Goku: Midnight Eye

Goku: Midnight Eye
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

I’m no stranger to Goku: Midnight Eye. It’s a very early (relatively) OVA release, created by Buichi Terasawa (of Space Adventure Cobra fame) and animated by Madhouse under the direction of Yoshiaki Kawajiri– the same animation team that brought us Ninja Scroll and Demon City Shinjuku.

A good way to sum Goku up is to describe it as a cross between the “monkey king” legend from Wu Cheng-an’s classic epic novel, Journey to the West, crossed expertly with Wicked City. In the near future, Goku Furinji is a cop turned private eye, due to a combination of his desire to get more money with less supervision and the fact that he made an awful cop. He’s tough and a little arrogant, but he tends to get the job done.

The story begins in the year 2014, when Goku’s ex-partner, Tamiya, kills himself in a strip club. Goku doesn’t believe that Tamiya would ever stoop to killing himself; his suspicion is immediately raised. That, along with the fact that three other cops had also killed themselves mysteriously, piques Goku’s interest. And when he finds out that his old friend (and possible romantic interest) Yokho is on the force and investigating the case, that decides it– Goku launches an investigation of his own.

What he finds is entertaining and bizarre– at the center of things is a suave, pompous arms dealer named Genji Hakuryu. Hakuryu seems small-time, but one look at his headquarters convinces Goku that something funny’s going on. But a close encounter with two of Hakuryu’s bizarre female assassins leaves Goku badly wounded, and missing his left eye.

He never gets to wear an eyepatch and say “arr”, though. He’s rescued by a mysterious benefactor, and upon regaining consciousness, he finds he has a left eye again– only there’s something funny about it. It seems to work better than his old eye, in fact. Hell, it can even provide real-time analysis of all visual input that it’s provided with, and it can tap into and control virtually any computer on the planet. Not only that, Goku is given a nearly indestructible, super-powerful extending pole (which rounds out the monkey king bit nicely). So, in one fell swoop, he’s turned from an unlucky private eye to a super-powered cyber-terrorist.

But he has to act fast– it looks like Hakuryu is specifically targeting Yokho for assassination. How will he stop Hakuryu and his weird henchmen? And who the hell gave him the eye and pole? Doesn’t matter– it’s time to kick ass, and Goku does so with great aplomb and style.

Goku: Midnight Eye creator Buichi Terasawa doesn’t hate women, but he tends to objectify them almost to the point of self-parody in his work. Space Adventure Cobra had the all too demure Jane Flower and her identical twin sisters, but they don’t even come close to the hilarity of the girls in Goku. Granted, it’s kind of stupid, but how can you possibly be that offended by a topless girl with hypnotic peacock feathers (which doesn’t make sense– peacocks are male! But really, does it matter?) and another topless girl who shoots lasers from her mouth and who’s called “the Harley Girl” because, uh, she has, er, handlebars. And yes, at one point, a character rides her around, though not in the sense you’re thinking of, you filthy-minded little… um. Anyway.

Along with the hilarious female caricatures, Goku himself is quite a piece of work. He’s not the invincible sex mo-sheen that Cobra is– in fact, he tends to have pretty rotten luck with women. Despite that, he still kicks ass and doesn’t take any shit. The thing is, Goku actually turns down the sexual advances of two women in the course of the show– while he had a good reason to do so with one of the girls, he just flat-out didn’t want to bother with the other one. Now, he’s probably just really cautious, but considering his appearance (muscular, no chest hair, sideburns) and wardrobe (what appears to be a leather blazer, leather tie, and a spandex wife-beater underneath), you could probably draw, um, other conclusions about his character. But that’s neither here nor there, is it?

