Monday, November 30, 2009

Strange Tales of Del Rey

Looks like we've solved the mystery of Moyashimon's last-minute delay, but their newest scheduling change seems pretty obvious: The last three volumes of Mushishi are being compressed into one final omnibus, presumably because sales are poor enough that they'd rather get it over with ASAP. It's kind of a shame that it's come to this, but I do appreciate them seeing it through to the end.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Cliff shit that doesn't really mention the movie

So since John Woo's epic Red Cliff is actually out in theaters (and mysteriously available on Xbox LIVE) I actually read up on it a little.
Seems to focus on Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang versus Cao Cao.
Yeah, like I know any of the Chinese names. Souten Kouro's warped revamp is my entire source of knowledge for this shit.
Okay, so who were they in that?
Tony Leung is Zhou Yu, 周瑜, Shu Yu. Didn't ring a bell. Apparently he looks like this in the Souten Kouro anime:

Which is probably the least distinctive design in the entire series or something. No memory of the dude at all.
Takashi Kaneshiro is Zhuge Liang. Pretty famous guy, historically.
諸葛亮. Shokatsu Ryo. Hunh. Wait, this guy was awfully famous. Surely he was in the...
Oh. This 字/zi/courtesy name business. Naturally, both these guys are referred to almost exclusively by their courtesy names, so I only know him as 孔明/Koumei/Kongming. Koumei is pretty spectacular in Souten Kouro, portrayed as alternately a flaming homosexual and a fucking God descended to Earth to tell humans how to win fucking battles. He looks like this:

Which also reveals that there is apparently a fucking Three Kingdoms CCG that uses artwork from SEVERAL different versions of the series simultaneously, just to fuck with people.
(Zhou Yu's courtesy name is 公瑾, which the Japanese wikipedia is unhelpful on, but which I'm assuming Koukin. The Chinese is Gongjin. This was unhelpful in jogging my memory.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A little Bakemonogatari DVD-only violence for you

Disc 3!

The audio commentary features several minutes of Suruga trying to get Senjogahara not to watch this bit...

And Senjogahara promising she won't mind at all...

Right till the leg goes through Araragi.
The Suruga/Senjogahara commentary is generally too awesome for the universe to contain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

There's a special hell for underachievers

Here in 2009, with the ongoing Animepocalypse in full swing, Bandai Visual/Honneamise's ridiculous business plan seems even sillier than it did at the time. For those of you coming in late, the label started out well, positioning themselves as sort of a Criterion Collection for anime, rereleasing a handful of prestige titles in both no-frills regular discs and lavish, feature-packed special editions for people with arguably more money than sense (er, guilty).

So, promising start, but within months of those initial releases, they started cutting back not just the extras, but on standard features like dual language tracks and per-disc episode counts, and even had the gall to raise prices. Complete fiasco, worked out about as well as you'd think, and the company was dissolved and the more saleable licenses reverted to the more sensible Bandai Entertainment. Incredibly, it looks like the home office in Japan didn't quite learn their lesson, but I'm getting sidetracked.

Anyway, during this second, lesser wave, they released a lot of series that were obscure even at the time, and the laughable prices they were charging made sure they stayed that way. Picking through the wreckage a couple years later, I'm a bit more inclined to take a chance at $5 a disc than $40, and hey, turns out Demon Prince Enma is animated by the usually decent Brains Base and directed by Mamoru Kanbe, who helmed the infamous, hilarious Elfen Lied. I'll gamble a stamp. Well, the thing about gambling is you don't always win; I'd love to say this was some kind of overlooked gem, but frankly it's average at best. I will give points for the terrible pun of naming the decrepit old magic hat "Chapeauji".

OK, so this is a four-episode sequel/updating of an old Go Nagai series no one in America's ever heard of. The cute little demon kids are all grown up and now they're sexay demon hunters, because this is a Go Nagai OVA and that means sleaze, gore, and sleazy gore! Both episodes on the first disc involve sex workers, and if you've ever seen any Go Nagai show that isn't Cutey Honey, you know that most people you see will end up dead. We have all the ingredients for, if not a good show, at least an enjoyably trashy one. And for a while, it's OK, depending on how low you're willing to set your brow, but it can't manage a baseline level of quality for long.

