Anime box-sets for 2011: Part One

Aquarion Collection

Aquarion
Label:
MVM
Certificate:
15
Format:
DVD
Discs:
4. (26 episodes)
Running time:
630 mins approx
Subtitles:
English
Video:
16:6 anamorphic
Sound:
English 5.1, Japanese 2.0
Release date:
17th January 2011
RRP:
£29.99 - Amazon - Play - MVM

Brief synopsis:

Eleven years after a great Catastrophe befalls the Earth, much of mankind is left homeless and starving, scavenging in the streets, just trying to survive anyway that they can. Now, after a twelve thousand year slumber, Shadow Angels invade the Earth once again, decimating humanity with their sheer, overwhelming power, instilling fear in all who live long enough to see it.

But mankind has a way to fight back in the shape of a trio of flying vessels that can combine to form the Mechanical Angel Aquarion. But only a select few can pilot Aquarion, a rare breed of human who can entwine their souls to power and control the great mechanical saviour and warrior. Prophecy tells of the end of the world and as the end times approach, one amongst humanity must arise if mankind is to survive.

Comments:

If there’s one thing that American dub casts do well; it’s shows like this. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that when US distributor Funimation’s first picked up this show there must have been a impressive number of voice actors over at their head office waving their hands in the air going “Oooh, me, me, pick me, please, I sooo want to do this show”. It has everything that the Yanks love in an anime dub. I kid you not, if this thing got .any more gung-ho it’d be wearing a Stetson, swinging a six-shooter and yelling “Yippee-kai-yay”. There’s huge amounts of pointless, incredulous shouting, grandiose posturing, lots of calling out of the names of your attacks and also that of each and every finishing move, but for once the very thing that would usually put me right off the dub version actually made it better. Plus there’s more free-flowing psychobabble and mythological guff than you can shake a stick at. But even with all that, once you look past the pretentious bollocks this actually quite a fun show to watch, and surely that’s what counts.

Aquarion
Once you actually get into the guts of the series it has a real Vision Of Escaflowne / Macross 7 feel to it. This isn’t at all surprising as it’s written and directed by Shoji Kawamori, creator of both these aforementioned shows and Aquarion’s lineage is evident right from the outset. It also owes a ot to the likes of Rahxephon, Vandread and Evangelion. If you can imagine a version of Evangelion where Shinji wasn’t the lead contender for World’s Whiniest Wimp and Gendo wasn’t a total heartless bastard then you’re a good part of the way into Aquarion country already.

The plot’s not particularly subtle or complex - but this isn’t really a show that needs to be – and goes somewhat like this; ie, big scary aliens invade, rag a group p of teenagers pilot big powerful robots with mysterious origins and eventually start kicking arse through the powers of Friendship, Truth &. Love etc etc. Sound familiar? Well it should do as we’ve seen in many many times before. You can figure out pretty quickly which characters are going to do the big betrayal and change sides faster than the Italian army, who’s going to have the crisis of conscience and who’s going to have the nervous breakdown before coming through for their team-mates right at the last minute. There’s some character development along the way, not much I’ll admit but I can assure you it is actually there, hidden away between all the pointing and shouting. The concept of the 3 ships combining to make different type of robots is used as a metaphor for the way the different personalities in a team have to compromise and work together to accomplish their goals. The combining itself, or merging as they call it, involves a rather corny “naked transformation” sequence which is taken to another level with this “union” of souls being shown as something akin to a positively orgasmic sexual experience with all the blushing, noises and dirty talk in the shower rooms afterwards that comes with it. As I said, “subtle” is not the word of the day.

Aquarion
But what could quite easily have been a bad anime saved by the shear amount of effort and goodwill lavished on this show by everyone involved in it’s creation. The animation is spot on the money and of consistently high quality and often even little details like the expressions on the faces of those out of the foreground are priceless. There’s been no expenses spared on the background and scenic vistas either as these are all very impressive. If I had to sum up the visual look of this series I’d go with “Classical Greek architecture meets rabid Transformers fan meets whacked out art student on something probably not quite legal” which I think sums it up quite nicely. Animation company GONZO have become quite well known for their heavy usage of CGI over the last few years, especially their habit of sticking in a series regardless of whether it’s warranted. Here though the CGI’s really found it’s home and out of all the GONZO series of the last half decade I would go so far as to say that, CGI wise, this is one of the best.

