Cybernetics Guardian

Cybernetics Guardian
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Judging from his pattern of interviews and media appearances, and how his products have been treated and released, writer and mecha designer Koichi Ohata has always struck me as being the designer that John O’Donnell of Central Park Media must keep in a box under his desk just for the hell of it. Ohata is the principal mind behind U.S. Manga’s rotten but financially successful MD Geist, the rather enjoyable Genocyber, and this OVA release from 1989– Cybernetics Guardian, or CyGuard for short.

So, this Ohata guy, he must have drawn a really, really cool picture of one of his bio-mecha monsters, and taken it to the Soshin Pictures dudes, and they went, “Dude! Let’s make an OVA so we can animate this way cool monster!” That’s all I can think about that could possibly explain the barely-comprehensible goofiness of CyGuard. Ohata and screenwriter Mutsumi Sanjo cobble together a plot involving a religious cult, a vindictive scientist, and a suit of bio-mechanical armor that can only be used if the wearer is really mad. It’s somewhat entertaining, but not really for the right reasons.

Anyway, CyGuard is about John Stalker, a promising young scientist living in the city of Cyber-Wood (huh huh!), testing out a cyber-suit made with Astenite, a metal discovered in the far-flung future year of 1995, which is capable of absorbing and channeling psychic energy. This doesn’t seem to mean much– the only thing that John’s suit does is extend menacing black tendrils of psychic energy, and then it blows up, because John’s boss, Adler (who looks almost exactly like Benimaru from the King of Fighters games), doesn’t like him.

But the explosion doesn’t kill John– in fact, he’s completely unharmed. However, the event does attract the attention of a cult of helmeted goons who worship a god called Doldo, and congregate in front of a huge, mutant skeleton (no doubt it’s L. Ron Hubbard) to chant and praise a god whose name is only one letter away from “Dildo”. Anyway, the cult goons think that John is actually the reincarnation of a god of destruction called Saldo, and hustle him off to their little Freemason lodge, or whatever the hell it is.

But John doesn’t take this well, and somehow makes the ambulance he’s been kidnapped in explode. Pursuing him is his would-be girlfriend, Leyla, as well as the stalwart and almost totally personality-free Officer Gordon, and of course, Adler, who just wants to finish killing him. In the meantime, the cultists talk to him, and he somehow turns into a huge, grotesque monster, which I guess is the “Cybernetics Guardian” referenced in the title– we never actually hear it during the show.

This is a funny, funny show. The pacing moves along at about 500 miles per hour, characters fade in and out with no real motivation, there’s tons of random violence, and the incredibly shitty rock n’ roll score (by the awesome Trash Gang! Why aren’t they incredibly popular because of this OVA?) is constantly fading in and out, with no real regard for what’s happening onscreen. Other wonderful things we learn during the course of the story is that John grew up in the slum on the outskirts of Cyber-Wood, called Cancer, and that he was implanted with Seeds of Hate when he was a kid. (How’d they do that? Did they just feed him pop rocks?) Further, the story tells us, Astenite is actually a metal that attracts evil, which is why John can only get pumped up when he’s mad, like Bill Bixby. There’s even a suit of armor that Adler uses, called the Genocyber (unfortunately, it looks nothing like the Genocyber from the OVA of the same name).

Cybernetics GuardianCybernetics GuardianCybernetics GuardianVisually, Cybernetics Guardian is ugly and ridiculous. The characters are stupid-looking, the animation is poor, and the music is laughable. Ohata’s mechanical design is compelling as usual, but it’s wasted here, as is the talents of Hiromi Tsuru (Ukyou in Ranma 1/2) as Leyla. The entire thing is a wonderfully fascinating little train wreck.

Cybernetics GuardianCybernetics GuardianThe funniest part, however, is the fact that CyGuard kinda-sorta ends on a cliffhanger. Oh sure, Mr. Ohata, I’m sure that this will be a very, very popular show about the evil metal that attracts evil and turns good men into robot monsters with hair! And then they fight with even uglier robots! And there’s not even any gunfights or car chases or gratuitous nudity, yes, I’m sure people will love it, Mr. Ohata! Yes!

Of course, I thought the same thing about MD Geist


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  U.S. Manga Corps.
hits: 1806

Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy

Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Back in the mid-60s, a young artist named Shotaro Ishimori had a great idea– manga and anime about individual heroes was popular (particularly if the heroes were robots, as in Astroboy and 8 Man), so why not make a new series about a whole team of robot-powered superheroes? With that, Ishimori created Cyborg 009, a series about an unstoppable team of heroic cyborgs in their struggle against the evil Black Ghost organization, which they all had defected from. As for the cast, robotics professor Isaac Gilmore presided over a set of well-intentioned but goofy racial stereotypes– Cyborg 001 is a Russian toddler with incredible telekinetic powers (Ivan Whiskey), 002 is an ex-NYC gang member with the power of flight (Jet Linkage), 003 is a would-be French dancer with extrasensory powers (Francoise Arnou), 004 is an East German escapee who’s basically a living weapon/bomb (Heinrich Alberto), 005 is a stoic American Indian with Herculean strength (Geronimo Junior), 006 is a poverty-stricken Chinese worker who breathes fire (Chang Ko), 007 is a failed British actor who can shape-change (Great Britain), 008 is an escaped slave from Kenya with improved movement and fighting skills when underwater (Puma), and the show’s real hero, Cyborg 009, is a former accident-prone F1 racer with enhanced speed and agility (Joe Shimamura).

