Saturday, October 24, 2009

Death Note

Today I will be reviewing another favorite anime of mine (and many others), Death Note. Don't worry I'll review some series I don't like too much soon. Anyway, this is an anime I first did not at all want to see. It did not seem like a title I would like, and I thought the fanbase for this was crazy. But one day I was bored and decided "what the hell" and figured I'd see what the hype was all about. I checked out episode 6 or 7 on Adult Swim on demand, and boy am I glad that I did. I got hooked. I thought this would be another series where I'd disagree completely with every other anime fan out there (i.e. Fullmetal Alchemist, Elfen Lied and and most Ghibli movies, anime everyone seems to love but I can't stand). Throw in my dislike for most Shonen Jump titles and you'll understand why I thought I'd hate this (although I now feel this show is vastly out of place among titles like Naruto, Bleach, and such. It's nothing like those shows). I'm just trying to say I didn't think I'd like this show at all, in fact part of me wanted to hate it. But it's so good I couldn't. You would have to be mad not to like this amazing show.

Death Note was animated by Madhouse, who almost-always seems to impress me. It originally aired in 2006 and 2007. It was directed by Tetsuro Araki, who is a director to watch out for. He is a master of storytelling and able to create a great amount of suspense with reletive ease. He knows what he is doing, and how to do it. Of course he was just taking what Tsugumi Ohba (story) and Takeshi Obata (art) had already created as a manga, and adapting it into a TV series, but he still proved himself to be a more then competent director. Toshiki Inoue wrote the screenplay for the series, and it's handled with care. Anyway Death Note is suspense/psychological thriller anime about how a smart high school senior named Light Yagami, finds a supernatural note book with the power to kill, and how he uses it to try and become the God of a new world. He plans to kill criminals all over the planet, in order to create a crime-free world in which he would rule. To kill a person Light needs to know the name and face of that person, then write it down in the death note. And that is just the first of the many complex and thought out rules of the death note. And the rules are not meaningless either, as they are put to good use and becomes important points of the plot. Light is later joined by the former owner of the death note, a shinigami named Ryuk (who just decides to watch the show, and doesn't take much action by the way. Very cool!). But as the police start to notice all these criminals dieing, they start up an investigation to get to the bottom of it. They are assisted by the brilliant and mysterious detective L to help track down this mass murder, and a battle of wits ensues. Not that I needed to tell you all that, as everyone and their mother probally knows this already. The paceing for the show is very fast, but somehow it all works. In fact it's something you learn to love. You never get lost in the details, although a lot is happening every episode. It's never too hard to keep track of who has the upperhand, or what this person is attempting to do and how. Anyway the concept in and of it's self is just brillaint. It's very original and very simple. Who says there's nothing unique and original anymore? Everything is just the same story choped up and changed around a little? Not this. There's some originality left in the world.

As if this brilliant concept
wasn't good enough, the series challeneges the viewers, both mentally and morally. What I mean is the series has so much going on, you really have to pay attention and follow the logic of the show intensely and actively. And you have to think about everything going on. It also asks us some great moral questions, and may even challenge your morals a little bit. Like for example is what Light doing right? I mean the world would be a much better place without criminals, right?And as he kills these people crime rates do drop all over the planet. But on the other hand he's killing people he judges to be evil, who gives him that right? He's not able to be held responsible to the people like the government is, and how many innocent people is he killing, by sheer coincidence or accident? I mean not every single person in jail, or labled a criminal is guilty. The government and media can make mistakes too. Is L right, for trying to stop a coldhearted, manipulative mass murderer? Because he goes to some real lows, stopping at nothing to try and capture this "Kira", the name given to the person killing all these criminals. He does some terrible things along the way, like having no problem sacraficing a criminal in order to narrow down his search, or placing illegal wire taps and other surveillance in people's houses! Invasion of privacy much? There seems to be no such thing as civil liberites to this guy. The ends justify the means, as long as Kira is caught that's all that matters. Same goes to Light in a way. All of that is much more then most series can say. But that's not even the best part of Death Note.

