Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anime Review No. 87 (Dead Leaves)

‘I kinda hate myself for liking this’
Dead Leaves
2004 OVA
Studio: Production IG, Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi, Script: Takeichi Honda and Imai Toonz

Well then, its time for a blast from the recent past. Yeah only a decade has past since this OVA has come out, but 'recent past' still counts. Also, its the debut as director for Hiroyuki Imaishi. So yes Dead Leaves it is.

Umm yeah it is about a duo of anti-heroes of sorts and their wild adventure in the far off future. They are Pandy, a buxom babe and Retro, a dude with a TV for a head. The movie starts up stranded on a wasteland both with memory loss, and very much in the nude. They team up for a bank robbery which leads to a rather disjointed manic car chase action sequence.They are however caught by the police and sent to a prison on the moon, which is a disfigured crescent in the sky. This in turn leads to the most glorious sex scene ever in anime outside of a hentai though our duo escape along with some other prisoners, leading to more shenanigans. I won’t spoil any further as this has to be seen to be believed.

Dead Leaves is a weird and surreal mess. me trying to recount the plot much less the story is hard to do even after watching it half a dozen times over the course of many years like I have. I was constantly screaming WTF and laughing my butt off often at the same time.

In many ways, Dead Leaves is a perfect display of Imaishi style even for a debut feature. Be it the fast kinetic direction and pacing or elaborate storyboarding. But this stuff is at the expense of sense or logic, its animated insanity. Of course this is looking at it as a standalone work, isolated from a historical perspective. Looking at it from a historical career sense, Dead Leaves becomes a step in the evolution of one animator’s style over time.

Imaishi started out as an animator on Evangelion back in 1995. He continued with work on other Gainax series in late 90s/early 00s (notably episode 19 of Kare Kano, FLCL episode 5, and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi episodes 3 and 12). Then he did this as his first outing as a director and it certainly feels an effort from a first timer, a good effort if a little uneven in parts and places. After that, he directed Gurren Lagann and later Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. In fact, PSG feels like a more refined version of Dead Leaves, which both in turn are lovely tributes to the schlocky era of bloody violent and vulgar OVAs from the late 80s/early 90s. Heck Kill la Kill, his most current TV show and 2nd collaboration with Kazuki Nakashima, this OVA gets a nice mention (by that I mean ‘spot or you’ll miss it’) in the very first episode of that series.

Also the release history of this OVA is rather interesting. The original Japanese release dates to January 2004. It got a release here in the States on DVD and UMD (remember those? yeah me neither) within the next year by Manga Entertainment. It also got a TV broadcast on Sci-Fi Channel Ani-Monday block in Jan 2008 which is probably one of the early times that I watched it. The dub was done by Gaijin Productions, the ADR company Amanda Winn Lee and her husband formed after leaving ADV and moving from Texas to LA. They have done only 4 dubs: this, the Read or Die OVA (arguably the best out of the bunch in my humble opinion), and Evangelion Rebirth and End of Eva movies. Granted Amanda Winn Lee is still somewhat in the voice acting business, recently showing last year in the Persona 4 The Animation dub. The dub is OK and rather apt for such a cartoony and insane short movie, in a way harking back to the early ADV Films catalog of dubs that the Amanda Winn Lee was very much involved in. Although the only actors notable here are Amanda Winn Lee and her husband Jason C Lee playing the main duo but that’s about it.

I’ll end this review by saying yeah Dead Leaves is a wild crazy but fun movie. Lucky for you all, Manga Entertainment has the whole thing up on Youtube so you can see and watch it for yourself and decide on your own.

Next time, well its time for an actual blast from my past.....

Later, my dear readers.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Anime Review No. 86 (Mardock Scramble II)

Mardock Scramble The Second Combustion

2011 Movie

Studio: GoHands, Director: Susumu Kudo, Writer: Tow Ubukata

Well last spring I took a look at the first part of the Mardock Scramble. It was a mildly entertaining and a rather good prologue to a dark and bleak cyberpunk action story, a neat homage to the OVAs of the similar genre  from the late 80s and 90s. Anyway, onto the feature!

Part II picks up right where we left off with the first movie, based on my watching the director’s cut version which is available on the disc along with the theatrical cut. Apparently Rune Balot gets in a gunfight with Boiled which is quite thrilling-quick, fast paced and filled with tension and suspense. Luckily she gets rescued by Doctor Easter just in the nick of time and beat a hasty retreat.

Balot end up in a safe hideout briefly, called ‘Paradise’. She meet others like her as well as some other doctors. For instance there is Tweedledee and Tweedledum, a cyborg and dolphin who are homosexual partners. It is a time to recoup and rest, Oeufcoque is rebuilding himself back again after the gunfight with Boiled. This is also where the movie series moves away from the grim and dark atmosphere of the first part into a more tranquil and contemplative mood. Balot has a talk with GOD, though he’s a doctor with just a head.  

Meanwhile, Shell and his lackey Boiled are engaging in damage control. Medium survived with some new enhancements and still quite insane. Boiled is on their trail and gaining fast and then with the help of their allies at ‘Paradise’ Balot and Easter made another hasty retreat.

Once they get Ouefcoque back they plan out their next strategy: Infiltrate a casino owned by Shell in order to receive the records linked to their case. Also so they can win big at the casino as well. In the course of making slam dunk winnings Balot meets a particular casino dealer Bell Wing who gives her some advice and chit-chat, some really good stuff. The second installment ends with an interesting flashback to when Boiled first met Oeufcoque as well as some nice setup for the third and final installment. Nice harp music plays over the credits with another rendition of Amazing Grace plays and there we go.

Like the first installment, it still has some quite stunning production values, though the color palette has shifted away from grimdark and bleak to a more white and shiny brights. Granted it is a bloody affair in the first half, replaced with a nice polished and sophisticated direction and editing. The second half in the casino is just an impressive sight to behold visually. Anything else good about Part II can be copy/paste from my review of Part I. At least it would with the exception of the dub.

The English Dub, produced in late 2012 I imagine since it got its release on New Years 2013. It is just as good as the first installment. Granted the director and writer shifted between installments from Steven Foster to Janice Williams. As I mentioned in my Girls und Panzer review, Janice Williams is regularly Sentai Filmworks’s Media Coordinator for their releases. Though on occasion she’ll step into the directing chair for Sentai dubs, notably taking over the Clannad dub halfway through and doing a few others (Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, tsuritama, some yaoi OVAs, etc.). In terms of the directors Sentai employs, Janice Williams falls a bit in the middle in terms of consistency in comparison to the other main directors Sentai has had like Foster, C. Ayres and KC Jones. Or to put it in simpler terms, she’s an OK director, not bad/inconsistent (like Foster) but not good/consistent (like Ayres or Jones). She does alright here with Part II’s dub, mostly by getting Hilary Haag, David Matranga and Andy McAvin back and doing as good a job as they did for Part I. In addition, there’s some good performances by David Wald as Boiled along with a good turn here and there by seldom used voice talent like Carl Masterson and Susan Koozin.

I will reserve judgement on Mardock Scramble when I look at Part III in November. Part II is a nice middle act feature with an interesting shift in mood and tone, going from a grimdark bloody cyberpunk story into a somewhat typical revenge story. Hopefully Part III will do something big and fantastic for a climax, only time will tell.

Next time, I take a look into the debut feature for one of my favorite anime directors…..

Til next time dear readers