Monday, May 31, 2010

Still Not My Cuppa

So, you might have noticed we're a little divided on the subject of Akiyuki Shinbo. I'm generally in the "hate him" camp; I've always been fond of Tenamonya Voyagers, but SoulTaker's unrelenting visual noise made me angry and Le Portrait de Petite Cossette actually gave me a headache and I had to turn it off after five minutes, so I avoided everything else he did until Bakemonogatari. But I did genuinely enjoy that, and it seemed much less pointlessly difficult to parse than his earlier work, so I figured I should look back at the early stuff and see if Shinbo really has calmed down since I last checked, or if I've just gotten used to his style.

Turns out I was right the first time.

Cossette is a pretty simple story at its base; guy who works in an antique store falls for a ghost, then discovers why those romances tend to end badly. It probably could have been condensed from three episodes to one without losing any actual story, but this gives Shinbo and crew an opportunity to go mad with the visuals... to the overall detriment of the show, I'd argue.

Case in point; the opening of the very first episode was like the director sticking his finger into my eye. The show basically dares you to make sense of a very uncomplicated scene among friends in a diner, by opening cold into the middle of a conversation in progress, constantly cutting between extreme close-ups of four different speakers, only one of whom gets named. The direction is less chaotic after that scene, but front-loading the most aggressive visual editing right when the viewer most needs to be eased into and sold on your world is a questionable decision; it certainly didn't add any information or texture to the scene.

The rest of the show alternates curiously between gothic lolita moetry and B-movie grotesquerie; the lead spends a lot of time hallucinating idle conversations with his dream lover, who occasionally transfers him to an alternate dimension of heavy-metal-album-cover torment where he gets tortured, shoots out hilariously excessive blood geysers, and turns into Devilman, a visual metaphor that is only explained, like, halfway through the third episode.

There are seeds of an interesting plot in Petite Cossette, but the relentless visual chrome actively prevents me from spending enough time with one idea or image to really engage with it. It's to the point where I can't even appreciate the visual composition, it's all so anarchically busy. It seems like half the time this stuff doesn't even signify anything, so it literally only exists to clutter up the shot. I mean, can anyone explain why there are a bunch of laser tripwires here?

Still, there are a couple small bits that even I enjoyed; I really liked the local psychic consulting with a doctor to figure out if the lead's malaise was physical or spiritual, and I can't bring myself to entirely hate any show gonzo enough to reduce a fight scene between an exorcist and an evil lightning-shooting grandfather clock to background color. This is also a pretty distinctively Japanese ghost story, despite the French-loli trappings; the whole Shinto-animism-Buddhist-doll-burnings thing is key to later goings-on, and I can't actually recall any Japanese myths or traditional stories about a beloved dead person coming back as anything other than a monster.
On the other hand, the show kind of lost me at the very end, for reasons I will heavily spoil, so anyone who cares should stop reading until they see little fluffy clouds.

Maybe it's just me, but I fail to perceive a real difference between falling in love with a ghost (by definition, a pale imitation of the living original), and loving the embodied spirit of a portrait depicting that same person. The lead does justify his preference for one over the other as rejecting the art of an evil man, but it still seems like a pointlessly fine philosophical point to quibble over if we're going to accept the premise at all.

So I was right: it's not that I've gotten used to Shinbo's directorial style, but that he's calmed the hell down over the years and actually cares about conveying information to his viewers. Or maybe there are some external factors; I can't help but note that he no longer works with the screenwriter that did Cossette and his other early eyesore, SoulTaker.

France still crazy

And by crazy I am being literal. What the fuck is up with any of this? Particularly the audio, which is so jumbled I actually stopped the trailer to see if I'd left my mp3 player running in the background.

Miike's 13 Assassins

Looks really boring.
Last thing I want to see him waste his time on is Generic Samurai Epic 101.
I mean...this might well be a solid film, with stirring action scenes and intently mannered drama delivered by competent actors, but ANY director in Japan could make this movie in their sleep. No sense in wasting Miike's time with it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Evangelion 2.22

I watched this, and spent two hours blithering about it to anyone who would listen, eventually bending some poor guy's ear with a long rant about how sad it is that nobody has managed to live up to Eva except Eva again. It's become one of those projects that should have been a gamechanger but instead becomes sort of a roadblock, and everything splinters around it.

Apparently Kitoh Mohiro worked on this.
It's fucking great. I barely have anything else to say about it, or possibly too much to say and no idea where to begin.
But that bum bum bum bum BUM BUM music is on the same level as the Doctor Who theme when it comes to reducing me to a quivering heap.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Behold the devil

I would looooove to find out how Devil was conceived. A cops vs vampires action manga, credited to the anime studio Madhouse, with no translator listed (though I'd guess that's why Alex Yeh gets "Special Thanks"), written and drawn by someone whose only previous US release is porn, and perhaps strangest of all, released in the US single-issue format and read left-to-right Western-style, which even Dark Horse finally gave up on a couple years ago. I don't even think this has a Japanese release! Craziness.

