Yukarism Vol. #01 Manga Review

Yukarism Vol. #01 Manga Review A teenage novelist encounters the reincarnated souls from his previous life as an Edo period courtesan.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Chika Shiomi
Translation/Adaptation: John Werry

What They Say
Yukari Kobayakawa, an accomplished author at the age of 17, writes with amazingly accurate details about historical Japan. It turns out he has the ability to travel back in time…to his past life as a renowned courtesan in the Edo period! As he goes back and forth between the past and present, he unravels the karmic relationship he has with his beautiful classmate Mahoro Tachibana…

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Yukarism is part time travel story and part historical but doesn’t perfectly fall into either category. The main character is 17-year-old Yukari Kobayakawa who has already earned acclaim with his novels about the Edo period pleasure district. Although the details in his stories are amazingly accurate, he’s never done any research. He hasn’t had to. He suspects he must have lived there in a past life, and his suspicions are confirmed when he meets his classmate Mahoro Tachibana. An avid fan of his novels, she begs to shake his hand, and when he obliges, her touch sends him back into his previous life–as the renowned courtesan Yumurasaki!

Yukari’s forays to the past are like dreams but not quite. His current body doesn’t disappear (he merely seems to pass out), but when he slips into Yumurasaki’s body, he actually interacts with the people of that world as opposed to reliving her exact motions. From that standpoint, this manga should interest history enthusiasts because he experiences the Edo period from a 21st-century POV. Shiomi-sensei’s gorgeous illustrations do an excellent job of evoking that era and focusing on the things most likely to interest a modern person. Shiomi-sensei also uses Yukari’s 21st-century sensibilities for comic effect when he “breaks form” and uses modern mannerisms.

Yukari has no control over these sojourns into his previous life, but despite their suddenness, they don’t trouble him. Rather he is amused by the opportunity to visit the world of two hundred years ago, and even being of a different gender doesn’t bother him. For a main character, he’s not very proactive; things simply happen, and astounding though they are, he’s merely amused. In truth, he is a kind of spectator to the story. Thus far, his actions don’t drive the plot; Yumurasaki’s life and mysterious death do. However, she is already dead, and Yukari is living her next life so that doesn’t create much anxiety on his part.

As if to make up for Yukari’s lack of emotional intensity, Mahoro, Yumurasaki’s reincarnated body guard, worries enough for both of them. She essentially has the role of ordinary schoolgirl obsessed with the rich, talented, out of her league genius (Yukari is all these things). So when Yukari abruptly passes out or hugs near-strangers, she’s the one to put everything in perspective by having a freak out. The story looks like it will have a romantic component to it (Yumurasaki is a courtesan after all), but for now, there is no chemistry to be had between Mahoro and Yukari.

Extras include a bonus one-page manga, translation notes, and author bio.

In Summary
If you enjoyed the film Memoirs of a Geisha, Yukarism might be up your alley. The mangaka’s done her research, and watching Yukari struggle through Yumurasaki’s motions does illustrate the skill required of a courtesan 200 years ago. The plot is a bit weak in that Yukari acts more like a spectator than a main character, but for now, his curiosity about his past life is enough to maintain my interest in the story.

Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B+

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
MSRP: $9.99

Triage X Vol. #08 Manga Review

Triage X Vol. #08 Manga Review Will Yuuko and Arashi be forced to kill the mindless destroying machine that is Sayo?!

Creative Staff
Story & Art: Shouji Sato
Translation/Adaptation: Christine Dashiell

What They Say
Black Label has always been glad to have Sayo Hitsugi’s fearsome strength on their side, but as she rampages through their high security wards, they’re starting to appreciate just how much! While Sagiri is prepared to stop her comrade by any means necessary, is Arashi on the same page…?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Contains nudity.

This is another great book from Yen Press. Where most releases from U.S. publishers have lost the inclusion of color pages over the last few years, Yen Press continues to treat us to glossy color inserts. This is an awesome inclusion when it comes to Sato’s beautiful artwork.