All chat about humorous sexual content (implied or otherwise) aside, Goku definitely benefits from Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s direction. Everything that I love about his and Madhouse’s collaborations are here– dynamic character movement, dark, muted colors, and character designs that conist of sharp, aqualine women and agile, rangy men. That, combined with Kawajiri’s penchant for splattering bodies and explosions, makes for a visually action-packed experience. The one big drawback is that the computer readouts that Goku sees with his left eye are never, ever translated– unfortunately, that simply would have been difficult to do elegantly. Amusingly, the few words of English that appear are usually misspelled (ex. “DOOR ROCK”).

Midnight Eye GokuMidnight Eye GokuMidnight Eye GokuThe dub has its own sets of pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it has a very solid cast– the actor who plays Spike in Cowboy Bebop (Steve Blum?) is an agreeably-irritable Goku, and Sean Thornton (whom we know as Blackjack and Hotohori from Fushigi Yuugi, this time appearing as “Kirk Thornton”) turns in a great bad-guy performance as Hakuryu. It also has a reasonably faithful translation, with script rewrites done by Ardwright Chamberlain (Kosh from Babylon 5), of all people. On the minus side, I don’t think that the music in the dub is from the original– this is usually a bad idea. New music has been tried for many, many anime productions (like 8-Man After), the Sailor Moon dub, and Fist of the North Star TV), and it’s failed spectacularly almost every time. Amusingly, the music abruptly switches back to the Japanese stuff just in time for the ending credits song. Interestingly, this dub was commissioned by Orion in 1997, and was done by a post-production studio that I hadn’t heard of before. The original, of course, is still preferred, simply for the (ostensibly) better music– and I think I also like Shige Matsuda’s performance as Goku a little better. Fortunately, Urban Vision will be releasing both versions.

Midnight Eye GokuMidnight Eye GokuI liked Goku when I first saw it (in 1994), and I still like it. Like Buichi Terasawa’s other work, it’s frequently macho and stupid, but still reliably entertaining. Kawajiri doesn’t have the noir-ish elegance of Osamu Dezaki (who directed Cobra), but his style still suits Goku immensely– the characters look great, the city is towering and gloomy, and all of the action that Madhouse are known for are there.

Added:  Sunday, October 12, 2003

Related Link:  Urban Vision
hits: 3286


 Mike Toole  rates it:    

One of the aspects of the American anime market that bums me out like no other is the relative lack of giant robots. No, not mecha; not Macross or Orguss 02 or Detonator Orgun. I’m talking about Getta Robo, I’m talking about Reideen, I’m talking about Danguard Ace. Giant Robo hits all the right buttons and then some, and Machine Robo and Dancougar both come pretty close to the aesthetic, but there’s really nothing like watching stupid-looking metal titans duke it out with swords the size of the Empire State Building. That said, Godmars is indeed a giant robot title, but it’s an odd example.

Takeru Myojin is the token good guy in this one, but there’s a lot of things that really aren’t clear. The thing is, Godmars (which was created by Giant Robo and Babel II and Mars creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama) was a theatrical feature, but I can’t tell if it’s supposed to take place before, after, or during the TV series, or in a different timeline or something. A lot of things about this film are inscrutable– Takeru’s membership in the Crasher Squad, an elite strike force trained to deal with odd, dangerous military situations is one of them, as is the way the rest of the Crasher Squad works. There’s no room or time for character development among Takeru’s companions– but let’s get down to the story.

In the near future, all of the major cities of planet earth look like the Hall of Justice from the Superfriends. Well, that’s not really relevant. Ahem. Anyway, mankind are expanding into outer space as fast as can be, and doing well by it. Then their progress gets halted by some alien asshole named Zule, who declares Earth part of his dominion and forbids the humans to expand any further. As a demonstration, he has his navies blow away a few fleets of Earth’s. Of course, Earth government’s instant reaction is to dispatch the Crashers, because after all, there’s five of them, so they should fare better against Zule than the several thousand who perished in the earlier battle. Anyway, the team doesn’t find out much– but Takeru starts hearing voices in his head, voices that tell him that he’s Zule’s son, and he’s been somehow booby-trapped to destroy planet earth…

