Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fairy Tail Season Two Anime Review

Fairy Tail Season Two
Feari Teiru
Funimation
Complete Collection - 8 discs
600 mins. - 24 episodes
$54.98 (2013) Blu-Ray/DVD
$54.98 (2012) Part 3-4 Blu-Ray/DVD
ISBN 704400087684
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Shinji Ishihara
Studio - A-1 Pictures/Satelight

Synopsis: In the Kingdom of Fiore there are many wizard guilds who perform work-for-hire jobs to benefit themselves, their guild, and society as a whole.  The guilds are overseen by the Magic Council and the Ten Wizard Saints, who are made up of guild masters from the most powerful guilds.  One of the strongest guilds in Fiore is Fairy Tail - a motley group of wizards united under the tutelage of Makarov Dreyar (one of the Ten Wizard Saints) who treats his guild members as family (and many of them are adoptive outcasts raised by the guild from a young age).  Makarov preaches peace and acceptance while other guilds aggressively seek fame and fortune.
They're back!  Natsu, Lucy, Gray, Happy, and Erza
Fairy Tail's strongest and most outspoken members are Natsu Dragneel (aka Salamander and a Dragon Slayer wizard), Gray Fullbuster (Ice Make wizard), Erza Scarlet (aka Titania and a Re-Equip wizard), Lucy Heartfilia (recent recruit and Celestial wizard), Elfman and Mirajane Strauss (both use Take Over magic where they assume the abilities of monsters they defeat), Cana Alberona (Card magic wizard), and Makarov Dreyar (guild master and uses Giant/Titan magic).  Natsu's best friend is Happy the flying cat, who is also a wizard.
Gajeel and Natsu, two Dragon Slayers, go at it!
We join Fairy Tail in the middle of a particularly nasty fight with the Phantom Lord guild.  It seems Phantom Lord has been hired by Lucy's father after she ran away from home to join Fairy Tail.  Phantom Lord is vying to be the most powerful guild in Fiore and Fairy Tail is their direct rival.  The guild is led by Jose Porla who harbors a deep jealousy of Makarov and wishes to utterly destroy his guild.  His most powerful wizards are the Element Four - Aria (Air magic), Sol (Eath magic), Totomaru (Fire magic), and Juvia Lockser (Water magic).  They are also joined by Dragon Slayer wizard, Gajeel Redfox, who is an unforgiving opponent.  The entire Fairy Tail guild is put to the test to save one of their own - will they come out on top?
What is Loke's deep, dark secret!?
Following the Phantom Lord battle, Lucy returns to her home and is confronted by her father.  He is a rich and powerful man, always dismissing Lucy's presence and her dreams throughout her childhood.  This difficult journey continues for Lucy as she discovers a secret of her guild-mate, Loke.  He constantly avoids her despite being a well-known 'ladies' man'.  What is Loke's secret past and why is he hiding from Lucy, the only Celestial wizard in Fairy Tail?
Juvia spies on the Fairy Tail crew while they hang out at the beach
During a relaxing vacation Erza, Natsu, Gray, Lucy, Happy, and Juvia are attacked by a group of rogue wizards with links to Erza's past.  We discover her disturbing origin as her past comes back to threaten all of Fiore.  The wizard Jellal Fernandez has completed the Tower of Heaven and wants to bring the dark wizard Zeref back to life.  Erza is captured, but Natsu and company are in hot pursuit.  Jellal releases the Trinity Raven assassins to stop them, but aid is given from the most unlikely source.  Meanwhile the Magic Council decides on whether to obliterate the Tower of Heaven by firing the Etherion cannon, a magical spell with supreme destructive force.  Can Erza overcome her past with a little help from her friends and in time to avoid being completely obliterated?
We learn Erza's tragic past as a slave laborer before she joined Fairy Tail