Sayo barely survived her battle with the twins from the Syringe outfit. Luckily, because she is inhumanly strong, she is able to recover quickly from injuries that would have easily killed a regular person. Unfortunately, Sayo does succumb to the berserker she normally keeps tucked down beneath the happy-go-lucky mask she wears for everyone around her. But before, she can tear down the walls around her, the author treats the reader to a flashback that not only shows how Sayo became a super human, but also how a young Yuuko first met and nearly killed her.

Now that Sayo is loosed on the facility like a rabid animal, Yuuko is likely going to have to kill Sayo to stop her. But Arashi isn’t having it. Sayo was his nurse during his recovery and she pushed him to learn how to walk again and he made her a promise back then that he isn’t about to give up on. Arashi manages to lure Sayo into a dead end and lock them in to protect her from the others, but who is going to protect Arashi? Sayo already tried to kill Yuuko, so Arashi better have a masterful plan to end all this.

The rest of this volume continues the development of Syringe’s mysterious plan. We know they stole part of the super powerful drug from a Yakuza group and they seem to be trying to steal data from a computer database that the police are monitoring. Although, we don’t know what this data is or why Syringe wants it and how it is part of their “master plan”. The police have been monitoring Syringe’s manipulations of the data, but not as covertly as they thought. Syringe knows about it and tracks it back to Detective Tatara and his partner Suzue.

Syringe sends the psycho twins out to kidnap Suzue so they can learn just how much the police know about them. But the Yakuza end up in the mix and make off with Suzue. The news of this makes it back to Dr. Mochizuki and he sends in both Ampule units to retrieve Suzue. Now we have Arashi and the others, the Yakuza, and Syringe all in the same place. Be ready from some serious ass-kicking!!

In Summary
I continue to enjoy the steady stream of background information on the various characters in this series. Arashi’s memories of the tragedy that nearly killed him and formed him into the man he has become was examined in the last volume, while this volume sheds light on how Sayo became so physically strong and how she met Yuuko. All great character development that helps the reader form an investment in the characters of Triage.

Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: Mature
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: November 18th, 2014
MSRP: $14.00

Cross Ange Rondo of Angel and Dragon Episode #07 Anime Review

Cross Ange Rondo of Angel and Dragon Episode #07 Anime Review

Cross Ange Episode 7

The tensions within the team rise just a bit more after Salia’s secret is discovered.

What They Say:
Angelise is the first princess of the Empire of Misurugi. She is the celebrated ruler of the Empire until one day she finds out the shocking truth that she is a “Norma” – an irregular being who cannot use “Mana”, and are treated as “things” rather than people. Having her name taken from her, Ange isolates herself on a remote island. There, she finds a group of Norma women who spend their days hunting dragons that have come to invade.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Bringing Momoka into the show the last time around was an interesting angle, one that didn’t play out quite like I expected but certainly had plenty of familiar moments to it. With the main intent to really remind viewers just how much Ange has changed, and to reinforce some of the reasons why others really don’t like her, she added a touch of humor to the show for a little bit and found a creative way to remain there and work with Ange. Ange has a lot against her in this place and even though she’s lightly managed to gain a few friends of a sort, she’s still very much on her own in the truest sense. So having a little bit of someone there that has her back in some form is welcome considering how cutthroat this place can be. Momoka may be an odd choice in a way, but she certainly figured out at the end the best way to fit in with at least the base commanders.

This episode starts to circle back to events from a couple of episodes ago with Tusk as they’re learning more of what happened there between him and Ange and that he was the one that repaired the Vilkiss. At the same time, we see Salia and her friends trying to get the commander to get Ange off of the Vilkiss but are being rebuffed since even as problematic as Ange is in some ways, she’s definitely well suited for that particular craft. Salia certainly has it in for Ange, but we start to see things fleshed out a bit for her as she handles the internal dialogue and overall narration of the episode here. Of course, while she is a hard character at the moment with how she’s acting, we also get to have material sneak in that softens her in a way, going for more of a child-like girlish nature that’s cute and comical since it causes a real problem with the perception of her being a leader. Not that she wanted to be captain to begin with, but having authority undermined is not an easy thing.

