A-1

Annotated Anime: Your Lie in April episode 5

Nov 11 // Hiroko Yamamura
The humor in this episode was really on point, and gave a nice contrast to the melancholic build up of everyone's hearts. Just when things well up to a point you think you might not be able to bare, something that makes you laugh out loud happens. The little kids in the show are just absolutely priceless. I really noticed how well the ambient music in the show is used this episode. Things really matched well with the dreary backdrop of the cloud filled skies. Even in such grey surroundings, the attention to detail just looked amazing. Seriously, you could pause almost any frame of the show and make a wallpaper out of it. Eyes, eyes, eyes. Tears, tears, tears. Bring it. We finally also find out where the show's title comes from, at least in one way. The ideas of what it means to be a musician, and what it means to be alive really resonate with me, and the sweet love story brewing is just so charming. You really don't want to see anything ill happen to any of the characters happen, which is rare for me. I usually want to see spears raining out of the sky, and giant robots laying waste to towns. Now do we think that Kosei will play in a piano contest? Or, will we be yelling at the screen next week, telling him to "Get in the damn robot!" [Check out the beauty of Your Lie in April over at Crunchyroll]  
Your Lie in April photo
Get in the robot Kosei
This is really the kind of show you have to watch alone, due to the crazy emotions that tug at you during viewing. Everything is so subtle and delicate, you feel like any distraction might take away from the experience. The m...

First Impressions: Your Lie in April

Nov 04 // Hiroko Yamamura
Your Lie in April is the anime breathe of fresh air I've been craving all year. I used to be pretty susceptible to romantic slice of life shows, pretty much gobbling up anything with a little heartbreak and a decent love triangle. However, the formula really started to become contrived, with pretty much the same tropes being revisited over and over. That's not to sayYour Lie in April isn't devoid of such tropes, it just finds a way to elevate itself past them... so far. The story is actually somewhat simple. We meet the star of the show, Kosei Arima, who is a brilliant pianist, and the musical hope of his ailing mother. Unfortunately the disease ends up taking his mother, and Kosei finds himself scarred for many reasons, unable to continue playing piano. He is supported by his two best friends, Tsubaki and Ryota, who seem to always be on the look out for the down and out friend. Life is just churning on, with Kosei finding little solace, until the fateful day he is introduced the lovely and talented Kaori Miyazono, a free spirited violinist. Kosei finds himself starting out as the third wheel, as Tsubaki seems intent on hooking her up with the sporty and popular Ryota. If this sounds like the set up for a typical slice of life anime, you wouldn't be wrong, but it's everything that sets Your Lie in April apart. Number one, the show is jaw droppingly gorgeous. From the color selection, background artwork, to the characters themselves. Everything in the show looks meticulous and intentional. You'll forget that your television could provide such rich and saturated colors in an animation. I don't think I've seen eye designs quite as good in quite a while. Arakawa's designs really come to life, with every sparkle and tear in the character really looking amazing. I'm especially please with the fact that they chose to show Kosei's eyes through his frames, to give the viewer a sense of seeing the character in a closer way than even the others in the universe do. The computer aided animation holds up beautifully, and I can honestly say that this is the best looking anime I've seen in years. Secondly, the music is fantastic. You would probably guess that a show whose main characters are classical musicians would contain great music. It's not just the in story music that's great. The opening and ending pop songs are fantastic, with the BGM tracks also being lovely. The voice acting is also top notch. There's so much going on audio wise, that this is one show you want to watch with your speakers turned up. The simplicity of the show is what grabs me. The fact that A-1 would put a AAA production towards a basic plot makes things even sweeter. I don't know what the "Lie" they are referring to is yet, but I'm sure it will make things quite a bit more complicated. In four short episodes they've succeed to develop characters that I truly care about, a web of potential love stories and entrenched in, and fates that I can't wait to see unravel. Sure, I'm a sucker for production value, but it doesn't drown out the good writing here as well. Now that we see Kosei is able to push past his inability to play, and Kaori is facing what looks to be some serious medical issues, I'm eagerly awaiting next week's episode. Who's going to get which girl? Who is actually in love with who? Maybe Kosei and Ryota end up together? Whatever happens I just hope they can keep the current pace going across the 22 episode arc. Your Lie in April is my must watch anime of this year so far, and definitely not a show you should miss. [Take in the beauty of Your Lie in April of at Crunchyroll]  
Your Lie in April photo
I can't contain the feels
I have to admit, it's been a while since I've actually gasped while watching an anime. However, that's exactly what occurred after I processed the sheer beauty that was the first episode of A-1 Picture's Your Lie in April. I ...

IM@S CG photo
IM@S CG

Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls anime trailer sure is pretty


Flowers, flowers everywhere
Sep 22
// Jeff Chuang
The era of warring idols continue with The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls turning into an anime next year. Above is the first real trailer for the TV series with a massively profitable, idol-raising mobile game behind it. It also looks gorgeous.

