Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DVD Look: Nightwalker

I've always been a huge fan of Gothic Horror. Dark, creepy, and bloody shows have been things that have always interested me. I also love a good vampire story. Now add to that the fact that I enjoy a good mystery or crime drama, and the reason I decided to review this next show should be a no brainer. As the back cover proudly exclaims this "combines urban crime drama and horror motifs". Ah, it's like a show made specifically for my tastes. But I also think this is the type of show that could have a much wider appeal. I ran into this title at my local Blockbuster probally about a year ago now. It was so out of place among the more popular titles avaible for rent there, that I just had to check it out. They only had the second volume, which covers the second half of the 12 episode series, but I didn't mind. This series was easy to get into midway through. I was instantly hooked because episode 7, the first one I saw, is such a strong episode. Since then I've of course bought both volumes, and watched the show a few times through.

The anime series is based off of a PC game by the same name, created by TomBoy. The anime series was produced by AIC, and ran on TV from July to September in 1998. Shido is a vampire, and a private detective living in Japan. He's devoted himself to saving humans, not killing them or turning them to vampires, as the other vampires do. He rocks cool pink hair, and an interesting style of clothing, and hunts "nightbreeds". Nightbreeds are the name for lesser demons in the series, who need to feed on, or control human beings in order to survive. One of Shido's "powers" as a vampire, is he is able to turn his blood into a weapon that can kill or harm nightbreeds. Yayoi is a member of a secret organization designed to investigate cases involving nightbreeds, hunt them down, and destroy them and she often works with Shido to do this. Since he is a vampire, he is very powerful, and can use his many skills to accomplish their goals, and solve the many cases. And Riho Yamazaki is the high school girl who just so happens to work part time as a secretary at Shido's detective agency. At first Riho is blissfully unaware of the dark secrets that are hiding just beneath the surface at this particular detective agency. You see in their world, humans are unaware that vampires and demons exist for the most part. And the reason she ended up working for Shido has to do with him investigating her parents mysterious deaths. Riho starts to develop a bit of crush on Shido, and wishes to help him with his many cases. And although Shido does not want her to get involved in the nightbreed cases, she eventually does many times, and predictably enough she does learns the dark secrets of Shido in due time. And circumstances develop in which a powerful enemy fatally wounds Riho and she must be turned into a vampire, or left to die (I won't spoil how this happens). Of course she chooses the former. The rest of the series follows those three attempting to solve the many crimes involving nightbreeds within the city. Now there's a crap load of demons here for them to find, so we're ganna have to just assume their city has a gateway to hell in it or something, but whatever. I'll buy it. During each case these three (and of course their gremlin little mascot, Guni) must figure out who exactly is the nightbreed (nightbreeds can take control of human beings), or where the nightbreed is, or even if a nightbreed truly is the cause of the problems in the first place (nightbreeds are also sometimes just called "breeds" for short by the way). And this is where the mystery element comes in, as we don't know who or what is the nightbreed, and are guessing along with our friends here. Sure some episodes are not set up like this, and are instead pretty straight forward, in that there is a nightbreed, they know where it is, and must fight or chase after it. And these episodes are very good as well. There is also an overall story that develops involving Cain, the vampire who turned Shido into a vampire in the first place, and is the only one who knows Shido's true past. And Cain becomes the main "bad guy" of the series so to speak. He doesn't care about human beings, and kills many people to satisfy his thirst. Shido and Riho on the other hand drink blood donated by Yayoi, so no one has to die for their survival. And also the series deals with Riho struggling to come to terms with the recent loss of her humanity, her new thirst for blood and dislike for the sun, and the fact that she will outlive all of her friends, classmates at school, and everyone else she knows.

