A-1

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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New Magi CM has voices and funny faces


Not a single rice bowl in sight!
Sep 30
// Elliot Gay
With Magi's premiere date edging closer and closer, we finally get our first real look at the voice acting in the series now that the cast has been revealed. The new CM uploaded to the Official Site is purely Aladdin and Alib...
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Official Blue Exorcist page updates with movie teaser


Jul 31
// Kristina Pino
Just a week ago, we got a premier date for the upcoming winter movie for Blue Exorcist. Last night, we were alerted by Crunchyroll that the official BlueEx page has been updated with a brand new teaser. You don't get to see m...
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Blue Exorcist movie premier date announced


Jul 24
// Kristina Pino
For those of you who might be in Japan around/after Christmas time, you can catch the premier of the upcoming Blue Exorcist movie on December 28. I briefly mentioned the film in my review of the BlueEx DVD release, so I'm gla...

Japanator Recommends: Blue Exorcist

Jul 21 // Kristina Pino
Blue Exorcist (4 DVDs)Studio: A-1Licensed by AniplexRelease Date: Last disc: June 19, 2012MSRP: US$37.48 [BUY: VOL.1 | VOL.2 | VOL.3 | VOL.4] Volume 3 of the DVD release, which showed episodes 14 through 19, were mostly fluffy and frustrating. Problems kept arising seemingly to no end, and by the time we got to episodes 18 and 19 it looked like a bunch of resolutions were just quickly written in to focus more on the actual story for the last part. I'm glad it worked out that way, since I was more interested in getting back to the serious stuff. Thankfully, the last bit delivered. Disc 4 begins with the issue of our rogue instructor and we are introduced with a spider-like demon that attacks by encasing bodies in its webbing. Eventually, we learn that the demon is in possession of the instructor's dead wife, and it is carrying out vengeance against Satan by killing anyone that defends his spawn. That would be, of course, Rin. This issue was efficiently wrapped up in just two episodes. Rin finds the demon and his empathy drives him to defy the Vatican from delivering swift judgement on her. What I liked most about these bits though, were having a look at Shiemi's garden and all of the familiars which have come to her aide. Shiemi (not pictured above) has been my favorite character in the series from the beginning; mostly because I tend to like side characters more than the principle badass, and also because I knew she'd secretly be one of the strongest, most useful people around despite her initial weakness and lack of self confidence. She holds her own, even against Satan later on (to a point). I also like that she wasn't used as a cheap romantic write-in, though a couple of times it did look like they were going that route. Once that one issue is resolved by episode 21, the rest is entirely dedicated to Rin and Yukio, their relationship, their past, and what their future might be. Yukio is duped into believing that his grandfather would be able to save both Rin and himself if they purge all demons from their world. The tragedy of it all is echoed by Mephisto himself: Rin has no idea that all of this is happening, and it's all because Yukio loves him that much. There was some good drama in there. Eventually, and predictably, the tables turn when it falls on Rin to pull Yukio out of the abyss that was being possessed by Satan himself. Their bond increases a hundred-fold on account of Yukio's weakness and recent awakening as a demon, and Rin finally learning how to be in control of his blue flames. Working together, and with the help of the other exorcists, they sever the gate connecting the demon world and their own. The highlights of this last stretch are basically every moment that have to do with Rin and Yukio's relationship. I feel that Blue Exorcist as a whole should have focused much more time on this instead of creating more chaos or introducing more characters that didn't move the story anywhere. For example, a couple minutes of precious screen time were wasted during the big showdown between the brothers and Satan when we are forced to watch the sword smith banging away at some weapon that didn't leave her forge and listening to reports on the radio. She was relevant when she fixed Rin's sword, and it was nice to bring her back for a quick scene as she flips through her iPad to explain the blood weapons to the home team, but that is all. Other characters were introduced that I wish we'd known a little more about, such as Angel the Paladin. He's only given a small amount of background at the very end, only a little bit of validation/redemption for his actions, and then he teams up with Shura, Rin and Yukio to tag team on the demon gate. His attacks were so cool! Why didn't we see more of it before? I had no particular reason to believe he was a Paladin, the strongest exorcist alive, up until that moment. Finally, there's Mephisto. I absolutely love his character, though I never did understand what his stake in all of this was. It was never clear to me why he never swayed one way or another, at least not too far as to be directly involved, in this struggle between demons and humans. He left the demon world and enjoys being with the humans, and he even trains them to fight demons; yet, he facilitated the entire over-arching problem this show had - just because he was curious? Bored? I guess? If this is the case, I'm alright with it, but only because of the flash backs and extra information that was given to us at the end. I think the biggest problem Blue Exorcist had, and I am echoing Hiroko's thoughts here, is a huge chunk of fluff in the middle didn't need to be there. It needed just a little more focus to be perfect. As it is now, Blue Exorcist is fun and definitely worth watching. It isn't going down the annals of history as one of the best anime ever created, though. As the other DVDs, the fourth volume comes with the sleeve and reversible slip cover, a double-sided poster and the disc itself is loaded with the same extras: clean OP and ED, extended credits, trailers and a series of shorts called UraEx. What I love about this DVD release is we aren't being chimped out on with a 3-4 episode per disc shelf hog. Each disc is packed with information and we even get some extras (a more attractive cover for display and not four but really, eight posters) to sweeten the deal. It's a release that shows us someone cared enough to make it good. The only real thing I can think of that'd be disappointing to some is that BlueEx isn't dubbed. If you're into shonen and have some curiosity for occult, a little bit of a taste for school drama/hijinks and are looking for something to watch, I can suggest you give Blue Exorcist a try! It has its flaws for sure, but it's overall fun and Aniplex has thankfully made the DVD release a good one that is worth your dough. For more information and individual episode synopses, check out the official BlueEx page. I have also learned that this winter will see a BlueEx film release. There isn't much more information than that for now, though. [7.5 – Good, but not great. BlueEx could have been destined for greatness, but was held back by its flaws. While some may not enjoy it, fans of the genre will probably love this.]
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It seems like only yesterday (actually, it was like nine months ago) that Blue Exorcist aired in Japan and Hiroko published this article with her full thoughts on the show. Now, its license has been realized in a full DVD rel...

