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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!

Durarara 2nd Season Letdown

After a relatively long lack of anime in my life, I’m finally wrapping up the second season of Durarara and it makes me a little sad inside.  It’s not bad by any stretch, or that the plot isn’t going somewhere.  No, it’s still colorful, somewhat wacky, and the three young protagonists have more of a train wreck of unintentionally fighting with each other than I would have thought possible with only three players.

It’s just slow. And dripping with adolescent and/or misguided leader angst. It has set up a perfectly good reason for the angst—the cheerfully malicious villain, who the series telegraphed right off the bat with the entire 2nd episode spends his free time encouraging people to destroy their own lives. But that episode felt out of place with the rest of the series, so even if it tipped its hand, that’s not much consolation.

Still, I could forgive, if it dumped on the angst, then slapped the characters around and twisted something classic into something fresh and spectacular. For the first couple of slower, more sullen episodes I just figured it was catching its breath before the big finale. But it’s now spent six solid episodes moping around in circles during which very little has actually happened. Not that it isn’t doing a very good job of, say, keeping people discussing things interesting to the viewer, but the same amount of plot and character development could have easily been covered in two episodes, and it would have been much better for it. Baccano (or, heck, this show’s first season) probably could have pulled it off in a single half-hour of madness if it really tried.

Also, not nearly enough Celty, which I can accept, except there’s also barely any of the, oh, dozen other potentially interesting characters—really, nearly everything has focused on the three youths, with occasional brief appearances by peripheral characters who feel very much like peripheral players, and no attention at all to a half dozen people who might have been interesting but have done nothing in the series but take up space in the intro.

What it really feels like is that the series had about 18 episodes worth of plot and 24 episodes to fill with it, and instead of even distribution it went all-out for the first 15 or 16, then is sitting around dragging its feet filling time with what’s left. Contrast this with Baccano, which apparently had enough material for two seasons but got trimmed down to one, plus the three bonus episodes. Yet, whether that’s the reason or not, those were 16 solid episodes of pure chaotic beauty.

And that’s what the real problem with this mopey, lethargic closing quarter is: The series conclusively demonstrated its ability to bring together a huge, seemingly-random, wacky cast in a crazy, multi-layered narrative knot of entertaining chaos, all while blithely tossing out an ever-increasing stream of incongruently hilarious quirks, deadpan gags, and wild hijinks the likes of which most series can only dream. Then, after making you laugh, cheer, and drop your jaw in disbelief at the madness, it pushes all that aside and leaves you with three messed-up but relatively straightforward kids moping around endlessly, driving you nuts at their inability to get to the friggin’ point already.

Basically, the series proved that it was on a first-name basis with Awesome and his friend That Did Not Just Happen, then decides to go hang out with Adolescent Angst for the entire endgame.

Again, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that after being so good, it’s an incredible letdown. Even moreso every time the credits roll and you realize that half the people in them have barely done anything at all, despite there being ample time available.

Oh well, at least there’s still some opportunity for the very end to do something to leave a good taste in the mouth.

Durarara Midpoint: I Officially Love This Series

As much of a fan of Baccano as I am, I will admit to skepticism that Durarara could possibly live up to the bar it set. I did have a fair amount of confidence, however, that as it rolled into the endgame of the first season (meaning the midpoint of the series) that it had the wherewithal to actually do something with the giant pile of characters and potentially-intersecting plot threads.

I’m an anime fan, so I’ve grown used to disappointment when it comes to the coup de grace in series with massive amounts of potential and complex plots—there are far, far too many series that just plain blow it at the end. Not just Evangelion-style “the creator had a breakdown” disasters. Or Escaflowne-style “We’re trying to wrap up an entire season’s worth of material in four episodes” disappointments.  Or Strange Dawn-style “I’m pretty sure there was supposed to be another season in here, and we just attempted to close every plot thread in the space of a single episode” catastrophes. Even far more coherent, together, well-planned things often just don’t quite pull it together when it comes to the finale.

So it’s telling that I had a great deal of faith in the first-season plot arc wrapping up in a satisfying way in Durarara. Which it did, in beautiful fashion. It was not quite the mind-blowing, multi-layered magnificence of the Baccano finale, but then it’s only halfway through, and expecting another five-way Crowning Moment of Awesome the likes of which the trope takes its name from is sort of unreasonable. It was, however, tremendously entertaining, twistedly heartwarming, and entirely satisfying as halfway points go.

Two episodes into the second season, and Durarara has just moved itself up from a merely great series to oh wow, I love this show. I was sort of expecting Celty—my favorite character by far—to take a backseat role now that she’d had her big moment. Nope. The series appears to know perfectly well how golden she is every moment she’s onscreen, and shows no intentions of holding back just how much potential there is for crazy-incongruent beauty.

The first episode of season two is sort of spectacular. The quirky, sweet, cute, funky, hilarious section that opens the second episode, however, is magic.

What has me surprised is that I don’t know exactly what made it so awesome.

It’s not the Matrix-action-scene, Project A-ko fully-automatic-missile-launcher, “That was awesome!” kind of awesome, to be sure. It’s pretty darned funny, but it’s not the  laughing-so-hard-you-can’t-breathe level of hilarious-awesome, either. It’s marvelously weird, yes, but not quite the sort of deranged “What just happened?!” madness kind of awesome. There’s definitely some of the Lelouch-sytle, magnificent-twist, Crowning Moment of Awesome stuff elsewhere, but that’s not it in this case, either. It’s sweetly romantic, yes, and appeals to my sense of unlikely romance, but not so much so that it’s going to set whatever part of my brain that controls “having fun” on fire.

What I’m basically saying here is that it’s one of the best half-an-episodes I’ve ever seen, and I’m not entirely sure why that is other than a sense of so many lovably and marvelously incongruent things intersecting perfectly it’s hard to believe.

Other asides:  As a fan of character animation, Celty’s body language alone is easily worth the price of admission—you’ve got someone literally without a head making it entirely clear what she’s thinking and feeling just based on the way she moves. Not to mention incredibly cute. Yes, this series makes the headless horseman incredibly cute, and it fits. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Also, there are some seriously bat-poo crazy characters in this show. Not all of whom are the villains. And they’re not clones of Vino, either—an entirely different sort of nuts. The second-season opening song isn’t nearly as good as the first, but it ups the named character count to an even twenty, besting even Baccano on that count. The end has the same twenty if you count the shadow as Celty, plus three color gang guys, which ties Baccano’s 23.

Anyway, while it’s always possible that Durarara will screw up the very end, if ever there was a series that I’m looking forward to every moment of the ride, up to and including the climax, this is it.

I’m watching it on Crunchyroll, but if there’s ever a series worth adding a physical version of to your collection, it’s this one. I’d already have ordered the rather-expensive (but worth it) DVDs if I wasn’t holding out hope for an eventual Blu-ray release. (Speaking of which, it appears that the Japanese BD of Baccano is just upscaled, so there’s apparently no point in waiting for that, although I’m still holding out hope for some Spice and Wolf goodness.)