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Anime Reviews: Tales of Death Gods, Soul Reapers, Dog-Eared Demons and Opportunistic Aliens

This month anime reviewer James Brusuelas checks out Death Note Vol. 6, InuYasha Fifth Season, Dead Space Downfall and Bleach Uncut Season 2.

Death Note Vol. 6 starts off slowly, but the twists and turns will keep you glued to the screen.

Death Note Vol. 6

2008, TV Series (four episodes). Director: Tetsuro Araki. 100 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $24.98. Distributor: Viz Media.

If you call yourself an anime fan and you don't know the story of Death Note by now, you're definitely a "Johnny-come-lately"! But, being the kind reviewer that I am, I'll go over the basics. So, Light Yagami, bored high school genius, stumbles upon the notebook of a Shinigami death god, which gives him the power to kill by simply writing down a name. Consequently, Light plans to rid the world of criminals. Now, as good as that sounds, Light's lust for power takes over, and he begins to conceptualize a new world order under his authority. Moreover, the surge in deaths initiates a police investigation led by the mastermind L. So begins the hunt for the elusive killer Kira (a.k.a. Light), and eventually the mysterious second Kira, i.e., Light's devoted follower Misa. And thus begins the intricate game of mental chess between Light and L that makes Death Note both smart and enticing.

Now, as you may recall, Vol. 5 introduced a tangent in the story arc. L was closing in on Light and Misa. In order to save her and himself, Light cut a deal with Rem and Ryuk, the Shinigami, whereby the power of the death note was forfeited. As a result, Light's memories of Misa were erased -- and thus their innocence ensured. Be that as it may, the killing continues, and the murders are now linked to a business outfit called the Yotsuba.

What happened? How is it possible that the killing continues? What exactly was the deal, the plan, initiated by Light?

Admittedly, Vol. 6 starts off slowly. The whole Yotsuba angle is a bit stale. Don't get me wrong, the twists and turns of Death Note still keep you glued to the screen, even if Light and Misa are no longer the killers. But these new characters are without depth and entirely uninteresting. However Death Note never fails in the end. This entire ploy turns out to be a stroke of brilliance by the writing team that drives this anime. You have been left wondering how Light and Misa will regain their power. Well, the last episode of this DVD provides all the answers. Not only do Light and Misa regain the power of the death note, but Light's plan is also revealed. Better yet, working alongside Light to incriminate the Yotsuba has left L in an overlooked, perilous position. So, this apparently odd tangent in the story arc ironically keeps it in focus. That is, Death Note is essentially a battle of wits. Only the best plan will ultimately win the game.

One again, Death Note is a must-see. There is yet another cliffhanger that leaves you chomping at the bit for the next installment.

This box set is indicative of what makes InuYasha so popular. It may seem like just another anime filled with demons and demon slayers, but the consistency and focus of the storytelling are impeccable here.

InuYasha Fifth Season Box Set

2008, TV Series (Episodes 100-126). Director: N/A. 600 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $119.98. Distributor: Viz Media.

InuYasha tells the story of Kagome, a high school girl transported back in time to Japan's feudal era. There she encounters InuYasha, a half-human, half-dog demon -- yes his dog ears are rather cute -- who has been imprisoned for trying to steal the Jewel of the Four Souls. But when the jewel is shattered, and its pieces are scattered, the two must join forces to recover the shards.

In the fifth season, we find InuYasha and Kagome still committed to their mission. After all, even alongside such a colorful cast as the ladies' man/priest Miroku, InuYasha's half-brother Sesshomaru, the wolf-demon Koga, and the priestess Kikyo, whose lives complicate this medieval tale, the focus remains the same: InuYasha must find the shards and defeat his arch-enemy Naraku. Nevertheless, a new element enters this "feudal fairy tale." The Band of Seven, a group of mercenaries long ago executed, has been resurrected to plague Japan. InuYasha sets out to stop them.

Simply put, this box set is indicative of what makes InuYasha so popular. For yet another anime inundated with demons and demon slayers, the consistency and focus of the storytelling is impeccable. Not only do InuYasha and his team confront the Band of Seven in combat throughout the entire season, but a connection to Naraku and the jewel shards is slowly revealed. Moreover, Naraku, whose past encounters with InuYasha have ended in stalemate, has one trick left up his sleeve as all parties converge on Mt. Hakurei. And, like any good final battle worthy of its crescendo, someone will not survive this moment of climax!