First Impressions: Tsuritama

Apr 14 // OxKing
I've got nothing but positive things to say about Tsuritama, but that doesn't excuse how plain it really is. The art is fantastic, the characters are diverse and funny enough to carry the story along, and the setting really makes me wish I lived in a tropical area during this dreary Spring. But it all comes together into a rather average package... one that I feel that I've seen more times than I care to remember. I'm sure over time, I can excuse the "new transfer student meets an odd person who claims to be an alien" plot in this show, but then I'd also have to forget the "odd alien moves in with our main character" side-story, as well as the "mysterious classmate who is cold to the main character and befriends him over time" and the "attractive female classmate who falls for our protagonists' weird perks" storylines as well. I hate to sound like I'm just nit-picking and looking for things to be wrong with the story in Tsuritama; I'm more exasterbated with it than foaming angry, and what comes from it ends up being a rather enjoyable 24 minutes worth of entertainment, not to mention a beautiful one at that. I am a bit underwhelmed, though, that such familiar tropes had to be used in order to get me partially excited for next week. And every individual thing that this first episode does, like I said, is pretty cool and technically sound, but the overall package is nothing more than an alright first episode that does little to psych me up... something that is very unlike Nakamura's style. Of course, one of the things that Tsuritama does extremely well, as you could tell, is its animation and art. A-1 Pictures did a great job with its mix of fluid, exaggerated movements and detailed scenery, and the visual cues used to describe what our characters are feeling really do help in portraying the fear and danger they have. Yuki is a very nervous person, one who can't easily make friends or talk in front of a crowd, despite going to so many different schools. Whether it's because he is indeed extremely nervous, or for some unknown, not-yet-discovered reason, whenever he's dealing with a particularly messy situation, the feeling of embarrassment and the pressure of being looked at causes him to feel like he's surrounded by water, accompanied by the visual of Yuki struggling to breathe. Immediately, the viewer understands what Yuki must feel like, relating to the feeling of being underwater is something that anyone that was in his position to recognize instantly... all the while still dealing with the aquatic-theme of Tsuritama's setting. As much as I'm trying to point out how average it is, I still really enjoyed the relaxing tone of this show, but at the same time, it's also the same relaxing tone that I could have gotten from watching Umi Monogatari or Arakawa Under the Bridge or any other show that places an emphasis on a beautiful setting and a rather reserved plot. I guess my point is that, while it's not offering anything new, Tsuritama still has this feeling of being really chill and good-looking... and even though as a whole it's nothing mind-blowing, it's still something you would never feel guilty for watching each week. In fact, the appropriate way to look at it is that the series, from a rather modest first impression, has no where to go but up! I can easily say that I can't wait to look forward to more episodes, but it's only on the promise of everything becoming more exciting and, well... just plain better. If the series is stubborn enough to continue sticking with the same tropes it's using now, then it honestly won't hold up very long in this over-saturated season of better anime.
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noitaminA is one of my favorite blocks, so when I had the chance to jump on one of their shows in arguably the best anime season in recent years, I pounced for Kenji Nakamura's Tsuritama. Of course, even though Watanabe's Kid...

