Saturday, June 30, 2012

Anime Review No. 36, "Birth: A War of Two Worlds"

Hello, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Well, sorry for the delay. I've been busy the past week, what with midterms and then contending with a recent heat wave down here. Urge, anyway, to this week's review.

Well, this is a first, as I am reviewing something from the 1980s. I generally don't watch anime from the 80s for a few reasons. One, I'm really more of a 90s anime fan despite being born in the late 80s. Two, a lot of it is science fiction through many of its subgenres. Three and last, its not cheap/easy to get some of the series from that era. When you think 80s anime, you think Macross, Gundam, etc.

Not to fear, this week's review is over a movie I found at Atlanta Anime Day last November. It is called "Birth" with a subtitle: "A War of Two Worlds". Alternate titles include Planet Busters and World of the Talisman. A 1984 anime movie, it has an interesting history. Originally done by Kaname Production (now defunct I suppose), it has been released twice in the States. The first time was by Streamline Pictures back in 1987 on VHS tape. In 2004 and 2009, ADV Films picked up the licence for it and released on DVD with a brand new dub. So, is it any good or should it stay forgotten? Let's found out.

The basic story of the movie deals with a group of people living on a planet devastated by a past calamity. There is Nam, the hero; Rasa, the token young woman; Bao, middle aged bandit and Kim, Bao's partner in crime so to speak. They are on a quest to retrieve the SHADE, a super weapon from some far off planet that grants the yielder power (or something, its very vague). Standing in the way are the Inorganics, robotic creatures who have taken over the planet after the calamity and also seek out the SHADE. Gee, sounds familiar, eh? Of course, they don't prevent the impending apocalypse that results from use of another superweapon, which goes off for the stupidest reason ever.

Now, the positives. Umm, it is well a told story. It uses the visuals with music for certain segments in order to tell the story, showing us what happens instead of telling us. Yet, it uses just enough dialogue to get the plot along, which is pretty simple by today's standards. Seriously, the plot of this can fit into one measly paragraph, as demonstrated above.

The script is not half bad. It is abound with several humorous moments, with some random Japanese sayings sprinkled in for good measure. It is also free of a lot of technobabble, so even a casual viewer can enjoy it.  On a related note, the dub is ok. Just because ADV Films released doesn't mean this has voice actors typical of the series they released, like Monica Rial, Spike Spencer, Allison Keith, or Tiffany Grant. It seems they just got their list of actors who don't work often for this dub. Still, it is OK, not great but probably not terrible as the first dub (haven't watched it with the first english dub, its on a out of print VHS).

That's not to say it's all good. For 1984, the animation is very crude but effective. This movie is a full-on fossil, by this point in time. Even on the 2009 DVD I own, it still looks very ok, but its a product of an era done with just hand-drawn cel animation, an era now long forgotten it seems. The soundtrack is also old school, being mostly 80s techno music. Granted, it works here in presenting a look and feel of being on a  strange and alien world. Lastly, there are lots of scenes which are just still frames with nothing happening. I swear, if you cut out about 10-15 minutes of this from the movie, it would be better paced.

Overall, a good movie, if you like science fiction or obscure stuff (like I do), then check this out. I won't say its essential viewing, but its a pretty good and entertaining movie. Also, considering it's a Heat Wave Weekend, this is something to watch while inside. Then again, there are so much more that you could watch that's better, but this movie isn't too bad.

Next week is UltraManiac, Episodes 1-3. Oh boy ........

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Revised Schedule

Due to midterms being this week, I have decided to revise the rest of the summer schedule.

Here it is:
June 30 Birth: A War of Two Worlds (80s anime movie)

July 7 UltraManiac Episodes 1-3

July 14 You're Under Arrest (90s OVA)

July 21 Nyrako-san: Another Crawling Chaos

July 28 GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class Episode 1/First Impressions

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Anime Review No. 35 "Virgin Fleet"

Hello, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Historical fiction is a genre I've read since I was a young dude. Be it Civil War or 20th Century fiction pieces, I find it interesting how some writers will look to the past of this country for literary inspiration. Not to say it's exclusive to American fiction, as the British (WWII, Victorian Age, etc), other European countries and all around the world has their own interesting histories to tell.

