Friday, October 30, 2009


The trailers for this short film have been getting people excited; with one man doing most of the work, it took a while to complete, but now Cencoroll is actually out.

It is pleasantly understated.
I don't really think it has the pulse-pounding action or boldly drawn characters it needs to really get a lot of attention, but it has a lot of fascinating moments, and an off-kilter grasp of characterization and plot development that belies the library of congress summary. I think I wound up liking it more than I enjoyed it, but even then, it feels more like a first episode than a complete work, especially with the post credits sequel bait.

Kuuchuu Buranko 3

I didn't actually have anything much to say about this episode other than that I enjoyed it, but don't feel the need to talk it up much.
Then I happened to look around on the Wikipedia page, and discovered they've actually changed the the client character's gender this week. He's a romance novelist -- who once wrote a really great work of literature, but who turned to romance novels, despite his sexual inexperience, because his real book didn't sell -- and who now suffers from vomiting fits every time he starts to think he might be repeating himself. Changing the gender here makes for rather a dramatic reframing of the content, to the point where it's sort of hard to imagine what it would have been like originally; much like I find it hard to imagine Irabu not as three fucking psychos, but as played by Abe Hiroshi (in the TV movie version.)
If nothing else, I'm gradually starting to form a real desire to go read the novels.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Edward Scissorhands - goth + feudalism =

Sundance Channel, what would I do without you to fill up my DVR? Most recently you've gifted me with Dororo, adapted from an Osamu Tezuka manga I haven't read, though I'm familiar with the basic premise thanks to Sega. For those fortunate enough to have skipped that game, Dororo is the story of wandering magic cyborg swordsman Hyakkimaru, hunting down the 48 demons his father sold his organs to for power, accompanied by the titular scrappy kid sidekick (much older and less androgynous than usual, but being played by the scythe girl from Battle Royale will do that). As I understand it the manga never actually finished, so the game and the movie both come up with their own narratives. It certainly starts well, with an arrow-pierced warlord fleeing the battlefield and cursing the world, but then the cheesy-looking talking rat offering to buy his soul rather recalibrated my expectations.

This is kind of a recurring theme; the movie has a nice sense of place (even if that place is actually New Zealand, but hell, it looks gorgeous anyway) and some evocative visuals, but every time I really start digging the gritty samurai feel, they throw in something totally jarring, like sequined dancing girls. Then again, I have the same exact problem with what little Tezuka I've read, so maybe this is just a faithful adaptation. I decided to just give in and enjoy it around when our grumpy hero slashed the mask off an exotic crab-demon dancer.

It basically never stops being weird and goofy, but it does manage to achieve a fairy-tale logic that makes it work. I wouldn't call this a great movie, but it is an enjoyable one, in a lazy Saturday-afternoon matinee-when-you're-11 way. If you wanna see some crazy CGI wire-fu yokai fights (inexplicably scored to Spanish guitar), it don't come no better.

I have no idea what to make of this.

A. This is Zhang Yimou's remake of Blood Simple, apparently.
B. Apparently the first half is a wacky comedy, and the second half...isn't.
C. The trailer would, therefore, be schizo enough even without super doomy McCreepy voice threatening to release it in December.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bukimi to Soboku na Kakowareta Sekai

