Anime Film Review: When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There is a film released by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The story is based the Joan G. Robinson novel of the same name.

When Marnie Was There
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi/em>
Written by: Masashi Andō, Keiko Niwa, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Sara Takatsuki and Kasumi Arimura
Run Time: 103 minutes
Rated: PG

The film focuses on Anna, an introverted 12-year-old girl who suffers from asthma attacks. Anna doesn’t discuss her feelings with her foster parents, which causes her foster mother to wonder what’s wrong. But after Anna collapses from an asthma attack at school, she is sent to spend the summer with a couple of her foster mother’s relatives out in a rural, seaside town because the air is clearer there.

When Anna arrives and starts exploring her new location, she sees an abandoned and dilapidated mansion across a salt marsh. She wades across the marsh to examine it, and wonders why it feels so familiar. She learns that the mansion used to be a vacation home for a foreigner family but that it has been empty for a long time. Anna begins having dreams of a blond girl in the mansion.

One day, Anna encounters a mysterious blond girl around her age named Marnie. For some reason, Anna finds that she’s easily able to befriend and care about Marnie, when she’s never been able to do that with anyone else before. But as the film progresses, hints are dropped that perhaps Anna’s interactions with Marnie are actually a dream. But the way the film is done, it can be hard to tell where reality ends and where dreams begin. There’s also a major reveal right near the end of the film, but I had pretty much already figured it out before all the pieces for the reveal were presented. But the film had built itself up so well that I still had an emotional reaction when the final pieces were put together for the movie’s big revelation.

The story in When Marnie Was There was very well-told, and the character development for both Anna and Marnie was executed in a realistic way. The character of Anna is very relatable to the audience, and the film’s theme of friendship also resonates with viewers.

It’s interesting to note that When Marnie Was There has the feel of a typical Studio Ghibli film, yet it does something that I don’t think any other has. This movie has strong female lead characters, yet none of the male characters are terribly crucial for progressing the overall story. The only male characters present in the film are all older than Anna, with two of them being old men. It was great to see a film where the female characters shine and are the ones who progress the story forward.

While the animation is what I’ve come to expect from Studio Ghibli, it still looked lush and was great to look at. The visuals for When Marnie Was There were just as compelling as the actual story, and the combination of these elements makes this a standout film from the studio.

When it comes to the DVD release itself, it includes three bonus features. The first is a nearly 13 minute featurette titled, “Behind the Scenes with the Voice Cast.” This feature focuses on the members of the English dub cast, whose interviews are intercut with footage from the film. It’s pretty standard for the “behind the scenes” featurettes that have been included on U.S. home video releases for Studio Ghibli films.

Next is “Foreign Trailers and TV Spots,” which runs for six minutes and 22 seconds. There are seven spots in all, and they have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final extra is the U.S. trailer, which is one minute and 40 seconds in length.

When all is said and done, When Marnie Was There is a great film that fans of Studio Ghibli should be able to appreciate and enjoy. If it turns out that this ends up being the final theatrical film to come out from Studio Ghibli, at least they were able to go out on a high note with When Marnie Was There.

Anime Blu-ray Review: Eden of the East The Complete Collection (Anime Classics)

Eden of the East The Complete Collection (Anime Classics) is a two-disc Blu-ray set that includes eight episodes on the first disc and three episodes and the set’s bonus features on the second set. The set includes both the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Eden of the East The Complete Series (Anime Classics)
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: April 30, 2013

Three months before the beginning of Eden of the East, ten missiles strike Japan, but there are no casualties. This act becomes known as “Careless Monday” and is eventually forgotten by the people.

In the first episode, a college senior named Saki Morimi visits Washington D.C. as part of her graduation trip. When Saki inadvertently gets in trouble while at the White House, a mysterious naked young man holding nothing but a gun and a cell phone suddenly appears and saves her. The young man has lost his memory, but finds his way back to his apartment and discovers several fake passports. He chooses the one with the name “Akira Takizawa” on it, and he returns to Japan after encountering Saki again. Upon their return, they learn that a new missile has hit Japan.

Akira’s mystery deepens when he discovers that his phone has 8.2 billion yen in digital money, and that he can contact a concierge named Juiz who can fulfill any order he has for a price. He figures out that he’s involved in some kind of game, where twelve individuals known as Selecao are given ten billion yen to “save” Japan in some way. Saki, along with her friends, find herself themselves more and more entangled with Akira, and the truths that Akira starts to uncover just how deadly this game really is.