Overall, the 600 minutes of this DVD box set moves quickly. Never once do you feel the story lagging, or find yourself annoyed with a "filler episode" that has nothing to do with InuYasha's mission. This is just classic storytelling -- packed with fluid action -- that always leaves you satisfied.

Dead Space Downfall, the anime, tries to find its own voice, but the upcoming video game is probably a better bet.

Dead Space Downfall

2008. 73 minutes. DVD, $26.97. Distributor: Anchor Bay Ent.

Based on the Image Comics series, Dead Space Downfall -- which is soon to be released as a video game for Xbox 360 and PS3 -- tells the story of an ancient artifact discovered in deep space. Initially recovered by a mining ship, it's immediately seen as a religious relic and stored on the USG Ishimura for transportation back to Earth. However, upon being removed from its resting place, the artifact reawakens an alien race that attacks the mining colony and the Ishimura. As these parasitic aliens infest the crew, a seemingly endless flow of blood and guts ensues.

According to Joe Goyette (producer), "The comic book has its own voice. The game has its own voice. We have our own voice too." To quote him further, "For us, it was creating another 400 ways to kill people..." In a nutshell, that concisely sums up Dead Space Downfall. Like an action-driven Hollywood summer blockbuster -- complete with a bloated budget to hire the most famous actors around, regardless of talent -- this movie is all about one thing: slaughter. Honestly, I couldn't even remember the names of the characters after pressing stop on my remote control! From beginning to end, scene after scene, it was nothing more than aliens infesting human bodies, and then either ripping them into pieces or turning them into zombie-like murderers. Sound familiar? Well, it's like every other horror movie involving alien or zombie encounters: all blood, no story.

At the end of the day, I think the upcoming video game might hold my attention more. At least then I'll be able to actively take part in destroying the aliens using my video console. Other than that, go rent Aliens or 28 Weeks Later. You'll be much happier.

Season Two of Bleach is a wonderful walk back in time and these episodes are what made the title a phenomenon.

Bleach Uncut Season 2 Box Set

2008, TV Series (Episodes 21-41). Director: N/A. 525 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $69.98. Distributor: Viz Media.

Much like Death Note, if you don't already know Bleach, then I'm nearly at a loss for words. After all, Ichigo, with his spiked hair -- and nearly orange at that! -- is the modern samurai for whom 21st-century Japan has been waiting. Not only is he a skilled warrior, but he also has a hip coolness that even the ladies love. More important, it's not just our world that finds Ichigo enticing. When Rukia, a soul reaper from another plane of existence, crosses over to hunt down a rogue hallow (a lost soul), she finds herself attracted to Ichigo's spiritual energy. And when Ichigo and his family come under attack by this spirit, a wounded Rukia transfers her soul-reaping powers to the young teenager, making him a full-fledged soul reaper. So begins the story of Bleach.

In season two, a seminal feature of this anime's story begins: the attempt to save Rukia. For her transgressions in the mortal world, the Soul Reaper Society has imprisoned her within their walled compound. Ichigo and his recently formed band of heroes -- Chad, Ohime, Ishida, and Master Yoruichi -- must now cross over to the world of the soul reapers and save Rukia from execution.

For anyone who has spent many late hours watching Cartoon Network, the later seasons of Bleach are probably fresh memories, or even the impetus of their Bleach love. But going back to Season Two is a wonderful walk back in time. In my opinion, these episodes are what made the Bleach phenomenon. After leaving the mortal world behind, Ichigo and his team (along with the viewers) begin to learn about the military-like Soul Reaper Society: their squads, their lieutenants, their training, their captains, their characters. Moreover, as Ichigo and his friends search for a way into the compound and meet various soul reapers, the single combat, the contest of heroes, begins. The action then flows like a raging stream. But the groundwork is also laid out for the future of the series. New allies, such as Ganju, are introduced. The personal histories of Ichigo's friends are explored. And Ichigo himself finds that, as strong as he is, he has to learn how to control his spiritual power and to truly master his sword, if he wants to free Rukia. The rescue will undoubtedly not come quickly, and the road traveled will be filled with both drama and comedy.

Overall, I like this season. As I've said before, the later episodes of Bleach tend to wander off track, to lose sight of the main story: the Ichigo/Rukia dynamic. Now, in a box set that contains five DVDs, there are obviously going to be some "filler" episodes that some may find annoying. But, in the end, there is a focus and continuity in Season Two that invests you in the relationship between Rukia and Ichigo.

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