Free download of first episode of Blue Dragon

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As part of a promo, VIZ Media announced that the first episode of “Blue Dragon” can be downloaded for free on the iTunes Store until March 10. Go to www.itunes.com/tv/bluedragon.

The animated series is based on the Xbox 360 role playing game. As the company describes it: “Seven Soldiers of Light must awaken the Shadow within themselves in time to overcome a despotic power and bring peace to their land. Their ensuing journey through a rich fantasy world is also an internal journey to awaken the great power within each of them.”

The Xbox 360 game “Blue Dragon” was developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi who is the creator of Final Fantasy. The anime aired on TV Tokyo in Japan on April 7, 2007 and was produced by Studio Pierrot.

For more information on the show, head to Bluedragon.viz.com, which features trailers, character descriptions, artwork from the animation and news related to the show.

The return of the piggish cat and boy who sees spirits

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A powerful spirit masquerading as a gluttonous cat that loves to drink and an orphan with the ability to see spirits are back this winter in “Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou.”

Yes, Nyanko-sensei and Takashi Natsume are back for a second season. Viewers first met them in “Natsume Yuujinchou” which chronicled how Takashi ended up living with a kindly couple in a small town, met the cat who wasn’t a cat and learned that his late grandmother possessed the same ability as he did.

Reiko Natsume could see spirits but unlike her placid grandson, challenged these otherworldy beings. When they lost to her, she would take their real names and jot it down in what would later be called “The Book of Friends.” Takashi inherited the book and much of season one dealt with him returning the names of the spirits.

I loved the first season because I’m a sucker for supernatural anime that doesn’t fit the norm. Some folks might find the show too slow. Consider it a break from shows where middle schoolers carry weapons that blow up half the town or giant robots stomp all over the bad guys.

In the second season, Takashi is more comfortable with his power and continues with his fair treatment of spirits and non-humans. He found a dragon egg, helped it hatch and protected it from a spirit who wanted to eat the young. It didn’t look like a dragon though when it grew up, more like a bird. And when it hatched, it adopted a humanoid shape.

Takashi doesn’t tell his foster parents about his ability. He fears he will lose the only stable home he ever had.

His supposed bodyguard, Madarao or Nyanko-sensei, is still with him. Everyone sees Nyanko-sensei as the fat cat that tags along after Takashi. He claims he’s only around because the teen promised him “The Book of Friends” after he’s gone. But you know he is fond of the human boy. And Takashi likes having the fat furball around too.

Watching the series for me is a weekly treat. And just when I think that animators are churning out more and more crappy anime just to please fanboys and fangirls, along comes a show like “Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou” to change my mind.

Toradora: A high school anime above the norm

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I have less than 100 years on this planet and the older I get, the less tolerance I have for crappy anime. When I was younger, I would sit through at least half a show before I would give up. Now one or two episodes are enough for me.

That’s not the case with “Toradora” which is a show I actually look forward to seeing every week. It’s set in a high school and deals with the lives and loves of several students. The lead characters are Ryuji Takasu who is unfortunate enough to be born with his father’s mean eyes so people think he’s a juvenile delinquent and Taiga Aisaka, the short petite girl with a horrible temper who lives alone and is called the “Palm top Tiger.” Taiga sounds like tiger, get it? Anyway, she’s vicious enough for the nickname to stick.

The show is a play on their names. Ryu is dragon and tora is tiger in Japanese. And if you try to say “dragon” in Japanese, one would say doragon. Or so Wikipedia says.

Taiga has a huge crush on Ryuji’s friend, Yusaku Kitamura, who once upon a time confessed his affection to her. And Ryuji harbors this big crush on Taiga’s bubbly friend, Minori Kushieda.

Their paths cross when Ryuji accidentally gets the lover letter Taiga wrote for Yusaku. She comes to Ryuji’s house at night intending to beat the crap out of him. They end up agreeing to help each other win their respective crushes.

Despite his beady eyes, Ryuji is really a sweetheart who can cook well and is obsessed with cleaning, He ends up being Taiga’s caretaker of sorts when he finds out she lives alone in this big messy apartment next to his small house and subsists on takeout, She can’t stand her father and stepmother.