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Upcoming Fairy Tail film gets a trailer with storyline


Apr 12
// Kristina Pino
August 18 marks the opening day for upcoming Fairy Tail film titled Hōō no Miko (translates to Maiden of the Phoenix). It's got a completely fresh plot and introduces a character called Eclair, who has an important ...

A look at: Fairy Tail DVD/BD vol.s 3 and 4

Mar 09 // Kristina Pino
Fairy Tail Blu-ray + DVD Combo Packs vol. 3 [BUY] and 4 [BUY]Studio A-1 / KodanshaLicensed by FUNimationRelease Dates: January, 2012 (vol. 3) March 20, 2012 (vol. 4)MSRP: US$54.98 each The story picks up in volume three (starts with episode 25) well into the Phantom Arc. There are a lot of highlights to look forward to, such as seeing one character Elfman achieve a full body takeover without going crazy (image above), meeting two new adversaries who eventually become allies, seeing the guild master Makarov perform one of the three blessed magics of the guild in order to protect everyone, called Fairy Law, and more. Lucy was pretty much a big deal in this entire chunk. One of the initial causes for conflict was that she's being hunted down by a dark guild, who attacked Fairy Tail guild at the beck of her father. It makes sense to dig down into her history early on considering she's the first character that brings us into the story, and usually bridges the gap between all the things we're learning about the world they inhabit and what we're supposed to take from it. It also emphasizes the principle that members of the Fairy Tail guild follow, and that is to protect their own. It says a lot about them to fight so hard to keep her safe from harm, even though she's just a newbie recruit at the time. Later on, the attention shifts to Loke, a guild member who keeps to himself and is known as a lady-killer. He avoids Lucy like the plague, and there's a mini arc here where the audience finally finds out why, and we see that Lucy is more of a force to be reckoned with than most give her credit for. Where most Celestial Wizards we meet throughout the series tend to have two zodiac spirits under their command, Lucy started the show with three and quickly gains the ability to summon more than one at a time, which is more than could be said for her predecessor. After the Phantom Arc is over and Fairy Tail members find themselves rebuilding their guild hall after it's been wrecked, a new plot rolls swiftly in: Erza's old, betrayed friends come back for her. Begin Tower of Heaven Arc, during which Erza, one of the guild's strongest members, a lady in shining armor, is forced to confront her past. She is reunited with old friends with whom she'd been enslaved at the same tower years ago, and were now under the manipulated control of Jellal, who plots to revive an evil god that will grant him passage to heaven. A handful of Fairy Tail members, namely the two main boys, Natsu and Gray, Lucy, new ally Juvia and Natsu's companion Happy (a cat) go after her and beat the odds. Volume three closes with a nasty cliffhanger: Jellal looses a trio of assassins, called Trinity Raven, to wipe out our heroes. From here out, things get even more exciting. Difficult fights follow, along with death and the usual dosage of self-discovery (such as Natsu tapping into his dragon slayer powers). The plot thickens when it is revealed that this Jellal had split his body in two like Voldemort and was not only running the Tower of Heaven out in the sea, but had infiltrated the magic council and tore it down, though that part isn't resolved until later in the series. For now, our heroes survive the situation and bring (almost) everyone back, safe and sound. We only get a brief interlude in welcoming Juvia and another previous adversary, Gajeel (who was responsible for breaking down their guild hall to begin with), into Fairy Tail as allies. Fairy Tail doesn't really have a lot of filler in between arcs, so it got right to the point: Laxus, the grandson of guild master Makarov and renowned jerk challenges the guild, takes hostages and forces them into