Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
This series about Dr. Black Jack, one of the best doctors on the planet, who has an all around amazing knowledge of general medicine, surgery, and treatments of diseases and alignments . If there's something wrong with you, odds are Black Jack can fix it. However Black Jack, for his own reasons, is an unlicensed doctor. He practices medicine outside the legal realms. And due to that fact, he charges large amounts of money to help people. There are those out there who think this is immoral, to charge all that money for medical help. And they have a problem with him being uncertified, and running from the law. Since what he's doing is not exactly legal, there are those out there who would like to see him arrested, and many try over the years. He is a very misunderstood man, and for good reason since he's sort of an outlaw he's not the most social person alive. But there are many out there who do think he's doing the world a favor, by practicing outside the legal realms he can do many great things legit doctors cannot. They respect his immense amount of knowledge and incredible amount of skill as a surgeon. There's one more thing worth noting about Black Jack, and that is he has a scar on his face ever since he was a little boy. This scar is not explained in the OVA, but he got it from a life-saving medical operation he received as a child. That surgery made him wish to pursue a career in medicine in the first place. The doctor who saved his life made a real impression on him. Black Jack can at times seem cold and uncaring, and doesn't speak too much. But when does it's often inspiring. Black Jack, unlike say Golgo 13, does have a real personality. Black Jack has his own set of moral codes that he follows. He's not just a greedy bastard, oh no far from it. And although he seems cold on the outside, he does care for his patients. He's a very likable and admirable guy, who prefers actions over words. He is mysterious, powerful, extremely cool, and incredibly skilled, and yet somehow very human. He's not perfect, but he's better then any doctor I know. I think we can all relate to Black Jack, an outsider with a heart of gold, and a unique outlook on life. What he does with all the money is not revealed in the OVA series, but in manga we learn he gives it to charity. I think this is an important fact to know. He seems to like to take a lot of money away from the wealthy and give it to charities. So he's far from the greedy capitalistic pig you might expect, when you first hear how much money he wants to help people. But Black Jack isn't the only interesting character of the series.
Black Jack is often assisted in his many medical operations by Pinoko, a (seemingly) young girl who is infatuated with the good doctor. I don't feel the need to explain her backstory (because it will only confuse you more if your unfamiliar with the franchise). The series does a decent job at hinting what the deal is with her, so I'll leave it at that. Just know she's not really 5 years old, she's more like an older teenager. And while she truly, romantically, loves the doc, he seems to care about her more like a daughter then anything else. Anyway she's an interesting character, who brings some much needed liveliness to the show. I just know that she will annoy some people, but she's not a useless side character. She truly helps the doctor, in a way very few people can. And he trusts her more then anyone else in the entire world. Her relationship to Black Jack is always interesting. It's great to watch her crush on the doctor, and get jealous when another lady comes into the picture. She's not in every episode, but when she does show up I find she is a great contrast and foil to the cold (on the surface) and subdued Black Jack. As she wears her emotions on her sleeve and is hyperactive.
Each if the ten episodes of the OVA series can standalone. There is no real overarching story to this series, and that's perfectly fine here. As each of the ten episodes are unique and interesting enough on their own. I do think that the first episode was a rather poor choose to open the series to, and the last episode a bad episode to end it on, but that's just me. These episodes are good episodes, just bad ways to begin and end a show. I liked almost all the episodes, but I have a few favorites. One of them is episode 3. This episode details the story of Maria and her father, the leader of a fictional South American country. A country resembling the United States invaded his country and arrested him on false charges, for political reasons. He escapes capture, and ends up in the hands of his loyal followers in a bordering country. But we learn out he is dieing of terminal cancer. His followers want him to die in his homeland, as a hero, but the President of "We're so totally not the United States....totally" wants him dead. Black Jack is brought in to help make sure the man's life is extended long enough to die in his homeland. Black Jack must perform an operation out in the middle of the wilderness, aided only by the moonlight I may add. In this episode we learn just how amazing of a doctor Black Jack is, as if we already didn't know. It tosses around some great ideas about war, although it doesn’t deal with them too heavily. No this episode would much rather occupy it’s self with the character drama, and that’s quite all right. This is a very powerful and moving episode, especially the great ending which I won't ruin. And Dezaki's dramatic flair only makes it better. An episode that does deal with war more in detail is the 7th Episode. In this episode Black Jack is hired to perform heart surgery on a little girl in a middle eastern country. Her grandfather, a mob boss now living in New York City, pays him a great deal of money to go to the country and save her life. No sooner does Black Jack get off the plane does a Civl War brake out. Caught up in the violence he tries to find the little girl, but she and her mother have left the city for the countryside, in hopes to avoid the conflict. They end up in a refugee camp, and this is where their story, Black Jack's story and a female volunteer doctor's story all collide. The doctor assists Black Jack, who performs the delicate operation on the little girl's heart, in the worst conditions imaginable. Not only are they understaffed, undersupplied, and without funds, but a sandstorm is brewing right outside the tent. Once he is done with the surgery, and a helicopter arrives to evacuate the young girl and her mother, the rest of the refugee camp comes pleading to Black Jack for help. He's the only real surgeon around, and possibly the only one there who can save them and their children. I won't spoil what happens of course but it's very inspiring. The ending of this episode is incredibly powerful, and moving. Not only does this episode show us what war really is like, but it has a lot of interesting medical morality tossed in there. Not to mention the great twist at the end when they are all back in New York City. If you see only of of these episodes, let it be this one. For it is the most powerful, profound, and interesting of them all. It's emotional, but not in a depressing way. This is my favorite episode, perfect in every way. There are tons of other amazing, gripping, and intense episodes that I won't get into. Episodes like the one that deals heavily with euthanasia, that stars the Black Jack universe's equivalent of Dr. Kevorkian (episode #4). This doctor, Dr. Kiriko, a full supporter of euthanasia butts heads with Dr. Black Jack who is a strong believer of trying to save the patient no matter what, and never giving up hope. And then you have episodes like the 8th one, that have a great mystery and supernatural underpinnings. This episode involves a supernatural tree. And then of course you have the unforgettable episode where they guy has a very strange tumor on his stomach. There's only one weak episode of these ten, and it's not really worth getting into. Most of the episodes are top notch stuff, and have really high replay value.
