X'amd 1

A bold technical design can’t quite completely cover up a lack of story details being given but can still provide an entertaining ride.

What They Say
When a young boy on a peaceful island becomes the victim of a terrorist attack, he transforms into Xam'd, a powerful mecha capable of extreme power. Now he must discover the depth of his power, and the role he plays in a world where metal and rock meet flesh, desire, and destiny. Strap yourself in to the amazing anime that is Xam'd!

The Review!
Audio:
The English and Japanese audio tracks on this release are both presented in 5.1. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used. The mix is a very good one that primarily uses the front speakers for the majority of the dialogue and softer parts but the back speakers and woofer really kick in to add some richness and depth to the sound when needed. This mix also works wonderfully for the openings and closings and the audio is a shining gem for this release.

Video:
The video doesn’t fair as well on the DVD release. Noise, ugly dot crawl, color bleed and minor ghosting are all problems that present themselves to a degree or another in the release. While a bit distracting the colors are rich and vivid and can cause the flaws to seem less noticeable and aren’t dampened by any of them. One additional problem that isn’t major is that is that English credits shown after the Japanese closing are a bit of a jerky mess. On the positive side it does retain its 16:9 Anamorphic release which helps the presentation greatly.

Packaging:
The front cover shows the Akiyuki-Xam’d carrying a panicked looking Haru. The background is a primarily reddish-brown with a white bar near the bottom with the logo placed in it. The back contains a shot of Akiyuki putting on a very colorful jacket with a large gear silhouette that has the box copy inside set against a grey background. Also present are eight stills from the series.

Menus:
The menu on the first disc uses the picture of Akiyuki from the back cover against a red-brown background on the right and on the left a large gear with the episodes, languages and special features as selectable choices within. The Boom Boom Satellites open plays in the background. The second disc replaces Akiyuki with a picture of Haru sitting down brushing her hair with her hand wearing a very colorful summer ensemble with the opening theme present again. The menus are quick to respond and the selections are highlighted very nicely leaving no doubt as to what is being chosen.

Extras:
The extras on this release are two clean openings (original on-air and DVD) and two clean closings (on-air and DVD) from the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The series introduces the viewer into a world at war. Two world powers are fighting each other though the residents of Sentan Island largely are directly unaffected by the war in their day to day lives. Additionally for the main character Akiyuki he also has to deal with a cold war of sorts being waged among his parents. Life largely is peaceful for the young lad until he performs an act of charity to help out a young girl.

Unfortunately this act puts him at the center of a terrorist attack that injures many of his school mates and leaves him with him infected with a spirit that turns him into a creature called a human form weapon. During this initial period a military group invades to contain the weapon using their own human form weapon that they have cultivated. The two powerful beings wage war with each other until the arrival of a young woman named Nakiami.

The woman saves Akiyuki from being turned into stone and returns with him to the postal ship she calls home to try to train Akiyuki in the hope he can make peace with the creature now sharing his body so they can both live rather than be turned to stone. The postal ship is commanded by a stern woman of no small temper who is not interested in having a free loader on board and puts Akiyuki to work where he learns he will be stuck for the next six months training with Nakiami.

While this is going on his friend Haru tries to discover what has happened to him as she was rendered unconscious right after the human form fight. As she bounces between his concerned parents she reveals a level of her caring for Akiyuki. After the attack the military has closed down transportation on the island and Haru and Akiyuki’s other friend Furuichi join the military. Haru joins in the hope that she can chase after Akiyuki whereas Furuichi joins for his own reasons but with a dedication and drive Haru doesn’t understand.

Their training will teach them to fight human form weapons and also give some insight into their development. These experiences will play a large role in their development and may wind up changing them in ways they can’t even guess at from the start. What this means for their and Akiyuki’s relationship will slowly be revealed and may lead to another level of conflict between friends.

As the story progresses Akiyuki is placed into situations where he learns more about the Xam’d he carries within while also coming into conflict with other human form weapons and Nakiami’s views on them. As Akiyuki travels with the postal ship he sees that conflicts are not limited to just armies as he witnesses Nakiami running into the remains of the tribe she belonged to and others whose lives were touched by the human form weapons. Sadly the course for him will not get any easier as the paths that he is on will cross with the paths others have taken and not all conflicts can end peacefully.