Actually, Devil's mysterious origins kind of overshadow the actual content. Fifteen minutes into the future, there are vampires (allegedly... they drink blood, but aside from that they're generic demon mutant shapeshifty things), and it is the job of a mismatched pair of buddy cops to shoot those vampires. That's basically it; these four issues come off as a pitch for a longer series (presumably an anime, given the Madhouse connection), introducing the world and three main characters. Nobody learns anything, nothing important gets resolved, and nobody changes. The dialogue is inconsistent, sometimes managing decent '80s action flick patter, and sometimes just clumsily trailing off into half-baked philosophical meanderings like so many other indifferently translated books.

The main appeal is in Torajiro Kishi's art. I think Brandon Graham said something once about doing porn comics making you think about body language and figure drawing, and that's pretty much the draw here. It gets a tad sketchy in places, but the characters are nicely expressive in a way you don't see too often, like the crazy albino patient-zero vampire flailing around and tugging her hair in fits of pique.

I'm more fascinated by Devil's unlikely existence than anything in it, but it's perfectly adequate, if you enjoy gory comics about hard-boiled cops emptying bullpup submachineguns into glowing mutant vampire ogres who spin kick cop cars at them. It's really kind of an '80s/'90s anime OVA on paper, including the less than respectful treatment of women, so be warned.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Secret of Kells

In limited release around the country now. Absolutely amazing; so absurdly beautiful I came out angry with reality for not looking as nice.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

High Kick Girl

Ladies and gentlemen, I have discovered the Ed Wood of kung fu movie directors. High Kick Girl is such a stunningly inept movie I simply could not take my eyes off it. I refused to believe it had actually been allowed to exist.

I think I may have gone into this with a number of false assumptions. I had assumed that this was a professional studio film intended to make a star out of Rina Takeda. Instead, it appears to have been a show reel a couple of over the hill martial artists put together, one with delusions of being a movie star, and the other with delusions of being a writer-director. They seem to have filmed a bunch of fights, retconned in a narrative about a heroic karate teacher saving his student from a group of people you can tell are evil because they only wear black, and then stumbled across a cute girl in one of the auditions, and realized they could actually land distribution if they pulled a con job on audiences and studios and pretended like she was the star of the movie and the movie was in any way about her.

So we get her in two big action scenes early on before the movie abruptly becomes entirely about her teacher, played with one facial expression by a guy who clearly can fight, but makes Sam Worthington look like Peter O'Toole. Presumably after a rough cut was screened they realized the audience might be mad if the heroine spent the rest of the movie as a damsel in distress, so they give her a particularly terrible extra fight, and then reshoot the final fight a little bit so she can finish off the main bad guy after the teacher has already finished him off once.

River City Ransom had a less obviously ad libbed story. Fucking Double Dragon was The Wire compared with this shit. There are literally entire scenes with several minutes of everyone standing around apparently waiting for somebody to figure out a way to advance the completely arbitrary plot. In awesomely unspecific fashion, the entire plot is driven by something the teacher did fifteen years ago, which the evil black clothed karate faction has been angry about for all the time. Apparently too lazy to look in the yellow pages.

I'm unsure if the director was also the choreographer, but he might be a halfway decent one if he had the slightest idea how to direct or edit. I will grant he avoids being astoundingly incoherent (see Donnie Yen's unwatchable directorial efforts) but he does this by filming everything in extreme slow motion, occasionally replaying not particularly great shots in even slower motion. I presume the intention was to show us that he's a fucking idiot and did everything full contact even though we have a hundred years of figuring out how to make fights look like they're real even though they aren't to avoid filling hospitals with battered stunt men. (I seem to recall a Twitch article about angry stunt men complaining about this, the first sign that the trailers were a lie.) But the actual effect is to make everything look really staged, since shit moves so slow you can see dudes waiting for a hit, or just standing around waiting for their cue. Special shout out to the baffling editing, which often doesn't bother cutting away from slow motion footage of nothing happening at all -- maybe at the beginning of the shot someone falls down, and at the end, that person gets kicked in the head, but in between is a full minute of them lying on the floor doing absolutely nothing in slow motion! Jesus Christ! Coupled with such astounding cinematic techniques as long shots of clouds or stock footage of city exteriors to indicate transitions between scenes, and you have a non-stop laugh riot!