This series is a gripping medical drama that in my opinion, fans of American medical dramas (House, ER, M*A*S*H ) would just eat up. But it also has qualities that will make your average anime fan enjoy it as well. Also the series is very character driven, so even if your not very interesting in finding the cure of a disease, or Black Jack perform a surgery, the characters will engage you. I find that each episode is more about the characters and the situations they find themselves in, then the actual operations themselves (although they are all shown in the gory glory). What I find interesting about this series is many of the medical problems really exist, while others are realistic but fictional, and others still are straight out of the fantasy and supernatural realms. You’re never quite sure what your going to get until the episode slowly reveals this to you. It’s a refreshing, mature and sophisticated series. Dezaki’s directional style makes each episode very dramatic, and some do become a little over the top, but it never becomes silly. Then again the original manga was known to be a little over the top at times as well, with stories involving Black Jack actually operating on himself (as if we didn’t think he was epic enough already), but this almost-over-the-top tone, gives the series a charm all of it’s own. For the most part however this is a very grounded series, despite the supernatural elements. And the art style reflects this.
As far as art and animation go, this was a big budget OVA back in 1993, so they really gave it their all. Dezaki gives it a very cinematic style, and he uses tons of great camera angles throughout the episodes. The artwork is dark, gritty, and highly detailed. In fact the character designs and overall style of the show is very neo-noir and look pretty realistic, when compared to the very cartoony style of the original manga (and later anime adaptations). And I believe this was the right move, as it really helps adapt the manga for an entirely new generation without losing all the charms of the original. The color palette is dark, but not at all gloomy. Tezuka Productions manages to have a great use of lighting and shadow to make everything seem dark, but still very visible. Character designs are highly detailed, realistic, and impressive looking (The exception here is Pinoko who seems much more cartoony then the other characters. A throwback to the manga perhaps?). A lot of work went into designing each and every one of these characters, so you won’t find a generic looking person in this anime. The animation is fluid and very smooth. Character movements, action scenes, and the operations look amazing, and still hold up well today. If there is a weak point of the animation, it is that the cars seem to be animated a little poorly at times; they feel a little jumpy and don’t move very naturally. But this is just nitpicking at this point, because other then that for an anime from 1993, this is some really great animation (and how many series get car animation down pat anyway?). I challenge anyone to find something that still looks this good from that time period. Dezaki’s style of “dramatic triple takes” and “freeze frames” really add to the show, although after awhile they do become a tad annoying. Dezaki may have gone a little overboard with them in this series, but his directing style still shrines though. The music is good, although nothing really standouts too much. The opening and ending themes are great to listen to, and really fit with the tone of the show, they all feel very dramatic. The English Dub on the other hand really stands out. To put it simply Kirk Thornton is Black Jack. No one else should ever play that character. Every line is said with such sheer intelligence and brute force behind them that you just are left in awe of this man’s performance. Julie Kliewer plays Pinoko, and she may be a bit grating to some, but I personally think she's great. She really captures Pinoko's youth, energy, and odd quirks, along with being able to display her agelessness, as an 18 year old, in a young body (OK sort of...not really...kinda). Besides those two, most of the other people in this series are episodic characters. So there are tons and tons of voice actors in the show, and for such an old dub they do wonders. Since this series is very worldly (I'd compare it to Master Keaton), many of the characters have accents. And while a few sound a bit too stereotypical (some of the characters from South America for example), most are realistic and add a flavor to the show. These episodic characters are usually well cast, and very well acted. The series has a great set of actors for the background characters. Still there are a few actors who aren't amazing. It's not that they are horrible or anything, but they could be better. But since the dub is carried on the back of Kirk Thornton, this matters not. And again most smaller roles are of good to great quality. This is one of CPM's better dubs, and oddly enough was done in L.A., by Magnitude 8 Post/ ZRO Limit Productions, with the help of Tezuka Productions. It helps give it a flavor all to its own. And again comparable only to the dub on Master Keaton (The Ocean Group, Vancouver). Both have their respective amazingly powerful and perfect lead actor (Ted Cole - Keaton, Kirk Thornton- Black Jack) and have a great actress play the recurring little girl (Keaton's Daughter - Kelly Sheridan, Pinoko - Julie Kliewer) and sometimes good, sometimes not so good, actors for the many background and episodic characters.
