Servant x Service (A-1 Pictures/Aniplex)

servant x service

Rating: 3/5 – A Solid but Uninspired Slice of Life Story.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Greg Bretall.

Premise
Servant x Service is a slice of life show that follows of a group of office workers at a government office in a fictional Japanese city. The show is mostly a romantic comedy, leaning much more heavily towards the comedic side throughout most of the show.
http://www.crunchyroll.com/servant-x-service

What Makes It Worth Watching?
Servant x Service is a refreshing change of pace from the standard high school slice of life show that is usually seen in anime. However the characters in the show, while well written, fall victim to the standard tropes we have seen too often in the genre. This is somewhat offset by the comedic elements, but these detract from the show at times. The main character Lucy is also often the vehicle for some lightweight fan service, which can be distracting at times, but is usually not too much of an issue.

My Thoughts
Overall, I didn’t think Servant x Service was bad but it ended up feeling decidedly average to me. While I enjoyed the concept and enjoyed some of the characters’ plot arcs, the romance subplots were very unoriginal and bland. This also extended to some of the intended comedy which often stemmed from repeated gags that became tiresome about halfway through the show’s 13 episode run. If you’re really looking for a light slice of life romantic comedy to watch when you’re sick of high school shows, Servant x Service could be the change of pace that you need, but don’t expect anything particularly groundbreaking from it.

Reviewed by: Greg Bretall
(greg@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Daily Lives of High School Boys (Sunrise/NIS America)

Daily Lives of High School Boys

Rating: 4/5 – A Fun Gag-Driven Comedy.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Greg Bretall.

Premise
The Daily Lives of High School is a comedy that follows the misadventures of a group of three high school boys. The show is presented as a series of usually 6-8 different sketches which have no real running plot. There is also a running series of post-credits sketches focusing on a group of female characters from Episode 2 onward.
http://www.hulu.com/watch/545479

What Makes It Worth Watching?
This series has a lot to like, it starts off with a well-written gag-based sketches as well as several good parody sketches. This is augmented by a well executed set of seemingly generic anime trope characters; a generic high school anime protagonist, a glasses-wearing character, and a spiky blond haired character. As the show continues these characters are fleshed out and are legitimately interesting, with several of the seemingly minor characters introduced in early episodes becoming much more important.

While Daily Lives of High School Boys manages to have several good running sketches and has, at the bare minimum, 2 or 3 extremely well done sketches per episode, the show does drag slightly near the end. The jokes are relatively consistent in their humor levels, although there definitely a decent number of gags that play off of anime tropes or to specifically parody portions of Japanese culture that may go over the heads of viewers who don’t have a decent amount of awareness of Japanese culture, perhaps from continued viewings of anime and reading manga, if not actual first hand experience or study of Japan, prior to this show.  Even if you don’t get every joke, it should not be an overall issue, most jokes are generically relatable and understandable.

My Thoughts
I personally found Daily Lives of High School Boys to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the first half of the show. It started to drag for me somewhat in the middle portion of the series, but I blame this on my own marathon watching. This show definitely lends itself to being watched over a longer span of time. In the end, I recommend this series to anyone that is looking for a quick and funny show to burn some free time.

Reviewed by: Greg Bretall
(greg@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan – DVD Vol. 1 (Viz)

Nura DVD

Rating: 4/5 – A Unique Way to tell a Fairly Common (to Anime) Story.

Premise
The anime/manga world is full to the brim with stories of high school-aged boys who have a secret destiny waiting just around the corner. From Bleach to Reborn, the shelves are well-stocked with tales of young men reluctantly accepting their role in the larger world around them. Because of this, the tropes can become fairly commonplace and might possibly bore any longtime anime fan.

Rikuo, the aforementioned boy in conflict, wants to simply live a normal life, but he’s a Yokai (demon) and is the perceived heir to the throne of leading the Yokai clan, or his faction of it. He doesn’t want the job, however. He just wants to be a normal middle schooler, and deal with the awkwardness of just growing up, falling in love, and passing his classes. Of course, the likeliness of this actually happening is pretty much zero.