Ignore this goofiness for a moment, if you will, and concentrate on the story– years after the Cyborg team (amusingly referred to here as the Galaxy Leigon, even though their adventures never really took them to outer space) vanquished Black Ghost (in the original TV series) and thwarted Neo Black Ghost (in the more popular 2nd TV series, which this movie takes most of its cues from), the retired Dr. Gilmore putters around his old Robotics and Observation institute, taking care of Ivan and occasionally giving a bit of advice to Dr. Cosmo, his heir apparent, who’s studying a theory which states that there’s a spacebound object in the exact center of the cosmos which is the source of all life and energy– a ‘vortex’.

Dr. Gilmore’s peaceful routine is shattered by an urgent warning from Ivan, who senses that a terrible invader called Zoa is approaching earth. Before he can react to all of this, a UFO crashes in the ocean near the Institute. Almost reflexively, Dr. Gilmore summons his ‘children’, the rest of the cyborgs, out of retirement. Once assembled, they’re met with an alien being when they go to investigate the downed spacecraft– a child called Saba, who claims that the aforementioned Zoa had ravaged his world and killed most of his people, in a search for a way to tap the power of the ‘vortex’ that Dr. Cosmo had been studying. The kid begs for help, asserting that the cyborg team are the only force on earth powerful and versatile enough to take on Zoa directly. If the team stands by, Zoa and his armies will eventually reach earth, and it would all be over.

Well, shit. The team immediately volunteers to go in search of Zoa on Saba’s spaceship, and thus is marked the beginning of a heroic interstellar space journey, punctuated by fierce battles, dramatic moments, and a whole lot of Not Much Happening.

Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy would have benefited tremendously from a more zealous editor– it clocks in at a heavyweight two hours and ten minutes. As a result, the film is so stuffed with filler scenes that it plods along at a pace that makes Ishtar seem like The Fast and the Furious. In fact, an entire segment of the movie, featuring Joe’s rescue of and near-infatuation with an alien princess, could have easily been excised from the film with no real problems. It’s unfortunate that the movie is so sluggish– character designs, based on the 1979 TV series, are fantastic, the ship designs are curvy and sweeping and reminiscent of good 70s sci-fi illustrations, and the general atmosphere of the film is epic and engrossing.

Another serious problem with the film is the fact that, once in space, the cyborgs are really out of their element– the best part of reading the original manga stories and watching the TV animation is seeing the ways in which the cyborgs combined their individual strengths to overcome powerful enemies. We see precious little of that here– most of the action involves Star Wars-esque dogfights in space, and some of the cyborgs, like 006, hardly even see any action at all. The movie has its moments, but overall, it feels like it was an attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze, what with the alien princess in distress and the frequent space battles.

Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super GalaxyCyborg 009: Legend of the Super GalaxyCyborg 009: Legend of the Super GalaxyIn terms of production, the movie isn’t bad. Unfortunately, the only version readily available is the Best Video dubbed VHS version. The dub is actually OK– the cast of actors is adequate, though they sound a bit bored at times. There’s some static in the sound mix, however, and the film is presented in pan’ n scan rather than its original widescreen aspect ratio. The music is typical late-70s pop-orchestral fare, complete with bad love theme in English (“Light of Love” by Michelle Hart).

Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super GalaxyCyborg 009: Legend of the Super GalaxyCyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy isn’t awful, but it’s dull and not really representative of just how good the Cyborg 009 TV series is. The film can actually be enjoyed more if you’re familiar with the cast of characters (puzzlingly shuffled a bit in the English version– 007 is portrayed as Irish for some reason, and 003, Francoise, is called Frances), which might be a possibility in the near future, as a brand new Cyborg 009 TV series is currently (as of fall 2001) airing in Japan. But without that context, Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy isn’t much more than a pleasant, somewhat engaging cure for insomnia.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  Best Film & Video
hits: 2702

Legend of Crystania OVAs

Legend of Crystania OVAs
 Admin  rates it:    

This one was hard for me to get into– there’s an already existing Crystania movie, which I never got to see. I didn’t think this would be a big problem, because I’m a big Record of Lodoss War fan, and figured I’d be able to fill in the blanks where necessary– after all, Lodoss‘s author, Ryo Mizuno, wrote Crystania as a sequel of sorts. Of course, it doesn’t quite work that way.