Central Park Media's release (DVDs) have their general art gallery extras, but also some thing very special. Great commentaries by the master himself, Osamu Dezaki. Dezuki details in depth what he did on this series, certain techniques he uses, the meaning of certain things, and he even goes over specific scenes. These are very informative commentaries. Some of the more interesting things to learn here include: how Dezaki got involved in the project in the first place, some general information of Desuki’s past at Mushi Production, what Dezuki feels is the reason for Pinoko in the original manga and the OVAs, how he makes the action scenes more powerful, and how he picked what to adapt from the original manga. This is the type of commentary we rarely get anymore, but I just love!! If you want to own this great show you can still buy CPM's DVDs on rightstuf.com (Buy volumes 1,2 and 3, and collection 2, and you will have the entire series. This is how I own it). You can also buy it through iTunes, if you'd rather do that. And at a $1.99 an episode that's a great way to test out this series. The movie which Manga Entertainment released and I have not seen (which goes along with this series) can be bought on amazon, and at Robert's Anime Corner Store . The manga is easy to find at most places as well, since it's being re-released by Vertical Inc at the moment. And I already said Cruncyroll has the new TV series streaming. Black Jack is a legendary series in Japan. It's up there with Astro Boy and it's easy to see why. It's a shame it's not as well known here in the West, but do check it out. Perhaps you too will love the series.
*some parts of this review are taken from an older review I wrote over a year ago
Sunday, August 8, 2010
As I mentioned before, in my review of Judge, there are certain anime series out there that walk the line between highbrow films and lowbrow trash. And Golgo 13: The Professional is another prime example. Sure there's gratuitous sex scenes, explicit violence, and just tons of trashy scenes, but the way it's all put together really shows some great style and sophistication. It is only when one glances at the director, that this starts to make sense. Golgo 13 was directed by none other then Osamu Dezaki. And he brings his personal style to this film, which really adds to the overall production. Dezaki often uses triple takes, dramatic pauses, and other innovative techniques in the movie. And while in the 10 episode OVA series of Black Jack this became a little annoying after awhile (although still very cool), in a feature film that clocks in at just under an hour and a half this works out perfectly. It never has the time to become tiresome or boring.
Well I guess I should get on to what the film is about. Golgo 13: The Professional is the first anime adoption of the long running manga series of the same name by Takao Saito (kind of...). It's a popular Seinen manga, well known in Japan that's been running for over 40 years now. The manga is entirely episodic, with no overarching storyline, and very few returning characters besides Golgo himself. Golgo (also known as Duke Togo ) is an assassin-for-hire, one of the best in the world, and the stories in the manga often depict him either killing someone for a client with his patented and personalized M16 sniper rifle, or staying one step ahead of someone who's trying to kill him. The movie combines both aspects of this into one. Golgo is hired to kill the son of a wealthy oil tycoon, and accomplishes this job with ease. But the oil tycoon, Leonard Dawson, devastated by watching his son die in front of him, vowes to get revenge. He will kill Duke Togo, the man who murdered his son, if it's the last thing he does. He hires thugs, goons, and other assassins to kill Duke. He even manages to use his power and influence to weasel the U.S. Army, the FBI, and the CIA into helping him kill Duke Togo. The most interesting person trying to kill Duke is the mutant named Snake. And it's no fun at all to describe him to you. As he is without a doubt the best part of the entire movie. So you're just going to have to watch this film and see why he is such a great (and truly insane) character. His fight with Duke in the elevator is one of my all time favorite fight scenes, PERIOD. It's just something everyone should see! For those paying attention, and not just watching for the excellent fight scenes (and/or the sex scenes) there is a great twist in the end, which helps explain a lot about Leonard Dawson's motives. The movie is a testosterone trip. In essence all this movie does is alternate between huge manly man duking it out with Golgo and Golgo screwing all the hot chicks (and he even keeps that same smug expression on his face while screwing them!). But it's not done in a way were the plot is completely horrible, and I respect that. I hate it when terrible writing works its way into these types of films. All of this fighting is completely over-the-top of course, but that's a good thing here. And although the story is decent, and the fight scenes amazing, it's the characters that make the film. We may learn very little about Golgo, but he still manages to be an interesting character. He's incredibly skilled with all types of weapons, and can kill people faster then you can say their name. He's completely unemotional, has no qualms about killing ANYONE, and is just down right cool. Not to mention just his character existing raises questions about why anyone would ever want to be an assassin in the first place. What type of life can you live when your job is killing people for cold hard cash? Leonard Dawson's need for revenge helps make the character even more fascinating then he otherwise would have been. He has almost unlimited resources, and an incredible amount of power, yet his failure to kill Duke time and time again only makes his will stronger. I have to have at least an ounce of respect for someone so determined. There is a great scene later in the movie that shows just how far he is willing to go to get his revenge, but I won't spoil this. And although it paints the character in terrible light, it makes him all the more interesting. Some of the other assassins like Gold and Silver are also quite intriguing. But as I said before, Snake is amazing! Watch the movie for Snake, and Snake alone and you will not be disappointed. He is easily one of my all time favorite villains. And the leaders of the CIA, FBI and US Army are also quite nuts, and interesting to watch. I like to watch the little bickering between each of them. As for the women, they are all immensely beautiful, and pretty cool people. I wouldn't call them all "likeable" but they are at the very least a little sympathetic.