Ok I'll admit there's a lot going on in this series. It even manages to touch on Shido and Riho's relationship (being more then friends, and maybe lovers?) a bit. It's difficult to explain all the different aspects of the show very well. But the series handles each part with expertise, and it's not nearly as complex as it sounds. Each and every episode is different enough as to not get repetitive, and main plot does move along at a great pace. The idea of Shido having to deal with his past with Cain (as his homosexual lover I may add), and also trying to cope with not knowing who he was before he was bitten is quite interesting. And this takes a toll on him, and you can notice this. It's also another stroke of genius to have the only person who has any idea who he was before he became a vampire be Cain himself. The transition of Riho from human to vampire, and her dealing with this is handled very well. It's not angsty or anything, because her one wish is to live forever with Shido, and it seems she can now do that, but it's not exactly "yeah I'm a vampire!! I'm so happy!!" either, and this middle of the road feeling makes a lot of sense. On the one hand she didn't really want to die, and she does want to live with Shido for all time. At yet she doesn't really want to be a vampire, and she misses being able to do many human things. This struggle with her loss of humanity and being a vampire is handled very well and is never forgetten about. She is of course aided by Shido, who tries to help her and guide her when he can. This of course parallels Shido's former relationship with Cain, only he felt humans were nothing but cattle to be used for vampires, while Shido thinks vampires should help humans. Cain made Shido a vampire, and was his mentor, and now Shido has made Riho a vampire, and became her mentor. This is a very interesting way for AIC to handle the series, and I really liked this aspect of the show. And character development for all the major characters, even the little mascot goblin guy, is really well done. They flesh out each and every one of the major characters, and somehow find the time to reveal each of their back stories, and show who Cain really is, all while hunting down nightbreeds or solving cases involving nightbreeds. Kinda amazing they fit all that in there. And many of the mysteries have great twists you won't see coming. (***small spoiler*** ) Hell they manage to reveal the entire back story of one character, and part of another WITHOUT you even noticing this until the very end the episode!! That was a great twist! (***end spoilers***) Even some of the minor characters who manage to stick around a little get some development, which I really liked. However the series probably did try and do a little too much. As some of the "nightbreeds of the week" have very little screen time, so they do seem a little generic. Few of them are really fleshed out. But this is a small problem. A bigger problem is that by the end of the series, the main plot is not really tied up. The series doesn't end with a cliffhanger or anything, but it feels like there's more to tell. It's not bad, but not very satisfying if you want real the main plot to actually come to an end. However I am not bothered much by this, mostly because the last episode is incredibly dramatic, suspenseful, and just very powerful. I know a few people will be bothered by what they do here, but I really loved the way the last episode was handled. Sure they never get to finishing up the main plot, but I'll be alright with that if that means we get an amazing episode like this. And it is a good episode to end the show on. Oh and I probably should mention the first four episode are very odd. Anime News Network notes that the series started as a 4 episode OVA, and then continued as a TV series were the OVA left off. I'm also willing to bet there was a big change in staff between these episodes as well. As the overall tone, style, and content of the show changes significantly (and for the better I may add). While, sadly, the TV series toned down the blood, gore, and violence, the writing really moved up a few notches. The first 4 episodes were very uneven in terms of writing. One would be all right, the next would be kinda bad, and then another episode pretty good. And then we also have the completely uncalled for nudity in one of the episodes. Look I'm not against nudity or anything, but in a series like this, and the way it's done, well it kind felt unneeded and stupid. Also I really liked the change in character design between the first 4 episodes and the rest. Perhaps it's because I started the series at episode 7, so that is what I was used to, but I really like the different character designs much more.

As far as production values go, this is about average for 1998. The animation is pretty good. The artwork is detailed, although very reminiscent of early 90's or even 80's anime. I'm pretty sure this was intentional, as it really goes with the music style which I'll get to in a bit. I really like the style though, and the second character designs are really nice looking. The original character designs manage to make Riho really ugly looking, and I don't like Yayoi's hair at all. But when it was an OVA it seemed to have the budget to really pay attention to what all the minor characters looked like, and so all of the earlier minor characters look a bit better. So it evens its self out I guess, although I'd rather my main characters look good and not worry much about the minor cast. As for the music, it's exceptional. They went with a great jazz inspired background theme, and it really works. If you closed your eyes you'd think you were watching some old crime drama from the 1970's or 1980's, and it's very fitting. The opening theme is distinctive, and the ending theme is very good too. But I really love the background themes! Some themes don't sound like that however, and instead sound like they are straight out of a 80's horror flick. So with the 80's inspired music, I think it's fitting why the art style looks a little 80's inspired. And it's not bad artwork either.

