Review: Space Adventure Cobra

Discotek Media (Blu-ray / DVD)

Space Adventure Cobra Blu-ray.jpgAnime has a long tradition of heroes who hide their skills behind a cover of overt oafishness.  Captain Tyler, Vash the Stampede, and Cobra.  Perhaps Japanese culture favours modesty, preferring their superheroes keep their super-ness to themselves,  lest they seem boastful or arrogant.

Cobra is a space pirate with a basic sense of morality.  He doesn’t do anything bad in the movie, and you don’t get the impression that he ever would.  It makes you wonder how he came to be the most wanted man in history.  They should probably make a movie about that.

Anyway, Cobra gets involved with a woman who has stars for nipples.  She is one of three sisters, separately or jointly destined to rule as queen on the planet Miras.  One of the sisters is in the clutches of a crime leader named Crystal Boy, presumably on account of his translucent skin.

I loved the mix of mild-fantasy with science fiction in the film.  It was reminiscent of Galaxy Express 999, in that it depicts space as a place of wonder where anything you can imagine can happen. It’s the fashion in sci-fi these days to have everything be ‘real’ and ‘gritty.’  It’s nice to see a movie that remembers sci-fi can be ‘fun’ as well.

Design-wise, the movie reflects it production date of 1982; flashing colours and women with big hair.  The animation is actually really nice for something of this vintage.  It’s fluid and exaggerated, and includes some superfluous motion that cheaper productions would have left out (like having saliva fly out of a head’s mouth once it’s punched).

Cobra is a likable enough character.  His cigar chomping gruff exterior doesn’t match his personality, which is sweet and noble.  For instance, after he had slept with one of the sisters, he was approached by the next, but clumsily turned her down, as he still cared for the first (not what you’d expect from the killer space pirate).

Space Adventure Cobra is a very campy action/sci-fi film.  If you like the B movie aesthetic and pulp sci-fi storytelling, you’ll be very happy with this.

DARLING in the FRANXX’s Zero Two gets a Figure from S.H. Figuarts

The heroine of Studio Trigger’s DARLING in the FRANXX, Zero Two, is  joining S.H. Figuarts line of articulated figures.

The two comes with three optional facial expressions, three pairs of hands in different positions, a hood, and a cockpit base.

The figure is set for release this October.

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Iya na Kao Sare Nagara Opantsu Misete Moraitai Blu-ray will be Available at Summer Comic Market

This odd combination of fetishes struck a chord in Japan, and the series has since spawned four novels (and a spin-off), toys, and a even a live-action photobook.  Now, a 24 minute anime version is set for release at Summer Comiket 94 (the largest doujinshi event, and largest comic convention in the world), this August 10-12th.  After the event, fans will be able to pick up the disc at Tora no Ana stores starting August 13.

The cast includes Shizuka Ishigami as Chitose Itō, Chinatsu Akasaki as Iori Izumo, Haruka Yoshimura as Airi Sega, Sawako Hata as Maria Takayama, Aoi Koga as Misuzu Tanahashi, and Yuki Nagano as Yuina.

Review: Venus Wars

Discotek Media (Blu-ray & DVD)

vw.jpgJapan had an infatuation with teen biker gangs in the ’80s.  Such hoodlums were the heroes of the classic anime film Akira, the OAV series Megazone 23, and Venus Wars.  In all cases, the bikers rebelled against an overly-oppressive and authoritarian government.  Perhaps it was social commentary.

In the west, especially at that time, the heroes were more likely to be fighting to restore order from a populous of outlaws (like Mad Max).  Of course, fiction aimed at teens has always had its rebel heroes, rejecting authority speaks to that age group; but that has more to do with taking responsibility for one’s self, and not fighting to free society from dictatorship.  Indeed, in anime such as this, the average person has no value; they are only a cog in a machine, to be replaced and discarded at the slightest sign of trouble (which come to think of it, is pretty much how we all live these days anyway).

Venus, having been terraformed following an asteroid collision, was quickly colonized, but humanity can not seem to leave its problems behind, and the two nations that popped up on the new planet, Aphrodia and Ishtar, were soon at war (ironically, we’re told that Earth has established world peace since the colonization of Venus; maybe by sending all their riff-raff away on a rocket).

The people don’t seem all that effected.  The war is mostly cold, and flares up only in far-off places; also, the government does an effective job of hushing up any unhappy details.  Their ability to hide the truth, however, comes to an end when Ishtar, using some high-tech tanks called octopuses (really) invades the capital city of Aphrodia, Io.  It’s not so much a war as a minor skirmish.  The enemy forces roll in with little resistance and the local government quickly surrenders.