So when she goes to take out Ange so as to avoid the problem, it turns in some really good ways as Ange pushes back on some of the perception issues that Salia has while also making it clear that Salia didn’t do things right in a way even though she keeps going on about being a team and how Ange does all the wrong things. It gets into a pretty steam heavy piece since they’re both topless while fighting in the bath due to circumstances, but it’s the kind of comical-fight moment that helps to ease some of the tensions between them in a way. While that sets some fun in the first half, we also get an underlying issue coming in as well as Ange is acting a little out of sorts and we see that she’s got a significant cold that’s impacting her. Something that only Momoka notices of course and Ange forces herself into the battle that comes up regardless since she has to do what she has to do.

That battle is pretty impressive in general as the group out there has to face a massive virgin dragon that is far bigger and more powerful than your run of the mill dragons. And far more dangerous looking at that, though it’s not a nimble piece. But it has some impressive abilities of its own as they discover that it has a gravity controlling ability that allows it to essential trap a whole lot of the team and render them useless. Because of this, Salia has her difficult choice to make and has to work with Ange to try and save everyone and kill the dragon – all while Ange’s fever ramps up significantly. It’s a pretty good sequence overall as it humanizes Salia more on top of what we learned before and it has her really using Ange for the first time – and Ange being compliant – to allow them to go against a very formidable foe. It’s a solid sequence that definitely is one of those smaller game changer pieces for how Ange fits in and the relationship between her and Salia.

In Summary:
As the series progresses, we move more into some of the areas where things will soften a bit for Ange and she becomes a little more accepted. Part of that happened with Tusk in a way and then with Momoka. This time around it happens with Salia as we get the view of things from her through narration of her captain’s log. Salia hasn’t been a bad character, but she, like almost everyone else, have been rough on Ange for obvious reasons. Seeing how things change bit by bit here and having things thrown back at her verbally about her own performance helps to shake some things up a bit, combined with a powerful dragon attack that forces Salia to really act like a captain and not someone with a problem. There’s a lot of fun stuff here between the characters and the action and it all works well. And yes, there’s a lot of steam. But that’s just what it is for the broadcast. And if you’re only watching because you want to naked anime breasts, well, there’s better ways to do that…

Grade: B+

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

One Piece Episode #715 Anime Review

One Piece Episode #715 Anime Review A tragic past revealed.

What They Say:
Señor Pink and Franky continue their knock-down, drag-out, manly fight. As both of them are pushed to their limits, we learn Señor’s tragic past! Meanwhile, Princess Mansherry’s rescue hits a snag as she stubbornly refuses to leave!

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The focus on Princess Mansherry last time around might have felt like just another diversion at first, but as we got to see how she’s being used it certainly became a lot more important. With an ability that can essentially get all of Doflamingo’s men back up and on track – even after some serious takedowns along the way – is a frightening prospect in a realistic sense since it means every fight would have to happen again. The episode worked well to establish the greater threat represented there, her fear and unwillingness to help and a chance for the Tontatta’s to step up (once again) and show that they’re fully capable and highly invested in this overall fight. While we got some of other characters here briefly, their story shone well and it made it clear why the Straw Hats have to get involved here.

What becomes complicated here is that with Mansherry being rescued here, she’s intent on just going back to Greenbit even though there are other things that have to happen first. And that makes it complicated for her rescuers who have their own agenda as part of freeing the island in general. That sets up some movements early on before the show shifts elsewhere for the bulk of it with Franky and his fight with Senor Pink. I really don’t care for Pink simply because of his design, something that I’ve had with other characters in the past in how they become disinteresting. Franky, at least, is interesting and I like how the Tontatta’s are rallying to him since he’s being such a positive force towards their being freed. That’s obviously something that they can get behind easily, but it’s done with the right kind of words and intensity that you can understand why they’re investing in Franky so heavily.

