Archive for October, 2010

First Impressions: Fall 2010 Anime Season

As he does for every season, Jon Ingoglia of JanaiBlog recently held one of his Anime Samplers, where we all vote on which new shows of the season look the best, and we then watch 1 or 2 episodes of each (ending in a few extra episodes of our favorite of the night!). There were some big hits and big misses among the bunch. Here for you are my quick first impressions of some of this season’s biggest new titles!

Iron Man (Episodes 1 & 2)

This anime is based off of the Marvel character of the same name. Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, comes to Japan with the intent on finding a way to give the country clean, free energy and, in the process, announce his retirement as Iron Man. He has new Iron Man suits all built and is ready to pass the torch on when he is attacked by combat machines from a group only known as Zodiac. Now before he can retire, Tony has to don the Iron Man suit once more.

I heard a LOT of negative things about this title, but it really wasn’t that bad. The animation was great, but that was expected with Marvel behind it. The story however was average at best, and while it kept us entertained enough to watch two episodes, we were more than ready to move on when all was said and done. If you’re an Iron Man fan, you’ll surely enjoy this, but otherwise you might find it to be rather lackluster.

Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto (Episode 1)

More like Star FABULOUS!

This is about a school on an island, and a kid named Takuto that misses his boat and actually swims all the way to said island. He says he just wants to live a good school life, but he clearly has a whole other agenda involving a legacy that his father left him. A group of masked people are stealing shrine maidens from the island and ‘unlocking’ certain gates using battle mecha called Cybodies. Only chosen people can use these mecha, but Takuto happens to be a special, fabled person that will shake things up with his presence.

Sound vague and confusing? It is! This was by far the worst title of the night. The character designs were insane and the story failed to hold my interest. The only thing that DID catch my eye was the FABULOUS nature of these characters and mecha. It made for a few laughs, but other than that, this series just wasn’t worth it to me.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II (Episode 1)

This is the second season of To Aru Majutsu no Index, a story about a girl named Index who has a bunch of magical books stored in her brain and the events that surround her. Although I’ve watched a few episodes of the spin-off series To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, I’ve never seen Index itself. I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to, and it did a decent job of explaining some of the major plot points that are needed to understand the anime without watching the first season, but in the end than that I wasn’t really thrilled by it.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (Episode 1)

One of my personal favorites of the season! This wasn’t even on our agenda for the evening, but we watched it anyway! This anime is about two angels on Earth named Panty and Stocking who are searching for heaven coins, and they get them by fighting off demons with the help of a priest named Garterbelt. It is animated very much like an American cartoon, and each episode consists of two 15-minute stories, much like cartoons in America are.

Despite that, it has a very Japanese feel to it, and the music and art direction are unique, funky, and superb. If you can deal with the sometimes jeuvenile comedy, then you will LOVE this show!

Super Robor Taisen OG: The Inspector (Episode 1)

This mecha anime centers around humans trying to rebuild after losing a war. This is thrown into a spin as the president of the Unified Colonies publicly acknowleges the existence of aliens, and reveals a plan to get rid of the aliens so that they can continue living in peace.

Now THIS was a mind-blowing show! The mecha action was absolutely breathtaking, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was engaging, interesting, and all-around entertaining. If you like mecha or just action anime in general, check this one out!

The World God Only Knows (Episodes 1-3)

This anime centers around Keima, an otaku who spends all of his free time (and much of his school time) engrossed in dating sims. He is known online as “The Capturing God”, and runs a blog telling people how to get every story branch in all of the visual novels he’s played. He accepts a challenge from a blog reader of his, only to find out that it was really a contract with Hell! Now he has Elsie, a demon, following him around, and he must help her get rid of all of the ‘loose souls’, or demons that reside in people’s hearts, and he can only do this by taking the evil spirit’s place in that person’s heart by making them fall in love with him! The worst part is that if he doesn’t succeed, the collars around both Keima and Elsie’s necks will decapitate them!

This was the favorite of the night! It was funny, witty, enjoyable, and incredibly heartfelt. You really fall for Keima, and as he is forced to pull away from his games and integrate into real life, you begin to see him change and grow, even in the first three episodes! I HIGHLY recommend this anime to everyone!

Samurai Girls (Episode 1)

This anime takes place during the Tokugawa Shogunate, where all of the famous warlords from history have passed on their names to young girls who are in opposing schools. The student councils are responsible for waging war against the other schools, but when one of the girls decides to rebel, it causes some major problems.