Xam’d is a gorgeous work on the surface level. There is a depth to the colors and designs that help it stand out well. It also boasts a solid soundtrack, really catchy open and closings and a solid 5.1 track. The world is interesting and there is a large variety to the appearance of the human form weapons. On the downside the world is set up in a way that makes it very complex but the story reveals little of the world going on. The world has a “lived in feel” where the rules are established and characters abide by them but that the rules are an understood. A lot of the world remains unexplained and of the explanations to be found they often have to be either parsed out or inferred from events. It has the unfortunate consequence of making it harder to connect with some of the characters and events and undercutting its goal of making characters relatable. Also for better or worse the series was produced by the same studio that created Eureka 7 and the strong subtly similarities can produce an odd disconnect that draws one out of the story and can cause one to feel this material is familier.

In Summary:
Xam’d part one is a beautiful technical achievement in sound and animation that should have the ability to stand up well years from now. The story however may wind up one that manages to undercut its ability to continue to collect interest in the future as the animators seem so impressed with what they can do that they miss the soul of the series. Many of the characters are barely touched on and motivations remain vague-which can work to set up mystery but can also sever a viewers attempt to connect and care for the characters within. Without that connection the series may run into a place where it is the anime equivalent of an average summer blockbuster-pretty and amazing in the technical field but sorely lacking in the story side.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: B-
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Xam'd 2

A textbook example that style alone doesn’t cover up for a lack of substance in other key areas.

What They Say
Get ready for a second collection of awesome mecha action with the anime hit XAM'D! Akiyuki isn't the only one who's become possessed by the mysterious power that is Xam'd. Seems his friend Furuichi is also filled with the dangerous energy. But while Akiyuki tries to harness it, his friend seems hell-bent on letting the Xam'd control his every dangerous move. There are more powerful and dangerous Xam'ds working in every action-packed episode! So don't miss XAM'D, the high-flying, heavy-armored action-adventure takes mecha anime to a whole new level!

The Review!
Audio:
The English and Japanese audio tracks on this release are both presented in 5.1. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used. The mix is a very good one that primarily uses the front speakers for the majority of the dialogue and softer parts but the back speakers and woofer really kick in to add some richness and depth to the sound when needed. This mix also works wonderfully for the openings and closings and the audio is a shining gem for this release.

Video:
The video doesn’t fair as well on the DVD release. Noise, ugly dot crawl, color bleed and minor ghosting are all problems that present themselves to a degree or another in the release. While a bit distracting the colors are rich and vivid and can cause the flaws to seem less noticeable and aren’t dampened by any of them. One additional problem that isn’t major is that is that English credits shown after the Japanese closing are a bit of a jerky mess. On the positive side it does retain its 16:9 anamorphic ratio which helps the presentation greatly.

Packaging:
The packaging itself is a standard 2 disc case with the hubs on opposite sides of each other. The cover has the Akiyuki/Xamd carrying an unconscious Nakiami with stones starting to appear on her and his arm while a shocked looking Haru stands on the right side. There is a yellow rain and goo falling/covering Akiyuki/Xamd’s arm and Nakiami while a couple other Xamd and smoke can be seen behind them with the logo on the lower right hand side. It is a bit over busy and comes across as a bit ill defined. The back has the new character of Yango with his arm transformed leaping over 7 stills placed in a triangular fashion. The gear design returns with the copy inside it once again. The spine has a beautiful picture of Nakiami that looks like she is wearing a bridal dress.

Menus:
The menu on the first disc uses the picture of Yango from the back cover against a red-brown background on the right and on the left a large gear with the episodes, languages and special features as selectable choices within. The Boom Boom Satellites open plays in the background. The extras menu has a shot of Furuichi while the audio selection has Nakiami’s sister (and is a bit of a spoiler) with the end theme playing behind them. The second disc has the beautiful picture of Nakiami that looks like she is wearing a bridal dress from the spine while the opening theme is present again and the language menu uses pictures of Akiyuki’s parents dressed to the 9s. The menus are quick to respond and the selections are highlighted very nicely leaving no doubt as to what is being chosen. The label has a scene of a fight from the series that is also spoilerish as is the cover of the second disc which has Akiyuki in Xamd form with a threat looming behind him.

