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Sailor Moon Blu-ray/DVD Set 1 (Hyb) Limited Edition
Ashley O'Toole - Nov 14 2014
Rating: Not all that good.
Poor encoding and video quality ruin an otherwise wonderful release
I grew with Sailor Moon, watching the old DIC version every chance I could. So to be able to watch the series, uncut and dubbed in english was a dream come true!

I watched the first Blu-Ray. The picture quality was alright. I had hoped for better, but knowing this was a digital remaster I did not expect perfect quality. Colors are bright, but the series takes on a more water-color look than what I remember and so the lines are not as crisp as I had hoped.

The real issue came when I popped in the DVD. First, in my Blu-Ray player it was obvious that this DVD looks TERRIBLE. There was heavy pixelation throughout and looked much closer to a 480p Youtube video than a DVD. Throughout the opening, I could not even tell that Usagi's eyes were blue in half of the shots. The video quality really was that poor.

"Well, OK", I thought, "Maybe my Blu-ray player is trying to Upscale the DVD and that's messing with the quality." So I head to my older TV with a DVD player, and play it in there. The entire picture was surrounded by a huge black box. It was now obvious that VIZ had not properly encoded the DVD. The DVD plays the (Originally 4:3) series in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with the black bars hardcoded on each side of the video. Meaning that in my older 4:3 TV, I first get the black bars on the side, and then two more black bars on the top and bottom. This issue is not limited my copy, as it's been reported by multiple other people.

As such, I cannot recommend this release. Please do not support VIZ's terrible handling of a classic show.

Buy the Cardcaptor Sakura set from NIS America instead. Even if it's more, it's certainly better handled than this sad, sad release.
Wind Rises, The DVD/Blu-ray (Hyb)
Jon F. Turner - Nov 16 2014
Rating: Pretty good!
Long and often very draggy, but nonetheless richly animated.
I've always been a huge fan of Miyazaki ever since I first saw KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, but for his supposed swan song, I honestly don't know what to think. Perhaps because of this, I cannot rate it as highly as his other films. Don't get me wrong, THE WIND RISES is not a bad film at all. It's as colorful and beautifully animated as any Ghibli movie, and of course Joe Hisaishi's music is sublime. There are also moments that truly do recall Miyazaki at his most imaginative. But if you're expecting another movie filled with action, wonders, and magic as his other movies, you will probably be disappointed, because THE WIND RISES is as far removed from the rest of Miyazaki's output than even his less fantasy-oriented pictures. Rather than aiming for the exuberant joy and wonders of LAPUTA, TOTORO, the dark, epic spectacles of MONONOKE, NAUSICAA, and even the surrealistic SPIRITED AWAY and HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, this movie is mostly down to earth, with only the occasional moments of pure spectacle. It's also his most "adult" film to date; perhaps because of this, THE WIND RISES is also cursed with the misfortune of being Miyazaki's least accessible film.

Although financially successful in Japan, THE WIND RISES has not been without its share of detractors, particularly Miyazaki's target audience. Controversially, the protagonist of this story is Jiro Horikoshi, the man who was responsible for creating some of deadliest airplane bombers during World War II. In fact, this film is very loosely based on his account. Naturally, one would expect that Horikoshi would be portrayed as a tyrant considering the outcome of his crafts. But in a rather daring and almost dangerous move, Miyazaki presents the man as a gentle, ambitious soul who simply wants to achieve his dream of flying rather than as a psychopath bent on destruction.

Speaking of dreams, the most memorable sequences in the movie are those which involve Jiro's fantasies of being airborne. In one such scene, an extensive, dialogue-free prologue which opens the film, we see young Jiro wake up from his countryside home, climb to the roof and board an elaborately customized craft, soaring across the Japanese countryside to the strains of Joe Hisaishi's typically melodic score. This sequence comes to a crashing end when a massive zeppelin and shadowy blob monsters straight out of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE and SPIRITED AWAY descend upon the boy and render him unconscious. Otherwise, the rest of the "dream" scenes (which are interspersed throughout the languidly paced story) feature Jiro interacting with the charismatic Italian aircraft designer Caproni. "Airplanes are beautiful dreams," intones the air designer to the short-sighted Jiro who he refers to as "Japanese boy", "Engineers turn dreams into reality."

