Review: Plastic Little

51S1PMERANL.jpgPlastic Little

Captain Tita is a pet shop hunter.  She and the crew of the Cha Cha Maru sail the ‘Sea of Clouds,’ on some distant gas giant searching for exotic alien life forms to sell to collectors.

But that’s not the plot of the movie.  Instead it’s about Elysse, the daughter of a scientist who was working on a gravity belt (the device that allows people to live on the gas giant).  The scientist tried to sabotage his own work when he found out it would be used for military purposes and died while helping Elysse escape.

Luckily, Elysse ran into Tita in a market, thus bringing the pet shop hunters a new mission.

Plasitic Little is a 50 minute one-shot OAV, that pretty much gets right down to business, which in this case is the business of showing topless ladies and explosions.  The story is simple, but not bad.  There’s a bit of a mystery, an escalation of threat, a mix of fast and slow scenes, and some nice action set pieces.  Given that it’s a very short film, the plot is pretty respectable.

Characters, likewise, are one-dimensional, but effective for their purpose.  Tita is competent leader when necessary, but prone to over-sleeping and self-conscious over her small bust size.  She became captain when the previous captain, her father, disappeared. There’s some sense that the crew, inherited from her father, stay on out of a sense of loyalty, or perhaps a need to protector her in place of their deceased friend.

Tita’s missing father, and the adoption of his work gives her a connection to Elysse, who is in a similar situation.

The OAV was created by Satoshi Urushihara, a manga artist who is famous for the way be draws women, which is kind of shiny and perfect.  Also, he puts far more effort into drawing nipples than anyone else in the industry.

Review: This Boy Can Fight Aliens

This Boy Can Fight Aliens.jpgThis Boy Can Fight Aliens

This boy can fight aliens, in thirty minutes or less.

This Boy Can Fight Aliens is a 30-or-so minute short film produced by CoMix Wave, which hit gold in recent years by distributing the solo-works of animator Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star).  This, too, was the product (mostly) of one person, a woman named Soubi Yamamoto.

Because of its length, there’s not too much I can say about the movie without giving away the whole plot.  Basically, aliens have come to Earth, and each day they send down one organism to fight a particular boy, Kakashi.  Kakashi has lost his memory and was taken in by two government agents, the feminine Arikawa, and the older male supervisor he lives with for some reason, Shiro.

Now knowing what his life is like, and if he has anything worth fighting for, Kakashi begins to question his motivation in fighting the aliens.  That’s a suitable enough premise for a short film, but it doesn’t resonate too well because the alien fights aren’t shown to be particularly difficult for the boy.  If he were truly suffering, then the question of going on would be just; as it is, he just comes off a little selfish and lazy.  The three characters are well-defined but aren’t developed much; again, this is largely a function of run time.  The resolution is a bit of a deus ex machina, although it does ties everything together more-or-less satisfactorily.

The animation is very limited.  There’s a lot of panning over still images and endlessly repeated short cycles (like grass blowing back and forth).  The coloring is done in a ridiculously-flashy way, with glowing (and sometimes moving) patterns, which serve somewhat to hide the faults in the basic movement.  Stylistically, it looks a lot like His and Her Circumstances, with its lanky characters, mix of styles, and mountains of text.

This Boy Can Fight Aliens is nice for what it is; just keep your expectations in check, there’s only so much you can do in 30 minutes.  The Blu Ray from Sentai Filmworks looks good.  Video is unaltered (with Japanese titles and credits).  Extras include three, even shorter films from the same director.

Review: AD Police

737187005091.jpgAD Police

What is a human?  Is it defined by one’s body, or emotions?  If one replaces his or her body with a machine, are they human still?  And if a pure machine developed emotions, does it remain just a machine?  These are the questions underpinning AD Police, a three-episode OAV series set in a near future where technology is developing far faster than humans are able to adapt to it.

AD Police is a prequel to Bubblegum Crisis, a series about four women who don mechanical suits to fight crimes involving Boomers (humanoid robots with varying degrees of realism).  The AD Police are the official, government-sanctioned force tasked with the same goal; though with only machine guns and light armour, they aren’t as effective at it.