I found this show to be pretty boring. There was quite a bit of fanservice in it, however, so if you’re into that kind of thing, you might enjoy it. There isn’t much else for me to say about it other than that the music was pretty good, at least.

Bakuman (Episodes 1 & 2)

Masahiro is a failing school student who only wants to be a manga artist, but never really tried his hand at story writing. Takagi is in his class and has the best grades in class, and his dream is to be a manga writer, but he can’t draw at all. Takagi spies Masahiro drawing in class and ropes him into promising to team up with him and create a manga. It gets even better from Masahiro when he finds out that the girl of his dreams, Miho, wants to be a voice actress! She promises to voice their heroine when they make it big, and so Masahiro goes along with Takagi on a quest to make it big so he can marry Miho and live his dreams.

This was the other big hit of the night! It was downright hilarious, entertaining, and oddly addicting; both episodes seemed to fly by way too fast because they were so enjoyable! If you’re into romantic comedies with some fairly dark drama mixed in, you will definitely want to check this show out!

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CHU★BLOG IS SO OFFICIAL NOW! Plus, A Message to My Readers!

Lookie what I got in the mail today!! The blog is so totally official now! Or something like that! WHOO!!

Check out the video to see the goodies and to hear a special message from me to all of my readers!

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Chu★Review: Boogiepop Phantom

When I decided to review a horror anime for Halloween last-minute, I knew I needed something good and something short enough for me to get through quickly. What fit the bill was an anime that I experienced many years ago that I never got to finish. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Boogiepop Phantom!

Story

The story of Boogiepop Phantom takes place in an unnamed town in Japan and starts five years after a slew of serial murders, and one year after a mysterious beam of light had struck the city. Now people are randomly developing some odd and rather creepy powers and abilities. This has caught the attention of a high school girl named Nagi, who decides that she must find out what is causing all of the chaos and put an end to it. Her investigation leads her to a handful of evil beings, including the Boogiepop, a goddess of death. However, it seems like she is not even a concern next to the Boogiepop Phantom, a creature who seems to be an evil and capricious copy of the Boogiepop that could very well be the key to undoing all of this insanity. In the process, Nagi very well may see how all of these supernatural occurrences play into the beam of light, as well as the rash of serial murders that took place so many years ago.

The story is engaging and addicting, but at times very confusing. I remember being extremely confused when I watched it years ago, and while I understood it a lot better this time around, I was still very confused up until the last two episodes, where they explain how several of the supernatural creatures were created and what their purpose actually was. Still, be prepared for some of the smaller questions that pop up in the series to be left unanswered. I found the ending to be slightly confusing, but satisfying nonetheless.

The characters in this anime are memorable, but plentiful. While I’m normally very good at keeping track of characters, many of them in this show look similar and I found myself losing track of who was who several times. Each of the 12 episodes of the show feature a different character, going into their past and explaining their unique power. We see how the power changes them and how they play into the designs of the Boogiepop Phantom and the other creatures roaming around the city. What is so well-done about this process is that each episodes ties into other episodes; you may see a character going crazy in the background of an episode, and then see how he got to that point in a later episode. This makes each episode stand on its own while also tieing all of them together into one cohesive story, and it works brilliantly.

Sound and Visuals

The music in Boogiepop Phantom is catchy and top-notch, as is the Japanese voice work. However, the English dub is where this anime falls short. It feels forced and cheesy, and simply doesn’t stand up to the quality of the Japanese vocal track. Another problem with the English track is that it leaves out a lot of background voices and ambient sound, which is unacceptable in my opinion.

The art is middle-ground as far as quality goes. It’s great for it’s time, but some scenes have the characters faces looking a bit odd. Also, since this is a horror anime, most of the color is drab and monotone. While this plays into the feel and theme of the anime very well, it does make watching the show a bit tiring on the eyes at times. The animation is also spiked with several scenes of live-action shots of people walking through streets in Japan. This isn’t jarring at all and actually plays very well into the art direction.

In short, the art and the sounds together make for a spine-tingling experience, so long as you stay away from the English dub. The cheesiness of it simply ruins the atmosphere of the show.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a horror anime that is short and sweet and satisfying, Boogiepop Phantom is definitely worth a try! It can be confusing at times, but that just gives you more reason to watch it a second time and enjoy it all over again. Get some friends together this Halloween (or anytime!) and have a Boogiepop marathon, I guarantee you it will be a bone-chilling good time!

SCORE: 8/10

Boogiepop Phantom was produced by Studio Madhouse, and licensed and distributed by Nozomi Entertainment.