In a sequence of cliches to end all cliches, Takeru
heads home to his parents, who inform him that he is, in fact, from another planet. (No, his name isn’t Kal-El.) It turns out that he’s the adoptive son of Zule, sent to earth to take over the planet. Unfortunately, this idea never seemed to click with Takeru, and now he’s more concerned with defending the planet. This sends Zule (who looks like Darth Vader in a Ceylon costume) into a hissy fit, and he orders his lieutenants to go and kill Takeru– because when Takeru dies, earth goes boom. Why? Because he has a hidden robot equipped with a bomb that even he doesn’t know about– it’s called Gaia, and actually looks pretty cool, sort of like a cross between 8-Man and Ultraman. As usual, the situation backfires, Zule sends Takeru’s long-lost brother, only brother wants to make friends, but then he dies (and I don’t consider that a spoiler– I knew the poor sap was doomed from the moment I laid eyes on him) and Takeru… well, watch the damn movie, it’s not completely predictable.

GodmarsGodmarsGodmarsThe animation on this feature is really bad, almost hilariously bad. I mean, we’re talking Filmation weird flat 2D effects bad. This is unfortunate and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as Space Adventure Cobra and Crusher Joe both came out of this same period, and yet they both still look awesome to this day. Fortunately, the characters are quite appealing– they’re Yokoyama’s characters and you can tell, but the animation designer made them look almost as if they’d been drawn by Riyoko “Rose of Versailles” Ikeda– very streamlined and pretty. To its credit, the robot fighting action isn’t bad, although there’s not nearly enough of it.

GodmarsGodmarsYeah, that’s the problem with Godmars, it drags along like a 4-year-old trying to carry a 20-pound sack of potatoes. And, well… it’s not very good. I can’t really define good– I know what it is and isn’t, and Godmars isn’t. TRSI recently dropped the price on this title down to $11.95, so if you’re a big giant robot fan and a completist, you’ll want to have a look at this anyway. I wish someone would release the recent Mars OVA, but until that happens, I guess I’ll have to settle for this.

Added:  Saturday, October 11, 2003

Related Link:  The Right Stuf International
hits: 1573

Gasaraki vol. 1

Gasaraki vol. 1
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

This is the series that ADV Films are hyping as the next Evangelion. Indeed, on the surface, Gasaraki has quite a few similarities– a shadowy father figure using his son as a tool for his own ends, mysterious giant robot technology, and veiled spiritual overtones– not to mention the pale, aqua-haired mystery girl. But the similarities don’t go too far beyond that, at least not yet– in these first four episodes, Gasaraki‘s overtones are every bit as political as they are religious.

Yushiro Gowa is the youngest son of a family that has hands in Japan’s heavy industry, their political and military organizations, and even overseas. The company that the Gowa family presides over seems sort of like Raytheon or General Dynamics– they do research and provide heavy equipment and weaponry to a variety of organizations, including Japan’s own Self-Defense Force. The initial setup seems to imply that Yushiro’s family is quite a herd of jackals– his brothers include the intense technologist Kazukiyo, the smug Kiyoharu, and Kiyotsugu, the negotiator of the family. Papa Daizaburo Gowa is a brooding, bearded man in a kimono. The reason that the Gowa family are so important is because they’ve developed technology that will revolutionize mechanized combat and heavy industry– workable, efficient, piloted giant robots, called Tactical Armors (TAs for short). Yushiro is kept around, largely because he has a huge knack for operating the TAs.

But that’s not all Gowa Industries are on to. Yushiro, who thankfully is nothing like Evangelion‘s milquetoast Shinji Ikari, is asked by his family to perform a specific dance at a specific location. The dance is a noh (a style of Japanese performance art) piece that the family refers to as the “Dance of Gasara”. In full traditional regalia, Yushiro dutifully performs the dance– and subsequently hallucinates a beautiful girl, first attacking him and then begging him to stop the dance. As he falters, a gigantic release of energy occurs– BOOM.