Anime is no exception. When dealing with historical fiction, one either ends with a few options: The Shogunate Era, WWII, Feudal Japan, etc. More well-known examples include Ruroni Kenshin, Peacemaker Kurogane, Grave of the Fireflies, and many others. But I'm not talking about any of those. Instead, I'm taking a look at the questionably titled "Virgin Fleet". An 3 episode OVA from 1998, this was made by Studio AIC (one of my favorite studios) headed by Ohji Hiroi, who is one of the 3 creators of Sakura Wars, another historical fiction piece, much like this OVA. This was brought to the USA by US Manga Corps, so right away it sours a bit for me.  
The basic story of Virgin Fleet deals with Shiokaze Umino, a cadet at the Virgin Fleet Academy in post WWI Japan, though in some sort of alternate universe (in terms of details anyway). She is training to be in the "Virgin Fleet", a special unit of the Japanese navy composing entirely of women. All of the members have 'Virgin Energy', a special psychic/mystical power that isn't well explained but could be misconstrued as water bending (lolz) and predicated on the young women remaining chaste. The OVA concerns Shiokaze and her fellow cadet friends Satsuki and Komachi trying to balance out her daily life with her duty to her country. Her choice: to either marry her childhood friend Mau or stay in the Virgin Fleet? All the while, the military higherups (total bastards) are attempting to shut down the Virgin Fleet and a looming new war is on the horizon. Oh noes!! 

I won't spoil this further, as I have to admit this isn't all that bad, even given the US Manga Corps license attached. It isn't great, as it seems to be too much to be like Sakura Wars. If you've seen Virgin Fleet after watching Sakura Wars TV Series, then the similarities are quite striking. Both involve girls with mystical powers piloting machines (Kubo bots in SK, biplanes in VF) dealing with issues in post WWI Japan. This is an era fondly remembered it seems, as Japan was on the winning side of WWI (nominally) and was experiencing good times in the country. However, I can see the first strands of rampant militarism that later would plunge Japan into another war. This is evidenced by the fact that all of the military are complete and utter hammy villains (apart from those in charge of VF). It also deals with heavy issues like arranged marriage (between Shiokaze and Mau) and equality (VF commander trying to get the military to recognize the unit's potential despite social obstacles: "The men must protect the women" mentality. It is very compelling, seeing Umino having a real moral dilemma on her hands. That what's makes this good, its a good character drama piece, with historical fiction taking a backseat to it. I care more what decision Umino makes then what happens with regard to the backstory: There's a conflict that is coming soon and will sweep away the complacency of the postwar age. Not that it's any less interesting, to be sure. 

Also, the english dub isn't that bad either. Granted, its US Manga Corps, so your mileage might vary when it comes to their dubs, I happen to like this one. Any dub that has Jessica Calvello, Crispin Freeman, Megan Hollingshead and Angora Deb deserves some praise. They all do a pretty good job with the dub, even if some of the lines are cringe-worthy. For instance: "It is our duty to our country to protect our virginity" and "My Virginity is Special" (the last line of the OVA) come to mind for me. That and some of the villains sound really hammy in the english dub. Listenable to an extant, I must say.

The overall production is very well-done. By the late 90s, a lot of OVAs were starting to look pretty good as the introduction of digital technology made its way into the production of animation at large. In the case, Virgin Fleet looks a bit plastic and a bit rough on the edges. It still holds up to today, but that's due to the fact it looks unlike anything I've seen, well, in terms of character designs.   

I'll end on this: If you like historical fiction, then check this out. It is very interesting and it has a complete story all within 3 episodes, unlike most OVAs I've previously talked about here, which due to production issues or money or lack of sales left many unfinished. But not this one. Check it out!

Until next week,

The Eclectic Dude     

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Anime Review 34-"Rizelmine"

Hi, I’m the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Today’s subject is on another manga one-shot I’ve owned for quite some years. I figured I give it a look once more. The manga in question is Rizelmine, written by Yukiru Sugisaki (best known for DNA Angel, The Candidate for Goddess and Lagoon Engine manga). The single volume of manga was released in Japan back in 2002, and got to the States back in 2005, which is probably when I got it.

