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Thoughts on Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Note: The second paragraph contains spoilers for the movie. I’ve colored the text for the spoilers white so it will not show up unless you highlight it.

I watched the BD for Unlimited Blade Works recently and I was surprised how much I ended up enjoying it. The first act of the film is pretty choppy. Basically it’s “ya’ll remember the Holy Grail Wars, right? Yeah? Good.” Then it kind of feels like a video game, where characters are progressing to the next level, contending with low-level enemies in order to make it to the boss. I was pretty tepid on the movie until it entered the second act and started slowing down. After that UBW started to feel like an actual movie and I was entertained.

That’s not to say there aren’t still big gaps in the narrative, such as Shiro suddenly becoming a kickass fighter with some slick moves and superhuman agility, despite continually getting his ass handed to him prior. Also, how exactly did everyone know Shiro becomes a legendary warrior? Maybe I missed something but I don’t see how they were able to determine Archer was Shiro. Getting back to Shiro’s fighting ability, I did find it very satisfying to see Shiro finally realizing his potential and actually winning fights. The TV series merely flirted with the idea but ultimately favored Shiro being a useless clod who kept getting in the way and didn’t contribute anything of real value, much to my frustration. However I didn’t care for the scenes that showed Saber looking, shall we say, compromised and submissive. I don’t remember if that was in the TV series or not but it did a real disservice, considering how strong her character is otherwise. 

Unlimited Blade Works a fine looking movie with lots of crisp detail and fluid animation. The production staff at Studio Deen was able to choreograph the fights in ways the TV series wasn’t able to and I found those scenes exciting to watch. And I’d be remiss not to mention the nice artistry of the backgrounds, particularly the surreal environment of Archer’s Noble Phantasm. I also liked the dub; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the TV series but the cast didn’t sound like they were stumbling due to the long break and Michelle Ruff was a good replacement for Saber. Liam O’Brien and Sam Regal were solid as Archer and Shiro respectively and I rather liked “Tomokazu Seki”* as Gilgamesh. 

In all, it’s a movie with problems inherent to covering a large amount of material in a 100 minute runtime but I found myself fairly happy with what I saw when the credits rolled. It you like the Fate/Stay Night series, or better yet if you’re familiar with the game it’s based on, Unlimited Blade Works is worth the time investment. 

*The English voice actor credits on Sentai Blu-ray are a little strange. A couple of the actors in Bang Zoom’s dub decided to go uncredited so Sentai substituted the Japanese voice actors for those rolls during the English credit scroll.

Thoughts on Rightstuf’s 12 Days of Christmas Sale

The Right Stuf’s annual 12 Days of Christmas sale is coming to a close midnight tomorrow. This might be too late but I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the shows they currently have included in the sale that are worth a look, particularly the ones not reviewed on the site:

Mazinkaiser/Shuten Doji Double Pack: I’ve never seen Shuten Doji but from what I understand it’s kinda garbage. Mazinkaiser on the other hand is good enough to warrant the $4.29 asking price. I’ve seen a lot of retro shows but this OVA from the early 2000’s is among the best I’ve seen in terms of translating older anime aesthetics to modern animation techiques. The way the animation incorporates old-school action lines is especially well done. If you’re like me you haven’t seen the original Mazinger series from the 70’s, but the characters are fun and the action looks great. If you are a fan of the original series, you may be interested to know a lot of the original voice actors from that old show reprise their characters, which is pretty cool if you ask me.

Area 88 TV + OVA Bundle: This is a little sad, but I’ve owned the Area 88 TV series for years and it’s still languishing in my unwatched backlog. I definitely need to rectify that. However, the original 80’s OVA has been a favorite of mine since the VHS days and, not unlike the above bundle, is worth the $9.99 price alone. The angst and melodrama is so thick at times you can stand on it, but the OVA has a lot to say about the permanent effects of war on the human psyche and the aerial combat sequences are beautifully animated. In fact I’ve always found the series as a whole visually pleasing and the remastered video on the DVD looks wonderful.