Otherwise, the remainder of THE WIND RISES follows Jiro as he grows from a not-so passive school boy who spends time reading books by his hero into an adult who becomes an aircraft designer instead of a pilot due to short-sightedness. This is a forty-year cycle of a journey that unfolds in over two hours. Regrettably, this is also one of the film's biggest shortcomings: not only are the scenes involving Jiro's growth less intriguing than his flights of fancy, they slow the movie's momentum to a snail's pace. Miyazaki is no stranger to producing movies that push over the two hour mark, but THE WIND RISES feels even longer than that, with most of the scenes being slow, drawn-out conversations between Jiro and his colleagues.

Aside from the aforementioned "imagination" bits, the only other major highlight of THE WIND RISES happens about a third of the way through in which an earthquake literally tears through Japan and causes a passing train to derail and crash spectacularly. This is arguably my favorite moment of the movie because it showcases Miyazaki at his most visceral. The execution of the tragedy is powerfully conveyed through the dramatic staging and animation. Aurally, this scene is impressive as well; rather than the natural sounds of earth rumbling and winds, Miyazaki instead chooses to employ a wordless, monotonous "chorus" of voices to substitute for both. The effect adds an emotional, organic layer to the scene, especially when we witness the tragic aftermath of the tremor.

Also intriguing is the sequence where Jiro and his friend Honjo travel to Germany. Not only does Miyazaki treat us to splendid tours of the aerial wonders of these massive "war machines", we get to see the characters speak German. Much later on at a hotel, Jiro meets Castorp, a German-accented defect who eerily denounces Hitler and, perhaps rather ominously, predicts the downfall of Japan.

Alas, such moments are tragically undercut by the film's much more languid second half, which shoehorns a tragic love story involving a gentle painter woman whose internal clock is ticking. I don't know if it is just me, but neither Jiro nor his lover Naoko come across as particularly compelling characters, and perhaps because of this, we are given little reason to care about them. A "courting" scene in which Jiro attempts to fly a paper airplane to Naoko's balcony is inspiring, but sadly that's about as interesting as this love story gets.

More detrimental, unfortunately, is the dub by Disney, which is surprisingly disappointing considering I've always loved the studio's English work for Ghibli's films, the performance I found to be the weakest being that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now in all fairness, Joseph is not eccentrically cast, but I just didn't find him compelling as Jiro; to me he sounded like he was giving a stiff, monotonous performance, which is disappointing considering that many of the leads in Disney's other dubs (eccentrically cast or not) have done well. Apparently in the Japanese version (which I haven't seen), Jiro's voice actor (ironically, former Miyazaki animator Hideaki Anno -- now well known for NADIA and EVANGELION -- turned in a similarly ineffective performance. I don't know it's just me or if it's the style of the character, but either way, this is, I'm sorry to say, the dullest performance in any Disney dub I've ever listened to. Some will argue that he's trying to emulate Anno's take, which, IMO, has the potential danger of coming across as a carbon copy instead of a genuine performance, especially if the original was apparently not as good as it could be. Emily Blunt fares a little better as Naoko, but the love scenes between her and Levitt are shockingly ineffective: however much emotion Blunt gives, Levitt's distressingly wooden performance sadly nullifies any bit of chemistry between the two. Too bad, because with better voice direction the love story could have been less draggy than it comes across as.

One actor I was particularly looking forward to hearing was Mandy Patinkin, having enjoyed his rollicking turn as a pirate in the controversial but still grossly underrated CASTLE IN THE SKY dub. Sadly, his turn here is nowhere nearly as entertaining; his role is just to be a down-to-earth boss with zero comic timing. He more or less plays it well, but I was still disappointed, considering his previous work. The rest of the actors also consist of names such as Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, and DIRTY DANCING's Jennifer Grey, but to be honest, they didn't really stand out to me all that much, and their parts are so scanty that one wonders why they were cast at all. One would think that more experienced voice actors would take the job instead (the first Ghibli dubs had a much better balance of that).

Even though I consider this to be the worst of the Disney-Ghibli dubs (NOTE: by that I do not mean it is an outright BAD dub; it's not, it's just average, at least to my ears compared to their others), there were three performances I truly did enjoy. Martin Short plays Jiro's curmudgeonly cantankerous, "short" sized boss, Kurokawa with gusto and humor, breathing a lot of much needed zest into the dub. This is the sort of charismatic, interesting type of character audiences should expect from an animated production, Ghibli or otherwise, and Short effortlessly steals every scene he's in. Just as good is Mae Whitman as Jiro's sister, Kayo. Again, being blessed with a great role to begin with, she provides a lot of spunk and energy to the role and makes her arguably more sympathetic than her dull brother. The great Werner Herzog also gets to have a lot of fun as the German-accented Castorp, especially when he sinks a drunken brawl in a lively tavern scene. Finally, Stanley Tucci is TERRIFIC as Caproni, providing the character with charisma and a charm which is impossible to dislike. The Italian accent he provides is very appropriate as well. On that note, the use of accents for the different characters is also a plus, as is the use of children from the opening scenes. If anything, these assets prove that even an inferior Disney Ghibli effort can still have its share of saving graces.