Musically Aquarion is very impressive. There’s a number of infectiously happy J-pop numbers as well as some uplifting power themes, one f which becomes somewhat of a musical cue when ever that there’s about to be some major arse kicking going on with the heroes powering up and saving the day yet again- which happens to be about once per episode. Slotted in nicely between all the action is a large amount of opera and classical music which works surprisingly well with.

Ultimately, if you’re happy to ignore the plot holes and the whole “over the top“ness of it all and just let yourself put your brain in neutral and go with the flow then this could be the show for you

Extras:

One thing this release has plenty of is extras. There’s an interview with director Shoji Kawamori; Tokyo International Anime Fair 2005 Talk Show; Four versions of “Tsugumi's 'All About CGI' Series”; Several AMVs (anime music videos) made up of clips from the show put to a number of the best pieces of incidental music from the series; a short featurette about the creation of the 3D CGI used during the show’s creation and the ever present Textless opening and closing animation and trailers.

Aquarion Collection will be available from most high street and online retailers from 17th January 2011.

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo X Juliet Collection

Label:
MVM
Certificate:
12
Format:
DVD
Discs:
4. (24 episode)
Running time:
580 mins approx
Subtitles:
English
Video:
16.9 anamorphic
Sound:
English 5.1, Japanese 2.0
Release date:
17th January 2011
RRP:
£29.99 - Amazon - Play - MVM

Brief synopsis:

Until just fourteen years previously, the House of Capulet had ruled the aerial city of Neo Verona with great benevolence and respect for its citizens. All that was to change when the house of Montague, which had long held a grudge against the city’s ruling family, spearheaded a bloody coup and seized power by ruthlessly slaughtering the entire house of Capulet as well as all those allied with them. But, unbeknownst to the Montagues, there was one lone survivor of this horrendous act of mass murder. A daughter of Capulet, the young Juliet, was rescued and has lived in secret for the last fourteen years safe amongst those still loyal to her house. Raised as a boy by the name of Odin, Juliet leads yet another secret life as The Red Whirlwind; a disguised vigilante figure who fights to defend the common people against the injustices forced upon them by the despotic and brutal regime of Neo Verona’s ruler of these past fourteen years, the tyrannical Prince Montague.

Now, as her sixteenth birthday fast approaches, Juliet’s guardians believe it is time for her to be told of her true identity and lineage and for her to become a figurehead behind which the House of Capulet can rise again. But a chance encounter has already lead the young Juliet to meet and fall for a young noble by the name of Romeo, although she is as unaware of his true identity as the son of Prince Montague as he is of hers as the sole survivor of the House of Capulet. When Lord Romeo finally discovers Juliet’s true gender he become infatuated with her in return but by this point she has learnt the truth of not only her own lineage but also that of her first love. Devotion, loyalty and love are all pushed to their limits as history’s most popular star crossed lovers take on their tragically familiar hand as dealt to them once again by the fickle hand of fate in this beautifully animated and highly original anime adaptation of Shakespeare’s timeless classic “Romeo and Juliet”.

Comments:

Let’s get this out of the way first. There’ll probably be a number of people who see this review being posted up here and the first thing through their mind is “Romeo and Juliet?! What the hell’s that doing here and not on www.girly-romance-london.com?”. Well I’m here to say that it’s definitely no mistake. As the setting of this story, the city of Neo Verona, floats unaided in the sky plus – and I kid you not on this bit – Romeo and his fellow nobles ride around on magical flying ponies. Well if that doesn't count as the "fantasy" part of “Sci-fi & Fantasy” then I don't know what does. And on the girly-romance front; trying to write this anime off as a “girly” anime is like trying the write the original off as a “girly” play and anyone who chooses to pass either version over as it’s not “manly” enough for them probably wasn’t going to get much out of it anyway.