But “Toradora” is not just your run of the mill high school anime revolving around romance. Most of the characters have depth to them and some of the episodes make you reach for a tissue.

Ryuji learned to be cook and housekeeper since his widowed mother works nights as a hostess at a bar. He is perceptive and kind but finds it hard to tell Minori how he feels. Lately though, he’s become a little braver asking her to the Christmas party, And when she said she wouldn’t come, he yelled that he would wait for her. Aaaaw.

At the same time, Ryuji’s feelings for the little terror who eats and hangs around his house is changing. It bothers him that their fellow classmates are rooting for Taiga and Yusaku to be a couple.

Taiga, who is used to being on her own, doesn’t think twice about Ryuji cooking her meals, packing her lunch or cleaning her apartment for free. She calls him her “dog” but feels comfortable enough around him to tell him the reason why she really likes Christmas. At his insistence, she gave her father another chance to be a parent. Now instead of just Minori, she also has him on her side.

You don’t have to be a psychic to know the two will end up liking each other as more than friends, But the show sure makes the trip to this likely path enjoyable.

Shoujo titles this year from VIZ Media

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VIZ Media announced it will be releasing the following shojo manga series during the first quarter of 2009.

Published under the company’s Shojo Beat imprint, the new series will include “Heaven’s Will,” The Magic Touch” and “Otomen” as well as VIZBIG editions of “Fushigi Yugi” and “Hot Gimmick.”

The VIZBIG titles is bigger than a regular manga and has new cover art and added content such as author interviews, updated text and character art.

“FUSHIGI YUGI VIZBIG Rated “T+” for older teens. $17.99. Available now. The fantasy series is from Yu Watase, one of Japan’s top manga creators. It is a tale of a normal junior-high-school girl who is transported into a fictional version of ancient China after reading a strange book called “The Universe of the Four Gods”. While there she becomes a High Priestess and encounters an array of villains and dashing heroes but yet she still manages to worry about her grades and her next school banquet. Each VIZBIG edition contains three volumes, bonus color content, and updated text.

HOT GIMMICK VIZBIG Rated “T+” for older teens. $17.99. Available March 17, 2009
In tiny, company-owned rabbit-hutch apartments live tenants who can’t afford to live anywhere else. This apartment complex, in which high-school girl Hatsumi Narita lives, is ruled over by the rumor-mongering, self-righteous Mrs. Tachibana. Get on her bad side and life becomes hell. One day Hatsumi buys a pregnancy test for her popular but flirty sister Akane. Mrs. Tachibana’s son, Ryoki, who used to bully Hatsumi as a kid, promises not to tell the world about Hatsumi’s secret, only if she will become his slave. Soon after a boy named Azusa, who was Hatsumi’s protector in their youth, reappears to save her again! He’s moving back into the neighborhood, and despite a budding romance between Hatsumi and Azusa, Ryoki continues to have control over her through the secret pact that could ruin the lives of everyone in Hatsumi’s family. Usually a sensible and mild-mannered young girl, Hatsumi suddenly finds herself in a swirl of drama that threatens to drive her totally crazy.

Miki Aihara, who created “Hot Gimmick”, made her debut in 1991 with Lip Conscious!, which was published in the Bessatsu Shojo Comic anthology and she remains a major contributor to the magazine.

HEAVEN’S WILL Rated “T” for Teens. $8.99. Available now
Sudou Mikuzu has a very special talent/power – she can see ghosts. And because of this, she’s become a magnet for all sorts of unwelcome spirits and monsters. Lucky for her she’s just met Seto, a friendly, cross-dressing young exorcist. Sudou needs protection from all the creepy phantoms bugging her and Seto needs to practice his exorcism skills. Consequently, the pair decides to team up and help each other. In return for Seto’s help, Sudou promises to bake him a cake every time a ghost gets zapped!

Created by Satoru Takamiya, HEAVEN’S WILL first appeared as a short story in Chu Chu magazine, a Japanese shojo manga anthology for teen girls published by Shogakukan.