BGC features a romantic subplot between one of the Knight Sabers (the four women) and an AD Police officer named Leon McNichol.  AD Police follows Leon’s days as a rookie and his veteran partner, Jeena Malso.  Despite being the protagonists and appearing in every episode, we don’t really get to know them that well.  The series feels more like an anthology, with each episode spending more time on its guest stars than on the central cast.  Leon and Jeena spend most of each episode working in the background.  It’s kind of a shame, because what we do see of Jeena is interesting.  Compared to most anime heroines, she’s very mature and somewhat jaded.  She’s an actual, believable adult woman.

Each of the three episodes deals with a different level of human/machine integration.  The first involves an android that was used in the sex trade that seems to develop emotions (albeit, negative ones).  The second is about a woman who has had some of her organs replaced, and no longer feels like a whole person.  The third is about a man who has his entire body replaced, save his brain and tongue, and is now becoming detached from humanity.

On a superficial level, AD Police is a satisfying action/procedural show.  The crimes are interesting, and the investigation is well-paced with a logical solution.  But what makes this show special is its introspective side.  The producers clearly spent time hashing out what a world with advanced robotics would look like, and how that technology would affect people; not only only practically, but also emotionally.  It’s that rare breed of hard science fiction that actually requires you to think.

This OAV series is dark; not only thematically, but also in its visual style.  Most of it takes place at night, and everything looks dark and murky.  It’s almost as if the city the story takes place in has become a giant mechanical body that everyone is trapped in.  The animation of is fairly high quality, as most OAVs from the ’80s were (back then, the producers thought they had to put effort into these things to get fans to buy them.  Now they just pump out something cheap and empty, knowing that they fans will clamour to get it).

Review: Crying Freeman

Crying Freeman DVD.jpgCrying Freeman

The Complete Collection

Eastern Star

Crying Freeman is a six episode adaptation of a famous manga by Kazuo Koike & Ryoichi Ikegami.

Freeman, once a famous potter, is brainwashed by the Chinese mafia into becoming a killer.  Despite carrying out his orders, he is internally conflicted, and cries for his victims (hence the title).

He doesn’t seem to mind the brainwashing much, and the 108 Dragons (the Chinese mafia) don’t hold it against him either; so he soon becomes their leader and commits himself to protecting the organization; which he comes to see as his family.

Each episode is an hour long, though the first three feel like two separate episodes put together.  Typically, each episode focuses on an assassin from a rival gang who threatens the 108 Dragons in some way.  Freeman goes after them, and sleeps with one of the beautiful women involved in the action (either one of the victims, or one of the killers); and it culminates in a big fight at the end.

Speaking of which, Freeman’s preferred fighting style is to take off his clothes and holds a knife between his toes as he tries to kick/cut his enemy to death.  I can’t see how that would be effective against most opponents, but it seems to work for him.

The series has a deadly serious tone, with the possible exception of Freeman’s ‘sister,’ the overweight woman who was to be the heir of the 108 Dragons before Freeman’s ascension.  She acts rather childish most of the time,  not in a terribly exaggerated way, but enough to keep her from fitting in with the tone of the series.

The series is dark.  Freeman always wins, of course, but there’s a pretty harsh cost to it.  Added to that is a bleak, overwhelming sense of hopelessness that permeates the series.  There’s a complete lack of ‘good’ in the world, and the only virtue is blind to-the-death loyalty to your gang.

The animation is fine, about average TV quality for the time.  The character designs are on the realistic side.

This current set is from Discotek (Eastern Star), though the show was formally released by ADV Films.  This release uses ADV’s subs and dub, but presents the video totally uncut with the original Japanese credits/titles.

Video is about what you’d expect from an 80’s oav without major restoration work.  It’s well encoded, but the source material is a little faded.

If you’re a fan of 80’s action anime, like Golgo 13 or Fist of the North Star, Crying Freeman should work for you.