Read or Die (R.O.D.) The Complete Blu-Ray Box: This beefy set includes both the Read or Die OVA and the R.O.D. the TV series and with a 50% discount lowering the price to a not-unaffordable $100, it’s well worth considering as the DVDs for the series are not easy to find. If you like alternative history and heroes who are not what you would expect (read: super-powered bookworms) there are far worst ways to spend a C-note. I reviewed the OVA series, which I enjoy but felt the story got a little too ridiculous. The story in the TV series is objectively pretty ridiculous in it’s own right, but it manages to keep things from getting too silly. Even better, the series manages to expand on the events of the OVA in a way that helped me appreciate it more. I’ve heard some fans say the second half of the TV series isn’t good, but if you ask me that’s where it really hits it’s stride. The only problem with the Blu-ray set is it doesn’t include the 5.1 audio featured on the TV series DVDs Geneon released some years ago and the English audio is only DVD-quality.

Cutey Honey/Kekko Kamen DVD Double Pack: Want a cheesecake? How about two? There are bare breasts are aplenty across both of these series along with the kind general tongue-in-cheek silliness you would expect from Go Nagai. Cutey Honey is a sequel to the original series from the 70’s so not unlike Mazinkaiser there’s a lack of familiarity to consider but once again the characters are still fun. Kekko Kamen is a naked super hero and… well, what else do I need to say? It sells itself! Frankly I’m surprised naked superheroes didn’t catch on. If you need a few extra dollars to hit the free shipping threshold, go ahead and take a chance. Just be careful that your eyeballs don’t roll right out of their sockets.

Jubei-Chan 2 DVD/CD Bargain Bundle: Marc’s review of the original Jubei-Chan series is spot on, but I’m surprised he hasn’t reviewed the sequel series as it’s almost as good. The original series was a good looking show and Jubei-Chan 2 expands on that nicely with widescreen framing along with attractive and clean animation. Jubei-Chan 2 doesn’t quite hit the same heights as it’s predecessor because relationship between Jiyu and her father Sai doesn’t get quite the same focus. Sai is still around and quite funny, but the original series had some genuinely touching moments between the two of them. While sequel has drama as well, it’s more focused on the series antagonist, who I liked a lot more than I expected to. Jubei-Chan 2 doesn’t forget the strong bond between Jiyu and her father as their interactions are still really engaging to watch, but unlike the first series you don’t gain a deeper understanding of their relationship. Another nitpick is that Hiroko Konishi does not reprise Jiyu however Yui Horie does such a good job you might not realize the difference if you aren’t listening for it. If you enjoyed the humor in the original, rest assured it’s made the transition quite nicely without feeling repetitive (one clever joke in the first episode involves all of Jiyu’s classes being about global warming). All in all it’s a worthy sequel and a steal at just $20.

Full Metal Panic!/Fumoffu/The Second Raid (Blu-ray or DVD) Complete Collections: The original Full Metal Panic series is an odd duck. The show tries to toe a line between high school comedy hi-jinks and serious sci-fi military drama but it stumbles. However, the main character Sosuke Sagara is interesting to watch as he tries to transition to a regular civilian life despite the military permeating every facet of his being. The high school comedy is pretty standard stuff but the military drama has it’s moments. The sequel series Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu and Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid are considerably better than the original series. Fumoffu brings the comedy aspect to new heights (the Full Metal Jacket parody is pure win and the scene plays out even funnier in the dub) while The Second Raid does the same for the military drama. In order to fully appreciate the sequels you pretty much have to start with the first and the asking prices for all three are very fair.

One Piece DVD Collection 1 & 2: One Piece is easily one of the best long-running Shonen Jump series out there. You might not know that if you’ve only seen the 4Kids version, but FUNimation thankfully took over the license and has done the series justice with solid subtitling and dubbing and an uncut presentation. The series has a tendency to switch between goofy humor and surprisingly graphic violence. The fights can last for several episodes, but the antagonists are interesting more often than not and Luffy’s Mr. Fantastic fighting style allows for some really creative combat. It’s a helluva long show that is still ongoing, but the option to grab the first 53 episodes only $28 should help take a bit of the sting out of it.