The people are placed under curfew, which does not sit well with Hiro Seno and his ‘gang,’ the Killer Commandos.  I say ‘gang,’ but they’re actually a team in a sport that involved racing single-wheeled motorcycles in a group (kind of like roller derby); but it’s not a respectable sport and they’re scoff-laws in their daily lives, so the term ‘gang’ applies.  Meanwhile, a reporter from Earth, Susan Summers (really) gets tangled up with the gang; and finds that the local press is just as disinterested in helping the people as the local government.

The gang, spurred on by their female member, Miranda, decides to stage a protest action, which brings them to the attention of the Aphrodia military, who sees potential in their racing skills.  Hiro turns down their offer to join, and by doing so brings to the forefront the truth of his character: he just rejects authority blindly; regardless of the value of its cause, or his own self-interest.

What I liked about Venus Wars was that it didn’t try to tell more story than was needed.  It wasn’t a giant war chronicle; it was the story of one boy and the few minor battles he was a party to.

The animation is quite nice; this was made back in the day when anime studios thought they had to earn their ticket price, and didn’t depend on the blind allegiance of otaku.  The Blu Ray from Eastern Star is beautiful, using a newly restored master.  It looks like it was made last year.  The disc includes the dub released by CPM back in the day, but no other extras.

Gunsmith Cats Anime Blu-ray Kickstarter Nears its End

Animeigo’s kickstarter for the Gunsmith Cats Explosive Edition Blu-ray is nearing it’s end. The initial goal of $95K was reached within hours, and the campaign now rests at just under $375K.  There’s three days left to get your pledge in.

Unusually for anime, Gunsmith Cats is set in the United States — specifically, Chicago. Rally Vincent and her friend May Hopkins run a gun-shop and moonlight as bounty hunters, which often put them at odds with both the local underworld and the local law (especially since May has a great affection for high explosives).

In this 3-episode OVA, Rally and May are blackmailed by a slimy ATF agent into helping him bust some gunrunners, but things rapidly get out of hand when they run afoul of a shadowy mastermind and a psychotic Russian hitwoman!

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Pony Canyon Enters the North American Market

Japanese anime producer Pony Canyon has followed Aniplex’s lead, opening a North American branch to release anime directly, butting out the middleman.

So far, they’ve announced two titles.  Denki-Gai and Yuki Yuna is a Hero (the later of which will be dubbed).  These two releases, both scheduled for February, feature record high prices ($89.98 for four episodes…) and a bafflingly impractical package design (a double-high DVD case that defies you to find a shelf that can fit it).

Aniplex is fairly expensive too; but they’ve got far more popular titles at their disposal, so they can afford to be exploitatively priced.  Denki-Gai… not so much.

Hana & Alice Prequel Anime

The live action Japanese film Hana & Alice from director Shunji Iwai is getting a prequel anime, a mere 11 years after the movie’s debut.  The Case of Hana & Alice will tell the story of how the two lead protagonists first met.

Iwai is returning to direct the animated feature, along with the two lead actresses who will be reprising their roles.

 

Blu-Ray Review: The Garden of Words

71394_frontOn a rainy morning, Takao skips school and goes to the city park, an oasis from the grey and skyless world.  He takes shelter in a gazebo, where he finds a woman (somewhere in her twenties, while he is 15).  The woman sits silently, drinking beer and eating comically large chocolate bars; while the boy secretly draws fetishistic pictures of her feet.  Takao, it turns out, has dreams of being a 21st century cobbler.

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 6.34.07 PMTheir meeting is repeated every rainy day, and over time the two being to talk.  Takao opens up more than she does, telling the woman all his hopes and dreams, and the woman, unlike everyone else, does not criticize his shoemaking fantasies.  The woman, for her part, never even tells him her name, though she does agree to let him manhandle her feet.

The garden is another world – separate from reality.  A place where wanting to design handmade shoes for a living isn’t a stupid idea (or elaborate excuse to fulfill one’s foot fetish).  What grows between is best described as a platonic romance; more than friendship, but lacking in sexual overtones (even when he gently traces his fingers along her feet).

Later in the film, Takao is shocked to find that his garden retreat is not as separate from the real world as he thought, forcing him to wonder if is cobbler dreams can survive outside the Garden of Words.

The Garden of Words is a sweet and beautiful story that manages to stay true to itself (even when the truth isn’t as satisfying as one would like).  The characters are beautifully realized and their relationship is equally wonderful and tragic.  The garden is a magical place, but one a boy must leave, eventually.Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 6.35.01 PM

The Garden of Words was produced by indie animation house CoMix Wave.  CoMix Wave is great at making low budget animation look far better than it should.  Beautiful rain effects and something as simply as a transparent umbrella make the short film look positively glossy, even if the nuts and bolts animation itself is limited.  The Blu-ray, from Sentai Filmworks, looks great.  It includes English and Japanese audio, and English subtitles (that are not locked).  The credits and titles are left in Japanese.

Blu-ray Review: Ghost in the Shell Arise Border:2 Ghost Whispers

nE1icIntegrating technology into our brains will make us vulnerable to hackers; or so says Ghost in the Shell.

