Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So long and thanks for all the OVAs

So another one bites the dust. I actually happened to watch Negadon the night before the news broke, and, well, it wasn't really that surprising considering that Negadon is pretty much the last thing CPM released in the last three years.

With CPM finally down, I think Media Blasters is the last of what I always considered the second-tier anime distributors, who tended to subsist on OVAs, and usually not being too picky about quality or coherence. That meant some pretty spotty catalogues, but every now and then you'd find some weird diamond among the dross.

Maybe I should post a bit on the host of oddities Central Park Media and its army of sublabels brought to the world, as one last hat-tip to that crappy CGI MD Geist. Eh, probably not. If nothing else I'll always remember them fondly for bringing out Patlabor, which changed me from some guy who remembered Robotech into the broken man I am today. Cheers.

My deepest post yet

Cao Cao is so damn sexy...

He makes all the ladies faint.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pluto volume 2

Now this is more like it. Now that the general worldbuilding and atmosphere are firmly established, Urasawa is free to start progressing the plot, and I'm finally believing the hype.

In the first volume the robots' habits of getting married, eating meals, etc was just sort of retro and quirky, but now I realize there's also been an almost total absence of actual human beings doing those things. Astro Boy is depicted here as an adorable little kid, but in the actual logic of the story, what are we comparing him to? This and a couple other things give me a glimmer of that peculiarly Japanese idea that a careful imitation can be more meaningful than the real thing (like men playing women in kabuki, or the entire existence of bunraku... is there a word for that?), which is especially interesting in a story driven by a nation of united states declaring war on a Middle Eastern country over an apparently nonexistent weapons stockpile. And Phil K. Dick smiles down from heaven.

On a less heady note, I also appreciate the occasional visual joke like Astro's signature hairdo being reduced to suggestively tousled hair, and, of course, Dr. Roosevelt. Actually, I'm quite impressed by how naturally Urasawa changed Astro's schtick from superhero to boy detective.

So, highly recommended, and I hope volume 3 will be as big an improvement on this as it was to the first.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shinto Command Center Activate!

A reasonable portion of this episode was unfortunately spent buying time with basically every trick in the book, from struggles that don't go anywhere, to cutting away for fairly lengthy scenes happening around the robot battle during which the robot battle does not advance at all, to what I think of as post-Eva style angsty stuff - Mazinger can't fight because they're in the middle of town and quite a lot of people have already died horribly when robots crushed the buildings they were in. I can see Go Nagai doing something like that, but I suspect there would have been a less respectable tone to it.
So the episode wasn't quite up to the astounding standards the earlier episodes had set.
But it definitely picked up towards the end.

Grandpa apparently has a back up command center in the Shinto shrine, holographic images projected out of the Bodhisatva's eyes, and the 1000 armed Kanon furiously operating dozens of machines behind him.

Oh, and samurai dude is awesome.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Get it together, Sengoku Basara

Episode four contained absolutely NOTHING of interest.
Seriously, if the next episode preview had not revealed that Tokugawa has a fucking MECHA, I would have written this baby off for good.
It's the female leads that get under my skin - or got under my skin this week. I can just about stomach feudal female speech when the men are all full on feudal too, but when they're all speaking modern Japanese, and the women aren't? They just sound disgustingly servile, and the character designs being designed for some rapist's submissive ninja fantasy wank off just stabs the point home bloodily.
Shit is skeevy, and you seriously need fucking crazy awesome action to make up for it. Ass boring plot shit and trotting out the same joke till it utterly ceases to be interesting are not fucking helping.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


One of the most dynamic and memorable bits in the Souten Kouro manga was the scene where Cao Cao is told there are many witnesses to his crimes, but no witnesses, save himself, to his innocence.
He responds by pointing at the sky.
"The heavens are my witness."

Somehow this wound up being animated with his hand in front of his mouth so they wouldn't have to fucking animate his lip flap.
And yet, the fundamental beauty of it continues to shine through, to the point where I'm officially going to make this my last bitch about the budget and the fucking horrible voice casting. I've got nothing new to say on those posts, and they're not preventing me from coming back every week.
Particularly when Cao Cao is taking a position in charge of the Northern gate, and ordering beatings to anyone breaking curfew. Beatings with a fucking massive log. A particularly awesome bit has a man sentenced to a hundred and four whacks; this is reduced to twenty two on the grounds that it is not intended to be fatal, but the man dies after one. "Fine," Cao Cao declares.
And moves on to preventing the world's most awesome suicide.

Death by axe headbutting!

Monday, April 20, 2009

And as long as I'm just linkblogging

I should also point at the whole Say Hello to Black Jack online serialization thing. Some interesting stuff coming out of there.

A Drifting Life

This has already garnered attention from the critics and will continue to do so.  The praise is unexpected, after all, when it's aimed at Yoshiro Tatsumi, the father of gekiga and a now Drawn and Quarterly favorite artist.  His three short story collections have more than warranted the acclaim, trapped in their own steamy world of post-war Japan where violence, sexuality, depravity and disillusionment win out over hope and reprieve more often than not.  Where the lack of diversity of character designs gives power to the everyman, emphasizing how these tragedies could happen to any and everyone.

Yet there's not much of that here in Tatsumi's autobiographical work.  A sense of individual powerlessness and the overwhelming presence of Japan's growing industrial complex remains, but the atmosphere of those existential tales are left in favor of impassioned accounts of family life and a strong, obsessive love for the development of manga after World War II.

That gives an easy schism between apathy and enjoyment, actually; the book itself maintains a steady pace and, with little exception, never really treats any subject outside of manga -- or any incident or influence related to it -- with a sentimental eye.  A home robbery and the potential threat of Tatsumi's father being conned is of lower importance in comparison to Tatsumi's first encounters with the revered Osamu Tezuka, or Tatsumi discovering one of his projects torn in half by his brother (whose spiteful, early scenes superficially remind me of David B.'s Epileptic, though this issue is resolved rather early in comparison to that French comic).  This continues on and on with one-note pacing, never gaining or relenting its momentum until the last third of the story where the problems and rivalries between publishers and their own artists spark a more conventional conflict.

I've probably given the impression that I don't particularly care for it, which is only a half-truth.  The material has a certain dryness, but there's more than enough of interest with a bombardment of information pertaining to cultural development of Japan from the late 40s to the late 50s -- particularly film, which had a powerful impact on Tatsumi who would later integrate traits cinematic storytelling into manga.  The slow-burning climax also provides a more human interest into the story, resolving itself with one of Tatsumi's admiringly blunt metaphors connecting Japan's difficulties to not just manga's, but his own.

The manga has already received the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Award and will likely continue to see more and more accolades pushed on it (Eisner is going to be all over this, for sure).  I won't begrudge it; A Drifting Life is an ambitious, sometimes touching tale by one of the most important men in Japanese comics, a commemoration to the devotion and spirit that propelled the form into the monolith that it is today.

I actually kinda disagree with him but I can't resist using this tag

A translation of one of Kentaro "Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga" Takekuma's lectures, an aesthetic criticism of Nausicaa.

I gotta agree with the general drift of the comments, that Takekuma seems to be just noting that the work deviates from accepted manga conventions, as opposed to whether or not breaking those rules was a good idea or not, but a good read anyway.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Look! Is it a robot? Is it the Devil, ready to consume the world? Or it is a God, omnipotent and all knowing, the very spirit of ZEUS HIMSELF?
A brief flashback to BEFORE MANKIND which nonetheless involves some crying Greeks, and the moment we've all been waiting for:
That name
That name
That name
That name
That name

Thursday, April 16, 2009

And the show I have the least to say about

Eden of the East is just sort of there.
It's clearly a quality production, but Kamiyama seems to have forgotten to include a hook.
Every now and then there will be something mildly attention grabbing, like the bit with the cop that just reminded me of Crank, the last thing I saw that bit used in.
But most of it seems to be hellbent on being some sort of dreary romantic drama starring a sort of bland hero and a completely boring heroine, who's bashful shojotastic shtick borders on the downright irritating.
Respect for Kamiyama is the inertia keeping me watching, but there are even odds I'll simply forget to look for it next week.

The Drones' Havilah

It's like the best possible mixture of Tom Waits and On the Beach-era Neil Young. Fucking amazing Australian band, and I'm kicking myself for not getting into The Drones until just last year.

The album is also one of my top three releases from 2008, which is still one of the best years in music from this decade.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Deadly calm

Sengoku Basara episode 3 apparently was under the mistaken impression that it needed to have some downtime.
It wound up being ASS BORING.
Some shows just don't have any substance to fall back on when they aren't being awesome, and it'll definitely be the death of this fucker if they ever make the mistake of stopping the onslaught for more than five minutes at a time again. I doubt I'd survive another episode this dull.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A shift in tone

Souten Kouro's early plotting is an odd duck to begin with; after a brief burst of early violence, the first thing it really focuses on is one of the least typical episodes in Cao Cao's life - a tragic romance.
While the first episode left me concerned, and the flaws are still present - lots of clever budget saving shit all through the episode, and Cao Cao's voice actor simply cannot sell the towering fury or flamboyance of the man at all - they actually pulled this storyline off pretty well.