Trigun Badlands Rumble (Blu-ray or DVD): I liked this movie, and if you enjoyed the TV series it’s certainly worth a watch. Keep in mind that like most TV series-turned-movies it feels like an extended episode. The story takes place in the early run of the show (before episode 10 I think) so don’t expect the movie to further explore the themes of redemption that were a focal point in the series later episodes. This is a movie you watch if you want to see Vash do his wacky thing. The villain does his job well enough and overall the movie feels like it fits right in with the series. The animation manages to translate the look of the TV series very well and the higher theatrical budget allowed the animators to get creative with Vash’s faux-bumbling. You can get the DVD for $12 or the BD for $14. Do yourself a favor and invest the extra two dollars; it’s well worth it.

Licensed by Royalty DVD Bargain Bundle: Commonly abbreviated as L/R, Licensed by Royalty is a huge send-up of the British spy genre. The show follows agents Jack and Rowe in an alternate Europe as they take on various cases while smoking like chimneys. Jack is proper and efficient while Rowe has swagger to spare and both are imminently likeable. The animation is pretty solid throughout the show’s run but the story gets muddied and hard to follow, especially if you’re not familiar with the history between Britain and Ireland. Also the ending is too vague for my tastes. The bulk of the L/R is still fun to watch, however I would strongly recommend watching it in English. The main cast is made up of British actors and their voices, along with the well-written script, do a much better job evoking show’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang style. The Japanese acting just isn’t that strong— Jack and Rowe’s generic pretty-boy voices are especially ineffective. L/R (and Jubei-Chan 2 for that matter) was released by Geneon and thus the DVDs are out of print. If the show interests you, this is probably your best chance to get it.

Desert Punk DVD Complete Collection: Desert Punk features a beyond-lecherous and nigh-irredeemable main character. However, the twist is he happens to be quite capable at his work… usually. Desert Punk ends up taking on an apprentice while also regularly meeting and lusting after a girl with a huge chest. The humor of the show is just plain dirty— censored crotch shots and masturbation jokes abound— but it’s one of Gonzo better works in terms of animation and it’s refreshing to watch a post apocalyptic show with such crass humor. I didn’t quite care for the final episodes but for a mere $16 I still recommend it.

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne Blu-ray Complete Series: Ero-gero and the end of the world. Rin is a decidedly adult OVA about a bisexual immortal private detective. In order to emphasize her immortality the series spans several decades, slowly building toward an impending apocalypse. For those who don’t know, Ero-gero is a type of artwork that combines graphic violence with eroticism so the violent sequences may feel even more uncomfortable than usual. I found the OVA pretty interesting and for those who find themselves missing violent and mature anime not constrained by television standards, it’s worth checking out. Keep in mind that while it is only six episodes, each episode is “double-length” so the runtime is the equivalent of a 12 episode series.

Heat Guy J DVD Super Bargain Bundle: This series is one of Geneon’s most notable bombs. The company thought Head Guy J would be the next Cowboy Bebop and was thus willing to pay $75,000 an episode to acquire the license. The investment really, really did not pay off. For what it’s worth, the show itself is really not bad. The animation is great and while Daisuke is a little annoying at times I like the way he plays off J. FUNimation has since re-licensed the show but this bundle is for the original Geneon DVDs. I’m not sure how FUNi’s release measures up but the encoding on Geneon’s version is top notch. Thankfully you won’t have to pay anywhere near the original license fee, just a mere $13.

Durarara!! DVD Bundle: Buy this bundle ASAP. It’s not the highest discount in the sale but this is a show any serious anime fan needs to watch.

Canaan Blu-ray Complete Collection: This series is a side-story/spin-off of an interesting sounding game called 428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de for the Wii which has not been released outside of Japan. Therefore while watching Canaan there are times where you might feel you’re missing something, but overall the series stands on it’s own fairly well. The show looks great; the details in the backgrounds of Shanghai look authentic and the action set pieces are fantastic. Canaan herself is an interesting character. She’s not cold and hardened, just emotionally inexperienced and I liked watching her break out of her shell. The ending is a little inconclusive since it seems like the story is leading in to a sequel to the original game, but overall I think it’s a solid watch.