Kimi to Boku no Kowareta Sekai (Our Broken World) was the first Nisioisin book I didn't like. An attempt to write a traditional mystery novel, this resulted in page after page of the detective character tediously explaining every exhausting detail of the deductive process for a mystery that wasn't interesting to begin with. Sure, the detective might be a high school girl that refuses to go to class and spends all her time in the nurse's office, selling her own body, and the narrator had an icky subplot about his incestuous relationship with his sister, but neither of those elements could make up for the dire tedium at the novel's core.
After writing it, someone once asked Nisioisin for a sequel, and he made up this title as a joke, and then eventually actually wrote the thing. I have a tendency to keep buying everything authors I like put out, even works of theirs I don't really care for, but he put out two more novels in this series before I actually got around to trying the second one.
It's at times like these that my compulsive buying justifies itself, because this was one hell of a book. This time around the detective character (cousin of the original) does not endlessly explain least, not directly. She actually never says a word. Somehow she is able to communicate vast swathes of information through facial expressions alone. She also fails to survive the book, a fact the illustrations helpfully reveal dozens of pages before she actually gets murdered. Structurally, this book really manages to subvert the problems he ran into in the first book; after a chapter spent introducing the characters, the narrator's sister winds up dead, and he and the silent detective begin investigating. In drag. She always wears the boy's uniform, and he decides to solve this thing wearing his sister's spare uniform. After a comparatively painless if labored explanation of the trick used in the murder, they fail to actually narrow it down to a final suspect, and he is forced to go try to rattle a few things loose and see what happens. This is where all hell breaks lose. Not only does the detective die, but the killer herself gets murdered by one of the other suspects; it all sort of leaves a bad taste in your mouth, the way murder really ought to I suppose, not least because the characters are mostly thirteen. But come to think of it, Nisioisin's mystery works have always been really good at making the actual murders viscerally unpleasant to read about. It's all part of his more manipulative side; by rattling the reader's emotions he sets us up to buy it when the other shoe drops.
In this case, the other shoe drops in the epilogue, when the detective from the first novel rings the narrator's doorbell, and neatly flips the entire book on his head. Nisioisin's done the unreliable narrator trick before, to great effect, but I'm pretty sure he topped himself here. Easily the best actual mystery novel he's written...even though the mystery itself is nothing you can't work out for yourself, he had enough cards up his sleeve that he was able to turn the tables on me at the very end.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This week in Engrish

What? Sighted for about half a second in Scientific Railgun 3, divorced of any context and totally uncommented on.


It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I absolutely loved every batshit insane second of Takashi Miike's Yatterman.

I mean, how many movies have Abe Sadawo doing both his best Indiana Jones and his best Stranger from Dark City?
Miike's last kids' film was far and away one of the best films he's ever done, and I'm a sucker for old school cheese done right to begin with, so I had high hopes, but Yatterman surpassed them on every level. It's sort of astonishing how much better it is than it actually needed to be. There's a good deal more tonal nuance that I expected, which occasionally threatens to detract from the glorious overkill, but Miike always has another card up his sleeve; the relentless pacing is exhausting, but the exhilarating kind.
I hesitate to call it a kids' film, though; even by Japan's liberal standards, converting your robot from boob machine guns to boob missiles by having it tweak its nipples while moaning "I'm coming" is probably going a bit far. Particularly when the good guy dog robot starts jerking off to this.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Disregard your wallet's health

DVD Pacific is currently having a sale on select Criterion Collection films (primarily blu-ray titles and box sets of their main and Eclipse lines) that, while not as considerate as B&N's August sale, is more than worthwhile. Considering this blog's focus, this would be an opportune time to buy:

In defense of Shigurui and Madhouse

I was initially going to post this as a comment in Andrew's Aoi Bungaku post, but decided it was substantive enough to expand into its own.

The overall pacing in Shigurui is a lot slower than Texhnolyze, Mushi-shi and Lain, yet is also bizarrely dynamic -- episode two adapts about one chapter of the manga with some added background material to lead up to Kogan's introduction, while episode six adapts an entire volume's worth of material. The whole series is very fractured -- despite the careful direction and writing to create the story's two halves -- which I think is what gives the feeling that the visceral impact is lost when action does occur: the pacing between the fights is so deliberate, and the fights themselves so concise that it takes away from any sort of expected viewing pleasure. Treating the violence and abusive sexuality in such a serious and unpleasant manner is one of the main points and means to show the mentality behind such a culture, and one that isn't far removed from many today. (The manga obviously addresses similar themes, but Yamaguchi also idolizes and stylizes the disturbing violence in a way Hamazaki and Minakami doesn't, resulting in a more sensational work where the appeal is more in the insanity of fights and machismo, and less in the motivation behind the characters and their society. One's response to either medium's portrayal is dependent on what you want out of the story.)

