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Top DVDs at great prices

Category: Anime DVDs

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2 Disc Set) [2001] (buy now)

Inspired by the popular video game franchise, Hironobu Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a completely computer-generated film which, unlike Toy Story and Shrek, is also a serious science fiction drama with astonishingly human digital actors. Aki, the female lead, appeared in a full-page spread in Maxim magazine's Hot 100 list--and was indistinguishable from the real-life models. The setting and conflict make for incredible action, but it's the larger issues, character interaction and human elements that really make the movie shine. The Spirits Within is not simply a science fiction movie, in the same way that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not simply a kung-fu flick. The result is a fantastic summer movie with better action and more emotion than Pearl Harbor and actors more lifelike than those in that other video game movie, Tomb Raider.--Mike Fehlauer, Amazon.com

On the DVD: disc one includes an interesting, if a little flat, director's commentary. Better is the isolated score with a superb and fascinating commentary from composer Elliot Goldenthal. Other options allow you to access more information about the film. The menus are clear and feature full CGI effects and specially created sequences. Disc two is where you will find the real meat, with literally hours of documentaries and technical promos to plough through covering every aspect of the filmmaking process, along with music videos and an alternative opening sequence. You can re-edit a short sequence from the film and there's also a wealth of DVD-ROM material offering the complete screenplay and an interesting tour of Square Pictures, makers of the film. Features like the FHM-style photo shoot of CGI heroine Aki give an indication of the target audience for this movie. Add all this extra material to the superb picture quality--which almost leaves you convinced that you are watching a live action movie--and crystal sharp sound and you have one of the most technically impressive discs to hit the market so far. Any DVD buff will need this just to prove that the format is a worthwhile investment.--Jon Weir

Price: £4.97

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My Neighbour Totoro (buy now)

Price: £5.97

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Princess Mononoke (Special Edition) (buy now)

This epic, animated 1997 fantasy has already made history as the top-grossing domestic feature ever released in Japan, where its combination of mythic themes, mystical forces, and ravishing visuals tapped deeply into cultural identity and contemporary, ecological anxieties. For international animation and anime fans, Princess Mononoke represents an auspicious next step for its revered creator, Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service), an acknowledged anime pioneer, whose painterly style, vivid character design, and stylized approach to storytelling take ambitious, evolutionary steps here.

Set in medieval Japan, Miyazaki's original story envisions a struggle between nature and man. The march of technology, embodied in the dark iron forges of the ambitious Tatara clan, threatens the natural forces explicit in the benevolent Great God of the Forest and the wide-eyed, spectral spirits he protects. When Ashitaka, a young warrior from a remote, and endangered, village clan, kills a ravenous, boar-like monster, he discovers the beast is in fact an infectious "demon god," transformed by human anger. Ashitaka's quest to solve the beast's fatal curse brings him into the midst of human political intrigues as well as the more crucial battle between man and nature.

Miyazaki's convoluted fable is clearly not the stuff of kiddie matinees, nor is the often graphic violence depicted during the battles that ensue. If some younger viewers (or less attentive older ones) will wish for a diagram to sort out the players, Miyazaki's atmospheric world and its lush visual design are reasons enough to watch. For the English-language version, Miramax assembled an impressive vocal cast including Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup (as Ashitaka), Claire Danes (as San), Minnie Driver (as Lady Eboshi), Billy Bob Thornton, and Jada Pinkett Smith. They bring added nuance to a very different kind of magic kingdom. Recommended for ages 12 and older. --Sam Sutherland

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Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2 Disc Special Edition) (buy now)

