Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of movies, toys, comics, collectibles, and anything else I can get my grubby hands on!

Comic Review: “Alabaster: Wolves” #1

Accomplished dark fantasy writer and multiple International Horror Guild award winner (amongst other awards and well over a dozen nominations), Caitlín R. Kiernan, makes her long time awaited return to comic books with Dark Horse Comics’ release named Alabaster: Wolves. This five part miniseries follows the protagonist, Dancy Flammarion, an albino monster hunter which is, apparently, being watched over by an angel who doesn’t do much more than observe and help her navigate through dangerous situations in the deep south of the United States..

If you’re already familiar with Kiernan’s work, then the character of Dancy Flammarion shouldn’t be new to you, seeing how she appeared in Alabaster which prequels Threshold, both released a long while back. Those short stories follow her through her childhood in the backwoods and swamps of Florida going into her teenage hood having duels to the death with monsters in southern Georgia.

If you aren’t familiar with the character or the series she derives from or even with Kiernan’s work, you’re in luck. This is a fine starting point for all three.  In this comic, you’re not spoon fed Dancy’s life story or all of what she’s about. However, within the 20 some odd pages of this first issue (and this is rare to see it in comics nowadays), you’re shown this character is very not one dimensional. The attention to detail  from the obvious and slight emotion within the interactions between characters, the thought process of Dancy, to even their legitimately and convincingly country grammar within the dialog really hooks you into this world. Sincerely, the writing holds weight all on its own, and if Alabaster: Wolves was illustrated with just crude stick figures done by some eight year old from some public elementary school in some back water town no one ever heard of, this comic would still be a great read.

Luckily, this comic isn’t illustrated by some nobody eight year old. The illustrator who lent his talents to  such other comics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales and Dark Horse Presents, Steve Lieber, lends his talents to this comic. Similar to Kiernan’s writing, Lieber’s artistic styling gives an acute attention to detail in a different way, yet still compliments her writing.

None of the comic is highly rendered, but there’s just enough texture everywhere its needed with heavy black and gritty markings without coming off lazy. From an artistic standpoint, it comes off confident and precise with a high contrast inking job, clearly separating Dancy’s pale skin and white hair from the background and characters she interacts with. The colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, which separates Dancy from everything else in a similar way, are treated just the same; there’s just enough to get the point across through great color control. Pale and grayish blues and greens come together with the heavy black in the line art to create an eerie and uncertain mood to set the tone right out the gate, and as the plot thickens the colors get more intense until the pallet switches from uncertain cools to urgent warms to accentuate the gravity of the situation at hand. However, despite how well done Lieber and Rosenberg set mood in this comic, what really stands out are the mannerisms, facial expressions and body language of the characters in this comic they create together. As good as the writing is, the characters’ personalities, emotions and reactions to one another shine through with just the illustration work.

From every angle, this comic is well done.  Kiernan, Lieber and Rosenberg get it. They’re not trying to fit a mold for what comics typically are and they’re not trying to win any beauty pageants with overly and unnecessarily rendered art. They’re telling a story. They present you a world to step into rich with personality and ambiance by giving you just enough. They don’t beat you over the head with anything, but the more you look, the more you find. This is proper sequential art and a prime example on how it should be done. It’s definitely worth the $3.50 Dark Horse Comics is asking for. Personally, I’d go for a hard copy from your local comic book shop and support local business, but if you can’t get to one anytime soon, or you just don’t feel like dealing with them, you could always head over to Dark Horse Comics’ website and buy it there today.

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“Okami-San and Her Seven Companions” DVD Review

I could write a whole article one day on whether anime characters are stereotypes of the genre, or rather are archetypes that continue to appear because a series can not work right without these types being so prominent. Truly, that is a ramble for another occassion. Why do I bring it up? Because the DVD set from Funimation that we are reviewing today, “Okami-San & Her Seven Companions” really made me start to debate the difference. It was not because it was a predictable or bland series that plays up to these lame characteristics that often present themselves in animes of this type, but because this series took those things and flipped them upside down.

Ryoko Okami, AKA Okami-San AKA the wolf, and her diminutive friend Ringo, AKA the little red riding hood that is able to tame Ryoko, are members of a a high school club known as the Otogi Bank. The club’s purpose is to help classmates with their requests, which they pay back at a later date by doing the club a favor, whenever it is they may ask for it (think “Pay it forward”). One day, Ryoko is confronted by a steatlthy secret admirer, Ryoshi, who has essentially been stalking her, but one day gains the courage to tell her he loves her and wants to prove that he is the right man for her by joining the club. After an interview with the other bank members, Ryoshi eventually shows his merits and becomes a full-fledged teammate, and thus begins the twelve tales that make up this mini-series.