Perhaps another major problem I have is the ending; while the fate of the love story isn't hard to guess, but Miyazaki instead chooses to close the film with yet another dream sequence. Instead of coming across as a genuine conclusion, this last scene feels strangely unresolved. What happens to Jiro after the scene? What became of his career? Sadly, the movie doesn't answer any of these questions, and as such, the denouement doesn't feel like a genuine conclusion. It's almost as if Miyazaki ran out of creative juice and decided to stop his movie on an uneasy note. PONYO was especially guilty with this practice, and it's unfortunate that the same is true here as well. Even MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PRINCESS MONONOKE, and PORCO ROSSO, abruptly as they ended, had a sort of genuine resolution that this lacks.

Still, take my complaints with a grain of salt and go see THE WIND RISES. Even if it is by no means Miyazaki's best film, the moments that truly excel really show that a genius such as Miyazaki never ceases to amaze, whether at his most vigorous or his most down to earth. On a final note, it's a shame that this will be Miyazaki's last film; the man has left behind a legacy of richly animated treasures that many have not taken notice of at first but are gradually finding audiences. He will be missed.
Tales From Earthsea DVD (Hyb)
Jon F. Turner - Nov 16 2014
Rating: "Okay."
Miyazaki Jr's Debut Feature... beautiful, but flawed and confusing epic tale
Even a prolific animation studio like Ghibli can turn out a lesser effort. Hiroyuki Morita's THE CAT RETURNS was my personal least favorite Ghibli movie, but that film, simplistic and shallow as it was, seems to have much more accolades than 2006's TALES FROM EARTHSEA, arguably one of the first productions from the studio to split audiences and critics alike.

Ironically enough, the controversy actually began prior to the film's release. It has been stated that Hayao Miyazaki had expressed interest in directing a film based on Ursula K. LeGuin's famous fantasy novels, but the author, displeased with previous attempts, declined... until the success of Miyazaki's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (arguably one of the director's least excellent but still brilliant efforts). However, it was ultimately decided that the film would be handled by Miyazaki's own son, Goro, under the persuasion of producer Toshio Suzuki. Miyazaki Senior was most displeased by these turn of events and it is said that his relationship with Goro became strained during the production period. Perhaps Hayao had reason to fear that his son was not ready to tackle such an ambitious story; although TALES FROM EARTHSEA performed well financially, it was attacked by critics and even fans of the books. In fact, Goro received the "Worst Director" Golden Raspberry Award for his first attempt. All of this sounds like a cruel, undeserved fate for the debut of the son of Japan's most respected animator, but even author Ursula K LeGuin has been disappointed with Goro's film. In fact, TALES FROM EARTHSEA would not even see a release in the United States for another five years (more on account of the rights for "Earthsea" owned by SciFy at the time than its reputation).

The criticisms TALES FROM EARTHSEA has received are not without merit. Anyone expecting another PRINCESS MONONOKE or CASTLE IN THE SKY will probably be disappointed for, while this film shows moments of brilliance and imagination, it falls short from the upper echelon of those films. The problems lie in the storyline and characterizations.

Fans of LeGuin's books will probably be even more let down by this movie. It is based heavily on the third book, "The Farthest Shore", but while most of the situations and characters survive the transition to the screen, Goro attempts to incorporate elements from the other books into the film. But he does so in a way that only results in a tangled, confusing plot which not only feels rushed, but very incomplete and disorganized. Sometimes events happen without explanation, and what little explanation we get is unsatisfying; maybe fans of the books will grasp what Goro's intentions are, but others will find themselves asking questions which unfortunately, never get answered.

The film gets off to a promising start with a stormy sequence in which a ship at sea witnesses a bloody clash between two dragons. It's exciting and intense, with a brief flash of gory violence that brings one to mind of the similarly graphic moments from PRINCESS MONONOKE. TALES FROM EARTHSEA is still on that fine start when we see Arren, a teenage prince, inexplicably murder his father and escape into a desert. He is rescued from wolves by Sparrowhawk, a kindly sorcerer with a scar on his face (for reasons that readers of the first book "Wizard of Earthsea" will recognize). Sparrow's mission is to restore the balance that has been disrupted in the mystical land of Earthsea.