Buy the Boogiepop Phantom Complete Series Boxset, which includes the live-action movie, via this link, and you’ll be supporting Chu★Blog at no extra cost to you! Thanks in advance!

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Chu★Review: The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter

In 1974, two great game creators named Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created a little something called Dungeons and Dragons, a pen-and-paper roleplaying game. Although both of these men are no longer with us, the game and legacy they left behind certainly is.

How does the game work? You get a bunch of friends together and pick one person to be the dungeon master, or DM, to tell the story, run the game, and play the part of non-player characters. You then follow the rules in the core rulebook and use the character creation sheet to create your character and your stats, then use different sided dice to roll and based on different combinations of what you roll, your stats, the stats of your enemy, and the difficulty of the action you’re trying to perform, you can succeed or fail in varying degrees at said action.

Sound confusing? It is! Luckily for us, the wonderful people at Wizards of the Coast saw this and created a fantastic product called The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter, a box full of goodies that will get even the most green pen-and-paper players into the groove of the game!

Luckily at New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010, the people manning the Wizards of the Coast booth were more than happy to let me sort through the product and snap some pictures. First off, let’s take a look at the box itself!

The box is a pretty color of red and has some gorgeous old-timey D&D art on the front! Also adorning classic artwork are the 64-page Dungeon Master’s Book filled with rules and advice for running a game as well as some adventure content, and a 32-page Player’s Guide, filled with simple rules for playing the game and a sample solo adventure to play so you can experience the rules on your own.

In order to create your characters, you’ll need character sheets, and the box comes with a pad of simplistic character sheets that each player can use to keep track of their stats, their powers and abilities, and the items they have on them. This character sheet is much more streamlined and simplistic than the classic D&D character sheets for sure.

Along with the easy-to-use character sheets are these cards which outline different spells, abilities, powers, and magic items. They have all the information you need on what they do and what stats you use to determine whether you use them effectively or not. Everything you need to know is right on the cards!

Also included in the box is a double-sided dungeon map that you can use to help create a layout for locations in your game. To help with this even further, there are two sheets of punch-out tokens representing different characters and monsters. You can use these in combination with the map to outline where everyone and everything is placed in relation to the players.

And of course, you can’t play Dungeons and Dragons without dice! The game comes with six different sided dice consisting of a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and the classic d20.

All of these items combined make for a truly easy and user-friendly gaming experience. I have played quite a few D&D games in my time, but even as a practiced player I am enticed by the ease of use that this box offers. I absolutely will be picking one up for myself, and even that is a treat when compared to the original game, which consists of several large, bulky books that cost upwards of $30-$35 a piece (but are so worth it!).

If you’re afraid that you will begin to find this box too easy and will outgrow it, don’t be. Wizards of the Coast also has a Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line of books and products that are perfect for upgrading to when you’re ready to delve even deeper into the d20 gaming system. The entire line is designed to make a truly enjoyable and streamlined playing experience for players of all ages and varying levels of role-playing experience.

So if you’re interested in jumping into the world of pen-and-paper role-playing, looking for something new for your gaming group, or even trying to rope in some friends to join in on the fun, The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter is an excellently priced and well put-together addition to any gaming collection that is destined to usher in a new generation of D&D players.

If you’re interested in supporting Wizards of the Coast in this exciting endeavor while supporting Chu★Blog (at no extra cost to you!), feel free to use these links to order these products:

The Dungeons & Dragons series of products are published by Wizards of the Coast.

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Chu★Cast Episode 3: New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010

The third episode of Chu★Cast is here! Jon Ingoglia (@JanaiBlog) of JanaiBlog joined me for New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010, and he was also nice enough to join me on my podcast to discuss our experience!

We delve into the good and the (very, very) bad about the merger of these two fantastic conventions, as well as share stories of all the sights, sounds, panels, and merchandise we came across during our travels. We also share some ideas for improving the convention next year, and chat about some of the hottest industry news to come out of the con. Check it out!

If you want to download this podcast, click on the Mevio player to go to the episode’s site, then click the down arrow on the bottom of the Mevio player to download the MP3. Enjoy!

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A Tighter Focus for Chu★Blog

Many of you that follow me on Twitter know that I have had the occasional struggle with deciding what the true focus of Chu★Blog is. I’ve always believed that it was whatever I wanted it to be, and while it was fun while it lasted, in made the blog feel rather scattered to me. There were so many things going on here at once that I found myself unable to keep up with it all.