Each episode takes a classic European fairy tale, doctors it up with teenage drama, and adds some Japanese flair to it. In other words, we get familiar stories that we all know and remember from our youth, but modernized and then changed to make them their own stand-alone stories rather than parodies of an old fable, which is part of the charm of this series (that I will delve into more later). After all, if you did not catch on with their obvious little red riding hood, big bad wolf, and hunter gimmicks, you were simply not paying attention to the first episode.

The animation in Okami-San is fluid and colorful, and presents a variety of unique personalities throughout each episode. There are indeed some action scenes in this series, many of which involve the custom-made “Kitty Knuckles” gloves that Ryoko uses to out-box her enemies in the battlefield, and they are just as over-the-top as you would want from an anime.

The voice-over work is also pretty good in both the english and Japanese dubs. I am torn on which one I like more, as each one has it’s pros and cons (ie, Ringo’s voice is super high-pitched and cutesy in the Japanese version, which annoys me to no end, but the english dub has a few other characters that sound lazy when compared to the original voices).

The narrator tells the tale of each episode in a very meta way, usually spending more time making quips about how flat-chested Ryoko and Ringo are (“this is more like fan dis-service”) and offering lines such as, “Getting punched while naked must suck,” than on backstory, and that is fine since the stories practically write themselves. The narrator is more there as back-up then for exposition, the way a good narrator should be.

Special features on this set include commentaries on select episodes, commercials, promotional videos in their original Japanese language, and textless songs.

This whole review I kept bringing up the stereotype VS archetype debate, and the reason being is that the characters in Okami-san are rightfully stereotypes. Upon watching the first episode, I thought this was going to be a run of the mill, high school anime series with love stories and some action sprinkled throughout. It did not take long at all for the show to begin expanding on its characters, and start to add mystery, intrigue and depth to these characters, and break down that these people are often hiding behind a stereotype, or perhaps living in a fairy tale of their own. The show gets very interesting very fast, and very addictive. A lot of shows I watch for these reviews become monotonous or boring, but Okami-san kept me coming back for more, and plays on your expectations for the genre, then tosses them out and gives you something fresh and new.

You can pick up Okami-san and Her Seven Companions: Complete Collection (Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo) from Amazon.com for around $35, and I would say it is a definite buy for anime fans. I was shocked at how much I liked it, especially with my initial pre-conceptions of what I thought it was. I hope you will be too, as this is easily one of my favorites from the year so far!

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“Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” DVD Review

Fans of “Ghost in the Shell” and all-female sentai (that’s sentai, NOT hentai), are surely fans of the original “Bubblegum Crisis” OVA. Cutting edge animation that helped innovate a genre of cyberpunk animes, years later a sequel came out, which was recently re-released by Funimation on a special “Anime Classics” DVD set. So how is “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040”, and is this DVD worth picking up? Let’s take a look!

I’m sure we have all heard the term “show, don’t tell” when it comes to movies. “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” ignores that, and gives us some dialogue right at the very beginning of the first episode to clue us into what has happened in the past seven years before this show began. To summarize, this stand-alone series, which is not a direct sequel to the original “Bubblegum Crisis” OVA, takes place after that initial series, but with a whole new cast. This is a good thing since it does not require any previous knowledge to jump into the series. However, the first episode is just a bit too expository considering that fact.

In a nutshell, country girl Linna arrives in MegaTokyo, which is somewhere near Neo Tokyo and Old Tokyo in anime geography I think, and is an office worker for a company run by “boomers”, which are basically synthetic humans that are programmed to do work. Of course, sometimes, these androids go haywire and start killing people or causing havoc, which is when the mysterious “Knight Sabers” arrive to shut them down. After nearly being run over by Priss, who Linna later recognizes as a Knight Saber that rescues her from an attack, she decides she wants to join their team. It doesn’t take long to figure out that she makes the cut, and joins the fashionista Sylvia and the tech-geek Nene to round out this ferocious foursome to battle some boomers, and uncover a few mysteries along the way about why they seem to be short-circuiting.

The story progresses at a methodical pace, introducing the characters one by one, but not really telling us much as they do so. It takes about three episodes before you start to really have a better idea of what is going on with these people. Speaking of, the characters are interesting enough, fitting the standards of your average team of “hard-suit” wearing heroines. These are strong and, generally speaking, regular working-class women who have secret identities, so it was refreshing to see this take on them. These characters maintain their femininity without blurring it into the lines of slutty like other animes are guilty of, so points to the creators of this show for keeping it classy.

There also plenty of love stories happening along the way with some of the male characters that appear in the show, but they are handled maturely and sensitively, allowing the viewers to become more emotionally involved in-between the explosive action scenes. These are complex characters, more than just stereotypical or archetypical anime characters, even though they may seem to fall along those lines at first. Again, it just takes a bit of time to get things moving and you will find yourself wanting to see what happens with everyone’s personal lives as much as you want to figure out the main story arc of the series.