Review: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream

Aug 27 // Elliot Gay
Persona 3 The Movie #2: Midsummer Knight's DreamStudio: A-1 PicturesDistributed by: AniplexRelease Date: June 7, 2014 Much like Movie #1, Midsummer Knight's Dream cuts off a lot of the fat from the Persona 3 story so that it can make its way to the end goal within the allotted run-time. What this means is that there are zero social link side stories, and ultimately very little of the school-life portions that help to make the game's so endearing. That being said, I think in the name of letting the full Persona 3 narrative breathe, these were necessary cuts. The film already suffers from how chopped up the original storytelling was, and bringing in the optional content would have only made the pacing suffer more. Unlike Spring of Birth however, the portion of the game that Movie #2 covers is both eventful and ties into the larger plot at large. The film essentially kicks off with Aigis' entrance, and it ends on a huge story beat that also happens to serve as a strong cliffhanger. In my Persona 3 The Movie: #1 piece, I noted that in order to give the narrative a proper through-line, Yuki was given an extremely apathetic personality. The goal was to show his gradually growth into a person who could depend and care about others by the end of the movie, and it works. This time around, the underlying theme becomes “do we really want to go back to everyday life?” The notion of a fear of normality is shared across most of the cast: Yuki is afraid of losing his place, Fuka wants to be useful to the people she cares about, Ken has finally found a new family. The list goes on, but ultimately the heroes now have a true objective (destroying all the large Shadows), and are unsure as to whether they actually want to see it through or not. The seeds of confusion are planted by the primary antagonists, the Persona-users that comprise Strega, who would see the Dark Hour continue eternally if they had their way. Much of the film's focus is on Aigis and her super powers, but the emotional core rests in Ken and Shinji's laps. If you despised Ken in the original game, this isn't going to change your opinion, but I for one never had much of a problem with his character. He's an emotional elementary school kid who has no family to turn to, is given a powerful weapon, and is jarringly made aware of the tragic truth behind his mother's death. After barely appearing in Spring of Birth, Shinji gets plenty of screen time here and happens to have one of the funniest moments across both films thus far. My biggest complaint yet again is the general disjointedness of the movie. Often times the characters will go from hanging out at a restaurant to fighting a main boss Shadow back to back with only a calendar transition to let the audience know that time has passed. On the one hand, the film series has finally introduced its main antagonists and end goal, so it actually feels as though the characters are working toward something. On the other hand, that hasn't erased the fact that due to the nature of the source material, lots of time gets skipped over frequently. That being said, I understand that this is a unique problem that's present when adapting the Persona franchise for TV or film, and I'm willing to accept that these films aren't going to try and find an alternative. It's just something that bares mentioning regardless. On the technical side of things, A-1 Productions has taken over animation duties for AIC ASTA, and it certainly shows. Aigis gets the brunt of the great animation cuts, with her introductory action sequence being a real showstopper. There's still some off-model wackiness that goes on here and there, but on the whole it's solid across the board, and a decent enough step up from the first movie. It's certainly leaps and bounds better than the original animated cutscenes in the Persona 3 game. Shoji Meguro's soundtrack is an electric mix of music from the game and new themes which blend together nicely. His work is rarely ever anything less than great, and I'm looking forward to grabbing the soundtrack CD whenever it's made available. I also want to give a quick shout-out to the best use of the Persona 3 battle theme ever: you'll know it when you see it. Persona 3 The Movie: #2 had the monumental task of not only introducing the core story for the remaining films, but also its primary villains and the rest of the cast. Despite thr brief run time of 93 minutes, it manages to do that as well as impress with some great action sequences and some drama to boot. I wasn't sure what to expect with the studio switch from AIC ASTA to A-1 Pictures, but clearly it was the right move. I had my doubts about trying to adapt Persona 3 into a series of films. It's a huge game with a massive cast, lots of various subplots, and way too much content to tackle in such a short time span. To my surprise however, the movies have been doing a noble job of it. While nothing can replace the experience of actually playing the original source material, Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream is a great watch for fans of the game. If you have friends who have always wanted to dip their toes into the franchise without the time investment, you can do a hell of a lot worse than sitting them down with the films. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Persona 3 The Movie: #2 photo
Baby baby baby baby baby
Despite its pacing problems and general lack of an overarching story, I enjoyed Persona 3 The Movie: #1 Spring of Birth. As far as animated film adaptations of long games go, I think it did a novel job of compressing hours of...

Black Butler photo
Black Butler

The new Black Butler: Book of Circus trailer is now served


Action packed
Jul 02
// Hiroko Yamamura
There's a sexy new trailer for the highly anticipated new Black Butler television series, set to debut this month. Black Butler: Book of Circus is set to cover the enigmatic Ciel Phantomhive's journey a bit closer to the ori...
Aldnoah.Zero photo
Aldnoah.Zero

Feast your eyes on the new extended Aldnoah.Zero promo


Robots with knives!
Jun 30
// Hiroko Yamamura
There's a delicious new trailer for Gen Urobuchi and Ei Aoki's upcoming new sci-fi series, Aldnoah.Zero. There seems to be plenty of drama, beautiful scenery, and people dying everywhere! Did we mention that there's mecha? M...
Persona photo
Persona

Big Persona announcement? Persona 4 Golden getting a show


Coming out this July
May 02
// Pedro Cortes
After a fair amount of speculation earlier this week, the big news that Atlus was sitting on was none other than a new Persona 4 TV show, called Persona 4 the Golden ANIMATION, or P4GA for brevity's sake. Once again, we'll be...

