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IR DVD Review: FAIRY TAIL Vol. 4 [Funimation]

“Fairy Tail” is a story of a young guild of wizards, more cyberpunk than Hogwarts, that believes in the power of connection above anything even when dissent threaten their very livelihood. The tendency of characterization balances between stakes that create intense emotional consequences and intensity that is simply created for the good of the game.

Disc 1 The aspect of the personalities that make up a Guild define exactly how the stories tend to be structured. The element of the family here makes their basis around Elza who, in the beginning is the most isolated of all. Three of the teams take out different opponents of a Tiger group though the realities of what is truly at stake seem less than diabolical. It is only through the possible loss of Elza’s friends who have come to mean everything to her that forces the inevitability to take a stand. The ideals are based in notions of identity and what it takes in terms of redemption to realize them. The two sided (literally) personality of the lead villain brings this more into full focus in the battle around the R System. There are some exceptional cinematic pieces aside from the normal battle sequences in this multi-arched structure. A supposed death sequence after an emotional sacrifice is well played offering some great emotional notes. The structure of this journey quest in allowing the members to find their own core self gives the anime a bit more depth than it might have normally. However when it returns to the Guild home at Fairy Tail, it becomes more conventional and Natsu starts to bear more than a passing resemblance to another hotheaded anime hero who tends to not know when he is beaten. The commentary shows a dexterity of how to modulate but skirts the issue regarding serious dramatic points instead aiming for  an angle of fan fun.

Disc 2 The aspect of family tries to play darker on the second disc but undeniably has a softer impact because of the lack of a more epic background. The bulk of the story in these episodes revolves around returning to the Guild proper and reintegrating with the other wizards instead of being on a one-off mission in search of the “truth”. The conflict here is between The Master of the Guild and his grandson Laxus who believes the congregation has gone soft and needs to be re-imagined. As a result, the over-reaching student sets up a high stakes battle that, while not killing the wizards involved, forces them against each other to prove who is willing to go the distance to protect the core. The main problem is that Laxus as a character is overplayed as a over-hyped, power hungry, high-on-his-own-supply beefhead who doesn’t necessitate sympathy even when he comes crawling back in shame. His underside simply comes off as a pathetic. While this makes the other characters, even Natsu, seems positively chivalrous by comparison, it tends to play more overwrought than necessary. The one fight where a quiet girl transforms into a She-Devil motivated by the almost death of her brother is the main angle of the disc that gives the progression weight. Granted some of the fights including the two-on-one Dragonslayer duel have their moments but they tend to pale in contrast to the stakes on Disc 1. The commentary on this disc, especially featuring the voice of Mira/She Devil who is also a writer on the translation, shows the interplay of creativity as well as frugality that allows the folks at Funimation to bring this kind of material to the States. In terms of trailers, “Chrome Shelled Regios” takes the cake with its near future textures mixed with an element of “Riddick” revolution.

While the first disc definitely shows the true potential of character connection, the second disc tends to rely on formula-bent structures of family discord despite some interesting fights, especially in the cathedral. “Fairy Tail” distinctly offers more than the name describes but its success is dependent on the level on the intensity of the game being played and the resounding stakes that must be fallen.

B-

My Bride Is A Mermaid: Season 1 Part 1 – DVD Review

“My Bride Is A Mermaid” is a balance of love story with an extent of humor. While sometimes a story like this within the anime structure might point to a boring or undeniably cheesy maintenance, the continuing threat of violence and exceptional outbounded dark humor (which bring to mind certain elements of “Shin Chan”) elevate its possibility.

