Friday, April 30, 2010

Zerozaki Hitoshiki no Ningen Kankei: Muto Iori to no Kankei

Of the four final Zerozaki novels, this was the one I was most looking forward to -- the Zerozaki series kicked off with Iori as the point of view character, and I was certainly eager to see more of her. A brief scene in the third novel involving her getting some new hands was hardly enough, and her relationship with her brother was still barely defined.
Apparently it was barely defined because he wasn't really sure what to do with it. Zerozaki Hitoshiki, like Ii-chan, is somewhat defined by his inability to relate to people around him. He's naturally quite resistant to admitting he has a sister, and Nisio Isin eventually defaults to only demonstrating the strength of their relationship in stock combat-skills-increase-when-family-is-threatened moments...which are a central part of what a Zerozaki is, and certainly work, but don't exactly resolve the central relationship in a particular satisfying manner. He also hampers himself with an extremely misjudged bit about Hitoshiki dying, and possibly not being a true Zerozaki at all. It just feels muddled; I remain unclear on whether it was even a red herring.
Fortunately, the rest of the book delivers in spades. A direct sequel to the end of the Zaregoto series, the plot involves Aikawa Jun on a mission to resolve several bits of business the main series ultimately had no time for.
Particularly Ishinagi Moeta and Yamiguchi Houko.
Bit of back story here -- according to the Zaregoto Dictionary, there were actually two versions of the third novel in the series, one of which never saw the light of day. It was intended to be a novel focusing on the residents of Ii-chan's el cheapo apartment building; several of them had been introduced in the second novel, but he added more to the cast and attempted to spin a story about them...which never got interesting. The result was that later books in the series had several peripheral characters who lived in his apartment, and where frequently mentioned, but rarely actually played an active role. Nanananami Nanami never showed up at all, and the two runaways -- fifteen year old Reaper, Ishinagi Moeta, and his sister, the thirteen year old Assassin, Yamiguchi Houko, half-siblings from two of the seven killing families -- did not play an active role until Uprooted Radical.
While both their stories are resolved in the actual novels, their backstory remained a complete mystery; how would members of these two families come to be related, and why would they have run away and living in Kyoto?
So this novel retcons a scene with Moeta hiring Aikawa Jun to help Houko resolve issues with their parents, and she winds up taking Houko and the two surviving Zerozaki to the Yamiguchi's secret island to have it out with Houko's dad, the undefeated Rikka Kajumaru. Rikka Kajumaru is a seventy-eight year old undefeated legend...who is very enthusiastic about having a child with each of the seven killing families, and quite excited to discover that a female Zerozaki still exists. His scenes with his estranged daughter provide exactly the kind of visceral resolution that the title relationship wound up lacking.
On balance, probably the most satisfying book in the series since the original, but I can't help still wanting to see more of Iori; hopefully she'll show up in the final volume as well. I would definitely like to see her meet Ii-chan.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tatami Galaxy 2

As expected, it looks like each episode is going to start over at the beginning of college, with the motormouthed narrator choosing a different club before sinking into the exact same failures.

The weakness of this structure is that it mandates a series of echoed touchstones, moments that happen in each version of the story; but to get mileage out of those, you have to keep them more or less the same for the second episode, which is a bit...dull. I couldn't help but feel like they could have done a little more with them than have the narrator experience deja vu. The fortune teller in particular seemed like the same fucking footage. This repetition will pay off later, I'm sure, but for such a stylish show, he didn't really find a way to repeat most of those moments stylishly.
Good thing the rest of the episode is a blast. The shift from the faceless lovers to a full fledged character helped personalize his vindictive struggle.
The ending song is weirdly great, too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Go Nagai x Noboru Iguchi = Terrible in a way I'm finding hard to comprehend

Sukeban Boy is Noboru Iguchi adapting an old Go Nagai manga that'd previously been animated, and actually released here by ADV as Delinquent in Drag. The ADV title sums it up-- it's about a bull-headed fightin' dude who looks like a lady, and ends up being forced to embrace the gender role thrust upon him and transferring to an all-girls' school where he saves time by making his rivals double as his harem. This was made about two years before Machine Girl, and it looks like Iguchi improved an awful lot in the interim. It was also shot in about five days, which explains much but excuses nothing. Let's list this movie's many fatal flaws, any one of which would be crippling, but the congruence of which scuppers the movie entirely.

Fatal flaw number one: Some things that work in comics just don't work in live action. Everyone knows skintight superhero costumes somehow seem unremarkable drawn on the page, but just make you look like Tron Guy in real life. Apparently sleazotron Go Nagai get-ups have the same effect. All through this movie I could totally see how nonsense like loinclothed sanskrit-covered nuns, bottomless football girls, and topless desperadoes could look sort of interesting as an illustration, but dressing actual people like that is even more awkward and off-putting than it sounds. No, even weirder than you're thinking. The bad cosplay kind of weird. No amount of skin can save that.

