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Anime Reviews: Ghosts, Brawlers, Journeymen and Shinigami

In this third excerpt from The Official Luxology modo 301 Guide, author Daniel Ablan puts a twist on Shader Tree applications.

The action in Naruto The Movie: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom is perhaps some of the best seen in this series.

Naruto The Movie: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom

2008. Director: Toshiyuki Tsuru. 95 minutes. DVD, $29.98. Distributor: Viz Media.

In a departure from the usual narrative, Naruto, our neophyte ninja destined to become a Hokage (leader) of Hidden-Leaf village, abandons the typical, hyperactive shenanigans that mark his serio-comic coming-of-age tale. Instead, a serious task is at hand. Alongside Sakura, Kakashi and Rock Lee, Naruto must protect Prince Michiru and his son Hikaru on their journey home to the Crescent Moon Kingdom. A seemingly casual assignment, however, quickly unravels when they reach their final destination. Not only is the king dead and the royal family in danger, but a band of rogue ninja are also lurking behind the scenes. Naruto and his shinobi pals find themselves caught in a struggle for royal power.

Whether it be Naruto, Sakura or in this case Prince Michiru and the boy Hikaru, recognizing the value of friendship and responsibility fuels the developing characters of the Naruto saga. For an anime series so popular with young boys and girls, parents should be quick to feed their child's Naruto-hunger. Guardians of the Crescent Moon is no different. Naruto is still our central hero, and the power of the Nine-Tailed Fox buried within him is essential for victory. But to save the Prince and restore the kingdom, everyone must do his or her part. The action that follows is perhaps some of the best I have ever seen in this series. Admirable ethics and morality aside, this flick grabs your face and unleashes a visual punch that will leave you happily dazed!

For Tsubasa, fantasy is definitely the buzzword, but is it good fantasy?

Tsubasa Vol. 9

2008 TV Series (four episodes). Director: Koichi Mashimo. 100 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $29.98. Distributor: Funimation.

Once upon a time in the Clow Kingdom, a distant and far away land, the princess Sakura and the young archaeologist Syaoran unearth a mysterious and life-changing force. Suddenly a pair of ghostly wings manifests on Sakura's back and begins to pull her into another dimension, wings that are the physical embodiment of the princess' soul and memories. When Syaoran reaches out to save her, the wings are broken and the feathers scattered across multiple dimensions. To save her life, the feathers must be found, and the two thus embark upon a journey through space and time. Along the way they join up with the brash warrior Kurogane and the magician Fai, ultimately creating a team well equipped to confront the challenges of multi-dimensional travel.

For Tsubasa, fantasy is definitely the buzzword. Is it good fantasy? Not really. In the search for Sakura's feathers, for example, our travelers are initially trapped in a storybook world in which they must literally write their way out -- and where their visual appearance comically resembles that of Wii game. Next, we find them on a modern-day charter bus in the desert. Here, much like a bad episode of Knight Rider -- Hasselhoff version --, they must fight an unruly motorcycle gang. Throw in some priceless melodrama, feathers floating just out of reach and constant pinning for the fate of the princess and you get the gist. Tsubasa is the common story of boy must save girl, yet strewn across multiple worlds in order to create a fantasy epic. Some episodes are okay. Some episodes are flat. Overall, its heterogeneity and discontinuity can make you wonder if you have ADD; floating feathers are just not enough to unite infinite worlds and storylines. Nevertheless, as an original creation of CLAMP, Tsubasa should come with its own fan base.

Season three of Yu Yu Hakusho contains a crucial hinge in the story of Yusuke's epic journey.

Yu Yu Hakusho: Season Three

2008 TV Series (episodes 57-84). Director: Abe Noriyuki. 620 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $34.98. Distributor: Funimation.

The story of Yusuke Urameshi, the delinquent street-brawler made good, is by no means new. It was back in 1992 that Yu Yu Hakusho hit the airwaves in Japan. Subsequently, we witnessed Yusuke's unexpected act of heroism that not only caused his death, but also gave him a second chance at life. Upon dying he learns that demons are trying to control the three realms of reality: the demon, spirit, and human worlds. To combat this, Yusuke is sent back. Along with his human and demon allies, he becomes a spirit detective to hunt down these divine monsters.