The first thing I noticed as I started watching Eden of the East was the animation. The quality of the animation is incredible, and it grabs the viewer’s interest immediately. I also liked how the censoring was done on Akira when he has the full frontal nudity at the start of the series, because the technique that was used fits in with the feel of the series. While the story has serious elements to it, it’s told in such a way that it’s more on the comedic side.

The storytelling in Eden of the East is also very compelling early on, and it manages to keep the viewer interested in what’s going on throughout all 11 episodes of the series. I especially appreciated how, as the story unfolded, the facts that came out would constantly alternate between making Akira look like a villain and making him look like a hero. As a viewer, I was always rooting for Akira, but there were times when the evidence would make it look like my faith in him had been misplaced. I thought it was great how the series strung viewers along about Akira until right near the end. There was also strong execution for the buildup of the mystery surrounding Akira’s past.

Eden of the East should appeal to viewers who enjoy anime with mystery and psychological elements to it. The execution of the mystery element keeps the viewer interested and wanting to learn more in order to try to figure everything out before the final revelations. The psychological aspects of the show help to accentuate the mystery and develop the series’ characters.

The Blu-ray video for this set has 1080p High Definition 4×3 HD Native, and the audio includes Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for both the English and the Japanese audio. I thought the video on this Blu-ray release looked good, and I have no complaints with the audio quality.

When it comes to the actual Blu-ray set, there were a total of nine bonus features included. The first five are all interviews with staff and cast members of Eden of the East. The main exception was the interview where Mamoru Oshii joined director Kenji Kamiyama for an interview. Kamiyama also appeared in an interview with Chika Umino, the character designer for the series. There were also interviews with the voice actors for Akira and Saki, the art director, and the music composer. All of these interviews have Japanese audio with English subtitles, and ran anywhere from 11 to 22 minutes in length. I appreciated seeing all of these interviews, and getting a glimpse into the process that went into creating the Eden of the East anime.

The set also includes a 30-second TV spot and a nearly two-minute long promotion video, and both of these items have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final bonus feature includes trailers for releases that FUNimation Entertainment was promoting at the time this set was released.

Eden of the East The Complete Collection (Anime Classics) will appeal to viewers who have already seen the series and want to own it in their anime home video library. If you have the capability to watch Blu-ray Discs, I would recommend going with the Blu-ray version.

Anime Blu-ray Review: Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo

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Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo is the third of four films for the Rebuild of Evangelion, which retells the story of the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series.

Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo
Directed by: Hideaki Anno, Mahiro Maeda, and Kazuya Tsurumaki
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Starring: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura, Maaya Sakamoto, Akira Ishida
Run Time: 93 minutes (theatrical version), 96 minutes (uncut edition)
Rated: TV-14

For viewers who have already seen the original television series, it’s readily apparent right at the beginning of this film that the story has progressed past the ending of the original series. But any viewers, whether they’re fans of the television series or are experiencing Evangelion for the first time through the films, will find themselves feeling very confused for almost the first 20 minutes of the movie. It’s not until after Shinji Ikari is retrieved from Evangelion Unit 01 and is brought to see Misato Katsuragi that the audience starts receiving the exposition that’s needed to understand what’s happening. It’s revealed that 14 years have elapsed since the end of the second film, Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance, and that Shinji has been sealed away for all of that time. Perhaps Anno purposefully opened the film in a way to leave the audience as confused as Shinji until he learns what’s happened. By telling the story this way, I think it helps the viewer to better empathize with Shinji.

The character of Kaworu is introduced in this film, and he ends up having a bigger role here than he did in the original television series. The film was better able to develop the relationship between Kaworu and Shinji than the original television series did, so it’s much easier to believe that Shinji would be affected by something that happens to Kaworu during the movie. I really liked the scenes of Kaworu and Shinji playing the piano together as they bond to become a team, even with some of trippy animation of the piano. But this different animation style helps to make the scene memorable.

But poor Shinji goes through a lot over the course of Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo. He’d already been dealing with self-esteem issues and depression prior to this film, but between missing out on 14 years, having a couple of bombshells dropped on him that make him realize that he didn’t actually know what he thought he knew, and a major event happening right near the end of the movie, Shinji becomes completely broken. As a viewer, I was left with very serious concerns for him at the end of the movie, and how his mindset will end up setting the stage for the next film.

