Saturday, March 21, 2015

Death Note Anime Review

Death Note
Desu Noto
Viz Video
Complete Collection - 9 discs
850 mins. - 37 episodes
$44.98 (2014)
$24.98 (2013-14) Parts 1-2/ea.
$69.98 (2008-09) Parts 1-2/ea.
$39.98 (2008-09) Vol. 6-9/ea. Limited
$24.98 (2008-09) Vol. 6-9/ea.
$49.99 (2008) Vol. 5 Limited
$34.99 (2008) Vol. 5
$39.98 (2007-08) Vol. 1-4/ea. Limited
$24.98 (2007-08) Vol. 1-4/ea.
$29.98 (2007) Vol. 1 w/graphic novel
$24.98 (2007) Vol. 1 w/calendar
ISBN 782009243595
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Tetsuro Araki
Studio - Madhouse

Synopsis: There exists a world set apart from ours.  It's filled with Shinigami - gods of death or perhaps they should be called demons.  They have lived for a very long time and they are very bored.  Each Shinigami possesses a notebook called a Death Note which has the power to kill any human whose name is written inside.  If a Shinigami accidentally drops their Death Note in the human world then whichever human picks it up will become the owner and have the power to kill humans.  The Shinigami named Ryuk manages to get his hands on a second Death Note and decides to drop it in the human world.  This is the story of what happens afterwards.
Ryuk in the Shinigami world
Light Yagami is an honor student and star tennis player.  He's the son of a high-ranking police officer and has even helped his Dad on a few cases.  Incredibly bright and terribly bored, Light is the perfect student, son, and potential boyfriend!  One day he finds a notebook on the ground with the words 'Death Note' written on the cover.  The notebook includes some additional writing which shocks Light:

Light doesn't know what to make of the notebook and considers the implications of it's 'rules'.  What if it's real and how can writing someone's name in a notebook possibly kill them?  He decides to test it out after seeing a news broadcast of a man has taken several children hostage and the police are trying to save them.  The news broadcast shows the man's name and face so Light has exactly what the Death Note specified.  
Light possesses the Death Note and begins using it
He writes the man's name...and the man dies.  The Death Note is real and suddenly a monstrous creature appears before his eyes.  The creature is a Shinigami (God of Death) named Ryuk who says he has dropped the Death Note in the human world for someone to pick up.  He is only visible to the Note's owner and not completely trustworthy.  Light takes all of this incredible information in stride and decides to use the Note as a way to cleanse the world of criminals and create a better world.  Naturally Light will be the God of this new world.
The mysterious and world-renowned detective L
Scores of criminals begin dying of heart attacks and the authorities take notice.  They call in a world-renowned and secretive detective calling himself L.  Despite being a genius savant, L has two things going for him - no one knows his real name and Light has never seen his face.  It seems Light has met his match and must deal with an intense man-hunt to find the mysterious killer who is breathing fear into the criminal underworld.  The public gets wind of the killings and people begin forming opinions.  The killer becomes known as "Kira" and crime rates drop.  It seems the killings are primarily located in Japan so L begins closing in on Light.
Ryuk is only visible to the Death Note owner and follows Light wherever he goes
Light's father gets drawn into the investigation to find Kira and even meets the mysterious L.  It becomes increasingly difficult for Light to hide the fact that he's Kira.  Things get sticky when a second Kira appears out of nowhere.  Will this second killer align with Light's plans for a new world?  The greater question is will L take down this copycat and learn the true secret of the Death Note?  With L and the investigative team (including his father) breathing down his neck, how far will Light go and who will he kill in order to achieve his 'greater world'?  The answer will surprise you.  