What Makes It Worth Watching?
I’ve seen/read enough stories of this type that I’ll own up to not being over enthused about watching this one. I’m also happy to report that it pretty much knocked my preconceptions out of the water and kept me riveted through the entire 13-episode series on the two discs in this set. The animation is top-notch, particularly with the character designs on the many different types of yokai who populate Rikuo’s world. It was a real treat, during some of the big group shots, to pause the show and look at all the different monsters running around in the background.

Even great animation and artwork won’t save a lackluster story, but Nura delivers on that front as well. Rikuo has a strong cast of characters surrounding him. First, there are his schoolmates, generally your typical schoolmate chums but with one particular slant: they’re forming an “Anti-Yokai League” to first confirm their existence, then work to wipe them out. And they definitely suspect Rikuo knows more than he’s letting on about their existence. Next, there’s the Yokai themselves, who share a roof with Rikuo and his clan, and want him to take the mantle of leadership. The elation they feel when they believe he’s done this results in a party scene that had me grinning ear to ear. I can only imagine that it must have been a bear to animate but so much fun to plan out.
And of course there are the villains, rival clans who don’t have the semi-benevolent streak that Rikuo’s particular group has. While Rikuo’s group won’t shy away from a fight, they are not out to prey on regular humans the way other clans are. For the longest time there’s been a truce between all these clans…a truce that’s about to end.

My Thoughts
As mentioned before, a lot of anime deals with treading on familiar ground, and telling a very similar story. The trick is in how the story is told, and with what kind of characters. I liked Rikuo, and I think new viewers will as well. He knows there’s a hidden demon-lord within him, and while he’s reluctant to let him out, he will when the situation calls for it, and with very little angst or hesitation, particularly if it’s to save one of his friends in peril. This first volume set offers enough of an intro to viewers that they’ll likely know whether or not they want to continue on with future stories, or perhaps jump over to the manga releases. Ultimately, it’s one of the freshest ways I’ve seen this story re-hashed in some time.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – al@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Naruto Shippuden the Movie: The Lost Tower DVD (Viz)

Naruto Lost Tower

Rating: 4/5 – Naruto Finds his Future by Heading to the Past.

Premise
Everyone’s favorite fox-demon harboring ninja finds himself swept away to the somewhat distant past when rogue ninja Mukade uses powerful ley line magic to accidentally send him to the ancient city of Loran. There he encounters the Fourth Hokage, meets a queen uncertain of her ability to rule the fabled “city of a thousand towers,” and faces a much younger and potentially more lethal version of Mukade. Can Naruto hope to prevail against the puppet-magic of this evil ninja, convince Loren’s queen that she’s a capable leader, assist Minato (the aforementioned Hokage), and find his way back home all at the same time? Well, it is his name on the DVD box, so you can pretty much guess the answer to that one, but part of the fun of a good Naruto tale is the journey itself, right?

What Makes It Worth Watching?
It’s Naruto! That alone will pretty much guarantee a built-in audience for the exploits of the blond-haired blue-eyed ninja. Fortunately, even newcomers won’t have too much trouble picking up on the action, and if you ignore all the in-jokes custom-made for longtime viewers and fans, this is still a pretty compelling story that can be enjoyed by fans of any stripe.

Of course this trip to the past will be a real treat for those who have been with Naruto from the beginning. It’s fun to see younger versions of the “Pervy Sage”, Kakashi, and Might Guy, among others. There are plenty of chances for Naruto to really mess things up for the future while he’s in the past, like potentially alerting a future Hokage about their destiny before they’re even aware of it. Much of the humor of the movie resides in these potential paradoxes, but it’s also in these areas where new viewers might be left hanging, wondering what’s so funny about a certain grey-haired ninja being such a brown-noser, for example.

Despite this, new viewers need not shy away from The Lost Tower. At its core, this is simply a great adventure where the protagonist is flung back in time and has to find his way back…and save the day while he’s at it. The animation from Studio Pierrot will keep any anime fan riveted to the screen, if only to check out the amazingly beautiful backgrounds and how much detail was put into creating the many towers of the city of Loren.

