These days it is a rare thing when "Anime" is the top category in this home entertainment catalog, but that is definitely the case this week with a trio of great releases including the likely anime bestseller of the year.  The TV category is also strong this week with the BBC’s innovative Sherlock and the complete run of the influential Route 66 series from the 1960s.
The top anime release of the year is due out this week, The Secret World of Arrietty (Buena Vista, "G," $29.99, BD $39.99), the latest anime feature from Studio Ghibli.  While Hayao Miyazaki did not direct Arrietty, he did write the screenplay and produce the film, which has all the visual brilliance and sensitive storytelling of the typical Ghibli movie.  The resourceful eponymous heroine of Arrietty is a "Borrower," a miniature girl whose family lives quiet comfortably in a home constructed in a pile of bricks in the crawlspace of a country house where a sickly boy prepares to face the rigors of a heart operation that could seal his fate.
The Secret World of Arrietty was the most successful Ghibli film ever at the U.S. box office, not because it is the best (though it’s very good, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Nausicca, Totoro, or Spirited Away), but because American audiences are becoming more and more familiar with the consistently high quality of the Ghibli productions.  The Secret World of Arrietty not only has an ingenious fantasy narrative based on Mary Norton’s children’s classic The Borrowers, it also manages to portray a subtle growth in character in both of its protagonists who have deal with serious problems in their respective worlds, problems that demand a maturity beyond their years.
With its lush backgrounds (both interior and exterior) Arrietty is a film that merits the extra cost of the Blu-ray edition.  Disney’s hi-def Blu-ray transfer is perfect as far as this observer can tell, sharp as a tack with carefully controlled contrast throughout.  With their shade-dappled forests and fields of wild flowers the exteriors in this film look like impressionist paintings, while the interiors with their carefully rendered textures of wood, nails, and brick have the precision of the best Dutch genre painting.  My only complaint about the BD was that the English subtitles, which must reflect an earlier, more literal translation of the original, bear only a passing resemblance to the English dialogue, which renders them more or less useless.
Also making its debut on Blu-ray on Tuesday is the Miyazaki classic Castle in the Sky (Buena Vista, "G," BD/Combo $39.99), one of his very best films.  Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels as well as by a visit Miyazaki made to the picturesque mining villages of Wales, Castle in the Sky is one of those rare children’s classics that mixes superbly-rendered action sequences with serious themes about the strength of downtrodden communities (the miners stick together) and the use of technological superiority for political ends.  This is not to suggest that Castle in the Sky is anything less than entertaining, but the film, no doubt due to its origins and affinities with Swift’s masterpiece, does provide enormous food for thought—and Disney’s Blu-ray hi-def transfer represents a major improvement over the regular DVD version, which was released here in 2005.  Parents who may have shown Totoro or Spirited Away to their kids might not be aware of Castle in the Sky, which is another Miyazaki masterpiece of comparable quality.
Maybe not quite as good, but still exceptional in almost every way is the third Ghibli movie that will be released on Blu-ray this week, Whisper of the Heart.(Buena Vista, "G" BD/Combo $39.99) Like Arrietty, Whisper of the Heart was written, but not directed by Miyazaki.  Produced in 1995 and based on the shojo manga series by Aoi Hiragi, Whisper of the Heart has a more conventional narrative than most Ghibli films, but it also contains more than its share of charms, not the least of which is its meticulously and lovingly rendered look at middle class life in Tokyo. Shizuku, the school girl protagonist of the film wants to be a writer, though at first she spends her time in the thankless task of rewriting the lyrics to John Denver’s "Country Roads."  Don’t be put off by this cross-cultural exercise that also shows up to dubious effect in the film’s soundtrack.  This is a film about youngsters trying to find their vocations, and all the uncertainties and occasional false steps that this crucial task entails.  Shizuku, a bookworm, who would rather read than study, eventually finds love as well as a career path, but it takes a burgeoning relationship with the mysterious Seiji, who is determined to become a master violinmaker, to inspire her to pursue a career as a writer.  Whisper of the Heart will appeal to girls more than boys, but animation fans of both genders will admire its superbly delineated backgrounds and its sensitive portrayal of life in Tokyo.
But the Ghibli films aren’t the only major anime releases this week, which will also see the debut of a new disc from one of the most popular contemporary anime franchises, Fullmetal AlchemistFullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood OVA Collection (Funimation, "14+," 60 min., BD/DVD Combo $24.98) includes four OVA sagas including "The Blind Alchemist," "Simple People," "The Tale of Teacher," and "Yet Another Man’s Battlefield."  FMA fans will be anxious to check out these new stories featuring the favorite characters, especially in the superb hi-def Blu-ray edition.
Also due this Tuesday are Planzet (Sentai Filmworks, "14+," 53 min., $29.98, BD $39.99), a 2010 computer-animated anime feature film directed by Jun Awazu, and Bakuman Part I (Anime Works, "13+," 325 min., BD 59.99), the Blu-ray debut of the first half of the 2010-2011 anime based on Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s comedy/drama manga series set inside the manga/anime industry.