The voice-over work on the English dub sounds pretty dated, and rightfully so since this series is over a decade old now. Luckily, the punk rock soundtrack makes up for the mediocre VO job, and even though it might not be the best audio, it is not cheesy – just average. A punk and rock soundtrack accompanies it (each episode is actually named after an album or song by a punk band), which does not age too well, but fans of that music will enjoy it.

The special features on this site are quite skimpy, which consist of textless songs and trailers. Again, keeping in mind the age of this OVA, it’s no wonder there is not much else here – so we can not hold it against them too much. After all, you are buying this so you have the series in one well-priced box set. Luckily, the quality of this transfer looks wonderful, and is a big step up from your old VHS tapes.

Overall, “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” is a fine series that just takes a little bit of time and involvement to pick up. It’s slow to start, but if you can get past that, it picks up and becomes a worthwhile watch. However, while not filled as much with techno-babble as the “Ghost in the Shell” series, I would recommend this more to fans of the cyberpunk genre of anime as opposed to fans who like things like “Bleach” or “Cowboy Bebop”. It’s not one of my favorite series out there, but that is mainly because it just is not the series I typically check out. If you are a fan of this genre, this is a must-have piece of anime for your collection.

While normally $50, you can order Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040: Complete Series (Classic) from Amazon.com for only $27, a little more than a dollar per episode. At that price, you’re not losing much except for the 650 minutes it takes to watch all of the shows.

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Zombie Apocalypse Essentials: Otis Zombie Gun Cleaning System

One thing a good prepper knows is that the Zombie Apocalypse is coming and that if you’re not armed you’re already dead. After the first month goes by, your firearms will undoubtedly be in dire need of a good, thorough cleaning in order to maintain its highest level of performance, accuracy, and be as reliable as it can be in order to keep you and your friends from becoming the daily special. That being said, Otis has designed a gun cleaning system that answers all of your cleaning needs for a myriad of calibers including, but not limited to, 5.56MM rifles, 9MM, 40 & 45 caliber pistols and 12 gauge shotguns – and all in one handy little bundle that you can wear on your belt. Behold the Zombie Gun Cleaning System.

If you’re wondering why it’s necessary to have a gun cleaning kit in a post-apocalyptic world, or modern day for that matter, you are either new to the world of guns or lack common sense and should probably put down your revolver or double barrel shottie and go grab a machete so you don’t hurt yourself. It is imperative to keep your gun clean to prevent jams, maintain accuracy, and improve the life of your barrel. So, what exactly are you getting when you purchase a Zombie Gun Cleaning System from Otis?

Straight out of the box, this system is impressively menacing with its zombified biohazard graphic, heavy-duty zipper, and all packaged in a portable belt-pack case made out of ballistic nylon. Inside you’ll find Otis cleaner/lubricant, 8” and 30″ Memory Flex® Cables for effective and correct Breech-to-Muzzle® cleaning, five bronze bore brushes for removing copper deposits and other fouling, rubberized patch saver for complete 360° cleaning of shotgun barrel, specialized precision tools for complete breakdown and fine cleaning of all critical and hard to reach areas of your firearm and a few other goodies.

One of the most important, and often overlooked, items of gun cleaning kits is the instructions. Otis had the foresight to include step-by-step instructions for cleaning each type of gun: pistols, shotguns, bolt action & auto loader rifles, and black powder in-line muzzle loaders. Most steps even include a picture so you can make sure you get it right the first time. Although the images could stand to be a little larger, they are more than adequate for first time gun cleaners.

Following the directions carefully, one can clean every nook and cranny of their field stripped semi-automatic pistol or long gun in about an hour. It’s simple and effective – perfect for carrying from safe zone to safe zone without adding unnecessary weight. In a world as uncertain as this, the peace of mind from knowing your weapon is as clean as the day it was shipped and is in perfect working order, ready to be used to stop flesh-eating attackers, is worth its weight in gold.

So what are you waiting for? The $%&@ could hit the fan at any time! The last thing you need in the middle of a firefight with a pack of bandits for a horde of walking dead is a gun jam thanks to a dirty barrel. Get your Zombie Gun Cleaning System here.

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“Hot Shots and High Spots” Book Review

I don’t care who you are – at some point you have watched pro wrestling. If you are still reading this review, it likely means you are either a fan, or were waiting to see where I was going with that last sentence. I have been a fan of this pre-determined combat sport since I was a wee youngling, buying action figures or watching VHS tapes to stay up to date. I was always a big reader, so it was a wonderful revelation when I discovered the bevy of pro-wrestling magazines on the market. What made them so special was the glossy photos of these beefy men in action, and “Hot Shots and High Spots” from ECW Press takes one man’s photographic journey in the sport and squeezes it into one epic book.

The author, George Napolitano, has been photographing pro-wrestling for over 40 years, starting with a chance encounter in Queens, NY. Since that lucky day, Napolitano has traveled around America, as well as the rest of the world, to snap shots of sports entertainment. His resume is a who’s who of promotions and people, covering the WWF, WWE, ECW, NWA, AWA, WCW, NJPW, IWA, and countless others. Familiar faces in the book include just about anyone you can name, no matter how popular or obscure.