First Impressions: World Conquest Zvezda Plot

Jan 18 // Jeff Chuang
World Conquest Zvezda Plot begins with a scene narrated by a voice-over -- presumably in the far future -- and we see the ruined landscape of Tokyo around a statue of a mysterious woman in weird garbs, holding her arms out in salute. The narrator, seen only in this scene, does a similar salute. In a flash we're back in present day (so it seems) Tokyo as a teenage kid, Asuta, who just ran away from home tries to buy something to eat. The city seems to run on a strict curfew, and every store shuts down when the clock strikes a certain hour. In this lonely city Asuta runs into Kate, who appears to be ten years old or so. Kate, on her little bicycle, complete with training wheels, then begin talking about her grand dream of conquering the world. It seems no coincidence that her name matches the name dropped earlier on by the narrator about who conquered the world. In this context, however, it all feels like World Conquest Zvezda Plot is pulling a fast one on you as Kate's spiel is perfect chuunibyou-fodder. The rest of the episode follows that sort of feeling. Asuta joins Kate's secret organization, and meets the rest of the weirdos that makes up the group. Everyone in the group except Asuta (and Yasu, who accidentally unleashes some earth-scorching attack furbies that drew attention from the SDF in the first episode) seems to have some kind of super power, and ridiculous outfit. Asuta's gas mask seems like everyday rave-ware in comparison. It's not unusual to see an anime hold stuff back, and totally flaunts that it knows what you don't in your face. World Conquest Zvezda Plot does this, except what is shown only make magical sense, not common sense. It's one thing to create tension that makes you want to find out more because the developments are shocking or intriguing, it's another to evoke this curiosity because you are into magical girls. Kate demonstrated her ability to summon a giant magical fist that flattened tanks. One girl was able to slice metal like hot butter. A robot girl is, well, a robot girl decked with weapons. There is also your typical mad scientist (think Professor Green from Star Driver) and a big man who looks like a Russian Cold-War surplus equipment in terms of his outfit and size. None of it makes sense other than "magical anime" sense. And maybe that's not a bad thing. For those who can stomach this unusual foray into the anime-magical, it's good to recognize that Zvezda Plot does everything else right, and by that I mean it's got a great opening and ending sequence, the character animation is fluid and joyous, the art direction and coloring are playful and vibrant, the designs are creative (if you can stomach the exposed skin anyway), and the whole thing is actually fun to watch. The catch is just that we probably shouldn't think too much about Zvezda Plot right now, given what little we have to go on. So, yes, let's give World Conquest Zvezda Plot another episode or two, because so far the strongest inkling of intrigue comes from the short opening scene of a devastated future; I get the feeling that we won't see that come to past until much later. [Watch Kate conquer the world on Crunchyroll and Daisuki]
FI: Zvezda Plot photo
Conquering the world one crazy anime at a time
There's just something evocative when a little girl in a revealing magical outfit make grand gestures about world conquest. For some people it's a hot fashion statement. For some, it's about a sense of shame, or the lack ther...

Review: Oreshura

Jan 10 // Jeff Chuang
Oreshura [DVD]Studio: A-1 PicturesLicensed by: Aniplex of AmericaRelease Date: December 17, 2013MSRP: $74.98 ($59.98) To me, the million-dollar question is "how do we make the harem concept interesting in 2014?" Oreshura gives it a good try. As with all things harem, one's mileage will vary, but Oreshura builds its house on sold ground, starting with a pleasant visual style and sense of atmosphere; this is a thoroughly modern and spiffy-looking show. As far as a romantic comedies go, Oreshura is definitely on the refined side, one of it's strongest distinguishing characteristics. When we think of refinement in the harem comedy genre, it might remind you of the traditional gender roles, or in this case, girly girls. Oreshura doesn't quite have what you'll find in older shows like Ai Yori Aoshi or even Ah! My Goddess, but in both the art direction characterization, the show focuses on the graceful school of refined, pastel-colored maidens. This may seem contrary to the title about someone who argues a lot, but that's part of the one of the show's main themes; the constant source of tension between the traditional and modern views of femininity. Oreshura begins as the distant-but-beautiful Masuzu transfers into protagonist-teen Eita's high school class, mid-year. Eita's childhood friend Chiwa, who we later learn is suffering from a disabling sports injury that ended her path as a competitive kendo practitioner, learns one day that Masuzu and Eita are going out. However, all is not quite as it seems; neither Eita or Masuzu are interested in romance, and Masuzu is basically blackmailing Eita into doing her bidding in the guise of dating. The charade lasts throughout the entire series, but that isn't important; what does become important is how Eita and Chiwa both mature through Masuzu's intervention. Chiwa and Eita were very close friends even before Chiwa's injury, and closer still now that Chiwa relies on Eita daily to cook for her, rather than relying on her busy parents. Their relationship takes a step further as we learn early in Oreshura that Eita's parents are separated, each deserting the other for new lovers, ultimately abandoning Eita to the care of his aunt. Eita is old enough to live by himself (with Chiwa's family next door), which is good, because his aunt doesn't quite show up until towards the end of the series. Given all of this, Eita takes up the mantle of the responsible adult in his household, and studies hard to the exclusion of almost everything else. Masuzu also has major issues with her parents. At the start of the story, she runs away from her rich family in Europe to join her estranged biological mother in Japan, facilitating her transfer to Eita's schol. It's this opportunity that allows Masuzu the freedom to goof around with Eita, and later on with the other girls in Masuzu's "Self-recreation" club for young maidens. In the club, Masuzu basically has a lot of fun at Chiwa and Eita's expense by putting them up for all kinds of weird scenarios that lampoon popular anime and manga archetypes. The second half of the series follows a similar, openly passive-aggressive pattern as new girls Himeka  and Ai join Masuzu's club, expanding the harem. Himeka, who has one of the most creative character origins in recent memory, is Eita's lover from their past lives-- or so she thinks (it's complicated.) Fan-favorite Ai-chan, on the other hand, is just a very well-acted tsundere character (voiced by Ai Kayano); her hardcore "dere" routines borderline full-on comedic. Much of the humor in Oreshura comes from characters one-upping each other during arguments. It's the way they make these statements that takes on an edge of absurdity, and it's usually funny in that tongue-in-cheek way. Aniplex of America's Oreshura DVD release is competent, simple and to the point. A clear case serves three sub-only discs with clean opening and ending credits, web preview clips (basically longer preview segments), with a reversible cover, inside a slipcase. The only major thing to note (and perhaps separating it from the garden variety anime on DVD) is the liner booklet titled Pachi Lemon which comes with the usual illustrations and show notes describing the premise and the characters. Pachi Lemon also happens to be the fashion rag that Chiwa reads on occasion, and it's great to see that kind of detail reproduced in the physical release. The video and audio come across clearly and cleanly, albeit nothing fancy is going on. While I would have liked a Blu-ray option, Oreshura is not a show that will dazzle you through special effects or powerful animation, despite being stylish from head to toe. The opening animation is something special, making it very clear that this show is about the concept of a girlish lover. And this what-you-see-is-what-you-get quality is consistent throughout the show: It's up front about all its pretenses and clichés, but does mix them with a few interesting things. It's about very girly girls being somewhat passive-aggressive about what they want, and about those somewhat-pure, idealized maiden-y confessions. It's also about the kind of fanservice that appeals more emotionally than fleshly. On the whole, Oreshura is a difficult piece to embrace, outside of those moments that will elicit a good laugh. It's definitely a touch cerebral compared to your average harem show, which may be a turn-off for some fans, but refreshing for others. There are a lot of interesting narrative components and plot comes at a nice clip, but the big picture is not available for the viewers until they're done with the series. (For the record, I've watched it twice now.) Each of the girls gets her day in the sun in the end, so don't expect a very conclusive ending either--although, arguably, Eita does pick somebody. It's a story for people who demand more sophistication in their narratives, but purely as character motifs that come out in word plays, not so much in assumption-shattering twists and deconstructive reversals. I should be fair; the fact that Oreshura touches on the theme of youthful beauty being skin-deep is pretty rare in late-night anime. For those who like subtle character interplay with a good sense of humor (doubly so if you enjoy Jojo's Bizarre Adventure), Oreshura is something worth looking into. I don't know why, but my favorite Oreshura joke has to be when Chiwa, Ai and Masuzu were calling each other by their translated names--Thousand Japan, Love Cloth, and Summer River (Natsukawa). It's the little things that get you laughing when the rest of the show is off doing it's whole harem thing. Thinking back, I probably had more fun dissecting the show now than going through the process of watching it. It's why one might as well go for a run outside instead. 6.0 – Okay. 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. Oreshura attempted to do something interesting but failed to improve on the major problems most people have with titles like these. It'll probably make great rental fodder or bargain grab.
Oreshura photo
Light novel maidens do verbal battle
Oreshura, or Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru, is an elaborate reimagining of a simple idea. Short for "My girlfriend and my childhood friend argue a lot," the shortened name makes marketing and looking up the s...