THE MAGIC TOUCH Rated “T+” for Older teens. $8.99. Available February 3, 2009.
Aside from being the star of her high school’s Massage Research Society club, Chiaki Togu is a normal, quiet girl–until she falls head over heels in love with a gorgeous back, which happens to belong to Yosuke, the hottest guy at her school! Unfortunately, Chiaki’s attraction to Yosuke is thwarted by her own insecurity and the scheming of other girls, especially those of her twin sister Sayaka! Although Yosuke seems out of Chiaki’s league, she will do almost anything to give him a massage. The two eventually strike a deal where she will be allowed to touch his back if she can make him fall in love with her. What Chiaki doesn’t know is the real reason Yosuke wants to hang around her: to avenge his younger brother, who was allegedly deceived and dumped by somebody named Chiaki Togu! Is this a simple case of mistaken identity or the beginning of a tragedy?

THE MAGIC TOUCH was created by Izumi Tsubaki, who began drawing manga during her first year of high school. She was soon selected to be among the Top 10 artists selected by manga anthology Hana to Yume and went on to win the publication’s Big Challenge manga contest. THE MAGIC TOUCH was a best seller in Japan.

OTOMEN Rated “T” for teens. $8.99 US. Available February 3, 2009
Asuka Masamune is a guy who loves girly things-sewing, knitting, making cute stuffed animals and reading shojo manga. But in a world where boys are expected to act manly, Asuka must hide his beloved hobbies and instead play the part of a masculine jock. Ryo Miyakozuka, on the other hand, is a girl who can’t sew or bake a cake to save her life. Asuka finds himself attracted to Ryo, but she likes only the manliest of men! Can Asuka ever show his true self to anyone, much less to the girl that he’s falling for?

OTOMEN, created by Aya Kanno, is currently being serialized in Japan’s BetsuHana magazine. OTOMEN is a best seller in Japan, with each new volume appearing in the Top 15 of Japan’s Tohan rankings that chart manga popularity and sales.”

VIZ and new partner launch line of anime and manga-related goods

Here’s the latest news from VIZ Media which could mean less money in the pockets of the anime and manga addicts out there.

“VIZ Media announced a partnership with Zazzle to launch a new line of J-Pop, manga and anime-inspired apparel, stationery, and other items. VIZ Media’s J-Pop Style Stop at Zazzle is located at www.zazzle.com/vizmedia and offers a variety of visually compelling and original designs inspired by a love of Japanese pop culture available on an on-demand basis with most products produced within 24 hours of ordering.

The Zazzle partnership represents VIZ Media’s first foray into the ‘on-demand’ arena and is focused initially on several original (non-licensed) designs. The result will allow fans and the general public to show their enthusiasm for Japanese pop culture in a unique way with fun designs. The partnership is the initial phase of a larger projected product rollout with Zazzle that will tentatively include shojo (female)-focused fashion designs and other special designs to come in 2009.

The first VIZ Media design phase offers graphics that are available through Zazzle.com on T-shirts, note cards, real US postage, bags, and other fun items. The program allows fans and the general public alike to show their adoration for manga and anime by being able to choose from some great designs and customize them to their liking. This first phase of designs will include graphics with wording such as a manga panel that says ‘I Love Manga’ and a similar one that says ‘I love Anime’, available on T-shirts, note cards, stamps, bags and more.

Digital printing is considered the leading technology for on-demand apparel customization. It provides literally millions of colors and makes it affordable to manufacture even a single item, as opposed to other more cumbersome processes, which offer a limited color palette and often require the customer to order in bulk quantities because of high setup costs.

This partnership is just the first step for VIZ Media into the original design and the ‘on demand’ world – both of which will better serve fans old and new. This launch is the beginning of a projected ‘bigger picture’ rolls out with Zazzle, which ultimately may include more shojo-focused fashion designs, bigger statement ‘otaku’ (fan of anime and manga) designs and additional popular designs

Some of the new J-Pop designs were also included in the official gift bags that were distributed to the talent that presented and performed at the 2008 SPIKE TV Video Game Awards in December, where the VIZ Media-licensed video game, Ubisoft’s Naruto: The Broken Bond, was one of the nominees for Best Game Based on a Movie or TV Show.”

