Sunday, June 30, 2013

Anime Review No. 59-CyberCity Oedo 808

CyberCity Oedo 808
1990-91 OVA, 3 episodes
Studio-Madhouse, Director-Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Writer: Akinori Endo

Well, Central Park Media Month concludes with CyberCity. This title is more infamously known as one of those shows from the late 80s/early 90s in the same company of Angel Cop and Garzey's Wing: cheaply made, poor dubbing and full of violence and gore. Fortunately, there are some good points to this OVA: decent storytelling, fleshed out characters and some good futuristic concepts. For this review, I shall look at each episode as this is only 3 episodes long, but each spanning about 40-45 minutes. In a way, CyberCity is more like a short anthology series, as one could watch each episode separately without missing much.

Episode 1: Time Bomb
The story of this series takes place in 2808 AD aka the far future. 3 convicts are released from prison to assist the police with high risk cases that the police don't want to deal with. They are left in the charge of Hasegawa, a shadowy authority figure in CyberCity who will pop off their heads with electronic neck braces the three wear. Those 3 convicts are Sengoku, Goggul and Benten. Then the Opening song starts, which is quite nice and rocking late 80s song. Focus of the episode is on Sengoku, who is an arrogant loud bastard (putting it nicely) but eagerly violent. He doesn't play well with Hasegawa or anyone for that matter, treating Varsus (tech support droid) and a young female police officer who admires him like shit. Yeah, what a likeable antihero.
Case in question: A computer controlling a skyscraper has gone mad planning to kill some scientist. Several people have been taken hostages and the situation could easily go awry. Sengoku is go with Googles and Benten to resolve the crisis. Oh yeah, Googles is the tech guy/hacker and Benten who is good with speed and metal wire.
Let me pause for a bit to comment on the English dub which is.....gloriously bad. This comes down to two factors: much of the cast consists mainly of British VAs trying to sound American and failing. Combined that with the fact that much of the dialogue is written with lots of profanity and a rather fast and loose adaptive script only compounds the terribad dub more so. And yet, this fits though with the dark gritty cyberpunk setting. That, and the dub has a lot of memorable one-liners.
Sengoku meets Dave Kurokawa, the scientist slated for execution by the mad computer, who is acting very suspect. As it turns out, Amachi (Dave Kurokawa's mentor) has returned to exact revenge upon him, despite being killed by Kurokawa some years prior.
Sengoku goes to find Amachi in the building. Of course, the story now becomes a ticking clock as the building is set to be destroyed soon. He runs into several obstacles along the way, but manages to get through them all by sheer virtue of being an arrogant bastard. Sengoku then finds out that Amachi is some corpse wired into the computer system, controlling it through power of revenge or something-it is barely explained. Duel between Amachi and Sengoku is a quite bloody and extended affair. But still very awesome and satisfying once it ends.The day is saved...I suppose; Sengoku is still an irredeemable jerk though.

Episode 2: The Decoy Program
Focus this time is on Googles, the tech guy/hacker. He's studious, a bit even tempered well more then Sengoku and a lot more honorable. Story this time around is about an investigation of the Special Forces secret base. However, a former squeeze of Googles, Sara is on the run from the military. She stole some precious information on a top secret project. Her English VA actually slips out of accent after the first scene she's in, which is amusing.
There is also some underlying commentary on a corrupt military in the far future given how no war has made them turn to solving issues of public order and really mettling in affairs they have little to no business being involved in. The military has devised a new killer machine to deal with crime in the city More or less, they made psychic cyborgs. Yes, really. So, Sengoku and Benten act as support cast as they figure out what's happening but the story doesn't focus on them that much. But, Sara double-crosses him and sacrifies herself to finish this-a very poignant moment to be sure.
Out of the three, this is my personal favorite because well Googles goes through so much crap so his final duel against the killer cyborg is more emotionally impactful.

Episode 3: The Vampire
The third and final episode focuses on Benten, the bishounen speedster with the deadly wire. It starts off with a search for some mysterious woman he meets on the street one night, Remi Musada as it is later revealed. However there are mysterious killings with neck wounds involved that require the Benten's attention. The Conclusion: Vampire (naturally), even if it makes no sense initially.
One thing that works in this story is the atmosphere-it is very dark and grim, almost like a horror mystery story. It reminds me of Vampire Hunter, which makes sense as the character design for Benten is very similar. Benten is vastly different from the other two-a smooth operator: cool, calm and collected, nearly to the point of being sinister and detached.
A connection is found to be the chairman of a medical foundation, a writhing old man.
Benten goes alone to find out the dirty research: cybernetic panthers, I shat you not. It is revealed that the chairman has been making an immortality vaccine which, as a side effect, causes pyschic vampires. Once again, yes really. Yeah, cus that's how science being fecking magical.
Remi decides to take matters into her own hands, for no real reason other than the story must go on. In a surprising turn, the chairman is a crazy immortal nutjob, much like Mr Gentlemen from ROD and the big baddie from Master of Mosqution. He doesn't really care for the side effects at all.
Benten vs. The Chairman is a very long drawn out battle, with little bits of immortality philosophizing which manages not to be pretentious. Plus it ends with a pretty gruesome death scene. Remi Musada gets her proper death-a journey to beyond the stars, Roll credits....

