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BanG Dream

Title: BanG Dream

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks

U. S. Release Date: June 19, 2018

Format: Blu-ray, 13 Episodes plus 1 OVA ,  350 Minutes, Subtitled

Genre: School Girl slice of life/comedy

Age Rating: 14+

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis: 

Kasumi Toyama is a happy can-do girl. She is alway looking for the feeling which she calls “sparkle”, which she associates with the symbol of  a star. This feeling can be described as an exciting and hopeful experience/feeling.

One day, following a trail of stars, Kasumi finds herself at an old store where she sees a “star shaped” guitar. This is a seed planted in her mind that begins to grow after she sees a local girl band playing at a small music venue hall. She feels the “sparkle” and becomes determined to form her own band so she can find the excitement she is seeking-wanting to share and inspire others in the future.

Commentary:

BanG Dream is more than a single anime. It is rather like a whole universe created. There is a live band, manga series, this Blu-ray edition and at least 2 more “seasons”(They seem to be listed with extended titles instead of labeled numerically.), and a game.

This anime centers around music as a story telling element, but friendship is really the overwhelming theme to me. As the band is formed, new friendships are forged.

Now, Kasumi as a character brushes way too close to annoying, but manages to squeak by. She has to be rather pushy and persistent to get someone to join the band. I don’t think she sees it that way, she is just so enthusiastic  and doesn’t give up. In her ever optimistic way, she just keeps going for what she wants and knows in her mind is what the other person is supposed to do. True, because the outcome is good, her techniques as a recruiter  are redeemed.

One thing I found annoying because it seems so impossible, is that Kasumi has never played guitar before and is now first learning. Even so, she makes it on stage in a matter of months. The anime does address this by saying it isn’t her skill but her enthusiasm and heart that she brings to the band. Other band members have already been playing instruments and are key to her learning. They value her friendship and know she is the glue that holds them all together.

I didn’t feel like I could rate BanG Dream higher than a B, because I  have been seeing too many of these similar story themes of an enthusiastic student forming a club or group, whose passions become contagious and though there are minor set backs, they prevail spectacularly. Always fun to watch, and this is a good one, but sometimes to compete in this growing selection, something extra would go along way.  As an example, Kabuki-bu is unique by bringing in a the elements of tradition thriving in the modern world, not forced but embraced by a young person.If you like BanG Dream, I think you’ll also like Kabuki-bu. )

BanG Dream may have two more seasons (or series), but this one ends in a way that feel whole and complete in a satisfying way.

Overall Grade: B 

A light and bubbly anime to encourage all to follow their dreams and feel good when your done watching. A fun visit with characters that will feel like friends.

A Spirit Of The Sun (anime review)

Title: A Spirit of the Sun on Blu-ray

Director: Masayuki Kojima

Studio: Madhouse

U. S. Distributor: Maiden Japan, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: June 19th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray, 2 Episode TV Special, 154 Minutes

Genre: Drama, Seinen

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis: 

In the movie A Spirit of the Sun, it was the worst-case scenario. When the twin disasters of the eruption of Mt. Fuji and a massive earthquake hit Japan, the island nation was literally shattered and torn in two. With millions dead and the life-sustaining national infrastructure destroyed, mass evacuation of much of the country’s population was the only alternative.

But now the Japanese refugees living in Taiwan find themselves in conflict with the native citizens. There’s not enough work, the living conditions are terrible, and what remains of Japan is occupied by China in the North and the U.S. in the south. Genichiro Ryu is just one of the survivors, but having been adopted by Taiwanese parents, he has a foot in both worlds and seeks to find a way to bring peace between the conflicting sides in the movie A Spirit of the Sun directed by Masayuki Kojima.

Commentary:

The Japanese have a history of telling very sad stories about major strife, devastation and the struggle to survive. A Spirit of the Sun is no different. It really shows off the real trouble that can come from nature and economic disaster and reminds us of how fragile our world is. I’m not too sure the American audience will understand this concept too well, but I do know that other film like Grave of the Firefly and Barefoot Jen have found some rather interesting fans in our country.