However, when these two adventurers cross paths with other characters such as a moody, introverted "slave" named Therru, a warmhearted farmer, and an evil wizard intent on gaining (predictably) eternal life, it becomes evident that Goro is trying to cram too much story worth of at least four books into a two hour film. Aside from giving the characters little time to fully develop into fleshed out personalities, the film works in a very confusing and frustratingly murky subplot about a shadowy "clone" of Arren that shows up from time to time to torment the youth. This is handled very awkwardly, with zero foreshadowing and the whole "explanation" behind the whole thing leaves questions instead of answers. I was also very unclear about the climactic finale in which a girl transforms into a dragon; again, this is done with no explanation, that it only makes the audience baffled instead of thrilled.

Perhaps another big issue with the film is the pacing; as mentioned, the film's best sequence is the opening dragon fight, but such action moments are rather scanty throughout the rest of the movie, resulting in long, extensive stretches where nothing really happens. For instance, at the halfway point, there is a long sequence in which the characters end up working on a farm. Although intended to provide character development, this sequence only slows down the film and feels more like padding than anything else. Brief moments such as Sparrowhawk and Arren talking about blistered hands after helping to plow the field feel strangely detached from the rest of the plot instead of anything else. The real areas in which Goro shows strength as an animator are the dream sequences--and there are quite a few in this tale--in which the characters find themselves standing on sunlit landscapes with luscious colors one moment and nearly drowning in an ooze-infested lake the next. These are actually far more interesting than much of the talkier scenes in the movie.

The lack of compelling characters is another major shortcoming with TALES FROM EARTHSEA. Sparrowhawk, for instance, is nobility personified, and as such, is pretty boring. Arren could have been a compelling troubled hero -- sort of a darker version of Ashi-taka from MONONOKE, but his character development comes across as rather hazy to be interesting. The slave girl Therru, despite showing some backbone and the bitterness of San, isn't much more endearing than her co-stars. Cob probably ranks as the most disappointing villain in any Ghibli film; oh sure, he's creepy and acts evil, but he doesn't have much of a personality, and lacks the charisma of, say, Muska from CASTLE IN THE SKY. That he doesn't get much to do in the film is also a letdown. Cob's slavetrader captain henchman, Hare, is much more effective as a badguy, and arguably is the only interesting character in the whole movie to display any personality. He sneers, cackles, rasps threats, and is remorselessly ruthless. It also helps that he is voiced by Cheech Marin in the Disney-produced English dub... who naturally gives the best performance in the whole film!

Speaking of the dub, this is probably one of the lesser Disney Ghibli dubs (THE WIND RISES coming off as the weakest), not because it is badly done--Disney has never produced an unlistenable dub as far as I'm concerned; their past dubs have all been fantastic, contrary to what others may say (yes, even the ones with extra music and dialogue). Perhaps because of the murky nature of this movie, it is difficult for the dub to be as effective, despite the efforts of everyone involved. Still, the performers and voice director Gary Rydstrom do their best: As mentioned, Marin plays the part of Hare perfectly and steals the show. Timothy Dalton does an excellent job as Sparrowhawk, embuing him with wisdom, warmth, and subtlety. Mariska Hargitay is also very good as the kindly farmer Tenar. Matt Levin as Arren is a bit of a trickier issue: he starts out somewhat flatly, but he gradually improves and gets especially good at the end. On the other hand, Blaire Restaneo's Therru is the least effective of the voice cast; she shines brilliantly in singing the film's only song, a melancholy acapella solo originally rendered by Aoi Teshima and does all right in the tense scenes, but I wasn't so sold on the rest of her scenes. Willem Dafoe's Cob works best in the climactic scenes where he rasps his way to the tower, but otherwise spends most of the time talking in a very soft, monotonous voice. I don't know if it was supposed to convey darkness or not, but I didn't find it particularly effective (in fact, I was chuckling upon hearing him speak for the first time) and I'm still not sure if he was the right choice for the character. Simply put, he's no match for Mark Hamill's Muska. The rest of the voices are fine, although they're not nearly as memorable as in any of the other Ghibli dubs. Even purists who insist on watching the film in Japanese will probably be disappointed, as the voice acting, or at least what I've heard, isn't much more effective than that of the dub.

Probably the most pleasing aspect of the film is its musical score contributed by Tamiya Terashima. Ghibli films have excelled with gorgeous soundtracks, and this is no exception. Using melancholy melodies and a full orchestra and chorus reminiscent of Hans Zimmer, Terashima provides a gorgeous and poundingly dramatic symphony that compliments the mood of the story perfectly. (As mentioned, Therru's song midway through the film is a haunting highlight.) And of course, the animation is as richly detailed and beautiful as any Ghibli film.