The best part of the series is the sheer thrill and excitement one obtains from watching the show. It's intense, dramatic and incredbly suspenseful. The thrilling nature of the show is really something else. Never before have I seen a show that relies so heavily on suspense, and not just any suspense, but very good suspense. The shows main suspense depends on the amazingly brilliant game of cat and mouse that develops between Kira (aka Light), and L. It's a sign of good storytelling when you worry about this character or that one, or wonder what's going to happen next. The status quo never remians the same for long, and the person who has the advantage can never seem to hang on to it. It's very smart how all this plays out. L is trying to find out who Kira is to sentence him to death. And Light is trying to find out who L is, to write his name in the Death Note to kill him. Whoever finds out who the other person is first wins. The story contains intelligent fast paced fast paced deductions, multiple dramatic scenes , strategies, and epic mind battles that will keep any viewer hooked for the long haul (as this is a 37 episode series, much longer then I'm used to anyway). There are also some great, well thought out plot twists throughout the show, that will come as a real surprise. Many of the episodes end on great cliffhangers, that make you beg for the next episode, and the show will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Also Death Note never relies on "false suspense", that is it doesn't provoke suspense to then end up with a red haring or creates suspense unintelligently (i.e. horror movies where a cat was what scared the character at first. That brings a big let down to the veiwer. Another example is a scene where the character can't manage to get his keys to open the door correctly when he's being chased by the villian/monster. That makes us want to hit the person, and makes us just plain dislike them. Plus it's just not very realistic and it's very contrived. These scenes usually damage a work unless they are handled with great care. However, Hitchcock could handle false suspense quite well. But of course most cannot handle it as well as Hitchcock. Death Note avoids "false suspense" completely, and it's for the better.) Death Note is a master of suspense, plain and simple. I doubt any other series (live action, anime or written works) will ever match up to it's ability to deliver suspense to the viewer. It is a rollercoaster of a plot, with great ups and downs, and wild turns and twists a long the way. And the conclusion (don't worry no spoilers) is incredbly dramatic, suspensefull, and more then satisfying. It ties up all the lose ends, and brings us down from our "high" of suspense quite nice. Also it's a very sad ending, that might impact you a little emotionally. In fact I rank the conclusion of this series as one of the best in all of anime (it's #2, right behind the excellent ending to Now and Then, Here and There). It will be hard to top the ending of this show! I was literally shaking with anticipation leading up the last moments of the show. It's a perfect bookend to the series.

Now for the poduction values. They are godly! Let's start with the artwork and animation. The artwork is just perfect. Madhouse was a great choice for adapting the gothic style of the manga, and uses a great original style for everything. The color pallete is dark for this series, but not at all gloomy. In fact Madhouse seems to have used a great contrast of light and dark in this series, and made everything very easy to see, but still have a great dark look to it all (which is perfect for this as it's a very dark show). The character designs are also incredbly well done. They are very detailed and realistic looking. The older detectives looks great, the high school students look realistic, and the girls all look very good (many of them are quite pretty, yet still real looking). And I have to mention that the show has a hook in it for the gals. Many of the characters are clearly bishounen bait. The illusion of debth for the characters to move around in 3 dimensions is prevalent in this anime and very well done. As for the animation, since the show is mostly talking, walking and thinking, there's not much for them to animate. However they managed to make writing with a pen look amazingly cool and incredbly epic. That's a plus in my book. When there is an action scene, you can bet it's perfect looking. Car chases, shootouts, and dramatic deaths are all animated with great care. The music is another thing that will impress you. All the opening and ending songs are great tracks. Fun to listen to, and are very fitting. But the strengh of this series comes from it's brilliant background music. From intense themes, to more calm ones, to church like hyms (that fit with Lights idea of becoming a God) and dark tones, everything is done perfectly. The music is used to hold the suspense and drama and it's just amazing. The perfect theme is used at the perfect time, and they all sound great. It's very loud and noticeable, but this is a good thing. Death Note easily has one of the best soundtracks in all of anime. It's not exactly soemthign most would listen to out of context, but it's quite good for the show. As for the dub, it's just another perfect part of this amazing series. The dub was produced at Ocean Studios in Vancouver, Canada. Brad Swaile gives one of his best performances to date as Light Yagami. He just nails the role in every way. The way he handles his characters inner monologues is really impressive. Alessandro Juliani gives L a quirkiness about him, that just fits perfectly. Soichiro Yagami, Light's Father, is played by Chris Britton who gives him a gruffy and older sound that fits perfectly. In fact many of the older detectives have gruffy sounding voices, and many of the younger ones have a youthfullness about them that makes you understand them. A lot of thought went into the casting of this show, and every single line is acted perfectly. It's a very fresh, and expertly done dub. An example of what dubs can and should always be. It's one of the best dubs of the last few years, and a personal favorite of mine. Only slightly beaten out by another Ocean dub, Black Lagoon. This is a dub everyone and anyone would like.