The kicker? An almost identical reaction occurs halfway across the globe, in the fictionalized country of Belgistan. This explosion is actually detected, which causes the U.N. to demand an explanation. Unfortunately, Belgistan is a military dictatorship, and its’ cigar-chompin’ colonel doesn’t want anyone snooping around. The U.S. quickly presses for military action, they get approved for it… and then they get their asses royally kicked by Belgistan’s forces. This is certainly surprising– could Belgistan have technology that’s superior to the U.S.’s recent mechanized war machines? Could they, in fact, have their own kind of tactical armor units? The Gowa family is intent on finding out– even if it means violating the Japanese constitution and joining the U.S. in a war with Belgistan.

Questions, questions, questions, and lots of ‘em. Yushiro’s a pretty cool character– he seems resigned to doing what his family wishes him to, even when he’s asked to go abroad and attack Belgistan, but he’s mostly just interested in finding out what the hell his family is up to. Beyond that, he can’t stop thinking about the mysterious girl he encountered during the Dance of Gasara. His younger sister is desperately afraid for him, because she doesn’t trust the family to keep him safe. As for the tremendous explosion of energy that happened when Yushiro performed the dance… well, he seems to be in denial of it. But Yushiro has a hunch that he’ll find out what’s going on by accompanying the TA forces to Belgistan.

Visually, Gasaraki is nothing short of mouth-watering. Chief director Ryusuke Takahashi (who’s also brought us heavy combat epics like Fang of the Sun: Dougram and the soon-to-be-televised Armored Trooper VOTOMS) has a real flair for realistically portraying mechanized combat– under his stewardship, the action is detailed and intense, easily equal to the best live-action war films. Along with that, the character designs are by Shuko Murase, whose distinctive, angular work has graced fare like Night Warriors and Gundam Wing. That, combined with increasingly-adept mixing of cel animation and computer-colored animation, makes Gasaraki a riveting visual experience. There’s also catchy OP and ED songs performed by Akino Arai, with the former in English, no less. The background music is strident and throbbing. I haven’t been able to see the Japanese version yet, but the dub is good– I’m telling you, ADV just needs to beat the last of the Texas out of their actors, and their dubs will be just about perfect. Chris Patton is a quietly effective Yushiro, with Andy McAvin as the amusingly-obtuse Kazukiyo and Brett Weaver playing against type as the reserved know-it-all Kiyoharu. One thing that I haven’t seen done really well in dubs is a large male ensemble cast, but ADV pulls it off with Gasaraki. Even the DVD is fabulous, with a menu interface that resembles the TA’s heads-up display, extras that include a text interview with director Takahashi, and a truly gorgeous transfer by POP/Cinram, the guys who brought us the Cowboy Bebop DVDs.

GasarakiGasarakiGasarakiIndeed, the only strike against Gasaraki is its narrow appeal– sure, it’s well-written and visually stunning, but Gasaraki will find its greatest adherents in gearheads and military otaku. Granted, there are a lot of them out there, but the show’s tendency to lapse into lengthy, beautiful depictions of tactical manouvers gets kind of tiresome by the fourth episode. I can enjoy mecha combat, but the overemphasis on it dragged just a little bit. My girlfriend, whose interest in mecha combat is marginal at best, was actually kind of bored by the show because of this.

GasarakiGasarakiBut despite that, Gasaraki is definitely ready for prime-time. The striking visual style of the show, along with its mixture of political intrigue and weird Eastern religious overtones, definitely makes it one to watch. Gasaraki doesn’t have the wild excitement of Cowboy Bebop or the broad appeal of Rurouni Kenshin, but it’s a truly intelligent series in a sea of recent releases that just don’t seem to aim high enough, intellectually. In fact, Gasaraki is the smartest mecha show I’ve seen yet.

