Anime: TOKKO 2; Noein, Vols. 3 & 4; Prince of Tennis, Vol. 1; Hikaru No Go, Vol. 7, Highlander: The Search For Vengeance

TOKKO, Vol. 2 - Cover ArtShindou Ranmaru learns a terrible secret in TOOKO 2; Haruka’s dimension nears destruction in Noein, Vols. 3 & 4; twelve-year old prodigy Ryoma Echizen earns the title The Prince of Tennis; the ghostly Sai coaches young Go player Hikaru through a slump in Hikaru No Go, Vol. 7, and an adopted member of the Clan Macleod must choose between vengeance and the lives of innocents across the centuries in Highlander: The Search For Vengeance…

TOKKO , Vol.2

Now that Shindou Ranmaru knows of the existence of demons – and their link to his parents’ murders, he faces a choice. Members of Second Branch – known as TOKKO – have shown that his branch of the police simply can’t cope with the demons. So, will he remain a lowly detective whose job is futile, or will he respond to an enormous secret and transfer to Second Branch? Then there’s the girl he dreamed off – who turned out to be a member of Second Branch…

Volume Two of TOKKO presents a few changes… Shindou’s sister seems to have shifted from flirtatious to becoming a mother hen – trying to force him to a curfew to keep himself out of trouble. Even so, both the Second Branch commander and one of her officers seem to be interested in him – and not just as an addition to their branch [much to the jealousy of his First Branch compatriots]. Then there’s the secret he learns about the demons – and why Second Branch is able to defeat them – a secret that just might apply to him, too.

TOKKO, Vol. 2 - Cover Art

TOKKO 2 contains the middle four episodes of a limited series anime´ that was conceived for a late night audience. As a result, it’s a lot more vicious than usual. It’s also a lot sexier – and a good bit more complicated.

The animation is extremely good and the writing is surprisingly nuanced for a series that uses so much violence. As a series, TOOKO is more ambitious than a lot of anime´ – though it certainly doesn’t approach efforts like Stand Alone Complex. It does, however, produce some very serviceable chills, thrills and laughs [the comic relief here is effective because of its perfect timing and the characters who provide it].

Features include: a brief Making Of featurette and an image gallery.

Grade: TOKKO 2: A

Grade: Features: D

Final Grade: B

Noein, Vols. 3 & 4

Even though Haruka and her friends and her friends are just about to enter middle school, they’ve become embroiled in an extra-dimensional war between La’Cryma and Shangri-La – a war that can only be stopped by one side or the other obtaining the Dragon Torque. Problem is, Haruka is the Dragon Torque. Karasu, a La’Cryman from fifteen years in Haruka’s future, has decided to protect her from both sides. Apparently, they don’t see her as an actual person, but he does. One of her friends, Yuu, is the Karasu of fifteen years ago.

Further complicating matters, two La’Cryman have changed sides and seek to destroy the Torque – at least until an accident renders Atori an amnesiac and he becomes Haruka’s ally, along with his partner. Then there are the two X-Files-ish types who seem to turn up everywhere something strange happens.

Noein, Vol. 3

Things progress when Haruka begins having dreams that come true. Suddenly, we’re getting into the realm of time travel, wormholes and quantum mechanics – and it seems that scientists on Haruka’s Earth are planning an experiment that could turn her dimension into a doppelganger of Karasu’s.

With one more volume to go before events go critical, there’s a lot to process here. Haruka may not be a real, live girl, but if she is only the Dragon Torque, her behavior certainly wouldn’t give her away – and, in fact, she does appear to be learning to use the Dragon Torque as if it’s not her, but a separate entity.

Noein, Vol. 4

As things ramp up, there are more character reversals than just Atori and his partner – one especially big one comes as a complete surprise and the motivation is, of all things, love! In a way, love is the primary motivation for all of the human characters, whether or not they’re striving to save Haruka’s world…

The animation for the series continue top be a mix of rough-edged primitive [in some extremely powerful action sequences] and sophisticated [the design and animation of the Shangri-La characters and vessels, for example]. The storytelling continues to be superb. Despite the wealth of characters [from three separate dimensions, no less] it’s relatively easy to keep track of who’s doing what – and for whom.

Features include: Vol. 3: text-free opening sequence and a stills gallery [an On Location featurette and a storyboard to screen featurette are listed on the cover but weren’t included on my DVD – they weren’t even listed on the menu], Vol. 4 a storyboard to screen featurette; a still gallery and On Location With Japanese Voice Actor and Director, Part 3.

Grade: Noein, Volume 3: A

Grade: Noein, volume 4: A

Grade: Features: D

Final Grade: Noein, Volume 3: B

Final Grade: Noein, Volume 4: B

The Prince of Tennis – Box. Set, Vol. 1

Ryoma Echizen is a twelve-year old tennis prodigy. While waiting for the year to begin at Seigaku Junior High School, he takes part in a tournament that includes kids who are several years older than he. Once at school, his single-mindedness prevents him from noticing when a girl, Saori, takes a more than average interest in him – he’s too busy working on his game, and exposing two upperclassmen as cheaters.

Before long, it’s apparent that, even though members of the school tennis team have always been seniors, he’s good enough to make the team. Soon he’s facing challenges from various players – including one time when he’s forced to play with a broken old wooden racquet.

