Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shame on you, Jason Thompson

(I advise against googling that phrase with relatives or co-workers nearby)

Just one of the dark magicks invoked in Jason Thompson's gonzo, affectionate collision of shonen manga tropes with tabletop role-playing games and sundry other nerd pastimes, King of RPGs.


Beat Takeshi finally pulls his head out of his ass and makes something good? Or just another mediocre yakuza movie, like Brother? (Which would still be a welcome change of pace from what he's been doing.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Remember that show with the limbs in boxes?

Mouryou no Hako really isn't an ideal show to have large gaps in-between episodes. When you watch the first episode in the fall, and then finish it up two winters later, there's going to be some hasty sweeping to clear out the cobwebs. Even as distinctive as the characters are, and as admittedly helpful a few old blog posts can be, it can take away some of the impact the staff intends for the audience... Or, rather, clarity, because I still fucking loved this.

The final five episodes are really difficult to sum up concisely, so I'll just leave a few observations (primarily dealing with episodes eleven and twelve):

- I don't know who to attribute the amazing art to. Hidetoshi Kaneko's art direction here and in both Shigurui and Texhnolyze is stunning; however, Hamazaki and Nakamura have also proven to have a knack for striking visuals, and the other shows on his resume aren't exactly Storaro incarnate...

- Episode eleven has the only instance in anime (that I've come across) where Japan's imperialistic ideals and actions before and during World War II are mentioned in an explicitly negative light: the Nanking reference and Kyogokudo's explanation of his position in the military both threw me. I'm not familiar enough with Japanese literature to know how often this kind of criticism is brought up, whether casually or overtly, but I cannot imagine that it comes anywhere close to the number of works that either aren't concerned with portraying or alluding to the larger context, or else have the audacity to whitewash the situation altogether.

- I love how the revelations are portrayed in episode twelve. It's a straightforward yet still unnerving touch that conveys just how fucked up the situation is:

- Kyogokudo ends up as my favorite character, largely because of his reserved charisma -- episode ten is a particular highlight -- due in no small part to his voice. It has a kind of composure that I can't recall coming across in any other anime.

- Enokizu, as great as he is, isn't as pivotal in the climax and denouement as I hoped. Is he more involved in the other novels?

- The final episode itself is surprisingly restrained after the conflict is resolved. These kind of epilogues aren't uncommon, but it's refreshing how it really works more as a tone piece than the usually contrived attempt at giving resolution to the major (and occasionally minor) characters' lives.

- Best anime series from 2008, easily. Unless Sentai is willing to put down the money for it, I don't see this being licensed here. Just have to settle and hope for Vertical to pick up the novel. (I'll eventually get around to reading my copy of The Summer of Ubume.)

Dulalala 04

Celty-centric episode. They finally broke down and gave her a voice, which keeps the flow of the conversations moving. Same voice that narrated the second episode, unsurprisingly.

I love how Shinra sits at a very Western desk while Celty sits seiza in a tatami-floored room. A lot of really nice design choices throughout the episode; the flashbacks to her time as a Dullahan were fantastic looking, and the music did a great job at hinting at a more sweeping epic score.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Box Man

Fucking hell. This is a nightmare.

It's a clichè to describe something as an experience, but Imiri Sakabashira's The Box Man is the real deal. The story is straightforward at first, as our Kappa-Cat joins the titular character character for a ride. There are teases throughout the first forty pages of unexplained menaces -- a small kaiju that springs up out of a river and breathes some type of mist on our heroes; crab pincers that pop out of the box, cutting off the head and testicles of policemen. However, as the Box Man and Kappa-Cat arrive and go farther in a city-wide apartment complex, all hell breaks loose. After making a dealing with a shamanist-like character, we see a montage of rooms where all sorts of nasty monsters are mutilating, molesting and murdering human beings -- only for the reality of the situation to turn on its head at the end of the sequence. After this centerpiece, shootouts and chase scenes segue from one to the other, until we get to a tranquil ending... but not until Sakabashira decides to gobsmack us with an almost casual revelation about the box's contents, with an even more unnerving final page.

