Saturday, July 27, 2013

Anime Review No. 61-Read or Die The TV Series

Read or Die the TV Series (2003-04)
Studio-JC Staff, Director-Koji Masunari, Writer: Hideyuki Kurata 
The Paper Sisters (Maggie, Anita, Michelle) and Nenene

Well now, here we are, finally taking a look at a series that I have known for quite some time. Yeah, that would be Read or Die the TV Series. I covered the OVA way back in January 2012 and for some time after doing that review, I always ponder about the TV series. Like Crest of the Stars, I watched this on the Anime Unleashed block back in the days. I have to say that this is the best series that block ever had, and considering what else constituted that block, that is saying something. After looking through Amazon for the complete series on DVD, finally was able to grab the full set of DVDs (rare feat since this title is out of print for DVD).

So, what is this show about you ask? Well, Read or Die the TV Series is based on a spinoff from the original OVA story called Read or Dream, written by Hideyuki Kurata (creator of both this along with Excel Saga and Battle Athletes). It tells the story of the Paper Sisters (Michelle, Maggie and Anita), a trio of sisters who live in Hong Kong and are assigned to Nenene Surimegawa. She is a young novelist who hit it big a few years ago only to then suffer from a severe case of writer's block. After helping Nenene out with some psycho-stalkers, The Paper Sisters are assigned as her bodyguards. While in the course, The British Library under guidance from Mr. Carpenter (now Mr. Joker) is formulating a grand plan involving the whole world of books. It is a romping good adventure with paper powered girls with kick-ass action and compelling drama.

Now, onto the specifics for this show. First off it has awesome opening song (ROD the TV OP). It is all jazz/swing instrumental, with strands of the OVA theme thrown in for good measure. It is even better then "Tank" (a point I will argue willingly). The rest of the music for the series is very good, as provided by Taku Iwasaki who also did music for Gurren Lagann and Katanagatari. Though, it does run into repeating tracks from time to time, but the tracks are good enough that repetition isn't boring.

Second, this series starts off as a separate story within the same universe as the OVA, even set a few years after the events of the OVA. Now, some people (as I do read other blogs) have complained that this part of the series is boring/lacking. I have to disagree as it strikes the right balance between sci-fi action and slice of life scenarios that one isn't bored at all, and even in the slice of life portions which could have been filler is actually important to the overall plot.

But then, halfway through the series, it converges with the story of the OVA (in the form of Yomiko Readman) and forms a natural fusion by expanding the world of the OVA. And I have to say, the second half of the series shines due to it. It is also where the themes of the OVA: problem of world domination, struggle of the individual(s) against authority, etc. More over, the series is crouched in the tropes and cliches of the spy action/mystery flicks (double crossings, secret operations, etc) and yet manages to be fresh about it.

The animation is fairly solid. Now, the studio that did the series was JC Staff as opposed to Studio DEEN which did the OVA. There are some subtle differences in animation, but it is rather solid effort throughout. It doesn't cut out too much in fight and action scenes, and the fluidity abounds (both in boob physics and other movements).

Finally, the English dub is very great given its great ADR direction and script by Taliesin Jaffe. He is an ADR Director and scriptwriter for New Generation Pictures, which did the english dub production work on this series while Geneon distributed it. Taliesin accomplished a great dub by doing two things: casting child actors in the kid roles (Anita for example) and getting actual Brits to play characters like Mr. Joker and Wendy. It also helps that the rest of the dub is consistently acted and well done performance-wise. Shame this group doesn't get much work nowadays, as the series they have worked on, like Yamamoto Yohko, Hellsing, etc are very good.

Overall, ROD the TV Series is a very good series and I recommend that if you want a great gateway anime, then this fits the ticket. Its got everything that is good in anime (good story with balance of action and drama, interesting cast of characters, fluid animation), and more.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Anime Review No. 60-Crest of the Stars

Crest of the Stars

1999 TV Series

Studio-Sunrise (Studio 5), Director-Yasuchika Nagaoka, Writer: Aya Yoshinago

Lafiel and Jinto, main character duo
Well, Tech TV: Anime Unleashed month starts off with the first series I watched for this anime programming block: Crest of the Stars. I enjoyed this series when it was on TV back in the day, and having it on DVD as part of my collection is very worthwhile.