TMS Entertainment, famouse for the Lupin III and Case Closed/Detective Conan series, animated Golgo 13: The Professional. The artwork in this movie is unique. Nothing else out there looks quite like this. It's cinematic, and yet looks like it's straight out of the pages of some gritty underground western comic book at the same time. The character designs are all very well done. Each person looks completely different from one another, and you can tell a lot of work went into each and every character. Again the style of character designs makes the movie seem cinematic, yet gritty and decrepit. And the characters look like they could easily have come from the original manga (well the better character designs from the manga at least. The Golgo 13 manga is known for having some poor art now and again depending on who is drawing it at the time). The girls are all smoking hot, the men real manly men, and Snake...is Snake. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed for such an old film, and everything looks wonderful together. It's just all very nice too look at. Sure everything is dirty, old, and dark, but it's done in a way that it looks great when it all comes together. It really helps build an atmosphere. Then you have all the different camera angles used, that really help the film ground the audience. We understand how we should feel during each scene. Dezaki is a master at making anything look dramatic, and this film was the perfect chance for him to showcase his talents. Just the way Dezaki and his team animate certain scenes, like an explosion, or a car chase, really can manage to get the audience excited. This is a well made action movie, from top to bottom. The animation is stunning for such an old film. The budget on this must have been through the roof. And let's not forget the CGI. Golgo 13: The Professional was one of the first anime movies to use 3-D CGI (Computer Generated Images). And although it's only used for one scene, it has to be mentioned. This film came out in 1983, and for that time period I can't believe that this was even possible. I can't even imagine how much money this one scene must have cost. It's comparable to (early) PlayStation 1 or Nintendo 64 graphics. Which is not to say it's very good. While years ahead of it's time, it looks very cheesy, and it's hard to believe that it ever looked very good. In fact I don't think this ever looked all that nice to whoever was watching the movie. As the CGI and traditional animation don't mix at all, and it looks like two completely different shows, just cutting back and forth between each other. But despite it looking cheesy, despite it not mixing at all, I think like it (and I'm not the only one who does). It gives the film it's own charm I guess.
The music here was done by Toshiyuki Omori. The opening theme is used throughout the movie (in different forms) and it's a very catchy theme. The song is called "Pray for You" and it's incredibly exciting. Words cannot express how much I enjoy this song. I just love it, and can listen to it over and over. Whenever you hear it, your heart beats faster, your eyes widen a bit, and it even stresses you out a little. To me, reacting to music is a sign that it's a good song. It's a very addictive tune, and it syncs perfectly with each scene it's used in. The English Dub was directed by the late, great Carl Macek, and it's quite well done for it's time. No one will ever claim the actors here are guilty of underacting, that's for sure. But this is an intense, high octane movie, and an intense, dramatic dub is the only type that would really fit it. Sure it shows it's age a bit, but I really enjoyed it. Gregory Snegoff handled the lead, Golgo 13 like a pro, as he should. Because Golgo is not a very complex character to grasp (although he is entirely awesome!). It would be really hard to mess up Golgo. But he also plays Snake. And he's just perfect as Snake. Snake is creepy, disturbing, strange, and evil, and each word out of Snegoff's mouth is just dripping with all of this. Michael McConnohie fit perfectly as Leonard Dawson, the oil tycoon. He seems like he's truly desperate, like he really is out there seeking revenge. It doesn't seem like McConnohie is acting, more like he just really sounds like that, which is fine with me. Leonard Dawson's son is played by a young Tony Oliver, and he did an admirable job for the short time his character lived. Some of the smaller roles are not perfect, but it's not fair to nit-pick such an old dub. And even these roles are not at all bad, just not as amazing as the main characters. On the large this is a very good dub for it's time, although it may bother some who hate overacting. But again this little bit of overacting is entirely fitting. In fact I wouldn't have it any other way.
All in all Golgo 13: The Professional is an intense movie. It's non stop action, with crazy characters, and some great directing. The plot isn't terrible (which is always nice in an action movie), and it even has a nice little twist at the end. The dub is a solid Macek-Streamline dub, with a little overacting, but you gotta love it anyway. This is one of the many anime movies Streamline Pictures helped to make famous in the early 1990's. They first put it out in movie theaters for a limited time, and then released it on VHS (dub-only). After their license expired, Urban Vision license-rescued the title, and re-released it on DVD (in 2000) which has both languages on it. The DVD has an art gallery, trailers for some of Urban vision's other stuff, and an interview with Mata Yamamato, a producer for the film. The interview while short, is very interesting. I just love it when a company puts an extra like this on the DVDs. It shows they care about the release, at least a little bit. In this interview Yamamato (in fluent english) goes over in detail how work on the manga gets done, since in addition to working on the movie as producer, he was one of the writers for the manga. He then compares the film to a "regular moviegoers movie" and explains how it's not exactly for Otaku. He says when they made it, that was the direction they choose to go in, and the art style helps to emphasize this. The interview ends with him commenting on how the CGI has aged quite a bit, but it was really top of the line stuff when it was made. He then notes that the film it's self is sort of ageless, and he's happy that people are still fans of it so long after it came out. It's nice when companies release older titles like this on DVD, as I hate to see classics go out of print, or worse never make it to DVD at all. The only real problem I can find with this release is the DVD cover leaves more to be desired. It's not horrible, and I'm sure Urban Vision didn't have much artwork available for such an old title, but I think it could have had a better cover then this. Since Sentai is releasing the new Golgo 13 TV series, this is the perfect time to (re)watch the classic film. I highly recommend it.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Judge is a short, interesting little OVA from 1991 that really surprised me. There have been very few reviews of this OVA ,which CPM silently put out on DVD in 1998 and then again in 2000, but the ones I've read made me not think too highly of it at all. And you'd have to look far and wide to even find someone who's seen it. But I really enjoyed it. And I think there are others out there who would like this as well. Now it probably won't be your new favorite anime or anything, but it's a great way to kill 45 minutes.