So with all that praise you may ask "well is it perfect then?". Well not quite, but very close. There are many people who feel the second half of the series does not at all live up to the first. Personally I disagree with that completely. There is nothing at all wrong with the second half of the show. It's just as good as the rest of it. The series keeps up it's quality thoughout and has no filler. Just because there is a major change in the style of the show, does not make it any worse. It's just different, not bad by any means. In fact I found the show to build on it's self, in so the later episodes would have even more suspense then the earlier ones. So then what's the problem? Well many of the characters are not very well developed. Many are nothing but chess peices, being used for the plot, by the plot, and only needed to exist when the plot calls for them. (Where are they when the story is not moving forward? Who cares!) So there are a few 2 dimensional characters in the show. However the show seems to have purposely done this. It seems to have decided early on not to develop some characters, and so it's not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things anyway. In fact the show may be better for it in the long run. Instead of wasteing time developing character after character, this series would rather stick to the giant game of cat and mouse between Light and L, and focus on creating suspense. But many of the characters are realistic, believable and sympthatheic and that's enough for me. Their actions make sense in the context of the show, and never feel out of place. Sure some people would like more emphasis on the characters evolving over time then this show has, but the way this series handled it's characters did not bother me too much. A little bit more emphasis on a few characters would have been amazing, but I'm more then happy with what we got. I felt it had just enough character development as to not take away from the plot, so I'm not that bothered by this small "problem". Oh and there was one deus ex machina (I'll just say "the rocket" and leave it as that as to not spoil anyone) that didn't fly with me in the show. It felt like the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and did something completely unrealistic to get them out of it. It pulls you out of the show a little bit. Although in the context of the what's going on and the setting it does make some sense. That's all that really bothered me about the show. The rest is flawless.

One note more note about the director. I first saw the anime, and then went and read some important parts of the manga afterwards (currently I'm reading the manga from start to finish). The changes the director made to the anime were done with great thought behind them, and I easily prefur them to the original. The slight changes really help the series more often then not, and the ending of the anime is vastly superior to that of the manga. They both have the same ending, but the manga goes on to show what happens afterwards, which is not at all needed. It ruins the punch of the series, and is not really that interesting. The series needed to stop at the right time, and luckily the anime knew when that was. After the last scene in the anime nothing else needed to be known. Going on and explaining more stuff is pointless in my opinion, and sort of ruins everything. Other changes, like the slight difference in the chronology of certain scenes are easily for the better, and flashbacks are used in more important scenes. The use of great camera angles, like those that show us Light writing with his pen, or someone dieing dramaticlly is something you really miss out on with the manga. And the amazing use of split screens. like those showing L vs Light, or many people at the same time during different things are exceptional, and something the manga lacked. The manga would show one thing at the time, while the anime would show mutliple things happening at once (making it much more exciting). I prefer the way the anime dealt with those scenes. The great use of flashbacks in the begining of each episode, cliffhangers at the end of an episode, and other changes to when things happen, helped to add tension to the scenes. Also I find that "watching" something is much more exciting and suspenseful then reading something. So if you want to have the most excitement and thrill out of this series, I suggest you watch the anime first. Then go back and read it to see where it all began. No offense to the original mangakas of course, as the manga is amazing on it's own. It's just a different experience to watch something then to read it. These are some signs of great talent for the director, so keep an eye on him.

All in all Death Note is nearly a flawless effert. It's a smart show, that's very dark, intense, dramatic and exciting. The show is an example of how to create excellent suspense, and has one of the best endings in all of anime. The artwork and
music is flawless, and the direction is very strong. The dub is a top-of the line effert by the Ocean Group, something sub-only fans would enjoy. There are some slight problems with character development, but it's easily overlooked. And one scene felt like the writers got trapped in a corner and wrote themselves out of it very unrealistically. But it is an excellent show. It's every bit of the hype. A smart show like this hasn't been popular since Neon Genesis Evangelion (a show the director admits to being a huge fan of), and I hope it's a sign of other smart shows to come. There really is nothing else out there quite like Death Note. Don't let the hype scar you off like it almost did to me. You just have to see this show.