all-out battle as his way of trying to take over and become their new leader. Of course, that doesn't sit too well with our heroes, and lots of battles and tears later, and even more wicked conspiracies, things are again resolved. That is, just that one problem is resolved, and Laxus is expelled from the guild. From that point, everyone takes a breather to celebrate their harvest festival while more danger looms on the horizon. While episode 48 was a perfect place to close the series (for now), it isn't a definitive ending in the least. There are several plots in motion, several characters that have mysteriously made their way in via some side conversations, quick glances, whatever, that are part of a much bigger deal than we've experienced so far. For one thing, we see the dragon that Natsu is looking for. We also see that Gajeel hasn't just joined the guild, but has been a double agent. Makarov needs to retire and is trying to decide on a successor, and it obviously won't be Laxus. Finally, Ultear, a character who Jellal thought he was manipulating was actually, well, manipulating him, and serving a different master, Hades, who won't rear his ugly mug for a while yet. Now, I promised myself I'd just skim these DVDs since I'd already watched it all, especially since I'm not that big a fan of dubs, but my silly self ended up re-watching the entire thing anyway. The folks who worked on the writing and dubbing really did a fantastic job in making it work, and I actually have no complaints there. If you want to learn more about the process as well, in the extras you'll find a different commentary on each disc. Disc five (Vol. 3's first disc) is all about audio and the dubbing process, disc six has a commentary with the voice actors for Lucy and Loke where they get into the process, their characters and the back stories, disc seven has a similar commentary with the voice actor for Jellal/Siegrain/Mystogan, and disc eight has a commentary with the voice actors for Mirajane and Freed, who had an intense battle in episode 45. Another highlight of this collection is seeing Mirajane do a soul takeover and become, basically, a devil. The extras also include clean OPs and EDs that you see throughout these two arcs. Fairy Tail has been pretty good about changing up the themes for each arc, and the music is great, so enjoy! I suppose what's left to talk about is the picture quality, eh? Fairy Tail is already high quality before it's pressed into discs, so there aren't any issues to worry about there. The Blu-ray has some noticeable differences which would be appreciated by those of you who are resolution junkies, but suffice it to say that nothing was dumbed down for the DVD editions. It's all untouched, unedited, uncut footage as I learned by listening to a bit of that first commentary: all they did to it was dub. It only gets better from here. Fairy Tail is at a great spot now, but I can only hope that the series continues to get licensing. It comes in some nifty packaging to boot! Everything is stuffed into a regular-sized DVD case (that's the only drawback, really, it should be a Blu-ray case!) and you get a slip cover and reversible DVD case cover for it. You don't have to worry about it taking up so much dang room, and combo packs are awesome. Each box gets you, what, almost six hours of entertainment? Not too shabby. If you're still a little iffy on whether you should make the investment, you also still have the option of watching Fairy Tail streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, even FUNimation (and they have streaming dubs). You could also keep up with what's going on (or see the backlog) by reading our Fighting Friday (now Shonen Showdown!) column, where I regularly contribute recaps for the weekly Fairy Tail anime and manga.
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When FUNimation announced they took up the license for Fairy Tail, I was ecstatic. I wasn't sure if everyone else would be though, especially considering that said license is limited to just the first 48 episodes. While I'll ...