I do hope a lot of these fighters manage to land further work in decent movies. Even the world's worst karate teacher -- the entire plot hinges on him being such a terrible fucking teacher he couldn't control his hotheaded student or even be fucked to explain what the point of the shit he was teaching her was -- would probably be an effective stunt double. Everyone involved deserves better than to be in this heap of shit. Good god, I hope the director never works again. But he's so singularly clueless is it almost inevitable, even if he films it himself with the camera he bought from whatever misguided foreign licensing deal led to this showing up on Netflix streaming.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tatami Galaxy 4

I am officially bored. I said the show was going to have to figure out a way to vary the formula and keep things interesting, but it has absolutely failed to do this. There are moments of insane, beautiful genius peppered liberally throughout it:

...but I just don't give a shit.
I basically think exactly the same thing as I did with Trapeze -- taking insanely talented directors like Yuasa and Kenji Nakamura and forcing them to fritter away their talent on third-rate books not worth filming by authors not worthy of licking the boots of these creative giants is doing both the bootlickers and the visionary directors and the Noitamina audience a huge disservice. Let these people make their own shows! Stop wasting them on adaptions of books that don't bring in an audience anyway!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Today's moment of magnificent tackiness

Courtesy of the second volume of Raiders, which is probably best described as Da Vinci Code meets 3x3 Eyes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Apple's Medieval Moral Screening Destroying the Future of Manga

I generally stay away from political stories, since I can't stop myself from taking a propagandistic turn of phrase. Like the headline.
This interview with Voyager's company president, Masaaki Hagino, is about the challenges manga faces as it moves into the digital age. One section was particularly upsetting:
"About 30% of the Kodansha comics Voyager has submitted to the iTunes Store as iPhone apps have been rejected. For a ten volume series, the first four might be okay, but volume five on we can't publish. A scene where a character is bleeding not because of violence, but because of a disease might be labeled as excessive cruelty.
Hataraki Man (A decidedly not pornographic manga about a female editor, by Moyoko Anno) was rejected for a scene where the main character gets a massage to help her relax, and while stretching accidentally exposes her breasts. Basically all manga with OLs as main characters have bathing scenes. They can't be shown taking showers. Not even baths -- they're still topless."
The only way this is going to change is if there is a real outcry against it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zerozaki Hitoshiki no Ningen Kankei: Zaregoto Tsukai to no Kankei

Nanananami Nanami may have been listed as a Witch in several volumes without actually appearing, but it turns out that's just the name of her doujinshi circle, and she's a fujoshi who spends most of her timing fantasizing about what Holmes really meant by, "My dear Watson." She does have a slightly skewed perspective on the world, which is probably why she thinks, "He's cute!" when she runs into Zerozaki Hitoshiki in the middle of the night, despite the giant knives in his hands.
For a book that purports to examine the relationship between Hitoshiki and Ii-chan, and to tell the true story of what Hitoshiki was up to in Strangulation Romanticist, this was sort of a disappointment. It's not actually a novel at all. Each chapter follows a different minor character, starting with an extremely meta analogy comparing their personal problems to their issues with mystery novels. Then they run into Zerozaki and he babbles at them for a bit before not killing them.
Emoto Tomoe and Kigamine Yaku fill this slot in the first two chapters, and I had to fucking go pull the Zaregoto series from my shelf to even identify which volume they were in. Neither one of them had a personality to begin with. Palindromically named Emoto Tomoe pretty much showed up and died; Kigamine had a funny catchphrase but largely served as a foil to the rest of the cast. Consequently, neither of these chapters really held my attention.
Nanananami Nanami's belated appearance was certainly welcome, but since she doesn't actually fucking say much of anything, I remain far more interested in her famously antagonistic relationship with Ii-chan, which we may well never see at this point.
Sasa Sasaki's chapter works better, if only for the section which recounts her first encounter with Ii-chan from her perspective.
And Aikawa Jun's chapter is the only one that contains any actual plot, and a rather belabored explanation of the truth behind Zerozaki's killings...which like basically everything in the volume and a lot of Nisio Isin's later writing violates the crap out of "Show, don't tell" and ultimately doesn't add up to much.
Suzunashi Neon's brief appearance contained a few fascinating nuggets, but overall, this was far and away the most disposable of the four books. The first three went a long way towards restoring my faith in Nisio, so it's a shame he wrapped things up by indulging in a lot of his recent flaws. Still, there was more than enough interesting stuff in here to make me glad I read it; I just can't help wishing he'd managed to stitch that stuff onto a narrative instead of a contrivance.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Zerozaki Hitoshiki no Ningen Kankei: Zerozaki Soushiki to no Kankei

This is the one I was least looking forward to, since the relationship with Soushiki is already pretty well defined, and there didn't seem to be much left to explore. In fact, there wasn't! Hitoshiki spends the entire book mistaken for Soushiki by the Betrayal Union, a group that consists of one member from each of the cursing families. A couple of the cursing families have briefly played roles before, but this is the first time the spotlight has ever really focused on them. We get a decent look at five of the families, but Toganari Togari gets killed offscreen without ever showing up, and Tokinomiya Shigure goes down surprisingly easily, so both of those families are still more or less a complete mystery.
Over the rest of the volume we have Hitoshiki engaged in a series of very Jojotastic battles with the Kino, Tsumiguchi, Nukumori and Shibuki representatives; each of them has strange powers, and is defeated once Hitoshiki works out what the power is and uses his brain to flip the situation. Or just wins by sheer luck.
While the epilogue does briefly wrap up a thread about Soushiki and Hagihara Shiogi, as a whole the book is pretty insubstantial; I love the Jojo formula, but it doesn't really make for the deepest of reads.