Famous wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, DDP, and Sting are next to guys from this generation like Randy Orton, Batista, and Rob Van Dam. Lest we forget the even older generation, with teams like The Road Warriors, The Rock n’ Roll Express, and The Fabulous Freebirds.

A variety of photos are showcased in the book, be they action shots of beatings in progress, portraits of these men and women that delve deep into their characters, or even posing with stars or George’s wife and kids. One of George’s most famous photos is one of Andre the Giant posing with four women stacked on his arms and shoulders, and most people who have ever googled for that enormous man is certain to have seen the shot.

What separates this book from being just a coffee table book with lots of pictures is the story that George tells, which is a personal one as much as it is a history lesson. Pro wrestling has shaped who George is, as well as the relationship he has, and no photog has gotten as close to these wrestlers as he is. It shows in the personality of the photos and how honest and open they are, especially when these men are willing to step out of character in front of his lens. There is a chapter in the book consisting of photos George snapped with him, his wife, or his kids in the shot, and you get to see the men behind the tights in these, as well as learn more about who they were when they were out of the ring. The Road Warriors especially were practically extended family to Napolitano, and it’s that kind of connection that makes his photos unique and expressive.

With over 300 photos in black & white or color, this is a mammoth coffee table book packed with history. Be they scientific, hardcore, or just entertaining, “Hot Shots and High Spots” is the perfect gift for a serious pro-wrestling fan, and will evoke tons of great memories no matter what their age may be. You can pick up Hot Shots and High Spots: George Napolitano’s Amazing Pictorial History of Wrestling’s Greatest Stars for around $17 on Amazon.com, and it is worth every penny!

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“Gun X Sword” DVD Review

Take a spaghetti western like “Django”, toss in some “Trigun”, with shades of “Cowboy Bebop” and a dash of “Big O”, with an opening theme song that harkens back to the serials of the ’60’s and ’70’s of Japanese TV shows, and that starts to describe the tone of “Gun X Sword.” You might think all of those various things do not exactly work together, and yet somehow, they fit seamlessly together in this 26-episode series, which I got a hold of in Funimation’s SAVE edition.

Directed by Gorō Taniguchi, who is also known for his work on the Gundam series, Mai-HiME , and Code Geass to name a few, the main story of Gun X Sword revolves around Van, a mysterious tuxedo wearing outlaw/ hobo, who rescues a girl named Wendy Garrett from a gang of thugs. She brings him to meet the mayor of her town, who pleads with him to help protect their city from this group of evil hooligans, but Van (after pouring tons of condiments over his steak dinner) refuses to accept. As the town is overrun by an Armor (a giant mech), Van suddenly changes his mind and summons his own Armor named Dann of Thursday to defeat the baddies. As Van leaves the town, Wendy invites herself along, and thus begins their journey together.

As their adventures continue, they learn they are both searching for similar things while walking down the same path. Van seeks the man with the clawed arm, while Wendy is trying to find her brother. How are these two things the same? Why does Wendy carry a gun on her back loaded with a single bullet with her brother’s name on it? How did Van get this armor in the first place? So many questions – none of which I will answer here to ensure this review stays spoiler-free!

Needless to say, this pair runs into plenty of other characters as the show goes on, including the busty Carmen 99 and Ray Lundgren, who might just hate the claw man more than Van… maybe. The universe that these personalities live in unveils itself gradually as the series goes on, and what a unique place it is. If you thought Trigun was a strange land, Gun X Sword takes its own liberties into creating a place just as bizarre, except now with giant robots battling each other.

The animation style will remind you of a cross between Trigun and Cowboy Bebop, and if you can not help but see the constant parallel’s to those two series from this review, it won’t take you long after watching an episode or two to notice them. However, this is not rehash or copy – Gun X Sword is quite an original concept unto itself. The stories blossom as the episodes move forward, with little pieces of information revealed in the details.

The animation and visuals are smooth and colorful with their own stylish flair to them. The mecha designs are quite unique and original, while the backgrounds are vast and just as unique as the characters. We go from a barren desert to a city by the sea, to a small town, then back to the future in a modern metropolis. The locations are all different, along with the contrasting personalities that dot the series who all meet for their own reasons (which ultimately will end in the same place).

This special S.A.V.E. edition (Super Amazing Value Edition) consists of five discs, four containing the entire series in both english and Japanese, and a fifth disc loaded with special features, all for one conveniently low price since it is packaged in one DVD case, rather than five separate DVD cases.

The special features include Japanese TV commercials, commercials for the audio drama CD version of the show, a version of the opening credits without text, and Japanese language trailers for the series. You can also watch the TV version of episode 17 of the show, “Follow the X Spot”, which has differences from the other version of this on disc three.