Disc 1 Nagasumi by all accounts just wanted to have a quiet summer on the beach. However the fates decided different when a mermaid saved him from drowning. Now it is against the code within this world for a human to see a mermaid’s true form. The human or the mermaid must be killed or it will upset the balance. Sun, the mermaid in question, is the daughter of a Yakuza family warlord which, when combined with the underwater lore, actually works pretty well. With a certain dexterity of say “Afro Samurai” with a little bit more lighthearted play, the idea seems to play functionally. The English version plays more flippant than the less sarcastic Japanese audio, though the visual style jumps allows for different funny and emotional textures. After the initial shock and stepping up to the plate to marry this girl (they are both still in school), the subsequent general ideas of dating progress though they could have continued a bit slower. Despite this, the story changes to keep the pace. The young couple goes to the Bon Carnival on their first only date to find that Sun’s father is using his henchmen to try to kill him at every point since they moonlight as some of the vendors. A secluded trip to an island reveals a would-be assassin in the pint-sized “Maki The Conch” who is the size of the shell.

The remaining second half of the episodes on the first disc revolve around Nagasumi moving back to the city with his parents. Sun, trying to be a good bride but also wanting to get to know her husband a little better, arranges to live with them which forces her father’s hand to “watch over her” and not to continually try to kill her beau. Back at school, the secret is kept in terms of their actual bond. Nagasumi’s former girl friend, whose father is the Inspector General, becomes suspicious of both of them because of wary details and her affection for her ex, which results in both flirting confrontations but also some dramatic moments. This unforseen gem of an anime works because it understands its subject but also has enough respect to treat it in a modern manner. The ending of the first disc progresses with Lunar, a rival daughter from a neighboring clan who went on to become one of the biggest pop stars in the country, coming back into the picture. For her, is always been about competition with Sun and now she wants what she can’t have: Nagasumi. It plays much funnier than its sound. In addition there is always the voice of Masa, the boss’ right hand man, who is a ladies man but also the voice of reason and provides an ultra cool sense throughout the series.

Disc 2 Because of the mermaid competition where humans cannot resist their allure, the school turns into a war zone. The voices of the two female mermaids striving for popularity bring the hormones of the kids in school to an utter boiling point. Ultimately Sun wins because of Nagasumi’s devotion to her which makes Lunar’s ambition to have everything that is Sun’s completely overwhelming (though the censored element at one point gives question to what the animators were thinking). The next conflict comes in the form of a long lost suitor who is part of a military family and commands a submarine (though he is afraid of wide open spaces). His scenario in later episodes of having to wear a NASA spacesuit to deal with his phobia is funny but the comedic effect of having Chimp (Nagasumi’s former best friend) as his manservant really makes the episode whirl (though oddly enough Chimp becomes less of a character through this process).

The  crux of the next episode is the aspect of mermaid diets especially when adding two pounds for the girls gives motivation for Nagasmui to drink mermaid juice whereto he becomes a giant (nice pun). Ending up on the moon because of this affliction is a little much. Though the beginning of the disc seems to lose all hold on reality, the latter half finds Nagasumi pursued by Lunar’s father (who is patterned on Ahnuld) who wants the boy to take responsibility after he finds the student caressing the rump  of his daughter (even though in actuality he was rubbing her legs to return her to human form). It is all very soap opera. However when Sun takes responsiblity for not being the good wife because she let her man get away, there becomes a bit of a connect/disconnect ideal happening. The idea though that the girls settle the Yakuza Battle by a dance off that forces everyone to drop is just funny enough to be bonkers despite having an air of stupidity. The only thing missing from the second disc is the wonderful long winded freak outs by Sun’s dad which were derailed more because of telling of story which is not a bad thing.

“My Bride Is A Mermaid”, all things considered, is actually a surprise in its fun elements. At first a little too cutesy for words, the inclusion of the Yakuza gangs give it edge in a mermaid story that could be “blah”. While it does skirt the edges sometimes of losing its throughline and any sort of grounded persistence, the freak out scenarios punctuated by sound effects and a change in visual style keep the ideas fresh despite a dwindling pattern. Out of 5, I give it a 3.

Superfriends: Season 1 Volume 1 – DVD Review

The initial flow of the “Superfriends” started all the way back in 1973, over 35 years ago. The aspect of mixing and matching superheroes was only the stuff of comics book then. However for Saturday morning, they kept the stories fairly streamlined and basic probably not realizing that a couple decades later Saturday morning cartoons of lore would be all but gone. Watching the evolution from the beginning with Season One Volume One is always interesting.