This film also has a much darker feel than the previous two films. On the surface, this was an obvious choice because the world has become even more of a dystopia due to the Third Impact event that took place at the end of the previous film. However, I also believe the darker feel also emphasizes Shinji’s mental state as everything he thought he knew falls apart all around him.

Fans of the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series might have problems accepting how the story progresses during this film. While I’ve seen the original series, I’ve been trying to keep an open mind while watching these “rebuild” films. With the changes that were made to the story during the first two films, the progression of the story in the third film makes a lot of sense. Although, I have to say that seeing what happened to Misato and Ritsuko and the other characters that we knew from NERV 14 years later and discovering they have a much different role now, took a lot of getting used to as I watched this film. But I was glad to see Mari, the new character introduced to the Evangelion franchise in the second “rebuild” film, have more of a role in this movie. After seeing this film, I can see why Mari was added. With Shinji sealed away for 14 years, they needed to have another Eva pilot around for the story to work.

When it comes to the bonus features on the Blu-ray release of Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo, there were a lot of trailers, teasers, and TV spots included. But in this case, quantity didn’t necessarily mean quantity. Many of the promotional spots seemed to be rather similar to each other, to the point that I had to watch carefully to find any noticeable differences. The “Rebuild of EVANGELION 3.33” feature included 11 minutes of various scenes, showing how they progressed from the storyboard to the final version that appeared in the film. FUNimation also made sure to include previews for other anime releases they were promoting at the time the Blu-ray pressing of this film was released.

I would recommend Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo to viewers who have watched the previous two “rebuild” films and enjoyed them. For the “rebuild” films as a whole, I would recommend them to fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion who won’t mind the changes that have been made to the story, as well as to newcomers to the franchise. However, newcomers should be aware that while you don’t necessarily have to see the original television series to enjoy the films, they could be a little lost early on until information begins to be revealed during the second and third films.

Anime DVD Review: Naruto Shippuden Set 24

Naruto Shippuden Set 24 includes episodes 297-309 of the series on two DVDs. Audio options available for the set are the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Naruto Shippuden Set 24
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: DVD
Release Date: November 10, 2015

Set 24 continues the story of the Fourth Great Ninja War, and immediately opens with the battle between Gaara and the reanimated version of his father. The first episode in the set goes into a little more backstory for Gaara, and the viewer finally learns the truth about certain things that had been said in Gaara’s flashbacks from the first Naruto anime. I really enjoyed this particular episode, and to me, it was the best one to appear in this set.

Naruto also has a fateful encounter with a reanimated Itachi Uchiha. Important revelations and events happen during the two episodes that feature this part of the story, and this helped to make this my second favorite thing to see while watching the episodes included in this set.

The next six episodes continue to progress the story of the Fourth Great Ninja War. This includes the reanimation of the Sound Ninja Four, who are out for revenge against the Leaf Shinobi who defeated them during the original Naruto anime. The rematch is interesting, and the stakes are even higher than they were originally. I thought this was a great nod to the series’ past, and the pacing for this battle was perfect.

There are also two episodes that see a reanimated Hayate Gekko having to attack his Leaf Village comrades and encountering his lover, Yugao. These episodes provided some great backstory for Yugao, and also allowed the viewer to see what had happened behind the scenes in the original series that ultimately led up to Hayate’s death. These two episodes would be my third favorite thing to see while watching this set.

There’s an episode that shows Neji and Hinata in the middle of a battle, and Hinata reminisces about something that would have taken place during the first Naruto series. While this was a nice story, it was obviously filler material. And to be honest, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Hinata to be remembering this event in the middle of a battle because you’d think she’d want to focus on the fighting that’s going on around her instead.

The final episode in the set is very obvious filler material. Naruto appears on the battlefield and recognizes a reanimated samurai, which leads into a flashback of how Naruto met this man. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t finish in this episode, so Set 25 will be continuing with this flashback. But not only is this obvious filler, this story also ignores things that have been established in canon material that was seen earlier on in Naruto Shippuden. By far, this episode was my least favorite on this set, and I’m not looking forward to continuing this particular story when I’m able to watch Set 25.