Extras:
The extras on this release are two clean openings (original on-air and DVD) and two clean closings (on-air and DVD) from the series and are the same as on the first set.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The events of this disc pick up with the fallout from the revelations from the previous set. The relationship between Akiyuki, Haru and Furuichi is both explored a bit and laid out. Also appearing are the sorrow that comes from emotions that exist and those that will never be returned that brings a raw emotion to the front. The intervention of the military will cause the friends to part (as well as Akiyuki and Nakiami) and some will never meet again.

Events then lead to Akiyuki finding himself in a position where he has lost his memories and is found by slave traders. He will then encounter a new creature as well as an elder woman who try to help him regain himself. As this is happening Haru is finding that her sister Midori has chosen to work with the military in a horrific experiment that will change her life. Haru is placed in a position where she has to decide if she is going to try to chase Akiyuki or try to stay and figure out how to deal with Midori as well as what her commander is expecting from her. At the same time Nakiami is on a journey to reconcile her own past and encounters another young boy (Yango) with the power to become Xamd. Also the members of the postal ship will become active in the roles they will play as will Akiyuki’s and Haru’s fathers as they try to help their children and the world they will inherit.

Each of the individuals will continue their quest though what they find at their paths end will not be the same as some find identity and others have to settle for purpose. The fact that all these people have their own goals and desires in regard to their feelings of self and other will run into a new problem as they become key players in events that could lead to the end of their world. The characters must decide how to approach a tremendous tragedy and accept what sacrifices they must make to help those they love and the world around them while also remaining true to themselves and what their self discovery has taught them.

Xamd really gets going in the second half by focusing on the characters and their motivations while placing them into emotional conflict with those around them. It feels like some of the characters are finally fleshed out and given motivation for some of their actions. Sadly many never get fully filled out and the series itself seems to trip by moving toward a major conflict that feels more like a last minute addition than something carefully built up to increase the tension. Too much is left in a void for the viewer to try to guess at-especially early on to gather a sense of the approaching dread or even many emotional conflicts that finally bring the characters to a semblance of life.

In Summary:
Xamd is a triumph of style and technical presentation. Sadly the story that is used as substance is far less impressive and doesn’t seem to reflect the same attention to detail or effort in creation. Many characters are really never developed and even the build up and payoff of that is placed secondary to an ultimate threat that doesn’t feel all that dire due to lack of its build up. It sadly feels like a series that could be remade using more time with more care being put into the characters so the viewer can develop an affinity for them and their trials. It is pretty though.
Features
Japanese 5.1 Language Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, On Air Opening, On Air Closing

Review Equipment


Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: C+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: C
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: C
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Gamera
A classic giant monster film brilliantly restored.

What They Say
During the height of the Cold War, East-West tensions lead to a nuclear disaster when a Soviet bomber is shot down over U.S. airspace in the Arctic! Massive radiation from the atomic explosion awakens an ancient, gargantuan creature - a long-forgotten legend of the lost continent of Atlantis - Gamera! Unleashed from its glacial tomb and proving impervious to all man-made weapons, the colossal chelonian smashes a cataclysmic swath across the globe! Can the scientists of the world, led by Dr. Hidaka find a way to stop this invincible supermonster.....or is mankind doomed?

The Review!
Audio:
The only audio present is a Japanese Dolby Digital mono track. The track contains a few dropouts that are likely due to the age of the original source material as this feature was created from a restored copy and the vast majority of the audio presentation is rather brilliantly restored for the feature. Outside the few dropouts the audio is very clear in regards to dialogue and soundtrack and no distortions were noticed during viewing.

Video:
Originally created in 1965 the black and white feature is presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The encode of the video was taken from the Japanese remaster that was restored for the Japanese Blu-ray release of the film. The video contains a good deal of grain as well as some very minor print damage that shows up despite the BD remaster work. The film may actually be too clear as wire can be seen for some of the planes and in a few spots that the grain can’t quite cover up. Also present are occasional flickers, jitters and freezes of images that all look to be representative of certain film stocks of similar age.