In the case of A Spirit of the Sun we see how hard life can be when you are the outsider in a country that has old deep feelings toward you. I think it is rather poignant in todays environment with the travel ban having just been upheld by the Supreme Court. I guess a world where we can live together without hatred and anger just isn’t possible.

Overall Grade: B

I think in may ways I wish this could have been just a little better. I found the animation to be relatively low quality even for 2006 production and some of the writing felt overhanded. I get that the story is trying to teach something very important, but see it as missing the mark just a little.

I also find it rather interesting that the Japanese could see bigotry and hatred coming from the sides without being more open about their own nationalism that exists. I guess that there is some discourse here that show the separation and hope along with a vision that just might bring some understanding in its wake.

I would recommend A Spirit of the Sun if for nothing else to see how so many Japanese still have a inferiority complex that plays itself out in these types of stories.

The Tibetan Dog (anime review)

Title: The Tibetan Dog – on Blu-ray

Director: Masayuki Kojima

Studio: Madhouse

U. S. Distributor: Maiden Japan, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: July 10, 2018

Format: Blu-ray/ Feature Film/ 90 Minutes

Genre: Adventure, Chinese Tale

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis: 

In The Tibetan Dog movie, life hasn’t been easy for young Tianjing since his mother passed away. Forced to leave the city and move to the grasslands of Tibet where his father is the only doctor for a remote community, Tianjing finds himself becoming even more isolated as he works the lonely job of a shepherd.

It’s a dangerous task as well. Wolves, packs of wild dogs and other animals prowl the countryside… something that Tianjing discovers all too soon. Fortunately, he also finds a protector and friend in a stray golden mastiff that comes to his aide. When a new menace comes to terrorize the community, both human and canine will have to protect each other. Standing against the savagery of nature and the cruelty of men, this is the story of a boy and his Tibetan Dog.

Commentary:

The Tibetan Dog is a classic story that teaches moral lessons and honors deep friendship bonds between man and animals or rather dogs. Having had a pet dog for almost 18 years I can relate to the relationship between Tianjing and his golden mastiff. Of course there is plenty of struggles and a nasty adult who is naive and stupid. Even though is is a Chinese tale it feels over much like a Disney film with all of the personal drama in Tian’s life.

Overall Grade: B+

The Tibetan Dog is a simple film that tugs at our heart strings in several different ways. It also manages to roll several different tropes into the story along with reminding us how wonderfull a bond can be between a boy and a dog.

The animation production level is relatively good for this 90 minute film. It does showoff Madhouses ability to provide beautiful and following landscapes. The english voice acting is average. I didn’t find anything that stood out as a solid voice performance everyone did a reasonable job. I guess the thing that lost me the most was the almost hollow feeling I got from some of the side characters. I never connected solidly with any of them.

The other thing that I found curious was the fact that this film is rated TV14 when it could have or should have been rated PG because it would be a great film for viewers under 12. Honestly, I thought it was a solid attempt to create a story that gives us those warm feelings that come with kids and pets along with the twist that are common in Japanese and Asian stories.

If you want a family friendly anime this one is for you. If you want a Studio Ghibli quality film then it doesn’t quite reach those heights. I do recommend The Tibetan Dog if for no other reason that it is heart warming.

Initial D Legend 3: Dream (anime review)

Title: Initial D Legend 3: Dream on Blu-ray

Director: Masamitsu Hidaka, Tomohito Naka (co-director)

Studio: Sanzigen & Liden Films

Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

Release Date: June 12th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / Feature Film / 60 minutes

Genre: Car Racing, Coming of Age

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis:

In Initial D Legend 3: Dream, this is it! As the final showdown between breakout downhill racing phenomenon Takumi Fujiwara and Ryosuke Takahashi, the unbeaten leader of the Akagi RedSuns, draws near, both drivers and their teams go into overdrive. Takumi’s 86 and Takahashi’s RX-7 are broken down, retuned and transformed for battle. Skills that are already at the top of their form are honed into razor sharpness. Takumi must resolve his romantic situation with Natsuki. And then the race is on! Get ready for the ultimate duel on blacktop as the masters of drift square off in a winner-take-all competition that will steal your breath away in new theatrical movie Initial D Legend 3: Dream directed by Masamitsu Hidaka!