You also get thirteen episodes of “Gun X Sword-San”, which is a cel-shaded CG cartoon with the characters as chibi-style hand puppets acting out random skits related to the characters and the world they live in. Can you survive an hour of this cuteness? Lastly, there is a special feature called “Dave Vincent’s Proposal”, which is the voice of Van in the show using a re-cut clip from the show to propose to his real-life girlfriend, which most certainly marks the first time a person used watching anime to get a wife.

Gun X Sword is a fun series that references a lot of anime classics that fans love, and while a boxed set of this series would normally be a ton of money, Funimation has made it incredibly easy for you to pick this up for one low price. You can buy Gun X Sword: Complete Box Set from Amazon.com for around $22, which is less than a dollar per episode – a bargain that can not be beat! I came into this series expecting a Trigun knock-off, and I got something much more enjoyable that truly stands on its own merits.

If you liked this anime review, you may also enjoy these: If you liked this anime review, you may also like these: “Summer Wars” DVD Review, “FLCL: Anime Classics” DVD Review, “Princess Jellyfish” DVD review, “.hack// quantum” DVD review, and “Redline” DVD & movie review

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“.hack//Quantum” DVD Review

I used to watch the first “dot hack” series that used to air in the early days of Toonami’s Midnight Run on Cartoon Network. Back then, it was the first series, “.hack//”, and since then, the world has grown and expanded into quite a huge playing field. Funimation recently released the newest OVA from the series, “.hack//Quantum”, which I caught on the Funimation channel (back when I still had it… I’m looking at you, Verizon Fios!). Not knowing much about it, I saw some bizarre armored tuxedo cat that was incredibly adorable, and I had to see what this madness was about. Long story short, I came for the cat, but I stayed for the story.

“.hack//Quantum” is the story of three players in the MMORPG called “The World R:X”. Sakuya, Tobias, and Mary are adventuring, when a twist of fate gets Sakuya stuck in a bad situation of a mistaken identity. She runs into Hermit the Cat, and the world suddenly starts to get a lot more interesting, especially when this kitty has the power to make things disappear with his magical stick. Back in the real world, however, when players run into the living undead in the game and are defeated by them, they are feeling real consequences, including comas and death. What is the cause of this, and who is this mysterious kitty? You will have to watch this three episode OVA for the answers to those questions?

This is the first OVA project (other than the computer animated movie) to not be animated by Bee Train Productions, nor directed by Koichi Mashimo. Instead, Masaki Tachibana helmed the project, with Kinema Citrus animating the film along with Bandai Visual. For me, not being a seriously devoted fan to the series to begin with, I can not attest for a dip or upgrade in quality of any kind with the old guard not involved in it. I can say that i was captivated by the characters and the intriguing story, and especially the lush environments and animation.

I was very impressed with the artwork and style, as well as how they were able to capture the feel of a fantasy-based MMORPG that is represented in this series. Fluid movements and some subtle expression changes, especially with Hermit the Cat, companied with gorgeous landscapes and cityscapes that feel vast and have a real physical weight to them. Things feel grounded and part of their environment, which is very important in being sucked into this world.

The CG is incorporated smoothly into the show and does not stick out like a sore thumb. Rather, it is well integrated into the aesthetics of the show and very well-done. There are great group shots across the entire OVA that were rendered with CG that do not look like faceless mobs of generic people, but rather are all independent and unique. Many of the larger monsters or enemies are also CG, and look far better this way than they would have if they were hand-drawn, especially with their sheer size and movement. The third episode features the most prominent use of CG in the OVA, and it fits the feel of the show while adding some intense movement that would have been otherwise impossible, or absurdly expensive, to produce.

This DVD set is loaded with extras, including some animated shorts called “Go, our Chim Chims!!” The chim chim’s, which are practically eggplant versions of the characters in the OVA, give educational lessons on the world of Quantum to catch new viewers up, and to refresh established fans. There is also three segments hosted by the effervescent and far-too-cute for American TV’s, Yui Ogura (who was the voice of Hermit in the Japanese version). Her features include a cooking segment where she makes a charaben in the shape of Hermit the cat, another where she learns how to animate, and a bizarre quiz show segment which does not really have any relevance to this set as it was made exclusively for the Japanese DVD.

Beyond those segments, you also get the original commercial, trailers, and Japanese promotional videos for the series.

During my research for this DVD, I came upon some negative reviews of the show itself, with some critics calling it a rehash of other stories from the series. As a casual dot hack fan, this was not an issue, and since I am not familiar with the rest of the series, I can not speak on if this feels repetitive to the other episodes. I can say, as a stand-alone movie, it’s a fine piece of work and I enjoyed the experience. There were some twists, some turns, and my minimum knowledge of the series did not affect me from having trouble understanding what the show (or their environment) was about. I believe that is one of the strongest parts of this OVA, is that a newcomer to the series can dive in, and thanks to some carefully placed dialogue here and there, grasp the concept of the show and the universe the characters live in.