Prede's Raiting
5/5 Stars - Masterpiece

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DVD Look: They Were Eleven

Today I will be reviewing a favorite mystery anime of mine. In fact the best mystery movie I've seen in a awhile, anime or otherise. Besides being a mystery, it's also set far in the future. Who new mystery and science fiction went so well together? The movie is called They Were Eleven.

This movie was originally released in movie theaters in Japan in 1986. Central Park Media released a subtitle VHS in the early 90's, and later dubbed it and re-released it on VHS in 1996. Luckily for us, they also re-released it on DVD in 2004. Anyway, the movie opens to the main character, Tadatos Lane, taking a test to get into one of the best schools (uh... wait it's a "Space Academy" this is set in the future after all) in the galaxy. He passes the computerized portion of the exam, and is now lead to the next section. The next part of the test brakes the students who passed, into groups of 10. They must all work together to pilot an older spaceship, that is not in the best condition ever. They have to fix it up, and solve any challenges along the way. And they have get the ship working, and fast because it is slowly spiraling towards the sun! If the group feels like quiting (or feels they are in danger), they can push the emergency button and wait to be rescued, but then they can't apply for the school again for another three years! But when Tadatos, now nickamed Tada , get's on the ship, his group realizes that (*gasp!*) They Are Eleven!

There are only supposed to be ten members of the group, but for some reason they have an extra guy. So all sorts of questions pop up. Like Is he a spy? Is this part of the test? Or is it just a mistake? But the most important question to ask is, does he pose a threat? So now they ask, who is number 11?Being a sci-fi show there are a number of aliens among the group, besides the humans, and they all have their own quirks and whatnot. But even the humans have something interesting going for them, for example Tada has a form of ESP and can tell if people are lying or not. He goes over ever single person, and comes to the conclusion that no one on the ship is lying. No one is number 11! But what does that mean then? Would the best academy in the galaxy make a mistake like this? Perhaps Tada's ESP isn't all it's cracked up to be? Or is it something else? As the story plays out, the characters start suspecting this person, and that person, of being number 11, and your susptions will be raised once or twice for them as well. And as the story progresses things keep getting worse and worse for the characters. It's all played out very well, and you can be sure there's quite a few twists in there to get you. Anyway I don't think I should go on, because being a mystery title like this is, it's best to go into it cold. Just be sure the premise is unique and very interesting. And most importantly the mystery is really good too. Your never quite sure what's going on, who's number 11 or if there is even one to begin with. And the conclusion to the film answers all the questions and is very sasitfying. But before you get there it is a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions.

The characters in the film are a real diverse bunch. Some people dislike others for their own reasons, and a click or two forms, but they are still forced to help each other out, and stick together. And part of the strenght of the movie is how they work together (or fight against each other) in order to fix the ship, and the many problems that keep popping up. The way the characters interect is just great. And it helps that despite the short running time they develop most of the cast quite well. It's really something else to note how well you know each of these guys by the end of the story, and how some of them have changed. While most anime TV series devolp their cast of characters very well most of the time, it's actually quite rare for a movie to do so. But this somehow finds the time to do it, even with it's large cast and short lenght. That's a real feat if you ask me.

The artwork for this anime is full of light colors, and silly looking characters. The color palatte used is quite cheery and colorful, and the character designs are quite cartoony looking, with a bit of shojo thrown in there for the hell of it. At first it will look very odd, and unapealing, but it does grow on you a little bit. And for it's time period it is actually pretty well animated too. Everything looks very good, if you can get past the cartoony style of it all. It may not appeal to newer fans used to digital paint and CGI in their anime, but the story is so good I think they could forget about the artwork for 90 minutes.