Despite the rather restrained portrayal of action, the art is far from minimalist. The two outdoors sequences that bookend the story are rendered perfectly (a subtlely unnerving landscape of industries and old motor vehicles, contrasted to a liberating market that leads into the ocean), but they only serve to heighten the intensity of the apartment complex. Endless wires and corridors with doors peering over the characters, an open river to darkness, sunlight never getting through -- it's a claustrophobic mess. The repetitive sound effects only add to this, elongating the feel of time that the our protagonists stay in this hellhole.

There's absolutely nothing else like it in manga; the best comparison I can make to any kind of comic is that it's a more technically skilled, less juvenile version of Rory Hayes's work. If you want the fucking strange and have an interest in the grotesque, you need to pick this up.

Katanagatari Episode 01

So the anime is shit, too.
So much for my theory that the flaws in the novels would be diminished by the acting and directing; this ineptly produced embarrassment fails to provide either. Voice acting ranges from generic to downright terrible (Shichika's first few lines are some of the worst acting I've heard this year) and the directing makes you long for Shaft's stylistic excess, as the vast majority of the episode consists of lips flapping in an unmoving frame.
It winds up being even more of a crushing bore than the novel was. At this point I still had more positive things to say than negative ones, and optimistically believed he was going to find a way to correct the flaws. The anime provides no reason to continue whatsoever.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Looks like No More Heroes 2 is getting in on the moe-parody action

Grand Theft Auto IV isn't the only one with an in-game anime parody. No More Heroes 2 apparently has not only a moe anime opening (9:25 in the video below) but also a moe shooter mini-game (at 4:30).

via the NSFW Sankaku Complex

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dulalala!! 03

Today is all about image cropping. The big centerpiece of this episode is definitely the berserker bartender fight. Going through it to grab an image, I found most of it looked great in motion but a bit low detail and crude to grab an capture from. Then I found this.

Let's take a closer look at the corner there.


Baka to Test to Shokanju 03

Welcome to random background detail fascination theater!
In this episode, they go to a very strange movie theater. Check out the pricing scheme!

I understand overcharging the rich, and turning away drunkards, but what is up with this wholesale approval of housing complex wives!?

Most of the movies shown are silly parodies of current big hits, but what the fuck is Nipple Love!? And why is T-Back High School only being shown at midnight!?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bubble Crisis 2005

As I've said before and will no doubt say again, Jonathan Clements is always right. It took me a while to hack through my podcast backlog and get to it, but the 12/03 ANNcast is a thorough autopsy on Geneon USA, and by extension, the entire US anime industry.

This is just chock full of fascinating tidbits, plenty of actual names and numbers, and some anecdotes that confirm and deny bits of the conventional wisdom (interestingly, TV airtime didn't always make much difference in sales). This kind of thing NEVER gets aired publicly... every now and then you hear an insider darkly comment that there's no money in anime, but this makes the whole thing sound like a sickening money pit. As a consumer during those heady days, I'd just like to thank pretty much all the companies for taking a bath on my behalf, bringing over a bunch of shows I really loved, among the hordes of ones I hated.

Early missteps

Viz published a collection of Taiyo Matsumoto's short stories titled Blue Spring a few years back, most likely to cash in on the release of the live-action adaption of one of the shorts after fumbling around in the dark, uncertain of how to sell Matsumoto to North American audiences after apparently lackluster sales of Black and White (later rectified in 2007) and the abysmal performance of No. 5. All of the stories in the collection are relatively straightforward -- one of which featuring characters that appear in Tekkon Kinkreet (Black and White) -- except for one that deals with the disappointment of baseball players as they play mahjong during a hot summer day. Another short story collection, Brothers of Japan, repeats this style of storytelling even more abstractly.

The material here is from the mid 90s -- I'd call it his transitional period -- with shades of the fantastical that Matsumoto would later use in No. 5. There's no real logical sense to the stories, so they end up as thematic vehicles -- a tale of an old man reflecting through three or four different stages of his life -- or indeicpherable, atmospherical oddities. Even the more convential pieces like the 500cc race between two animals, a gorilla and bear, seem to spin off into their own universe before the reader is able to grab hold of them. If there is a success, it's the title story where Brothers Sun and Moon attempt to dig to the otherside of the world -- a fantasy directly contrasted by the more realistic reflections of a woman returning to visit her father as attempts to adjust to a new stage of motherhood. There's not a radical difference between it and the other shorts, but Matsumoto's favorite theme of yin-yang and all of its facets provides enough of a familiar hook for readers to grab onto.