First and foremost, this is not the kind of show you watch for the characters. Impulsive dick Enma, icily irritable Yukihime, and dissolute kappa Kapaeru are incredibly one-note, practically ciphers, which means all the enjoyment comes from watching them do crazy magic stuff, but demon-smacking is at a bare minimum. This is more a horror show than an action one, so the monster of the week has to stumble around offing hapless victims for a bit before our heroes get around to doing their job. There are a couple other recurring characters, including a spunky tabloid journalist and a hard-bitten cop we immediately renamed "Detective Frankenstein", but they don't quite manage to shore up the gaping charisma void left by the leads.

Still, the two episodes on disc 1 are at least watchable, and lay a decent enough foundation that could lead somewhere interesting-- so of course, it completely collapses halfway through episode 3, when the story we've been watching gets literally interrupted by another one of dubious quality, and the ostensible lead characters vanish until the very end. Disc 2 is almost perplexingly bad all the way through, full of awfulness like a mansion rendered almost entirely in GONZO-worthy clumsy CGI, and strange storytelling choices like lingering shots of someone's head bobbing up and down, staring at an eerily dribbling basketball. Even before this dive into ineptitude, the animation quality was basically on a TV level, and almost embarrassing for an OVA. Charging $20 an episode for this is practically a crime, and I feel sorry for anyone who got suckered.

There are a few nice, small moments here and there, for true subculture vultures, but there's a reason no one talks about this one. Much like the company that released it, Demon Prince Enma returns to the hell that spawned it, unmourned, and mostly unknown.

Yume Miru Kikai images

Twitch has images from Satoshi Kon's new movie.
Is this seriously the first time we've mentioned him here!?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Motorcycle vs. Cavalry

I was thinking about making a shameful confession

But Sub's written literally everything I would have anyway. Chapter 5 in particular is either so stupid it's gone back around to clever, or the other way 'round.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Turbo - an indie film that might as well be Tekken: The Movie

Continuing my video-dropping from today is this independently-produced short film about the bad-ass world of video game tournaments in a trendy, futuristicly vague LA (or somewhere).

TURBO from Jarrett Lee Conaway on Vimeo.

I'll admit there ain't much original going on here, but it's surprisingly competent and earnest. Kind of like a high school drama group getting Michael Bay's FX department.
via the official Turbo web site

Another Western-contracted anime omnibus

In what seems to be a fashionable trend, yet another Western pop-culture property is getting Animatrix-ized (there's got to be a better term for that - "anime omnibus" just doesn't seem to cut it either.

While I'm morbidly curious about the game, I can't say that this trailer makes the project look too interesting. The Animatrix was awesome, I hear good stuff about the Batman anime omnibus and I'm excited about the possibilities of Halo: Legends, but this trailer looks rather like most Ameircan straight-to-DVD animated projects (i.e. kinda crap).

I do like the intent of actually tying products like these into animated projects (EA did something similar with Dead Space) as it's likely the only hope I see for America growing a stronger animation market for adults, I haven't been too impressed with the offerings so far.

Part of the strength of projects like these, however, is that each segment is short, so if you don't like one of the stories, you don't have to wait too long to move on to something that might be better. The flaws of one individual piece doesn't drag the whole project down.
via Kotaku & Joystiq

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So I never actually saw Casshern, since it had already earned itself a rep as utterly incoherent shit by the time it actually came out. Goemon has an even worse rep -- even people who liked Casshern are getting their hate on.
But hey, the trailers were insane.

Goemon is by no means a good movie. It is awesomely terrible in the Southland Tales sense. At least, for about half the length. I absolutely loved the first half -- filled with batshit crazy people doing batshit crazy things on batshit crazy sets surrounded by batshit awful special effects, it gloried in matte paintings and hilariously overstylized CG. The first act ninja fight alone is totally one of the greatest ninja-riffic things ever filmed.
It sort of implodes on itself in the second half. It sort of loses sight of a few key things.
A. Ninja DO NOT CRY.
B. Since you've established that ninja can leap a hundred feet in the air WHENEVER THEY WANT then it logically follows that: Ninja do not have problems getting through crowds.
I am aware that Japan is the land where melodrama will never fucking die, but wisecracking ninja doing crazy shit worked a good deal better than crying ninja having sad things happen to them, and when that gave way to five successively worse endings it sort of stopped being hilarious that everyone was wearing Western armor or fucking Stormtrooper outfits and posing dramatically in front of sudden solar eclipses and just got weirdly dull.

Independently-produced Short Anime Continues to Impress

Independent anime shorts are usually a nice little surprise and Fumiko's Confession is no different. Cute and fun, it's short and quick to not overstay its welcome either.