Orphen DVD Complete Collection: Chainclaw and I couldn’t disagree on this title more; he vehemently disliked the first series but enjoyed the sequel Orphen Revenge. I enjoyed the first series but I think Orphen Revenge is awful. The storyline in Revenge might have been suitable for a 4-6 episode story-arc in a longer running series, but stretching that story out to 22 episodes just doesn’t work. Also, stock animation for Orphen’s spell casting? No thank you. However for $20 this is another case where the first series is good enough to justify the asking price. Orphen can be a smarmy little bugger but I kind of like that about him, and the antagonists in the series really helped keep me invested in Orphen’s quest. The ending of the series is solid and conclusive enough that you can pretend Orphen Revenge doesn’t exist.

Azumanga Daioh DVD Complete Collection: There was a time where it seemed like anime was moving in a direction of being nothing but cute high school girls bouncing around and being cute. Azumanga Daioh is one of those shows that’s actually worth your time. It may seem random and disconnected but the series grows it’s characters little by little until by the time you reach the last episode you don’t want to see them go. It’s probably way too sugary for some people but if you only see one cute-girl high school anime comedy, make it this one.

Samurai Champloo Blu-ray Complete Series: From the people that brought you Cowboy Bebop comes a show that is considerably different. Infusing hip hop music and dancing with a samurai period piece, Champloo is hard to describe. It involves a girl named Fuu who recruits two swordsman named Gin and Mugen to help her find someone important to her. That storyline doesn’t get resolved until the last three episodes but it’s a great conclusion and the journey leading to it is well worth taking.

Chrono Crusade DVD Complete Series: It’s the roaring 20’s but there’s demons abound in New York! Chrono, a demon himself and Sister Rosette, a nun who kicks ass for the Lord, fight against demons and those who summon them to this world. However, Rosette is on borrowed time as she searches for a way to save her brother. The emotional climax to the show is memorable and the alternative western setting is engaging and well-realized. The dub manages to add to the show by using period-appropriate phrases and slang, along with correcting a few minor mistakes in the original script. At $20 Chrono Crusade is well worth picking up, though I’m not sure if FUNimation’s version includes the Azmaria’s Classes extras. If not that’s a real shame.

Tears To Tiara Blu-ray Complete Collection: Sometimes I wish anime series could last however long they need to instead of being forced to produce a pre-determined number of episodes. Tears to Tiara is a pretty decent fantasy series when all’s said and done but there are times when the script artificially lengthens the show’s runtime. It’s a busy series with a lot of characters, but the ones who are given focus are decent and I liked the final battle and conclusion. By all means, avoid the dub, which actually mis-dubs a female character with a male voice actor. Ouch.

Those Who Hunt Elves DVD Complete Collection: Yep, this sure is a series about three Japanese people and an Elf Priestess travelling the land to strip other elves. It isn’t high art, but it’s amusing and Tomokazu Seki sells it the whole way through as Junpei. At $10 for both 12 episodes series in one package I recommend it. Just don’t try to watch it in huge doses.

Cromartie High School DVD Complete Collection: There’s something oddly soothing and addictive about the super-low-key comedy in this show. The series is made up of half-length episodes with humor so deadpan and uniquely Japanese that it’s hard to describe. Thankfully for $7 you can find out for yourself and you won’t be out much if it doesn’t turn out to be your thing. Also, Mechazawa and Freddie. That is all.

Dragon Ball Seasons 1-5 DVD Bundle: I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z and I love the original series almost as much. Watching how Goku starts as a super-ignorant kid (he can’t tell the difference between boys and girls without patting their crotch) and grows to be a defender of earth gives a lot of context to how he thinks and behaves as a man in DBZ. The way I see it is Dragon Ball is a lot of humor with some fighting and Dragon Ball Z is a lot of fighting with some humor. Dragon Ball’s sense of humor and dialog (in the original Japanese) really clicked with me. Dragon Ball is great stuff and worth a look even if you dislike the material that makes up DBZ. It’s 150 episodes for $55 for goodness sake, even Shenron couldn’t grant a wish like that!