The dub for this was produced at Bang Zoom, in late 1999 and early 2000. And it is a pretty good dub. While not amazing, and it does show it's age a bit, I really found myself enjoying it. The star of the dub is easily Richard Cansino, who plays Shido quite well. He gives that character a distinct feeling, and really understands where he is going with the dub. I should probably also mention that at times Shido narrates the story, filling us in on a few things here and there. And Cansino's narration gives the anime a film noir feeling that's definitely called for and adds to the overall atmosphere. Yayoi is played by Jane Alan. At times Alan does not seem like she's giving it her all; it's a little disappointing. She just didn't seem enthusiastic enough at certain times, and at others like she wasn't sure what she should be doing or how she should be saying it. Luckily for most of the anime she's not like this, and does a wonderful job. She fit her character very well. I probably shouldn't be so harsh on her. Riho is played by Dorothy Elias-Fahn who does a really good job. She gives her character just enough spunk, youthfulness, and playfulness to fit Riho. And she knows when to tone down the happy-go-lucky side of herself when needed. Also I MUST apploud her for her work in the final episode (don't worry no spoilers). As I already alluded to it's quite a dramatic episode, and I thought she handled it perfectly. She did a truly great job. Now why couldn't she be this good in Vampire Princess Miyu?? Cain is played by Lex Lang, and he's not bad. But I really thought he could have been better. Sandy Fox plays Guni, and I'm assuming they pitched her voice up a bit here. I thought the way they made her sound fit Guni well, and that she was quite good as well. I liked how the main cast here was filled with lesser known actors, and on the whole I liked how different this dub sounded then many other LA dubs of the time. Many of the episidic characters are voiced by better known actors however, like Michelle Ruff, Mona Marshall, and Wendee Lee. And they of course do a good. job. But again many of the other minor characters are played by lesser-known actors, and they too go a good job. So in short, this is a dub worth checking out. Although it's not really too impressive or anything. It is however a rare LA dub from CPM, since they usually stuck to New York City, so I do find that interesting.

This anime is very well done. It has a great fleshed out main cast, an interesting story, and decent dub. The production values are good, and it's an interesting mix of genres. If you plan on buying this on DVD, watch out for the dub-only release Central Park Media released (if you don't want that version that is). I own the 2 volume release from 2004, and it has both an English and Japanese track, along with one extra. The extra feature is a comparison of the storyboard to the finished product and it's on both DVDs. This was a nice little extra, that they really didn't need to add on. However I do wish there was something more, like a behind the scenes look at the dub, or a commentary or something. But hey I'll take whatever extra they throw at me. The small problems with the show, make me subtract an entire star from my rating, but I still highly recommend this title. It's an under watched gem that could really catch on in my opinion. Vampire fans rejoice, this one doesn't suck!

Prede's Raiting
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

DVD Look: Domain of Murder

For my next review, I've decided to review a little known OVA, Hello Hedgehog: Domain of Murder . I found out about this anime by reading Justin Sevakis's "Buried Treasure" review of it. He made it seem interesting, and I always like a good mystery, so I went ahead and bought it. It was really cheap too. Sevakis's review of it raised the price of the DVD a couple of dollars, but I still got it for $5.00 with shipping. You can now find it on Amazon for under $2.00, and Robert's Anime Corner has a ton of them for sale, and I'm sure you can find it elsewhere. I'm very glad I bought this, as for only 5 bucks it was well worth it. Overall I quite enjoyed it. It was a refreshing mature detective drama, something I'd expect to watch as a movie or live action series, not an anime. The OVA is based off of the best selling seinen manga series, "Hello Hedgehog" by Kenshi Hirogane . Kenshi Hirogane is also behind another mature, and rather unknown series Human Crossing.

Domain of Murder is an OVA from 1992, by studio Deen that clocks in around 52 minutes long. The story starts with Detective Goro (nicknamed "Hedgehog" due to his hair) being asked to find some women's long lost husband. The man ran away from home years ago, and she thought he was dead. However recently she discovered a wanted poster with his face on it. This women wants Goro to find her husband, so she can talk to him once more, before he gets arrested. It's a rather odd request, but Goro accepts it. Of course he has no idea where to start, and doesn't think he can find the man. If the entire police force can't find it, why could he right? Well Goro heads to the other side of Japan, and finds out the man is wanted for murder. He discovers some clues here and there, and meets two people who end up helping him. One is the bartender of the place the murder happened at, and the other is a police officer, and old friend of the missing husband. Overall the story plays out well, and the mystery is great. However there are some problems with the plot that need to be addressed. I wouldn't go as far as calling them plot holes, but there are some real problems with the story. Many things that unfold are very unlikely, which is normally a little forgivable in an anime, but I'll hold them to it for this, since they are trying to be very realistic. One example is toward the end of the anime, the police make mistake after mistake. Not to spoil anyone, but pay attention to the decisions the police make when they are at the amusement park. If the police acted this way in real life, they would get fired. Because of their bad choices they put many people's lives in danger. If they only acted, everyone could have came out of this alive, but instead they would rather risk the lives of a couple people. The part in the story where the husband kills the man in the bar needed to be explained more as well. As this is, it doesn't make complete sense yet. More time should have been spent in that flashback to make us understand exactly what happened. And the car crash scene seems very illogical. It just doesn't make sense how that scene plays out. So besides a few problems with the plot, it is actually a pretty good OVA.