Added:  Saturday, October 11, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 2030


 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Anime companies have been digging up old titles and giving them facelifts with increasing frequently– recently, we’ve gotten remakes of fare like Hurricane Polymar, Speed Racer, and then there’s the forthcoming new Vampire Hunter D movie. Some remakes have been eye-popping (Giant Robo), some have taken the concept of the show in a new direction (Cutey Honey F), and some, despite the best of intentions, just kinda sucked (Ambassador Magma).

Kagaku Ninja-tai Gatchaman (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) has been around longer than most anime fans have, and it’s one of the few anime series’ to really leave a lasting impression on American TV. After all, who can forget the classic Battle of the Planets? We all remember G-Force, right? Hell, there’s even Eagle Riders, which was aired only a few years ago. But finally, the newest version of Gatchaman (initially done in 1994) has made it to our shores relatively intact, free of the often-confusing shuffling and editing that comes with the territory of TV syndication.

The setup for this series isn’t too complicated: The world, ever-inching towards a lasting peace, is threated by the rogue nation of Hontworl, a mysterious dictatorship ruled by an equally mysterious man named Kerry Beoluke. (How Kerry can rule Hontworl with an iron fist without getting laughed off of CNN for ruling over a country that doesn’t exist isn’t explained.) Hontworl secedes from the United Nations, and shortly thereafter the U.N.’s Mantle Plan (a globally-sponsored endeavor to conserve energy and halt pollution) is decimated by unknown terrorists. Dr. Nambu, the astute leading scientist who dresses just like Prince, traces the problem back to an intergalactic conspiracy run by an alien organization called Galacter. Of course, everyone just calls Dr. Nambu a crackpot with poor fashion taste. But after a giant robot dragon appears and starts toasting cities, Dr. Nambu is forced to summon earth’s only hope– the Science Ninja Team, Gatchaman!

Gatchaman is executed with spectacular excess throughout. After being summoned by Dr. Nambu, the team members each make their appearance in singular fashion, riding an assortment of vehicles that range from sleek and refined to ridiculous. As the team converges on their flying headquarters/futuristic jet, the Phoenix (which manages to not look like The Chicken tis time around), one probably won’t be able to keep from laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. Oh yeah, and did I mention the fact that the entire sequence is set to cool rock music by members of Earth, Wind, & Fire? Rock!

GatchamanGatchamanGatchamanThe producers of this show must have taken the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to heart, because the formula that drove the original show is almost completely identical– ambisexual villain Berg Katse (or Solaris, if you prefer) strives to ready the world for invasion by the evil Sosai X (or Galacter), and the only obstacles are Gatchaman. Any other changes are purely cosmetic– the vehicles and gadgets look more recent, and the characters dress themselves a little more nicely. Fearless leader Ken is unchanged, but pretty boy Joe is prettier than ever, and you can actually tell that Jun is female, and not because she’s the one wearing pink. Whiny brat Jinpei no longer has a speech impediment– now he’s a grunge rock posterboy. And Ryu is a mohawked, happy-go-lucky beach bum. Fans hoping that Gatchaman would be taken in a whole new direction will be disappointed, but fans looking for an updated dose of the same old medicine will be pleased.

GatchamanGatchamanVisually, Gatchaman wins, no doubt about it. It’s bursting with great animation and music, and has sizable doses of wittiness and fun. It’s refreshingly free of all the goofy moral posturing of contemporaries like Evangelion– the good guys are good as gold, and you know they’re going to win when they all do their trademark leap from the Phoenix. Obviously, the bad guys (who also include the hilariously stupid-looking dragon king) are rotten to the core and seek nothing less than world domination. Gatchaman’s only serious liability is the fact that it’s essentially an abbreviated version of the original show, right down to the appearance of the mysterious Red Impulse. It’s fun viewing, but only marginally worthwhile for serious Gatcha-fans.