Then, NYAF and NYCC happened. Being at the convention, in the midst of all these industry people and meeting, talking, networking, asking questions, and simply basking in everything around me was intoxicating and captivating. I can’t remember the last time I did something that left me so full of joy and so satisfied. I was truly and unequivocally happy working my ass off this weekend.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I reached a decision. From now on, you will see Chu★Blog focused more towards its original purpose: entertaining reviews, editorials, and podcasts on anime, manga, gaming, science fiction, and fantasy. To facilitate this, I did a little bit of clean-up this morning:

  • The L.J. Smith book reviews were taken down, and no more book reviews will be posted unless they have to do with the subject matter listed above. The links to these defunct reviews will be taken off of the YouTube account soon.
  • The review of “The Path” has been cancelled and taken down. This turned out to be more of a walkthrough than a review, which was not my intention, and with the plethora of things I have in store for this blog, there was simply no time to continue this.

I will be making lots of changes around the blog, many of which I am more than happy to share with you:

  • There will be a much larger focus on reviews. I have a review of an exciting product coming up, as well as an anime review for Halloween. There are other planned reviews, but they will remain a secret until the time comes.
  • I will be changing all of the astricks to stars for Chu★Blog, since it looks cooler and is more uniform (it look unprofessional when I interchange both of them).
  • The Chu★Blog Store will be getting a re-vamp sometime soon, although I’m not quite sure how I am going to go about this yet.
  • I am looking into a few other ways for Chu★Blog to generate some money besides the store so that I can use it to get my hands on more material to review (any suggestions on this are always welcome).

I have a few other things in the works for the blog as well, but I can’t / don’t want to discuss them until I am sure they will be happening. All I can say is that you should stay tuned for some exciting new stuff!

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers. You guys are what make this blog possible, and things wouldn’t be as good as they are around here without your love, support, and ideas. You guys rock!

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Chu★Review: New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010

This was my second year to New York Anime Festival, but my first experiencing New York ComicCon, and let me tell you, it was intense! I was bubbling with excitement over the many guests and panels that were going on, and it certainly did not disappoint!

So, let’s go through each aspect of this powerful convention duo!

Travel and Surroundings
Once again the con was held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York. While only a small portion of the building was used for NYAF last year, both cons being put together forced them to truly utilize the entire building this year, and boy did they ever!

The weather was beautiful, so taking the train from Long Island to Penn Station was a breeze. Then it was just a short cab ride over to the convention center!

First Impressions
I was very impressed with how the con was handled! Although it was frantic, the staff, for the most part, had everything under control. The energy at the con was intense and vibrant, and everybody was running around excited to see all that there was to see.

General Overview
Unfortunately, as time went on the cracks began to show in the convention planning, especially on Saturday. Friday morning it was announced that they were no longer selling weekend or Saturday passes. When the absolutely ridiculous amount of people squeezed themselves into the convention center on Saturday, it was clear why they had made that decision.

Also, the Anime Festival part of the con were crammed into the sidelines, with most of the anime-related goodness condemned to the basement, which was sad and made it rather tedious to travel from NYAF panels to NYCC panels.

Another issue was food. While I myself don’t condone eating at a convention as it is rather overpriced, it was downright impossible for me to get outside for food when I had to run from one side of the building to the other. In the middle of the building was the food court, but unless you had a good hour or two on your hands, waiting on the insanely long lines wasn’t even worth your time. More than once I went hungry and thirsty this weekend.

The biggest issue for us bloggers, however, was the lack of internet. Sure, you could get internet, if you wanted to pony up $70 for the weekend, or $30 for the day. I cringed as poor, sweet Gia from Anime News Network paid for this service so that she could do what she had to. Most people were satisfied using their 3G service, but the reception was terrible in the convention center, which made it pretty much impossible to post immediate updates and news.

My personal biggest issue, especially since my days were jam-packed with stuff I wanted to cover, was the poor scheduling. I don’t think I attended a single panel that started on time, although many of them did wind up ending on time and cutting off the panel early. I missed out on several panels and signings because of this issue. I think the problem was that there was so much going on that they didn’t have time to schedule 15-minute breaks between panels like many conventions do, which gives time for the previous panel to clear out and for the next one to set up.

Besides that, the con goers actually meshed rather well together! Attendees from one side curiously checked out samplings from the other, and it seemed to expose a lot of people to new things. Everybody got along well and that made for a positive atmosphere overall. Most of the qualms I had with the con resulted from the sheer number of people, which is something that the con staff will hopefully have under better control next year.

So, at the end of the day, the con attendee’s played nice with eachother, but the cons themselves did not. There needs to be a much better balance between both cons next year in my opinion.