Review: Casshan: Robot Hunter

A1MRbAe5uML._SL1500_.jpgEastern Star

Japanese comics are often noted for their wide breadth of subject matter, in contrast to the superhero-heavy comics found in America.  But just as America has many non-super comics, Japan has its own breed of super hero; though the genre doesn’t seem to have evolved all that much over there.

There’s a remarkable lack of variety to be found in Japanese superheroes.  If you’ve seen any of the variations of Power Rangers, you know all the basics.  Either one or a team of people in skin-tight bodysuits with a symbol on the front and a helmet of some kind fight monsters using technology-enhanced martial arts.  Kamen Rider, UltraMan, they’re all the same; and so is Casshan.

The four episode OAV picks up four years after robots have taken over the Earth.  They’re very ‘human’ robots, with individual personalities and emotions.  It kind of makes you wonder if the guy who created the series knows what a robot is; at the very least, he clearly didn’t put any thought into developing the villains for this series.  It should be noted that this is a remake of an older TV series, so the this time around the producers are a little more self aware.  For instances, the robots keep humans alive for use as slave labor, which leads to a debate between the robot commanders as to why, since keeping them alive uses up resources that outweigh their value.

Casshan, we learn, is the son of the man who invented the leader of the evil robots, Black King Boss; though he never intended it to be evil.  To make up for his father’s sins, Casshan becomes part robot; and in doing so gains the power to fight back.  We don’t get a clear picture of what exactly his change entailed.  He has a human face and seemingly human body, but he’s stronger than the average man.  He says that he can never go back; but then in the last episode says he’ll return as Tetsuya, his human alter-ego.

I suppose his parental history can be considered character development, but it’s fairly shallow.  Beyond that, Casshan is a fairly blank slate.  Ironically, he’s more ‘robotic’ than the robots he fights.  His sidekicks are Luna, his childhood friend turned resistance fighter, and a robot dog named Friender.  There’s also a robot swan that gives him advice from time to time. These are all standard cliches that you’ll find in any show of this genre; there’s really nothing unique about Casshan, and the execution is utilitarian.  It’s a straight-forward homage to the classic Japanese superhero; whether you’ll enjoy it or not depends on what you think of the source material.

Review Mad Bull 34

Discotek Media (DVD)

Is Mad Bull 34 violently misogynistic, or just incredibly juvenile?  The answer is yes.  Or maybe it’s a brilliant satire of ’80s action movie machismo, crossed with a distorted view of America as seen through the eyes of someone who only knows the country from what they’ve seen in said action films.

Idealistic new cop Daisaburo joins the 34th precinct in New York City.  He’s teamed up with a seven foot tall, six foot wide man nicknamed ‘Mad Bull,’ though he’s more often called Sleepy despite the fact that his real name is John Estes.  Sleepy loves two things:  Gunning down suspects, and having sex with hookers.

The killing is somewhat justified.  As we see in the series, the criminals in this version of New York are not afraid of jail (especially seeing as most of the force and judiciary are on the take); so, Sleepy’s tactics arguably serve the greater good.

As for the hookers, well, that’s more complicated.  In the first episode, we learn that after finishing with a girl, Sleepy takes all the money out of her wallet before leaving.  Sounds horrible, right?  But then we find out that he uses the money to pay the hospital bills and living expenses for ex-hookers and rape victims.  Does paying to help women leave the prostitution business make up for supporting that business?  Probably not, but whatever, the plot point only exists as an excuse to show frequent, if non-graphic sex scenes.

There are some intelligent, capable women in the series, in particular fellow officer Perrin.  However, all the women in the series suffer some form of abuse, which usually involves their clothes being torn off.

The animation is just okay, but the character designs have a slightly realistic edge to them that makes the show seem to look better than it actually does.  The four episodes on the disc are 45 minutes each; so whether the show is good or bad, at least it’s a decent value.  The video is unaltered from its Japanese release, with original credits and titles.

The closing credits of the series include a special thanks to the 34th precinct.  I looked it up and there actually is a 34th.   Did they know about this?  Were they sent a script or the original manga for approval and decided that this was something they wanted to put their name on?