The town of Magnolia celebrates an annual harvest festival and the Fairy Tail guild participates in a big way.  This year their festivities are rudely interrupted by Laxus, one of the most powerful members of Fairy Tail and Makarov's grandson.  He turns the harvest festival into the Battle of Fairy Tail with the help of his Thunder Legion - Freed Justine (aka Dark and using Jutsu-Shiki magic, the writing of runes to create 'rules' for those trapped within their proximity), Evergreen (she uses Eye magic to battle her opponents, primarily turning them to stone), and Bickslow (using Eye magic as well, but can harness souls into inanimate objects to do his bidding).
Gray, Juvia, Lucy, and Natsu (perpetually seasick) travel to
the Tower of Heaven to rescue Erza
Laxus thinks Fairy Tail has become weak under his grandfather's leadership and wants to return the guild to greatness by taking over.  He gets Freed to place traps all over town forcing members of Fairy Tail to duel each other in order to escape.  The guild is in shambles as friend battles friend.  Meanwhile Makarov and Natsu are trapped away from the action.  Can they break free in time to lend a hand?  The remaining members of Fairy Tail must take on the Thunder Legion for the fate of the guild!  Even if they prevail there's still Laxus to deal with and he's the most powerful one of all.  Is this the end of Fairy Tail as we know it?
Jellal (center) unleashes the assassin team Trinity Raven
Pros: Good animation and backgrounds, lots of action and progressively spectacular fights, characters are interesting and it's cool seeing their origins, the cliffhanger from the first collection was amply resolved, Juvia and Gajeel ended up being interesting characters (not so much the rest of the Element 4), some mild fan-service, positive message of friendship and camaraderie
A group assails the upper levels of the tower
Cons: Blu-Ray + DVD - 8 discs total - couldn't they just offer one or the other (and for less money)?, Gajeel is a total jerk (especially to Lucy), no way the Fairy Tail members would be so forgiving after their battles with Phantom Lord and the Tower of Heaven wizards, seems like Fairy Tail comes out on top too easily in each story arc (especially Natsu)
Jellal and Natsu battle atop the Tower of Heaven
Mike Tells It Straight: I enjoyed Fairy Tail Season One (although the first few episodes almost made me quit the series) and it ended on a major cliffhanger (it's actually the first half of the first season and this Season Two is the last half).  The second season was fairly decent, focused on specific characters while involving some new ones, and shifted to sweeping story arcs with few standalone episodes.  I didn't think it was quite as good as the first, but it was still entertaining.  It's pure shounen action (like Naruto or Bleach) with battles raging across multiple episodes and culminating in a massive final showdown.
Laxus turns all of the girls in Fairy Tail to stone and takes them as hostages
We get the spectacular finish to the Phantom Lord arc from the first collection.  Some recurring characters are introduced there (hint, Juvia and Gajeel).  Then we shift gears to learn Lucy's origin along with Loke's (a peripheral character) secret past.  From there we get a big arc dealing with the Tower of Heaven crew and Erza's origin.  That one was pretty interesting although I didn't like most of the characters introduced.  The final sweeping arc is the Battle of Fairy Tail or Laxus' Uprising.  He's a tough customer and determined to take over the guild.  I thought the ending was weak considering all the buildup.
The Thunder Legion - Evergreen, Freed, and Bicklow
The main problem with shounen series is the sheer number of episodes and tendency to drag out the plot.  Definitely one of my guilty pleasures and not for everyone.  It's aimed at younger audiences and very simple, but I liked the message of friendship and sticking together.  This series is mostly lighthearted with a few serious moments (a character actually dies!).  If you liked the first season then you're stuck watching this one just to find out how the cliffhanger ends.  Not too bad and a lot more episodes have been released with Collection Three out in January 2015.
Gajeel and Natsu face Laxus in a final showdown!