Naruto Shippuden Set 24 isn’t a bad release when it comes to the episodes, but there are a couple of things that weaken it a little. If the Neji and Hinata flashback and the final episode on the set hadn’t been included, I would have said that this was a very strong release. But the emotional aspects for the Gaara and Yugao storylines do help to make up for those weaknesses to some extent.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, there are five bonus features. First are the storyboards for a section of Episode 297, “A Father’s Hope, A Mother’s Love” (but on the disc, the storyboards are mislabeled as being from Episode 277). Next is the art gallery, which includes six pages of line art of the new characters that were introduced in this set. Next, there are “clean” versions of both of the openings and both of the endings that appeared on the episodes in this set.  There are three versions of the clean openings and endings included: a version without any text, a version with English subtitles, and a version with Romaji subtitles. There are also English credits, along with trailers for other properties that VIZ Media was promoting at the time this set was released.

Naruto Shippuden Set 24 is worth it for the Gaara, Itachi, and Yugao stories. You can skip the Hinata flashback and the final episode on the set and not really miss out on anything.

Anime DVD Review: Chi’s Sweet Home

Chi’s Sweet Home is a DVD set that collects together all 104 of the three minute anime shorts. The shorts are available in Japanese with English subtitles. The first four shorts have also been dubbed into English, and are included on the set as a bonus feature.

Chi’s Sweet Home
English Publisher: Eastern Star
Format: DVD
Release Date: March 31, 2015

Chi’s Sweet Home focuses on a kitten that ends up separated from her mother while they’re out and becomes lost. She is found by a little boy named Yohei Yamada and his mother, and they take the kitten home in order to take care of it. Thanks to circumstances going on with the Yamadas, the kitten comes to think that her name is Chi.  The Yamads love Chi, but there’s a problem: they live in an apartment complex where cats and dogs aren’t allowed.

Yohei’s parents intended to take care of Chi long enough until they could find someone who could take her in. Unfortunately, none of their friends or acquaintances can take Chi. Since Yohei and his parents have become so attached to her, they decide to keep Chi but trying to hide her existence from the superintendent of the building. But Chi is a naturally curious kitten, so trying to keep her hidden is no easy task. Complications arise when Chi is able to get outside and make friends with an older black cat named Blackie.

The shorts for Chi’s Sweet Home may only three minutes in length, but sometimes, a lot can happen during that short amount of time. As I watched the shorts, there were a lot of stories that I recognized from the manga; but there were also some stories that I’m pretty sure were created specifically for the anime.

The animation in the Chi’s Sweet Home shorts perfectly captures Chi’s cuteness and expressions from the manga. The voice actress cast for Chi is a perfect fit for the role, and she sounds believable as a young kitten. I never thought that she sounded like she was forcing her voice to sound that cute.

Even though the main characters of the series include a young cat and a young boy, the shorts don’t feel like they’re being targeted to that young of an audience. I’m a 40-year-old woman, and I enjoyed watching them as much as my 11-year-old daughter did.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, the only bonus feature are the four English dubbed shorts. After watching these dubbed shorts, I can see why they only dubbed the first four. Most of the voice actors that were cast really didn’t work. The voice actress for Chi sounded like she was trying too hard to sound cute and small, which is such a stark difference from the Japanese voice actress. Also, the voice actor for Yohei in the English dub made him sound too old. From what’s seen in Chi’s Sweet Home, Yohei appears to be around four years old. However, the English dub actor made him sound like a 10-year-old, and it just doesn’t work for the character. I also thought the dub actress for Yohei’s mother sounded like she was constantly talking down to everyone, including her husband. In my opinion, the English dub wasn’t enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of the Chi’s Sweet Home manga, then you’ll want to see the anime adaptation because it perfectly captures the cuteness of its source material. Audiences, both young and old, will enjoy Chi’s Sweet Home if they’re fans of animal stories.

Anime Blu-ray Review: Log Horizon Collection 1

Log Horizon Collection 1 includes the first 13 episodes of the Log Horizon television anime series. This release has both an English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles; however, it should be noted that the subtitles on this release are different from the subtitles used for the Crunchyroll simulcast. The Blu-ray is 1080p High Definition with a 16×9 aspect ratio.

Log Horizon Collection 1
English Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: November 25, 2014

Log Horizon tells the tale of what happens when players of an MMORPG game mysteriously find themselves actually inside the game. The game in question is called Elder Tale, and the mysterious event takes place when its 12th expansion, “Novasphere Pioneers,” is added.

The main character is Shiroe, who the audience follows from the time he discovers that he’s in the game. During the first episode, Shiroe meets with four other players from the game: Naotsugu, Akatsuki, Marielle, and Henrietta. Marielle and Henrietta are both members of the Crescent Moon Alliance.