Despite the budget limitations, they managed to be stunningly beautiful when the mood demanded it; the pacing was very much what it needed to be, and they managed to suggest the nastier half of these events despite the necessary cuts for television.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by its very nature, has almost no female characters; those that do appear tend to be sundry wives not even worth granting names.
This was something King Gonta clearly wanted to address, and there are a number of moments throughout the series in which he manages to dig into the less sausagey side of things.
Dude meets girl, girl captured by evil eunuch, shit goes bad is a pretty standard story as far as ancient Chinese shit goes, but King Gonta managed to make the girl a really fascinating character in her own right, and in twenty minutes she gets a full character arc of her own - one stronger than the entire arc of most anime main characters. I remember making a similar point about the second episode of Kaiba, but coming across a character that is only around for one episode but has more characterization packed into that brief span of time than most characters get in a full series really drives home how thinly characterized most anime end up being.
Not that this will stop me enjoying the piss out of the extremely shallow Sengoku Basara, but it definitely makes me a lot happier that Souten Kouro's around, even if the budget leaves it a little compromised.

Tokyo Zombie

This is the story of Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa, nearly unrecognizable in afro wig and bald cap, as the world's dumbest dudes in the midst of a zombie outbreak. They don't cause it, which sort of shocked me, but then them actually doing anything would be counter to the spirit of the movie. These two are basically morons, not in the awesome too-dumb-to-know-better spirit of Invincible Woody and Crazy Bee, but the directionless Beavis and Buttheadedness of the possibly clinically retarded. Theirs is a world of things that just happen because they do, a world of uncomfortably long grappling on the floor, pervasive misogyny, and scatological Gatling guns, where you can totally drive from Japan to Russia. Plus the hungry dead.

So, clearly this is a film that defies conventional standards of review. It merely is. This is not an exciting movie exactly, it's more a stream of deadpan surrealism. Don't go in expecting Tokyo Gore Police and you'll be fine. The translation is a little loose, but I cannot find it in my heart to condemn a movie that renders "baka ja nai ka!?" as "Are you fuckin' retarded?" It also earns points for including the original manga's butt-ugly (sorry, "heta-uma") art style in a cameo, and even more for having Kazuo "Drifting Classroom" Umezu as the God-Emperor of postapocalyptic Tokyo. Hell, until I saw the credits I figured he was just playing himself.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seriously? Gorilla fighting?

Yeah, the inherent lameness of Guin Saga completely overpowers any production values.
I realized the only reason I really had for watching the thing was that it comes out on Sundays and I have nothing better to do.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fucking is god damn Giant Robo II

Opening song isn't quite Gaogaigar, but it'll fucking do. I'm sure we'll get the real animation for it in time.

So yeah, this is fucking Giant Robo. Again. Which could not be better. The fate of the world itself relies on the constant production of shit this fucking awesome.
I mean, it even has a fucking Shizuma drive palette swap. And a fucking seaside road where the hero drives a normal vehicle away from a fucking giant robot.
Usually a second episode that heads back to the beginning of the story results in a corresponding toning down of the unbridled awesomeness the opening episode had managed to unleash; Imagawa seems to have chosen that structure just to fucking make a mockery of all the failures that couldn't keep the momentum going with it.
Shit is fucking ludicrous right off the god damn bat, with fucking samurai deflecting bullets fired by enemy agents disguised as policemen, and grandpa testing his fucking force fields by murdering sparrows.
Then our hero jams the heel of his Converse into the face of all these wussy little emo heroes by fucking threatening people while they strangle him, and bike vaulting into pilot seat of his robot because how the fuck else would you board one? Pussies.
I didn't bother grabbing any image captures because I simply couldn't pick any. Every fucking second of it was carved into the brain with the sheer force of its awesomeness. Failure to watch this show is failure to be a man.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fundamentally misconceived

I watched all of Basquash 2, but I think I fundamentally bailed on it when the tiresome angsty backstory was immediately followed by a soulful montage backed by SHIT pop music and moe girls beamed on the surface of the moon.
There were still a few moments to like, but the stuff that grated last time grated more, and robot basketball is still fucking dumb.
I bitch a bunch about anime that don't fucking introduce their central conceit until the end of an ass boring first episode, but there is a small subset that kick off episode one with a concept that is waaaaaaay more entertaining than what the actual series is about. A series about fucking street level robotics part thieves? How did no one notice that THIS was what the show should have been about?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Someone actually thought through this shit

I totally just figured out what dudes this powerful bother bringing armies. There's a shot early on in which Date Masamune rides headlong into the enemy, slaughtering them all...while his armies circle around, PREVENTING ESCAPE.
Episode 2 of Sengoku Basara continued the series utter commitment to making everything as bad ass as humanly possible.

The ensuing fight involved him standing perfectly still with his axe up while a blur of ninja arms and sparks failed to break through his astounding immobile defense.
As Giant Robo style arrows and fucking youkai attacks rocketed past my glazed eyes, a thundering choral piece slammed onto the soundtrack and Oda Satan Nobunaga appeared against the virulent eye of a hurricane, blood red cape flapping in the breeze. He did not even need to speak. Even mute, he was voiced by Norio Wakamoto.

I think I'm pretty much done sulking that this staff weren't doing Souten Kouro, and ready to fucking call this as genuinely great in its own right. If it weren't in the same season as Mazinger, it would already be the fucking show of the year.

Eden of the East 01

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Ha ha ha.
The rest of it was pretty promising, too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Are you ready, guys?

There has been an encouraging resurgence in manly bullshit this season.
I initially avoided Sengoku Basara on the theory that nothing made from a video game has ever been worth a god damn. But a friend of the blog persuaded me to give it a go.

It is, indeed, well jovian.
This is clearly the voice cast and production staff Souten Kouro should have had.
When the first fucking line is in Engrish, and some rockin' guitars scream behind the cavalry charge, you know you are in for a time.
While it sort of blows it's load in the first half of the episode, as Date Masamune and Yukimura NUKE the fucking countryside with the power of their manliness, it promises to keep up the lunacy next week.

While Mazinger's manliness tended towards the incoherent and Souten Kouro's tended towards the inept, Sengoku Basara's manliness tends towards the fucking ridiculous. And to the blatant fucking yaoi bait.
But there's an overarching smirk to every second of it that somehow makes it feel more like Gintama than the actual Gintama anime has ever managed. I'll definitely be watching more.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Horse tossing

It's no secret that I have been looking forward to Madhouse's adaption of the MAJESTIC Souten Kouro with RAW NAKED TERROR.
Mouryou no Hako aside, Madhouse's track record with adaptions has been absolutely fucking vile for ages, and for every astounding triumph the studio tends to shit out at least two budgetless abortions.
And Souten Kouro is fucking unfilmable, the single most bad ass thing ever put to page.
So I am pleased to cheerily inform you that the anime is not total shit.
The voice acting is relentlessly mediocre, the pacing is all the fuck over the map, and there are glaring budget-saving animation cheats all the hell over the place, but fuck it.
It seems to have preserved just enough of the bad ass abandon to remain entertaining.

Severed heads bouncing off pillars, deafening bells rung by flung boulders, horses tossed miles into the air, epic philosophy debates in a raging sandstorm, an opening song that's almost catchy till the singer ruins it, and an ending song that gets a free fucking pass for the most awesome band name ever: Ogre You Asshole.
But what the FUCK is this shit after the preview!?

Is this the fucking mahjong anime slot? DEAR GOD.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The difference between optimism and delusion.

... Well, Shangri-la has some nice backgrounds, at least.

But, damn, you can really tell this is the director's debut.  Lot of very awkward editing and compositionally dull scenes.  Even the action scenes are hit-or-miss.

Doesn't help when the story isn't any better.  Two lolis with pandering, loud voices (no, Hojo is not 18, and no amount of "b-but the youth of Asian women" is going to say otherwise)?  Check.  Stereotyped transvestite?  Check.  Outrageous hair style and colors (seriously, what the hell is with that commander?)?  Check.  The Evil Character introduced by Evil Music as she does Evil Things with Evil Make-Up on a generic Evil Expression that the director cuts to because we must know that she's an Evil Leader? Check.  Exposition about a ludicrous concept poorly shoe-horned in?  Check.  Another one of countless, failed attempts for an anime to attempt to balance playfulness and a Serious Plot with Serious Themes?  Check.

And then we get the soldiers running away from the stereotyped transvestite instead of shooting him, because, well, you cannot have competent soldiers actually killing a main character.  And I'm not even starting on the fucking boomerang.

Not that Gonzo has made anything that I've given a damn about in over a half-decade, but I sort of deluded myself that they would succeed here with Shangri-la.  I just give up.