A second Death Note and Shinigami (Rem) appears!
Pros: Highly suspenseful and a gripping story, interesting characters (especially L), makes you seriously question your morals, nice animation and backgrounds, intense and slow buildup to final ending was masterful, L is a serious badass who can do almost anything perfectly
The hunt for Kira intensifies, from left: Light, Matsuda (standing), L,
and Light's Father
Cons: Second half of the series gets confusing and definitely not as strong as the first, it gets hard to tell which Death Note and Shinigami Eyes are at play, some very convenient plot twists in Kira or L's favor, creepy foot-rubbing scene between L and Light, L's constant eating of sweets (it gets a little pathological by the end)
Light manipulates Misa Amane who pledges her undying love for Kira
Mike Tells It Straight: Death Note is really a story about power corrupting otherwise good people and it forces the viewer to consider what they would do with the ability to become an anonymous executioner.  At first Light appears to be the perfect student and an exemplary son, but then he transforms into the vengeful god Kira who will remake society one criminal death at a time.  A fascinating premise which offers a lot of moral allegory to the information age.  Highly suspenseful with a ton of twists and turns as Light tries to stay one step ahead of the police and L.
L shows a sadistic side when he begins questioning suspects
The series is fairly long at 37 episodes while most anime series are only 26.  This allows the story to progress at its own pace and build up a lot of tension.  It follows the original manga series by Takeshi Obata very closely.  The characters develop over time and we get to know each one.  There are so many plot developments and contingencies to Light's planning that it gets confusing at times, but keeps the viewer guessing (and on their toes).  The tone of the series is very serious (people are dying after all), but we still get a few comedy relief moments (Matsuda was my favorite) which serve to lighten an otherwise dark show.
Ryuk loves apples and likens them to cigarettes and alcohol for Shinigami
It's a complex story and sometimes hard to follow.  Every eyecatch (an outro/intro scene bookending the commercial break at the middle of every episode) consists of another rule of the Death Note which adds to the complexity of the story.  The 'rules' make the story far richer to the viewers and more challenging for the writers.  Utterly fascinating was the intricate web of Death Note rules and how Light was able to work within them.  The first half of the story was brilliant as Light used his cunning intellect to stymie the police investigation while being so closely involved.
Light and L come to blows with Misa as witness after a particularly difficult day
The character of L was truly memorable and made a lasting impression.  He was built up to be uniquely intelligent and a mysterious detective with quirky personal traits.  Whatever it was it worked. He's socially awkward, sits weird, holds things weird, is constantly drinking coffee, and eats sweets non-stop (he needs the sugar to fuel his mental capacity).  Totally classic and an integral part to why the story worked.  The other two detectives we meet who are linked to L were not as impactful (these were Mello and Near).
Near is an unflinching detective with even less social skills than L
The whole Shinigami realm thing and Ryuk (plus the other Shinigami who show up like Rem) were a major stretch to the imagination, but I eventually got used to them.  Death Note was pretty darn popular and had two live-action spinoffs (plus a prequel starring L).  The portrayal of Ryuk with cheesy CGI doesn't sound very appealing.  It worked in the anime at least.
Mello is another detective, but he believes the ends justify the means
and is never without a chocolate bar
I have to say there's nothing out there like Death Note and it's a unique show.  Dark, suspenseful, and sprinkled with a few lighthearted moments.  I definitely suggest watching this series (not for young viewers or highly impressionable teenagers with access to firearms).  One thing to note is the first half of the series is pure gold, but the second half becomes a bit more questionable as the rules and Light's machinations become more cumbersome to the story.  It's still a wild ride and highly recommended.    
Light will stop at nothing and let no one stand in his way of creating a new world under Kira

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Afro Samurai: Resurrection Anime Movie Review

Afro Samurai: Resurrection
Afuro Samurai
Movie - 90 mins. - 1 disc
$39.98 (2010) Complete Murder Sessions w/First Season Blu-Ray
$34.98 (2009) Complete Murder Sessions w/First Season
$34.98 (2009) Director's Cut
$39.98 (2009) Director's Cut Blu-Ray
$29.98 (2009)
ISBN 704400079924
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Fuminori Kizaki/Jamie Simone
Studio - Gonzo

Synopsis: Afro has found his revenge and claimed the Number 1 headband from the man who killed his father.  His fight is over, but he languishes with no purpose and no friends.  It seems he is just marking time while his life slowly continues.  He has made too many enemies along the way to have any chance at a peaceful life and a new enemy soon appears.
Afro languishes after finally getting revenge for his father's murder
It's his old friend, Jinno, and his sister, Sio, who easily defeat Afro, take the Number 1 headband, and steal the remains of Afro's father, Rokutaro.  Sio is working her own revenge angle on Afro because he destroyed her brother's life.  She plans to resurrect Rokutaro and torture him.
Sio and her brother Jinno return to seek their revenge on Afro
Once again Afro is set into motion as he must track down the Number 2 headband to challenge Jinno and Sio.  She uses an evil scientist to maintain Jinno's upkeep and sets him to resurrecting Rokutaro with the goal of setting him against Afro.  He faces his greatest challenge yet as he wades through another eclectic set of warriors on his path to confront Sio, but will he be able to face his resurrected father?
Sio's creepy henchmen (and woman)
Pros: Stunning visuals (on par with the first series), great soundtrack, Samuel L. Jackson is the voice of Afro (and the annoying Ninja Ninja) along with Lucy Liu as Sio, tons of hardcore action, nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program, art director Shigemi Ikeda won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation
Afro challenges the man who has the Number 2 headband
Cons: Plot is weak and predictable, less character and feeling than the first series, suffers from typical sequel curse of not being as good as the first, Ninja Ninja is still in the story
Not too happy to see this guy again - he's super annoying and apparently
a figment of Afro's mind (maybe his inner monologue or something)
Mike Tells It Straight: I watched the first series of Afro Samurai and reviewed it here.  It was a slick Japanese anime blaxploitation film with great visuals and action, but lacking a solid story.  The sequel is more of the same and didn't go anywhere new.  It still looks cool with neat character designs (a fusion of futuristic technology, modern hip-hop, and feudal Japan) and great animation.  The story is still very simple and predictable.
Gonzo gives us some truly stunning visuals
While I was glad to see Jinno return since I thought he was the best supporting character of the first series (it's the giant bear mask).  I was disappointed in his role in this sequel.  Sio runs the show and she's a truly bland villain.  I didn't think the plot could get any weaker, but I was wrong.  This movie is all about action and looking cool.  It worked for the first series after all.
Afro and Jinno in younger, happier days
This movie was nominated for an Emmy and the art director won one.  Not bad for this popular sequel although a surprise to me due to the lack of solid story.  I'd say watch this show if you liked the first one and/or want to find out what happens afterwards.  It's got all the same action and a little less story to get in the way.
Can Afro confront his resurrected father who is little more than a killing machine?