Crystania is a sequel to Lodoss Wars in the same fashion that U.S. Marshalls was a sequel to The Fugitive– recurring characters, though not really the MAIN characters, and a tricked-out rehash of the story of the original, with the point of view shifted to that of the “bad guys” or other supporting characters, in this case Pirotess, the dark elf. She and her lover Ashram had fled Lodoss after their defeat at the hands of Parn and his allies, and had apparently found refuge in a land called Crystania– a land fenced off from the rest of the world by its’ protective custodians, a group of powerful beast-gods. Barbas, the king of these gods, was apparently thrown into dormancy at some point, and in any case Ashram seems to be dead at the beginning of this story. (See? Confusing.)

There are many forces at work– Pirotess is absolutely convinced that Ashram is somehow still alive and is the key to solving Crystania’s problems, and is working to summon him. A swordsman named Redon, an outsider to Crystania like Pirotess, is in a mission to free his priestess patron, Aderishia, from the Cave of the Sealed, where Barbas is also imprisoned. But as he reaches the cave, the seals somehow start breaking– and all hell will break loose if Barbas is freed.

Crystania OVACrystania OVACrystania OVAAs far as I’m concerned, Crystania is fairly decent but not outstanding high fantasy. It obviously has a very ambitious story, but its characters lack the charm of the Lodoss characters– Redon is a better fighter than Lodoss’ Parn was, but he lacks charisma, and his band of allies and enemies is just too large to keep track of. The dub is done very nicely– I actually watched the first of these tapes subtitled and the second dubbed, and didn’t mind the transition at all.

Crystania OVACrystania OVAThere’s still one more volume of Crystania‘s story to be told, and if it can effectively wrap up the entire story well, then I’d say Crystania‘s a reasonably good addition to Lodoss in your fantasy library. While a little unfocused, the animation and character design and music are all quite good, and it’s much better than most swords and sorcery anime on the market.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 1243

Dragoon

Dragoon
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Things start off with a young would-be swordsman named Sedon, practicing in the woods. He spies a group of unfamiliar soldiers looking for something, but keeps himself concealed. Then, he comes across a naked girl, lying unconscious in the snow. Wisely realizing that you don’t come across that sort of thing every day (and figuring that the soldiers were probably looking to kidnap her), he bundles her up and carries her back to his cabin.

She wakes up as if from a nightmare, and is thoroughly disconcerted, not to mention still thoroughly naked. Completely flustered, Sedon asks “Where are your clothes?”

And thus the tone is set for Dragoon, a 3-part fantasy adventure that I’d never heard of before actually receiving it from ADV. I figured it would be a standard, stupid Lodoss ripoff (or worse, based on a video game). But fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

The girl turns out to be May, a fugitive from the big evil empire next door. She’s suffering from amnesia, so she doesn’t know why they’re pursuing her– she’s simply terrified. She and Sedon click right away, and quickly become inseparable. Back at Sedon’s house, his father, Raymond, is disturbed by the news of the empire making an incursion into his homeland. Decades ago, you see, this same empire made a bid for conquest, and was turned aside almost single-handedly by Raymond and his forces, despite having a vast technological advantage. But now Raymond and his fellow heroes are old and gray, and Raymond himself is barely well enough to leave bed for very long. However, he is a master swordsman, and has successfully trained his son to mastery– so he tells the kid and the girl to go see the Queen, maybe she’ll know what to do.

After a completely unnecessary bathing scene which culminates with Sedon’s little sister, Millie, deciding to tag along, the group set off for the palace township. The queen is all too happy to lend her advisors to the good guys, but the whole thing turns into an ambush led by Bashua, still the empire’s most fearsome warrior despite his advanced age. Fortunately, the good guys are helped by a good-natured prince named Lane, and manage to make their escape to the coast.

They subsequently get robbed and then aided by a sorceress with a headband, flaming red hair, and a penchant for money. Her name’s Lin–, er, Lilith, and she’s a sworn enemy of the empire. But what’s the importance of May, anyway? What strange powers does Lilith possess? Is Sedon a match for Bashua, whom his father defeated (and half-blinded) decades ago? And for god’s sake, why does May keep losing her shirt?!

As I said earlier, Dragoon turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It’s well-paced, and the party of characters are interesting and varied. It certainly reminded me of a lot of things, among them Record of Lodoss War, the Lunar video games, and Panzer Dragoon. The plot seems to rotate around the empire needing May as the secret ingredient to help them get access to some unspeakably powerful dormant technology, which just reminds me of Laputa. Unfortunately, not too much of the backstory is given away.