Packaging:
The cover of the DVD features the titular monster attacking Tokyo Tower at the top, a banner with Gamera written in red and the subtitle The Giant Monster in white and also written in kanji. The bottom features 3 of the main characters with a panicked mob behind them. The cover is in blue-grays and black and white and is a gorgeous tribute to the black and the white film found within. The back has another shot of Gamera attacking this time using his fire attack with a small banner at the bottom that has a still of Gamera with a red tint and a shot of the main cast taken from the film along with copy about the extras included. The spine of the cover has a still of Gamera eating a train along with the kanji title and Gamera again written in red. The reverse of the cover features an anatomy shot of Gamera with some stats and also a cutaway showing some of the internals of Gamera. It also has some info on his fictional history and abilities.

In what seems to have become a rarity today the release also contains a mini-booklet that has an image of the original Gamera theatrical print that has a color Gamera attacking a train with flames and destruction behind him. The booklet contains images from the film as well as an old interview from the director talking about his time on the films. The booklet also contains character biographies for six of the main characters and the same anatomy shot of Gamera from the reverse cover. The last two pages focus on mentioning the Special Features and credits for the Shout Factory members who worked on the title. The DVD label has an image of Gamera attacking the lighthouse from the film in a storm on it.

Menus:
Upon starting disc after the usual FBI warning and Shout Factories logo the main menu loads with the scene from the feature with the awakening of Gamera. The atom cloud from the feature can be seen in the background quickly as the screen changes to the ice cracking and a howl emerging from the depths. The menu then switches to one that Shout Factory made with a sheet of ice cracking and separating a bit with a red glow emanating from the cracks. The three characters from the bottom front cover are here in the lower right area and the upper right chunk of ice shows some scenes from the movie and the title “Gamera the Giant Monster” is in upper center of the screen. For added measure there is also a smoke effect made to look like it is from the crack that is animated across the screen. Both the Chapter menu and the Special Features menu use a sheet of ice back drop. The chapters menu uses small square stills to denote the chapter selections and the Special Features has a still of Gamera himself on it. The selection choices are indicated by a red square and the menu is quick to respond and load when a selection is chosen.

Extras:
The extras included on the film include a 23 minute retrospective on the Gamera franchise by a number of the creators and staff of the films as well as an audio commentary track by August Ragone who wrote about one of the head of the Toho effects department that helped create Godzilla and thus the look of the giant monster films that followed. There is also a publicity gallery that contains images from original international sales brochure, press book, and a photo gallery that contains both publicity stills from the film and some behind the scenes still as well as an original theatrical trailer for the film.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
During the golden age of the giant monster movies in Japan Godzilla came to dominate the competition. And while the King of Monsters was the top of the hill he couldn’t become complacent due to a number of determined challengers- One of which was Gamera. Like most of the monster films of the time the goal was to do the best they could with the limited budget while also keeping up with competitors who were similarly clever in production and forced to be creative for the same reasons. With that in mind Gamera stands up in its effects and suits with its predecessor Gojira (Godzilla) made a few years previous.

Even the coldest reaches of the planet Earth may contain keys to ancient secrets while also being a battle ground for a cold war-but when conflict unleashes an ancient leviathan will cold war posturing lead to extinction for mankind in a way it never imagined? The feature introduces us to Dr Hidaka, his assistant Kyoko Yamamoto and photographer Aoyagi as they have been part of a scientific voyage to a remote Eskimo village to research the ancient legend of Atlantis and strange turtle legends. The team arrives at the village as a flight of unknown planes pass overhead. Given the state of heightened alert the US government intercepts and shoots down one of the planes which cause its nuclear weapons to explode.

While the explosion is far enough away not to endanger either the scientific team or the ship they came on it does cause a fissure in the ice to appear-out of which an immense and terrible monster arises from its long and frozen slumber. The scientific team as yet unaware of the beasts awakening is given a mysterious stone showing turtles and wave along with the name of what the Eskimo leader calls the Devil’s Envoy-Gamera. At the same time Gamera’s first action is to destroy the ship the expedition force came on before vanishing mysteriously.

While Dr. Hidaka hopes the 60 meter tall creature has perished due to radiation exposure the world is experiencing a rash of flying saucer sightings as a glowing spinning object is seen in many places of the world. In Hokkaido Japan a young boy named Toshio whose father mans a lighthouse is obsessed with turtles and is about to have a close encounter of the reptilian kind. While hanging out near the cliffs by the lighthouse after being separated by his family from his pet turtle Toshio becomes the first person to see the 60 meter behemoth and live and also discover its capricious nature when the creature saves him from falling as it destroys the lighthouse.