Prolly doesn't hurt that the musical choice always brings me back to good ol' Ebichu fansubs, too.
via (the pleasingly NSFW) Sankaku Complex

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I might be reaching here

Bakemonogatari 13

Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga, page 1

Fun-loving criminals

"My first series is a story about arms dealers. It's a rather serious topic, but while I draw I'm always smiling and having a lot of fun." So saith the author, on the very first page of Jormungand, a story set in "a certain Eastern European country", where a beautiful genius arms dealer with the rather unlikely name of Koko Hekmatyar hires child soldier Jonah as her new bodyguard, and bullety hijinks ensue.

I never thought I'd find a series that made Black Lagoon look like gritty realism, but here we are. Both series share a fierce, dumb energy that makes them ripping reads, but Takahashi unfortunately also follows Hiroe in having some muddy, hard to follow action scenes... and actually, that goes for his plotting too, unless someone can explain to me why announcing to your enemies that you're unarmed, then threatening to rearm means you've won the fight.

It may not be fair to be reading this in Lagoon's shadow, but I find it impossible not to, given that they're both in Viz' Signature line, released new volumes on the same day, and even share a trim size. I suppose they ultimately both descend from Sonoda's Gunsmith Cats, which wasn't exactly a paragon of realism itself. It's sort of interesting to track the protagonists' moral degeneration across the three series, from bounty hunters to mercenaries/pirates to war profiteers.

I definitely don't want all my entertainment to be socially responsible, but Jormungand's frothy adventuresome tone ironically bothered me by NOT following up on any of the darkness in its premise. Jonah's background is entirely glossed over, and seems just an excuse to have an adorable little boy toting a gun around. Even Full Metal Panic managed a more nuanced take on the subject. Actually, what the hell; between this, FMP, and Gundam 00, "child soldier" is in danger of becoming a stock character type.

Ultimately, Takahashi is not here to make any commentary on war culture, military-industrial complexes, or even human suffering. He is here to show stuff blow up real good. To his credit, there isn't any particular joy in brutality either, so the book remains tacky but not tasteless. Again, the frontispiece says it's his first work, and it definitely shows, but I can't say I didn't enjoy this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

OK, I just wanted an excuse to type "sexual dimorphism"

I don't think I've mentioned my love of Keita Amemiya here. He's kind of a consummate B-movie filmmaker; as a creature designer he's superb and instantly recognizable, but I find him less consistent as a director (as does probably everyone who suffered through Zeiram 2 or Mechanical Violator Hakaider). Still, I do love seeing his biomechanical beasties go on a rampage, so I decided to check out his TV series Garo. And you know, the first eight episodes are actually pretty good. The show cuts out all the "people talking in Godzilla movies" BS, probably because it's only a half hour long-- they have no choice but to leave out anything boring. The feckless freeter artist leading lady gets exactly enough screen time to convey her character without having the "funny" comic relief cut into the rubber suit time. I'd say this is a good show for people who really like the idea of tokusatsu but tend to find the actual shows a bit disappointing; it's a good popcorn show that's been improving as it goes. The monsters do get to kill people, and the episodes aren't as formulaic as you'd expect. Plus, random mute kung-fu butler. And if you've spent any time playing White Wolf games, the hero's habitual katana-and-trenchcoat getup is endlessly amusing.

Speaking of endless, I finished Endless Eight, and hence am mostly done with Haruhi 2. While I still appreciate the sheer cheekiness, and their insane dedication to the joke, spending a full eight episodes on it was definitely overkill. There's better things we could have been doing with our time together, KyoAni.

I also find myself questioning the wisdom of having the title character filtered through a narrator who seems to hate her. I seem to recall Kyon being a lot more drawn to Haruhi's obnoxious verve in the first season, and by extension so were we. She's also starting to seem kind of dumb to not even suspect the constant preternatural hijinks happening right under her nose. Maybe this just isn't a concept that can be drawn out too far, or maybe it's that this season is totally lacking in flashy weirdness to keep me from examining it too closely. And I continue to not love everyone constantly going off-model like the staff wishes they were just drawing more K-On. Actually, I think I just put my finger on why that bugs me so much-- the fairly mundane character designs helped root the show in the staid reality Haruhi's so sick of, and having everyone pulling cartoony faces just throws that away.

Also checked out the first episode of Sacred Blacksmith. The sexual dimorphism in this show is ridiculous; all the men look like hard-bitten extras from Lodoss Wars (except the titular blacksmith, who'd look more at home in Scrapped Princess), but all the women look like K-On Goes LARPing. And yes, that's pretty much the only thing I have to say about this; it's not outright terrible, or badly animated (I did think the iceblob was kinda neat), but I just can't seem to give a damn. But hey, it didn't fail the basic "do I care enough to even try it" test like most of this season's shows, or make me actively regret it like Book Of Bantorra.