While the fight has its moments, the show shifts to giving us background on Senor Pink. In tried and true fashion, giving us a deeper look at the opponents helps to enrichen the story overall – even with characters one might not like. Seeing a younger and slimmer – and debonair – Senor Pink isn’t a surprise since they want to go in such a different direction as we know him now. A romance, an engagement, a wedding, all things designed to humanize him in a quick but decent way. So it becomes twisted, cruel and kind of uncomfortable when we see the baby elements enter the picture with his wife and wonder what it is that drives him to his attire and mindset in the present. It takes a bad enough turn, combined with what Pink has been hiding from his wife all this time. You do feel for Pink to some degree of course and understand the turn he makes, even if it’s fairly extreme when you get down to it.

In Summary:
One Piece works pretty well here even if you can sense most of the story beats once the basics are laid out. The focus on Senor Pink certainly explains his costume and why he is like he is, though all it screams is that someone really needs to help the poor man through his pain. The backstory is well presented in brief and it connects in a strong enough way to make it work. It doesn’t make me like him any greater, but it’s at least an understanding. The bits at the beginning with Mansherry are the lighter and more fun aspect of the episode, though even that’s tinged with darkness because of the overall series of events going on. A solid episode overall that does some fleshing out without getting bogged down in an extensive storyline.

Grade: B

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Black Butler Season 1 Anime Classics Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

Black Butler Season 1 Anime Classics Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review One hell of a show.

What They Say:
Ciel Phantomhive is the most powerful boy in all of England, but he bears the scars of unspeakable suffering. Forced to watch as his beloved parents were brutally murdered, Ciel was subsequently abducted and violently tortured. Desperate to end his suffering, the boy traded his own soul for a chance at vengeance, casting his lot with the one person won whom he could depend: Sebastian, a demon Butler summoned from the very pits of hell. Together, they’ll prowl the darkest alleys of London on a mission to snuff out those who would do evil.

They’re a rare sight, these two: the Butler who dismembers with dazzling cutlery—and the Young Master who carries the devil’s marking. Rest assured that wherever they may be headed, it’ll be one hell of a ride.

The Review:
Audio:
The DVD language tracks come in English 5.1 Dolby Surround and Japanese Stereo with English subtitles. The Blu-ray language tracks come in Dolby TrueHD English 6.1 and Japanese 2.0. Overall, the quality was solid, but I did have difficulty hearing some of the lower-talking characters. Other than that, the sound was fine.

Video:
No specifications are provided for the DVDs, other than the aspect ratio. The Blu-ray is in 1080p high definition in 16×9 aspect ratio from a SD remaster. The video quality is excellent with no discernable issues.

Packaging:
The Blu-ray and DVDs come in a standard Blu-ray combo pack housed in a slipcover. The front of the slipcover features Ciel and Sebastian in a fairly erotic pose. Ciel, dressed in a puffy white shirt, stands in front of Sebastian. The two hold hands and Sebastian places his free hand on the boy’s shoulder. Ciel wears a leather bracelet on his right wrist that is connected to a collar around Sebastian’s throat. They stand against a black and gray background and black feathers fall from the sky around them. I found it rather disturbing because of the erotic nature of their body language. If these were two adult men, I wouldn’t have an issue, but Ciel is a prepubescent boy, so that adds a whole other dimension to it.

The spine (along with the rest of the slipcase) is dominated by black and purple. It features the show’s title in a rather sedate font and a picture of Ciel. The back cover features the standard show summary, screenshots, and Blu-ray and DVD specifications. The actual Blu-ray case differs on the front and the spine. Ciel stands in the background on the front cover, large and commanding. Sebastian stands in the foreground, smaller than Ciel. He pulls on his right glove with his teeth while pointing cutlery at the viewer. The spine also differs in that the character picture is Sebastian, not Ciel. The back cover remained the same. Overall, it’s a solid case design with a strong aesthetic design. It also doesn’t take up too much room on the shelf, which is always a bonus.

Menu:
I watched the Blu-ray for this viewing. The menu is the same for all discs: scenes from the show take up the majority of the screen while a vaguely French song plays in the background. Underneath the video lies a strip hosting the various play and extra functions. It’s a nice, functional design that I quite like, and the song was subtle and low, so it didn’t drive me crazy when I left the menu playing for some time.