Now that it is known the creature has survived the world scrambles to try to figure out how they will deal with a giant creature that can shrug of the powerful radiation that comes from mankind’s most potent weapon. As the world tries to fight the creature they discover that conventional weapons are also useless against it and that the creature and the UFO sightings have a link that makes the creature a true threat to all of mankind-especially once it is revealed what it is the creature seeks and the devastation that will wrack on civilization. It is a race against time as humanity must find a way to somehow deal with the seemingly unstoppable creature.

Gamera is a classic Japanese giant monster movie in its use of monster suits, effects and models to convey the size and damage a giant creature could create. It also takes steps to show a creature that has a real potential to be a threat to the entire world (well, Godzilla does as well but outside 1984 and the Broderick film he has been mostly content to pick on Japan and the surrounding islands) and thus needing the whole world to try to come up with a solution. The biggest downside to the film as it seems to be caught between being a film featuring the young boy Toshiro while also featuring Dr. Hidaka and company’s scientific approach to dealing with the beast (though the flatness of the American actors at the beginning sure give any later seeming derailment a run for its money). It causes the film to be a tad schismatic in its focus and contrasts the horrible nature of the creature with the almost sidekick like attempt to peg the young boy in. It feels like an attempt to please two audiences at once that falls a touch flat.

In Summary:
Gamera the Giant Monster is a classic example of the Japanese giant monster movie. It contains plenty of the effects that the genera fans have come to know and love as well as a brilliantly restored picture and audio track that brings new life to a film approaching the half century mark. The film has a few flaws such as trying to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and thus lacking some focus but in the end the film gives us a giant monster stomping Tokyo (and other parts of Japan) into the ground which is what fans of the genera turn up for in the first place. Recommended.
Features
Japanese 1.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: A
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Invincible Shaolin


Invincible Shaolin
© FUNimation
When betrayal comes from the top can two opposing sides see the truth before conflict destroys them?

What They Say
The growing power of the Shaolin drives a warlord to betrayal. His devious plot: manipulate two Shaolin schools into a brutal feud. The warriors of the north are framed for murder, stoking the fires of revenge in those from the south. Before the scheme is exposed, men from both sides will die. The kung fu superstars who portrayed the iconic Five Venoms (Lu Feng, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng, Wei Pai, Kuo Chui, and Lo Mang) reunite in Invincible Shaolin, a fighting masterpiece from Chang Cheh, the director of Five Deadly Venoms and John Woo's mentor. The film's displays of athleticism and acrobatic violence demand repeat viewing to be believed, and Invincible Shaolin's memorable training sequences will remind you of why going to the movies is so much fun.

The Review!
Audio:
For the purposes of this review the viewing of the film was done in its original Mandarin mono language option. The audio is clear with no drop outs or distortions noted though the dialogue seems almost too clear, as if it were either post film rerecorded or a floor mike was directly in front of the actors. As a result there is little 'depth' to how far an actor is from the screen and the volume of the voice. The English dub was spot checked and there were no distortions or drop outs there either though at times the difference between the two stand out as the Mandarin has the almost unnatural clarity and the English dub has points where one must really pay attention to hear all the dialogue as some is muted in its delivery.

Video:
The biggest disappointment in this release is that its 16:9 presentation is not anamorphic widescreen. The film was created in 1978 and outside a couple of moments that demonstrate minor print discoloration in two spots that are not unnatural to find in works from that period. On the DVD side the colors are bright and the video has no major problems outside a few instances of video combing.

Packaging:
For the cover FUNimation used a scene of two of the characters in martial arts stance against a blue colored scene from one of the training parts of the film for the upper half. At the middle of the cover they have a white bar with the title written in red and black with the Shaw Brothers logo present. The bottom quarter or so has a scene from the end of the film with red ink mimicking a blood spatter. The back also uses several shots from the film as well as including a picture of the original release theater poster. Like FUNimation's other Shaw releases this one comes with a cardboard sleeve cover that contains the same pictures and copy as on the DVD cover.

Menus:
The menu is a static close up of the two fighters on the front of the package above the logo and options which are in a big white banner running from about center screen to the lower quarter and two of the images in red from the back shot are present there. The menu select is quick to respond and load selections.