The above screenshot says it all, really.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Revenge of the 80s

For no particularly good reason, I just watched the first episode of the Guin Saga, a hundred volume plus super popular fantasy epic, which is generally code for fucking terrible. General word seems to be that it starts off well enough and descends into bad yaoi slash fiction after a dozen volumes. Which is probably why is sells so well.

As you can see, it is basically every Hannah-Barbara 80s fantasy cartoon at once, only with the sort of budget and production values NHK usually spends on things that matter, like Twelve Kingdoms or Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.
And tons of emo.
At times it nearly managed to be awful enough to be worth watching - furry Conan punching a ninja knight in exactly the right trajectory so he ended up sliding down the inside of a hollow tree was fucking hilarious - but generally the embarrassing aspects of it were enough of a detriment that it ended up only being modestly watchable.

Vinland Saga, Volumes 05-07

What comes before volume seven can be seen as a prologue.  Constant warring, pillaging and posturing fill up many of the pages of Makoto Yukimura's (Planetes) epic viking saga.  Though Yukimura doesn't have the mindset to continue going on like this for too long; until volume six, there's not much of an emotional center to counter the sheer awesomeness of the fights.  This changes with an expected character, Prince Canute, though in an unexpected way.

With this development, the scope enlargens and alliances are forged.  Volume sevens sees politicking and assasinations coming to the forefront, along with the Askeladd's continuing humanization.

I have no idea why Del Rey has not pounced on Vinland Saga yet, other than Kodansha holding off and wanting to release it themselves -- that is, before the economy reared its head and they had to shelve those plans for the time being.

Emma, Volume 08

A collection of short stories taking place before, during and after the events of the seven volume run.  Two-thirds of this specific volume focus on two familiar characters from Emma, Kelly Stowner and Elleanor Campbell, telling where they've come from and are going, respectively.  Subdued actions still carry as much weight as the dialogue, and Kaoru Mori's art only continues to shine as she shows off her skills drafting the Crystal Palace.

The strength of those stories makes the other two limp in comparison.  The third is a series of snapshots of various people in London throughout their day, and the fourth is a return to the story of the exuberent maid, Tasha.  Neither provide anything revelatory or substantial, the latter repeating the same message in different situations to emphasize Tasha's apparent inadequacy during her visit home.  Still, it's the small details, like the ironing of newspaper, that bring a sort of life and authenticity that is exceptionally rare among historical manga (however authentic they attempt to be).

And Kaoru Mori still has the greatest afterwords in the history of publishing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mainlining awesomeness

Yasuhiro Imagawa, director of Giant Robo, the greatest anime of all time, returns to TV with Shin Mazinger Shogeki! Z-hen on television, his take on Go Nagai's infamously fucked 70s robot show.
From FRAME ONE it is pretty much more incoherent awesomeness than the human mind is capable of processing.

The entire first episode is pretty much one INSANELY bad ass entrance after another, with fucking hundreds of characters and robots and powers and gizmos flung willynilly at the viewer with suitably epic music and accompanying imagery.

A friend called me halfway through and I pretty much just sobbed into the phone, long past the capacity for rational thought. Were I to watch more than one episode of this in a row, I suspect I would lose control of my bladder as well.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fucking robots playing fucking basketball


Shoji Kawamori is someone I try and at least pay attention to, even if he hasn't done a fucking thing worth watching since 2001.
Basquash! flew completely under my radar, and I only watched because I happened to see his name attached. Pretty much went into it blind.
Wildly uneven, to say the least.
Even dismissing standard anime horseshit like the unlikeable shonen spaz hero or the sex pot with the voice of a gratingly cute 10 year old, this fucker is all the god damn hell over the place on a second by second basis.

I mean, what the fuck are those things, and why are the police stopping to let them pass?
Then there's the world's dumbest fucking premise, and the production values that actually make that shit work. And the bad ass steampunky future city largely ruined by the fucking pedo idol singers broadcast onto the fucking surface of the moon. Or the randomly awesome incidental character moments (lots of cavities is on the hero's list of crimes) clashing with embarrassing anime stereotypes (I can live with fat dudes that are always eating, but do they have to use the fucking comedy fat guy voice? No real human being has ever talked like that) or the comedy bits that totally work (every line an old man is overhearing from inside sounding so brazenly sexual it make a dumb old gag pretty damn funny again) to the cheese-tastic metaphorical goals that make a big swing as 70s manly jovianism and wind up sounding like dated horseshit instead (the hero believes all things wrong with life will be righted if he can just get to the moon) and ultimately, fuck it, it's god damn terrible and entertained me more than anything I've seen in months.
Good start to the Spring.