Review: Vividred Operation

Jan 04 // Karen Mead
Vividred Operation DVD Complete SetStudio: A-1 PicturesLicensed by: Aniplex of AmericaRelease Date: December 17, 2013MSRP: $74.98 First, the good, and there is a fair amount of it. This is a pretty great-looking show, with fluid animation and some fun design work. I found the characters themselves to be pretty generic-looking, but the crisp artwork and vibrant color palette is consistently appealing. The scenes of the girls using their super-powered Palette Suits to fly over the ocean, both in combat and out, are filled with a sense of genuine exuberance that few anime are able to capture; at times, you almost feel like you're flying yourself. The show has more than cosmetic appeal too, since it has an intriguing setting. Instead of the typical current-day-Japan, our gals live in a near-future where all of the world's energy problems have been solved by a brilliant invention called the Manifestation Engine. Due to the abundance of clean energy, the people of Vividred are basically living in a utopia, and they know it. Of course, when the mysterious bio-machines only known as the Alone start to attack the Manifestation Engine, the utopian setting makes the sudden violence all the more striking. How ironic if, after humans had finally found the means to stop fighting among themselves over resources, the very machine that enabled true world peace led to destruction from without? All of that rather interesting stuff is secondary to what Vividred Operation is really about though, which is admiring middle-school girls from behind as closely and as often as possible: Think I'm exaggerating here? I took both these screenshots during the first minute of the show. The first MINUTE. I feel kind of like I'm beating a dead horse here just by mentioning the sexualization of young girls, since most fans know by now that shows featuring girls this age tend to feature fanservice to appeal to male otaku ("Constant butt shots? It must be Tuesday!") However, if I let it go unremarked, I feel like I'm just accepting it as the status quo, and I don't think that's right either. In the case of Vividred, the constant closeups of gleaming butts-- because yes, they gleam-- render the show inappropriate for younger viewers, whom the show is actually better suited for thematically than an adult audience. See, if the only problem with this show was the amount of fanservice, that would create an interesting little ethical dilemma for me over whether or not I could recommend it, but that's not the case. Vividred Operation has a lot of problems aside from the butts. All the interesting sci-fi stuff about the Manifestation Engine never really goes anywhere, the show doesn't really capitalize on its setting, the action is mostly predictable, and characters tend toward the bland and underdeveloped. I found the first few episodes downright tedious to watch due to their predictability, and while the show admittedly gets better as it goes along, it still never deals with any theme more complex than "The power of friendship can save the world!" Furthermore, the extent to which the show copies from other popular properties is striking. Like Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, it's a sci-fi magical girl show-- meaning, the girls' transformations are powered by tech rather than magic. There's nothing wrong with being inspired by Nanoha, however, the mascot character in Vividred ends up being a talking ferret- just like Nanoha. Rei Kuroki, the token "Dark magical girl" has a lot in common with Madoka's Homura Akemi; in fact, the whole show often feels like a kind of poor-man's Madoka. Add in the fact the Alone often seem like very literal copies of the Angels from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Vividred rapidly starts to feel like a scrapbook, cataloging items from better shows. Go ahead, shoot that arrow Homura Rei! All this, I could probably forgive if the magical/tech fights were interesting, but they generally aren't. The girls immediately know how to use their new powers upon getting their Palette Suits, so there's no fun to be had by watching them learn the ropes. In every fight, the girls transform, and sometimes merge together to form a more powerful magical girl using a system called "Docking," which naturally involves getting into their panties and kissing each other. Every attack is called out with a name like "Naked Blade!" or "Naked Collider!" just in case the sexual overtones of all of this were somehow too subtle for us. I do think the advanced forms the girls attain by Docking, like Vivid Blue and Vivid Green, look pretty neat, but you can always just buy the inevitable figure and skip the anime. Vivid BLUUUUEEEEEE!!!!!! I really don't know who to recommend this show to; as I alluded above, the simplistic nature of the action and the plot lends itself to a younger audience, but a younger audience probably shouldn't be seeing the constant parade of butt and crotch shots. On the plus side, the show does have a proper ending instead of one of those "Keep your wallet ready for the sequel" deals, so if you're one of the few people this show legitimately appeals to, at least you won't be left hanging. You know, wanting to look at shapely butts doesn't make you a bad person; we all have our weaknesses. I mean, if they released an OVA that was just Shizuo from Durarara!! doing push-ups, I would totally watch that. But what's a shame about Vividred Operation is that it clearly had the potential to be more. 5.0 – Average. This one’s just “okay”. It has many flaws, and just couldn’t follow through on its intentions or had ones that were simply too narrow to warrant consideration. Some will still enjoy it, but should temper their expectations, or perhaps just opt to pass. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.    
Vividred Operation photo
It sure is vivid
I knew basically nothing going into Vividred Operation. I wasn't watching much anime during the Winter 2013 season anyway, and Vividred kind of got blurred together with all those other shows in that broad category of "cute g...