CyberCity Oedo 808 is an interesting mess. On the one hand, it has decent story, fleshed out characters (even if most are a-holes), and some rather interesting sci-fi concepts (even if it is sometimes laughingly implausible). On the other hand, it has an english dub that outright refuses at times to take itself seriously and animation that while looked good back in the days, it looks cheap to the modern viewer, though even this is good to look at times. Yet, this does get a recommendation from me. The good parts (setting, characters and plot) work well, and even the bad aspects (the dub and animation) of it are at the very least entertaining.
Next month is taking a look at two shows that mean a lot to me from when I started off with anime
Crest of the Stars 7/13-14
Read or Die the TV Series 7/27-28
'Til next time
The Eclectic Dude

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Anime Review No. 58-Gall Force Movie 1

"The Quest is the Quest!"

Gall Force: Eternal Story
Theaterical release: July 26 1986
Studios: AIC, Artmic, Director: Katsuhito Akiyama
Writer: Sukehiro Tomita 

Well once again back to the 1980s. I have only glanced at this era twice before-looked at 1984's Birth: A War of Two Worlds, a rather stock standard sci-fi action movie last June and then last Halloween I looked at 1988's Vampire Princess Miyu, a 4 episode OVA involving vampires and the supernatural. So, where does Gall Force: Eternal Story fall? Well, let's see.

Gall Force: Eternal Story is the first movie in a science fiction film series done in late 1980s to mid 1990s. It was done by AIC, or Anime International Company, a studio which around the time this film came out, had only done Megazone 23 the previous year. Nowadays, they are a powerhouse studio, having done series like Tenchi, El Hazard, Burn Up, Ah My Goddess, etc. Now, down to the story.

Well, the story of GF: Eternal Story is essentially a science fiction epic. In the far future, there is a war waging between two groups: the Solnoids (all female race) and the Paranoids (race of amorphous aliens who reside in bio-mechanical suits, bit like the Daleks). The first part of the movie deals with a Solnoid ship Star Leaf as they journey to a planet open for colonization. Now, there are some members of the Star Leaf crew, but most are one note characters all who die by end of the movie, so no more word on them. Well except for Lufy, a starfighter pilot that they pick along the way, who does try to add some life to this dull proceedings. Seriously, it is a 'pick off the cast one by one' plot at the core of the movie.

Well, except a Paranoid comes abroad and infects one of the crew members who is close to the Captain but I'm sure it won't factor much in later. Spoiler-it does, but more on that later.

It sure says something about a movie when it has not one but two music videos embedded inside it, where there are long stretches of nothing happening. In addition, while stuff happens, one simply can't give much care since the characters haven't had much development. For instance, one of the Star Leaf crew is revealed to be a secret android who sacrified itself/herself in order for the rest of the crew to escape from the ship once it self destructs. What should be a deeply moving scene is empty because the characters and moral dilemmas haven't been fully developed, therefore I can't really care. Contrast that with the scene where Lufy ends up drifting out into space, without any way out. The audience has spent some time with Lufy and she has some sort of personality so her death has more emotional punch.

Of course, the remainder of the crew makes it to the new planet. However, it turns out, the infected crew member is now pregnant with child. She gives birth, which is one of the most unintentionally funny moment of all times. The child is revealed as male, which confounds the remaining crew most profoundly. Then the movie does the plot of TNG's The Child' as the kid grows up to full maturity in a matter of minutes. No explanation whatsoever, which miffs me a bit as this being science fiction some kind of explanation is expected, but the filmmakers said no.

The ending act is a confusing mess. It is revealed that both the Solnoids and Paranoids have planned this out from some point prior to the movie, in order to bring about peace to the galaxy or whatever. The rest of it doesn't make much sense and the movie ends on a non-ending and another fecking music video to close out.

Now, onto other stuff on this movie. The music is your standard 80s synth with the music video segments being stock 80s j-pop ballads. It is OK, not great but definitely ages the movie. The animation is well better then Birth: A War of Two Worlds. Kenichi Sonoda (creator of Gunsmith Cats) did the character designs though they mostly look like stock 80s anime character designs. The rest of the animation is very solid, even if it amounts to being an animation artifact.

The same praise can't be said of the english dub. Like Shamanic Princess, it is very dry and stiff and nearly literal to the Japanese. The only noteworthy voice actor in this is Lisa Ortiz, who one might remember as voice of Lina Inverse from the Slayers franchise. The voice acting is fairly average, though that is due in part to the material being dry and stiff and ultimately uninteresting.

On a final note: If you get this on DVD, don't watch it with the 'alternate english track'. It is not worth it. Seriously, I switched it off after a few minutes-its even worse then the original dub track, which astounds me greatly. What amazes me the most is that this enabled a film series. If I get the chance to look at the other films I might, but it is not a high priority.