As far as the animation goes, I enjoyed it. I found it above average for 1992. The backgrounds are detailed and do a decent job of showing us Japan circa 1992. It didn't blow me away, but I did like it a lot. The character designs are great as well. They go for a more "normal" look, so no big eyes or exaggerated expressions. It works though as all the characters look like real people and seem very original. They are highly detailed and look great overall. OK so it may not be the best looking thing ever made, but you can tell the budget for this was pretty high. The music is alright, but nothing stood out for me. I'm not sure why CPM went back and dubbed this for the DVD, years after they released it sub-only, but I'm glad they did ! The dub is top of the line. All the characters are spot on. Michael Sinterniklaas directed this, and also played the lead character, Goro, and he does a great job. He makes Goro feel like a real person, like Goro exists out there somewhere. All the other characters are well cast, and do a great job overall. Caroline Hellman is alright as the Bar Tender, but there are some awkward lines here and there from her. She is funny when she is drunk though, so that is a plus. Dan Green plays two roles in this, and does a great job as always. Addie Blaustein plays one of the detectives at Goro's agency and she does a good job as well. Overall it's a great dub, but it sort of feels wasted on such an unknown title.

Being such an old and niche title, I wasn't expecting much with the the special features on this one. There really is nothing worth mentioning on the DVD. Overall the anime is pretty interesting. There are some problems with the plot, but I have to agree with Sevakis, that they are forgivable seeing how rare to see an anime like this make it to the US. The animation and dub are very good, but the music is not the best ever. It's a good detective drama, well worth the couple bucks for the DVD and I suggest it to anyone interested in mysteries. You can't go wrong with the price it's going for anyway.

Prede's Review

3.5/5 Stars

Monday, December 14, 2009

DVD Look: Cyber City

Yoshiaki Kawajiri has directed a number of titles, but I think perhaps this is my favorite so far. Kawajiri is famous for directing Ninja Scroll, the Highlander anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and a number of other titles over the years. Once upon a time he had quite the fan following the US, but now he is barely mentioned. Perhaps someone will talk about Ninja Scroll and mention his name in passing but that's about it. Anyway Kawajiri is (was?) known for ultraviolent, dark, and edgy series. And this is not a diversion from such titles. Kawajiri tends to focus in on the action, and likes to deal with very flawed characters sometimes. Again he sticks to his roots here.

Cyber City, also known as Cyber City Oedo 808 is a action/science fiction OVA series with 3 episodes. The animation was done by Madhouse Studios in 1990, it was written by Akinori Endo , and Central Park Media released it stateside on VHS and later DVD. Manga Entertainment released the VHS in the UK. Anyway it is about a couple of criminals who are given a chance to get out of prison, . Of course it's not a get out of jail free card, it's never that easy is it? They must work for it, and work hard they shall. They must perform a number of missions for the government, and for each mission they accomplish a few years are taken off their insanely long sentences (one of the characters has a whopping 375 years left to serve at the start of the series). You see these aren't any old convicts, they are terrible terrible human beings, who committed more crimes then they can remember. Murder, theft, Assault, Jaywalking it's all there...wait. The city government needs more police, so hey why not take the worst scum, and make them work for good for a change right? And hey since they are criminals themselves perhaps they can deal with cracking down on crime just from experience. And maybe they will have an advantage to dealing with criminals since they'll know all their tricks and can use them against them. These specific guys are chosen because of how tough they are, and how good they are at what they do. So yeah your dealing with MANLY men here (ok well not really with Benten...but he's a true enigma). The story takes place in year 2808, where there are super skyscrapers, space elevators, and more sci-fi gadgets to play around with then your local Radio Shack has. These convicts must join up with the "cyber police" the police force of this futuristic city, and fight criminals, track down bad guys, or do whatever else they are ordered to do. And to make sure these criminals don't just run off the first chance they get, they are all forced to wear a collars around theire necks, that could blow up at one push of a button. If this setup sounds familiar to you, that's probably because it's basically lifted straight out of John Carpenter's Escape from New York. But hey it's a great concept, so sometimes you just gata screw originality.

And although the series focuses on action, it's not afraid to get a little psychological at times. I'm not going to lie to you and claim this is as deep as "Neon Genesis Evangelion" or anything, but there is some real substance here, and that does surprise me a bit. Yes this somehow manages to be a character study. A rather interesting one too I may add. The three main convicts are; Sengoku Syunsuk, arguably the main character and the token smart ass who's good with a gun, Gabimaru "Gogul" Rikiya the big tough looking hacker, who's best weapon is his own mind, and finally Benten Yanagawa, a rather eccentric character I still can't put my finger on. As the series progresses it becomes apparent one episode will be devoted to each character, and I rather liked this format. A major point of the series is dealing with who these criminals are and how they interact with others. And although we never learn too much, it does give us great insight into who these people are, why they are criminals, and why they are so screwed up. This is perhaps Cyber City's deepest aspects. Although this does get brushed aside many times for more focus on the great action scenes, you have to respect the attempt. And the action scenes were some great stuff too I may add. But of course, on the large this is a shallow, yet fun action series. I did enjoy the fact that some deeper issues are at least dealt with a little bit. The action scenes are very crazy, exciting, and very well done. They are very violent, bloody and well choreographed. The action scenes have a style to them only Kawajiri can really pull off, and they are very fun! Oh and of course they are extremely over the top, but you figured that out that by now didn't you? Another strong point of the series is the interactions between the three main characters, and between their boss Hasagawa. Many a time Hasagawa will order them to do something, the characters will say that it is clearly impossible, and Hasagawa just won't give a damn. He demands it to be done, and so he sets their collars to blow up in only an hour's time! "Get to it boys!" He'll say. He's never interested in what these guys have to say, and they always try and get back at him with little smart remarks when they can. The way the three main convicts play off each other is also interesting. The characters bickering and bantering never manages to get old. Benten is usually the butt of Sengoku's jokes, and the way Benten re-acts is usually very funny. A great example of this is when Benten must slowly try and get down a hallway that's rigged with a top of the line security system. He has to slowly make his way down the hallway, and avoid tripping any of the sensor lasers and activating the system. He also has to avoid being killed by the lasers because when they kill whoever they hit. Sengoku is told to try and find away around the system, and when he does, he is told to go ahead and try and complete the mission without Benten. When he manages to do everything on his own and come out, he sees Benten and yells "That's as close as you GOT? Well nevermind..." Cleary he's screwing with Benton here. The way this all happened made me fall off my seat. It was really hilarious. Gogul is usally the more reasonable one of the three, and tells one of them not to run off and do something because it may get them killed, so of course the ignore him and go do it anyway! Hah these three sure understand the basics of teamwork don't they? It's a miracle they don't all die. The many missions these characters go on for the city are never as straight forward as Snake Plissken's quest to retrieve the President in Escape from New York. Each mission is very unique, and pushed to their absolute limits. For example the first episodes mission requires Sengoku to save 50,000 people held hostage in a super-skyscraper. Yeah they don't screw around. Not 500, not 5,000, but 50,000 people are at risk here. And that's really how big the building is too. This is the strongest episode in the series, although each episode has it's own little charm. And all the missions are very over the top in style. Again this is probably intentional, and they're never really campy. The series is very dark, gloomy, and a little depressing at times. But this is countered with a great sense of humor, that relies on dark comedy, and never failed to get me to laugh.

As for the artwork in this series, it's VERY well detailed for a 1990 production. This was perhaps top of the line animation and artwork of this era. So there's very little to complain about. This is probably as good as it gets for early 90's anime, so do enjoy. The art style is done in a gloomy, depressing style. But it may be a little too gloomy at times. The color palette is filled with dark blues, something Kawajiri seems to really like and this adds to the sci-fi feeling the show has going for it. Backgrounds are very well detailed and show off the futuristic skylines very well. I really liked the style of the character designs here. They are very flashy, futuristic, and yet still look like real human beings. The 4 main characters each look VERY distinct. You would never confuse these guys for any other anime characters out there, and instantly know what show they are from when you see them. All the minor characters are well done too, and a lot of thought went into each and every one. The characters are never cluttered, but still drawn in great detail. Some of the female characters do look a bit boring when compared to your regular hot anime chick, but they do have realistic bodies and faces, so you really can't complain. The the animation is fluid, never choppy, and always moving. As I said high quality production here. The fight scenes really show off what Madhouse can do, and they look amazing.