DragoonDragoonDragoonThe character designs are absolutely lovely, particularly May’s. While May herself is a little one-dimensional, the rest of the cast is interesting, particularly Sedon. I like seeing a young, impulsive swordsman who’s actually skilled enough to back up his impulsiveness– Sedon tends to carve through small armies effortlessly once he has his father’s sword, and he easily holds his own against Bashua. And finally, because I just know this is a selling point among some of you folks, there’s lots of nudity. Sure, it really only adds up to about 2 minutes of footage, but May manages to lose her shirt (or all of her clothes) at least twice per episode, and there are three on the tape. It’s amazing, May’s breasts just seem to expand to fill the screen. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the box. The dub, by ADV’s Monster Island outfit, was very passable, but nothing to write home about. I didn’t get to see the sub. It kinda bummed me out, because Mariko Kouda (Miki in Marmalade Boy) voices May in the original, which would’ve been nice to see.

DragoonDragoonThe only strike against Dragoon is a huge one, though– it looks like it’s yet another series that Never Got Finished, joining such greats as Dragon Half and Mighty Space Miners. If there’s a sequel out there, I’d love to see it and I heartily recommend this first volume for fantasy enthusiasts, but if there isn’t… well, you’ll enjoy watching, but you’ll be left with nothing but questions. I enjoyed Dragoon quite a bit, but the probable lack of closure just left me cold.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 1317

Fushigi Yuugi vols. 1-3

Fushigi Yuugi vols. 1-3
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

This series has become such a staple of anime fandom that I don’t even know what I could say about it without covering the same ground that a thousand other fans have covered. But, considering its relatively recent wide commercial release, I feel like I should explain it, for those who still haven’t seen it.

Miaka Yuuki is a typical fifteen-year-old female anime protagonist– she’s a little ditzy, fairly intelligent but going mental over exams, and exhibits a boundless passion for food. Oh, right, and she’s cute as a button, but that really goes without saying. Anyhow, our story begins as she and her best friend, Yui (who, at this point, comes off as frank and canny) visit the library to drop off some of Yui’s books. Of course, Yui going off to return books to the clerk is all the opportunity Miaka needs to get herself in trouble, in this case by wandering into the Documents Research Room. There, she discovers a book called “The Universe of the Four Gods”, written in ancient Chinese script. Yui, the brainiac of the duo, chases her in and begins deciphering the book. Unfortunately for the pair, the book is actually the beginning of an incantation, and they suddenly vanish. …never to be heard from again.

But seriously, they end up in a world which bears some strange resemblance to ancient China itself. Of course, being incredibly conspicuous in their school uniforms, they’re immediately attacked by bandits, who are just as immediately run off by a mysterious, black-haired brawler… a gentleman named Tamahome, who quickly asks them if they have any money to pay him for protection. And then, Yui just disappears.

And so begins the predictable, but ultimately incredibly entertaining story of a dumb Japanese high-schooler forced into the role of priestess and savior. Details about this are revealed when she meets the local emperor, Hotohori– apparently, a legend foretells of a girl from another world, who will “summon the Seven Warriors of Suzaku”, the local god, and bring peace and unity to the land… along with getting anything she wishes for. Of course, this is too good for Miaka to pass up.

The above summary sounds like the opening to a great fantasy-adventure, but Mysterious Play is much more than just that. There’s high adventure, but there’s also ample slapstick comedy, enhanced by the highly-colorful cast of characters– each Suzaku warrior is powerful and boasts a particular prowess, ranging from great strength to superior healing techniques to high intelligence. But the warriors also have great comic tics– Tamahome’s endless moneygrubbing, Hotohori’s boundless vanity, ex-bandit Tasuki’s foul mouth and fouler temper, and Miaka’s vacuum-cleaner approach to food all color this series brightly with humor. Even more involving is the growing attraction between Miaka and Tamahome, and Hotohori’s attraction for Miaka, and strongwoman(?) Nuriko’s attraction for Hotohori, and… well, let’s say there’s a liberal amount of romance to this series, as well.

Fushigi YuugiFushigi YuugiFushigi Yuugi
Animation for this series is handled quite well, for a TV series. The character designs are markedly different from creator Yu Watase’s originals, but are still attractive and distinctive. I hold the original dialogue, with Kae Araki’s hilariously loopy Miaka, Hikaru Midorikawa’s sulking, smoldering Tamahome, and Tomokazu Seki’s frenetic portrayal of the monk, Chichiri, in high esteem. But despite my attachment to the original, I also like the dub– the actress portraying Miaka is a bit too shrill, and I just don’t really like Tasuki, but every other voice is brilliant, particularly the portrayals of Nuriko and Hotohori. (Unfortunately, since the dub is Los Angeles non-union work, I can’t attribute any of these performances to anyone. Hmph!)