Extras:
This release contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens as members of the Songshan Shaolin Temple in the North have sent three representatives to appear before a Chinese general. The general tells them he has also sent for representative from the Southern branch-Putian Shaolin Temple and explains he is looking for men to teach his army martial arts. The film introduces the three members from the North-Bao Shanxiong who is an expert at leg kicks, Xu Fang who specializes in palm strikes and Yang Zhongfei who is an expert with the segmented pole. The General greats the men and confronts the men showing he does not believe the monks should be allowed to teach martial arts and Fang brings up an ancient agreement. The general appears appeased and wants a demonstration first of the three men from the North and then of the North and South combined. The three men from the North show their skills on some wooden dummies and impress the general.

The men from the North are then lead to the training hall where the men sent from the South are waiting. The general proposes that the two schools face off and while the North initial disagrees the South gets baited into it by the talk of the general wanting to find out who is best and those instructors will be the leads in training his army while the losers will be assistants. The competition begins and there are three one-on-one demonstrations of skill. What follows are some impressive martial arts choreographed fights with the North being demonstrated as clearly the superior side. After their defeat the men from the South are preparing to go back and get more experienced men sent. They discover to their shock though that the general has other plans. He has set a plan to kill the men from the South and frame the men from the North thus setting a cycle of revenge into play and hoping the two sides will wipe each other out as he perceives them to both be threats to the court. The three bodies of the men from
the South are sent to their teacher while the general's aid accompanies them to make sure that the men from the North are blamed and targeted for revenge by the South. As the teacher tries to be calm the aid slyly supports the voices who want revenge and the school decides to send three more men to challenge the men from the North while taking care of their dead.

The men from the North are shown their new quarters and demonstrate they feel that the deaths of men from the South are suspicious and they suspect the court may be planning against them. The men from the North try to go to pay their respects for the dead but tempers are running too high and there can be no accord. Shortly after they then have to face the three men which results in the death of two more men from the South and the disgrace of a third. The Southern teacher then sends three more men to learn new skills from masters of more exotic Southern style disciplines that will give the men an advantage over the three from the North. What follows are scenes of the men from the North making their way in the capitol and finding girlfriends while investigating there machinations of the court while the three men from the South engage in a protracted series of martial arts training skills filled both with excellent choreography and also many clichés. As the Southern men near the end of their training and the Northern men their investigations will they find themselves at each other's throats or at the throat of the hidden foe who has manipulated them to this point?

Invincible Shaolin has some incredible martial arts displays set amidst an ambitious course of betrayal and political intrigue. Sadly the film does a poor job of narration as the time spent between the men from the North and the South never fully lets either develop. The examination from the North seems more just inserted and more time is spent on the women the three men meet while being inter cut with scenes of the men from the South training. Having two protagonist sides the audience is set to root for going against each other is an interesting twist but sadly with neither side developing enough in personality it seems a bit wasted.

In Summary:
Invincible Shaolin is a title with a lot of impressive choreography and political suspense and tension that fails to live up to the highs of what it wants to do in its premise but is still enjoyable for the Kung-Fu film fan. The hard core fans may get more out of this film than the more casual viewer but it can be entertaining to both and is highly recommended for those who like impressive fight scenes.

Features
English Language, Mandarin Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD

Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: NA
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Rocket Girls

Yukari was prepared to go to the far corners of the world to find her wayward father.

Turns out her journey will take her beyond any corners the Earth has to offer.

Creative Staff
Writer: Kousuke Nojiri
Cover Artist: Katsuya Terada
Translation: Joseph Reeder
What They Say
Yukari Morita is a high school girl on a quest to find her missing father. While searching for him on the Solomon Islands, she receives the offer of a lifetime: she'll get the help she needs to find her father, and all she need do in return is become the world's youngest, lightest astronaut. Yukari and her teen friends, all petite, are the perfect crew and cargo for the Solomon Space Association's launches, or will be once they complete their rigorous - and sometimes dangerous - training.

The Review!
Technical:
The cover features an image looking up from ground level at Yukari Morita in her space suit with the plume of a rising rocket behind her cumulating to the bright light of a rocket engine in the sky above her. The cover is done almost exclusively in white blue and blue gray with only the subtitle “Rock it” in red and the yellow of the rocket engines providing a brighter pallet. The reverse features a large oval with a partial crescent moon shape in it with the copy enclosed in the circle. The translation is nicely done as the language flows very well in the body of the book.