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

ShootFighter Tekken: The Tough Anime Review

ShootFighter Tekken - The Tough
Koko Tekken-den Tafu
Central Park Media/U.S. Manga Corps
Complete Collection - 3 discs
135 mins. - 3 episodes
$29.95 (2004)
$19.99 (2004) Vol. 1-3/ea.
ISBN 719987244122
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Yukio Nishimoto
Studio - AIC

Synopsis: Kiichi Miyazawa is heir to the Nanshin Shadow Style of martial arts and is put through grueling training by his father.  The style is brutal and ruthless, intended for efficient assassination.  Despite his incredible skills and training Kiichi is a regular high school student and has an easy-going nature.  He keeps his deadly skills in check and uses them to defend others.  His father is a stoic man, but appears to have a good heart (which has rubbed off on Kiichi).  He's diminutive in stature, but an adept fighter with a fearless attitude.  Every night he trains to surpass even his father's prowess at Nanshin Shadow Style!
Kiichi is a goofy high school kid despite being skilled at a deadly martial art
Many years ago the greatest pro wrestler, Iron Kiba, sought to fight the best martial artists and prove pro wrestlers were the toughest in the world.  One by one he defeated them all in no-holds-barred underground matches.  The only fighter to defeat him was Seiko Miyazawa, Kiichi's father, using the Nanshin Shadow Style.  Not only did Kiba suffer defeat, but he also lost his left eye in the match.  He forever bears the mark of his defeat and relives the horrific battle before every subsequent wrestling match.  Then he destroys his next opponent in the ring!
Iron Kiba is the world's greatest wrestler and a fearsome opponent in the ring
Kiba harbors an intense hatred and desire to destroy Nanshin Shadow Style.  When Kiichi and his father inadvertently run afoul of a pro wrestler, Kiba is waiting for his chance to ensnare them.  Seiko is careful not to enter fights carelessly because he knows what his own devastating power can do.  Kiichi is not so hesitant and his brash youthfulness causes him to rush headlong into any challenge.  Kiba wants to goad Seiko into fighting him again to the death and he'll use Kiichi's inexperience to get what he wants.
Years ago Kiba and Seiko had a vicious match which left Kiba scarred
Kiichi must fight grueling battles as Kiba sends wrestlers, brawlers, and martial artists after both he and Seiko.  Kiichi's training continues under Seiko and becomes tougher than ever.  Will the father and son survive the revenge of Iron Kiba?  Can Kiichi's never-say-die and positive attitude win out over impossible odds?
Nanshin Shadow Style targets vital organs to incapacitate enemies
Pros: Some cool fight scenes (especially the grappling moves), menacing villains, wrestling drama, Kiichi has a good attitude and his father seems like a good man (while being the master of an assassination-focused martial art is questionable), some funny moments too
Iron Kiba sets up his revenge match with Seiko
Cons: Kiichi is ridiculously small compared to some of the fighters - no way he could handle them, character designs are pretty bland (so are their personalities), pro wrestling as the ultimate fighting style is highly dubious, Kiichi is a total goof and his plucky attitude can get annoying
Kiichi executes a flying grapple move
Mike Tells It Straight: No, this short anime OVA is not related to Tekken the video game franchise.  It's based on a long-running manga series by Tetsuya Saruwatari which has highly detailed art.  The anime in comparison is not as detailed (although the DVD covers are by the author).  The covers are what attracted me to the series in the first place.  I was a little disappointed that the animation and character designs were so simple.  The story is really simple too with Kiichi the young heir to a martial arts legacy.  He retains his youthful exuberance and is good-hearted.  His father remains caring even as he puts his son through brutal training each night.
The original manga for Shootfighter Tekken: The Tough
Kiichi is this tiny kid compared to his opponents and especially Iron Kiba.  It's ridiculous that he could take them on with his diminutive stature (seriously, he's like half their size).  Seems implausible.  The characters and dialogue are bland with no real personalities.  The plot was pretty weak, but I did like how Kiba and Kiichi's opponents had decent backstories.  I must say Kiichi's positive attitude and consideration towards his enemies were silly, but mildly endearing.  There were a few decent fight scenes and some okay comedy (to offset the serious fights).  I haven't seen Baki the Grappler and can't say how similar these two series are (been meaning to watch that series for years).  Overall this short anime doesn't do justice to the elaborate manga it's based on.  It's too simple and the animation is weak.  Despite it's many flaws I did find some good moments and okay fight scenes.  It's mediocre at best, but you can find a copy for fairly cheap.
Kiichi throws a flying kick - check out how small he is compared to the wrestler!

TO BUY and Recommendations: