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

Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past

Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

I dare you to look at the cover of this video and just try to stop yourself from thinking about Rambo. Yes, apparently, our friendly neighborhood Japanese animation producers (MOVIC in particular) decided that one Rambo cartoon simply wasn’t enough, so they made their own.

Of course, they modified it just enough so that they couldn’t be sued, so Rambo’s name is actually John Kyosuke Hiba, and he’s a half-Japanese orphan who grew up tough in the slums of LA before becoming a Green Beret. His parents, according to the expository dialogue, were killed by terrorists. The terrorists weren’t identified, they were just terrorists. (So maybe Hiba’s parents were killed by PETA? Nah, that’d make a better story than what’s here.) Anyway, Hiba apprently moved back to Japan after his record-setting string of solo missions for the US Army, because the beginning of Dog Soldier sees him working as a construction worker. But it isn’t long before he and his wacky, inverted-mohawk sporting(?!!) comic relief buddy, Fudou, are caught up in an international incident.

The incident in question is very easy to remember. As Hiba and Fudou work construction, a helicopter tries to escape past their site, but is detained by US forces from a nearby base (along with a little help from Hiba, who makes a 15-foot leap from the ground to the chopper’s strut look easy). But when the official in charge of the case goes to retreive the helicopter’s cargo, a woman in a lab coat, she stabs him, and runs off with the bad guys. The reason I remember this scene in such detail is because it was played out no less than three times, with the second time presented as a flashback less than five minutes after the initial incident. Yes, those folks at MOVIC were really aiming high this time, in terms of audience intelligence.

Next, Hiba and Fudou are forced to deal with Takechi, some sort of US government agent who coerces the pair into retreiving the woman in question, a scientist who was carrying a biological weapon. The lady was kidnapped because of this weapon, by a covert terrorist entity known only as… Phantom!

“Ah,” replies Hiba conversationally, “the new up-and-coming death merchant,” as if he was discussing a hot new restaurant. (At this point, I had to stop trying to conceive of the Ghost Who Walks as an arms dealer so I could laugh uncontrollably, This was not the last time this happened during Dog Soldier.) So Hiba goes and meets this woman, Cathy, who turns out to be cooperating with Phantom. Also, she’s a childhood friend of Hiba, and Phantom turns out to be another childhood friend of his. What an odd coincidence! After capturing Hiba in an utterly ridiculous fashion and issuing some token threats and swagger, Phantom flies off in his private blimp.

Phantom, whose real name is Makoto Allen Takemura, is awesome. He operates as an arms dealer out of vengance, because… well, nobody knows why, but he will have his revenge! Makoto also has a private island and army, and he ended up as an orphan with Hiba and Cathy because his parents were killed by white supremacist mobsters (uh-oh), because his mom was Japanese. (If his dad was a white American, why is his last name “Takemura”?) Makoto is basically sort of like Hank Scorpio in The Simpsons, only much, much stupider.

Dog SoldierDog SoldierDog SoldierThe reason he’s stupid is because he has several opportunities to kill Hiba throughout Dog Soldier, but he never takes any of them. He lets Hiba go, or he assumes that he’s dead, or he ditches his loaded gun to have a personal knife-fight with Hiba. His blade is dipped in poison (he’s done his evil megalomanaiacal dictator homework), but he’s still a moron.

The biggest problem with Dog Soldier is deciding what horrible problem or idiotic plot wrinkle to make fun of first. Production-wise, it’s ugly and badly animated, and Akira Kamiya’s performance as Hiba kept making me think of City Hunter as Rambo. The characters are stupid and puerile, the plot sucks, and the Rambo ripoff thing just doesn’t work. Possibly the best (worst?) part is when Hiba plungles his huge survival knife into Makoto’s forehead, defeating him. Only instead of dying, Makoto lies there, leaking brains, and making a canned speech about wanting revenge. Oh, the humanity.

Dog SoldierDog SoldierDog Soldier is one of those shows that’s awful, almost legendary in its heinousness. It is idiotic and puerile and strangely generic. I cannot recommend it at all. If you really want to watch Dog Soldier (the title, incidentally, is only thinly rationalized), go ahead, but you’d be advised to spend your time doing something more productive, like digging a big hole in the backyard.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  U.S. Manga Corps.
hits: 1863

DNA Sights 999.9

DNA Sights 999.9
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

I grew up watching and loving the works of Leiji Matsumoto. From the faithfully-adapted Star Blazers (originally Space Battleship Yamato) to the quirkily-handled Danguard Ace and Starzinger (part of a 5-series block called Force Five) to the outright butchery of Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years (originally Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Queen Millennia, two separate series), the man’s work never failed to enrapture me. As such, I view much of his work through rose-colored glasses; he’d have to turn in some pretty poor work to really disappoint me.

I wouldn’t call DNA Sights 999.9 a complete disappointment, but it’s not exactly a success, either. Like much of his works, it’s set in an indeterminate future time. Matsumoto loves disasters, and this time, the earth suffers from the impact of a huge meteor. In the wake of the destruction, a group called the Trader Force sets up a virtual dictatorship on earth.

On a distant world, a young woman (who strongly resembles all Matsumoto women– willowy, with impossibly long blonde hair) is charged with going to earth to help the planet resolve its crisis. Startlingly, she leaps up and soars off into space, unaided. Back on earth, we join a young man (who resembles all Matsumoto young men– scrawny and constantly glowering) named Tetsuro Daiba. He lost his home and his mother to the meteor (and thusly has Mommy Issues, another Matsumoto staple), but he makes ends meet by running errands for Dr. Shimaoka and his assistant, Moriki. Daiba is understandably bitter, but seems resigned to helping the good-natured doctor rebuild the neighborhood. Then he meets the girl from space.

Her name’s Mello; she descends as if riding a meteor, and she only appears to him fleetingly. The Trader Force quickly arrives to investigate, and takes Daiba into custody. But he escapes, and discovers that, to his surprise, he somehow “remembers” how to fly the Trader Force fighter that he steals. The assistance of a strong-willed girl named Rei Yuki aids in his escape, and then he goes underground with none other than the good doctor, who turns out to be a professor in charge of an organization that seeks nothing less than the liberation of earth.

There’s a lot more where that came from– in a nutshell, DNA Sights 999.9‘s story revolves around the concept of genetic memory, but it all comes off as a bit confused (another Matsumoto staple). The villain of the story is, of course, the head of the Trader Force– named Fouton, she herself is an alien, and seems to know quite a bit about Mello and her mission to earth. Mello tells a disbelieving Daiba and Yuki that they’re humandkind’s next step in evolution, and must leave for the stars to save earth (hey, another Matsumoto staple!)– but will they be able to escape Fouton and the Trader Force in time?

DNA Sights 999.9DNA Sights 999.9DNA Sights 999.9Technically, there’s a lot to love about this show– like I pointed out in my review of Queen Emeraldas, current animation style and quality is very kind to Matsumoto’s character and mechanical design. Visually, DNA Sights 999.9 looks great, with Madhouse turning in their typically awesome animation. I didn’t have the opportunity to review the dub, but the subbed version is satisfyingly entertaining, with Megumi Ogata (Shinji in Evangelion, Haruka/Uranus in Sailor Moon) pulling off her typical pissed-off boy routine as Daiba. Also of note is the ubiquitous Megumi Hayashibara as Mee the cat (hey, another Matsumoto staple!) and Koichi Yamadera as Captain Harlock– he seems to have pretty much inherited the role from original Harlock Makio Inoue.

If you’re a fan of Matsumoto, you’ll notice a lot of things in DNA Sights 999.9 that seem to be lifted right out of his other works. Indeed, the main character is named Tetsuro Daiba, and that itself is a fusion of names of Matsumoto’s other young, surly heroes– namely Galaxy Express 999‘s Tetsuro Hoshino and Captain Harlock‘s Tadashi Daiba. That, taken along with stuff like the entire character of Mello (she strongly echoes all of Matsumoto’s other heroines, particuarly Yamato/Star Blazers‘ Starsha), the cartoonishly sinister Fouton (who looks almost exactly like Maetel’s android mother in GE999), and the friendly, intelligent cat, makes DNA Sights 999.9 seem as though it’s little more than a pastiche of Matsumoto’s great works. Honestly, I got the impression that whoever bankrolled this project just got the idea that if they took all of the usual Matsumoto ingredients and mashed them together, they’d have a good story. I have no doubt that DNA Sights 999.9 was popular in Japan (there seems to be a huge Matsumoto revival going on, with new Emeraldas OVAs, new GE999 movies, and a new Harlock OVA series), but that still doesn’t make for a story that’s compelling or even interesting. Urban Vision have commented that DNA Sights 999.9 was an expensive license and that it wasn’t successful for them, and after watching it, I can’t say that I’m surprised.

DNA Sights 999.9DNA Sights 999.9In short, DNA Sights 999.9 just seemed forced and confused to me– the only truly satisfying moment was Harlock’s fleeting appearance at the end, when he arrived (as usual) to act as a spoiler on behalf of Daiba and company. The show’s closing shot, with the Space Battleship Yamato itself inexplicably appearing to cruise alongside Harlock’s Arcadia, makes no sense, but is still lyrical in its own way– and that’s about how the entire DNA Sights 999.9 video felt to me.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  Urban Vision
hits: 1410

Debutante Detective Corps.

Debutante Detective Corps.
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Who knew? At first glance, Debutante Detective Corps. looked like a horribly mediocre, run-of-the-mill guns n’ babes ADV title at first glance. Upon sitting down and watching it, however, I was pleasantly surprised– Debutante Detective Corps. is a screwball comedy, and a pretty funny one at that. The main characters are five very rich high school girls. So rich, in fact, that their income equals the Japanese gross national product.

After making their entrances on opening day– Miyuki crashing through the window on a motorcycle, Reika pedaling merrily past a speeding Porsche on a simple bicycle, Youko driving a Rolls-Royce through the wall, Nina leaping from an Apache gunboat, and Kimiko arriving on the scene with more police cars in tow than the climactic Blues Brothers chase scene– the girls receive some disturbing news. For some reason, a terrorist group has targeted them for death. After neatly shoving the police out of the picture by using Youko’s improbably good disguises, our young heroines take on the bad guys head-on, putting to work all of their diverse skills. After all, it stands to reason that each girl has a specific, incredibly stereotypical set of skills.

Reika the Chinese amazoness can knock down walls with a punch. Miyuki can defuse bombs and operate heavy equipment. Her sister, Kimiko, claims to be psychic. Youko, the brains of the operation (obviously, since she’s wearing the glasses) is a super genius and a master of disguises. Finally, Nina has guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Not surprisingly, the bad guys, if they can really be called that, don’t stand a chance. Neither, for that matter, does the girls’ school.

I’ll confess that much of the text above was written a couple of summers ago, when ADV first released Debutante Detective Corps. as a subtitled one-off. Upon seeing the new dub, I have to say that my opinion of it is relatively unchanged– it’s still a pleasant little half-hour of escapism. Only now, it’s available in English. Now, you and I know that dubs always outsell subtitled versions, but I still don’t quite understand why this was made. The script and characterization is okay, but… well, let’s say that there’s enough shrill shrieking and hollering on this single half-hour to give Heather “Blair Witch” Donohue a run for her money. Also, the girls in the dubbed version did okay, but there’s really no escaping the fact that they’re obviously from Texas. All of them, from Texas. I kept hoping they’d break out into a rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, but no such luck.

Debutante Detective CorpsDebutante Detective CorpsDebutante Detective CorpsThat aside, one might take issue with the fact that Debutante Detective Corps. doesn’t exactly break new ground– it’s precisely what it’s supposed to be, from the requisite gratuitous bikini shots to the tremulous school principal to the hilariously one-dimensional bad guys. There’s a nice selection of amusing sight gags and jokes, my favorite being Reika’s method of dealing with a towering, hulking ex-special forces jarhead– she simply leaps up and rips his scalp off. I wonder what Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star would make of her. Also, be sure to keep your eyes open for a nifty blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from the cast of Graduation/Sailor Victory.

Debutante Detective CorpsDebutante Detective CorpsNot since Burn Up! W have I seen a show that is so blatantly preposterous and insubstantial, yet so entertaining. Maybe it’s just because it’s nice and short, but even high-toned anime snobs like me need to take a break from harping on Sailor Moon fans and investigating knockoff toys, and Debutante Detective Corps. is a serviceable solution. It’s frothy, lively, and a hell of a lot of fun. Turn your brain off and enjoy.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 1502

Dark Warrior vol. 1

Dark Warrior vol. 1
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

Ah, here’s yet another new English version of something dredged up from ADV’s back catalogue. I’d originally just glanced at the box and written this title off as some sort of chop-socky Fist of the North Star knockoff, but it’s really not like that at all– there’s more of a science-fiction bent to it, and it doesn’t feature the main character doing special moves that cause his enemies’ heads to explode– well, not in the first episode, anyway.

Anyway, it’s all about Joe Takami, a well-to-do young software developer in Silicon Valley. Only he isn’t really Joe Takami. Indeed, through a series of chance encounters, curiously inaccurate memories, and Joe’s own keen powers of observation, he figures out that he doesn’t know who the hell he is. You’d think that a person would notice this sooner, but hey, maybe Joe was having too much fun porting Diablo to the Playstation or something. Either way, he finds out that his memories and experiences don’t quite fit together with what he finds in the real world, and this sets off big alarms in his head.

Like all good antiheroes, Joe is being manipulated by the shadowy and enigmatic Bad Guys, a fact that’s driven home cruelly by his discovery that his presumed best buddy, Lloyd, is one of them. But Joe doesn’t find this out until after a pair of unusual cyborg-seeming people pursue and attack him, pausing occasionally to physically dismember peripheral characters and wise-ass cops. Eventually, Joe is cornered, and ends up hulking out and getting rid of his assailants. He later is forced to confront Lloyd, who not only is much more powerful than he is, is still trying to befriend Joe and convince him to stand down. Llyod’s enhanced body is much, much bigger and badder than Joe’s, but Joe has something that Lloyd doesn’t: black hair! Um, that’s totally irrelevant, actually. Anyway, you’ll have to check out the tape to see how Joe deals with Lloyd. Needless to say, it’s pretty damned messy. Oh, and there’s a naked girl in there somewhere, too. Can’t say I remember where or why…

Dark WarriorDark WarriorDark WarriorThis is, without a doubt, the worst animation I’ve ever seen in any OVA release. The characters seem to lurch around drunkenly, often pausing to jerk their arms or exhibit odd facial tics. And that’s really unfortunate, because the story, while generic, is told fairly well. As for the dub job, it’s my opinion that a good dub should make even fairly nitpicky anime fans forget that what they’re watching is an English adaptation of a work that was originally in Japanese. Director Tristan MacAvery and the cast (particularly Brett Weaver’s Joe) succeed at doing this, with the usual ADV suspects delivering nicely understated performances. There aren’t any outstanding voice characterizations, but there isn’t a necessity for them, either. It’s quite pleasant, really.

Dark WarriorDark WarriorGood animation would have made this show more interesting, but as I stated earlier, the animation is anything but good. That, coupled with the absolutely average story, keeps Dark Warrior strictly in the middle of the pack, stuck among other middling titles like Green Legend Ran, Big Wars, and Psycho Diver. Considering ADV’s increasing penetration of the mainstream retail market, you’ll no doubt be able to find this at the local Blockbuster. I say give this one a shot, if you don’t have any late fees pending and all the copies of Jerry Springer Presents: When Animals Attack Cops… UNCENSORED! are checked out.


Added:  Friday, October 10, 2003

Related Link:  ADV Films
hits: 1079

Cat Soup

Cat Soup
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

In his director’s commentary, Cat Soup director Tatsuo Sato explains that he and his staff constructed the film by creating a series of distinct images, and then simply stitching them together. That may not sound like the best way to put together a piece of animation, but after sitting down and watching Cat Soup, the viewer will realize that telling a straightforward, easy-to-digest story was never Sato’s intention. Cat Soup is one of the least conventional anime works out there, a rare example of almost completely free-form animation. There’s nothing out there quite like it– even Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece Voices of a Distant Star, clocking in at about the same length, has much more philosophical heft but much less visual inventiveness than Cat Soup.

Cat Soup (or Nekojiru-Sou, as it’s called in its native language) was originally a manga short story by the late artist Nekojiru. The artist’s work earned a surprisingly large following in Japan despite appearing in mostly small press publications; her lovingly cutesy characters and their macabre settings echo Edward Gorey mixed up with thin-sliced Felix the Cat. (The film’s box includes a pull quote that describes it as “Hello Kitty on acid!”, a statement I find to be remarkably creatively bankrupt.) The original Cat Soup manga was well-regarded enough to be translated into English and included in the book Comics Underground Japan. Some years later, Sato’s production followed.

But what is Cat Soup about, really?

Well, it’s about thirty-five minutes long.