One tough cookie

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“Yakushiji Ryouko no Kaiki Jikenbo” or “Ryoko Yakushiji’s Strange Case Files” is an anime which started life as a light novel. The 13-episode show aired in Japan last summer.

Ryoko, who comes from a rich family, is a cop with the Tokyo Metropolitan Department. But she’s not just any cop. At 27, she is a superintendent who heads a department, can speak several languages, is universally feared by the bureaucrats and can solve the weird cases that often come her way. She is also a crack shot and can take on the baddies with her fists and feet if need be.

She’s also imperious toward her underlings, thinks nothing of going shopping in the middle of her shift, wears skimpy suits and shamelessly uses her family’s influence.
Her dad heads JACES, one of the major security firms in the country where many police bureaucrats apply to after retirement. She holds this over their heads in order to get her way. Thankfully, she is on the side of the little guy and hates fat cats who abuse the system.

She also likes her much put upon assistant/shopping bag holder. This Watson-wanna-be to her Sherlock is Junichiro Izumida, 33, who narrates the series. He fears and respects her but doesn’t get the massive hints she gives him that she really, really likes him. What a doof.

Called Izumida by everyone, he is a decent and hard-working cop whose wits are not as sharp as Ryoko’s. But he can fight as well as her. He is not a career police officer so he does his job whether it annoys a bureaucrat or not.

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The show is reminiscent of “X Files” because the cases Ryoko tackles include man-made horrors and regular creatures with an unfortunate effect on humans. Case in point. One episode deals with a cricket whose chirping drives people to kill themselves.

Ryoko is also aided by her French maids, Lucienne and Marianne. Fellow superintendent and rival, Yukiko Muromachi, often trades insults with Ryoko but once or twice helps her. Not that she’d ever admit it.

The good, the bad and the ugly

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With the new year just around the corner, I find myself mulling over anime I saw this year. Some were horrible, a few were excellent but most were entertaining enough.

I noticed many of the shows I watched had a supernatural or magical theme. I don’t even remember seeing anything mecha-related. Sorry but giant robots leave me cold.

I have to feed the artsy fartsy side of moi now and then so I gravitate toward shows that look unique, tackle an unusual subject matter or tell a tale in a way I haven’t seen before. “Mononoke”, which deals with the adventures of an unusual medicine peddler, fit that bill. You should check out the show when you have the chance. I suppose you could say “Mononoke” was a spinoff of “Ayakashi” since the peddler was a character in one of the featured tales there.

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Yes, I also saw my share of shonen anime from “Naruto Shippudden” to “D. Grayman” this year. The latter ended recently and was a letdown. Since the manga isn’t finished, the animators decided to end the show just after the Black Order’s headquarters get attacked. Lame. I hope they later come out with movies.

Do stay away from the mess that is “Le Chevalier D’eon”. It is loosely based on a historical figure who was a spy for the king of France and who had a fondness for wearing women’s clothing. In the anime, he dons dresses when the ghost of his murdered sister possesses him. The show is a mishmash of historical figures involved in conspiracies, secret societies and other arcane stuff. While the animation is beautiful, the plot is too convoluted and unbelievable. And anyone who loves history better steer clear of this anime which plays fast and loose with the facts.

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He sees dead people …

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In “Hanada Shounen-shi”, we meet a potty-mouthed brat named Ichiro Hanada.

He is the village troublemaker; the bane of pets and neighbors. He calls his mother “demon hag” and his sister “fat and ugly”. He also doesn’t care much for school and would rather chow down than listen to his long-suffering elementary school teacher.

One day while fleeing from his enraged mother on a bike, he runs into the path of an incoming truck. Next thing he knows, his soul is watching things from afar and heading upwards. But he is sent back because it’s not his time yet.

Nine stitches later, he is back home. But Ichiro can now see ghosts which is bad news for him since he scares easily. The ghosts want him to do things for them like hand over a long-delayed Christmas present or tell a loved one to keep on living.