Romeo X Juliet
So that aside, what of it? Is it any good? Well actually, yes, it is. Production company GONZO’s tried it’s hand at fantastical and futuristic adaptations of well loved classics before such as Gankutsuou which was based on the novel The Count of Monte Cristo and Samurai 7 based on Akira Kurasawa’s classic movie Seven Samurai, both to a generally positive reviews. This time they’ve enlisted as Director Fumitoshi Oizaki - probably best know as the Animation Director on Final Fantasy: Unlimited - and respected script writer & manga author Reiko Yoshida to handle the series composition. From watching the first volume it’s evident that GONZO are giving this series their full attention. The animation’s of impressively high quality all the way though, the CGI integration – which GONZO are known to be quite variable on – is fluid and not over used, the characters are engaging and the script’s interesting, humorous and entertaining. As long as they keep this up and don’t drop the ball by doing something stupid at the last minute - another of GONZO’s known failings - then this show has the potential for greatness. There’s also a whiff of Disney about this production in that it looks a bit like a Disney, sounds a bit like a Disney and, if there were such a thing as smellivision I’d wager that this would smell a bit like a Disney as well. But it’s like a good Disney, not one of those crappy ones that go straight to DVD.

Now, here’s the thing that really impressed me. The Dub version of this show isn’t just good; no, it’s much better than good and I’d go so far as to say it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever heard. While the subtitles basically just translate the Japanese language track into modern English, the Dub version actually reworks the story into something more akin to Shakespearean English with all the phrases and flowery language that goes with it. It’s not perfect by any means - and I dare not show it to any classical scholars in fear of the equally flowery language I’d be likely to hear flowing from their mouths about it – but it’s still a very credible attempt. It’s probably telling that the work on the English language script has been overseen by Taliesin Jaffe, the man behind the script work on two of the best Dub tracks of recent years; Ergo Proxy and the Hellsing OVA. This script, plus some rather impressive thespian acting from the dub cast – many of whom are probably making their first re-acquaintance with the bard since their college days – makes for one of the rare instances where the Dub is in fact far superior to the original Japanese language version. Of course, this isn’t to say that the Japanese version is no good, as this is just not the case. It’s worth noting also that the Japanese version uses primarily polite or formal Japanese, which is great if you’re attempting to learn the language or know it already and have become quite rusty, as this helps make it easier to follow without having to read the subtitles.

Romeo X Juliet
But, and here’s the thing, if you’re expecting this show to follow the original closely then you’re going to be right out of luck. If you think Baz Luhrman took a few too many liberties with his 1996 DiCaprio/Danes vehicle then you ain’t seen nothing yet. Romeo x Juliet is touted as being based “loosely” on Shakespeare’s play, and when they say “loosely”, boy do they mean it. While the basic settings and characters are taken from the play, it’s made quite plain right from the start that religiously following the original is definitely not on the agenda. That said there are a good number of plot devices, minor characters and references from the Bard’s other plays thrown into the mix that will keep many a Shakespeare fan happy. There’s even a character, a playwright by the name of William, who pops up in the proceedings from time to time to offer assistance, advice and the occasional musing on the human condition.

So what would the Bard himself have to say if he was around to pass comment? Well apart from being pleasantly surprised that over four hundred years and half a world away from his birth, his plays are as relevant and loved as they ever were, I think he’d be pleased that modern story tellers are still invoking many of his basic principles; that status and nobility ultimately mean nothing, that it’s human nature to rile against whatever the fates may have in store for us and that love really does conquer all. Eat that Stephenie Meyer

Extras:

There’s a “Making of Romeo X Juliet anime” featurette; textless opening and closing animations (what a surprise); art galleries and a bunch of trailers

Romeo X Juliet Collection will be available from most high street and online retailers from 17th January 2011.

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