Which leads us to fatal flaw the second: If you only cast porno actresses in your movie, that means your movie has all the great acting porn is renowned for. While doing Go Nagai full justice requires some fearless ladies, I think he might be better served by making a movie that doesn't pain you every time someone speaks. They do at least cast the cutest girl and best actress as the lead, but in this movie "best actress" means "can actually change her facial expression". Asami kinda stole the show as the thug mechanic in Machine Girl, and her hammy double drag act is the one thing making this watchable at all, but it's definitely not worth suffering through everyone else's performance.

The acting in this movie is actually SO bad it occasionally busts through the fourth wall into something sublime. It's kind of amusing when the lead can't keep herself from cracking a smile during a particularly weak "fight scene", but we reach a certain kind of awesome badness when three of the only four men in the movie get mowed down by bullet-firing cyborg nipples (don't ask), and halfway through they give up on using blood squibs and just have the guys START PLAYFULLY THROWING FAKE BLOOD AT EACH OTHER to symbolically represent their deaths. The obvious fun they're having making the movie finally manages to bleed through and reach the viewer in a way the thing they actually made is totally incapable of, but after that it's back to shitty business as usual.

The third fatal flaw is that this movie is cheap, cheap, cheap. It's almost literally shot in someone's backyard, and I was honestly shocked when I saw someone was credited for the two Casio keyboard loops they dare call background music. My personal hero Yoshihiro Nishimura does provide the occasional special effect, but it's more telling that he also shows up a couple times as an extra, and apparently donated the use of his house to film in.

The US DVD doesn't help matters, with a feisty but sloppy translation that can't even be bothered to get the director's name right. I will give them props for at least attempting to sub the credits, given the depressing number of DVD releases that don't bother at all. They also pull one of my favorite moves, translating dialogue in the trailer differently than in the full movie, and this one is super egregious; the film version is like half transliterated or some shit:

Sukeban Boy is not recommended to anyone, no matter how perverse or masochistic-- any enjoyment that can be derived by spending the hour to watch it is more efficiently gained by the director's own four minute Sukeban Boy WTF Remix, which is on the disc as an extra and I can't quite believe hasn't been dumped to YouTube yet. The commentary track is surprisingly amusing, but I can't imagine anyone besides me hating themselves enough to sit through this more than once.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Zerozaki Hitoshiki no Ningen Kankei: Nyoumiya Izumu to no Kankei

While the first Zerozaki spin off novel is among the best things Nisio Isin has written, the two follow ups were merely fun fan service. Now he's finished the series off with four new volumes released at once in an act of supreme cruelty, and from the looks of things, they're definitely still really awesome fan service.
The magical cannibal, Nyoumiya Izumu, teaming up with Zerozaki Hitoshiki and the narcoleptic berserker, Saijo Tamamo, to assassinate the previously spoken of but not seen Kunagisa Nao? All because the worst man alive wants to read a book?
Yeah. It completely requires you to have read the Zaregoto series with a disturbing sort of intensity. Including Saijo Tamamo, my favorite damn character, is a particular gift. Having her say exactly one thing the entire fucking volume is cruelty the likes of which he is swift making his specialty, although her spectacularly violent fight scene definitely served as a reminder why I think people getting in a moral panic about Hit Girl is just fucking hilarious. (Tamamo is, at the time this story takes place, ten. And she impales herself on her enemy's swords in order to reach said enemy and cut them into a million tiny pieces. Then she happily falls asleep in a pool of blood and body parts.)
There's some strong notes here, and several suggestions that his recent failures have not completely robbed him of his power, but it may well be for fans only. Fans are probably going to love the shit out of it, though.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tatami Galaxy 01

How does each new Yuasa top his previous work?

Can't believe they let shit this good get made. Hardly seems fair to the rest of them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dulalala!! ep 15

Tonight was all about shocking character designs.
I had no idea Shiki was this fucking bad ass:

And Kuzuhara without his helmet is virtually unrecognizable.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Speaking of Nishimura

Mutant Girls Squad! Nishimura, Iguchi, and Tak Sakaguchi! I am enthused.

And a couple days later the trailer goes live. Hmm, looks like we're scaling back to "mere" Machine Girl levels of looniness this time.

It's not often that a movie peaks during the opening credits

Congratulations, you've just seen the conceptual high point of Geisha Assassin, originally and much more misleadingly titled Geisha vs Ninja; there's only one real fight with ninja and the geisha aspect is peripheral at best.

This movie only barely has a story-- it's your standard "loner bent on vengeance" plotline, brutally shorn of almost everything you'd consider plot or characters. Almost every minute is the heroine either kicking someone's ass or silently walking to the next place asskicking shall commence. While I appreciate this progressive-minded refusal to waste time on a half-baked plot, the parts of the movie they did film aren't all that great. The travel scenes are tedious, and the fights just aren't good or outrageous enough to carry the entire film. The unarmed fighting is actually much more interesting than the swordplay-- the choreography isn't exactly improved, but they're a lot more visceral, just people brutally whaling on each other until the other guy stays down. We also get to see the rare irony of someone throwing a smoke bomb to escape FROM ninja.
I mainly watched this because director Go Ohara's next film is a collaboration with the always crowd-pleasing Yoshihiro Nishimura. Hopefully that'll be a bit more memorable.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

House of Five Leaves

This season was always going to revolve around the expanded Noitamina slot, and now the first one has finally aired.
It's based on a manga with a very distinctive art style, but they've done a very good job of capturing it and making it work for the show.