Disappointing as it may be, the collection is a nice reminder of Matsumoto's consistently excellent art, and makes me look forward to finally reading GoGo Monster.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I break my anti-embedded-video stance just this once

The scene starting at the 4 minute mark. I sure wasn't expecting that.

Tekken: The Movie

I was half expecting them to flash THEY FIGHT IN THE DARK.
What the fuck at fight choreography by the kung fu cop from District B13.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dulalala!! 02

Well, this was certainly a bold choice. Plucking a strand from the novel that would probably have been cut entirely in a more rushed adaption, and deftly spinning it into an episode long tone piece that could not be less like the bulk of the show in mood...

...while subtly explaining a few other key bits of exposition on the way. The episode appears to be focused on the new girl, Rio, neatly stitching together several bits of disconnected business from the novels into a complete story that still serves to introduce the original function, but works better as a cohesive unit.
It's easy to give credit to Takahiro Omori, who certainly does a fantastic job of making this unexpected detour come across as natural and fascinating, but Noboru Takagi is swiftly proving himself one of the best screenwriters in Japan. He really seems to understand Narita's style. I'm pretty sure the events in this episode don't happen in the novel -- and those that do, don't happen in quite this way -- but he's done such a great job matching the pieces together that it feels like they always were arranged this way. He did a bit of that over on Baccano!, which the flashback episode, but it's fascinating to seem him do that with material tonally opposed to what Narita is generally known for.

Dance in the Vampire Bund 2

I didn't initially plan to comment on this, but the more I think about it, the more this made me angry.
I was aware going in that the source material here is shit. Whether it was guilty pleasure shit or reprehensible shit probably depends on your interest in naked loli vampires, which aren't high on my particular list of fun things. But the first episode sort of tricked me into thinking it might be interesting. Particularly since it had nothing to do with the manga. I wondered if they might have stepped into the manga, grabbed something interesting out of it, and thrown the rest away.
Even on the low, low terms this thing is trying to sell itself with, the second episode is a failure. I was physically unable to complete it. It makes the classic kaijuu movie mistake -- wasting an incredible amount of time establishing the human, squishy characters in excruciating detail even though they aren't the reason anybody is watching and you haven't spent the slightest effort making them anything except the most horrific cliches imaginable. The first half of this episode was literally so boring watching it nearly killed me. Apparently the second half involves missile attacks on the vampire and inappropriate use of sunscreen, but no force on earth can possible make a show recover from the gaping black hole you'd have to survive to get to that stuff.
In the normal run of things, this would be how the show started, and we would all have known it was complete shit from the get go. But because they tricked us with the first episode, I wound up cautiously recommending one of the worst things I've ever fucking seen.
Recommendation rescinded. Avoid this show like the motherfucking plague. Literally anything would be better.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tripping on the sizzling breasts

Hey, someone subbed Ancient Dogoo Girl! It's not very good!

This is pretty much exactly what you'd expect to get from Noboru "Machine Girl" Iguchi doing a TV series. He can't get away with (or afford) any crazy gore effects, so instead he just dials up the goofiness. So basically, this episode is about a shut-in who has a poster that says "smoke marijuana" and a copy of Mega Man X8 prominently displayed next to a picture of his dead mother. He digs up a skimpily-dressed superheroine who's been buried under approximately an inch of dirt, and by "dig up" I mean "trip over and be mystically burned by the cone bra of", and they fight an emotionally manipulative fish demon and her pigtailed henchman.

So yeah, this seems to be the kind of thing you'd see mainly to be able to say "Yeah, I saw that." If it actually gets good later I'll let you know.

Baka to Test to Shokanju 2

I've picked up a habit of trying stuff out, liking it, and just never keeping up with it. Still no idea how long I'll watch this, but I did watch the second episode, and enjoyed it again.
I'm not sure why. On the surface, it's a terrible show, jam packed with horrible anime cliches like sunset drenched flashblacks to childhood memories with the faces removed, or cutaways to an exterior shot as a girl shrieks, "Baka!" shrilly.
On the other hand, the main dude had a table superglued to his hand for the bulk of the episode.