Sword Art Online photo
Sword Art Online

New Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment details


Conquering Aincrad one floor at a time
Dec 06
// Elliot Gay
It was a sure thing that after Namco Bandai's PSP release, Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, sold over a few hundred copies, they were gonna get another game out ASAP. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for the Vita looks to ...

Review: Sword Art Online BD Box Set I-IV

Nov 27 // Elliot Gay
Sword Art Online BD Box Set I-IV [BD] Studio: A-1 PicturesLicensed by Aniplex USARelease Date: Vol. I 08/13/13, Vol. II 9/17/13, Vol. III 10/15/13, Vol. IV 11/19/13MSRP: $112.98 [Rightstuf Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, Vol. IV] I wrote many words about Sword Art Online last year when it was still airing on Japanese TV. Truth be told, I came into it with high expectations and a whole lot of hype. I had always been a fan of .hack, and the prospect of something similar but with a bigger budget had me itching to catch every new episode. Somewhere along the way though, things changed. When the first half of Sword Art Online, the Aincrad Arc (episodes 1-14), came to a wrap, I was pretty much done with the series. It needs to be said that despite my issues with them, I still found the first 14 episodes to be an entertaining experience. Almost a year later, that opinion remains largely unchanged. The Fairy Dance Arc (episodes 15-25) is still an irredeemable mess. For those of you who want a more in-depth write up of my feelings toward Sword Art Online as a whole, I suggest you check out my Final Impressions piece from early this year. The short of it is that I don't think Sword Art Online is a good series. I think it's a poor one riddled with large problems across the board. I firmly believe it squanders a cool concept and wastes any momentum it might have had coming out of the Aincrad Arc. That being said, if you're looking to drop cash on the Limited Edition BD box sets, chances are better than not that you already love the show, otherwise you'd be better served just sticking to the legal streams. With that out of the way, let's get down to business. Are these pricey BD sets worth the price Aniplex is asking for them? I'm a huge proponent of quality packaging when it comes to anime. In this new landscape of free and paid streaming options, publishers need to give consumers a reason to put down their money to own anime. While digital bonus features are certainly a chunk of that, I believe that attractive packaging is just as important if not more. To that end, Aniplex USA's Sword Art Online BD boxes are a success. The boxes feature exclusive art by light novel artist abec, and when you put each one together, they form one large illustration. The backs of the boxs also have neat little engravings of the swords used in the series. These might seem like minor touches, but when you're paying a premium for it, this kind of stuff counts. As somebody who often purchases nice collector's sets, Aniplex's SAO BDs fit right in on the shelf. Each box contains two disc cases, though only one of them holds the actual episodes. The other case is reserved for the bonus disc content. Volume 1 contains the first OST (33 tracks) for the series, volume 2 has a DVD featuring staff interviews, volume 3 has the second half of the OST (27 tracks), and volume 4 contains interviews with the English speaking staff. While I had my issues with Yuki Kajiura's work on Sword Art Online, the full soundtrack is still a great addition to the package, especially for fans of the show.  As far as I'm concerned however, the real stars of this box set are the audio commentaries included for certain select episodes. The participating members on each commentary typically change a bit each time, but the general set up consists of a handful of voice actors and the staff. There's something fascinating about hearing a group of people chat about the episode/series itself as it rolls along in the background. I've always loved audio commentaries and felt it was a shame that seemingly so few anime series seem to get them, so the inclusion here is a real plus. The voice actors exude about as much charm as one would expect, making them fun to listen to even as somebody who didn't enjoy the show that much. I imagine for some folks it might be a bit hard distinguishing who's saying what while reading the subtitles, but there are a lot of great stories to be heard if you're into the actors. The rest of the bonus content comes in the form of physical trinkets. Each box includes a set of illustration cards featuring the various characters (mostly female) in alluring poses. There's also a total of four 16-page booklets primarily made up of exclusive anime images. I was somewhat disappointed to find that the booklets are rather small, especially compared to  the ones in Aniplex's Fate/Zero sets, but nonetheless it's a nice inclusion. For those of you who play the card game Weiss Schwarz, each BD box has a limited edition SAO card. Due to my incredibly limited knowledge of the game, I can't really speak to whether they're any good.  Sword Art Online is presented in 16:9 widescreen format in 1080p and was quite the looker on my entertainment setup. If there's one thing A-1 did exceptionally well in many of SAO's episodes, it's the background illustrations. The colors pop, and the richly detailed (as well as the not so richly detailed) areas hold up remarkably well on a big HD screen. Sadly, this doesn't work out so well when SAO falls back on large, poorly animated CG beasts. The Skull Reaper in particular looks just as bad as it did when the series was airing on TV, and no BD transfer can fix that.  It's not a secret that I don't like Sword Art Online. The show is plagued with issues that ultimately drag it down to the point of no return. It's a show that is full of missed opportunities, much of which rests with the original source material. These BD box sets are not for me. No, these BD boxes are very much so designed for the hardcore fans of Sword Art Online. To that end, the question then becomes "are they worth the high asking price, especially when there are four of them?" I don't think the answer is as simple as a yes or a no, but I do think that there is a lot here for fans to enjoy. If you found yourself excitedly watching Sword Art Online every week and felt sad when it finished, these BD boxes will be right up your alley. Everyone else? Stick to the cheaper (albeit less extravagant) DVD sets. This one is for the fans. Liz is still the best character though. 6.0 -- (The anime itself is subpar, however the quality of this release is fantastic and elevates the package.)
Sword Art Online photo
Diving back into Aincrad one last time
Not even original light novel scribe Reki Kawahara could have predicted how big his Sword Art Online franchise would eventually become. Since the first novel was published in April of 2009, Kawahara's creation has seen 12 seq...