As for the music, this has a very futuristic-rock type of music thing going on. And I really liked the distinct style of music used. From the hard rock opener, to the more techno inspired background themes everything seems to work quite well. While not something you'll really want to listen to outside of the show, it is some really good music. Each theme helps to complement each scene and I liked how different the music in this sounded then in most anime. While not a favorite soundtrack of mine or anything, it's still very good. I should probably also mention that for the UK release Manga UK produced their own original soundtrack. While I have not watched the show with this soundtrack on (sadly it's not included in the CPM DVDs, they only have the original soundtrack), I have heard clips of it. And it is also a great soundtrack. I really liked the different tone they gave the music as well, although I do think that the original Japanese soundtrack is a little better. Still this has a very nice 80's pop/techno style that's fitting for this type of show, although it does kind of age the show more then the original soundtrack. As far as the dub goes, well it's incredbly good. This was dubbed in the mid 90's so for that time period, to get this good of a dub is really something else. It blows my mind that this dub came out so long ago, because it could hold up well against dubs coming out today. Sure it's not perfect, there are some problems of course. But the style and way in which it was done feels very much like a post 2000 dub. Ok so it may not be the best dub you ever heard, but for this time period I dare you to find something better. This was really an all around good dub.Michael Bakewell directed this for Manga UK, so it's really no surprise when you think about it. He also directed the dubs on A Wind Named Amnesia ( a past review), and Dominion Tank Police which were both also quite good. The dub for this is filled with so much profanity that it makes the dub on Black Lagoon seem tame. The F-word is used in between as many words as possible, and somehow this all works. I mean they are all criminals after all. I don't want to listen to them talk like preschoolers or preists. And all the other curse words you love are there, and probably a few you've never even heard of. And this just works perfectly. It's very similar to the dub on Gantz, for example and I must say it does help give this show the edge it needs. I don't know if I'd enjoy this show this much if not for the epic dub. The amount of cursing, and the funny way they all curse really helps make this dub a winner in my eyes.

Bruce Martin plays Sengoku, who curses the most out out of the three. And many times it's laugh out loud funny the things he says. This is intentional humor, and you gatta love it. Bruce Martin has some great one liners. The way he says certain lines like, "Now then young man, it's far to late for a little man like you to be out on his own. It's way past your bead time Mother F*cker!" always manage to crack me up. Ok so maybe I have the sense of humor of a 13 year old, but really this never gets old for me. Also keep your ears open for his answer to why he can't take some girl out for dinner at the end of the first episode. That's the funniest line in the entire show. And Martin pulls this off perfectly. Bruce Martin has just enough gruff in his voice to make his character sound right, and just enough youthfulness that comes out that really gives his character some flavor. He always knows what feeling to put behind his lines, and doesn't have a bad line in the entire series. He's at top of his game. Sean Barrett, who I'll always remember as Lieutenant Britain from Dominion Tank Police, plays Gogul and he is also quite good. Sure one or two lines are a little awkward, but really he's almost always great. He plays these older, bigger, and more in charge type characters well in my opinion, so he fits right in here. He has a little older sounding voice, that's very gruffy (like he's been smoking and drinking too much), and it really fits the character. His acting is very good most of the time as well. Daniel Flynn plays Benten, and really does a perfect job at this. Benten is just a little eccentric, very sarcastic, and always thinking about something deeply. Flynn could have easily not thought much about this however, and just given the guy a crazy, weird voice. But no, he's very genuine here and sounds like a real person you'd meet on the street. He's very good with the dry wit and sarcasm, and has a freshness in his voice that you can't miss. He's a very good actor and also never gives a bad line. Hasegawa is played by Bob Sherman, and he is perhaps the weakest part of this dub. A few of his lines from time to time sound awkward, and some things he says do not have the right feeling behind them at times. But again let me point out he's not terrible, he's not bad, he's not even mediocre. He's very good. It's just he's not always perfect. As I said, the dub was excellent, and nothing he does is really bad or anything like that. He's just not perfect all the time. I did like his firm voice, and some of his lines came off with a bit of style that really fit his character. Anyway, the dub is a very high quality 90's dub, that I think many would enjoy. Just note, there's more curses in this then most anime out there, so if you have a problem with that beware. However it's a mature show so it's very fitting. A few people may actually dislike the dub because of all the added cursing not in the original script. It is a little liberal, but I thought it made perfect sense and fit the series. I wouldn't want these characters to speak politely and cursing really helps to bring out the fact that yes, these are criminals and they just don't give a damn. Sure perhaps they go overboard with it a little, but they seemed to have had a lot of fun here with the dub. And I liked it a lot. Again, having the sense of humor of a 13 year old might help you enjoy this one more. (For a sample clip of the dub, click here. I think this is legal, as it's only a sample clip. Please do buy the DVDs if you like what you hear though.)