TO BUY and Recommendations:
 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Noir Anime Review

Noir
Nowaru
ADV Films
Complete Collection - 7 discs
650 mins. - 26 episodes
$49.98 (2011) 4-disc
$89.98 (2008) Thinpak
$89.98 (2005)
$29.98 (2003) Vol. 1-7/ea.
$44.98 (2003) Vol. 1 w/t-shirt
ISBN 702727195525
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Koichi Mashimo
Studio - Bee Train

Synopsis: Mireille Bouquet is a skilled assassin living in Paris.  She is drawn to a young Japanese girl named Kirika who possesses an item from Mireille's past - a pocket watch.  Kirika has amnesia and can't remember her past, but possesses uncanny fighting abilities.  The pair are besieged by a group of hitmen and dispatch them with minimal effort.  They form a partnership with Kirika returning with Mireille to Paris.  Mireille searches for the killers of her parents and Kirika searches for her lost past.  The pair begin taking jobs under the codename "Noir".
Mireille and Kirika - the pair who contract assassinations
 under the codename "Noir"
They are a formidable team with deadly skills and an impeachable killing record.  The secret of both their pasts is well-kept and has cost countless lives over the years.  In their travels they encounter another deadly assassin named Chloe who claims to be the true Noir.  A secret organization is uncovered which dates back for centuries and are known as Les Soldats, French for 'the soldiers'.
Mireille in a shootout with underworld henchmen
Mireille and Kirika kill their way across Europe uncovering the secret past of the Soldats yet never finding any definitive answers.  Sometimes the past is best left forgotten, but is doomed to be repeated.  Kirika is a blank canvas and a seemingly natural born killer.  Mireille struggles with the demons of her past which come back to haunt her.  Chloe appears as an antagonist at first yet has a deep spiritual kinship with Kirika.  Will she be swayed to join the Soldats?
The watch Kirika possesses when she meets Mireille.  What is its link to Les Soldats
Chloe was raised by a woman named Altena who wants to change the Soldats. Is she manipulating Mireille and Kirika as pawns in her game?  Will the two women find the answers they seek even if it destroys them?  Mireille has promised to kill Kirika once they uncover the truth.  The relationship of two killers can be ephemeral at best.  One thing is certain - it's going to take a lot of killing to uncover the secret of Noir.
Mireille ponders the watch which belonged to her dead parents
Pros: Great music - both opening and ending themes plus the background music, interesting story premise - ancient organization operating in the shadows, decent ending, some good episodes with intriguing drama/mystery, high point of the 'girls with guns' anime genre, lots of action (although practically no blood)
Chloe - the deadly assassin who claims to be the true Noir
Cons: Bland characters, exceedingly slow-paced plot (particularly in the middle of the series), animation style is simple, original 7-disc release by ADV was excessive and just milked people for their money (seriously, an entire disc for three episodes!), Mireille wears the same impractical clothes throughout the entire series
Who is the true Noir?
Mike Tells It Straight: I watched Noir and can easily say it's the epitome of the 'girls with guns' anime genre.  Koichi Mashimo is a prolific anime director with many series under his belt (Sorcerer Hunters, .hack//Sign, Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE), but may be most well-known for his 'girls with guns' trilogy (Noir, Madlax, El Cazador de la Bruja) and assassin-themed Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom.
Chloe returns home to Altena.  What is her secret link to Les Soldats?
The series has plenty of action - gunfights and the girls killing dozens of Les Soldats henchmen (plus some highly skilled female assassins).  Oddly it shows very little blood and no gore.  Maybe that's a sign of the times when it was produced (2001) where television series were geared for a broader audience (mindful of younger viewers).  Series today are much more graphic in their violence which I theorize is due to the increased gore in video games.
Mireille is not afraid to kill people while wearing an impractical micro-mini skirt
Despite the action the series can be excruciatingly slow-paced and the characters are very bland.  The animation was decent yet the character designs were overly simple.  It's guilty of a lot of 'talking mouth' and gradual camera pans on unmoving faces (both tricks to keep animation budgets down for TV series).  The only saving grace to the story was the gradual reveal of the mysteries surrounding Les Soldats and both the girls' pasts.  Each episode progressed the story and led to a final confrontation.
Chloe gets the briefest moment of downtime.  She harbors an
intense fascination for Kirika
The last few episodes and the ending were pretty decent.  I'm a bit ambivalent on recommending this series.  Don't get me wrong, it's a solid show and can be engaging.  It just felt really long and I got bored at points.  It won't stop me from checking out Mashimo's two follow-ups (these are not sequels, but both are standalone series). Stay tuned for upcoming reviews and please leave your comments about the show!
Final showdown between two friends?
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Papuwa Anime Review

Papuwa
ADV Films
Complete Collection - 6 discs
650 mins. - 26 episodes
$59.98 (2008)
$29.98 (2006-07) Vol. 2-6 ea.
$29.95 (2006) Vol. 1
ISBN 702727152726
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Kenichi Nishida
Studio - Nippon Animation