The Panels

Veronica Taylor and Misako Rocks! prepare for their panel on anime voice acting and art

The panels were fantastic this year! For the first time I got to attend Disorganization XIII’s Spoiler: The Panel, and it was hilarious! I also got to attend a panel on culinary manga, as well as panels on the hit CW shows Nikita and The Vampire Diaries, which were chock-full of stars.

One of the top panels for me, however, had to be the Robot Chicken panel, which was attended by Seth Green and co-creator Matt, Seth’s wife, and special guest Macauley Culkin, who will be starring in their Christmas special this year (which, by the way, will be a full hour long!). We also got sneak-peek footage of the special, as well as of their third Star Wars parody and the upcoming 5th season, which will include an “epic” 100th episode.

Another great panel was one celebrating Butters of South Park fame. Trivia games were played and tons of swag was thrown into the crowd, making for a fun and energetic half hour!

On the work side of things, I also attended the Bandai and FUNimation panels (you can read my round-up of the announcements they made here), which were both exciting.

The only panel that didn’t work was Anime Clue, and that was purely an error of location. It took place on the Variant Stage, which was located in the ComicCon Artist’s Alley. The noise from the Alley made it difficult to follow along with the panel, and that killed the audience participation.

The Guests

Taliesin Jaffe and Chris Bevins show how close their friendship really is as they promoted Sengoku Basara at the FUNimation booth.

There were a ton of incredible guests at the con. While I didn’t even attempt to try and meet the big names like Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell, I did meet my fair share of people I was excited to see. The first three I met were Taliesin Jaffe, Chris Bevins, and Michael Sinterniklaas, who were all there with FUNimation promoting the new Sengoku Basara game, which looked like a ton of fun! I got to chat with them until I got kicked out of the booth so they could do their signing. I also got to meet Stephanie Sheh, who signed my cover of Persona 3: FES, as she plays Metis.

There were a few people I sadly didn’t get to see, however. I showed up to the Bandai booth 2 hours early to meet Crispin Freeman, but the line to do so was already wrapped around the booth and out the dealer’s room door, so I didn’t even attempt it. I also wanted to meet the Vampire Diaries cast, but when I showed up 2 1/2 hours early to the signing, there were already over a thousand people in line, so again, I didn’t even try.

The Dealer’s Room

Gumby, Chun-Li, and Cammy played The Michael Jackson Experience at the Ubisoft booth!

The dealer’s room (called the ‘exhibit hall’) was a double-edged sword. It was full of incredible vendors and sights to see, but it was laid out poorly. They shoved all of the anime-related booths against one wall, and that one aisle was absolutely impossible to move through because it was so crowded.

There were tons of computers at the Square Enix booth where people were playing Final Fantasy XIV, and the gigantic Wii booth had playable versions of Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. The Sega booth had a playable version of Sonic Colors, which looked AMAZING (yes, a GOOD Sonic game!). They also let me into a special room in the middle of their booth where I got to see a sneak-peek at the making of their upcoming Thor video game. It looked great and was extremely true to its Norse Mythology roots, which greatly impressed me.

There was also tons of swag that was being given away. I didn’t grab much since most of it was given away by comic book vendors and I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I did get a few cool things. Manga Entertainment had a booth and I got some free pins from them, and I got a Golden Eye 007 lanyard from the game’s booth, which was handled in a really cool way; they had the game playable, and they let people play in groups of four. Whoever won the game got a free t-shirt! The line to play it was long, so I only got to observe, but it looked fantastic!

I also snuck a peek at a playable demo of the XBox 360’s motion sensor, the Kinect. It looked like it was responding well, but slowly. I couldn’t get close enough to try it myself, of course.

The best part of the dealer’s room for me, however, was the Disney booth. They had a playable version of Disney Epic Mickey, and I was lucky enough to get a quick interview with one of the game’s programmers, Sean Barton! Check it out!

All in all, New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010 was a great con with plenty of room for improvement, but that was expected for their first time running a convention of this size. I was absolutely enchanted by it, especially by the exhibition hall. I have never seen anything like it before in person, and the energy of the dealer’s booths alone is going to ensure that I will do my best to attend again next year!

If you’d like more goodies from the con, then check some of this stuff out:

  • Check out my YouTube Playlist of all the videos I took at the con, including a live drawing session with Misako Rocks!, voice acting warm-ups with Veronica Taylor, and an impromptu K-ON!! concert starring Christina Vee!
  • Check out my photo gallery of all the photos I took during the con!
  • Listen to my podcast on the con, featuring Jon Ingoglia!

As a final bit, check out some other great reviews on the con from some fantastic writers!

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