Anyway, mine as well get to what it's about. Hoichiro Ohma is your standard Japanese salaryman, working for a bunch of corporate executive scum, and lives life quietly enough with his girlfriend, Nanase. However unknown to everyone else, underneath his quiet persona he is the "Judge Of Darkness". He is somewhat of a supernatural vigilante. The "Judge of Darkness" seems to be a set of powers and a title passed down along the generations, to people who want to crack down on criminals who escape judgement in the human world. The "Judge of Darkness" also seems to aim to get revenge for the dead, who he feels have been wronged (i.e. people who have been killed and their murderer has escaped or avoided justice in the human realm for whatever reasons). The Judge also uses a supernatural book, which reveals to certain people who could be guilty of crimes and avoiding justice. And Ohma has no qualms about taking justice into his own hand, and outright attacking the guilty people and killing them. Which leads to some of the great ol' ultraviolence. We then learn that one of Ohma's bosses who was recently sent to South America on business, ended up being killed by some guerrilla warfare. Ohma goes to the funeral with his co-workers, and other boss Kawamata, and thinks nothing of it. But later that day while using his book, and he discovers that Kawamata is probably the one responsible for the other boss's death. So Ohma as the Judge attempts to get revenge, but to his surprise ends up being thwarted by a Defense Lawyer. This lawyer also seems to have some supernatural powers. This sets us up for a battle between the two, that will last to the end of the film. And of course they do go to "court" as it were.
Now this film is entirely serious, and asks you to take it seriously as well. Which is going to be a problem for some, because when you really think about it the entire premise is just incredibly silly. And at times it can be cheesy and really corny. But this OVA is an example of what you can do with a silly premise. It doesn't have to turn into pure crap. This anime manages to be a great horror/thriller, that is in the same style as the American TV series Tales from the Crypt or the anime Petshop of Horrors . And the OVA it's self is often times quite smart. I was not at all expecting any intelligence in this anime, and to see some really surprised me. For one the dialogue is very well written, most of the time. It avoids lazy exposition, that's very tempting, and often happens in anime with short running times. This instead relies on great conversations between characters that never feel forced. They never stupidity talk about things they should automatically know, just to clue us in on something. They say enough that we can figure out what is going on, but it doesn't seem unnatural. Of coruse this leads to a few things never being truly explained, but that's for the better. That being said, there are some lines that are just plain laughable like for example "The Penal Code of Darkness". Ohhh spooky! Not! Feel free to roll your eyes at that one. But you have to take the good with the bad I suppose. I really enjoyed the cat and mouse game between the defense lawyer and the judge (who acts more like a prosecutor really. When they go to trial there are 10 "Supreme Court Judges" who rule over the case instead). While this thrilling psychological (and physical) fight between the two doesn't last long, it is very exciting. Another part of the OVA I enjoyed was the very realistic relationship between Ohma, and his girlfriend Nanase. I found they had a great relationship, and the romance between the two is cute. Of course no OVA from the early 90's would be complete without a sex scene, but it didn't seem too explicit, nor was it uncalled for. And I laughed at the parrot they had that would repeat their moaning and sex chatter aloud the next day.
There is some actual depth in here as well. While not exactly Kino's Journey or Haibane Renmei here, this anime has some profound things to say. While more often then not these ideas are thrown aside for some good supernatural fights, it does attempt to make some statements. There is a real attempt at philosophizing here, ideas of why we should or shouldn't defend criminals in court are tossed around (I admit lightly). And there is also some metathinking about mankinds need or desire to judge it's self. Which I found entirely interesting (Which may be because I'm a double major in Jurisprudence and Political Science and wish to go to Law School...but I'm sure someone else out there will like this too). There are some real good quotes here by the defense lawyer, "Who are we to decide what is right and what is wrong. What arrogance is this that allows us to pass judgement on another". and "Only God can be the judge of man's behavior". The show is quick to point out the flaws and dangers that go along with being a bit too eager to take justice into our own hands. But along with this comes the humanly need and desire to punish the truly guilty who avoid the law. I felt drawn in here, at one hand rooting for the Judge to rid us of criminals, but eager to make sure only the guilty get punished. I am reminded of Light's desire as Kira to rid the world of criminals in Death Note. And the OVA is incredibly smart here, keeping who is responsible for the death of Ohma's boss a mystery up until the end of the OVA. Is Kawamata the horrible excuse of a human being we think he is or not? Was he willing to have his best friend killed for his career? Or was it really just some bad luck and his friend really was just killed by the guerrillas? And when the dead guy himself takes the stand at this trial, he may surprise you with what he has to say. Now someone will surely go watch this now and then say to themselves I'm thinking way too much into this. And that may be true. But I believe that you'll get out of this, what you put into it. And I feel there is definitely at least an attempt at some philosophy here, although it's often thrown aside for other things. Now if this works or not, that is going to be entirely subjective.