Fushigi YuugiFushigi YuugiMysterious Play succeeds, because it actually turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts– it’s a highly intoxicating mix of action, romance, and comedy. It’s one of those few series out there that really is for everybody– for romantics, for fans of comedy, action junkies, you name it. The only crowd that Mysterious Play doesn’t cater to is hentai, and that’s fine with me.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  Pioneer Animation
hits: 2400

Dragon Slayer

Dragon Slayer
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

You just can’t escape the curse of being based on a video game. Granted, anime based on video games has managed to have somewhat mixed results (while Sin and Panzer Dragoon were rat turds, Virtua Fighter and Fatal Fury were surprisingly entertaining), but it’s generally a big red flag when the show you’re watching came from a video game. I’ve found that this is doubly true when it comes to anime based on console RPGs– there’s Panzer Dragoon, there’s the Final Fantasy anime (which I gave embarrassingly high points to, back in 1997), there’s Fire Emblem… in fact, the only really excellent console RPG-based anime I can think of is Arc the Lad.

Dragon Slayer, basd on a series of RPGs for the revered (but unloved in the west) PC Engine, can’t escape this stigma. It’s a one-shot OVA that manages to have an oddly appealing sense of humor, but it’s so explosively incoherent that the viewer won’t care about or even remember the light tone. Fara is a stereotypical magical kingdom (complete with stereotypical RPG-style map scene at the outset) beset by dark forces. Good King Aswel was slain by Ackdam, a reliably evil demon king who seems to want to rule as the despot of Fara because that would fulfill his role as the Evil Bad Guy of the show.

Naturally, he’s opposed by the king’s only son, the heir to the throne, a smartassed young swordsman named Sirius. We’re not given any clues as to how he was raised outside of the castle, other then that he has a royal steward, Rias. He casually decides to take his kingdom back one day, and is quickly joined by the stereotypical console RPG party– the hotheaded sorceress, Sonya, Galan the strongman, Riunin the secondary fighter, and Ro the vengeful warlock. Aside from Sonya, who’s given a little face time because she’s the would-be love interest, these characters are cardboard cut-outs, utterly devoid of any personality or presence.

To be fair, Dragon Slayer‘s action scenes are quite kinetic and exciting. They’re well-directed, but executed with a spareness of animation that does the show no favors. Also, while the show’s fast pace benefits the action scenes, it makes the plot virtually impossible to follow, as secondary good guys and bad guys get whacked roughly as soon as they’re introduced. The characters go screaming headlong into every fight, battling with crazed, focused, Fist of the North Star-esque sadism. (This meshes well with the character design, provided by Getter Robo co-creator Ken Ishikawa.)

If there’s one good thing about Dragon Slayer, however, it’s the English adaptation. Jack Fletcher turns in his usual quality job here– everyone sounds good and committed in this incoherent mess of an OVA, from Matt “Tenchi” Miller’s Sirius to Kate “Washu” Vogt’s Sonya, to Michael Reynolds’ reliably gravelly-voiced retainer, Rias. The whole thing is written by Ardwright Chamberlain, TV’s Kosh, which never fails to amuse me.

Dragon SlayerDragon SlayerDragon SlayerBut the engaging voices can’t save this jumbled pile of video game cliches. Everything is stilted in Dragon Slayer, which frequently left me wishing that the characters would just cut to the chase, proclaiming to each other, “You must join our fighting party! You have many hit points! With our rings of strength and Weapon of Importance, we’ll win! Now, let’s go to the Abandoned Temple of Getting the Power-Up and Winning the Game!” In the end, Sirius kills the bad guy (of course he kills the bad guy!) with one hit, leaving me wondering why he didn’t just save everyone the time and do it earlier. The show ends with a monologue from the prince, which is essentially “For now, the bad guy is gone. So we won! YAY ROLL CREDITS!”

Dragon SlayerDragon SlayerThis whole thing is just the product of Nihon Falcom, the makers of the game. (They also made the excellent Ys RPGs and animation, but that doesn’t excuse this dreck.) The story is by Falcom, the music is by Falcom… and I can only assume that the director, Noriyoshi Nakamura, is a Falcom guy, because I can’t for the life of me find any other anime project that he’s ever been involved with. Dragon Slayer isn’t awful, but it’s so lame and pedestrian and jumbled that it’s not really worth the trouble.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  Urban Vision
hits: 1750

Galaxy Express 999

Galaxy Express 999
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Galaxy Express 999 is a Japanese cultural touchstone, a film so widely and enduringly popular that I saw signs of it everywhere when I was in Japan a couple of years back, almost 20 years after the film’s release: UFO catcher toys, ads, even the background music of a “reality” TV show used the film’s theme song at one point. GE999 was the highest grossing Japanese film of 1980, and Leiji Matsumoto actually received recognition and a financial contribution from the government for enriching Japan’s culture with the story.

So, obviously, this stuff is heavy. Actually, if you’re in America, you might have seen GE999 at some point– either in the form of a hilariously bad, hacked up Roger Corman-commissioned dub simply titled Galaxy Express, or in the form of a broadcast on Sci-Fi Channel a couple of years ago. It didn’t benefit much from the network broadcast– more than a half-hour was sliced out, and the dated character designs looked… well, dated compared to more contemporary fare like Fatal Fury: the Movie. Still, GE999 is a good anime film, and more importantly, an important anime film. Let me explain.