Extras:
This set comes with some pretty decent extras: audio commentaries; BECCA musician profile; “The Story Thus Far” with narration from Tanaka; Bonus episode: “His Butler, Performer”; clean OP/ED.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ciel Phantomhive stands as one of the most important people in Victorian England. He is the heir to the Phantomhive fortune and head of the Phantomhive toy company, as well as the Queen’s guard dog—dispatching threats arising in the country’s underworld, both supernatural and mundane. Ciel fulfills his functions admirably even though he’s only a boy. Of course, it helps that he has one hell of a butler. He butles, he cleans, he protects his master and disposes of threats at Ciel’s pleasure. Every action he performs he does to perfection, much to the chagrin of the other servants who strive to please the black butler at every turn.

The butler, Sebastian, is actually a demon. He answers the boy’s call as Ciel lies dying from torture by a mysterious group who also killed his parents. Rage burns in the child’s heart and it draws in the demon. The two enter into a pact: Sebastian will return to Ciel to life and assist him in his quest for revenge, but once that revenge is fulfilled, he will consume the boy’s soul. Ciel is fine with that.

The funny thing about the situation is that Sebastian really is one hell of a butler. He excels at everything he tries—except whipping the other servants into shape. He is witty, urbane, and charming in a way that only a devil can pull off. His personality plays off well against Ciel’s, which is cold, calculating, and more than a little cruel. In an odd way, the two share a deep bond that goes beyond their pact. The two display genuine affection for each other as well as a mutual respect. This bond actually worried me at first, because I thought that the show would cop out on the consummation of the deal at the end. Thankfully, I was worried for nothing, because the show ends perfectly.

I’ll return to the end in a moment, but for now I want to return to the general setup of the plot and discuss the supporting characters. In many ways, Black Butler runs like a typical television show. It possesses an overarching storyline, but not every episode deals with it. Some of the episodes have nothing to do with the mystery of the people who attacked Ciel and murdered his parents. These other episodes either build up the world more, or they add something to the characters. It’s a nice balance that keeps the show running on a smooth keel.

However, the same can’t be said for the supporting characters. As is often the case with anime, some of the supporting characters are too over-the-top to the point of being annoying. The two worst offenders in this work are the maid Mey-Rin, and the Grim Reaper Grell Sutcliff. Like the other members of the household staff, Mey-Rin’s primary story function is that of comic relief. She wears thick glasses that make it impossible for her to see, so she constantly bumps into and breaks things. She also talks like Eliza Doolittle, only jacked up to 11. I found her voice to be quite grating at times.

Grell’s voice doesn’t really grate on me, but I don’t like how he’s portrayed as either homosexual or bisexual. He appears first as a rather straight-laced person, but once his identity as a Grim Reaper is exposed, his personality becomes gregarious and flamboyant and he professes a strong attraction to Sebastian. That he is attracted to Sebastian isn’t the issue. The issue is that his homo- or bisexuality is wrapped into his monstrousness. Part of the threat he represents is of a sexual nature (primarily against Sebastian), which is bad enough, but his faux feminine attitude is also played for comic relief— using his sexual identity as a prop. If there were other homosexual or bisexual characters, that might not be an issue, but as many critics have pointed out about female representation in movies, if you only have one person who is a member of a class, gender, race, etc., they become the representation for that entire group. With no one else occupying the same role, Grell stands as a probably unintentional statement on homosexuality.

Mey-Rin and Grell aren’t enough to drag this show down.Black Butler makes up for those characters with a compelling story and two very strong leads in Sebastian and Ciel. The show also does a fabulous job with atmosphere. It utilizes the setting of Victorian England to its fullest, creating a show that is dark, mysterious, and foreboding yet inviting. The show also displays a keen wit and wicked sense of humor that feels very fitting with the British setting.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. If you don’t want it spoiled, then please skip down to the summary. The ending was perfect. It was le mot juste. The show did a great job of building the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, to the point where I thought for sure that it would cop out on the bargain they made. It didn’t, and the ending elevated the entire show because it wasn’t afraid to go its logical conclusion: Sebastian eating Ciel’s soul.