Crest of the Stars is based on series of novels by Hiroyuki Morioka back in the mid-90s. A few years later, Studio Sunrise picked up the series for an animated adaptation. It tells the story of Jinto, a young human nobleman as he finds his place in the universe. This is set in the far future, when humanity has flown through the stars and colonized all over. In the process, they developed through genetic manipulation, a race of beings called the Abh. The kin of the stars, as they are called, they formed their own empire and are involved in a long war against the United Mankind Empire. Well, Jinto, in his journey to be inducted into school to be an Abh officer, he makes a friend in Lafiel, an Abh princess/soldier who takes quite a liking for him. However, the path to the Abh capital is wrought with challenges, but they are met with resolve and confidence.

Now, onto the great things about Crest of the Stars. First, this story is very good. Superfically, it a standard space opera in the vein of Macross and Gundam with spaceship battles and sociopolitical commentary. However, at its heart it is a love story between Jinto and Lafiel and a coming of age story for Jinto himself. They meet and as they go off on their journey they develop a relationship together. It is very interesting to see how the progression feels natural. Even when the space opera elements come into place, the focus stays on the core story. Of course, the core story is very well-written in terms of dialogue/exposition so not really an issue. It is full of ideas (sociopolitical commentary, diplomacy, genetic engineering, conduct of war in space) but it takes time to explore and develop them enough so none of it seems excessive or underdeveloped.

Second, the opening song is a sweeping and majestic instrumental piece, reminding one of Star Trek and Star Wars. Same can be said for the rest of the soundtrack, equally space operatic-style with sweeping strings, thunderous percussion and blasting brass fanfares.

Finally the animation is outstanding. This was done by Sunrise Studio 5 which have done work on Escaflowne, the Inuyasha movies and more recently Gintama. It is well done cel animation (solid character designs and backgrounds) from the late 90s, right around the same time as Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star. Granted, there is some instances of CG graphics but its hardly noticeable except to the most astute viewer.

Of course, the big weak link of this show is the English dub. For all the praise I can muster for the show, the dub is not really good. The vocal performances all round are very stiff and dry, with either not enough emoting or small bursts of overacting. While this wouldn't be so bad, the fact is that Crest of the Stars relies on a lot on its dialogue as the driving force of the story, with long stretches of time spent with characters talking to each other. So, if the English dub fails, the series just about fails as well. Still its a commendable effort. Bandai farmed out this dub to Vancouver and that shows a bit, especially with some of the bit parts. By the end of the series, Jinto and Lafiel's English V.A.s improve a bit, but not by much. In fairness, the dub just goes to show how far we have come in doing English dubs of anime from that time to the present.

Another weak link is that this is only the prologue tale to a larger story it seems. Well that because Crest of the Stars is the first of three series for this franchise. This is followed up by Banner of the Stars, which did aired on Anime Unleashed block. There is also Banner of the Stars II which get released with a dub but never got aired. So, a bit of a bummer. I might do a review of the two sequels, if I can get them.

Overall, a very good show that unfortunately is hampered by its English dub. Other than that, it has great animation, music and story to it, so if you can please check this out.

Two weeks from now....well, Read or Die the TV series

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Announcement for July 2013 Reviews

Hello all,

This is the Eclectic Dude and well this month, I am not reviewing it for the lolz.

This month, I am looking at two titles from the TechTV: Anime Unleashed, a block of TV anime programming that ran from late 2002-early 2006. I was watching this block more faithfully than I did for Toonami, which I was also watching around this same time. What are these titles, you ask?


July 13/14: Crest of the Stars

July 27/28: ROD the TV Series

See y'all then ^_^