SAO: TV special photo
SAO: TV special

Sword Art Online TV special get a date and a synopsis


Swimming hijinks!
Oct 06
// Elliot Gay
You probably thought I'd never write about the anime adaptation of Sword Art Online ever again. You were wrong. The time and date have been revealed for the upcoming Sword Art Online: Extra Edition TV special. It'll be airing...
SAO: Hollow Fragment photo
SAO: Hollow Fragment

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment announced for the Vita


There's no stopping the SAO train!
Oct 06
// Elliot Gay
It should come as no surprise that Namco Bandai is eager to produce a follow up to its PSP Sword Art Online game. The release sold exceptionally well on a platform that is essentially dead, and it makes sense that they would...
Blue Exorcist The Movie photo
Blue Exorcist The Movie

Aniplex to release Blue Exorcist The Movie on Blu-ray


Everything you wanted
Sep 28
// Kristina Pino
Aniplex have just announced that Blue Exorcist The Movie is not only coming to home video, but you'll be able to enjoy it in glorious Blu-ray format if you choose to buy the limited box set edition. It includes the film in bo...

Friday Night Fights: Kirito vs Haseo

Jul 26 // Salvador GRodiles
Friday Night Fights photo
Only one player will come out alive.
*ding, ding, ding* It's Over! Grace sure is adorable; however, the cute little squirrel lacks the ability to fly. Therefore, Momo wins by a landslide for traveling with the trio that's in search of the sunflower samurai. On t...

iDOLM@STER film photo
iDOLM@STER film

Are you lady? iDOLM@STER film hits late 2013


Producer-chan also comments on the game series
Jun 17
// Elliot Gay
Things have been quiet ever since The iDOLM@STER feature film was announced a while back. Details are still light, but at least we have a time frame for release. The movie is set to hit Japanese theaters at the end of 2013, i...
iM@S game on iOS photo
iM@S game on iOS

The iDOLM@STER Shiny Festa available in English on iOS


Great news... except for that price.
Apr 22
// Elliot Gay
In a move that's sure to surprise pretty much every single iDOLM@STER fan ever, Namco Bandai has released all three The iDOLM@STER Shiny Festa games on iOS platforms. Each game has been renamed, with Honey Sound becoming...

Final Impressions: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

Apr 09 // Elliot Gay
In this past week's final episode of Magi, Alibaba has fallen into Al Thamen's trap, causing him to transform into a Dark Djinn. Incapable of breaking free from his fall into depravity, Alibaba attacks his friends, despite Aladdin's best attempts at bringing the young king back to his senses. Hakuryuu, feeling hopeless but holding on to his desire to help his new friends, is chosen by the real Zagan, who creates a new arm for the Kou Empire prince. With Mor having rejoined the battle, our heroes manage to turn the tide, creating an opening for Aladdin to dive into Alibaba's heart using the Wisdom of Solomon. Back in Sindria, the generals pull together and begin their counter attack against Al Thamen, eradicating the enemy before they can do any significant damage to the city. Ithnan attempts to flee, satisfied with dropping Alibaba into depravity, only to be confronted by Sinbad in full Djinn Equip atmor. Despite the curse of the Black Rukh consuming his body, the king proceeds to display full control of both colors of rukh, annihilating Ithnan with his full powers. Al Thamen retreats, and Sindria is saved. Meanwhile, deep in Alibaba's heart, Aladdin discovers that Cassim's magoi still dwells within his old friend. Together, the two manage to erase the darkness in Alibaba, eliminating the black rukh curse that had consumed him. With Ithnan's body having been destroyed by Sinbad, all that remains of him is the magoi in Alibaba's body. He tries to pressure the young king into slaying him, but to no avail. Alibaba steps back, allowing Aladdin to send the Al Thamen figurehead back to the guidance of rukh, peacefully. With their time in Zagan's dungeon having come to an end, the four warriors depart for Sindria, new adventures looming on the horizon. Taking a good long look back at the entirety of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, I find myself questioning the logic behind some of the cuts to the source material. A-1 scrapped the first chunk of chapters of the manga to make way for a cluttered, poorly paced first episode designed to introduce all three major players at once. They then proceeded to rush through the first dungeon arc, cutting out significant bits of action, character interactions, and world lore in favor of rushing to the Balbadd arc.  Ironically, the Balbadd arc, despite maintaining much of what made it great in the source material, was the victim of a low budget. Save for some flashes of high quality animation (mostly featuring Mor), major battle sequences ended up getting the shaft. I was stunned to find that the action scenes featuring the heroes fighting Dark Djinn Cassim were some of the weakest of the arc.  The final arc, while the most consistent in terms of overall animation and art quality, sadly fell apart in its second half. With the series coming to an end, A-1 opted for an original ending; Alibaba's transformation into a Dark Djinn. A complete back-step in terms of the character's development, this plot twist exists purely to give the last episode a final boss battle of sorts. In a twisted bit of irony, Alibaba barely gets to do anything before Aladdin dives into his heart, rendering the change a moot point. Furthermore, Zagan stepping in to partner with Hakuryuu feels rushed, lacking any real build up. The announcement of a second season makes a lot of these odd choices all the more disappointing; these changes could have been entirely avoided. In the end though, my biggest issue with Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic was the abysmal direction. Action scenes suffered from uninspired shot choices that poorly framed character movement. Even when a shot was entirely composed of still characters speaking to one another, the 'camera' would be positioned in a way that would make the art and animation shortcuts even more obvious. Every time I think back to the floating bodies of episode 18, I can't help but sigh to myself. Shiro Sagisu's soundtrack was solid, but I was left scratching my head over some of the odd music selections made for certain scenes. Yet despite my harsh criticisms of this adaptation, I still enjoyed my time with Magi. A great deal of this is due to the characters. The large cast of likable heroes and their interactions with one another made it easy to want to follow them to the end. I have a lot of issues with Alibaba's anime characterization, but I still enjoyed the role he had to play in the Balbadd arc. I wish Mor had been given more time in the first dungeon arc to establish her background, but even with those minimal details, she's a great character. I'm a big fan of Aladdin in recent chapters of the manga, but unfortunately he doesn't really get the chance to do much here beyond act as a mysterious, seemingly all-knowing figure. If nothing else, I hope fans of the this anime adaptation are inspired to seek out the source material. Shinobu Ohtaka's manga is an epic, sprawling adventure with a huge cast of interesting characters and a whole lot of heart. I may have a lot of problems with the Magi, but at the end of the day it's still a fairly solid little action series that has garnered quite the following. I just hope A-1 sticks to the source material next time. 
Magi Final Impressions photo
Magi's first season ends with a promise of more to come.
The first season of the Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic anime has come and gone, and I'm left wondering what exactly happened. My experience with the series came after reading a substantial portion of the original manga in prepa...