Music in They Were Eleven is actually quite good. The music is largely synthetic, in futureistic (well 80's futureistic) vein. Some of the background music gave off a big "space opera" feeling to it all. Although a few themes made it felt very much like a mystery. I liked the main theme that keeps coming up very much. Although it's not exactly a song most would listen to or anything, as it's just background music, I thought it was quite well done, and made everything feel very grand, space like, and just cool. The ending theme really impressed me as well. It had a great sound, and the singer was really good. I tend to enjoy it when a movie ends to a great song like this! The dub for this title was produced in 1996, as I said. And it is also quite good, although I can imagine it won't fly for everyone. It's a little cartoony and very lighthearted at times, but it knows when to tone that down, and does so very nicely. And after a short period of time it falls into a more drama-like sound, which honestly fits the tone of the movie much better. Curtis Jones plays the main character, Tada, and he easily gives the best performance. While none of the other actors are bad or anything, he just sounds very authentic and natural. He won me over very fast. Steve Blum plays one of the characters, and he really did not impress me with this one. He was well cast, but he just does not feel right all the time. It's not that bad, but he just felt a little off to me. Wendee Lee plays an important character, and she puts on an anoying southern accent. Now I'm all for accents, and arguably that type of accent fits the character, but the way she does it just is anoying. I would rather not hear her do that ever again, although despite the accent she acts quite well. She was very believable, just grating. Now I feel like I'm being way to critical of this dub, as it's very old. I really did like it very much, in fact it's very well cast and acted overall. But some things just came off a little bit wrong to me, and I felt like pointing them out. And like I said this may not float with other dub fans, as it's a little different then most dubs. But give it a try, you might find you like it. I bought into it all.

They Were Eleven is a really good movie. It's intellgent, unique, and riveting. I highly suggest it to all anime fans. When I first saw it really impressed me, and left a strong impression on me. I was not expecting something so well done. It has very strong writing, and all of the characters are relatable, realistic and sympathetic. It's a real oddball of a movie, a bit strange, but very enjoyable. I found out about the movie from Justin Sevakis's Buried Treasure review, and bought the DVD from Rightstuf on a whim. I got it for less then ten dollors and it was more then worth the price. This is such a good movie but it's a little sad it's never talked about. Although being so old, looking like it does, and being as odd as it is, it's really no surprise.

You can buy the DVD from Rightstuf if you like, It's well worth the price.

Prede's Raiting
4.5/5 Stars

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Descendants of Darkness

Descendants of Darkness

Descendants of Darkness, also known as Yami no Matsuei, is a show I've seen multiple times, yet have not finished it. Which is a real shame, because I cannot review the conclusion. However for all anime I have the belief that the journey is more important then the destination, because some of the best anime ever made, have outright terrible endings. I have to apologize for reveiwing a show in which I've only seen 11 of the 13 episodes, despite it airing on the Sci-Fi channel and on Anime Selects so many times, but I never got around to seeing the ending. But I still wish to draw attention this title, which in my opinion anyone could easily enjoy. Although it will really find a dedicated audience among Yaoi fans and horror fans. I still think it has a larger apeal then that. So without knowing how it ends, the journey is great! What a series. On to the review!

Plot: 8/10

While it's not exactly original, I really liked the story. This anime is about a group of shinigamis or Gods of Death, who deal with problems releated to the recently deceased human beings. The problems range from vampires, to mysterious murders, to issues in the main characters past. There is a overarching story, with a great main villian, but it's slowly developed, even though this is a relatively short anime. With only 13 episodes, it still takes it time with the main plot. An approach I liked, but could discourage many. If you didn't like the way "Witch Hunter Robin" handled it's plot, stay clear of this series.

Now this is a dark, gothic series, and I have a soft spot for those types of things. But I really enjoyed this show. From the first episode to the last episode I saw I can say I was never bored with it Now it's not fast paced, or action packed, but instead a character driven drama, with a very thought out plot. The writing is pretty strong though out, and the direction was decent too. Now there are some great action scenes, but this series is not based on action. Some of the scenes are very funny, and it's used to balance out the darker and more dramatic scenes very nicely.

I like the way this series handled the afterworld. It's a complex government bureaucracy, filled with lots of rules, guidlines, and red tape. An interesting take on what's to come once we are no longer of this world. To think after living a life in this world, what awaits us is some more government bureaucracrats! It's a little like the american Live Action movie "Beetlejuice" in that respect. I also liked how it shares similarities with police dramas and mysteries. Perhaps that's why I liked this show so much, two genres I love put together (Gothic Horror and Police Drama!). A lot of the show is devoted to solving the "cases" of the dead, and this leads to some longer-then-you'd expect archs, but they are all well worth the ride.