Re-priced re-releases this week include Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 1 (Funimation, "13+," 625 min., $49.98, BD $54.98), which contains the first 26 episodes of the remastered "no filler" version of DBZ (at roughly half the per-episode cost of the previous DBZ Kai releases), and Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 2 (Funimation, "13+," $49.98, BD $54.98), which includes episodes 27-52.
The top release in this category is Sherlock Season 2 (BBC, 270 min., $34.98, BD $39.99), which collects the new TV series that is one of the very best produced in the U.K., and which totally blows the contemporary movie iteration of the character starring Robert Downey, Jr. out of the water.  The BBC’s Sherlock updates Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes sagas to modern times without losing the essence of the characters of Holmes and Watson, who are brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit).  The three 90-minute features included in Season 2 (and currently airing in the U.S. on PBS’s Mystery) include A Scandal Belgravia, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Reichenbach Fall.
Equally interesting for fans of vintage TV is Route 66: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, 6000 min., $129.99), which includes all 116 episodes of the groundbreaking series that aired on CBS from 1960-1964.  Not only does this series have one of the best TV theme songs ever (composed by bandleader Nelson Riddle), it was one of TV’s best semi-anthology series as its two young protagonists traveled the U.S. in their corvette in a sort of sports car version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  Tod Stiles (Martin Milner), who owned the car, was the epitome of the straight middle class kid, while his buddy Buzz (George Maharis) was more working class and imbued with Beat Generation attitudes.  Together they symbolized the restless state of American youth that was about to “revolt” in a major way later in the decade, and the series’ anthology format gave the producers the chance to examine serious social problems such as a racism and poverty. Route 66 was a truly memorable series for the generation that grew up in the 1960s, and since it was one of the few American TV series to be entirely filmed on the road, and as such presents a fascinating portrait of a nation on the verge of major changes.
Other fans of vintage TV will enjoy The Dean Martin Show Uncut (Time Life, 360 min. $29.98), which captures the relaxed, swinging essence of this series, which featured some of the top musical artists of the era, who generally gave great performances in this most easygoing of all TV variety show venues.  The other major vintage TV release is S.W.A.T.—The Final Season (Shout Factory, 1080 min., $44.99), which includes the final season of the 1970s cop series produced by Aaron Spelling.
The "found footage" craze, which is all the rage on the big screen thanks to several successful horror film series, made its way to TV last year in the form of The River: The Complete 1st Season (Disney, 344 min., $29.99).  Actually this saga of a rescue mission to find a lost TV naturalist in the wilds of the Amazon, which was produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame, is one of the more interesting "found footage" efforts yet, but TV audiences didn’t respond and the series was cancelled after just 8 episodes.
A more successful contemporary series is Rizzoli & Isles, which airs on the Turner Nets and is based on the mystery novels of Tess Gerritson.  Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros., $39.98) finds the "odd couple" of homicide detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and forensic pathologist Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) dealing with plenty of personal issues as well as with some very interesting homicides. 
Other contemporary shows of possible interest to younger viewers include MTV’s Teen Wolf: Season 1 (MTV, $39.98) and My Babysitter’s a Vampire: The First Season (Warner Bros., 300 min., $24.98), a 2011 Canadian-produced supernatural comedy/drama.
Theatrical Movies
The choice this week is between an old school horror movie and an old school war movie. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe stars in The Woman in Black (CBS, "PG-13," $30.99, BD $35.99), an adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel about a spectral horror haunting an English village where it foreshadows the death of children. Produced by the revived Hammer Studio, The Woman in Black was directed by James Watkins and scripted by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass).  Set in the Edwardian era, The Woman in Black suggests more than it shows and lets its creepy horror overtones build up relentlessly.  While the film is deeply unsettling at times, it is a far cry from the shock-heavy torture porn that passes for horror in films like the Hostel or Saw franchises.  Critics gave The Woman in Black a solid (for a horror movie) 65% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Produced by George Lucas, Red Tails (Fox, "PG-13," $28.98, BD $39.99) is the saga of the Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter pilots in World War II who had to overcome discrimination just to be able to get the opportunity to fly fighter planes.  With more than its share of clichéd war movie dialogue Red Tails manages to be both inspiring and insipid at the same time.  But although the Tuskegee Airmen definitely deserved a better film, Red Tails remains an honest effort to craft a worthy successor to those classic World War II movies, it is just appears to be next-to-impossible to recreate that 1940s spirit in our increasingly cynical age.
But Red Tails, whatever its faults, is The Best Years of Our Lives when compared with This Means War (Fox, "PG-13," $28.98, BD $39.99) a ridiculous comedy about two top notch CIA operatives who are best friends until they both fall in love with the same woman.  This Means War wastes the considerable talents of Tom Hardy (Bane in The Dark Knight Rises), Chris Pine (Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek), and Reese Witherspoon.  In spite of its trio of likable stars, This Means War received only a 25% from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes who found that the "romcom" neither romantic nor funny.

--Tom Flinn

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of