Shiroe and the others end up being asked by the Crescent Moon Alliance for help. A girl named Serara was sent to Susukino on the Day of the Apocalypse and hasn’t returned; they have heard that she was attacked by a Player Killer but was saved by a good player and is now protected by this good player. When they rescue Serara, Shiroe discovers the good player is Nyanta, an old friend of Shiroe’s.

The adventurers start learning how to make the food in the world that actually has flavor; they also begin interacting with the non-player characters (known in the game as “People of the Land”) and realize that the People of the Land have interesting backstories that were never revealed while they played the game.

Shiroe and his friends learn about the trouble that’s been brewing in Akihabara, the town they have been staying at. The various guilds have fallen into ranks, with bigger guilds determining the town’s feel and rules, as well as priority for the market and hunting grounds. A guild called Hamelin has been gathering new players, claiming they want to help them; instead, they take the new players’ EXP pots, items that slightly increase attack power and health regeneration and double the experience earned from combat. Hamelin is taking the EXP pots and selling them to the Black Sword Knights, a guild that’s trying to get to a level of 91, since the expansion upped the experience level cap from 90 to 100.

It turns out that two middle school kids that Shiroe had been mentoring before they ended up in the game were recruited by Hamelin, and Shiroe comes up with a plan to help the new players escape from the guild. The first step of his plan is to open a refreshment stand to sell the food with flavor that they have developed; the stand becomes an instant success. The next step involves convincing the other guilds to help provide money for the mission to rescue the adventurers from Hamelin, and holding a conference with several guilds. The end result sees the Round Table Conference being established in Akihabara and the rescue of the new players from Hamelin. Shiroe also forms his own guild called Log Horizon.

Once Shiroe’s guild is formed, the players discover other ways they can set the rules for Akihabara that weren’t already established in the game, and they gain the notice of the nobility of the People of the Land.

Log Horizon makes itself stand out from other series about characters being trapped in a game (such as Sword Art Online) because it delves into topics such as Player Killers, how to create food that actually tastes good, creating new technology that didn’t previously exist in the game, and truly interacting with the non-player characters. This series brings up a lot of moral and ethical questions, and the characters try to find ways to survive and co-inhabit the world with the non-player characters while trying to find a way back to the real world. But it’s not all serious, though, as there are plenty of humorous moments included in the series. The interplay between Akatsuki and Naotsugu is especially amusing.

Another thing that stands out to me is the fact that many of the characters don’t simply fall into the usual stereotypes associated with fantasy MMORPG games. In addition, I also appreciated that Log Horizon has several strong female characters. The females aren’t simply there to provide sex appeal or eye candy; they are just as complicated and developed as the male characters.

When it comes to the actual Blu-ray set, some of Sentai Filmworks’ choices were a little disappointing. First, it was decided to split the episodes so there would be nine episodes on the first disc, and then four episodes on the second. While the second disc also contains the set’s bonus features, the only extras included are a clean opening and a clean ending.

Even though I was a little frustrated by these choices, the Blu-ray set is still worth owning if you’re a fan of Log Horizon and have the capability to watch Blu-ray Discs. The episodes themselves make the release worth having.

The reviewer watched a copy of this release that she received as a Christmas gift from her husband

Anime Film Review: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a film released by Studio Ghibli and directed by Isao Takahata. The story of the film is based on a Japanese folktale titled, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata and Riko Sakaguchi
Starring: Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii, and Nobuko Miyamoto
Run Time: 137 minutes
Rated: PG

The film opens with a bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko finding a small girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot. He believes the small girl is a divine presence and takes her home. The small girl transforms into a baby, and the bamboo cutter and his wife decide to raise her own their own. They name the baby Princess, and discover that she grows at an incredibly rapid pace.

As Princess grows, she makes friends with some of the other children in the small village where she lives. She especially becomes close to Sutemaru, the oldest among her friends.

Over time, the bamboo cutter comes across gold and fine clothing the same way he found Princess. He takes this as a sign that she is divine royalty and decides to make her into a proper princess. With this newfound wealth, he forces Princess and his wife to move to the capital to live in a mansion. Princess is forced to leave her friends behind without being able to say goodbye, which is just the beginning of her troubles of adjusting to life in the capital.

After moving to the capital, Princess comes of age and is granted the formal name of “Princess Kaguya.” Kaguya has a hard time adjusting to the restraints of nobility after experiencing the freedom she had back in the small village. And her situation only becomes worse when nobles suddenly appear and ask for Kaguya’s hand in marriage.