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Someone had a great idea: Wagnaria!! to be a stage play


Nov 16
// OxKing
I may have a terrible opening headline joke, but this is a typical entry into the "weird news" department. Wagnaria!! (also known as Working!!) was recently announced to become adapted for the stage. You know, with actors and...

First Impressions: Working'!!

Oct 02 // Chris Walden
Ah yeah, that's right! I remember now! Working!! was an anime about... working! Of course, if you're going to have a show about a basic idea like that, there's got to be something in there to mix things up a bit. Wagnaria is a restaurant that acts as the workplace where several social oddities congregate, and if the first season is anything to judge by, there will rarely be a dull moment. Whether it's the cute and petite Poplar getting upset over her height, the shy Inami with her violent phobia of men or even Yamada, the girl who lives in the ceiling, there is such a vast mix of characters that the situations they end up in will quickly turn hilarious. Some of you may already have seen the pre-air episode, but you will know that it did not feature the new opening of the show. Those of you watching the episode now, fear not! The opening appears at the end of the episode, so be sure to stick about to watch that. The new song is performed in the same style as the original, with the characters moving and speaking to the beat of the song. While not as immediately catchy like the original, I reckon if we just give it some time it'll certainly end up that way. Anyway, we all know that's not why you would watch this show! What about the episode itself? It comes as no surprise that the first episode would be used as a reintroduction to the scenario of the show, as well as the people within it. Makes sense considering how long ago the first season was, and not doing so would just alienate first time viewers. That aside, it's still an enjoyable episode and a welcome glance at the shenanigans of Wagnaria. Rather than having a loose story drive this episode, each character goes about displaying their unique traits. Poplar is the primary focus of the episode, becoming upset by continually being... belittled by some of the other employees. Takanashi, the lead male of the show, is obsessed with all things small and cute, and to exactly the worrying levels you might be imagining. A fair chunk of the episode focuses on Poplar moping around after Takanashi compares her to a bug, which in his eyes is a compliment. Inami also gets her share of the camera, as she tries her hardest not to hit Takanashi, but ultimately fails again. The rest of the characters are shown but have yet to receive their fair share of the limelight. Expect to see that shortly, starting from the next episode. So, would I recommend this show from the first episode? Well, if you're into a good comedy with no outright plot, then definitely. I enjoyed the original series back when that aired, and this seems to be improving on it's predecessor. Of course, only time will tell if my assumptions are correct, but it's definitely worth testing the waters with this show at the very least. 
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You certainly missed out on a gem if you happened to let the first season of Working!! pass you, but luckily we have a second course of consumable-based gags to enjoy, so don't miss out this time! The plot remains highly unch...