To tie this all up let me say I really enjoyed Cyber City. My only real beaf with it is the last two episodes were not as strong as the first. Action series are very hit or miss with me, and this was a big hit. The characters are very interesting, the action scenes are well done, and it's got great animation. Music was great, and the dub was amazing for it's time. However it does feel kinda shallow, even though it deals heavily with its characters. And although its a very fun show, I'm not sure I can give it the full 5 stars just because of that. Still its a solid action/sci-fi series that shouldn't be forgetten. So don't think that 4.5 stars means it has some big problems, because it really doesn't. This is a favorite action series of mine, although I admit it isn't perfect. Oh and don't let CPM's ugly DVD cases scare you away from this one. Sadly there were not many pictures avaible for such an old show, so they had to use what they had on hand, and it doesn't look good at all. The covers to their box set and DVDs are not CPM's best work. They make the show look cheesey, corny and kinda lame. Which it's not really any of those. Their worst offense is the last DVD in the set which really screams "Chesey vampires of the future and girly cops too!". Ugh...But I do forgive them, because they put a lot of work into this show. And really who else would have touched a show like this? There's only one real extra, but it's very good. It's the director's commentary by Kawajiri himself, and it's very interesting. It's nice to learn that Cyber City was originally going to be a single OVA, but it's instant popularity in Japan made sure they had to make 2 more episodes. Anyway give this old school show a shot, you may find you like it as well!

Prede's Raiting
4.5/5 Stars

Sunday, December 13, 2009

DVD Look: Silent Service

Silent Service is a made for TV movie, created
by Sunrise that originally aired in Japan in 1996. It was originally released on DVD by CPM in late 2003. It was later re-released in 2005 and that is the version I have. I found out about this anime by reading some general reviews of it (which were mostly positive). It seemed aimed at a more mature audience, and the character designs just grabbed me. So I bought it off of Rightstuf. You can still get it there for under $8.00. Well worth the price if you ask me.

This movie is about the most advanced
nuclear submarine in the world, The Sea Bat, and how it is used to call to attention the distrust of the Japanese by the American Government. I won't spoil how he does this as it's very dramatic, but to understand the main point of the movie you must first learn how the submarine came to be. The Sea Bat was made as a secret project between the Japanese and American Governments, and Kaieda was considered the most qualified person to pilot the sub (much to the disappointment of his long time friend and fellow sub captain Fukumachi). But despite Kaieda's years of loyalty to the Japanese, he betrays everyone and uses the Sub for his own crazy plot. He ignores orders and seemingly takes the most advance sub on the planet out for a joy ride, instead of finishing the test run. Kaieda then surprises everyone by declaring his sub an independent nation, named Yamato! This causes riffs in the ties between the American and Japanese governments, and sets up some of the most interesting and suspenseful submarine battles ever animated! You will look on in awe and disbelieve on every new technique Kaieda uses to outsmart and outfight the U.S. Navy (it's entire Pacific Fleat) and at times Japan's SDF Navy. The plot plays out very well and eventually Fukumachi and his little sub get involved. During this movie you will probably find yourself cheering for Kaieda, even if you don't really side with him, I know I was. He's a very charismatic character, despite his flaws. And he is 100% full of himself, in a Light from "Death Note" kind of way. He is sure what he is doing is right, and he is sure that it will make a better world. The ends justify the means to this man, and despite all his intellect he can't see that what he is doing may be wrong. His crew would follow him into the gates of Hell if that is what he commanded, and it's understandable why. The intellectual battle between Kaieda and his crew, and the multiple enemies they faces is nothing but thrilling! However at times it does feel very over the top, and could even be a little silly. But it never takes away from the enjoyment of the show. A main theme of the movie is iinternational geopolitics, and it is all very well thought out. Although not all of it is realistic (as another reviewer pointed out, The President of the United States threatens to declare war, but it is in fact Congress that must declare war), it is still very well grounded in reality. So overall the plot is very layered, very complex, and very exiting! Although it takes a few minutes to really get good, I was on the edge of the seat with this one. The twists and turns and crazy outlandish plot devices make this a great unique watch. it's a very strong show overall, with great directing, but a bit of weak writing here and there (I place the blame of the source material personally).