I thought the story in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was well-told, and that it didn’t feel like it ran for a little over two hours. While the story is a little on the slow side to get going at first, this is the point where Kaguya is a baby and toddler. I think her cuteness helps to minimize the impact of the slower pacing of the early part of the film. After Kaguya arrives in the capital, we get to see the struggles she has as she’s expected to act like nobility and how she seems to feel stifled by it. I especially appreciated how Kaguya was willing to speak her mind when it came to her suitors. The movie doesn’t have the “happy ever after” ending that a viewer would hope for, but that kind of ending wouldn’t have been realistic for the story that Takahata was trying to tell.

The animation and art in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is stunning. It feels like Takahata took the aesthetic used for My Neighbors the Yamadas and refined it quite a bit. The color palette used for the animation helped add to the lush look that the animation had. One of the most interesting things about the animation was, whenever Kaguya would be scared or worried, the animation would be a little more stretched out or elongated. This created an interesting effect and helped the viewer to understand that those were the emotions that Kaguya was feeling during that time.

Between the storytelling and the animation, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a riveting film to watch. The viewer finds that they have become attached to Kaguya and root for her throughout the film. In my opinion, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is one of the stronger films to come out of Studio Ghibli in recent years. It’s not that the other recent Ghibli films are bad, it’s just that there’s something in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya that isn’t present in those other films.

The DVD pressing is a two disc set. The first disc has the film and three bonus features, and the second disc has one bonus feature on it. The first bonus feature on the first disc is the press conference that announced the completion of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The press conference runs for about 40 minutes, and it has Japanese audio with English subtitles. The event included a representative from Nippon TV, director Isao Takahata, the co-writer for the script, as well as several of the voice actors and the singer of the theme song. It may have been a press conference, but it was far from boring. The stories that various members of the panel shared were either interesting or amusing. It’s a bonus feature that’s worth checking out.

Next is “Japanese trailers and TV spots.” This runs for 13-and-a-half minutes, and includes a total of 11 items of varying lengths. As you would expect, these have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final extra on the first disc is “U.S. Trailers,” which runs for three minutes.

The feature on the second disc is a nearly one-and-a-half hour long behind the scenes segment. It’s actually a two part feature that’s shown back-to-back without interruption. This feature has Japanese audio with English subtitles. Over the course of the feature, the viewer gets to see what happened behind the scenes for the making of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which includes seeing the voice actors recording their lines, the animation process, how the music for the film came together, and the first screening of the film. This feature also included a lot of interesting trivia, which helped to make this a little more interesting to watch. From what we see in this feature, it appears that The Tale of the Princess Kaguya will likely be Takahata’s last film. If it is, at least he’ll end his career on a high note. And from what we see in the feature when Takahata sees Miyazaki’s press conference about his retirement, if Takahata does decide to officially retire, he won’t be announcing it to the whole world at a press conference.

I would recommend The Tale of the Princess Kaguya to fans of Isao Takahata or of Studio Ghibli, as well as to viewers who have an interest in Japanese folklore. And if you see the movie and enjoy it, I would recommend adding it to your anime home video library.

The reviewer checked out a copy of this release through the King County Library System

Anime DVD Review: One Piece Season Five Voyage Three

One Piece Season Five Voyage Three is a two-disc set that contains episodes 288-299 of the One Piece anime series. The first disc has seven episodes and commentary on episodes 289 and 290. The second disc includes five episodes and the set’s bonus features. A “Marathon Feature” is available on both discs, which allows the viewer to watch all of the episodes back-to-back without interruption. Audio options include the English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

One Piece Season Five Voyage Three
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: DVD
Release Date: October 15, 2013

Most of the episodes in this set continue the Enies Lobby arc. The only exception is Episodes 291 and 292, which are alternate reality stories set in the Edo period. From what the stories are about, it’s obvious that they were done in order to have a couple of weeks of holiday episodes to end that particular year with. But I’m sure they were also produced in order to have filler for a couple of weeks to allow Oda to get a little further ahead in the manga. In the 10 episodes that cover Enies Lobby, there’s a lot of backtracking that takes place at the beginning of episodes, as well as always having an opening sequence explaining about Gold Roger and the One Piece. These are also sure signs that Toei was trying to do what they could to stretch the story out while waiting for the manga to get ahead some more. While this backtracking was nowhere near as bad as what Bleach did with some of the Arrancar arc, it was still rather annoying.