If your are into science fiction and/or 80s anime, then I recommend you check it out. Otherwise, you can just skip this. The only interest it has to me is 80s kitsch, not much else.

Next time is over CyberCity Oedo 808.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Anime Review No. 57-Shamanic Princess

"I Can't Believe It's Not CLAMP!"

Shamanic Princess

1996-98 OVA, 6 episodes
Studio: Triangle Staff, Director: Mitsuru Hongo, Writer: Mami Watanabe

Well, this is the first review looking at titles licensed in the States by Central Park Media, a NY based company that specialised in licensing and distributing anime and least from 1990 up to 2009 when they went under. Shamanic Princess was released under the US Manga Corps, the main anime distribution arm, a fact made evident by their logo, which has the main character of MD Geist (one of their early releases).

Now, Shamanic Princess is an OVA from the late 1990s that is a bit of an oddball. In terms of story, it is rather straightforward: Tiara is a being from the 'Guardian World' (a world parallel to our own) who is on a quest for the 'Throne of Yord', which is the power source of all magic in the 'Guardian World'. In the process, she discovers that her friends Lena and Kagetsu are in pursuit of Sarah, Kagetsu's sister and friend of Tiara, who has become a person of interest to the Throne of Yord. Along the way, Tiara must face opposition from not just her friends but also from within.

Of course, it is not that simple. The first four episodes follow this story thread, with the last two episodes that serve as prologue rejoinder to the events of the first four. This threw me for a moment when I first watched, but then it clicked that this was mostly an extended flashback. As a recommendation, I suggest that if you do view this OVA, watch episodes 5-6 then go back and watch the first four episodes as that way helps to mitigate any confusion or plot holes that pop up in the main story, and it certainly has some. Thankfully, those don't defer enough from the story to make it bad.

As the title of this post suggests, what got me hooked to this OVA was the fact that it reminds me of CLAMP, even had a quote from Gamers' Republic on the back of the DVD cover giving this 4 stars and saying "a must have for CLAMP fans". Ha, what a gross misinterpretation. The only aspect that Shamanic Princess shares with CLAMP is in character designer (Atsuko Ishida), which shares similarity to Magic Knight Rayearth, a mid 90s fantasy TV anime series. Past that, it has similar aspects but at the same time differing from actual CLAMP series, in this case comparison to Magic Knight Rayearth (a contemporary series to this) is very apt.

First off, let's talk about magical power. In MKR, it is very much elemental in nature, reflecting core qualities of the attached characters. But SP's magic is more arcane and occult in nature, reflecting the rather dark, mysterious and surreal realm the characters reside in. Tiara's and Lena's powers rely on intricate symbols and chants similar to that used in occult magic.

Second, the characters' relationships. MKR would require an immense chart just to keep track of the huge ensemble cast within the course of that series. Luckily, SP doesn't have that issue as the main cast contains about 5-6 characters. An interesting exercise for viewers-try to diagram the various relationships of the characters in Shamanic Princess, that should be interesting.

Finally, the thematic focus isn't too far off from MKR. It deals primarily with how emotions and love can drive our actions more so than exterior forces. Of course, it adds to that philosophical musings on the nature of reality. For instance, when Tiara fights the Throne of Yord, it decides to take on her likeness, which while somewhat expected and cliche, it's interesting nonetheless as Tiara can't really beat herself. How she wins, quite frankly, I shall leave you to find out for yourself.

Apart from that, the rest is not too shabby. The background visuals are rather nice to look at, even in the Throne of Yord scenes, which have a dark surreal atmosphere. The magic battle sequences are very well done, kinetic and quick; just having enough time to run through without being a drag on the plot. The music is very fitting, shifting from battle action to quiet atmospheric moments, all without being intrusive.

Now, to talk about the English dub. Short hand, its not too bad, a rather decent effort. The only stand off voice actor in the dub is Crispin Freeman as Kagetsu. The rest of the V.A.s are only noteworthy of being in other CPM dubs and they do ok. Granted, the dub script is so tied to a straight translation script it's not even funny. Seriously, I watched this with the subtitles and I swear that the english dialogue was fitting to them 9 times out of 10. The only one that felt stiff was the V.A. For Sarah as she seems very monotone, but that's partially how that character is written. Overall, a decent dub and worth listening to; not too bad but regrettably not great.

So. I could recommend this to any fan of fantasy anime series. It is much in the vein of Ruin Explorers or The Sacred Blacksmith, that is decent fantasy fare that straddles the middle in terms of quality. It's not terrible nor it is particularly great, as the DVD cover would tell you. And on a final note, this just shows how desperate CPM seemed in trying to promote this. No really, the DVD cover boasts that this comes from "the director of Outlaw Star". I have a slight issue with this as I find that if you can't market a product on its own merits, then maybe you should reconsider Relying on other products/associations only serve to miff me a bit.

That being said, it is rather good fantasy yarn. It certainly worth a watch at the very least.