Now this is a yaoi title. The first time I saw this series, I was in denial for the entire time. As a straight male that sort of thing does not really interest me. However I was not repulsed at all thoughout the entire show. In fact I though the slight yaoi tendencies added to the show. It did not feel like it was pandering to the fangirls, but in fact just part of the show. I still feel like they slipped yaoi into this show without me noticing it half the time, and the other half of the time thinking it made the show more interesting, yet a little unsettleing. I mean what's worse then a villian who wants to kill you? How about a guy who wants to kill you, but first have sex with you? That would scare me to death!

Art/Animation: 7/10

Overall I found the art to be a disappointment. The backgrounds were nice looking but not detailed enough. The animation just didn't flow to well during scenes too. However the character designs were great! I really thought they put a lot of work into desiging each and every character. They look original and interesting looking. My only problem with the designs is one of the main characters, Hisoka Kurosaki, is supposely 16 years old, but looks much older. This was probally intentional however due to some of the more edgy scenes in the anime. The animation really improves during the short action scenes or fight scsnes, and it is during these times that everything on scene is really impressive. CGI is used from time to time, most notably in the Opening Sequence, and while dated by todays standards, looks really good. It looked even better years ago, and in my opinion gives it a nice edge to it other series of it's time didn't have. Still I think it could have been much better, given it's lenght. But it apparently did not have a huge budget. Still I can live with what we got in terms of animation.

Sound: 8/10


The music in this series ranges from average to above average. While nothing too great, everything is listenable. The background music is really good at times, and fits. The opening theme song is really good in my opinion, and very original sounding. The ending theme was a disapointment though in my opinion.

English Dub

I thought the dub was pretty good, but not without it's problems. First let's adress the acting. This anime is very well acted. Dan Green and Liam O'Brien really outddid themselves with this one. They are some of my favorite voice actors, and this is why. They really pull off every line with expertise. The other actors do a great job, or at least about as much as we can expect. So if the acting is not the problem what is you say? The casting and some accent/vocal decisions made. Some of the actors seem very miscast in their roles, while easy to overlook does not help the production. However my bigest problem with the dub is the accents and vocal decisions. Soem characters speak with a faux british accent which sounds stupid most of the time, and a few of the characters sound like Mickey Mouse and Miney Mouse, or sound scary! While I can't blame them do to the designs of the characters (who do look very cartoony, as they aren't people but do act like people), I have to wonder if there was maybe another way these characters could have sounded. It's not a whipe though. I found it to be pretty good overall, but marked by bad casting decisions and vocal/accent decisions. I place the blame more on the ADR director then the actors however. Still if you enjoy dubs there is no reason not to listen to this one. It's a decent New York dub, very refreshing, but not without some problems. But if you like your subs, your probally better off sticking with them on this one.

Characters: 9/10

All the characters are interesting enough.While it does sort-of fall into the trap non-original characters for it's background cast, it's not really a bad thing in my opinion. The two main characters are likeable and a mystery to us at first. Which means we start to wonder how they got to where they are today, and eventually leads to us careing abou them. Which makes learning about their pasts much more interesting in my opinion. Mr. Tsuzuki is a cool dude, who likes his sweets! The viewer will probally associate with him, more then the angsty teen, Hisoka Kurosaki (I mean unless your an ansgty teen of course :P ). While Mr. Tsuzuki can be childish and playful at times, he is still a mature adult, and it's nice to see such a lead character. He's even a little admirable. Hisoka while angsty, is not anoying. Some may not really like him completely, but I found his history to be very interesting, and well though out. It helps explain his character, and why he is who he is. But the real star of the show is the main villian, Dr. Muraki . He is charismatic, yet creepy. Powerful yet has a weakness. Interesting, yet your scared to learn more about him! Easily the best villian in anime since Vicious in "Cowboy Bebop", and King Hamdo in "Now and Then, Here and There"! He's that good! This guy is freaken nuts, but in a way you think he's totally sane! Well worth watching this show just to see what totally disturbing and morally unsettling thing he does next.