Never once commented on at all, just there, no matter how inappropriate. There's even a bit where everyone sits around it eating senbei on it. A set piece involving the male lead catching squeaky voiced girl he loves writing a love letter to someone else and doing his level best not to notice as subtitles offer sarcastic counterpoint also offered just enough stylistic overload to feel like a new twist on a tired gag. This may not be a good show, but they aren't willing to take that lying down.

The Return of Wong Jing

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dulalala!! 01

So yeah, pretty much the prelude to the second coming.

It's a book that has a fairly leisurely pace early on, and the first episode winds up being sort of a walk and talk, cross cut with the chat room, and with the headless rider taking out some kidnappers. Same high quality production, definitely captures the original work. I was particularly impressed with the sound design on the bike.
More importantly, they've once again nailed the opening sequence. While the song was fine on it's own, combined with the visuals, it really pops. Pity they've once again chosen a vile piece of shit for an ending theme.

This week's "Jog is a total genius" meeting will come to order

I never even considered Ryuk's role as obvious proxy for the reader in Death Note. Which I guess means writing in the Death Note equates to fanfiction. I like this reading because it means self-insertion would be punished with death.

By the by, there are huge, pervasive spoilers for Death Note in that link.

Long as I'm linkblogging, I should mention Chris Butcher's look back at how the US manga market changed over the last decade... man, it's hard to remember the pre-manga boom days now.

Dance in the Vampire Bund 01

Vampires! Underage vampires! Nudist underage vampires!
Was pretty much all I knew going in, and it was not encouraging, but Bakemonogatari sort of has me actually giving Shinbo shows a shot.

So having the entire episode be a terrible Japanese panel discussion show interrupted, eventually, by vampire battles...was kinda refreshing. Who knows what the show will be like once a more conventional narrative starts, but as first episodes go, this was an interesting approach.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Baka to Test to Shokanju

I mostly gave this a shot because the light novels have become really popular. I didn't have much hope for it -- the last time I enjoyed a standard hyper anime comedy was Hare Nochi Guu, and I've sort of decided I'm just too old for that shit now.
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this, though; it certainly doesn't bend the brain the way the old stuff does, and the jrpg parody stuff is hardly original. Jokes are still delivered as loudly and quickly as possible, and all the characters are cookie cutter stereotypes. But it sort of makes up for all that with enthusiasm.

The basic gist of the thing is an elaborate parody of exam-focused education in general (not that the show is self-aware enough to be qualify as satire.) All students in school take a placement exam, and are ranked into classes A through F depending on the results. Students in class A sit on comfy chairs using free laptops; students in class F have the most rundown hell hole on earth. "Real hell!" as the Engrish-rich end credits cheerily proclaim. The classes are then free to battle each other in hopes of exchanging rooms; each student summons an avatar, and the avatar's battle stats are based on the scores in the last test they took. Withdrawing and taking make-up exams to increase your stats appears to be a key element of battle strategy.
Man, even as I type that I find myself a little embarrassed by the show. But the show itself has so little shame it actual uses a squeaky technopop opening song of the type I thought had died a much deserved death nearly a decade ago. There's a bit of nostalgia for when I loved this sort of thing going on, but I think it's safe to say this is the first promising stupid hyper-comedy in a while.

Funimation finally swings the bat

FLCL will be available on DVD again in North America, and blu-ray for the first time.

Just hoping that when the blu-ray comes, there won't be any awful DNR issues, and lossless audio will be included.

Oh frabjous day

Looks like Robogeisha got licensed. The countdown begins now!

When you meet the black hound, stare it in the eye

I've always been fond of Chiaki Konaka. He can't help slipping in Forteana and Cthulhu Mythos references even when writing for Digimon, so I'm always amused when he gets to really cut loose and just empty his strange head onto the screen.

I am hesitant to describe Ghost Hound in any real detail, because it treats its audience the same way as its characters, as travelers in strange, undiscovered lands. If I had to sum it up, I'd say it's a lot like Stephen King's moodier, teenager-focused books like It, the Talisman, or early Dark Tower, crossed with the paranormal surrealism of Serial Experiments Lain... no surprise, since Konaka wrote that too, and GH reunites him with its director Ryutaro Nakamura (who actually did another show about "travelers in strange lands", Kino's Journey). Masamune "Ghost in the Shell" Shirow has a vague "original creator" credit, but based on most of his other anime work, I'll be shocked if he did anything more than a rough outline and maybe a character sketch or two.