You can order .hack//Quantum: Complete OVA Series (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) from Amazon.com for around $16, which is totally worth it. While I do not have a blu-ray player just yet, it looks brilliant on DVD, so I can only imagine how great it looks at a higher resolution. If you have never tried anything from the dot hack series before, this OVA is a good gateway to get you interested and potentially hooked.

If you liked this anime review, you may also enjoy these: If you liked this anime review, you may also like these: “Summer Wars” DVD Review, “FLCL: Anime Classics” DVD Review, “Princess Jellyfish” DVD review, “First Squad: The Moment of Truth” DVD & Movie Review, and “Redline” DVD & movie review

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“Smart Planet Mini Donut Maker” Review

Who doesn’t like donuts? Seriously, what kind of creature devoid of a soul does not enjoy the handheld pastry covered in chocolate and sprinkles (or “jimmies” for you midwest folks). For the true lover of donuts, or doughnuts if you are too fancy to use the shortform, nothing is better than making your own batch.

The problem with that is the massive pain in the butt of making and frying the little beasts. Enter “Smart Planet”, who have lived up to their name by making their own Mini Donut Maker to make your life easier, as well as make a healthier baked version rather than diving your treats into a vat of hot oil. Courtesy of the fine folks at Think Geek, how does this donut maker hold up? Lets take a look and find out!

The box itself is colorful and relatively light, considering what is housed inside it. The donuts look like Martha Stewart herself made them, but we will get to that in a few paragraphs. I did not spend much time admiring the packaging, though, as I was hungry for some donuts!

And here is the machine itself, which is straight-forward and easy to use. The one thing you may notice immediately is the lack of any dials, buttons, or a timer. This is a super simple to use donut maker, but if that is for better or worse, you will find out by the end of this review. The only other thing in the box besides the machine is a very brief instruction manual.

The manual includes a recipe for French breakfast donuts, which was fine to use, but I decided to try a different one. Here is the recipe I went with that I adapted from Food Network’s website:

1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted shortening
2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of salt

Because I am lactose intolerant, I swapped real milk for rice milk, which will affect your flavor a little so I would suggest adding a little more butter to compensate for that. I also was lazy here and did not sift the flour, and trust me, that does make a huge difference in the density of your donuts. Sifting will make them lighter, so if you have the time, make sure you sift first before incorporating other ingredients into your dry mix. It should be noted that the manual’s recipe called for less flour, and that would probably be the better way to go, but more on that later.

I was not expecting to make delicious donuts with this since the goal was to review the product, not recipes. It was a good thing my expectations were low since I screwed up the incredibly easy recipe from the start, but let’s just pretend I did everything else right for the sake of moving this article along.

The manual is a skimpy eight pages long, two of which being the front and back covers. In other words, do not expect much direction since the majority of the booklet is safety precautions. If you need help learning how to make better donuts, consult the internet like I did, since the manual glances over donut creation and maintenance.

As warned in the booklet, the machine will emit an odor and some steam once you first plug it in, but after that, you will not have to worry about any of those annoyances. There is no timer on the donut maker other than the natural timer that the donuts are built in with, which is that they begin to rise when they are done. Your donuts should take no more than three minutes to finish baking, but you can leave them in for up to five minutes if you make really thick donuts (like I accidentally did).

Back to those instructions – the guide does not exactly tell you how much batter to put into the machine, so it is a bit of a trial and error. In my first batch, I tried bigger lumps, which took longer to bake and had unpleasant excess forming those nifty handles on the sides. When I say it took “longer”, keep in mind this is a mini donut maker, so longer just meant 30 more seconds in most cases.

If your donuts are too big, they will rise and slowly push the lid off of the machine. This is their natural way of saying “take me out, I’m done.” Unfortunately, this can cause for some uneven cooking if your dough is not the exact same size. The donuts on the outer ring will lift off more than the ones closest to the hinge, and will make those less brown. If you cover them in chocolate, you will not notice them, but I got in a habit of moving the ones on the outer ring closer towards the hinge once the ones by the hinge were done, just to give them all the same color.

My first batch, as you can see, came out looking awful. Because there were no instructions on how much batter to put in, I just dumped as much as I wanted, and I paid the price for it. But, by the second batch…

I had started to figure it out. Thanks to this being a mini donut maker and not a full-sized one, the trial and error process is not too terrible. After all, each batch will take only a few minutes to make, so you can play around, and by the time you run out of dough, you will know what to do the next time you make donuts.

I managed to squeeze out about five batches of mini donuts here (which I covered in dark chocolate, and on half of my batch, dried apricot chunks), although your results will vary depending on your dough. Each donut will fit in the palm of your hand, but if you find a good recipe, will have as much flavor as a normal sized donut. By the end of my time making them, I had figured out the right way to do them and made some sweet looking treats. After the machine cooled down, a quick wipe with a paper towel is all you need to clean the trays. Then, simply put it back in the box or store wherever else you like, and dream about your next batch of donuts!