When all was said and done, there was some progress made on various fronts in these episodes. However, it’s obvious that we’re still nowhere near the end of the arc. By the end of this set, four of the CP9 agents are defeated, which is what accounts for most of the progress in the story. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, the Straw Hats are no closer to actually rescuing Robin at the end of episode 299 than they were at the beginning of episode 288.

Overall, I have to say that while there’s a good story in the Enies Lobby arc, especially with all of the character development for Robin, it’s taking a long time for it to truly progress anywhere. And having the two filler episodes in this set really didn’t help anything, either. Personally, I thought both of the fillers were really stupid.

As for the DVD set itself, there are four bonus features on the second disc. There is a textless version of the opening song that appears on this set (“Crazy Rainbow”).

The set also includes two more of the “On the Boat – Behind the Scenes of One Piece” featurettes. For these featurettes, ADR Director Mike McFarland interviews Jonathan Brooks (the voice for Foxy in the English dub) for about 17 minutes and Jason Liebrecht (the voice for Lucci in the English dub) for about 16 minutes. The interviews are done in the exact same manner as in the previous “On the Boat – Behind the Scenes of One Piece” featurettes, and I enjoyed seeing them. I think it’s a great idea to include these interviews, because it allows the viewers to see what the English dub voice actors look like, as well as to see a little bit of who they are and their personalities.

There are also trailers for other properties that FUNimation was promoting at the time this DVD set was released.

If you’re a One Piece fan and are trying to collect the episodes on DVD, you can purchase this set for episodes 288-299. More recent DVD collections are packaging 24-25 episodes per set, and those releases would also be worth considering if you want to add One Piece to your anime home video library.

The reviewer checked out a copy of this set through the King County Library System

Anime Blu-ray Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 7

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Ranma 1/2 Set 7 includes episodes 139-161 of the series in their original Japanese airing order. For this final set, there was only episode that appeared in a different spot than it did in the original DVD release. This Blu-ray set uses the original Japanese title cards for the episodes instead of the ones created for the English dub. Audio options for the episodes include the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Ranma 1/2 Set 7
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: September 8, 2015

Ranma 1/2 Set 7 primarily includes filler episodes, although there are a small handful of episodes that are part of the canon material from the original manga source material. Many of the filler episodes focus on bringing back characters that had small appearances in earlier episodes. These characters included the Jusenkyo Guide, the ghost cat, Madame St. Paul, Picolet Chardin, Sentaro Daimonji, Tsubasa Kurenai, and the frog hermit. There were also some filler episodes that didn’t feature these characters, but they were rather strange. But the strangest filler episode in this set would be the one where girl-type Ranma ends up going on a “date” with an old man having an out-of-body experience.

To me, the best episodes in this set are the final two, where Ranma’s mother is introduced and the mayhem that her sudden arrival causes. It’s disappointing that the anime ended with her introduction, since I know she shows up more in later volumes of the manga. I first saw these episodes before reading the manga, but even back then I felt cheated because it didn’t seem right to introduce a character like Ranma’s mother and then end the series. My least favorite part of the final episode is how it ends with Akane and Ranma saying goodbye to the audience.

This Blu-ray release includes remastered high definition video straight from the Japanese Blu-ray masters. Overall, the remastering looks decent on the set, although I did notice a couple of minor errors in the subtitles.

There are a total of five bonus features that appear on Ranma 1/2 Set 7. The first one is a featurette titled, “We Love Ranma Part 8 – We Love Rumiko Takahashi.” This featurette includes interviews with anime industry professionals, voice actors, cosplayers, a superfan, and even a fashion designer. All of the people included in this featurette spend their time thanking Rumiko Takahashi for creating Ranma 1/2. It’s probably one of the better “We Love Ranma” featurettes that I’ve seen in a while.

“Next Episode Previews” is a continuous piece that includes all of the next episode previews that aired with the episodes that appear on Ranma 1/2 Set 7. I’m at such a loss as to why these were included as a bonus feature, since the next episode previews already appear on the set at the end of their respective episodes.

The “Clean Opening” includes a textless version of the opening that appears on Ranma 1/2 Set 7, and “Clean Ending” includes a textless version of the ending that appears on the set. Trailers are also included as a bonus feature.

This Blu-ray edition also comes with a 32-page booklet. The booklet opens with a “What Happened Thus Far” write-up that summarizes what happened in the episodes that appeared on Ranma 1/2 Set 6. The majority of the booklet provides a brief summary and screen shot for each episode, as well as production credits for the original release of the series and the credits for those involved with this Blu-ray release. The booklet’s glossy pages look nice, but they’re a little slippery for holding when you’re reading it. But it’s still a nice booklet and I’m glad to see that it was included. The set also comes with an art card that has a picture of boy-type Ranma and Genma in panda form.