Magi season 2 photo
Magi season 2

Magi anime gets a 2nd season this fall


I can feel the tears coming.
Mar 31
// Elliot Gay
It's almost tragic how this Magi business turned out. To prepare for my coverage of the show in Annotated Anime, I decided to read the original Magi manga first. I ended up purchasing the whole series, and enjoyed the read so...
Oreimo commercial photo
Oreimo commercial

It's almost Oreimo time!


looking good!
Mar 25
// Hiroko Yamamura
We're only a couple weeks away from the premiere of the second season of everyone's favorite sis-con romp, Oreimo. There's a new commercial on the airwaves in Japan, and I have to say the animation and artwork are ...
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Are you ready? The Idolm@ster to become a movie


Feb 10
// Elliot Gay
Rejoice, The Idolm@ster fans. It looks like Namco Bandai isn't done with those spunky girls from 765Pro just yet. At "THE IDOLM@STER MUSIC FESTIV@L OF WINTER!!" live event held over the past few days, it was announced that a ...

Review: AnoHana - The Flower We Saw That Day

Dec 14 // Brad Rice
AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That DayProduction Company: A-1 PicturesLicensor: NIS AmericaMSRP: $51.99 We begin this series with the lonely high school dropout Jinta, who is in the unfortunate position of being haunted by his dead friend, Menma. She died when they were children, but this ghostly version of his friend has grown up with him in the physical sense -- emotionally, she's just as optimistic and kindhearted as when she was alive. It must be great to have your friend back, but at what cost to your sanity? This is Jinta's problem. He can't just chat up a ghost that incessantly follows him and expect people to not think he's crazy.  Thus, Jinta has only one thing he can do: Figure out what unresolved issue is keeping Menma stuck on Earth, and solve it. This is the central plot that drives AnoHana, making the show as much of a mystery title as it is a romance and a human drama one. Jinta was not always a NEET. Back in the times before Menma's death, he was the charismatic leader of his group of friends, affectionately titled "Super Peace Busters." That group of friends splintered in the wake of Menma's death, with each person reacting in their own way to the death itself and the events that happened that day. In order to send Menma to heaven, Jinta needs to enter the larger world and find out what Menma's wish was. That means interacting with all those former Peace Busters that he's long-since avoided. Asking "what went wrong" with a friendship is never an easy thing, especially when everyone somehow feels responsible for the death of a friend. The show takes a long, hard look at everyone's relationships -- the romances, the jealousies -- and lays them all on the table. Some scenes in AnoHana can be gut-wrenching. Everyone put a dam on their emotions, but with Jinta poking around about the past, the memories quickly break the floodgates and threaten to drown the characters. AnoHana grants each character enough screen time to delve into their issues in a complete manner. At 11 episodes in length, AnoHana manages to balance the in-depth nature of character development with the over-arching plot. At times, the show does slow down and focuses on certain characters for too long -- Yukiatsu's obsession with Menma, for example -- but it is not a major detriment. There are other items I would have preferred to developed more, such as Jinta and Anaru's relationship, but leave that one to the fan fiction and doujin community. Coming from A-1 Pictures, the people who brought us Kannagi, Big Windup!, and Space Brothers, it's hard to complain about the show's visual prowess. Extremely competent animation guides us through the majority of the show, and a handful of key moments take the leap into something spectacular. I wish for more moments like that -- and it was certainly doable, considering the show dealt with the extraordinary, but that isn't the forte of director Tatsuyuki Nagai. He focuses on character drama, pulling from his experience directing Toradora! and Idolmaster: Xenoglossia. Once again, he does a masterful job with AnoHana. There are still several scenes that stick in my mind, weeks after watching the series. That's a testament to a great show. There is very little to detract from AnoHana. Upon watching the first episode, I was worried the show would be nothing short of depressing, leaving me an emotional wreck for the entire time I watched the show. Some moments brought me down, but it was one sequence in an up-and-down wave of feelings that moved me throughout the series. AnoHana is not a show that will necessarily make a lot of money and be labeled a "commercial success." The show is a flag in the ground for artistic and worthwhile anime. In time, AnoHana will be considered one of the hallmarks of a series with great merit to it, and standard viewing for anyone wishing to discuss shows for something more than their big explosions or busty females. 9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
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I largely passed up on watching new anime in 2011, spending most of my time watching older series and Western television. One show that I was continually bugged about was AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day. It was a big...