This is one of those products where you get what you pay for. At the low cost of only $20 on Think Geek, this is a great purchase. Your mistakes will still end up tasty, and you will learn quickly since you can immediately see the results. The biggest thing to watch out for is how hot the top of the machine can get, since there is no proper handle to grab it with. Otherwise, this would make a great gift for a friend, or for yourself, since donuts have never been easier to make. Is this the best machine on the market for this? No, but for this price point, you will get what you need until you are ready to make the plunge for a more expensive unit (if you even need it).

Check out the gallery below for more photos!

Thanks to Think Geek for sending us this cool product!

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Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars Review

Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars is a 2-4 player competitive board game based off of the Godzilla franchise made by Toy Vault. Players take on the roll of four fan-favorite giant monsters, the titular Godzilla, Rodan, Gigan, and King Ghidorah, as they battle across different cities in a race to cause the most destruction.

While the game is far from perfect, it has a unique and striking sense of aesthetics that the players are immersed in from the time they open the box. Everything about Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars is well-designed from a visual perspective. Regardless of any other aspects of this game, hard core fans of the series and some of the more dedicated board game enthusiasts might find Kaiju World Wars a worthwhile buy just because of how neat looking everything is.

The first thing a player is going to go for when they unpack the box is also the crown jewel of the design: the monsters themselves. The four figurines are probably the best looking mass-produced pieces in any board game out there. There’s something viscerally juvenile about the figures that forces people to click them together while making roaring sounds. The cartoonish qualities of the monsters plays very well with the rest of the game’s aesthetics.

Illustration of proper way to make monsters fight

Destroying the board is a fundamental mechanic of Kaiju World Wars. The game provides several “scenarios” with different goals and victory conditions. But, in all rules of play, crushing buildings and setting the scenery on fire is necessary to achieve success. Wanton destruction is very satisfying when combined with the game’s visuals. A destroyed building can be flipped over to indicate that it is now “rubble” and, on the rubble side are footprints that the monster can stand in, meaning players actually act out the trampling of buildings.

The rubble feature is just one of many beautiful details that make the game have a high fidelity look and feel.

For a game with such an eye for detail in the aesthetic department, the rules and the way the game teaches players are highly slapdash. Actually figuring out how to play is a long and confusing process even for veteran board game enthusiasts. Kaiju World Wars is not in any way friendly for casual players.

The problem isn’t that the rules of the game are terribly complex, but the game itself gives the player no help in figuring them out. The instruction manual seems to gloss over major points while belaboring details that seem unimportant. This is largely because most of the rules and mechanics of Kaiju World Wars are printed on a deck of “info cards” kept with the game pieces. The information the player needs to know is scattered between the manual and the cards without rhyme or reason, and the info cards are not packaged where the player has to look at them, first. It’s easy to get thoroughly frustrated with the game before even noticing that the cards have vital data on them.

The combat rules in the game are broken into “Basic” and “Advanced.” Presumably these two sets of rules are to allow an easier transition for players trying to learn the game. But, in practice, Kaiju World Wars is hard to figure out, no matter what. The Advanced rules simply provide a greater amount of differentiation between the monster characters. There will never be a reason to play the Basic rules.

Once the players have the game sauced out, Kaiju World Wars works best four players. As previously mentioned, the game book provides different scenarios with different rules, goals, and number of players. But the most generic scenario, which also happens to be the most fun, will get the most use and runs best with four.

While the more specialized scenarios have pre-designed city setups to play the game with, the basic scenario allows the players to redesign the board each time. The buildings, parks, icons, and military vehicles are split between the players who are allowed to place them down wherever they like.

The board-building process is a huge and unexpected bonus of Kaiju World Wars. The building pieces are each single levels that fit on top of one another, with complete buildings between one and four stories in height. Since any player can build up on what any other player has put down, one person can turn a one-story building into a four-story building and greatly alter the strategic importance of that part of the board before the game begins.

Once players start to get a feel for what to do in the game, the building of the city becomes the most engaging part of play: making the city’s imminent destruction all the more cathartic.

Even with the entertainment involved in building the board, Kaiju World Wars does not have the same infinite replay value of a game like Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan. Hard core board game enthusiasts who are not specifically Godzilla fans will likely only bust this game out every now and then when they meet a friend who has never played it.

The level of complexity in figuring out the game generally doesn’t make it good for the younger end of its target audience. It’s hard to imagine anyone under 14 actually having the patience to play by the rules. So, while younger kids may appreciate how good the game looks, they’ll probably get more use out of a toy.

Kaiju World Wars has some great ideas and is a fun game to play once it gets started, but it lacks mass appeal. Consider this a game strictly for Godzilla fans and avid board game players.