This ending actually becomes problematic, because the show continued after this season, and from what I’ve read, Sebastian doesn’t consume Ciel’s soul. Something comes up that forces him to postpone his feast. Quite frankly, I can’t really work up any interest in these other seasons, because this first one functions so well as a standalone story. Anything else just feels like a watered-down imitation.

In Summary:
Black Butler is a great mix of Gothic, horror, and comedy. It’s atmosphere, frightening, exciting, and wickedly funny. It also ended perfectly: so much so that I have no interest in following the series after this collection. Dr. Josh gives this an…

Features:

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade:B
Video Grade:A
Packaging Grade:A
Menu Grade:C+
Extras Grade:B

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection

.hack//SIGN Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

.hack//SIGN Complete Collection Anime DVD Review Changes are quietly coming to The World.

What They Say:
Tsukasa awakens inside The World, an immense online RPG filled with monsters, magic, and mayhem. When he discovers he’s unable to log out of this mysterious game, he joins forces with a colorful group of characters and begins a desperate quest to find his way back to real life.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release comes with the original Japanese language track as well as the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The series is one that has its moments of action to be sure, but they’re brief and punctuated events. The majority of the series is dialogue based, though the quiet incidental music moments gives it a run for its money. That’s not exactly a bad thing as the music here certainly is a strong part of the shows appeal and it comes across well through the forward soundstage. It has a good, warm feeling to it overall and it’s matched by the dialogue side of it. There’s not a lot of real emphasis to be had here as it’s a kind of flat series of performances overall, mandated by the story, but it comes across clean and clear with both tracks. The mix is one that does create a certain atmosphere and it hits the right notes, but outside of the music itself there’s not much memorable here.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The twenty-six episodes and two OVAs are spread across four DVDs with seven on each one. Animated by Bee Train, the show at the time certainly established a look and color tone that drew fans in and the detail to the backgrounds and settings is still very much there. The transfer here captures the look of the show pretty well, though it’s also showing its age and the materials itself. Colors are generally solid, though there are gradients to be had at times with some of the backgrounds. The show works the grainy digital feeling fairly well, but again there’s a visible element to it in many scenes, though not anywhere near to the point of distraction. The smoothness of the animation works well and without any cross coloration to be had here, it’s a solid little package overall, though one that does leave you wishing for a high definition version just to see if it could possibly pop more.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized clear DVD case that holds the four discs on hinges. We also get an o-card for it that replicates the artwork on the case itself which gives it a little more pop. The front of it keeps the logo to the upper right in a minimal kind of way that works, while the rest is given over to the character artwork of Subaru, Tsukasa and Aura. Not that Tsukasa looks good, but this is one of the more familiar pieces of promotional artwork that we’ve seen over the years. With a black/purple hued background, it’s not the most engaging there either. The back cover carries these colors around in a bit better of a way as the purples stand out more, which has a selection of shots from the show along it as well. The right side brings us the logo again and a clean look at the extras as well as a solid and straightforward breakdown of the premise. The rest is given over to the minimal technical grid and the production credits. With the case mirroring the card, we also get artwork on the reverse side where the left has a great look at Subaru with the disc breakdown of episodes and titles while the right side brings together a good pairing of Tsukasa and Mimiru. The artwork here is much better than the main cover itself.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is very simple and straightforward as we get the same static screen across all four volumes with just the volume number changing. The main layout has a decent yin and yang image where the left side has the brighter image of Subaru in her usual outfit and the right side has Tsukasa, albeit upside down. The navigation is through the center with the standard selections along with the logo, which is quick to load and easy to access with no problems to be had at all. I would have preferred to have different artwork with each disc, but it’s a decent enough design to use across all of them.

Extras:
The extras for this release brings us what we had before and spreads them across all four of the discs. These come in the form of the promo and commercials as well as the original trailers for it. Add in the character art pieces and the clean opening and closing sequences and there’s a decent selection. The packaging does list the OVAs as extras as well, but I always treat that as actual content unless they’re just the bonus shorts.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Part of the larger multimedia plan that was the .hack universe with the games, TV series and the manga, .hack//SIGN was the first and biggest part of the anime side of the franchise. The show was one that garnered a lot of attention when it arrived due to its music and that the games themselves were popular, making it something that had a lot of people checking it out. I still have and fondly remember the original limited editions that came out with the hexagon boxes that had the little stuffed Grunty’s in them, so just having that in mind revisiting the series put me in the right frame of mind. Having grown up playing pen and paper role playing games, and then the text based ones, I’ve got a fair bit of an RPG background, though ones like this was never something I got into.