The box that the Blu-ray case, booklet, and art card come in looks nice and is sturdy. The back of the box that gives a description of the product is actually something you take off of the box after you unwrap it.

While most of the episodes in Ranma 1/2 Set 7 are among the weakest in the series, I would still recommend it to Ranma 1/2 collectors who want to own the entire series on Blu-ray. VIZ Media’s sets are, by far, the best way to get a hold of the series on Blu-ray. Otherwise, you have to pay an arm and a leg to import the Japanese Blu-rays, which use the exact same masters that are used on VIZ’s domestic release.

Anime Film Review: The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is a film released by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. This film has the distinction of being the final one Miyazaki directed before announcing his retirement from directing anime films.

The Wind Rises
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Steve Alpert, Morio Kazama, Keiko Takeshita, Mirai Shida, Jun Kunimura, Shinobu Otake, and Nomura Mansai
Run Time: 126 minutes
Rated: PG-13

The film takes place over a number of years and leads up to World War II. The story focuses on a young man named Jiro Horikoshi, who dreamed of becoming a pilot as a child, but realized that his nearsightedness prevented him from achieving his dream. He starts having dreams that feature an Italian aircraft designer named Giovanni Battista Caproni, and Jiro decides to pursue designing planes instead of flying them.

In 1923, while traveling on a train to Tokyo Imperial University, Jiro meets a girl named Naoko and her maid. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 strikes, and Jiro is the one who leads Naoko and her maid to safety. It’s revealed later in the film that this is the start of a mutual attraction between Jiro and Naoko.

Admittedly, the early part of the film takes a while to get going. However, these early scenes are important for setting up the story that happens later in the film. In addition to Jiro meeting Naoko, we also see him getting through his time in college in order to be able to pursue his dream of designing planes.

The story begins to move once Jiro and his friend Kiro Honjo graduate from college and begin working at Mitsubishi to design a fighter plane. Over the next few years, Jiro deals with some disappointments and setbacks on the work front, and in 1933, he decides to go to a resort and rest. Here, he has a chance encounter with Naoko, and the two of them realize their feelings for each other. But Naoko contracted tuberculosis from her mother, who died of the disease a few years earlier. Jiro wants to marry Naoko, and she accepts the engagement on the condition that she doesn’t want to marry until she has recovered.

At this point, the film becomes a story of a man who is devoted to both his work and to the woman he loves. But these two sides of his life intertwine when Naoko decides to leave the sanatorium she’s staying at in order to be with Jiro. The emotions Jiro must face with Naoko’s health and the responsibilities of his job are what fuel the drama for the remainder of the film.

In the end, The Wind Rises is a decent film, but it’s not as strong as some of Miyazaki’s other films. It takes the story a while to get going, but after it does get going, it ends up feeling rushed near the end. But even with the pacing issues, the viewer can still tell that Miyazaki put a lot of heart into this film. The characters are also very relatable, which helps to offset some of the pacing issues the film has.

Jiro is voiced by Hideaki Anno, who is best known as the creator of the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime. I have to admit that I was unsure about this casting choice, since Anno isn’t known as a voice actor, but I was impressed by his performance in this film. He had the perfect sound for a character like Jiro, and he didn’t sound bad at all.

When it comes to the animation, it looks very lush. I appreciated the color choices used for the film, especially when it comes to the backgrounds. And the film definitely looks like a Miyazaki film, between the character designs and the overall feel of the animation.

When it comes to the DVD release for The Wind Rises, Buena Vista didn’t go to much effort when it came to the bonus features. The only item included was a “Behind the Microphone” documentary, which runs for 11 minutes and includes interviews with the director and the voice actors for the English dub. This was what I have come to expect from the other “Behind the Microphone” features that I have seen on other Disney releases of Studio Ghibli films, with the biggest difference being the acknowledgement of Miyazaki’s retirement from directing feature films.

In the end, The Wind Rises will hold a place in anime history since it’s the final film that Hayao Miyazaki directed before his retirement from feature films. While it may not be quite as strong of a work as Miyazaki’s other films, it should still be seen by fans of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki in order to see his final film.

The reviewer checked out a copy of the DVD through the King County Library System