When the time comes for the tournament to choose the school team for the coming year, Ryoma must face a variety of unusual styles: Snake Kaido’s Viper technique; the calculations of Sadahara Inui, who studies every opponent meticulously; and others. But who knew Ryoma’s biggest challenge would be Men’s Doubles?

Prince of Tennis, Box Set #1 - Cover Art

In the meantime, a couple of sports journalists have come to the conclusion that Ryoma is the son of a nearly forgotten Japanese champion, Nanjiro Echizen. Since Ryoma won’t talk to them, they visit Nanjiro, who is only too happy to answer their questions – if one of them can get one tennis stroke past him!

The Prince of Tennis is a lovely little series. The animation is slightly above average and the writing is consistently entertaining. The characters that populate the halls of Seigaku are pretty much typical teens and tweens, with all the cliques and gossip you’d expect in a middle school. Even the tennis stars are just kids when they’re not playing or practicing…

One of the coolest things about this series is the actual matches. While matches are on, we are fed a steady stream of tennis knowledge that helps us understand what’s going on [at least when what’s going is unusual]. The way the players move is also a hoot. Picture the fight sequences of your average battle droid anime´ – then imagine the most heroic poses being used by tennis players as they lob, smash and spin through a match. Great fun!

There are no bonus features in this set.

Final Grade: B+

Hikaru No Go, Vol. 7: The Young Lions Tournament

Go is a seemingly simple game that involves places black or white tokens on a specially marked board with the intent of controlling as much area as possible. That it’s not so simple can be induced from the saying that it takes minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.

Hikaru is a young Go player who has been receiving instruction from Sai, the thousand-year old ghost of a master and instructor to the Emperor of Japan. Of late, he’s been stuck on a plateau – despite playing Sai every day. This presents a problem because he wants to enter the Young Lions Tournament, where he can play his nemesis, Akira.

In order to qualify for the Young Lions Tournament, he must rise to at least sixteenth in the A League rankings. Too bad he’s not even in A League and the tournament is rapidly drawing near. Now he has to figure out why he’s in a slump, get his game back, and rise to that lofty A League status…

Hikaru No Go, Vol. 7

Even though I came into this storyline at Volume 7, I had no trouble figuring out what was going on. The writing is clear – practically transparent. Unlike Ryoma from The Prince of Tennis, twelve-year old Hikaru is not a prodigy, and he has his insecurities and crises of confidence – which make him an interesting character.

The manner in which Go players rise to a professional level is pretty interesting stuff, too – and the manner in which each class of player behaves towards the others is almost purely medieval. In Hikaru No Go, we see the same kind of adaptation of action anime´ types of scenes to playing Go – and with the same kind of success [and oddness] we saw in The Prince of Tennis.

Hikaru No Go, Vol. 7: The Young Lions Tournament is a lot of fun, without trying to be much more. Most of its themes concern honorable competition, dealing with one’s problems honestly, and the value of friendship [especially when one of those friends is a thousand-year old ghost Go master]. The animation is adequate, but nothing to write home about. It serves the story and the characters admirably but is not particularly noteworthy in any other way. Each episode is followed by live action instruction in the strategies of Go.

Features include: Storyboards and Sketches, and a Know Your Go glossary.

Grade: Hikaru No Go, Vol. 7: The Young Lions Tournament: B+

Grade: Features: D

Final Grade: C+

Highlander: The Search For Vengeance

For some odd reason, when the decision was made to do a Highlander anime´ it was resolved not to use an actual blood member of the Clan Macleod. Instead, we get Colin, a man who became an Immortal before he actually became a member of the clan by adoption. I’m not sure why that rankles, but it does.

Anyway, The Search For Vengeance begins with Colin’s death following the murder of his lover, Moya, by the Roman commander, Marcus Octavius. Despite her dying request for his promise to leave off, he trails Marcus through the centuries, getting whupped at every turn – until, in the far future, he trails him to a shattered city where Marcus has built a towering headquarters and rules with an iron hand.

Plagued by the ghost of Amergan, a wisecracking sage, Colin falls in with a resistance movement solely to get within arms reach of Marcus. Somehow, along the way, he comes to care about these people – especially Dahlia, a warrior woman with a strange connection to Moya. Finally, for whatever reason, Colin must face Marcus with, yes, the fate of humanity in his hands…

The Search For Vengeance - Cover Art

While I’m sure that Highlander: The Search For Vengeance will bring many new viewers to the Highlander world, I’m not sure how many will actually want to stick around long enough to check out the live-action movies [only the first two of which are really worth seeing] or the two TV series. Why, because The Search For Vengeance plays like an average hack & slash video game. It’s so single-minded that we never really get to see any kind of nuance with the lead character.

The supporting cast is also kind of stereotypical: the kid pickpocket/thief who knows his way around; the warrior woman who falls for the hero; the cranky sage, who isn’t really made fresh by being a ghost; the villain who’s a villain because – shock! – he can be. We’ve seen it all before – and in many cases, better. On the plus side, the animation is certainly very good.

Features include: East Meets West Part #1, a featurette detailing the development of a Highlander anime´; Interview With Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri; a Photo Montage, and the Original Teaser by Madhouse.

Grade: Highlander: The Search For Vengeance: C+

Grade: Features: C-

Final Grade: C

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