This, along with what few female characters there are, create not only a moral center but also a story of real moral consequence where both sides are shamefully self-destructive and neither justified -- even though Irako's devastating beatdown at the climax of the first half makes us side with the revenge he initiates in the second. Although I love my immoral and gonzo stories as much as any action fan, it is more than necessary to have these kind of works -- otherwise we may desensitize ourselves to disturbing extremes.

As for Madhouse: like any other studio, they're only "dependable" when they use actual auteurs (Kon, Hamazaki, Hosoda, et cetera; I still feel that Yuasa is better when he doesn't have to work with plots). I'd love to see more of Iso's work (unlike Yuasa, I feel that he just has to shave off some rough edges on his writing), and they seem to gather the talented needed for literary adaptions when they need it (Mouryou no Hako, Aoi Bangaku). Despite their obvious creative contraction along with the rest of the market for the past year or so, they're the only studio other than Studio 4°C that interests me in what they're trying to do with the medium.

Kuuchuu Buranko 2

I can't say I'm ready to actively recommend it, but I definitely tapped into the wavelength of this episode more than I did the first. And it certainly has some spectacular visual flourishes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mm, 3D Kung Fu

Been a while since Yuen Woo-Ping directed.

Vamp! 4

Three years went by between Vamp! 3 and Vamp! 4 -- Vamp! 4 was originally supposed to be a short story collection, but the sheer amount of time made him go for something larger in scope. It's a transitional novel in a lot of ways; the primary thrust of the narratives is to make the villains of the first three novels into good guys while introducing new villains. While the old villains were notoriously wacky, the new ones are Pure Blood vampires, who are living, breathing stereotypes...well, not literally, being undead, but they're the sort of one note dicks that wind up with the heroes teasing them for not knowing who Christopher Lee is. They're little more than opportunists anyway...the real villain in this book is mankind. Collectively.
A small village in the mountains is completely wiped out. One girl survives -- a girl with two small scabs on her neck. Rumors spread -- first that the village was attacked by vampires, and second that the girl herself is a vampire. She and her guardian soon find themselves fleeing an angry mob, only to be vampires. "Don't worry, I'm a vampire," is not a line many books would contain.
This is ambitiously cross cut with flashbacks into the past of several major characters, and a number of extra twists laid on top of the big twists from the previous couple of novels. It takes a while to get everything moving, but it definitely moves when it gets there.
I will, however, admit that the primary appeal of the Vamp! series is the crazy fucking shit he pulls. The previous volumes brought us the flower growing under a guillotine that was soaked in blood till it became a vampire, and the vampire watermelon. This volume brings us a vampire spider (who wears punk/goth fashions in case he forgets and flings an extra leg out one of the handy holes), a vampire Chihuahua who insists he's a wolf, a vampire wolf who can't convince anyone he's not a werewolf, a girl gamer vampire with a collection of magic swords and move names based on Atari gaming classics, and, best of all, a vampire T-Rex.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Aoi Bungaku 01

While Madhouse has done a first rate job pissing all over their reputation the last few years, they still managed to turn out at least one really impressive, unorthodox anime every year. Last year's Moryo no Hako clearly whet a few appetites around there for more literary work, so this year we get Aoi Bungaku, an anthology series in which different staffs adapt famous literary masterpieces with character designed done by Shonen Jump authors. Takeshi Obata is a no brainer; Tite Kubo is a bit more of a headscratcher, but one episode appears to have the goofy loonball who does Prince of Tennis in charge of designs, which simply boggles the mind.

The first and longest story up for adaption is Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku.) While I've never read the book -- like so many people in today's modern world, the INSANELY creepy host of the program regretfully informs us, I tend to think of 'literature' as hard to connect to -- but I knew the title (if only because Nisioisin referenced it in his second novel.)
So I can't really comment on how this is functioning as an adaption. What I can say is that it managed to hook me immediately, conveyed an awful lot in a few carefully chosen images, and follows through on that initial promise extremely well. Really looking forward to see the rest -- at least, for the four episodes of Ningen Shikkaku.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Black Lightning

Russia is clearly the place to go for craaaaaazy shit these days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kuuchuu Buranko 1

Pretty much what the trailer promised, the first episode was obnoxiously grating to the point of being almost completely unwatchable. I'm a big enough fan of Mononoke to give Nakamura another week to gel all this screeching and weirdness into something effective -- after all, it was damn near the end of the first Mononoke episode before anything really began to click with me, and it was definitely the second episode that sold me solid.
On the other hand, absolutely nothing worked for me here, so this is purely an act of faith on my part.