The story seems simple enough at first: young Tetsuro Hoshino is a scrappy orphan on Earth, having lost his mother to a hunting expedition of Count Mecha, part of earth’s ruling class of bored, amoral machine people. His greatest dream is to have his consciousness transferred to a machine body himself, so he can destroy Count Mecha and live forever. He’s nowhere near realizing this dream when he meets Maetel, a blonde, willowy woman in black who bears a striking resemblance to his mother. She hands Tetsuro a first-class ticket on the coveted Galaxy Express 999, a luxurious spacebound passenger train that passes through many civilized words before reaching its termination point, planet Andromeda, where Tetsuro can acquire a machine body for free. Maetel’s only condition is that he accompany her for the entirety of the journey, no matter what. Puzzled by this seemingly simple request, Tetsuro readily agrees.

What happens over the course of the rest of the film is a carefully constructed metaphor of a child’s faltering journey into young adulthood. Tetsuro, through interactions with both friends and foes, learns that revenge can be an empty and useless feeling, that it’s important to make the most of life, and most importantly, Tetsuro learns of the terrible decay of the soul that having a machine body brings– for without the drive to achieve meaningful things within a limited lifespan, machine people always end up apathetic and miserable.

Galaxy Express 999Galaxy Express 999Galaxy Express 999The production is the biggest turnoff of GE999; granted, it was a big-budget theatrical release in its day, but today’s stupid fickle fans seem to be rather skittish towards anything that isn’t less than five years old. The film’s age is reflected in the style of animation and character design, which is still excellent, and in Nozomi Aoki’s musical score, which is awfully disco, even for its time. I have to say, however, that the ending theme, by Japanese-American act Godeigo, is strangely catchy. The dub surprised me– I tend to dislike Ocean’s dubbing work, but they do a fine job here. Particularly of note is Kathleen Barr’s effectively melancholy portrayal of Maetel, and Scott McNeil’s winning performance as Matsumoto’s ubiquitous Captain Harlock– his tense, methodical reading of the character is my favorite ever recorded in English (which is saying something– Harlock has been dubbed into English, at my estimate, by no less than 7 actors in various productions).

Galaxy Express 999Galaxy Express 999For all of the above reasons and more, Galaxy Express 999 is an important film; no doubt it was a blueprint for an entire generation of Japanese kids who watched the original TV series and saw the film in its first run. At its best, the move parallels Huckleberry Finn– while Huck and Jim journeyed down the Mississippi river, Tetsuro and Maetel take a similar, yet different journey across the Sea of Stars. For the interested viewer, it’s a very, very worthwhile journey.


Added:  Saturday, October 11, 2003

Related Link:  Viz Video
hits: 1932

Dragon Half

Dragon Half
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Every serious genre needs to be turned on its ear at one time or another. For every Dragnet, there needs to be a Police Squad!. For every Star Trek, a Galaxy Quest. And, for every Conan the Barbarian, a Slayers. But Dragon Half is more like taking Slayers and spoofing it– it’s just that fucking insane. </div>

The title character is Mink, the lovely teenaged daughter of a heroic swordsman and his fearsome dragon adversary. Before you scream in horror at what the conception of this girl must’ve been like, let me point out that her mom can actually assume human form, as many fantasy dragons can. But as a result of this unholy union of man and monster, Mink is a Dragon Half– she looks like a girl, but she has horns, wings, a tail, formidable strength, and the ability to breathe fire. Got that? Dragon Half.

Mink loves Dick Saucer.

Look at that. Isn’t that awesome? I could just repeat that over and over again. Mink loves Dick Saucer. Mink loves Dick Saucer. Mink loves Dick Saucer. But who’s Dick Saucer? Dick Saucer (just try to say that out loud without snickering) is a sword-swinging dragon slayer who also happens to be a pop singer. He violently slays dragons and then sings ballads about his own heroic deeds. Brilliant marketing, innit?

Anyway, Mink’s fondest dream is to go to the main city of the kingdom and see Dick Saucer perform. But she can’t afford it, and neither can her friends, Mana the clumsy elven magician and Rufa the six-year-old girl in a two-hundred-pound suit of armor (for her own protection). Oh, and there’s also Mappy, Rufa’s tiny pet mouse who can, at the slightest hint of danger, grow to about six feet tall and bellow fearsomely.

Unbeknownst to her, dark forces are aligning against Mink. The king is a jolly fellow, but he’s also greedy and sadistic, and decides that he wants to take Mink’s mom as his own wife. To that end, the spectacularly inept king recruits the services of the spectacularly inept magician Rosario, and the spectacularly inept warrior Damaramu. Also getting in on the act is Vena, the king’s spectacularly inept daughter, who wants to keep Dick Saucer all to herself, and views Mink as an obstacle.