The production values here are about average for 1991. The art is a little too simple for it's own good, but still has a cinematic and gritty style to it that I liked. The character designs are good, with realistic characters that all look distinct (even the minor characters). The guys look like real salarymen, and the women look attractive yet realistic. Kawamata is the odd man out here though. He is bug eyed, and kind of goofy looking, at yet somehow fitting. The monster and demon designs are actually incredibly well done. I was afraid we would have another Psychic Wars on our hands here (by which I mean poorly designed, and laughably bad looking monsters and demons). But thankfully it seems this anime had a decent budget, and it was spent on creating some really creepy and disturbing looking demons, monsters, and spirits. The backgrounds look alright, but they aren't detailed enough in my opinion. And the animation is about average for an OVA of this time, neither impressing nor disappointing. The music too, does not really standout, but does it's job well enough. The dub is another old Manga Video UK dub, which CPM and Manga UK split the cost of. It was dubbed in London, England by a British and Canadian cast, putting on American accents. And it was directed by one of my favorite ADR Directors, Michael Bakewell (see my reviews on A Wind Named Amnesia and Cyber City). In short the dub does not disappoint. While it shows it's age a little bit, I do suggest watching it. There's very few if any awkward lines here, and the acting is quite good overall. I also found it was incredibly well cast. Ian Tyler for example fits Ohma perfectly. He has a mousey voice, that's not really annoying, and sounds exactly like what I'd imagine this salaryman would sound like. My only problem here, is Tyler often talks way too fast, trying to get all the dialogue in. With a little re-working of the script, maybe this could have been avoided. But he's still really good. Sadly when he's talking as the Judge, he does this odd thing with his voice to try and disguise it, and it sounds really corny. This reminded me of the new Batman movies with Christian Bale doing that stupid thing with his voice when he's Batman. In both cases it's a vigilante trying to disguise their voice, and in both cases it just does not work. Luckily the Judge doesn't talk too much. Nanase is played by Barbara Barnes, who I just loved in this role. She's a very good actress, and really impressed me here. And I loved her voice! However she does have a high pitched voice, that will probably bother some people. I found it fitting, but then again I loved Elisa Wain in Patlabor and Maze, who's high pitched voice is akin to nails on a blackboard for most people. So my opinion on this kind of thing is very "out there" if you will. Peter Whitman plays Kawamata and he completely nailed it! He's perfect here! At times he sounds cowardly, at other times up to no good, and other times very businesslike. His voice sounds just like any professional businessman would sound, and he does a great job overall. Another thing I'd like to point out here is all the extras and small roles are very good. They all sound very natural, and this makes the anime feel like a live action movie.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Welcome to the NHKWelcome to the NHK is an anime TV Series that’s 24 episodes long and aired in Japan in 2006. The anime follows a college drop out-turn hikikomori, Tatsuhiro Sato as he lives his life, deals with depression and how he attempts to once again become a functioning person in society. A hikikomori is a practically a person living as a recluse, shut up in their home, who chooses to separate themselves from society. They are afraid to leave their houses, stay clear of social situations, and often spend long periods of the day sleeping. This is becoming somewhat of a problem in Japan (among other places) with many 20-something year olds, where it is possible for the parents of the person to fully support them. Sato spends his days watching TV, sleeping, and just wasting his life away. He’s even too afraid to step out of his apartment and go next door to complain to his neighbor who has been playing the same annoying anime theme, over and over again, for more then a month now. Sato also is a huge conspiracy nut, something he seems to have picked up from one of his friends from High School, Hitomi (who is seen in flashbacks and becomes an important character). He seems to blame “the NHK” (a Japanese TV cooperation) for all of his problems, including being a hikikomori.
One day out of the blue he meets a mysterious girl named Misaki, who claims to be able to cure him. This starts a chain of events that eventually leads to him getting help from her, taking “lessons” at the park outside his apartment building late at night, one of the few places he feels safe going to. The huge mystery of who Misaki really is, why she is doing this, and what exactly are her feeling toward Sato are a major theme of the anime. And they are slowly teased out throughout the show, but most of the answers are given toward the end. This mystery is very interesting, and makes the viewer care about the show. And the big reveal toward the end works perfectly, and answers everything we need to know. The last few episodes are incredibly dramatic. However the final episode does not end the show well at all. Some romance was hinted at early on, yet after the midpoint this seems to disappear, with hope that it will return to the surface by the end. Yet at the end, it doesn’t come back. Which is a huge letdown. But even besides that point, the ending is a just a bit of a disappointment. After the huge emotional roller coaster, especially of the last few episodes, this just feels like a cop out. It is just not a very satisfying ending. . If the series has one major flaw, it is the very poor ending, in comparison to the rest of the show, which is very well written.
This is a drama/slice of life anime, and although there is some dark humor mixed in there, it’s best to look at it as a drama. It can even become quite depressing; so don’t go into this looking for a fun time. But they use enough comedy relief (and at the perfect time) to prevent it from becoming unbearable. Still it is largely a realistic drama (minus Sato’s surreal hallucinations), and it’s very down to earth. Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two while watching it, it can be quite emotional at times. It’s a psychological anime, showing us how hikikomoris live, what they struggle with, and finally a possible way out. But it also deals heavily with Otaku Culture. Sato’s neighbor, turns out to be an old friend of his, Kaoru Yamazaki . Yamazaki is a huge Otaku, and eventually the two end up on a quest to developing a great hentai game, which runs along side Misaki’s attempts to cure Sato. Yamazaki also succeeds in turning Sato into a huge anime nerd, and NHK does not shy away from showing the more risqué and controversial parts of anime fandom. Which I admire in a show. This is a very honest series, and I for one would like to see more anime like this. This is a more mature anime, and so with that comes it’s tendency to get a little perverted on us. There is some fan service, but it’s usually limited to Sato’s imagination. But with this type of content also comes mature storytelling. This is the kind of anime that will hit anyone in their late teens or 20’s perfectly. It seems like a story told especially for them.