The question facing any viewer of the Japanese CG feature Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is: do you have to know the games on which it's based in order to understand the film? And the answer is: it certainly helps. But even complete novices (i.e., most parents) in the Final Fantasy world will find some entertainment in its wealth of fantasy-based action, and the animation never fails to astonish. Picking up two years after an epic battle between the forces of good (represented by brooding soldier Cloud) and evil (Cloud's former general, Sephiroth), FFVII opens in the devastated city of Midgard, whose youthful occupants suffer from a ghastly disease known as Geostigma. A trio of brothers arrives with what appears to be a cure for the plague, but their gesture conceals a more sinister purpose: to revive Sephiroth and bring about the end of the world. Cloud and his companions must once again rise to the occasion to stop the siblings and the revived Sephiroth from unleashing total destruction. Complex and self-referential to the point of occasional incomprehension, Final Fantasy VII will definitely be most appreciated by fans of the game series, but if others can look past the numbing dialogue and frenetic action (which is a bit too intense for very young children), the film offers a carefree and action-packed viewing experience. The two-disc set contains the original Japanese language version of the film as well as an English-dubbed edition (Rachel Leigh Cook and Christy Carlson Romano, among others, provide the vocal talent) and a version edited for the Venice Film Festival. A 30-minute featurette that recaps the Final Fantasy story up to VII, as well as a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, and promotions for future Final Fantasy VII games and products round out the extras. --Paul Gaita

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Laputa - Castle In The Sky (buy now)

Inspired by Gulliver's Travels, the fantasy-adventure Castle in the Sky was Hayao Miyazaki's third feature, and helped to establish his reputation as a visionary in both Japan and America. The orphan Sheeta inherited a mysterious crystal that links her to the legendary sky-kingdom of Laputa. With the help of resourceful Pazu and a rollicking band of sky pirates, she makes her way to the ruins of the once-great civilization. Sheeta and Pazu must outwit the evil Muska, who plans to use Laputa's science to make himself ruler of the world. Castle echoes elements in Myazaki's earlier Nausicaš, and anticipates imagery in his later films, from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away. Disney's new English dub, which features Anna Paquin (Sheeta), James Van Der Beek (Pazu), and Cloris Leachman (pirate matriarch Dola), is lively and close in tone to the original Japanese, if a bit talkier. The exciting flying sequences, appealing characters, and fantastic vision of a steam-powered future Jules Verne might have imagined make Castle in the Sky a must-have for fans of Japanese and Western animation. --Charles Solomon , Amazon.com

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Nausicaa Valley Of The Wind (buy now)

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Howl's Moving Castle [2005] (buy now)

Like a dream, Howl's Moving Castle carries audiences to vistas beyond their imaginations where they experience excitement, adventure, terror, humor, and romance. With domestic box office receipts of over $210 million, Howl passed Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke to become the #3 film in Japanese history, behind his Spirited Away and James Cameron's Titanic.

Based on a juvenile novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle marks the first time Miyazaki has adapted another writer's work since Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). Sophie, a 19-year-old girl who believes she is plain, has resigned herself to a drab life in her family's hat shop--until the Witch of the Waste transforms her into a 90-year-old woman. In her aged guise, Sophie searches for a way to break the Witch's spell and finds unexpected adventures. Like Chihiro, the heroine of Spirited Away, Sophie discovers her hidden potential in a magical environment--the castle of the title.

Using CG, Miyazaki creates a ramshackle structure that looks like it might disintegrate at any moment. Sophie's honesty and determination win her some valuable new friends: Markl, Howl's young apprentice; a jaunty scarecrow; Calcifer, a temperamental fire demon; and Heen, a hilarious, wheezing dog. She wins the heart of the dashing, irresponsible wizard Howl, and brings an end an unnecessary and destructive war. The film overflows with eclipsing visuals that range from frightening aerial battles to serene landscapes, and few recent features--animated or live action--offer as much magic as Howl's Moving Castle.--Charles Solomon

Price: £9.97

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Whisper Of The Heart (buy now)

Price: £5.97

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Spirited Away [2001] (buy now)

Price: £6.97

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Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex - SAC 2nd GIG - Complete Collection [2005] (buy now)

Price: £21.97

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Spirited Away [2003] (buy now)

The highest grossing film in Japanese box-office history, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away (Sen To Chihiro Kamikakushi) is a dazzling film that reasserts the power of drawn animation to create fantasy worlds. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Lewis Carroll's Alice, Chihiro plunges into an alternate reality. On the way to their new home, the petulant adolescent and her parents find what they think is a deserted amusement park. Her parents stuff themselves until they turn into pigs, and Chihiro discovers they're trapped in a resort for traditional Japanese gods and spirits. An oddly familiar boy named Haku instructs Chihiro to request a job from Yubaba, the greedy witch who rules the spa. As she works, Chihiro's untapped qualities keep her from being corrupted by the greed that pervades Yubaba's mini-empire. In a series of fantastic adventures, she purges a river god suffering from human pollution, rescues the mysterious No-Face, and befriends Yubaba's kindly twin, Zeniba. The resolve, bravery and love Chihiro discovers within herself enable her to aid Haku and save her parents. The result is a moving and magical journey, told with consummate skill by one of the masters of contemporary animation. --Charles Solomon