Disc 1 “Power Pirate” follows an alien who comes to earth to grab energy to save his world. The problem is that he doesn’t ask and, as a result, the different elements of a breaking dam, a hurtling locomotive and a lost ship become a series of connecting the dots. The message is clear though its prescience is overwrought. “The Baffles Puzzle” has the Superfriends being led on a wild goose chase after the junior crimefighters are kidnapped from a ship. Dr. Baffles has created a serum that makes objects disappear but it has fallen into the wrong hands with criminals who want it for their own personal use. Batman, Aquaman and Superman seem to fall into very simple traps. The storytelling aspect of these episodes reflects the simplicity of the animation since the narrative had to reflect what the cartoons could physically provide.  The next episode, “Professor Goodfellows GEEC”, follows an inventor who creates engineering so machines can operate themselves thereby making all human work redundant. Granted this is a storyline that became the basis of many a novel as well as elements of “Terminator” and “The Matrix” but this cartoon was made back in 1971. Granted it doesn’t take the full impact of sociology into account but it does show an interesting idea. “The Weather Maker” tells the story of an evil scientist who begins changing earth’s weather patterns through the Gulf Stream in order to heat his country near the North Pole. The actual logic is a little bit off but again the ideals are very good for today in terms of education which is a major point for the impact of the show. Granted they let the villain get off easy but this is a more “kind and fuzzy” Superfriends. The “Superfriends Challenge” quiz shows how much better the games elements of these DVDs are becoming. Using  multiple choice it is much more interactive but the questions here are very “fanboy” heavy. You really have to know the lore. The “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” trailer is a slightly odd addition but the pre-DVD previews including a new Production IG digital trailer are pretty astounding.

Disc 2 “Dr. Pelagian’s War” takes a Captain Nemo approach to the war on pollution. As usual the essence of this incarnation of the Superfriends is one of issue education. Granted there is an essence of gender motivation as well as you see from Wonder Woman’s interaction with Madame Conaway. The ideas are done sometimes too straight forward although the humor of turning a tidal wave into an ice cube is not lost. “The Shamon U” follows the Superfriends tracking down a scientist who is undertaking space mining in order to create an aspect of moneymaking. In doing so he creates a gas cloud which causes animals and minerals grow both bigger and smaller. The aspect of Wonderdog being a large presence is just a pertinence for humor. Eventually this is what causes the scientists to surrender although their adherence to becoming good guys seems to come without much consequence. “Too Hot To Handle” approaches something that wasn’t as apparent in 1971 that is very timely today in terms of the Greenhouse Effect. The story here follows an alien race who is shifting the orbit of Earth to make it more habitable to aliens from another world who have destroyed their planet with pollution. Granted the Superfriends including guest star The Flash end up cleaning up the other planet, the message related at the end remains clear. If everyone does a little something, it makes a bit difference. The last episode of this volume “The Androids” takes into account another thought that was ahead of its time and still is today which is the aspect more of foreign policy versus domestic policy. At that time it was spending more money on reaching towards Mars than it was dealing with suffering on Earth. Now the inference of commercial space travel will begin to change that aspect. In this episode, a brilliant doctor makes clones to head in and subterfuge the space programs elements. If he had just used his abilities to create androids to help with this exploration there would probably be a whole other can of worms to deal with. Life is such. The trailer on this disc promoting the Saturday Morning Cartoons volumes show a new aim in the marketing of nostalgia to a growing market

The thing about this initial progression of the Superfriends is key to see how it started out and how infinitely complicated and intersecting the stories became up to the current “Justice League”. However the original humor and music cannot be denied. Watching Batman fall for the aspect of buying chicken soup from the villain disguised as a vendor on the street is classic. But you have to remember the time frame in which the cartoons were made. Sure the story structure is a little bonkers but that is what nostalgia is for. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.

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