Commentary:

This last of 3 films does a wonderful job of bring us to the classic series. As with the other two films the story helps us get back up to speed with the essence of the Initial D franchise and introduces us to everyone that matters early on. Bottom line is that it Takumi is forced to understand his talent and discover what makes him really want to do this. On the other hand you have Ryosuke who knows why he does this and why he must be the best. In the end there is the final challenge between pure natural ability and cunning knowledge.

For any guy that is into cars and racing this series of films and the original series would we a great fit. For everyone else that might not be enough to keep them involved.

Overall Grade: B

I thought the animation production values were average at best and that some of the racing scenes tended to over develop the racing, but in series and films like this it really is about the drama and how to show it. I guess that all too often I felt like I was in a Bleach scene where some huge power was being unleaded rather than racing in some road race.

I guess that thing that failed me the most was the overall weakness of some of the main characters. I went away feeling rather cold toward Takumi and somewhat sorry for Ryosuke and maybe just maybe that is what they wanted, but the films are setup to make you want to root for Takumi. I guess I just didn’t care enough about him or what he was doing.

I do know that fans of the original Initial D series will love every minute of the films and snap them up like crazy. Maybe at some point in the future all 3 films will be released in one set.

Long Riders! The Complete Collection (anime review)

Title: Long Riders! The Complete Collection on Blu-ray

Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara

Studio: Actas

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: July 17th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Slice of Life, Comedy, Sport

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

Ami’s always been small, a little clumsy and unsure of herself, unlike her more athletic friend Aoi. But when she sees someone using a folding bicycle on the way home from University, she realizes that the compact bike might be a perfect fit for her. Plus it’s really, really cute.

Before you know it, Ami’s bought her own bicycle and she and Aoi are going on biking trips together! Suddenly Ami’s world is so much bigger as she and Aoi meet a whole new group of friends who share their love of this sport, and the thrill of competing in long distance cycling events. Join in the fun and share in the adventure as a group of young women discover the joy of hitting the streets and touring Japan under their own power!

Commentary:

One thing that the Japanese really know how to do is produce sweet light slice of life that manage to remind us what a perfect world might look like. Long Riders is just one of those anime. It takes a young woman who has somewhat low self-esteem and givers her something that lifts her confidence and also surrounds her with friends that either push her or judge her for being who she is. These loving friends allow her to progress at her own pace and even find ways to help her improve without making it look like they are doing anything but just being friends. This little group of friends don’t seem to have a mean bone in their bodies and when it comes to Ami they want her to feel great about riding.

I know that it is just another of the many feel good anime that are produced, but after seeing so much violence and over the top fan service it sure is nice to sit down and watch a simple story about friends who enjoy the simple pleasure of riding bicycles.

Overall Grade: B+

Based on my commentary you would think that this series would earn a higher grade and typically I would have been more generous, but for Long Riders there are aspects of it that missed the mark. First of all the production values are rather cheep. When there was straight use of Computer Graphics (CG) I felt like it diminished the story because the quality was so poor. Some of the scenes looked like they were CG from 1998 to 2005. The hard edge and high contrast shadows just made everything too blocky and became a distraction rather than aid.

Most of the writing and character development was solid, but some of the story took the super easy way out and didn’t help these characters develop at all. At the end of the series I felt like there was still entirely too much I still wanted to know about the group than what I learned.