The basic gist of this one-shot has to do with the relationship between the two main characters, Iwaki Tomonori and Rizel. Tomonori is the leading man, a 15 year old high school student who despite having a thing for older ladies, he leads a very bland and average life. That is, until, he comes home to find that Japanese government has forced him into marriage with a Rizel, a 12 year old girl with special powers. Complete with full govt. assistance as well! Still, that fact they are the main couple is a bit disconcerting, since the only thing they could is hug, snuggle or hold hands. Geez, this looks to be a lukewarm romance.

And that what it is, 6 chapters of the two dealing with love rivals, enemy girls with super powers, and dating (for two characters in their early-mid teens). Granted, it’s told at least competently. But it just ends after about 130 pages. The only chapter I actually liked was the fifth chapter, with Tomonori trying and failing on going on a date with Rizel. Even when it’s revealed Rizel is some sort of ancient and mysterious technological ‘national treasure’ I was like ‘meh too late to impress me because it’s the last chapter’. Still, it just has an ending, like as if it was intended to be just six chapters long.

On the plus side, the drawing and panels are nicely done. It is just a shame it’s used for such short a venture as this. On a side note, it was popular to warrant an anime adaptation way back in 2002.Good luck finding it, as it is fairly obscure and never got a US release. What a bummer. Good as reading material on a rainy day, to be sure.

Short manga equals short review, because I don’t have anything else to say about it. Hope next time will be better, with Virgin Fleet. Here I come! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Anime Review No 33, Nodame Cantabile Episode 1/First Impressions

Hi, I’m the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Music is quite exquisite is it not? I am quite a fan of music, ever since I was little. I did Kindermusic and youth choir back in the days. In middle school, I played viola for the string orchestra. It was also in middle school that I dabbled in musical composition, even entering and winning a contest once. However, once high school came around I lost interest in playing any sort of instrument. I did play keyboard for one semester, but none after that. I do still write music to this day, though not as frequent as I used to.
Nodame at piano and Chiaki at violin
There’s a point to this, as this week I’m looking at the first episode of Nodame Cantabile. It was suggested to a friend of mine as this person mentioned that I’d like it since it’s about classical music. I decided to watch the first episode and see if it was any good. Well, it is quite good.

Done by JC Staff and directed by Ken’ichi Kasai back in 2007, Nodame Cantabile tells the story of the relationships and daily lives of two college musicians. It’s a rather mature and sensible (read realistic) slice-of-life series from the outset. The Opening is quite nice as well, with some interesting visuals (floating music staves and piano keys).

The first of this duo is Chiaki, a guy with quite a talent for music (piano and violin notwithstanding) but personality wise he’s a bit strict, abrasive, etc. However, he would prefer to conduct music rather than play music. After getting his butt kicked out of the master class, he stumbles a bit with wondering to do. One day, he bumps into Nodame, the titular character playing the piano. Nodame is a bit of a foil to Chiaki; she is actually better at piano than Chiaki (when he helps her out) but has the personal skills of a shut-in. The two get paired together and in the process Nodame falls in love with Chiaki. That’s pretty much the gist of the first episode.

So, yeah the main draw for this series for me has to be the music aspect. Lot of the soundtrack is well-known pieces by classical composers (Beethoven and Mozart) and another pieces featured in the episode. I hope that other composers’ music is featured (like Mahler, Stravinsky, Wagner, etc.) but for the moment I can’t complain too much. It is somewhat original in terms of doing a slice of life series that deal with college musicians, something that doesn’t come up often in anime (aside from BECK and K-On!).

The art style reflects this strongly. It has similarities to Genshiken, in that it is very realistic and doesn’t go off-model wacky a whole lot. The colors are limited but used effectively.  The voice-acting, at least in the English dub, is also much like Genshiken in that it’s very workman-like and listenable. Though, most of the cast make it sound like a Naruto/VIZ reunion (Chiaki and Nadome are voiced by Doug Erholtz and Kate Higgins respectively).

I am still watching this series (up to the fourth episode at this point) so I am not sure on how great this show might become. I shall see. But I am hooked enough to find out though. I plan on doing an actual review of the whole series later in the year.

If you’re a fan of classical music, then check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

‘Til next week

The Eclectic Dude