Added:  Saturday, October 11, 2003

Related Link:  Urban Vision
hits: 2621

Corrector Yui

Corrector Yui
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

The magical girl genre has been plugging along nicely ever since Sailor Moon revived it in the early nineties. Since then, there have been hits (Cardcaptor Sakura), misses (Wedding Peach), and a whole lot of other stuff somewhere in between. That’s about where Corrector Yui, a 1999 TV series from Nippon Animation, would fall. Yui has the distinction of being the creation of one Kia Asamiya, who’s also turned out chestnuts like Martian Successor Nadesico and Steam Detectives. Asamiya is popular and prolific, but his hand does not guarantee success. The other thing I’ll note about Yui is that when I first saw it, something about its general motif made me immediately think it was a Cardcaptor Sakura rip-off, causing my brain to decide that the show’s title was Collector Yui. It’s not, because Yui actually corrects, not collects.

I like how TV shows and movies seem to regard the internet as this globe-sweeping, impeccable technological behemoth that everyone can tap into and use to do the most amazing things. Corrector Yui takes this model of the internet, which the show cheekily refers to as ComNet, as its starting point. Yui Kasuga is a lively, pretty fourteen year old girl. Her dad makes virtual reality software for use on ComNet; specifically, he’s been spending long nights working on a virtual amusement park that he hopes to visit with his daughter. Yui herself isn’t all that adept with computers; despite their ubiquity in class (which is presided over by a virtual-reality teacher), she tends to favor the ‘smash the computer until it works’ approach. Fortunately, her buddies Takashi and Haruna give her help when she needs it.

Corrector YuiCorrector YuiCorrector YuiBut a conflict is starting to take shape on ComNet, and it isn’t long before Yui herself is drawn in. The trouble is, there’s a malicious program that’s corrupting ComNet, called the MCP– er, I mean, Grosser. Humorously, Grosser looks sort of like a flaming AOL logo in his first appearance. One night, Yui logs on to check out some virtual reality software, and ends up at her dad’s amusement park project. The trouble is, errors are starting to cause problems in the park. Yui is suddenly presented with Tron– er, I mean, IR, a piece of software specifically designed by the mysterious Dr. Inukai to combat the bugs. But IR, a squat little floating guy made of interconnected yellow spheres, isn’t prepared to take on the forces of Grosser by himself. First of all, he’s just one of seven pieces of software that Dr. Inukai created to control the bugs on ComNet. Secondly, IR requires some additional support– to wit, a human “user”– er, “corrector.” That’s where Yui comes in.

The rest of the show quickly slides into typical magical girl cliche. Yui gets a transformation sequence, of course– after jacking into the net, she’s able to acquire the Stone of Jordan– er, I mean, Element Suit, which bestows groovy magical powers on her. She has a number of stock attacks, represented by a number of pieces of stock footage, all of which seem to have the same effect. She squabbles a little with IR over her newfound responsibilities, but her loyalty to dad and curiousity about computers keeps her coming back. It’s a good thing, too, because Grosser and his lackeys (of course he has lackeys!) cook up several predicaments for Yui– if they’re not pointing people at websites with malicious code that causes a chef to go rogue and create delicious but addictive food, they’re setting up an email filter that turns all messages into flames. Some of these occurrences are rendered amusingly– specifically, the email episode features a neverending stream of e-mailmen on scooters, putt-putting from the virtual post office to every IP address. Since there’s no Peter Norton in this series, it’s up to Yui to correct every error she can find.

There are a lot of neat little touches to Corrector Yui. First of all, I honestly get the impression that Asamiya lifted the concept behind Tron and refitted it to suit magical girl ingredients in creating Corrector Yui, perhaps because the name of his own corporation is Studio Tron. The whole “person gets zapped into computerland” gag is completely intact, such that I kept expecting David Warner to walk out, clad in red neon, grimly intoning, “Yui, the Master Control Program has chosen you to serve your system on the game grid.” Grosser’s four lackeys are also amusing– they’re War Wolf, who just looks like a typical scary humanoid wolf guy, but there’s also Virus, Jaggy, and Freeze. I suppose later in the series Yui will have to deal with General Protection Fault, Disk Cache Error, Page Fault, and the Sad Mac.