With a little better animation production value and a solid character development I could see Long Riders as being a real hit rather than just a nice series. I still want to recumbent Long Riders to everyone who enjoys feel good anime and really appreciates series that support the characters rather than set them up for bitterness and anger. Long Riders is a hit in my eyes so please give it a chance I think you might feel a little better after you watch it.

Kabukibu Anime Review

Title: Kabukibu!

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks

Director: Kazuhiro Yoneda

U. S. Release Date: June 5th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 13 Episodes / 325 Minutes

Genre: Drama

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

Kurogo Kurusu is now a high school student and the one club he passionately wants to join doesn’t exist.  When he was little, his grandfather shared with him his love of Kabuki. Now, Kurogo wants to be able to share and create this theatrical art with other students at his school. He eagerly requests to form a club but the answer no. But, he delivers an inspired monologue from a famous scene. His passion was quite moving, his advisor relents, and not a club, but the kabuki “group” is granted permission form.

Kurogo along with his best friend Tondo, set out to recruit members so they can begin to create their own performances. Of course, because kabuki is an old, stiff art form, with out of date language, it doesn’t really hold the young people’s interest. It is so hard to follow the dialogue making it boring and even tedious. Kurogo is undeterred and sets out to find new ways to introduce his beloved kabuki to a new audience.

Commentary:

I’d definitely recommend Kabukibu. My impulse answer to why is because there wasn’t anything annoying in it. At least not for me. But there is more to it than that. The main character has the effervescent, optimistic personality that reminds me of so many other characters (like in Tamako’s Market, or Haikyu!) searching for a way to achieve their goal and make things better for those around them along the way.  These are the type of people who work hard to succeed for the greater good. As the viewer, I feel swept along with friends, cheering them all along the way. This is why it was an uplifting and fun anime to watch.

Kurogo is a solid and charismatic main character. He has a deep respect for the past and tradition but understands the need for things to be relevant for the modern person and even having respect for today’s culture. He isn’t complaining or lamenting how people now days are at a fault. He brings the past to meet the future where it is. Tondo is the arguably the Hermione (from Harry Potter) of the anime. He’s the one who can find the information and make things happen.

I sure hope the information about kabuki they were teaching others was true because we were learning alongside of them. Since I enjoy learning about the Japanese culture, stemming from anime, it is really lovely to and anime that gives us more exposure to the cultural history.

The ending was satisfying, so it doesn’t feel like there needs to be a second season.

Who would like this anime? I think if you enjoy the school slice of life anime where friends are interacting and living a shared story you’ll like this one. I don’t really categorize it as comedy, but it is light, uplifting and comfortable. Fun. Kabukibu would be good for all ages, so I would prefer that there was a dub option. Without it, the younger viewer is basically eliminated. Well, that’s the way it goes, often. Anime like Aria come to mind.

Overall Grade: B+: Kabukibu is a fun and culturally interesting show. I just wish spellcheck would stop correcting the title as I write!

 

Anonymous Noise (anime review)

Title: Anonymous Noise

Director: Hideya Takahashi

Music by: Sadesper Record, NARASAKI / Watchman

Studio: Brain’s Base

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: June 5th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Shojo, Romance, Music

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis:

Six years ago Momo taught Nino the joy of singing from her heart. When Momo’s family moved away without warning, Nino found herself lost and adrift. Until she met Yuzu, who also had a musical gift that he shared with her until he was suddenly gone as well, leaving nothing but the memory of his music. Before they disappeared, both Momo and Yuzu said the same thing- that Nino should keep singing, because that was how they’d find her again.

Now, as Nino starts high school, their paths are all about to cross again. But while Nino has kept singing and remembering how things were, Momo and Yuzu have changed. Now it may take a miracle to bring them back together when a triangle becomes more than a musical instrument.