Enjoyment: 10/10

I have to agree with the fangirls on this one! This is a very enjoyable and watchable show! While not groundbraking or remarkable, it's damn good entertainment! I really enjoyed watching this series, and hope to one day buy it on DVD ( I saw it multiple times on Anime Selects On Demand) and finish it finally. Shoujo horror (Hell Girl, Ghost Hunt, Red Garden, Vampire Princess Miyu, etc) always apeals to me for some reason(even though I'm a guy, go figure!), so this review is a little biased. Not to mention I love urban crime dramas. But still I think this show would be enjoyed by anyone, as long as they are not against seeing some slight yaoi. And as long as you don't need action scene followed by action scene, or riveting fast paced series you probally will enjoy this. If you like a good drama look no further then this well written little gem!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pet Shop of Horrors

Today I'll be reviewing Pet Shop of Horrors . I've wanted to see this 4 episode series, animated by Madhouse, for a long time now. But I only recently got to watch it, once the DVD was re-released (and you can bet I watched it as soon as I got the DVD home from the store). I heard a lot of good things about it, and luckily it lived up to them all. Pet Shop of Horrors is an OVA that was originally released in Japan in 1999, and first released in the US by Urban Vision in 2000. It is based on a manga by Matsuri Akino, and the OVA was directed by Toshio Hirata.

Pet Shop of Horrors is largley an episodic horror series, although there is one little overarching story. Each episode involves someone or a group of people aproaching Count D, the owner of a creepy petshop in China town, for a pet. But these people have heard stories that the Count's pet's are not normal, and this is anything but an average petshop in L.A. (yeh this takes place in California) . The people going to see the count seek more then just a regular pet, and they useally get what they want. But not without a warning from the mysterious and quirky Count . "Do this, and that" he says "Follow the rules...don't breach the contract" he states. And as long as the people follow his rules, they will be ok, better then ok because they get the strange wonder that they wished for. For example two greiving parents enter the petshop in search of something , and what does the Count present them with? Their dead daughter of course, only she's not dead, she there, alive and well. Only the Count keeps insisting that it's not really their daughter, but its actually a rabbit. Just a regular rabbit. Rabbit or no rabbit the parents want their daughter back. So they buy their child, and take her home. But they also sign the Count's contract, which says no one else should see the "rabbit", and they should only feed it vegetables and water no matter what, because after all rabbits don't eat people food. But when their child begs for real food, for cookies, what do you think the parents will do? It's all very reminiscent of the time when their child was in the hospital, dealing with withdrawls from some illegal drug. And just like when she was in the hospital they cave in and give her what she wants, even though they know it's not in her best interest. Just because they can't stand to watch her suffer. I won't ruin what happens, but let's just say you don't breach the Count's contract and live a happy life afterwards. Braking the contract can destroy you, and everyone around you as well. Many of the episodes play out this way, they are mostly a set of morality tales (think Tales from the Crypt or the 1989 Live Action movie Creepshow). And they are all incredbly frightening at times. There are some very creepy scenes in this anime. Some of the themes this anime deals with are very interesting. And some of the characters will really stand out. Also this series will impact you emotionally a little, which is always a plus in my book. The only real problem with this series is that (***Spoiler***) none of the characters listen to the count, and follow his directions, even when they are quite easy. This is a little hard to believe. Every single character brakes the contract with the count in one way or another. This of course leads to a rather tragic conclusion to each episode, and makes me think these people are all very stupid. Ok so I can believe a few of them won't listen to him, but all of them? Someone out there has to have a brain, shame none of them get a pet from the Count, I'd like to see how that would play out. (***End Spoiler***) Of course this brings me to my next small problem with the show, it's two damn short! Perhaps if they had made more episodes, this would have fixed the first problem of the show, because they could have taken the show in many different directions, but lack of episodes made them want to focus on what they did. Anyway this is a show that could have gone on for 12 or even 24 episodes and still stayed fresh, and it's truly a shame that it didn't. That's my only other real beaf with it. Oh and while you watch this, keep an eye out for the Star Wars and Mark Hamill refferences. Not sure why, but I found them quite amusing.