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Ghost in the Shell - Solid State Society (buy now)

Price: £11.98

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Kiki's Delivery Service (buy now)

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Grave Of The Fireflies [1988] (buy now)

Price: £8.97

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DragonBall Z: Season One (REGION 1) (NTSC) (buy now)

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Naruto Unleashed - Series 2 Part 1 (buy now)

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Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex - SAC 1st GIG - Complete Box Set (buy now)

Price: £21.97

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Akira - The Ultimate Collection [1991] (buy now)

Artist-writer Katsuhiro Omoto began telling the story of Akira as a comic book series in 1982 but took a break from 1986 to 1988 to write, direct, supervise and design this animated film version. Set in 2019, the film richly imagines the new metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, which is designed from huge buildings down to the smallest details of passing vehicles or police uniforms. Two disaffected orphan teenagers--slight, resentful Tetsuo and confident, breezy Kanada--run with a biker gang, but trouble grows when Tetsuo start to resent the way Kanada always has to rescue him. Meanwhile, a group of scientists, military men and politicians wonder what to do with a collection of withered children who possess enormous psychic powers, especially the mysterious, rarely seen Akira, whose awakening might well have caused the end of the old world. Tetsuo is visited by the children, who trigger the growth of psychic and physical powers that might make him a superman or a super-monster.

As befits a distillation of 1,318 pages of the story so far, Akira is overstuffed with character, incident and detail. However, it piles up astonishing set pieces: the chases and shoot-outs (amazingly kinetic, amazingly bloody) benefit from minute cartoon detail that extends to the surprised or shocked faces of the tiniest extra; the Tetsuo monster alternately looks like a billion-gallon scrotal sac or a Tex Avery mutation of the monster from The Quatermass Experiment; and the finale--which combines flashbacks to more innocent days with a destruction of Neo City and the creation of a new universe--is one of the most mind bending in all sci-fi cinema. --Kim Newman

On the DVD: as befits this film's status as a Manga classic, Akira has a wide selection of extras spread across two discs, including a "Making of Akira" documentary, a photo gallery, a quiz and a "Make your own trailer" feature, as well as one hidden feature on each disc. The film has been digitally remastered and presented in widescreen format, with Dolby Digital 5.1 for the English-dubbed version, and Dolby Digital 2.0 for the original Japanese language version. The only disappointment of the disc is the animated Scene Selection, where the clips are rendered so small that they can be a bit difficult to decipher. --Rob Burrow

Price: £12.48

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DragonBall Z: Season Two (REGION 1) (NTSC) (buy now)

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Naruto Unleashed - Series 1 Part 2 (buy now)

Price: £8.97

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Porco Rosso (buy now)

Porco Rosso (The Crimson Pig, 1992) ranks as Hayao Miyazaki's oddest film: a bittersweet period adventure about a dashing pilot who has somehow been turned into a pig. Miyazaki once said, "Initially, it was supposed to be a 45-minute film for tired businessmen to watch on long airplane flights... Why kids love it is a mystery to me."

The early 1930s setting enabled Miyazaki to focus on the old airplanes he loves, and the film boasts complex and extremely effective aerial stunts and dogfights. In the new English dub from Disney, Michael Keaton as Porco delivers lines like "All middle-aged men are pigs" with appropriate cynicism, but his voice may be too familiar for some Miyazaki fans. Susan Egan makes a curiously distant Gina, the thrice-widowed hotel owner bound to Porco by years of friendship; Kimberly Williams is more effective as the irrepressible young engineer Fio. Porco Rosso may be an odd film, but Miyazaki's directorial imagination never flags.-- Charles Solomon

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Appleseed (buy now)

Price: £13.48

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Castle Of Cagliostro (buy now)