Thoughts on Shigofumi

Shigofumi is what might happen if you gave Boogiepop Phantom a chill pill that only kind of worked. Shigofumi’s principle character Fumiko bears a noticeable resemblance to Boogiepop, and also stays largely separated from other people’s affairs until it’s time for her to step in. However, instead of being a personification of death, she is a postal worker.

In the world of Shigofumi, those who have died go on to a place where they still have a body and are allowed to write one letter to a person who is still among the living. Fumika is one of many who are charged with delivering those letters, which can be more dangerous than it sounds. At best some people don’t take her seriously, at worst the message received from beyond the grave causes other people to, as they say, shoot the messenger.

At the onset, the series looks pretty easy to peg down; I predicted it would have individual story arcs that introduce new characters every episode or two. Before long there are hints at a plot involving Fumika and her mysterious past involving a connection to a high school student in a coma, which I assumed would come into play for the series conclusion. However, the series soon shows that it isn’t as concerned with the individuals Fumika encounters as it is about Fumika herself.

Learning more about Fumika is the series strongest point but unfortunately the writing, though far from bad, doesn’t always manage to stick the landing when it comes time to conclude a storyline. The earlier standalone episodes especially rely on characters having a sudden 180 degree change of heart or in other cases people who don’t get their just deserts. The series certainly doesn’t excuse their actions, but we don’t always get to see their bad karma come back to bite them.

Although the somewhat weak climaxes are unfortunate, there is a lot of compelling material. Dark and heavy subject matter is covered in a frank manner, including but not limited to, murder, abuse, negligence, bullying and psychological trauma. There are storylines that arguably hit too close to home, including for those of us in North America— one episode involves a high school class held hostage at gun point. The direction helps keep the viewers eyes drawn to the screen with lots of dark blues and shadowing during nighttime scenes and intentionally uncomfortable camera angles.

However, it’s not all bleak as Shigofumi allows itself some comedy relief. Unfortunately some of that relief is in the form of Fumika’s staff Kanaka, who insists it will become human someday. The staff’s character (who refers to itself as a “she”) is meant to juxtapose with the straight-laced Fumika, and at times it works, but “she” can also be fairly annoying and is overall the weakest part of the show. Thankfully a fellow Shigofumi-deliverer named Chiaki, despite appearing to be a typical antagonizing short-stacked anime girl, turned out to be more engaging than I gave her credit for.

The show’s production is well executed albeit not exceptional for a televised anime series; character designs are attractive and drawn consistently, though some of the younger male characters look similar. Though I mentioned she looks like Boogiepop, the uniform Fumika and her co-workers wear appears to be based more on a Japanese postal worker’s uniform for obvious reasons. The detailed backgrounds and muted color scheme are effective in establishing mood and also as previously mentioned the different camera angles and lens types really drive home some of the series more intense moments. Shigofumi is not the highest budgeted show out there- the series has it’s share of still pans and talking heads- but it’s not the lowest either and manages to allocate money for the sequences that truly need it.

Although the plots aren’t always resolved in a satisfactory way, I like how the conclusion to Fumika’s storyline played out in the final episodes, and the home video-exclusive 13th episode provides a nice “where are they now” follow up. While the series can get under your skin, Shigofumi also has it’s sweeter moments, such as Fumika and Chiaki trying to make a delivery to a cat. Thanks to those lighter moments the optimistic conclusion does not feel incompatible with the series as a whole, despite how deadly serious it can be.

Shigofumi was originally supposed to come out in U.S./Canada in 2008 from Bandai, but after numerous delays it looked like the series was stuck in some kind of limbo. Sentai Filmworks stepped in and somehow managed to wrestle it free, and I’m glad they did. Shigofumi is too uneven to achieve true greatness but it’s fairly well animated, has an interesting premise and isn’t afraid to go to some pretty dark places, resulting in at least one scene that will stick with yours truly for some time to come. It’s worth a look!