The series takes place largely within the game setting known as The World, a place where twenty million people play across the world. It’s an expansive world with many servers that has a lengthy in-game history that provides for some beautiful settings and backgrounds to take in. That’s a big part of the appeal here in seeing The World and its dungeons as there is a sense of history and ruin to a lot of it, and seeing those mysteries become part of it along the way adds some good weight to it all. Within the game, it’s something that’s kept painfully simple though as all we get are human race characters that have various classes and standard designs with mild modifications that engage in all the usual MMORPG kinds of actions, from a bit of player versus player, dungeon crawling and just hanging out. it’s familiar, though it hasn’t aged well in a sense since this particular type of show has been done just a few times since then.

Within the show, we’re introduced to the main catalyst for what’s going on with Tsukasa, a young man of the Wavemaster class who for some reason has gained a reputation as being someone who can’t log out. He’s drawn the attention of some such as the Crimson Knights and their leader, Lady Subaru, and they’re trying to figure out the truth of it in case it’s a glitch or something far more serious. Because of this, Tsukasa largely keeps to himself, but also because he’s managed to gain special access to a secret location where he spends time with a young girl that’s in a sleep state for almost the entire series, named Aura, that he essentially cares for. This is all orchestrated by Macha, a cat in human form of sorts that really causes concern from the Crimson Knights because of what he represents. This provides the main struggle that occurs throughout the series, albeit it’s done very lightly for the most part outside of a couple of trap moments laid out by the Knights.

Tsukasa isn’t without friends though, but it takes almost the entire series in a way before he really understands this. We get introduced to these characters through their own stories as players within the game, such as the teenaged Mimiru and her fight character, the cautious Bear that’s nearly fifty outside of the game, the loner woman BT who is close to Bear and Sora, the player killer type that’s drawn to BT and helps out everyone at times for his own purposes, largely to amuse himself more than anything else. The various connections between them weave back and forth over it and as they learn more about Tsukasa, they each become invested in different ways. There’s a few other characters that come into the mix as well, with Crim, one of the founders of the Crimson Knights that left, and the main Crimson Knight himself who is slavishly devoted to Subaru until she begins to move away from leading the way that he wants her to.

With this series, it’s one that has a larger story to tell about the way the game of The World is about to go through a change, but it’s done in such a way that it’s very, very drawn out and it’s really not until the final few episodes that it’s made clear exactly what’s going on. Part of that is because there’s so many red herrings along the way about what’s going on that you can’t be sure, but also because it does its best to not be drawn to anything in particular. Tsukasa’s situation is the main driver at first, but it shifts to a background concern about his not being able to logout after awhile. Curiosity about how he can survive like this comes into play briefly, but the show really doesn’t want to delve into anything too deep. But the various issues it wants to present gives it the feeling that it’s actually covering a wide range of emotions and issues.

But it’s all just so superficial. Having invested a good chunk of my youth in online role playing games, there’s so many missed opportunities here to delve into things that it’s disappointing. The characters for the most part keep their real world selves to themselves, but we get flashes of it from time to time as there’s curiosities among some of them and we get the whole issue with what’s going on with Tsukasa on the outside since he can’t logout. But even here, it makes up at most what feels like maybe ten minutes of material over the course of the whole thing. And while you can be fully invested in these online personalities and not the offline ones, there’s nothing strong with either side, which makes it feel all the weaker. Part of it is just me in that I know that I want to know fully what’s going on with the offline side and who they are. That would be less important for me though if the online characters were more engaging.

