or they could gain benefits from others using wind skills. Evilities can also be taken from other classes via the Dark Assembly (I believe) If the characters like each other enough.

5. Weapon skills and Fortes are back, each class has certain skill with weapon types and learn skills faster with weapons they are familiar with. For example a warrior will learn Sword skills much faster than learning say Bow skills. Skills can be leveled by using them instead of spending mana on them like in D3 and D4. Personally I like and dislike this system. It's great for combat skills and feels more balanced. but other skills suffer majorly from this. Skills like Espoir, Shield, Heal, etc... you have to use to level them up... well Espoir (Cures Status Ailments) doesn't get used that often, forcing you to cast it for no reason just to level it up. So it has it's ups and down.

6. Master/Apprentice is also back, a Master can have Multiple Apprentices, and can even be an apprentice to someone else. One unit can only belong to one master. Having an apprentice gives stat boosts and things to the Master, while the apprentices gain the ability to use the Master's skills and spells. If they use it enough they can learn it and even use it without being an apprentice. They also Gain weapon skills faster, as well A higher combo/support rate with their master. If your units AREN'T being used as either Master or Apprentice you are doing it wrong as there are 0 downsides. When a character is created it automatically becomes an apprentice to the character that created it. So if I call the assembly with Laharl and make a Warrior, that warrior will be Laharal's Apprentice (you can change this in the menu)

7. Item and item shops have changed, slightly, but for the better. You are no longer limited to a 30 item inventory, you have the entire 999 item warehouse at your disposal at ALL times. Item shops also no longer have limited inventory, if you have unlocked it, they sell it and an infinite amount of it and you no longer have to leave the shop come back and hope they have it again. The shops and other item screans have also organized the items into Categories. Fist, Sword, Armor, Trinkets etc... all have their own tab. I LOVE that. and finally the armor and weapon shops have been combined into one shop, the Equipment shop.

Changes to the Dark Assembly. It has remained more or less the same in terms of what it's for, however the Character creation as well as A few other tihngs have changed.

1. Each Meeting of the Assembly seems to have a "lead" senator, who appears behind you. These are the same as the Legendary senators from Previous games, but they always seem to be there this time.

2. The Senators vote faster (Just saves time)

3. Characters no longer need to be reincarnated to obtain their next rank. In previous games when you unlocked the next rank of a monster (There are usually 6 ranks) you had to reincarnate your character up to the next rank (Start at level 1 again) now this did give you great bonuses and things, but now you have to level it up again. NO MORE! You can pass a bill for a Promotion for a certain amount of mana, and become the next rank. Your Aptitudes increase and everything, the only bonus you don't get is the increase to base stats. Reincarnation is STILL there, but it doesn't feel required for the main game, only post game things or cross class things.

4. While it's not technically a Dark Assembly change, the fact that you have access to all your items helps. A lot.

5. When creating a new character you now get the choice of Alternative colors as well as their personality. Now the Personality isn't so much new as it's changed. Each personality has a different style of voice for the character as well as a different evility. At first I wasn't happy with that, I wanted Evility 3 but voice 1, but having them linked together I had to choose Voice 3 and evility 3. Turns out you can change their Evility or their voice serperately via the Dark Assembly for free, infinitely after the character is made. You can also change their name, and color for free and as many times as you wish, so have fun!

Changes to Overworld

Two new things have been added to the "hub" world that I wanted to mention. The first is the Dojo.

The Demon Dojo is the replacement for Character world. You can assign your units to train in various stats. Hp, Sp, Atk, Def, Int, res, Spd, hit. Each one will increase the amount of points that unit gains when it levels by a certain %. The started is 5% as the training levels increase so to does the %, as well as the amount of units that can be training in it at the same time (At the start it's 1). There are others too but I haven't unlocked them so I don't quite know what they do.

The Cheat shop is the other thing that was added. This allows for the manipulation of certain things. From Item world routes to EXP gained. Now it's not like you can jsut increase the amount of EXP, HL(money), Mana, and Skill EXP gained... you have to sacrifice one to raise another. So I could set it to 80% HL and 120% EXP. or 90% mana, 90$ HL, 110% EXP and 110% Skill EXP. It's kinda nice because if I don't need money, I can just put it all in EXP etc... As you progress into the game you can remove more and more points from one and put it in another. At the moment I can only set HL to 80% and EXP to a max of 120% I believe. You can also disable EXP all together, disable support etc...

Item world has also changed a bit. If you don't know what it is, then this section will probably not be useful since You will have little idea what I mean.

1. You start off in innocent town, you chose a boat to go in and depart. The boat determines how far down into the item you can go. 30, 60, or 100 floors etc... each boat has a different value. You will sail to a different island each floor, and you will always start on the boat. The Islands are still randomly generated.

2. There are less Enemy units, however THIS time around killing the enemy units actually adds to the items stats. The more you kill the higher % the stats increase, up to 15% I believe

3. Secret rooms have been removed, well not so much removed as they are randomly encountered between floors, not as a separate exit from the current floor. After you finish a floor there is a chance the next floor will be a bonus room. The rooms vary just like they did in previous games.

4. the 10th floor once again is a boss floor. However this time you can't multi-kill the bosses. You only kill them once. And you are guaranteed to go to Innocent down afterwards (I believe) Innocent town now has a shop in it.

5. Item World Assembly has also changed, you no longer need to be in the item itself to call the assembly you do that from the item world person int he overworld. On top of that you don't use Mana to call for bills, you use HL.

6. Reverse Pirating has been replaced with Bonus Rooms... that I believe do the exact same thing as reverse pirating without the insanely ridiculously powerful enemies. Could be wrong though.

7. Last but not least! Getting to floor 30 of a common item will reset the item to floor 0, increase the items rarity to rare (Remember that whole bit about item sets? *Winks*) and lets you go back into the item. Clearing a Rare item to floor 60 will reset the floors back to 0, then increase the rarity to Legendary. Get to floor 100 of that and... well I'm not actually sure. Probably resets to 0 again. If not, well you certainly have a damn powerful item.

As a final point there are a few more things I wish to note, this is again for Disgaea fans.

There is no X-Dimension/Dark World in this game, and the Land Of Carnage is unlocked automatically at the games end. This is big. big. BIG... at least for me who has never managed to unlock the land of Carnage due to it being ridiculously complicated to unlock in previous games. And last, but certainly not least... THE GAME HAS AN AUTOSAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (I am a slave to Autosave... I love it so very VERY much.) The Autosave will not overwrite your manual save, and if you don't want it you can leave it disabled.

I have played the game for 6 hours thus far, and I have enjoyed the gameplay a great deal. I think Given a little time to dive deeper into it, it will be my favorite Disgaea game, gameplay wise. Disgaea 2 still remains my favorite Character and Story wise, probably always will. but with Monster Mounting, The new Itme World, the new UI, the new... everything The game is just an amazing improvement all around for Disgaea fans. If you are new to the series, this is actually a GREAT title to start with as the features are less than thsoe of previous titles and are a lot easier to manage/understand while at the same time not being insanely simple. From the Crazy, mad attacks (I mean come on... The Prinny Attack is a replica of Bomberman from the old days just do damage...) to the silly Dialog and over the top characters and world... there isn't much negative to really say about the game. It is still a grindy grind grind GRIND game... but it's better at it than the previous entries thus far.

I give Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness 9 Pirouetting Prinnies/10 Dood. And I can not WAIT to get home and play some more this evening. Gotta level up my Prinnies dood!