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Magi: The First Dungeon 3DS game gets a trailer


Yup. It's a game all right.
Dec 04
// Elliot Gay
As a huge fan of the Magi manga, I can't even begin to describe how relieved I am that the anime adaptation has finally begun to get things right. The series is just good fun with a genuinely likable core cast, which makes i...
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Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment gets a 2nd CM


My body is probably ready.
Dec 04
// Elliot Gay
If you follow Annotated Anime, you probably already know how I feel about Sword Art Online these days. I think it's got a whole lot of problems, many of which will probably never be fixed. That being said, I'm still sort of ...
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Blue Exorcist finally sees a full theatrical trailer


The premier date is still Dec. 28th
Nov 27
// Kristina Pino
The sharp-eyed folks over at Alafista spotted an update to the official Ao no Exorcist website which included the long-overdue full theatrical trailer for the upcoming movie. We've already reported on the film several times, ...
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Get hype for Blue Exorcist: The Movie


Premiers this December!
Nov 08
// Kristina Pino
We've already posted some teaser info and such for the upcoming Blue Exorcist movie, and it looks like there has been another update to their official website with a buttload of new design, work-in-progress, storyboard, and c...

First Impressions: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

Oct 14 // Elliot Gay
Alibaba is a young cart driver trying to make a living in the city. His dream is to one day conquer a dungeon; giant maze-like structures that suddenly appeared around the world a decade or so ago. It is said that he who reaches the end of a dungeon will be met with great riches of gold and magical items, allowing them to lead a carefree life. While preparing for a transportation job, Alibaba discovers a young boy named Aladdin, eating away at his boss' precious cargo. Now shouldering the responsibility of paying back his boss for the eaten goods, Alibaba is forced to speed up his plans to conquer a dungeon.  Little Aladdin follows Alibaba home and reveals himself to be strangely clueless about the world. The next day, the odd duo bump into a pretty young slave girl who tries her best to cover up her embarrassing chains. Using his flute, Aladdin summons a terrifyingly massive set of arms and frees her. Freeing slaves is against the law and punishable by death, and Alibaba finds himself in a mess of trouble. Together with his small companion, they flee the scene. It turns out that Aladdin is in possession of a djinn named Ugo. On a quest to find other djinn, the young boy agrees to lend his help to our hero to conquer the dungeon in town. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Alibaba is forced to suck up to his boss to avoid prosecution after trying to free the slave girl, agreeing to transport wine and some slaves to the next town over. Enroute, a giant plant monster is drawn in by the smell of the wine and attacks the carts. With his cargo in danger, the fat boss-man forgoes saving a small child and the slave girl from earlier in lieu of his precious wine. Alibaba finally snaps and leaps into the monster, temporarily stunning it and saving the slave and the child. Unfortunately, the beast soon recovers and starts to digest our hero. Enter Aladdin. The mysterious young boy whips out a magical flying carpet and with the help of Ugo, saves Alibaba. The two fly away, vowing to conquer the dungeon in town as a pair.  Let's start with the good first, shall we? Magi's first episode is quite the looker, with the strong Arabian Nights aesthetic shining through via the high quality animation. The character designs from the manga were distinctive enough as it was, but they look fantastic in motion. The production team did a great job adapting the huge array of exaggerated expressions that the manga is known for. Additionally, the soundtrack, from what I've heard thus far is suitably epic. The biggest problem with this first episode of Magi rests within the decision to cut several chapters of content out of this adaptation. In the source material, the first few chapters are focused entirely on Aladdin and getting to know him. When he does eventually meet Alibaba, it's in the back of a cart that's being transported to the next town over before it's attacked by a giant monster. Only after that event does Alibaba decide to use Aladdin to conquer the dungeon. Mor is also not present during the monster attack, as they meet her after the fact. By shuffling around these events, their partnership not only feels rushed but just a little bit artificial. I still think it works, but there's no doubt that the manga's timeline is much more effective.  I'm hoping that these changes were made to speed up getting everybody together, because the next arc is fantastic and it'd be a shame to see it butchered in the name of fitting two cours. I still have high hopes for this series and while I think the first episode stumbled due to its pacing, on the whole it was a solid opener. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you thought I was crazy for my criticisms; if you haven't read the manga you might not have the same concerns I have.  Either way, I'm riding this train to the last stop, come high or hell water, and I recommend that you join me in an open seat somewhere. Magi's bound to be a grand ole' time.
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In which a child fondles a pair of man-boobs
Love them or hate them, A-1 Pictures has been tearing it up in the anime world. They have numerous successes under their belt and their most recent project, Magi, is looking to keep up that track record. A few weeks ago, I st...

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Astronaut lends his voice to Space Bros... from space!


It seems we can hear you scream.
Oct 09
// Chris Walden
How amazing is this? Space Bros, the anime that follows Nanba Mutta in his quest to become an astronaut like his brother, has received a little more help from NASA and JAXA than we first thought. It seems that Akihiko Hoshide...
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Imouto at the ready, Oreimo returns in April


It's not like they want you to watch it or anything, idiot.
Oct 07
// Chris Walden
Everyone's favourite closet otaku little sister will be returning for a second season of Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai, not that she's happy about that or anything. The announcement comes from the Dengeki Bunko ...

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