The actual gaming side to the show itself is something that’s not really given a lot of attention overall either, unfortunately. With there being some twenty million players across multiple servers, there’s maybe what feels like two dozen characters in the show in total that we see. The place really feels like a ghost town most of the time and that takes you out of it because it’s done with too minimal of an approach. The same can be said with the dungeon crawling, as there’s not much of it going on and there’s a light touch to the monsters they have to fight for the most part and there’s only an occasional nod to non-combat oriented quests that come into it. Again, there’s so much that could be done to really make the whole world of .hack seem amazing, but it’s like it’s all kept at a distance as we interact with the lone wolf characters that exist along the fringes of the world.

In Summary:
.hack//SIGN is a series that I was definitely intrigued by when I first saw it over a decade ago and the mystery that was built across that run with its single volume releases made it easy to digest it in small pieces and try to figure it all out. When taking it in marathon session over two days, it’s something that paints it in a much more superficial way because of the way it draws it out and never feels like it sinks its teeth into anything to really be something of significance. There are some really good sequences to be had and it evokes a great tone and atmosphere throughout a lot of it, but the characters are what your casual lay person may think online gaming is like in that there’s no depth there. Which is unfortunate, because these are some fascinating worlds that you can invest in fully and deeply. This release brings the show back into the market after several years out of print and it’s definitely worth it to see it out there again and expose people more to a bit of the subgenres history with one of its bigger hits at the time. It’s an interesting series to revisit as there’s some great nostalgia when it comes to the music and the sweeping movements of it all, but the story itself is one that I wish was tighter and more interesting.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Art Reel, Textless Opening and Closing, Promo Video, Commercial Collection, Japanese Trailers

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: February 24th, 2015
MSRP: $39.99
Running Time: 700 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Four #05 Review

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Four #05 Review Batman’s Angels indeed.

Creative Staff:
Story: Brian Buccellato
Art: Bruno Redondo, Juan Albarran

What They Say:
Barbara Gordon makes a critical decision and Harley Quinn contemplates what to do next with the captive Billy Batson.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Injustice: Gods Among Us let things play for Montoya for a couple of issues and it worked well to show the way some of the actions have driven people over the edge and just how far they’ll go. That’s been a theme for some time in the series, especially when you look at everything that Superman and his allies have done in the mindset of doing it for the right reasons, but it all started by being pushed past the edge. So now we’re in this phase where it just keeps piling on and on, creating a situation where things are just going to get worse and worse. Particularly as more external pressures are applied on the situation as a whole.

Coping with loss gets only so much attention here, which isn’t a surprise considering the nature of the book and the quick pace it works with. Montoya’s death has certainly solidified the insurgency that Batman has put together, but with the magical side largely staying out of things at the moment, he’s reduced to just Batwoman, Catwoman and Harley. Batman’s Angel’s indeed. He does try calling out for more help, such as with Aquaman, but there’s plenty of reasons why based on past events that Arthur just isn’t intent on getting involved again, even though Batman knows – and Arthur knows too – that Atlantis will come under Superman’s view again in the future and things will go badly.

While we get a lot of setup here and a bit of piece setting for what’s to come, we also get a little additional follow-through on some other teases as Luthor pays Oracle a visit at her request. She’s using him, and he’s using her as well, in order to get back in the game as Batgirl. Using the same thing as Montoya, but with a different approach and levels, she does get the chance to suit up again and join the team, which is good and bad. I like her as the strategist that she’d become after the original loss of her legs and the path it took her, but I also get that the renewed push of the character after Flashpoint is all about putting her back in the game. So seeing her stepping up again, the emotional aspect from Bruce, and Harley’s misunderstanding, it all works pretty well.

In Summary:
With a lot of things going on with the characters here, we also get a push from Olympus at the very end here that sets the stage for what could be the larger battle of the Year at hand. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s a feint, but the potential for a lot of fun there, and for Batman to end up either being a thorn in their side or an ally, could lead to a lot of fun – particularly since his team is all women now and the Amazon’s are ready to attack for Zeus. The book spends its time well in a few different areas – I loved Harley’s taking over of the Arrow-Cave and stashing Billy Batson there until he turns into a less-creepy-situation form for her – and I’m really curious to see just how far this event will go that involves Zeus.

Grade: B

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: DC Comics via ComiXology
Release Date: June 2nd, 2015
MSRP: $0.99