Flippancy aside, it would be a mistake to try and summarize this short feature in a paragraph or two. Instead, I’ll again point out that this is animation done as a free-form exercise, with only the loose guidelines of the original comics governing the narrative flow of the video. Nyatta is a young cat living with his family in what appears to be a sleepy Japanese town in the middle 1960s, judging by the scratchy, black and white television in the living room. His sister Nyaako is at death’s door, gravely ill. Sato introduces us to Nyatta by showing him quite possibly drowning in the family bath, only it’s a subtle enough piece of work that I didn’t really notice it until it was mentioned in the director’s commentary. In the commentary, Sato points out that the viewer should draw their own conclusions as to whether or not Cat Soup is a patchwork tale of Nyatta and his sister having a little adventure, or if it’s a warped feline version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

Cat SoupCat SoupCat SoupAnyway, Nyaako croaks. Fortunately, Nyatta is observant enough to notice the Buddha himself sneaking off with her soul. After a warped-perspective tug-of-war, Nyatta makes off with half of Nyaako’s soul. This restores her to life, in a manner of speaking, but the other half of her soul must still be retrieved. I’ll stop there, and only mention that the pair of cats’ adventures bring them into contact with a giant bird that swallowed the sky, a killer robot who wants to make a meal of them, and a mute pig with a look of perpetual surprise etched across its face. Before the feature is over, Nyatta and his sister just might find out what the deal is with God’s soup.

Cat Soup is surreal almost to the point of being incoherent. But Sato is a good enough director to keep the events that happen to Nyatta and Nyaako interesting, both in terms of concept and visuals. The visual creativity in Cat Soup is utterly breathtaking– in one scene, a dying fish flounders to escape from a gang of samurai, intent on turning it into sashimi. In another, Nyatta and his big sister ride across the desert, floating suspended in a cheerful elephant made entirely out of water. There is a coherent story pinning each of Nyatta’s experiences together, but it’s simple and direct enough that Cat Soup has no actual dialogue– all of the characters’ voices are rendered in a variety of chirps and squeaks (Buddha sounds a little like a digeridoo), and the few times that dialogue is really needed, it appears as a word balloon in the cartoon.

Cat SoupCat SoupFirst of all, I’ll commend Cat Soup for being a very good-quality DVD. The subtitles are entirely “soft”, meaning any and every title can be turned on or off at will– a boon to both casual fans and hardcore completists. It even goes as far as soft subtitles covering the aforementioned world balloons to offer the translation– but again, since everything can be switched on and off at will, it’s not the least bit obtrusive. Sato’s director commentary is enlightening, as is the interview with him included on the disc. All told, there’s very little to complain about, technically speaking. I will say one thing about the cover art, though. The front cover includes the standard Central Park Media From the X of Y! tagline formula; in this case, it’s “From the director of Nadesico!” I find this more irritating than usual, because in the case of Cat Soup, this tagline provides no useful information whatsoever. Cat Soup and Nadesico have nothing in common.

Sato’s direction is excellent, but he’s not the only one responsible for Cat Soup‘s appeal. Most of the actual artwork and animation direction is handled by Masaaki Yuasa, who adapts and expands Nekojiru’s original artwork wonderfully. His color design is subtle but eye-catching, and his scenery, which includes a rickety farmhouse, a sleepy residential neighborhood, and an entire world made out of tin, is always interesting to look at. It’s worth noting that Yuasa’s scenery is very lush– so lush, in fact, that Cat Soup is almost completely devoid of character closeups. Sato and Yuasa’s version of Cat Soup isn’t an exact match to the manga– it’s much more sinister, which is saying something– but it’s still very compelling stuff.

Cat Soup is a great example of why the medium of animation is such a vital and important one. Sure, it’s fun to take in some safe, familiar TV fare like Chobits or Full Metal Panic, but Cat Soup has a great deal of visual inventiveness and a surreal sort of charm that will stick in the viewer’s head for months. I first saw this short film on a tape passed my way by Jerry Beck, and immediately fell in love with it. More than a year later, I’m still enthralled. Cat Soup is almost endlessly inventive, a show that most serious fans of animation will enjoy. Central Park Media did well to pick this one up; it would be nice to see more experimental short films, such as Koji Morimoto’s Noiseman Sound Insect, from them.


Added:  Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Related Link:  Software Sculptors
hits: 4169