And it's also worth noting that they overarching story involves Detective Leon Orcot trying to prove Count D is up to no good, and that his petshop is directly responsible for all the unexplainable deaths and missing people. We follow Leon as he tries to prove the Count is really behind all these things, despite Leon's boss just thinking he's stressed out or worse, crazy. Leon keeps investigatingthe Count up until the last episode, and although he seems to be discovering quite a bit of evidence here and there, nothing much comes of it. It feels very open ended, like perhaps there's more about this in the manga or something? Because after everything is said and done, it doesn't really matter because the show just ends. It gave me a feeling of "ok so what was the point?". Although it is nice to have some sort of story develop over the four episodes, but I can't help from thinking that it would have been even better for it to have gone somewhere (like Leon proving for once and for all that the Count was behind everything, or the Count stoping Leon some how). But I did like how the overarching story played out. And some of the funnyest, and weirdest moments happen when Leon is talking to the Count . The way the count plays with Leon is just great. And it's during these scenes that we really see just how odd, eccentric, and quirky the Count really is. He's much less serious when he's talking to the Detective, and the way these characters intereact is just fun to watch. As the Detective Leon is truly trying to get the root of everything, and the Count really just doesn't care, and likes to mess with him, and play games with him. Watching the two interact is a strong point of the series. Although I have to mention I think Leon is very boring in comparision to the Count. But I guess it's not really fair to compare anyone to the Count, because he's quite a character, and anyone would seem boring in comparison. But I do wish Detective Leon was a bit more interesting. Even some of the minor and episodic characters are much more interesting in comparison, which to me is a bad sign. But this is a very small problem, and it's easily over looked.

As far as the artwork goes in this anime, I thought it was great. For 1999 it did seem a little simple, but overall I thought it was very well done. The backgrounds look like their watercolored but very nice. Although at times they do appear to be a litle cheap looking. I did enjoy some of the interior shots, as I felt they were very dark and creepy looking, which is a must for this show. It's not too detailed, but I did like everything. The character designs were however perfect for this show. All of them were original, in a different style, and just looked great. Extra points for the oddball design of the Count, and all the creepy monster/pet designs. The only real problem with the artwork is it feels a little flat, like the characters can't really move back and forth very well. It feels like they are stuck in a spot. There really isn't an illusion of real physical space for these characters. But this isn't a big deal or anything, it's just something Madhouse usually does quite well, and didn't seem to bother with much here.

As far as the music goes, it's fitting. It's all very spooky and atmospheric. I liked it alot, although it's nothing outstanding or anything. Some of it had a great 80's detective vibe, that felt very Jazzy, which I loved. And some of it had a horror-feeling going on, which was also quite good. As far as the dub goes, I thought it was great. Detective Leon is played by Alex Fernandez, who fits the part, but feels a little lost and confused at times. But he has a great voice, and really can act when need be. He just needed a little more guidence in my opinion. But he is useally quite good. It is a shame his performance is not as good as it could have been, but I personally blame the director. Count D is played by John Demita, who makes the character feel spooky, otherworldly, and odd. In a word, he's perfect. He really helps bring out the eccentricities when need be, and bring out the spooky side of his character, when it's time. This guy knows what he's doing, and I just wish he'd be cast in more roles. I rather liked his performance and he has a really unique voice. The other detectives that work with Leon are cast quite well, and do a good job. The minor characters are useally great, although a few are quite bad (the guy who get's a Tiger in episode 1, really all of that sounds pretty bad). But the good easily out weights the bad. It is a very fresh sounding dub too. My only other problem with it is some lines here and there feel a little awkward. But overall this is a great dub, even though it does feel like it aged quite a bit. It probally won't stand up well against today's dubs, but for my viewing it was more then adequate. Plus John Demita for the win, really. He's just nuts at times.

You can watch the entire series, legally for free on Youtube, thanks to the Anime Network. The DVD was recently re-released by Sentai Filmworks, and although it has no real extras, it's still great to own. As this is a show that was once going for over $100.00 on DVD (the old Urban Vision release) on auction sites, now you can own it for under $20. And it's really an all around great show, one every horror fan should own. Oh and props to Sentai Filmworks for practically taking the same image Urban Vision used on their DVD release, and making the cover still look 100 times better then it was.

Prede's Raiting
4/5 Stars