Synopsis: A long time ago two mystical stones, one red and one blue, were in the possession of two clans.  The two clans battled and eventually the young boy who possessed the intense power of the blue stone fell into a deep sleep.  The one who possessed the power of the red stone went far away.  All of this happened on the first Papuwa Island...
Kotaro arrives on Papuwa Island and is chased by a crazy pink dinosaur
Years later the young boy awakened and escaped back to Papuwa Island, but lost his memory.  This boy was Kotaro of the Blue Clan.  When he arrived on the island he was shocked to find strange talking creatures along with the pint-sized Papuwa and his man-maid, Liquid.  Liquid used to work for the Ganma Army of which Kotaro's father, Magic, is the chairman.  Fearing Kotaro will lose control of his vast power if he remembers his name, Liquid tricks Kotaro into thinking his name is Rotaro.  Now Liquid cares for Rotaro, Papuwa (who is tiny yet immensely strong and has other powers), and their pet friend, Chappy, on the second Papuwa Island.
Rotaro (really Kotaro) comes to live with Chappy and Papuwa
The island itself is a mystery and one must travel through a bizarre vortex in the ocean to arrive on it.  Once on the island it is nigh impossible to leave unless you can find the exact path which you traveled to get there.  Let's just say most people are trapped on the island.  The island's inhabitants are anthropomorphic creatures of all varieties.  These include (but are not limited to):
  • Tanno the transvestite fish who wears fishnet stockings over his hairy human legs
  • Ito the hermaphroditic snail who wears a pink bow and always has its tongue hanging out
  • Oshodani the drumming sea otter who is constantly using drumsticks to drum on things
  • Komoro is a 'magic' mushroom and constantly tricking others into thinking he is an edible mushroom.  His body is hallucinogenic when ingested or inhaled
  • Hayashi is a pink tyrannosaurus rex who is obsessed with good looking men 
Tanno and Ito are the biggest queens on the island!
Magic is concerned for Kotaro's welfare and sends several groups from the Ganma Army.  These include:
  • Special Battle Unit
    • Harlem is the leader and Magic's brother.  He underpays his crew and steals their money to fuel a massive gambling addiction.  He possesses great fighting power.  Liquid used to work for the Harlem and remembers the time as pure torture.
    • Rod is Italian and never wears a shirt.  He tells bad jokes and is crude.  His skill is wind.
    • Marker is Chinese and a skilled warrior.  He is calm and looks down on his fellow team members.  His skill is fire.
    • G is German and doesn't talk very much.
  • Ganma Army
    • Tottori is a ninja although not a very good one.  He uses an unorthodox style which consists of kicking off a sandal.
    • Miyagi looks and sounds like a dumb surfer dude.  He uses the Brush of Literalization which can turn whatever he has written on into that word.  
    • Koji is a complete dumbass and Umako's older brother.
    • Arashiyama uses fire and studied under Marker.  He is terribly awkward and Marker instilled in him an off-putting vanity.  His power is activated when he suffers extreme emotions (like anxiety during social interactions).
  • Shinsengumi are mercenary swordsman
    • Isami Kondo leads the group, but is horribly inept.  He apparently likes good-looking young men.
    • Toshizo Hijikata is the most capable swordsman among the Shinsengumi and a great warrior.  The absurdity of Papuwa Island annoys him greatly, but he grudgingly befriends Liquid.
    • Soji Okita is a good-looking young man who Kondo is fixated on.  He fends off Kondo's attention by repeatedly stabbing him with his sword.
    • Umako Harada is a burly woman with a five o'clock shadow.  She's as strong as the Hulk and just as stupid.  She falls in love with Liquid (to his absolute horror) and grows a beard.
Liquid may protest, but he actually likes being man-maid to
Papuwa, Rotaro, and Chappy
Liquid, Papuwa, Rotaro, and Chappy spend their days on Papuwa Island having adventures and getting on each others nerves.  Despite appearances, Liquid is actually fond of caring for the three and he protects them from those sent by the Ganma Army.  He strives to preserve the zany peace of the island and is a powerful warrior from his days in the Special Battle Unit.  The groups are trapped on the island and find a strange equilibrium with its inhabitants.  
Harlem, leader of the Special Battle Unit
Magic will not give up on finding Kotaro and eventually his older brother, Shintaro, returns to find him.  Shintaro is the most powerful member of the Ganma Army and lived on the first Papuwa Island.  Will Rotaro regain his memories of being Kotaro?  If Kotaro and Shintaro come in contact will they destroy the second Papuwa Island?  Why is it called Papuwa Island anyway?  How many transvestite and hermaphrodite creatures can possibly exist on one South Pacific island? 
Oshodani the drumming sea otter and Komoro the 'magic' mushroom
Pros: A couple decent jokes (mostly in the end when Shintaro and Magic show up on the island), Komoro is kind of funny because he's always tricking people and getting them high, this show is probably the inspiration for the television series Lost
Umako (pre-beard)
Cons: Severely homo-erotic nonsense, weak character designs + incredibly annoying characters, simple animation, no plot, only one girl in the entire show and she looks like a hairy man (with a beard), dub if fairly awful
Toshizo has a wardrobe malfunction to the delight of Tanno and Ito
Mike Tells It Straight: This series easily ranks in my top 10 worst anime of all time.  It failed on many levels, but I'll bash it in the next paragraph.  Let's talk about some of its good points.  The series is zany comedy and has a few good jokes in there.  The last few episodes were okay once Shintaro and Magic appear on the island.  They're both crazy like all the other characters, but offer a mildly sane perspective in comparison and it's a serious breath of fresh air (favorite Shintaro quote when he sees the she-male Umako "Man, that was gross. Maybe the most disturbing creature I've seen on the island").

Liquid is actually a fierce warrior!
The rest of the series was inane nonsense and dragged on endlessly.  All of the characters were effeminate, transvestites, hermaphrodites, she-males, or victims of bad jokes involving those characteristics.  Seems like Papuwa was the only truly male character who was not part of the non-stop gags.  This series was based on a manga sequel to the manga-turned-anime Nangoku Shonen Papuwa-kun by Ami Shibata.  The first anime series was 42 episodes long and it boggles my mind that a sequel would ever be produced.  WTF!?  The first series spawned two video games and it must have gained some sort of popularity.  I do not recommend this series in the slightest.
Shintaro arrives on Papuwa Island and kicks the crap out of Liquid

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