I wasn't sure about the first few minutes, which have a few pointlessly cryptic moments; and I've no idea what the connection between the kid with the leaf shaped burn scars has to do with the latter half of the episode, but the kid was interesting, and the timid samurai and laid-back yakuza were both very compelling.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, which is even streaming and shit.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dulalala!! x7

Naturally, Narita can't just do a short story collection. He's got to pull a Kadono, and have all the stories taking place at the same time. I wound up being pretty glad I read this right after the anime helpfully reminded me who some of the characters were; he clearly wanted to give some people who haven't played an active role in a while something to do.
On that note, the first story starts off with Namie and Mika having an epic bitch off; this eventually involves Namie dousing Mika with an immobilizing drug and attempting to pour acid on her face, while Mika cheerily reveals that she's got the entire cast's apartments bugged and their computers hacked and knows everything going on everywhere. Seiji eventually steps in and settles things as only he can.
Second story was probably my favorite, since it was cheerily out of Narita's comfort zone again; focusing on Akabayashi, one of the yakuza characters introduced in the last volume. He's such a monumental bad ass that he gets stabbed in the eye by Saika, rips his own eyeball out to stop the blade from infecting him, and falls in love with Anri's mom, who was wielding the sword at the time. All of which is a flashback woven through the story of how he uses his own Dollars membership to manipulate a bunch of low level drug dealing thugs into taking out a yakuza group that's trying to kill him.
Third story is probably the most typically Narita; as the rumors about Shizuo's activities in the last few volumes spiral dramatically out of control, a group of his victims somehow becomes convinced that Shizuo has a wife and kid, and tries to kidnap them...only to get the shit kicked out of them when the wife turns out to be the Russian assassin (now working with Toma and Shizuo) Izaya's crazy ass sisters, and yakuza kid Akane, who is still carrying around a stungun.
There's also a brief romantic interlude with Celty and Shinra, constantly interrupted by phone calls from characters in all the other stories, and a framing sequence in which Izaya, in the hospital, is visited by one of the suicidal girls he was toying with in the first volume (a bit they wound up not putting in the anime, since he drugged her and put her in a suitcase just to fuck with her head.)
And volume eight's out in June. And a new Baccano came out yesterday. It never ends!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ong Bak sequels

Ong Bak 2 is one of the most bafflingly bad films I have ever seen. I am the last person on earth to hate a kung fu film if it manages to have a sufficient quantity of great fight scenes, but Ong Bak 2 was just so fundamentally misconceived that it managed to undermine it's own action. Between having Tony Jaa's character played by a child actor for LITERALLY half the movie, and the Tinkerbell ending...
I should probably not be looking forward to the sequel.
But here's the trailer, and it looks like it at least knows how stupid it is; since they're clearly never letting Tony Jaa direct again, perhaps it won't be paced like mud trickling down the back of an elephant's corpse.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dulalala 13

New opening song is thoroughly vile; still has name cards in, but feels way more conventional, almost completely dropping the Guy Ritchie feel.
New ending song is also crap, but not as bad as the last one.
I love how Kuzuhara is just the dude from Wild 7.

Also, as an unrelated warning, apparently Senkou no Night Raid is the critical darling this season, but I can only assume by the same people that thought Noir was riveting and stylish. First episode managed to make superpowered noir spies boring, which should not legally be possible. So far, Anime no Chikara is doing a good job showing what is wrong with anime today. Sadly.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge

I've heard a lot of good things about Saint Young Men, a gag manga involving Jesus and the Buddha on vacation. I'd heard absolutely nothing about the author's other ongoing series, but somehow that gets the anime adaption.
Wasn't sold early on; the main character's shtick is a bit annoying, and the crazy girl's shtick is one I always enjoy, but not terribly original.
Then the kappa showed up.

The kappa is pretty much all awesome, every second he's in the show.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Giant Killing 01

I'm not gonna say there's anything here we haven't seen before. This is very much a classic Hoosiers style coach-centric sports story. Struggling team, new coach chosen, his selection controversial, his methods more so, eventually succeeds.

But it does that story really well. A nice, matter-of-fact, low key presentation that allows them to actually earn the payoffs. Punk rock opening and ending themes that I can pretty much already guarantee will be the best of the season. Actual native-English speakers for the opening bits in West Ham.
Very promising start.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rainbow 01

Initially on my list of promising Spring shows -- on the grounds that it was Madhouse adapting a seinen manga -- this fell off the moment they announced the director. Same guy who turned the awesomely insane Nougami Neuro into a limp pile of unwatchable dullness.

A prison melodrama about bromantic bonds under cartoonishly oppressive guards, Rainbow mostly just embarrasses itself. I can see how all of this overwrought posturing could be pretty awesome in the hands of a capable director, but it just seems confused and inept here. He can't even commit to the tone heartily enough to make it hilarious.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Japan still has it

What the fuck IS this!? Looks like the best cinematic folly since Southland Tales.