There are moments where TALES OF EARTHSEA does exude some haunting visuals, but all in all, it's probably the weakest of the Studio Ghibli movies by far. Had Goro Miyazaki opted for a less daunting storyline, then maybe he wouldn't have received so much backlash for his debut feature. As such, the obvious failings of EARTHSEA shows that he is not yet ready to fill his father's shoes. But even with all that said, is this movie still worth watching? Absolutely, especially if you're a Ghibli completist. Even with its faults, TALES FROM EARTHSEA still has its share of high points to make it worth a look. But don't expect another instant classic; on that level it falls short.
Heroic Age DVD Complete Series (Hyb) - S.A.V.E. Edition
BRUCE W. BODDY - Nov 18 2014
Rating: Wonderful!
It’s Powerful, Beautiful and I think pretty cool!
This Anime series is a beautiful sweeping epic, with a full and uplifting, tear-jerking Score that took this series beyond just being a good space adventure. Try to think of Lawrence of Arabia without it’s beautiful musical score, it wouldn’t be the movie it is.

Well in this Anime, when Princess Dhianeila is giving (anyone) of the numerous narrations that she gives through out this Series (( By the way, I believe this is the best voice performance that Catlin Glass has ever given)) and the music is building and building behind her voice and than boom, the crescendo hit’s and it raises the hairs on the back of my neck and brings tears to my eye’s. This music flows throughout the series and it makes it what it is.

Both of the main lead characters - Age- voiced by J. Michael Tatum and -Princess Dhianeila- voiced by Caitlin Glass, Have got to be two of the purest of mind, body and soul characters that I know of in Anime.

The Princess has great mental powers, that allow her to perceive, feel, read thoughts and is able to find or track someone over distances of Galactic proportions. It’s more than that, but that's the best way to explain it. That being said, no man (because of the over powering thoughts that we have) can come too close to the Princess or she’ll be overwhelmed by those thoughts and collapses ( Boy that’s right on the money, right guys) Only Age because of his pure soul can come near her.

I’ve watched this series twice and I’m about to watch it for the third time. Like I said it’s the only Anime of it’s kind that I’ve seen. Haunting, Beautiful, moving, uplifting and it’s got TONS of SPACE BATTLES and the body count that goes with it.
Gingitsune Blu-ray Complete Collection (S)
Angel Mendez - Nov 19 2014
Rating: Pretty good!
A 9/10 Slice of Life Series with a Special Vibe
Gingitsune: Messenger Fox of the Goods is a slice of life anime with supernatural elements, centered around developing its characters. The main character, Makoto, is a shrine maiden and high school student who can communicate with heralds or messengers of the gods. The heralds appear in the form anthropomorphized animals. Part of the show deals with Makoto and the unique relationship she has with Gintarou, the herald at Makoto's family owned Shinto shrine.

But Gingitsune is more than a story about shrines and spirits. To me where this series really shines is when it focuses on the personal issues of the people around Makoto. If you are big on well developed characters and slice of life in general, Gingitsune is an anime that should be satisfying to you. I recommend buying the BD version because, even though the show does not have the greatest visuals, it has several neat scenes that should look better in high definition.
Allison & Lillia DVD Complete Collection (S)
Larry Burke - Nov 19 2014
Rating: "Okay."
Young-adult-level storylines
The visuals on this title are very nice - spectacular backgrounds and very nice CGI aircraft (modeled on real-world airplanes). A nice touch is that the planes in the second series are a generation later than those in the first, just like the protagonists. The music is also beautiful - opening and closing credits, as well as the oft-heard "Ueber Meer, Ueber Laend (Over Sea, Over Land)," all nicely-done in a sort of folk/classical style.

The overall storyline - heroes who don't want to be known as heroes followed, in the second half of the series, by their children - is interesting, but the writing, at best, only ever rises to the old "Saturday morning serial" writing: the bad guys are two-dimensional, and seldom get names, the heroes are constantly getting out of one scrape only to get into another, and things just happen without explanation (usually to the heroes' benefit, unless the opposite is needed to maintain the tension). I felt the sub-narrative "romance" storyline was better done than the main plot in the first half, but feels labored in the second half. Also, the final episode struck me as rather unfulfilling - expected, but (again), no explanation of how the hero survived his last peril, and no denoument of the larger story. Perhaps this is a result of the source material (a series of light novels) continuing on past the events of the series.

Might make a good watch for younger teens/tweens. Adults might find it enjoyable if you don't go into it with high expectations (like I did).