Kiba Kouichi gets screwed again

Many years ago, I randomly picked up a weird looking manga called Mariogun: The End of Violence. The content utterly blew my mind. The scale of the story was unhinged in a way unseen since Devilman stopped being about monsters fighting and started depicting the fall of man. From page one. In fact, it seems to have been so unhinged that the author himself failed to complete the series, plans for a second volume were scrapped, and his career has never recovered. He has released one volume of short stories in the last seven years. But even before that, his career was a scrappy one; a four volume early hit, a two volume book he wrote but did not drawn and which I've never been able to find, a fantastic chunky one volume about a man who dives Psychonauts style into the memories of objects, and several series that were killed so fast they never made it to trades.
After a long time spent working on a novel, apparently, Kiba Kouichi finally started up a new series earlier this year, in Kodansha's Michao online magazine. Which promptly got itself shut down. Apparently while he was busy drawing chapter three.
King Gonta's awesome Fire King was also in that misbegotten magazine, and I've yet to find out whether it will survive the premature death, but Kiba's blog post on the issue makes it pretty clear that his series is stone dead, and will not be continued. I hope someone wakes up and realizes that this is a man who deserves to be working, but each time he gets screwed over my hopes dim.

Playing catch-up

Ah, the eternal conundrum-- if I spend all my time watching anime, then I have no time to blog about it.
Watched three episodes of Letter Bee so far-- two broadcast and one I'm guessing was an OVA teaser. It's kind of a textbook "missing the point" anime adaptation; the main draw of the manga is the art, which has an interestingly lush style that's almost entirely absent here. The plot & characters are also not doing much for me, but then the first 2 chronological-order eps are almost pure exposition and setup, and the OVA is a random "power of friendship" story that wasn't quite heartfelt or original enough to penetrate my cynical defenses. I'm still willing to give it another couple eps to pick up, since it looks like underage Millia Rage is about to join the cast.

Also halfway through Haruhi season 2. I wish Kyoto Animation hadn't made K-On between seasons, it seems to have infected their overall art style. Endless Eight is hilariously, unbelievably ballsy, but it's probably a lot easier to appreciate if you burn through it in one or two sittings instead of doing the week-by-week drip... which is exactly why I usually don't watch anime weekly, really.

On the other hand, that means I do things like finish Bakemonogatari way too late to make any constructive comments on the old posts. I enjoyed it, but SHAFT was definitely showing some Gainaxian time crunch problems on the last, oh, five episodes or so, and aren't nearly as graceful under pressure (speaking of which, watching Evangelion 1.0 was kind of odd, since most of the directorial style I think of as distinctively Eva comes from working around budget restrictions, which isn't really a problem with the new movies). I liked the last episode, but I hope the upcoming OVA episodes will actually provide something resembling closure on all the supernatural goings-on. Then again, I fear just how pedo SHAFT might get when freed from broadcast standards.

Also been (re)watching some old HK flicks. Man, the '80s and '90s were a magical time over there. At least one of these deserves a post to itself, but I don't have all that much to say about New Legend of Shaolin beyond "Well, that certainly was a Wong Jing movie". I mean, the man is committed to pure entertainment, but he's equally committed to just being completely random. Which is, of course, part of what makes his films so entertaining. Even dubbing it (poorly) as "Legend of the Red Dragon" didn't kill it. Arguably, it is made even more entertaining by trying to figure out which jokes are in the original. I can totally see Wong Jing making Jet Li crack jokes about not wearing underwear, but I somehow doubt "If we're going to fight the evil empire you're going to need your potassium" was in the script. It's also nice to see a movie with lots of spear fighting; seems to be one of the lesser-loved fu weapons.