Oh, and did you know that that original manga was written by Kazuo Koike, who’s previous work includes Lone Wolf and Cub?

Anime Voice Actor Cherami Leigh

Voice actor Cherami Leigh, star of the English dubbed versions of Fairy TailNegima!,  Shakugan no Shana, and Sword Art Online.

During a panel at FanExpo, she talked about some of the negative reactions she has gotten over her career, including a time when she and other voice actors at a convention were asked to sign a DVD.  The man asking them to sign then told them that he hated them all and though they had zero talent, but figured he’d be able to sell the DVD online for a lot of money.  Apparently, this is something you should avoid saying when asking Cherami Leigh to sign something for you.

Cherami LeighCherami Leigh-7Cherami Leigh-6Cherami Leigh-5Cherami Leigh-4Cherami Leigh-3Cherami Leigh-2

Where to Buy Anime Cels

Evangelion Cel
Years ago, collecting anime cels was one of those things that set hardcore fans apart from casual ones.  What better way to express your love for a show than buying an actual piece of it?  The hobby has sadly declined over the years, likely because the anime industry went digital and stopped using cels.  After all, it’s hard to get new fans excited over cels of shows they’ve never heard of.  But if you’re an older fan, or just love animation art, collecting cels can still be a lot of fun.

What is a cel?  In short; film is made up of a lot of still image flashed across the screen in rapid succession (for a movie, it’s 24 frames per second).  In animation, each of those pictures is a drawing.  Before computers took over, those drawings were done by hand in pencil, then copied onto a clear sheet of plastic (a cel) and painted by hand.  The cel was then placed on top of a painted background, photographed, then tossed onto a pile as the photographer moved on to the next cel.  Eventually (and sometime unscrupulously) those used cels would end up on the collector’s market where they would trade hands for years to come.

Cowboy Bebop Cel
You can still find many of those cels available today.  The prices can vary wildly; anywhere from a few dollars for a cel for of a side character in an unpopular show, to a few thousand for a cel of a key scene in a Ghibli movie.

Mandarake Auction

One great place to look for anime cels is Mandarake, a chain of collector shops in Japan.  Mandarake runs an auction site where, if you’re lucky, you can pick up a good deal now and then.  It’s also a great place to find premium cels if you’re willing to spend big money to get the best.  There’s no real organization, you just have to scroll through all the listings to see what’s there.  The auctions usually last about a week.

Selection – Small and Random

Prices – Great – auction format allows the buyers to dictate the value.

Mandarake also has a regular store section if you don’t want to gamble on an auction.

Takamura Store

Takamura is a Japan-based anime cel store.  Prices are fair, and the store will often put older cels on sale.  The site is well organized, letting you search by title.  Make sure to check the Miscellaneous section for some good deals (I found some Gundam cels for next to nothing).

Selection – Wide selection and updated frequently.

Prices – Good. Prices are reasonable and older cels go on sale after awhile.

Anime Link

An American anime cel store that looks like it hasn’t been redesigned since the late ’90s.  But it’s the functionality that matters, and Anime Link makes everything easy to find with an alphabetized series list on the home page.  The prices are higher than the Japanese stores.  It’s hard to judge pricing, as all cels are one-of-a-kind; but I think comparable cels that are $100 on Anime Link would go for about $50 on Mandarake Auction.

Selection – Wide selection that’s well organized

Prices – Okay.  More expensive than the Japanese cel stores.

Asylum Anime

Another American store.  This one has as good selection of about 1000 anime cels.  It’s organized using alphabetical drop down menus, so you can quickly find the series you want.  The downside is the pricing.

Selection – Wide selection, organized by series

Prices – High

Cel-Ga

Cel-Ga is a British anime cel store that also has a retail location in London.  Their selection of anime cels isn’t as extensive as the American sites, but the prices seem to be a bit better, with some cels going for $20 or so.  In addition to the regular store offerings, they also have an auction page for special items.  The site lets you search by series, or category.

Selection – Decent, but smaller than most other stores

Prices – Fair.  Probably one of the better non-Japanese sites in terms of price