Content:
Yukari Morita is a high school girl who thanks to her mother’s job has never wanted for money but has always had questions about her father. Her father walked out on her mother on their wedding night and vanished and Yukari has always wanted her father to return to her mother though her mother is indifferent to the idea and oddly detached. Having heard that there was a group of Japanese people in the Solomon Islands Yukari (with her mother’s blessing and financial support) she heads there to see if her father is among them.

Yukari arrives at the perfect time for the Solomon Space Agency as they are now facing a huge crunch for time to get a rocket airborne and their only current astronaut is both fed up with the program and decides to go AWOL when the program decides to switch rocket types and needs to conserve weight-which will be a serious problem for him. Luckily the program discovers Yukari during his escape and realizes that the lithe 16 year old Japanese girl is the solution to their weight issues. The director decides to use Yukari’s desire to find her father as a carrot to get her to start training for the program in return for their resources in finding him.

Yukari will discover that the world of an astronaut is filled with rigorous physical and mental tasks and that she will be pushed to her breaking point-and perhaps beyond- by these people chasing their dreams. Along the way she will discover more about her father, one of her half-sisters and even herself they she imagined. When the desire to see other people’s dreams fulfilled becomes a force that combines with her discovery that she wants to see things through what view might she find from the view of the cockpit. And what happens if a high school girl suddenly comes face to face with the life and death choices that come up in space-and how we she weigh her life in the balance.

Rocket Girls is a well paced read that while presenting some rather absurd conditions that no one would ever really contemplate demonstrates both a love for space and the efforts mankind puts into stepping into that final frontier. The author also doesn’t blanch at showing the space program to have perils associated with it and space itself but clearly he loves the idea and has fashioned a vehicle to help take the reader on this journey with him. He starts with a young woman in search of her father who finds something greater than herself that seems completely out of her league to the point she has never even contemplated it but learns from the passion of those around her that this dream is both bigger than her and something that she may be the only person big enough to carry for them at the same time. It is a light novel that often touches on a few heavy aspects but can also be a touch light in development at times as well but overall does a good job of setting the stage and shaping its characters and some of the motivations to make them feel plausible even if the situation isn’t quite.

In Summary:
The original novel of Rocket Girls was fairly faithfully adapted in the first part of the anime series so fans of that media presentation will discover that there is a whole lot in common here. It is a light novel that often touches on a few heavy aspects but can also be a touch light in development at times as well. The novel flows well and gives a nice look at Yukari and her half sister Matsuri travel through the world of astronaut training at a break neck pace in a fashion that while implausible reads like a love letter from the author to the concept of and behind manned space programs as he wants to show not just what astronauts go through but the work and effort the ground crew do as they pile their hopes and dreams on these cylinders they launch into space and those that are entrusted to carry the dreams to the stars with them.

Grade: B+
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How far will a man go to live out his dream to be called the best?

What They Say
This Shaw Brothers classic, masterfully directed by Hua Shan (The 14 Amazons), is a harrowing lesson in achieving the coveted Number One sword-wielding status. Ti Lung (Opium and the Kung- Fu Master, A Better Tomorrow) is the Nameless Swordsman bent on defeating the faceless King of Swords to claim the title, and the glory, for himself. Hordes of fighters lunge from the shadows to cut down the mysterious challenger. Even a cunning seductress takes a stab at him in a revealing bath house assassination. It is said that a man's weapon reflects his utmost dreams, desires and fears. A warrior with no name and one motive has a soul as merciless as cold steel.

The Review!
Audio:
There are two tracks available on this release. One is an English Stereo track and the other is a Mandarin mono track. For the purpose of the review the Mandarin track was used and no dropouts or distortions were noticed. It is a mono track so it isn’t all that great but it is a fair track and gets the job done of communicating dialogue and sound without covering each other up.

Video:
Originally produced in 1978 the film is presented in 16:9 ratio. Overall the film print is a fairly decent one given its age. A little noise not quite covered up by the grain, print damage (including a bit of distortion), shimmering, and little problem with very bright red are noticeable during the feature but the problems are usually only momentary and do not occur with any frequency. Most other colors and blacks come out clear and motions are smooth which is important in an action film.