My Thoughts
I’m a lapsed Naruto fan. I simply couldn’t keep up with it as much as I’d wanted to. For me, this was a great reminder of just what I’d been missing. There were only a few unfamiliar faces amid so many old friends whose exploits I wish I’d never stopped following. If it stumbles anywhere it’s with a final fight scene that drags on a bit too long. Despite this, Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower is a movie that can appeal to pretty much any type of anime fan. I know there are some who will dismiss it outright because it’s Naruto, and frankly that’s their loss. This is one of the most accessible tales of the rascally ninja to come along in some time.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – al@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Tiger & Bunny The Movie: The Beginning DVD (Viz)

TigerBunny

Rating: 5/5 – Superheroes will Never be the Same Again.

Premise
In Stern Bild – a vast megalopolis – superheroes patrol the streets, skies, roads and most importantly the airwaves as they appear on a reality television show where they gain points (and sponsors) by apprehending criminals and saving lives. When your public popularity is every bit as important as your powers, what’s an aging, past-his-prime hero like Wild Tiger to do? Well, according to his sponsors, he’s to team up with new young hotshot Barnaby Brooks. Unfortunately, seasoned vet Wild Tiger wants nothing to do with this brash, snotty newcomer, and Brooks feels the same about this old-timer who represents the “old ways” of being a hero. Can these two learn to work together, or is the doomed duo paving the way for another hero to earn the top slot on the charts?

What Makes It Worth Watching?
Before you even watch the actual movie, do yourself a favor and put the second disc in so you can see how they do movie premieres in Japan. The “World Premiere Event” extra brings you into a world where seiyuu (voice actors) are pretty much seen as rock stars, appearing on stage before the movie even begins, to thunderous applause. Forget the red carpets of Hollywood. Give me the red stage – with the two main voice actors showing up on a motorcycle – any day of the week. It’s on my bucket list now…I want to see an anime movie premiere in Japan.

After that, you can pop the first disc in and enjoy this introduction to the world of Tiger & Bunny if you’re not already familiar with it. Part of it is taken directly from the popular anime series, but a new story was created for the second half. A second film, The Rising, will come out early next year, and will consist of all-new material. This first movie is a great way to get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with the main league of heroes – Tiger, Bunny, Blue Rose, Fire Emblem, Sky High, and more – in anticipation of that film.
In addition, Viz released a two-volume manga of the movie (read the review HERE).

As good as that is, Tiger & Bunny is a very visual franchise, and it really comes to life on the big screen. The bright lights of Stern Bild at night, the colorful costumes of the heroes, the solid design work and animation by Sunrise and Masakazu Katsura…do yourself a favor, even if you’re already invested in the manga or you’ve watched the original anime, and see this movie. The new story alone is worth it for any Tiger & Bunny fan, and newcomers should be hooked by the time that story comes along anyhow.

My Thoughts
I make no apologies about being a slobbering Tiger & Bunny fan, but I can still be objective when I say this DVD earned its 5/5 rating. I’m not joking when I say watch the extras first, particularly that world premiere event (if you’re really not all that keen on seeing the extras, you can also catch this movie on the Viz streaming site www.neonalley.com).  See for yourself the rabid following this series already enjoys, then jump in and see if you don’t wind up becoming a fan yourself.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – al@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Sunday Without God (Madhouse)

Sunday w-o God

http://www.crunchyroll.com/sunday-without-god

Rating: 3.5/5 – Should a Story This Grim Be This Cute?

Premise
Deciding his attempt at universe-making was a total failure, God has abandoned his creation (on a Sunday, hence the title), leaving humanity at a standstill. Nobody can die anymore, women can’t have children, and there is no afterlife to speak of. In his stead, God leaves Gravediggers – beings who are able to put souls to rest when it is their time, or more likely when it is long past their time. After her mother passes, young Ai inherits her mantle and becomes her village’s Gravedigger. She prepares graves for every inhabitant in her village, then lets life proceed as it will. Enter a mysterious albino. Never a good sign in an anime, but there may be more to this man than meets the eye. Is he Ai’s long lost father, or simply a murderous soul leaving a path of dead…and undead…in his wake? Either way, Ai’s job as Gravedigger is about to become much busier.