I'm not actually sure who this show is aimed at. The main characters are angsty teens (albeit much more realistically sullen ones than typical anime histrionics), but I can't imagine the people who eat up, say, Nana, eagerly sitting through long expository scenes about neurochemistry. I mean, this is a show that expects you to be on-the-ball enough to recognize a passing reference to the Mothman. And unlike Magical Index, another super-expository occult show I've been watching, there is rarely any particularly explosive payoff for all the chit-chat, although the overall atmosphere is amazing, consistently tense and dreamlike, with some fantastic sound work. Calling something "trippy" is usually a lazy cop-out, but this time it's just stating a fact.

Ghost Hound is an interesting show, and one that goes out of its way to avoid mainstream anime cliches, but I'm not sure if something this far out on the fringes can find an audience. It'd probably most appeal to people who aren't actually anime fans, by which I don't mean "people who only like Ninja Scroll", but "people who watch Darren Aronofsky films". I like it, but my tastes are, uh, idiosyncratic, and I've actually spent a lot of time immersed in the kind of conspiranoia natter Konaka revels in. Anyone who ever liked Lain definitely owes it to themselves to check it out. Like Tokyo Majin, this is another review at the halfway mark; we'll have to see whether the conclusion raises or lowers my opinion.

True Legend

After a long spell in Hollywood, Yuen Woo-ping directs again. Apparently he learned a lot in the last few years. Most obviously a love of Tsui Hark incoherence. Shame.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Revenge of QI

As I have said before, QI is the greatest thing on television.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Space Battleship Yamato live action trailer

Without any pre-existing love for the franchise, I've not got much to form an opinion on here. Director previously did Returner, which was...not the worst sci-fi B-movie ever, but ultimately pretty forgettable. About the only thing I remember was that it felt odd seeing Takeshi Kaneshiro speak his native language after so many Hong Kong films.
He's spent the last few years doing unwatchable syrupy horseshit (the Always movies) and apparently got this gig after they booted the original director (an ex-GONZO dude who did Vandread and effects on I guess this is a big step up) on the grounds that they'd cast Kimura Takuya and were retooling the movie from a war film to a human drama about the lives of the crew. Which I think speaks for itself.

Big Man Japan

They won't let me embed the super misleading trailer. It wisely focuses on the monster fights, which range from pleasantly bizarre to actively funny, before a completely inexplicable ending that boggles the mind, but probably in a good way.
Problem is, they're maaaaybe ten percent of the movie.
The rest of it is the big man in his normal sized human form, and plays like a Japanese version of those unwatchable Ricky Gervais comedies where nothing is actually funny, just depressing and excruciating and painful as such great length that you start laughing a little to avoid slitting your fucking wrists.
Only worse, because at least the characters in those shows express themselves coherently.
This dude is the saddest, most boring motherfucking in the history of time, and he just mumbles half-spoken phrases that speak volumes without saying anything, and then plays with his stupid, foppish hairdo for a while. Not that anyone else who shows up is any better. It is like an entire 'comedy' based around all the worst conversations I had in Japan, conversations where you simply can't get the fucker to give you anything to respond to, anything to make you care or laugh or do anything but feel slightly sorry for how anyone can get to be a grown man and be this fucking pathetic.
Every now and then they'll manage a moment that veers so heavily into irony that your brain recognizes they've actually left a joke under the non-stop torment, but even then, the shit-tastic translation tends to butcher it. (Pro tip -- if they have a lengthy conversation about how he refuses to accept sponsorship on his back, and they then cut to a shot of a sponsor logo on his back, the joke, such as it is, is completely ruined if you translate 'koshi' as 'hips' instead of 'back.' Koshi does not even mean hips. Under any fucking circumstances. Moron.)
It's probably worth going and watching the monster fights on Youtube, which seems to conveniently have them all up, but stay the fuck away from the rest of the movie. At best, it is deathly boring, at worst, it makes you want to put all these fucking characters out of their god damn misery.