Finally, I read this on Jason Thompson's recommendation. I'm a sucker for art about making art, but there's not quite as much of that as I'd have liked. The most interesting part ended up being how completely objectified the male lead is; I don't think he ever has a single thought or desire that isn't totally centered around the heroine. I'm not used to being on the receiving end of that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Repent Walpurgis 2

I managed to avoid retaining anything from the first book, so it was quite a relief that this volume consisted almost entirely of over the top action. You don't need to remember a great deal about the Ice Witch to get a kick out of her fighting with the one eyed samurai in a crowded airport as he opens chasms in the floor beneath her and she has to catch hold of the staff she immobilized when he tried to hit her with it. You don't have to remember any of the character backstories to cringe as Nagi gets stabbed through the heart by a stake made from the body of her own mother. You do probably have to have read virtually everything Kadano has ever written to make much sense out of the last chapter, in which virtually every mysterious faction that has been kicking around the outskirts of the Boogiepop series assemble, shuffle themselves and decide to start fucking shit up. Akemi starred in her own Boogiepop novel, Heartless Red -- her unique talent for bullshit has allowed her to have a successful career in the Towa Organization without actually having any of the powers she claims to have. Introduced to Asukai Jin by a character from his fucking Faust short stories, she decides to make him the next head of the Towa Organization, and uh, I guess that plot will happen next time. There's a lot of set up for it. Meanwhile, the doctor from the Shizuru-san novels betrays Nagi, and Akemi sends her to see Beat Pete, at which point the novel ends, having finally caught up to the teaser cliffhanger at the end of Beat's Discipline. Oh, and Nagi is turning into an evil witch doomed to fight through all eternity with another witch, both of which move from host body to host body throughout time. The other witch has quite a lot of plans carefully laid over the last few centuries, having sent Nagi's mother THROUGH TIME. I strongly suspect they are a parallel universe manifestation of the dueling witches seen in the Jiken series. Meanwhile, Riki Tiki Tavi possessed Aya, giving her superpowers but ultimately placing her against Nagi and the other witch in a battle she cannot hope to win.
In other words, great fun, but it is no longer possible to read anything Kadono writes without first reading everything else he has ever written, preferably in chronological order, including stuff that only ran in magazines and they've never been nice enough to collect in book form, ha ha ha ha ha.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vampire Hunter D - sassy hand + sailor suit =

Today's slice of wire-fu features a Korean actress starring in the French-directed live-action remake of a Japanese anime with stunt direction from Hong Kong. Sadly, Blood: The Last Vampire is less a shining beacon of international cooperation than a bloody effing mess. And I never even liked the source material. The first half or so is a remake of the original anime (presumably Blood+ is a separate license), and then from there it strays off into random period wire-fu as the script completely collapses.

To be fair, this movie does have two things to recommend it. First, the awesome mean-girls-from-the-kendo-club hazing sequence, which is far too amazing a concept to be wasted on this movie. Second, the bit where Saya's mentor single-handedly wastes like twenty old-school, earth-tunneling, tree-rappelling ninja (who are presumably also vampires). This scene also teaches us that Saya has been specifically trained to hang upside-down from a tree trunk and stab someone's eye out.

Sadly, these are mere pinpricks of enjoyment drowning in a sea of nonsense. It's so fundamentally incoherent that it reminds me of Transformers 2; characters are constantly acting on information they have no reason to have, and all kinds of plot elements get introduced during the scene in which they are resolved. The movie ends when Saya and her American sidekick drive into a giant canyon right outside of Tokyo, which turns out to be some kind of timegorge that literally dumps them into a flashback where they kill the big bad, which apparently traps Saya outside the flow of normal spacetime for the sake of a last-minute Alice in Wonderland reference.

Yes, really.

Most unforgivably, the final cut removes all trace of the blacula fight that was the only reason I had any interest in seeing this. It's just kind of a sadly underachieving movie, on the whole; Corey Yuen's stunt direction is smothered in gratuitous quick cuts and sped-up footage (you'd never believe the same guy did Fong Sai Yuk or even New Legend of Shaolin), and the usually reliable Clint Mansell's score is so unmemorable that I can't recall a single piece of music. I've seen worse movies, but that's still no reason to recommend this one.