I’m not sure if it’s true or not.  To mess with someone’s mind in the way depicted in Ghost in the Shell, we would need to artificially produce information in the same format used by the brain; but is that even a universal format?  Does everyone’s brain work the same way and speak the same language?  The mind is certainly capable of tricking itself; but will we ever be able to do the same with a computer?

One of the things I like about this franchise is that it asks these questions.  It’s so easy to throw a giant robot in space and call it science fiction; but to take science that we have now and make plausible speculations about Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.33.20 PMwhere it will be in 50 years takes effort.  It gets a little wacky at times (I could do without the Tron scenes of Matoko flying through the net); but for the most part, this is a cohesive, believable world.

In this second episode of the four-part prequel, Matoko meets up with a few more of her soon-to-be teammates; most notable Batou.  This happens as a convicted war criminal hacks the city’s traffic control system and a lowly Logicoma (The red spider-tank things that speak in child voices.  They really shouldn’t fit in to this world, but they do).  This is Ghost in the Shell, of course, so all is not as it seems, and there’s probably a complex conspiracy behind it all.

The action scenes are quite nice.  They’re fast paced and creative, most notably Batou’s first scene on the highway.  But animation wise, none of them had the wow-factor that I saw in the first episode.  In fact, I kind of felt that the fast cuts were being used to compensate for less fluid movement.  But that’s nitpicking; they’re still entertaining, and non-wow level animation doesn’t detract from the story.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.33.36 PMI think the storyline was a little more refined than in the first episode.  The character development and motivations were clear, and everything tied together nicely at the end; though it was still heavy on the technobabble (again, this is Ghost in the Shell, what do you expect).

I really liked Ghost in the Shell Arise Border:1, and I think the second outing is a slight improvement.  Matoko’s character design may have been made more childlike, but neither the character nor the series have been dumbed down to suit it.

Blu-ray Review: Elfen Lied

elfen-lied-the-complete-collection-blu-ray-importacion-3845-MLM4871385450_082013-FYoung girls with cat-ear horns and invisible hands growing out of their backs mercilessly kill humans.

 

Japanese audiences, or at least anime audiences, seem to have very different expectations when it comes to storytelling.  Here in the west, the audience expects everything to be explained; a show like Elfen Lied would have to end with a grand discovery of what the Diclonius are and what will happen to them in the future.  Instead, we are asked to take their unlikely biology for granted, and the ending is, to say the least, vague.

The series, which hails from 2004, was famous mostly for it’s ‘darker’ elements, namely the graphic violence.  But the darker elements don’t carry a lot of weight in the story, (a condition that isn’t helped by the miraculous medical technique that renders most of the injuries moot).  Horrible things happen, and then everything goes back to normal; and the ‘normal’ part of the series is actually fairly cliche ridden.  At its heart, Elfen Lied is a harem series.

For those that don’t know, a ‘harem series’ is one in which one person is inexplicably surrounded by attractive members of the opposite sex.  Famous examples include Love Hina, Tenchi Muyo, Ai Yori Aoshi, and Fushigi Yugi.  The Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 5.25.18 PMmembers of the ‘harem’ tend to fall into simple stereotypes; the childhood friend, the dumb one, the young one, the sporty one, etc.  The girls that surround Kohta in Elfen Lied are much the same.  Lucy, the primary Diclonius, suffers amnesia (another anime-favourite plot device) and takes on the role of the dumb one whose clothes are constantly coming off at inappropriate times.

The Diclonius storyline raises Elfen Lied above the rest of its harem series brethren, giving the viewers more to look forward to than yet another episode of wacky hijinks and awkward misunderstandings; even if said storyline is only partially resolved.  But keep your expectations in check; this is not a reinvention of the genre, nor is it highly introspective; it’s a pretty good harem series with graphic violence and an interesting mythology.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 5.24.32 PMThe Blu-ray from ADV Films (who pretty much exist in name only, at this point) is decent.  The video quality isn’t a huge improvement over a good DVD, which is to be expected of a show from this era.  However, unlike ADV’s initial DVD release of the series, this one features the original Japanese credits and titles, so purists can finally have their way.

Elfen Lied is a good series.  What stops it from being great for me is that the two sides of the story, the dark and the light, never really merge into a convincing whole.  It would have been groundbreaking to show how these horrible things effect the harem series set up; but as it is, the harem is kept in its own little box, shielded from the dark realities of the outside world.

Ten Anime Christmas Specials

Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, which isn’t a surprise, given that only about 2% of the population claims Christianity as their religion.

But that hasn’t stopped Japanese retailers or anime producers from exploiting the holiday for financial reasons.  Aside from the secular decorations and gift giving, Christmas in Japan has also been marketed as a romantic ‘date night,’ making it a perfect setting for romantic comedy anime. Continue reading