Welcome to the NHK has a more realistic art style then many anime series, and yet it still manages to look quite nice most of the time. The color palette is very lively; yet reflect the real world quite well. The character designs are very distinct and look great. I really like the style they are done in here. Characters look realistic, yet attractive. The backgrounds are very well detailed, and everything looks very nice. Sadly a few episodes do seem to look very odd, and there seems to be some small problems here or there, but on the large this is an attractive looking show. The animation is about average, but since there’s not much action, there’s not that much to animate. What action and movement there is all right, but nothing too impressive. Some of Sato’s dreams and hallucinations are very well done, however. The music on the other hand is very well put together. The background music drips with emotion, and the opening theme is very likeable. The background music commonly uses harmonicas and pianos and it sounds very unique. The first ending theme matches the sheer overwhelming craziness and surreal aspect of Sato’s hallucinations, while the second ending theme is more calming and fits the tone of the show better. On the large the soundtrack is a real winner.
The dub, produced by ADV’s studio Amusement Park Media, is without a doubt one of the best English Dubs ever produced. It is perfectly cast, with Chris Patton playing the lead incredibly well. Greg Ayres is very funny as Yamazki, and I cannot imagine anyone else every playing him. Stephanie Wittels plays Misaki, and she has a very genuine and fresh feeling to her voice, and her acting is very impressive. She’s also the perfect person to play Misaki. She has just enough mystery in her voice, and just enough youthfulness that everything comes together perfectly. Perhaps this is why she’s one of my new favorite voice actors. She has made a real impression on me, and I really hope to hear more from her in the future. Luci Christian has played a large number of roles over the years, but I think this is perhaps her best. She sounds a little different here, as Hitomi, then she usually does, but she does an amazing job. Monica Rial plays an important role later on in the series, and she too sounds very different then she normally does, but she also gives a great performance here. Even the many smaller roles impress, with everyone one from one-liners to minor characters do an incredible job. You can tell Amusement Park Media pored a lot of work into this dub and it shows.
The anime brings attention to an important social problem in Japan, the Hikikomori phenomenon, and it also becomes a psychological study. Focusing in on not just Sato, but also Yamazaki (the anime nerd) and Hitomi (the suicidal conspiracy nut). It also deals with Misaki later on. It is quite interesting to note that the characters who reject reality and live in their own little worlds (whatever that may be) only become depressed when faced with reality. Perhaps reality is not what it’s cracked up to be after all? Maybe we’d all be a little bit happier if we didn’t focus on reality as much as we do. The anime also deals with how life is ultimately meaningless, which is quite depressing. On the large this is one of the better dramas out there, despite the weak ending. It’s well written, has great music and it has some nice artwork. It’s an original concept, and although it seems a little contradictory to be dealing with and criticizing anime/anime culture, hentai games, otakus, and hikikomori actually in an anime, I think it fits. This would not work as well in live action; it needs to be an anime. If your looking for something unique, mature, and a little crazy, you can't go wrong with Welcome to the NHK. OK so it's not a masterpeice or anything, but this is worth seeing for sure. The bad ending is easy to overlook.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Ergo Proxy is a sci-fi/drama anime TV series that aired on Japanese TV in late 2006. Geneon recently released it on DVD in North America, for our viewing pleasure. Created by the studio Manglobe, famous for the hit anime show "Samurai Champloo", this series was directed by Shukō Murase, the director of "Witch Hunter Robin". And that’s not the only component Ergo Proxy shares with its brethren. The style, tone, and atmosphere are all reminiscent of Witch Hunter Robin, which is, to say the least, a good thing. As a dark, gloomy, and gritty anime, this 23 episode series written by Dai Satō follows an inspector from the Civilian Intelligence Office in the city of Romdo. Our leading woman, R-el Mayer, starts off investigating a string of murders under the suspicion that they were committed by androids. During her investigation, Mayer is attacked by a monster. The anime follows her attempting to figure out just what a Proxy is, the mysteries of Romdo, and the secrets of planet they live on. The plot is very deep, delving into philosophy and psychology quite often. The attention to detail, character designs and background are all of high quality. This is nothing short of breathtaking artwork, it makes us feel like pausing the DVD just to admire how beautiful, yet horrendously dark each scene is.
Just about the coolest looking anime character out there, Mayer is the epitome of gothic style, rocking crazy blue eyeliner and dark clothes, she is destined to go up there with many other famous anime character icons. Yet this anime isn’t just about Mayer, it’s also about an immigrant named Vincent Law, and his journey with an android named Pino who discovers the truths of his past, and “open his eyes” to the world. Vincent is an immigrant who was accused of a crime he states he had nothing to do with, and was being chased down by the government of Ramdo, and also by a Proxy. He decides he has no choice but to leave the city, to discover the truth about his past, and the secrets of the Proxies that keep finding him. His journey ends up criss-crossing with Mayer a few times before they finally end up traveling together looking for the truth. And did we mention that Pino is just about the cutest thing ever drawn?