First Impressions: Uta no Prince Sama - Maji Love 1000%

Jul 14 // Kristina Pino
Before reading further, and I'm probably stating the obvious here, but know this: Uta-Pri is 100% (no, 1000%!) directed at a female audience. It's adapted from a Broccoli game by A-1 into anime, and from what I can see, unless you really enjoy reverse harem, this show isn't for you. Plain and simple. Haruka is an interesting character. She isn't much like Haruhi (Ouran Host Club) in the sense that Haruhi was boy-ish, unafraid of anything (except lightning), and poor. She isn't talentless like Hino (La Corda d'Oro), either. Then again, she isn't the epitome of moe that we've come to see in a lot of shows; instead, she's a girl who has risen above her limitations, but isn't quite up there at the spotlight yet. She grew up with health issues, but seems to be fine at the time of the show. She went into the school not even knowing how to read sheet music, although she knew how to play the piano. That didn't stop her when the homeroom teacher (who happens to be a man, and an idol, and is pictured right above this paragraph) assigned her to a dude buddy in class, with the challenge to create a song together for a recording contest. Overnight she learned how to put the notes together with how they're supposed to look on paper (this is where my thoughts of Nodame came rolling in). By the next night, she had the inspiration to write a nice tune for Itoki, her partner for the project. Itoki, who also had issues creating lyrics for the tune they were to put together, found inspiration in her and wrote a cute little song that turned out to be a stellar entry into the contest. Sounds like a great start for both of them, yeah? Here's the problem; The academy has one very, very strict rule: Romance between the sexes is absolutely forbidden! Looks like none of the kids are allowed to go out while they're in school. Bummer! Except, I'm sure it'll just make things funnier for us to watch. The school is basically run by idols, from the principal to all the homeroom instructors. The students are all told that during the first term, they're given their recording challenge within their class and get to settle in, get a feel for the curriculum and all that, but afterward, they'll be paired up with another student (of any class) for the long-term project of creating music together. It's pretty much like a graduating "audition" for the older kids, and hard work/experience for the starters. I wonder if Haruka will end up with an S-class (highest level) idol as her partner? Speaking of idols, I did mention before that she has this dream of creating music for her idol, Hayato. The story behind that is, he kind of pulled her out of a hole when she was lost and confused in the big city one day (his face happened to be projected nearby and he sang a song, big deal). She's looked up to the man ever since, but as it turns out he's actually a bit of a laughing stock among the idol crowd. She also meets his serious/stiff twin on her first night at the academy, mistook him for her idol, and embarrassed herself for the second time that day. Oh, and the twin wants to be an idol, too. Yay! I got a good impression of the show, because I had no expectations. I had a blank-slate mind when I clicked "play", because I hadn't read anything about the story or where this came from beforehand. I just got an e-mail from the other Japanator editors saying "well, here's the bishounen show of the season. All yours, Kristina!" And...yeah. But I'm not disappointed! In fact, I was surprised, and laughed in spite of myself when the first thing that bombarded my face when I clicked "play" on episode one was what looked like an animated boy band of idols singing a fun and upbeat song to me. Yes, boy band! The main bishounen of the show sing the ending (that's where I found the same animation again), as if they were V6 or another group like that. V6 still exists, right? The pacing in general is very upbeat and the art style is simplistic and pretty, colors and all. The girls uniforms are green coats with plaid yellow skirts, which sound like they should look like Christmas trees, but in fact are actually very cute (and different!). You can tell the characters apart very easily (this is a huge issue for me sometimes) because they're type-cast so perfectly. You've got the stiff dude with the short, straight blue hair (looks like Kyouya from Ouran or Ishida from Bleach), the pretty-boy blondie, the soft-face tall guy (like Mori, except he actually talks), shota-looking cutey pie that could be mistaken for a girl (his name is even Shou), another broody stiff: the popular goofy idol's twin, and then the upbeat red head that makes fast friends with Haruka.  In this way, it isn't difficult at all to get a feel for the characters and you don't really feel like you need a whole history of everyone. The blondie and the straight blue hair guys are both rivals in a financial group, the pretty-face dude loves cute things, and hangs out with the shota boy, and red haired Itoki (who is roomies with the serious twin, go figure) is the brightest of them all (in personality), and so far is closest to Haruka among them. The type casting works both ways, though. If they rely too much on it, then this show is just going to be dribble among the stand-outs unless something really unique happens, right? I don't know if the V6-esque team-up of the main boys is a hint of what's to come, but I wouldn't be too disappointed. They were animated dancing together, but in a realistic way (not in perfect sequence, or doing complicated dance moves with syncopated timing). The simple art style works very well with the promise of good movement. Actually, you can tell what's just "moving along the story" footage and what's "serious idol business" footage, cause the animation becomes better rather than choppier. And with that, you've got my long-winded discourse on the beginnings of Uta no Prince Sama - Maji Love 1000%. Look forward to my recaps in our weekly Annotated Anime column, and let's hope for a great season! Cause seriously, the last time I watched a bishounen show based on a game, I was severely disappointed in the end.
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Come on, don't tell me you didn't see this one coming! A little late, since I was out of town, but welcome to my intro and impressions for Uta-Pri, this season's reverse-harem style bishounen-ridden anime! Do I seem excited? ...

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Working!! gets second season, pranks its fans


Apr 04
// Bob Muir
Japan doesn't really do April Fool's Day, at least not to the extent that some Western countries do, but A-1 Pictures got in on some of the fun last week for their series Working!!, released as Wagnaria!! by NISA last month. ...

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