What Makes It Worth Watching?
The animation in this series is about what we’ve come to expect from anime these days, with lush, beautiful scenery that you could spend hours studying if that’s your thing. The character designs are well done, if a bit common to the whole genre. No new ground is being broken when your waifish heroine has the typical lock of hair arcing out of her forehead, or when your painfully thin, garbed in black younger man is voiced using that same world-weary tone typical to every character in that particular role. Still, none of that truly matters in anime. The tropes exist for a reason…most anime tell very similar stories…it’s the *way* those stories are told that helps build an audience, and a loyal fanbase. Time will tell if there’s going to be one for Sunday Without God.

What truly threw me was the juxtaposition of cute characters being used to tell such a grim story. I mean, think about it – God exists, and he doesn’t care about you anymore. You can’t die, even if you get badly injured or age beyond your years. Families are no longer existent, as there aren’t going to be any more babies. So it might seem a bit off-putting to have such cutesy characters populating this world, particularly Ai herself. Then again, this is anime, so perhaps I should expect no less, but it might dilute the overall message of the series to have such opposition.

And make no mistake, these are well-designed and thought-out characters, not only in the cut of their clothing (Ai’s main outfit and shovel-as-a-weapon) but in their motivations and backgrounds as well. Many anime fail because not enough emphasis is put on the world-building aspect – giving your universe a history, a timeline, and its people a purpose – and while this particular anime is more about world-destroying, it still does a great job getting you to believe this is a very real world undergoing a very real catastrophe. That, more than anything, may keep viewers coming back.

My Thoughts
I enjoy anime which throw me for a curve. Higurashi: When They Cry, for example, started out one way, then went another way completely and in the process hooked me in. Sunday Without God just might be able to pull the same trick, but instead of taking innocence and moving it to a darker place (as in Higurashi), this series seems to start out in as dark a place as it can possibly get, and take us on a quest toward the light. While is encompasses many of the tropes seasoned anime viewers have come to expect, the overarching story seems to be one well worth checking out.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – al@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)

Sakamichi.no.Apollon

Rating: 5/5 – A Unique and Beautiful Show That Transcends it’s Genre
http://www.hulu.com/watch/360860#i0,p0,d0

Premise
Kids on the Slope is a show that follows a boy named Kaoru as he enters high school in 1966 and makes friends with a perceived thug named Sentaro.  They bond over a shared love for playing jazz music.  The show follows them over the course of their high school careers.  It is 12 episodes long and is suitable for all ages.

What’s Awesome About It?
Kids on the Slope is an extremely well done and stand out anime for many reasons.  To start, the animation is absolutely gorgeous.  The art style of the characters tends to be less of a generic modern anime look, ending up with something slightly more realistic.  The fluidity of the animation also melds perfectly with a color palette that is both vibrant and reminiscent of the 1960’s setting of the show.

The next main strong point of the show, and perhaps its biggest strength, is the absolute brilliance of the score.  Composed by Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex), it never fails to amaze.  It consists of several beautiful renditions of jazz pieces such as Moanin’ by Art Blakey.  Besides the general soundtrack, the way in which music forms the hinge of the narrative is accentuated by the sheer talent that musicians playing drum, piano, and trumpet have.

Finally, the show has one of the best written plots in an anime in recent memory.  The combination of the skill with which the writers created and then fleshed out interesting and believable characters with direction by Shinichirō Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) give the show a lasting impression.  Unlike many shows that only have 12 or 13 episodes, Kids on the Slope manages to create an extremely well fleshed out set of characters and plot and then give it a satisfying resolution.

My Thoughts
I am absolutely in love with almost every part of this show.  I was originally intrigued by the unique setting of the 1960’s a time period that I’ve never seen explored in anime before as well as by Yoko Kanno’s involvement with the show.  After watching it, I’d have to say that I was thoroughly amazed by not only the quality of art, animation, and soundtrack, but by the absolutely amazing characters.  I found myself becoming extremely emotionally invested in the characters far beyond the level at which I normally would in a 12 episode show.  A final little note is that I recommend that the show be watched in Japanese with subtitles due to the importance of the Japanese setting as well as the inclusion of English speakers in the Japanese version at certain points.  All in all, Kids on the Slope is a piece of art that deserves nothing short of the highest praise and I can’t recommend it any more than I already have.

Reviewed by: Greg Bretall – greg@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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