Commentary:

True shojo anime is not really my bag but there always seems to be something about these anime that draws me in.  Anonymous Noise is one of those anime series that does a good job of keeping my attention and telling a somewhat simple story in a entertaining way. Granted, love triangles are typically one sided and Anonymous Noise leans that way and of all the issues I might have with the series this is the most petty issue I have. I know that people come to series like Anonymous Noise looking for this type of drama and honestly it is the one thing that makes me want to turn away. The thing about Anonymous Noise that kept me coming back was the underling story about the band and their rise and the difficulties they had based on members needs. Having grown up with musicians in my life I understood the trials and tribulations they had to go through even if their road to success was easy yet strange.

Even though I like the underling story, I realize that it was really all about the romance and love triangle and can easily see why anyone would be attracted to it.

Overall Grade: B

I wish I could say that Anonymous Noise hit a home run, but in reality it didn’t. Expecting some hard hitting music with some love triangle drama ended up being a setup for disappointment. I loved the basic story, but fund the music to be overly simplistic and the love or romance of the story to be forced at times. With all of that being said I did enjoy the dynamics between everyone and appreciated the overall writing. If you love Shojo anime and are looking for a solid story with a melodramatic love story intertwined them Anonymous Noise is just the ticket.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria (anime review)

Title: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria

Director: Yōhei Suzuki

Studio: J. C. Staff

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: May 29th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genere: Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Fan Service

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis: 

Contrary to what the adventures of Bell and the Goddess Hestia might imply, not everyone goes into the dungeon of Orario to pick up girls. The veterans of the Goddess Loki’s Familia have lots of reasons for risking life and limb facing the monsters and mayhem lurking within the deadly labyrinth’s multiple levels, but new member and mage Lefiya just wants to prove that she’s worthy to be on the same team as her hero, the famed sword princess Aiz Wallenstein.

As for Aiz herself, she’s seeking something that no one else even suspects, and she may find it when trouble comes after her from the previously unreached 59th level! If you thought you knew the Danmachi universe, be prepared to think again as the adventure continues from an all-new point of view!

Commentary:

As much as I liked Is It Wrong To Pick Up A  Girl In A Dungeon, I have to say that Sword Oratoria gave me even more appreciation for the complete series. Knowing that the 12 episodes will not have Bell and his adventures in it I did have moments when I could see the team back fighting together. The Loki Familia is great and all but Bell and Hestia and many of the others do make a difference in the entire mix.

Of all the characters to have focus on, Aiz, is by far the least entertaining one. She might be on the clueless side and have great talent but her flat persona is a lost cause. I also think that having Bell faun all over her is much more entertaining than seeing the girls in the Loki Familia have the hots for her is just sad indeed.

Overall Grade: B+

The action is very good and the pacing of the series is great. We don’t get too bogged down and things move along without giving up too much to soon. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria is solid and very entertaining. I feel as though it is important to provide more character development for many side characters and most series just toss out a bad  OVA to help create some back story. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria helps us see some of the other characters in a new light. I am contemplating going back and revisiting the original just to see some of these players with a new appreciation.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria is worth owning and if you are fan of the original series this is a must. I think it does nothing short of helping the series stay relevant and opens doors for more to come.

 

ClassicaLoid Anime Review

Title: ClassicaLoid on Blu-ray

 

Publisher: Sentai

U. S. Release Date: April 24, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 25  Episodes / 625Minutes

Genre: Comedy

Age Rating: 14+

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

Kanae is in in high school, but she doesn’t have much time to focus on that. See, she is left alone in her grandmother’s big mansion. Although her dad is still alive, she doesn’t know where he is and only has limited and sporadic contact with him since he works at some mysterious job. At a loss as to what to do to maintain the old home, she decides to sell it all. So, she is surprised when “Mozart” shows up intending to take a room there. A stoic and intense man, he is soon contrasted by “Beethoven” who is crazy and free spirited. The magic begins to happen when the house is about to be torn down by the people buying the mansion, and in their emotional state, the two new squatters unleash a powerful musical energy that’s unearthly- what they call Musick.