The season three DVD set is a crucial hinge in the story of Yusuke's epic journey. Team Urameshi's participation in the Dark Tournament reaches its crescendo. Finally, after so many contests of pugilistic prowess for the fate of three worlds, Yusuke faces the demon Toguro and earns his way back to the human world. However, his victory does not eliminate the demon threat. Yusuke soon learns that a tunnel into the human world is being carved, and a new foe is on the horizon. All the tournament action of season two is thus brought to a close, and with Yusuke back in Japan we are ultimately pushed toward the final season of Yu Yu Hakusho.

What can I say? Yu Yu Hakusho is classic anime. Like Naruto, teamwork, individual acts of heroism, and comic relief in the face of danger canvass each action packed frame. Better yet, this anime never loses sight of audience expectation. This is about no-holds- barred street brawling. And no matter how many breaks we get, or comic scenes of Yusuke's now boring high school life -- he is after all the unknown savior of the world -- we never have to wait too long for fist to cheek contact. Regardless of age, as the quality of this anime will show, Yu Yu Hakusho still delivers a TKO.

Capitalizing on Japanese myth and folklore within the genre of horror, Ghost Hunt is a paranormal adventure aimed at a young audience.

Ghost Hunt Vol. 2

2008 TV Series (episodes 14-25). Director: Akira Mano. 276 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $49.98. Distributor: Funimation.

Are you seeing ghosts? Does a murderous apparition haunt your house? If so, call in the Shibuya Psychic Research team. A cute little freshman named Mai Taniyama will solve all your problems. Supported by an international cast, and especially the enigmatic Naru, Mai's visions and innate link to the world beyond force spirits and their unresolved, former lives into the light. Unfortunately, wherever Mai goes, blood tends to follow.

Capitalizing on Japanese myth and folklore within the genre of horror, a concept made famous in the West by such films as The Ring and The Grudge, Ghost Hunt is a paranormal adventure aimed at a young audience. In this volume in particular, Mai's investigations bring her face to face with a former suicide and the victims of a psychopathic torturer. Its potential on the scary meter is thus rather high. But, in that regard, Ghost Hunt fails to deliver. It's just not that scary. Nevertheless, I can't slight it too much. For a young audience this may be a perfect balance of scary and fun. Like any close-knit organization, the Shibuya Psychic Research team is an unavoidable family prone to squabbles and comic pranks. There are as many laughs as there are screams in their adventures. And with the success of tongue-in-cheek shows like the CW's Supernatural, Ghost Hunt has a definite place in the world of television. At any rate -- and as enamored as I can often be with Jennifer Love-Hewitt -- it's still better than Ghost Whisperer.

Death Note is arguably the best anime to come out of Japan in a decade, and the Volume 1 box set is a must have for all fans.

Death Note Box Set 1

2008 TV Series (episodes 1-20). Director: Tetsuro Araki. 500 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $69.98. Distributor: Viz Media.

Okay, so I'm repeating myself. Who doesn't know Death Note? Arguably the best anime to come out of Japan in a decade, the story of Light Yagami, the bored teenage genius that stumbles upon the notebook of a Shinigami death god, has taken both Japan and the U.S. by storm: manga, anime, live-action movies, retail, etc. And this should be no surprise. Light's quest to ride the world of criminals produces a crime drama whose intricacy works like a David Mamet screenplay -- think Heist or The Spanish Prisoner. This seemingly noble gesture, after all, rapidly evolves into a tyrannical plot to create a new world order. The only one that can stop him is another genius: the eccentric detective called L. What follows is a nail-biting game of cat and mouse that keeps you on the edge of your seat. In fact, the resulting addiction nearly requires a warning label: Death Note always leaves you begging for more.

From first contact with the notebook to Light's initial arrest, the Volume 1 box set contains the first 20 episodes and is a must have for all fans. Although the series has progressed greatly, the fundamental strength of Death Note's story -- much like Bleach – is that there is certain sentimentality about going back to the beginning. It's fun to be reintroduced to Light's first experiments with the death note, the shinigami Ryuk, the mad genius L and the delectable Misa. Although the mystery and intrigue is anything but a surprise, you ironically watch as if it were your first time. Consequently, you only become more attached to this beloved anime.

With the Christmas shopping season already underway, this box set will undoubtedly be a cherished present to unwrap!

Raised on such iconic, westernized giants as G-Force, Voltron and Robotech, James Brusuelas is a literary scholar and freelance writer based out of Orange County in Southern California.