Packaging:
The cover features a montage of pictures on the top half of the front including the main character Nameless and his would be love interest in color as well as a black, green and yellowish hued shot of three other characters that appear in the film. Behind them are yellow and orange concentric circles against a purple background. The middle of the cover has a large banner space with the title in it and the bottom quarter of the front has a shot of Nameless facing a group of opponents from the feature. The back has another shot of some of the characters from the film in a similar presentation as the front complete with the orange and yellow circles against the purple background with some kanji thrown in. After the banner which on the back contains the copy and a picture of the original theatrical trailer the bottom quarter contains six shots from the feature. While the cover more or less fits with the features open it comes off with a rather late 60s early 70s vibe. It doesn’t really help sell the feature as the contained work doesn’t really reflect that covers look and style. The DVD label uses part of the cover as its image. The reverse of the cover features the Shaw Brothers symbol wallpaper that is a standard with these releases in a yellow-orange color. This release did not come with the slip cover that has accompanied previous Shaw film releases from FUNimation.

Menus:
The main menu uses the picture from the top part of the front cover. The scene select cover uses a close up of the character on the left side of the cover and the rest of the screen is the circle background with little squares with a picture for the selectable chapters. The audio screen uses yellow-orange colored Shaw Brothers symbol wallpaper like image and the trailer screen uses the swirl back ground from the top of the front.

Extras:
This release contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The film opens with a Technicolor extravaganza of colors as a variety of colors and images are thrust at the viewer and a series of figures and fights are presented in such a way as to make it look like a paper doll show with an upbeat and fast pieced musical piece punctuated by brass sounds. The film opens with a man who wears a large round hat that has a mesh screen that hangs from it that obscures his face as he shows his skills with his sword. The man’s name is Lu Tien Kang and he is known as the King of Swords, a title that brings challengers who desire the spotlight of his title out of the darkness. During one such challenge the fight is watched by a young boy who decides he will challenge for the title as he sees both the challenger defeated and his lover commit suicide.

Time passes in a flash and the young boy has become a young man who has dedicated his life to his task. The young man travels and challenges various dojos and other challengers who seek to stand in his path. The young man has decided that he will only go by the title “Nameless” until he has obtained his goal and does not share his real name with anyone. On his path he will discover that he is haunted by the image of the young woman he saw kill herself as a youth and also make the acquaintance of a doctor named Chiu I. The doctor turns out to work under the local ruler who employees Lu Tien Kang so the two wind up in a role where they spend time together.

Nameless manages to impress the local lord and is offered a job as his number two swordsman but all Nameless wants is a shot at the title King of Swords. Since he is told that Kang is not present at the time Nameless winds up spending time with Chiu I. During this he discovers a young woman in the local village who looks exactly like the woman whose visage haunts him. Now Nameless will be in a situation completely unfamiliar to him as he seems to have found some happiness in a goal beyond that which he has dedicated himself to thus far. A word with the local lord however has him questioning whether his happiness will keep him from obtaining his goal. What choice will Nameless make and will he be able to call himself satisfied with the path he chooses?

Soul of the Sword is the story of ambition crossed with decisions as to what is important to one man in his life. Whether a lifetime goal is worth the cost that will be paid to obtain it or whether the flexibility to change may turn out to grant more satisfaction than the completion of a lifelong obsession. Soul of the Sword does a decent job of setting up a man focused on a single goal and confronting obstacles in his way until he is placed at a crossroads and feels he needs to make a decision that there will be no turning back from. Will love or ambition triumph and will his final decision lead to triumph or tragedy? This is a strong film in regards to the main character but beyond that there is much left undefined in terms of other characters which sort of fit a film that is about a man driven by a goal who focuses on that to the extent of almost everything else around him.

In Summary:
Soul of the Sword presents the journey of a man as he embarks on his goal to fight the man currently holding the title of King of Swords and wrench that title from his grasp. The feature skips over the training of the young man who only refers to himself as Nameless and launches the viewer right into the early steps he takes along the bloody path that leads to the title. Will Needless succeed in his goal of capturing the title or will he discover that life offers him different opportunities than just the one his ambition desires. Will he discover triumph or tragedy or are the two inseparable when it comes to obsession?

Features
Mandarin 1.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B-
Audio Rating: C+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: C
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: NA