Corrector YuiCorrector YuiThe dub is by a whole new set of unknowns. It’s interesting how the anime boom is causing all of these cheap, crappy studios to spring up and steal work out from under the good studios, but it doesn’t make for an entertaining viewing experience. Consequently, I ended up watching Yui mostly in Japanese, where I was able to enjoy Makiko Ohmoto as Yui, yelling and chattering difficult-to-translate onomatopoeia, pausing occasionally to ask obvious questions about computer terminology for the benefit of the audience. Ohmoto is fun to listen to mostly for her catchphrase, which roughly translates to, “I’ll empty you like the garbage!” It would be totally cool if she actually said “I pity the fool who don’t eat my cereal!” instead.

The DVD is fairly nice, mostly because there are five episodes and it only retails for twenty-five bucks. I think this is a first for Viz. It’s a good thing, too, because there are 52 episodes of Corrector Yui, and I doubt a middle-of-the-pack magical girl show could maintain any sort of popularity over a 16-disc release schedule.

Despite its entertaining touches and occasionally interesting costumes– Yui’s magic jewel looks more like a Zeiss Lens than your run-of-the-mill Moon Prism Heart Stone– Corrector Yui just isn’t all that great. It takes a lot of really obvious cues from Cardcaptor Sakura, but it can’t match that series’ visual luster. Watching Yui dive into the Matrix and take on the diabolical forces of Shub-Internet is fun, but only for an episode or two. It’s the sort of show that you can correctly guess the ending of within the first few episodes, and it doesn’t necessarily look like it’ll be rewarding enough to stick with. It might be fun to follow if they showed it on Cartoon Network like they do in Latin America, but Corrector Yui is rarely exceptional.

Also, one thing that continues to disturb me about Corrector Yui is the part where Yui and her class decide to go on a field trip, so they visit a virtual nature park. Some of the kids are leaving virtual litter on the ground, and Yui gets upset about this, delivering the appropriate environmental message for the kiddie show. But really, what’s the point of being environmentally conscious about your computer software? What the hell kind of important social message is that? I think Corrector Yui really needed more Light-Cycles, is what I think.

Added:  Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Related Link:  Viz Video
hits: 4767

The Big O vols. 1-4

The Big O vols. 1-4
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Every once in a while, I notice a series come along that contains the proper amounts of almost everything I like about anime, such that it almost feels like the show was made just for me. Giant Robo was one of these shows. I don’t know what it is about giant, lumbering robots duking it out in urban environments, but I like it. The Big O has many elements of Robo, but it also has plenty of fresh material of its own (which is largely cribbed from American sources). And once again, I look at the show and feel like the creators were reading my mind when they created it.

At its heart, The Big O is a mystery– and, much like Dark City, the show conveys its sense of mystery in the entire city where the action takes place. Paradigm City is a city of lost memories, a murky urban landscape of unknowns; an unknown catastrophe 4 decades earlier had rendered the entire population of Paradigm City amnesiatic. But instead of someone like Lemmy Caution patrolling Paradigm City’s cracked streets, trying to make sense of things, the viewer is presented with Roger Smith, a suave, seemingly self-absorbed millionaire negotiator. True to his title, he arbitrates disputes, solves problems, and investigates conflicts that frequently steer him towards the shadier elements of Paradigm, the ones that are connected with the unknown Event– and towards criminal activities. That’s where the show’s titular entity, the Big O, comes in.

See, it’s not enough for Roger to have a mansion, a dry, chipper butler, and a sleek, gimmick-laden sedan. The Big O is a megadeus, a ten story tall robot (which Roger summons by shouting “Big O, showtime!” into his high-tech wristwatch, in a sly tribute to Giant Robo). How this robot came into Roger’s possession and how he controls it is one of the show’s numerous mysteries. Because of the presence of this mechanical behemoth, every single one of The Big O‘s thirteen episodes is graced with one titanic giant robot battle– an interesting way to dress up a show that otherwise relies on desolation and paranoia as story elements.