While this little scamp grouses about helping dead folks, Ichiro often gives in to their requests because he does have a heart. Along the way, Ichiro learns about people, love and life.

Ichiro and most of the cast are ugly. You can see for yourself in these samples. But there is a charm to the characters especially Ichiro’s dysfunctional family. Most of the episodes are worth watching and guaranteed to wring a tear out of the viewer. They don’t get too schmaltzy either.

I’m warning you though. This show is not for kids. There are plenty of toilet jokes and bawdy humor plus our hero prances around in the buff in several scenes.

I would recommend it for those 14 and above.

“Hanada Shounen-shi” is one of the few anime I’ve seen that uses American songs as the intro and ending to the series. It was a jolt to hear the “Backstreet Boys” to be honest.

Naruto Shippuden news

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I enjoys fansubs like a lot of anime fans because I get to watch a series airing currently or just finished airing in Japan. However, I always make a point to buy the licensed versions of shows I like.

With the advent of the Internet, it has made it easier and faster for anime fans to see current shows. Not surprisingly, some anime companies are opting to license a series even before it finishes its run in Japan or they’re choosing to show episodes online.

VIZ media announced that beginning January 15, it will begin streaming “Naruto Shippuden” just days after being shown in Japan. It will be free and available at www.Naruto.com There will also be an accelerated publishing plan for the “Naruto” manga beginning in February 2009.

“Naruto Shippuden” picks up the tale after a now 15-year-old Naruto returns to Konoha from his training with Jiraiya. Everyone in his group has advanced in rank except him. Gaara is now Kazekage and Sakura is now a medical ninja.

Here’s the release from VIZ:

“This campaign is the latest expansion of VIZ Media’s ongoing strategy to utilize the web to its maximum potential to stream a variety of hit animated properties.

Beginning on January 15, the latest episode of “Naruto Shippuden” (English-subtitled) will be available for free viewing on the official “Naruto” website, www.Naruto.com, within days of its original air date in Japan. A new English-subtitled episode will be added every Thursday thereafter.

On January 2nd, VIZ Media will also debut for free, eight uncut, English-subtitled episodes from the beginning of the “Naruto Shippuden” series on www.Naruto.com. Each Friday thereafter there will be an additional eight uncut, English-subtitled episodes added on Naruto.com until the series eventually catches up to the current third season of the hit program. Also, coming this week, an exclusive sneak peek of “Naruto Shippuden” debuting on Naruto.com.

On the manga side, VIZ Media has unveiled an accelerated publishing schedule for upcoming editions of the “Naruto” series, making them available to North American audiences sooner than ever before offered by VIZ Media. Beginning in February 2009, 11 new volumes of “Naruto” will be released over three months, moving the series from Volume 34 (February 2009) to Volume 44 (April 2009) before returning to a quarterly release schedule beginning with Volume 45 (July 2009).

Earlier “Naruto” episodes are also currently available for free through a variety of web-based, video streaming outlets that have partnered with VIZ Media, including HULU and JOOST.”

Bleach posters

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VIZ Media is releasing a special Shonen Jump “Bleach” Posterzine, which features 11 posters inspired by the manga and animated series created by Tite Kubo.

The $9.99 Posterzine will be on sale starting Dec. 2. Each poster folds out to 16″ x 22″ and depicts Ichigo, his friends and villains. The special publication will also include two free “Bleach” sticker sheets and an iTunes gift card valid for a free download of episode 59 of the animated series and access to an interview with Tite Kubo. (NOTE: don’t think it means you can interview Kubo.)

And for those of you who haven’t heard of the show, here is a synopsis from VIZ: “Bleach” follows the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a 15-year-old student with the ability to see ghosts. His fate takes an extraordinary turn when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper who shows up at Ichigo’s house on the trail of a Hollow, a malevolent lost soul. Drawn to Ichigo’s high level of spiritual energy, the Hollow attacks Ichigo and his family, and Rukia steps in to help but is injured and unable to fight. As a last resort, Rukia decides to transfer part of her Soul Reaper powers to Ichigo.