And to go off-topic, I started introducing a pal to The Prisoner. I haven't seen this series in over a decade, which was enough time to forget that the opening theme and sequence are possibly humanity's greatest achievement.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Avoid Fairy Tail

Christ, this season is shit. Hiro Mashima appears to owe his entire career to slavishly copying Oda Eiichiro's style...the problem being that he's a bit shit at it. Shit in a way carefully manufactured to sell to dribbling morons incapable of distinguishing cliche from archetype. I read the first volume of Rave, and it was pathetically bad, but people who genuinely ought to know better have sworn up and down that Fairy Tail was actually genuinely good, so I made the mistake of giving the anime a shot. Not a lot of competition right now.
Mashima has clearly never met a shit fantasy comedy cliche he didn't love, and the anime carefully crammed every single one of them into the half of the episode I managed to survive. Fuck dumb oblivious hero? Check. Obnoxious weird animal sidekick? Check. Obnoxious airhead materialistic girl introduced vamping herself to buy shit? Check. Exposition awkwardly passed off as conversation, half-assed world building, fuck awful comedy jokes, grating presentation...
There was literally not a single solitary second of this I did not absolutely hate. Even the fucking opening song is unbelievably terrible. I dare anyone to survive past the eyecatch, and if you actually fucking like it you need to do some serious soul searching and discover what makes you such a failure as a human being.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What does the tallest android want? Souls!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kodansha finally comes clean

After something like a year of gleaning hints from other companies' solicitations, Kodansha finally publicly admits they're entering the US market as a publisher.

There's not much in there that wasn't already known, but it's nice to have it all officially confirmed. I'm not sure what exactly they mean by "a new manga version of Stand Alone Complex"... somehow I doubt Shirow would be involved, but sadly at this point I'm not sure I'd even want him to be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Z! episodes 24-26: Conclusion?

Imagawa, you are too fucking cruel.
So, the concluding arc proceeds through the first two episodes, and the vast majority of the third, heading towards an agreeable, if somewhat predictable ending. Dr. Hell tries, but at each turn, Nishikiori has something hidden up her sleeve to counter him. There's plenty of fun grin-worthy moments to be had, even if quite a few of them were somewhat ruined by interjections of the god-awful ending song. Out of options, Dr. Hell finally brings out his ultimate bearded mechanical beast hidden within Bardos. I thought events were going to play out like how they did in that first episode, with Dr. Hell pushing Kouji and friends to their limits with his usage of Hades' body, but things played out differently. Sure, Dr. Hell took care of the Mazinger Corp, but all told, he fell quite easily--under the weight of ten thousand rocket punches, with some assistance from a pissed off Baron Ashura. The mechanical beast he was using was no Hades for sure. But anyway, this sounds too easy for a conclusion, right? I thought that there was no way that Imagawa would end the series like that--and indeed he doesn't. Next thing you know, it turns out that everybody's been played by Baron Ashura, and that Dr. Hell actually had humanity's best interests at heart. The dude didn't want to take over the world for just his personal sake. He wanted to unite the world in anticipation of a new Mycenean assault on the planet. Now the fucker's dead, and the Myceneans strike. The sky turns red and Mazinger, pinned down by many spears, is surrounded by some fierce-looking Mycenean soldiers. Everyone instantaneously begins contemplating their will. Then the final episode ends. With no more episodes or subsequent season announcements that I know of, it appears as if Imagawa has once more, brutally decided to leave the bigger, more epic conflict to play out in our imaginations.

Anyway, even without any more material, Mazinger Z! as it is was a satisfying ride. Despite the somewhat convoluted and frenetic back-and-forth nature of the series' plot, at its heart, Z! was about embracing the classical notions of manhood, and the bravado and ferocity that comes with it. For that, it clearly stands out and is notable in the current anime landscape.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Scientific Railgun 01

I continue to have a soft spot for this series. The front half was overloaded with a shitload of underage lesbian groping that mostly managed to be sort of grating, but it picked up in the second half, with a decent action set piece.
They have their work cut out for them making the main character's combat anything like as interesting as her obnoxious teleporting co-star, but I dig the setting, they've kept the same production design, and it continues to be a rare case of a show being better than what it means to be.