The plot is very complex, and occasionally goes a bit John Nash on us. Obviously this anime is about the many mysteries of their world, and not everything is going to be understood by the first few episodes, but the way this starts off may be a little too overwhelming for viewers, and might incite some confusion. Still by the middle of the anime, it all starts to make sense, as we put the pieces of the puzzle together. The plot is very slow paced at times, almost dragging the viewer by the ending, yet never crossing the line into boring. Radiohead's work also makes an appearance in the show, adding an extra layer of depth to the anime's complexity.
Ergo Proxy is a refreshing mature anime that does not pander to the kiddies, nor fill itself with so much gore, blood, and sex that it pretends to be mature. So chalk up another win for Dai Satō.
- Originally posted on April 4th, 2009
*Official Planetzot Review*
Monday, February 22, 2010
Today's anime is none-other then the hilarious Animation Runner Kuromi. This is straight out of the mind of Akitaro Daichi, so you just know it's going to own. Daichi is a director I've come to respect over the years. He's show his ability to do off the wall comedies like this, with a lot of heart and care towards it's characters, great comedy-dramas like Fruits Basket and Jubei Chan The Ninja Girl, and even dark (and some-what disturbing) dramas like Now and Then, Here and There (one of my all time favorite series). To be able to direct anime series that are such polar opposites, is a true sign of Daichi's great talent.
Animation Runner Kuromi is a 2001 OVA, about Mikiko Oguro (nicknamed "Kuromi"), who gets a job at a small animation studio in Japan, only to end up having the job of Production Desk Manager thrown on to her. While interviewing her for a job, the previous manager got sick and had to leave, and gave her the job out of desperation! It's pretty amusing to see a job like this falling onto someone as inexperienced as Kuromi. The studio has fallen drastically behind schedule (as usual) for the next episode of Time Journeys, and Kuromi must inspire the artists to work hard enough and fast enough to meet the deadline. The rest of the anime follows her around trying to do her job the best she can, and learning a little about anime studios, and the artists who work at this studio. In essence this is an anime, about making anime, and it's incredibly fun to watch! There are many downright funny scenes in this anime, and they all are fast paced. The characters are very interesting, and very well developed for such a short OVA. A testament to Diachi's skill no doubt. Of course Kuromi is the star of the show, and she's a very cool person. She's very active, sometimes talking incredibly fast, and running around like a chicken without a head. But she has many calmer moments, like when she's at home just thinking about her job, or worrying about finishing the episode in time (something Daichi admits to doing often as well). Her ambition comes from watching an anime while she was in high school Luis Monde III (a reference to Lupin III no doubt). She's a very understandable character and very likable. Many of the other characters she interacts are the key animators for the studio. They all have their own little quirks, habits, and interests and together make a very interesting and diverse group of people. And it's very interesting to learn (from Akitaro Daichi's commentary on the DVD) that most of these characters are based on a few people (combined together to make one person).
The animation in this is pretty good. There are some really fast paced scenes, and they are handled very well. This is an OVA and the animation really shows it. Although this isn't exactly mesmerizing, it's very good artwork. The music is all right too, with a cool ending theme that I enjoyed. There is also a certain background music song that keeps popping up, that's really catchy! I love listening to that! But as far as the rest of it goes, it's pretty standard background music. However the dub is nothing but standard! This is a really good dub. Lisa Ortiz manages to do an excellent job at capturing every essence that is Kuromi. And she's incredibly funny at times! Rachael Lillis and Eric Stuart play two of the key animators and do a wonderful job. They both impressed me a lot with this anime. The other actors are spot on in their roles as well. This is a dub to show to those sub-only guys!
The special features on this disk are amazing. Central Park Media really outdid themselves with this one. The interview with Akitaro Daichi is very informative, and interesting. We get to learn some of the ideas behind this OVA, and some interesting tidbits of facts. There is also an interview of Lisa Ortiz, which was a great extra as well, at least for any dub fan. And as if the interview with Daichi wasn't enough, CPM even got him to give a commentary of this show for the DVD. In the commentary he goes into detail about many of the scenes, and how anime is really created in the real world. There is also a "Director's Diary" which is a bunch of pictures and recordings of this OVA being created and the people behind it. Which is a fun watch. And there is also an interview with an "animation runner" (or someone who has a similar job to Kuromi's only in American Animation) that's pretty interesting to watch as well. This gives you some insight as to how realistic this anime is, and the differences between how anime is created and American Cartoons. There's also an alternate angle with the storyboard that I didn't check out, but is worth a watch if it's anything like the one on the Now and Then, Here and There DVD's. There's a bunch of other stuff here too, and as many trailers as possible. The menus are also pretty cool, just another bonus for this DVD. The only problem I can find with this release is it's rated 16 and up! That's insane, I'm not really sure what they were thinking. There's nothing objectionable at all in this anime! (Well one character smokes, but really I think even a 13 and up rating would be overdoing it for this one. I find it funny that Maze got a 13 and up rating with all the sex jokes and fanservice, but this is 16 and up and it’s all very clean). But this isn't really a big problem.
The humor in this anime is fast paced, and really had me laughing out loud multiple times. Yet it's not all about the comedy, because by the end of this anime you will look back and go "Wow did I just learn something about how they create anime in a small studio?" . So overall a fun plot, great characters, and an amazing dub. There's no reason not to buy this DVD right now. I highly suggest it to anyone looking for a good time.