The Big OThe Big OThe Big O
Roger’s pulpy protagonist is the lead in a story with a marvelously ridiculous set of allies and adversaries; his chief friend is the chilly, sarcastic android, R. Dorothy Wayneright (whose name evokes memories of R. Daneel Olivaw in Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel). Dorothy is a great foil to Roger’s sly, overwrought Batman wannabe; not only does she constantly confound him with her blunt, corrosive one-liners (“You’re a louse, Roger Smith.”), she seems to be grappling with the idea of being attracted to him– an idea that Roger reacts to at first with hostility, and then with genial confusion. Roger’s butler, Norman, will draw comparisons to Batman‘s Alfred, but he’s closer to P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves, in his tendency to take a direct hand in Roger’s affairs whenever possible. Rounding out the cast is Major Dan Dastun, a policeman and ex-colleague of Roger, who has ghosts of his own past to deal with, and a constant stream of foes and ancillary characters, from the selfish and obsessive Angel to the crazed, vengeful Schwarzwald, to the smug, diabolical Alex Rosewater. There’s a character for all seasons in The Big O; if you don’t care for the gentle android pianist, you might be amused by the egomaniacal mad scientist, or the amiable presumed-dead cop, or the earnest sax player.

The thirteen-episode series is excellently paced; none of the episodes really feel like filler. We’re quickly and effectively introduced to the main cast within the first four episodes, and each episode (with the exception of the final two) can be enjoyed as a self-contained story. The Big O is also one of the few series’ I’ve seen to successfully pull off an entertaining Christmas episode, which is just one of the many unusual things that make the show so entertaining.

I have to say that I’ve never seen an anime series where both the Japanese and English casts were so roundly entertaining. David Lucas’s reading of Roger is canny and cynical; his counterpart, Mitsuru Miyamoto, plays the role with a palpable sense of sarcasm that makes his performance hilarious, sometimes imappropriately so. Akiko Yajima, normally known for shrill, intense characters, does an excellently deadpan delivery of Dorothy, matched with almost eerie perfection by Lia Sargent, who also directed many of the episodes’ dialogue recording. Tessho Genda gives a more satisfyingly gruff reading of Dastun than his English-language counterpart, whom I’ve yet to identify; conversely, fan-favorite Wendee Lee turns in a more subtle performance of Angel than Emi Shinohara.

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Possibly the most unusual aspect of The Big O is its visuals; Keiichi Sato, who’s also worked on Ninja Resurrection and some of the more recent City Hunter TV movies, is responsible for both the character design and mecha design concepts; he’s actually the real brain behind The Big O, though the SUNRISE TV series is credited, as usual, as being the product of Hajime Yadate, the code-name for SUNRISE’s writing staff. His character designs look like a fusion of 60s retro character design– think original Gigantor– and 60s pop art, with a liberal dash of Batman: the Animated Series thrown in. The mecha design is similarly strange, combining classic giant robot elements (stupendous weapons, big stovepipe arms and exposed rivets) with weirder stuff, like very strange proportions, intentionally ugly designs, and bizarre weaponry (the Big O itself is equipped with a pair of piledrivers in its arms).

All told, The Big O is a thoroughly excellent series. It’s a deft fusion of a moody film noir mystery and an all-out, balls-to-the-wall giant robot slugfest. It’s reminiscent not just of Japanese giant robot fare, but of western characters and stories, like Dick Tracy, Sam Spade, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the classic French film La Jetee– it’s all here, and then some. Every episode is a new mystery for Roger to solve (most of which simply highlight more mysteries), and a new robot for the Big O to defeat. The show’s one terrible flaw is that it hasn’t yet been finished; the senior production staff have voiced their intention to create a second season of The Big O, but as it stands, the show ends with a huge cliffhanger. Even so, The Big O is one for the books; it’s truly one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen.

Added:  Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Related Link:  Bandai Entertainment
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