As things progress, Kanae and Sosuke (her wannabe musician friend) are surrounded by additonal well known- apparently reincarnated?- Classical composers. Beethoven refers to them as “Loids”. Kanae almost seems to expect the strange things to happen, and so just goes about taking care of the house and hoping all the residents of the now rooming house will actually pay rent or do their share of the work.

Odd as all the Classical Loids occupying house is, there is a mystery at work. What are they exactly, they don’t seem to know or at least admit they know, and what is the purpose of their sudden appearance. Kanae’s father appears to be connected to the confusion but he is as uncommunicative as ever, as we wait for the world to experience profound change…? Bach, what are you up to?

Commentary:

ClassicaLoid was fun to watch. I enjoyed the story elements of Classical music twisted into the unexpected. The characters became unique because of the mash of historical with pop culture. While Shubert was on the historical side, Beethoven went all the way to pink pop. Really a fun mix.Since overall this is a comedy, there was plenty of humor. Some dry, some slapstick. But there is also a good building of friends and relationships.

ClassicaLoid has the blend of “here is our comedic life” and “something mysterious/serious is hidden”.  It’s one of those common combos in comedy anime like Chobits, Tamako Market or Love Hina. (If you liked any of those, I think you’ll like ClassicaLoid) I always find this it be rough in blending together, even unnecessary, but I suppose it does add a complexity that in all makes it more interesting, opening it up to more than the friendship/comedy genre.For me, I would have been happier with the whole thing if we would have just had fun with the characters.

Visually, I like this anime. The well thought out images and backgrounds were secondary to the character creations. And topping both, I thought there were some great special effects. They had to be creative with the scenes depicting the magic of the Musick, and they really delivered. I mean, to visually express music has been attempted countless times, but it is really tough to do. I think ClassicaLoid found a expressive and accomplished way to do so.

I found the story ending satisfying it could all end right here. But I have read that there is a second season. So, you can enjoy this on its own or look forward to a second helping.

Overall Grade: B+  

ClassicaLoid  is one of those anime that is like visiting friends, incorporating a fun mix of old and new by bringing the historical composers into contemporary times, flavored with comedy, sci-fi, and magic.

 

Atom the Beginning (anime review)

Title: Atom the Beginning on Blu-ray

Director: Katsuyuki Motohiro

Studio: OLM, Production I.G, Signal.MD

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: May 1st, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Sci Fi, Action

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

Atom the Beginning contains episodes 1-12 of the anime series directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro.

In the aftermath of the Great Catastrophe, grad students Hiroshi Ochanomizo and Ummataro Tenma are working at the forefront of the exciting new field of super-robot development. Creating the next level of technology isn’t cheap, however, and not only do the guys have to take on side jobs to keep their research going, they also have to contend with both jealous rivals and sinister organizations who want their secrets. Fortunately, our heroes also have an ace in the hole: their latest prototype, A106, who may just be the smartest, most powerful robot yet, and might even possibly be ATOM – THE BEGINNING!

Commentary:

Atom the Beginning is a prequel to Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy manga/anime series, depicting the events up until the birth of Astro Boy. Atom the Beginning may be a homage to Astro Boy but I found it to be better in almost every way. The writing is better, the animation is superb and the overall production quality proves that the new generation has a greater feel for this art form.

Of course there is some silliness in Atom the Beginning, but I didn’t seem to mind . It was the development and delivery of the story that made every moment worth while.

Overall Grade: A-

Before I sat down and began to watch Atom the Beginning, I was very concerned that trying to connect it to Tezuka would blind their own vision. The only other time I have seen a winning attempt to honoring Tezuka was in Urasawa’s Pluto. Which is also a reimagine of the Astro Boy story. Atom the Beginning didn’t have to rewrite the story it just had to come up with a valid beginning and present it in a way that didn’t fly in the face of the 65 year old series that stretched over 15 years.

I am impressed with Atom the Beginning and would tell everyone to forget that it relates to Astro Boy and look at it as a stand alone series. You will find it to be wonderfully told and crafted.