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Cowboy Bebop: The Movie [2001] (buy now)

As the eagerly awaited Cowboy Bebop feature film reunites the original director, screenwriter, composer and vocal cast, it's not surprising that the film plays like an expanded TV episode. What should be the routine capture of a two-bit hacker by Faye escalates into a deadly game of cat and mouse, as Spike and the gang struggle to prevent the evil Vincent Volaju from murdering every human on Mars. Director Shinichiro Watanabe handles the action sequences with his usual panache: inside the sinister Cherious Medical research facility, Spike fights a beautiful agent, using a push broom in a series of manoeuvres Jackie Chan might envy; the climactic duel between Spike and Vincent plays against innocent yet eerie images of a Halloween carnival. This will delight fans of the series and provide an excellent introduction for the uninitiated. --Charles Solomon

Price: £4.97

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The Cat Returns (buy now)

The Cat Returns brings back Muta, the cranky fat cat, and Baron von Gikkingen, the elegant statue, from the feature Whisper of the Heart. On her way home from school, Haru, a confused 17-year-old, prevents an elegant gray cat from being hit by a truck. She's inadvertently saved the life of Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom, and his royal father decides to thank her. He fills her locker with gift-wrapped mice and decides she should come to his kingdom and marry Lune. Haru seeks help from the Cat Bureau, and eventually returns to relatively normal life, with the assistance of Muta and the Baron.

The Cat Returns recalls Whisper of the Heart and Takashi Nakamura's Catnapped, but it offers neither the wistful charm of the former nor the bold visual imagination of the latter. Hayao Miyazaki has been seeking young directors for Studio Ghibli for several years. After preparing the script and storyboards for Whisper, he turned the film over to Yoshifumi Kondo, who died tragically shortly after the film's release. The Cat Returns was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, who shows promise, but lacks Kondo's elegant sensibility. The DVD extras include a fulsome making-of documentary, Morita's voluminous storyboards, and mini-interviews with the vocal cast that includes Tim Curry, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle and Elliott Gould. --Charles Solomon, Amazon.com

Price: £5.97

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Howl's Moving Castle [2005] (buy now)

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Pokemon Heroes (buy now)

Price: £4.97

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Pokemon: Jirachi Wish Maker (buy now)

Price: £10.98

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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (buy now)

Mamoru Oshii's landmark Ghost in the Shell (1995) largely defined the cyberpunk genre and influenced the Matrix films in the U.S. The long-awaited sequel continues the adventures of Batou, Major Kusanagi's former assistant, who was left behind when she disappeared into the cyber-realm of the Net.

With his new human partner, Togusa, Batou investigates a series of bloody murders involving gynoids, robots with sexual functions. The case leads them to the headquarters of the Locus Solus company, where Batou uncovers the evil secret behind the creation of the gynoids. Innocence includes some staggeringly beautiful CG images, especially a parade depicting characters from Chinese mythology. Oshii contrasts this glittering beauty with a Blade Runner-esque dystopia. But even his skill as a director can't disguise the fact that the underdeveloped story and flat characters are far less interesting than the opulent visuals. --Charles Solomon

Price: £10.97

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Ghost In The Shell [1995] (buy now)

The skilful blending of drawn animation and computer-generated imagery excited anime fans when this science fiction mystery was released in 1995: many enthusiasts believe Ghost suggests what the future of anime will be, at least in the short term. The film is set in the not-too-distant future, when an unnamed government uses lifelike cyborgs or "enhanced" humans for undercover work. One of the key cyborgs is The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, who resembles a cross between The Terminator and a Playboy centrefold. She finds herself caught up in a tangled web of espionage and counterespionage as she searches for the mysterious superhacker known as "The Puppet Master."

Mamoru Oshii directs with a staccato rhythm, alternating sequences of rapid-fire action (car chases, gun battles, explosions) with static dialogue scenes that allow the characters to sort out the vaguely mystical and rather convoluted plot. Kusanagi's final quote from I Corinthians suggests that electronic evolution may compliment and eventually supplant organic evolution. The minor nudity, profanity, and considerable violence would earn Ghost in the Shell at least a PG rating. --Charles Solomon

Price: £10.97

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