After an escalating series of mishaps that culminate in Damaramu getting a hole in his head and Mink getting accidentally kissed by Dick Saucer (heh heh… Dick Saucer!), the entire group gets together and enters an Ultimate Fighting tournament.

I’m not shitting you. They enter a Tough-guy contest. Even Dick Saucer does. And the most fearsome competitor is a little kid. I think I’ve given away enough.

Dragon HalfDragon HalfDragon HalfDragon Half is sheer lunacy in video form. I’ve had it described to me more than once as being “anime on crack”, and that’s exactly what it is. Mink and Vena and Damaramu chatter and gibber insanely, whether they’re voiced by Mitsuishi Kotono, Sakuma Rei, and Akio Ohtsuko or voiced by Jessica Calvello, Amanda Winn-Lee, and Brett Weaver. Everyone in both versions is freaking awesome, by the way, especially Kotono in the Japanese version and Calvello in the American version. Also delightful is the sneering, hilariously dumb Damaramu, who begins every statement with “I, Damaramu…” because if he didn’t, he’d forget his own name. The dub is rounded out spectacularly with a dead-on performance by Tiffany Grant as Dug Fin, the evil little kid.

Dragon HalfDragon HalfDragon Half is very, very special (and I mean that in a short schoolbus kinda way). It’s completely absurd, it’s preposterous, and it’s great fun. Animation and character design are nothing special, but they don’t need to be– the show is just good fun. My only qualm is that there isn’t more. The manga is quite a bit longer, but the word is that part of the reason that the animated version got derailed is because the production staff got busted for drugs. I’d believe it. In any event, the two episodes on this tape tell a complete story, and it’s an incredibly fucking funny one at that. Be sure and watch the insane, rambling song about omlettes (set to the tune of Beethoven) in the ending credits.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 3179

Generator Gawl vol. 1

Generator Gawl vol. 1
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

I heard all kinds of stuff about Generator Gawl when it first hit in Japan. The interesting thing about it is, it’s the first new series in a long time from Tatsunoko Pro, who thrilled Japanese and American kids throughout the 60s and 70s with fare like Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer), Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets), and Tekkaman. However, since those golden times, the company has kept a fairly low profile, spending a lot of time doing production on stuff that wasn’t in-house (like, for example, Macross) and only occasionally releasing a new title, which was almost always a remake of one of their 70s classics, like Gatchaman or Tekkaman Blade. Gawl was being lauded because it was the first time Tatsunoko Pro buckled down and made something brand new in quite a while.

For a new show, there’s not a lot of inventiveness in Generator Gawl. Set in the far future year of 2007, the story concerns a trio of three young men from the future. In true Terminator style, they’ve been sent back in time to avert an event, probably some sort of catastrophe. But something went wrong, and rather than a year, our heroes only have three months to establish themselves in Tokyo and solve their problem. Fortunately, the all-business Koji and good-natured Ryo are easily bright enough to get things going, despite the antics of the stupid, foul-tempered Gawl. The only remaining question is, why the hell are they all wearing Star Trek: the Next Generation uniforms?

After a humorous exchange with some cops, the trio find student housing and begin their enrollment at Oju Academy, which is basically Ohtori Academy from Utena. Seriously, it’s the same idea– a Kindergarten-to-college academic institution where the students wear what are essentially marching band outfits. Anyway, the guys are there to seek out a mysterious biology professor at Oju. But they have a number of problems, chief among them being the nosy Masami, the girl whose house they rent their room from. Masami isn’t a bad person, she’s just clingy and bossy, so of course she and Gawl immediately start physically and verbally beating each other. Another problem is campus security, which is unusually tight. And the biggest problem are the bad guys from the future, who’ve gone ahead of our heroes to thwart them. The thing is, a lot of the bad guys are Generators.

Generators? Well, think “Guyver“, and you’ll get the idea. Generators are apparently biologically-altered people who can transform into powerful, insectoid armored warriors just by going “Grrrrr!” and glowing and shit. And that’s where Gawl shows his usefulness– he may be a dumbass in real life, but he’s also a Generator, and one powerful enough to dispatch the first three enemy Generators without getting into too much trouble. And so, our heroes continue their quest to get to this mad doctor, Gawl fights bad guys, and Masami keeps almost discovering their secret. Oh, and for the most part, it’s a wacky comedy.

Generator GawlGenerator GawlGenerator GawlGenerator Gawl is one of the most incredibly average shows I’ve ever seen. Tatsonoko Pro’s story is embarrassingly-derivative, lifting plot elements and character archetypes from all over the place and mixing them into a story that feels familiar in a not-so-interesting way. Akira Oguro’s character design is rather nice and retro, particularly on the girls– reminded me a little of GaoGaiGar. The Generator designs aren’t particularly original, in my estimation– they seemed to be somewhere between the chunky Guyver and insectoid Aura Battler Dunbine mech designs. Director Seiji Mizushima keeps the story going well enough, but there weren’t any really remarkable sequences in the first volume. As for the dub, everyone involved was at least passable, but there were no standout performances– Vic Mignogna’s Gawl was exactly as irritable as I expected, Rozie Curtis’ Masami was exactly as bratty as I figured the character would be.