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“Princess Jellyfish” Review

You have to hand it to Funimation – those folks know how to find some darn good anime. Case in point, the anime adaptation of the popular romantic comedy manga, “Princess Jellyfish.” Produced by Brain’s Base and directed by Takahiro Omori, this anime garnered a ton of attention when it first came out, but this reviewers luster for anime had fizzled out back then. Only recently, thanks to getting the Funimation channel on cable tv (Verizon, bring back Funimation!), my spark was lit once more, and I got hooked on Princess Jellyfish. The question is, will other readers get into it, or is this rom-com not worth the hype? Let’s take a look and find out!

Nerdy and bespectacled eighteen year-old Tsukimi Kurashita is a resident of Amamizukan, a modern-day nunnery to a group of Otaku girls whose group they refer to as “the sisterhood.” All of the ladies are socially inept and obsessed with various things, such as Tsukimi’s craziness for jellyfish, Mayaya’s lust for all things “Records of the Three Kingdoms” merchandise, or Jiji’s insatiable desire for old men. All of the girls are virgins, and have never dated a man, let alone talk to one.

One night after a depressing failed trip to Harajuku, Tsukimi laments by checking in on a jellyfish friend at a pet store that she named Clara. Unfortunately, the jellyfish is threatened by a species that can kill Clara, forcing Tsukimi to attempt to speak to a “stylish boy” that is running the store. Shoved out of the store for her awkwardness, Tsukimi bounds into a beautiful living Barbie doll named Kuranosuke, who helps Tsukimi rescue the jellyfish by using her sexuality to force the clerk to give them the sea creature. Kuranosuke invites herself over to the nunnery for the night, and when Tsukimi awakens, she learns the truth – Kuranosuke is actually a boy in drag!

This is simply the starting point of an eleven episode series that takes plenty more twists and turns as it progresses, introducing more characters and stories of star-crossed lovers and love triangles with nothing but weird situations. This wacky cast of geeks, freaks, and “stylish” people clash and combine as the saga moves along, leaving viewers wondering what will happen next (and sadly, I can not say too much without giving away huge spoilers).

Maxie Whitehead, who some fans will recognize as the new voice of Alphonse Elric in the Fullmetal Alchemist series, is simply exceptional as the voice of Tsukimi. You can not help but to fall in love with her in the english dub, which I actually preferred over the original Japanese track, mainly because of Whitehead’s performance. Josh Grelle as Kuranosuke also stands out, playing both the role of a man and woman with subtlety and easily transitioning between the two, especially as the character becomes more complex as the series continues. The entire cast is perfect in both versions, but this is one of those series that I can honestly recommend to check out in english since it carries over very strongly.

The story is what really sells “Princess Jellyfish”, and while I am far from a fan of romantic comedies, I could not help but be enamored by this series. Maybe it was because I could identify with Tsukimi in some ways, or maybe it was just that the show really was that damn good, but I was hooked halfway through the first episode before the first major plot twist even happened.

“Princess Jellyfish” is available in a DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack, and contains a ton of special features on them. Aside from some trailers, you also get commentary on the first and final episodes of the show with some of the english voiceover actors, and textless versions of the incredibly catchy songs from the opening and closing credits.

In addition to those, you get these other special features:

Princess Jellyfish Heroes – A four-part mini-series of 4-5 minute long backup stories that chronicles the other Otaku girls in Amamizukan, diving deeper into who they are and their obsessions, and are just generally fun

Go, Sisterhood Explorers! – A six-part mini-series of 30 second shorts done in a more simiplistic animation style of the girls from the nunnery trekking through a jungle. Nothing important to plot development here, but it’s some good fun nonetheless.

Tsukimi and Jiji’s Octopus Tour – A 22-minute live action short featuring the Japanese voice-actors of Jiji and Tsukimi going to an aquarium to learn about jellyfish. Educational aspects aside, the ladies are pretty cute, so that’s a good reason to watch.

The Princess Jellyfish Field Guide, which runs down the various jellyfish species in the series

This boxed set is a must-have for all anime fans, and can even transition to the broader spectrum of non-anime fans (since they do exist out there, the sad mortals). “Princess Jellyfish” has quickly become one of my favorites of all time, and you will not be addicted to this series by the end of the first episode. No spoilers here, but by the end of the last episode, you will be screaming for more, and I genuinely hope we do get a sequel, but you’ll have to watch the series to understand why!

You can grab Princess Jellyfish: The Complete Series on Amazon as a Blu-Ray and DVD combo for $60 new, and it is definitely worth it.

If you liked this anime review, you may also enjoy these: If you liked this anime review, you may also like these: “Summer Wars” DVD Review, “FLCL: Anime Classics” DVD Review, “First Squad: The Moment of Truth” DVD & Movie Review, and “Redline” DVD & movie review

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