Generator GawlGenerator GawlThere’s potential for improvement here– in particular, I’m expecting to see some sort of play on the characters altering their own timeline, something that I always hope to see in time-travel yarns. I’m also interested in finding out what event was so terrible that these guys were sent to the past (where, I might add, they were immediately amazed by stuff like a brook and a bunch of flowers). But Generator Gawl is essentially a rather uninteresting example of the current crop of action/comedy anime series’. Renting it is a fine prospect, I suppose, but I’m saving my pennies for the whacked-out Excel Saga. The legendary Tatsunoko Pro have returned to creating their own anime, and it’s remarkably bland and generic.


Added:  Saturday, October 11, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 1347

Dragonball: Curse of the Blood Rubies

Dragonball: Curse of the Blood Rubies
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

This review originally appeared in Animerica Vol. 5, No. 1. It’s been revised and edited slightly for publication in Anime Jump.


The prospect of an anime series dubbed and edited for television is, more than ever, a touchy one for today’s demanding fanboys. Balanced against the appeal of “free” anime, fans have often had to contend with bizarre name changes, the obscuring or even destruction of entire plotlines, and the cutting of crucial footage for the least bit of violence or lewdness, or even just to cram in more commercials. But despite the inevitable plot alterations (and the omission of creator Akira Toriyama’s notorious toilet humor), the globally popular Dragonball animation managed to remain almost completely intact for its American TV debut.

As many may know, Dragonball is Toriyama’s own bizarre take on Wu Cheng-an’s classic Journey to the West novel. In actuality, Dragonball bears little resemblance to the original story, save for monkey-like main character Son Goku and his extending pole. I’m told that many aspects of the original tale are subtly hinted at, but it’s fairly obvious that no effort is being made to be particularly true to it.

In Curse of the Blood Rubies, the story begins simply enough– the bloated, oppressive king of a small rural country is cursed, unable to satisfy his appetite, and so is doomed to a life of continuous eating. To keep food stockpiles high, he has his army constantly deployed, harrying citizens into mining the valuable blood rubies buried deep underground. Not only that, the king’s soldiers are looking for the dragon balls, mystical gemstones which, when all seven are gathered, can summon Sheng Long, the eternal dragon, to grant a single wish.

Meanwhile, Goku, having finished beating a predatory fish several times his size until submission, is dragging the carcass back to his hut for dinner. Quite literally, he has a run-in with a blue-haired teenaged girl… she crashes her car into him. Her name is Bulma, and it turns out that she has built a special radar for locating dragonballs, hoping to gather them all and wish for the perfect boyfriend. Impressed with the plucky kid’s seeming indestructability, as well as the fact that he owns one of the balls, Bulma invites Goku to join her on her quest.

After that, the rest of the supporting cast are introduced at hyperspeed– it is a pilot film, after all. Goku and Bulma meet inept desert bandits Yamcha and Puar, quickly followed by shape-changing, lecherous pig Oolong, not to mention Penny, a little girl who fled the land of the blood rubies for help after watching her father being beaten by the soldiers. After meeting Master Roshi and his drawling turtle, the group makes a beeline for the ruby kingdom.

First of all, the dubbing is pretty excellent– longtime fans will notice almost no change in voice characterization from the Japanese. Goku comes across as innocent and wide-eyed, Bulma is a hung-ho airhead, Yamcha’s brash and bashful, Oolong is irritable and cowardly, and Master Roshi is a nutty old man, if not nearly so lewd as he was in the original. Aside from that, Toriyama’s sleek, distinctive, cartoony character designs (you’ll recognize ‘em from Tobal no. 1 and Chrono Trigger) make the jump from manga to anime very well. There’s even new music (although the new theme song leaves a lot to be desired).

DragonballDragonballDragonballFinally, despite the central motif of the dragon balls, the story itself isn’t really about wish fulfillment– it’s about the dizzy joy of watching Goku gleefully kick the crap out of bad guys the size of small buildings, and the sheer amusement of seeing Toriyama’s bizarre universe unfold, replete with all of its weird architecture, hilariously out-of-place stereotypes (cowboys and indians, anyone?) and anthropomorphic animals.

DragonballDragonballAll told, Dragonball is very entertaining. It’s suitable for the whole family, with a great story and an engaging cast of characters. Curse of the Blood Rubies itself is completely self-contained, making it a worthwhile way to introduce new fans to the Dragonball universe, or to anime in general.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  FUNimation
hits: 3247