The character designs attracted me to this movie, and they don't disappoint. All the characters look very good. I like the style they are done in. While some designs on the minor characters may seem a little too much like other characters from the show, the main crew look very distinctive. They are drawn very realistically, and all are highly detailed. And an odd thing about this anime is whenever a character is introduced (and damn it they keep introducing new ones up to the very end) there is a little note on-screen note telling you their name and rank. It's an interesting way to introduce characters, and for an anime with this large a cast and this short a time, it's helpful in keeping the "who's who again?" straight. The backgrounds are great as well. The color palette may be a little too dull for some, but I liked it. For 1996 this is very well done overall, and it aged great. The animation is fluid and scream big budget. The background music is decent, but forgettable.

The dub for this is also another strong point. It was dubbed in New York City, although I am not sure what studio. The show acts much like a live action war movie would, and the actors seem to understand that very well. Although a few of the minor characters performances are a little iffy, everyone else does a great job. B. H. O'Neill captures Captian Kaieda's almost-stuck-up personalty perfectly. He makes the character sound very strong. Whenever he talks it's like listening to wisdom, and almost-arrogance incarnate. And he also makes you like the guy, which a real feat in and of itself. Maurizio Peppicelli does an overall good job as Fukumachi, although I think some of his lines come off with the wrong feeling behind them. Like he wasn't sure exactly what emotion he was trying to display. But he's usually quite good. The President of the United States (Nicholas J. Bennett) is played by Robert Jones, and he fits the character. In fact all the characters are cast well, and there are few if any weak points overall.

So to summarize, this movie is very original, very thrilling, fast paced, and incredibly suspenseful. And it's also so over the top at times it's a little funny. But that doesn't subtract from the fact that it's a great movie, with good production values. The plot is a little convoluted, but it's forgivable seeing how exciting this is. Well worth the price of the DVD!

Prede's Raiting
3/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Petite Princess Yucie

I'll let it be known upfront I am not a big fan of "magical girl" shows. Although I used to watch Sailor Moon when it aired on TV, I never really got into it. And although I watched some of Cardcaptors, when it aired on TV I really really hated it. So yeah was never big on the magical girl genre. I mean really a bunch of girls with magical powers, fighting bad guys with secret identities? Really? The power of love and good intentions defeating evil with ease, and lots of girly stuff abound. I think I'll pass. I am a dude after all. Besides it felt like after a few episodes everything was the same. All the episodes were practically about the girls going out, fighting the bad guy of the week, using magic, and getting a magical thing back or something. Substitute one bad guy for another and each episode was practically the same. But there were two series, I first watched years ago, that opened my eyes to the entire genre. Two series that proved to me that not all "magical girl" shows are about that stuff, and really both just blew me away. One of them is Princess Tutu ( a future review) which is still talked about a lot today. It got a lot of great reviews from critics, and fans have a lot of respect for it. But the other show I saw seems to have (sadly) fallen into obscurity, despite being created by Gainax. And honestly I like it even more then Princess Tutu. That show is none other then Petite Princess Yucie.

Petite Princess Yucie started as a video game series, aptly named Princess Maker. These video games, also by Gainax, are about creating a character, finding clothes for her, and getting her jobs and such. The goal is for you to keep working your character up the career ladder, until you reach a prestigious job, or fall from the ranks and end up in a dead end job or something. The game even includes such jobs as prostitute and crime, so I don't really think they are for children. The game is famous for having over 70 different types of endings. Quite a feat in the early 90's when they were released. However the anime is free from anything risque, adult, mature, or graphic in nature. It seems to have taken the basic themes of games, and turned it into a true magical girl anime that could be watched by anyone (and it should be watched by everyone!). This is the perfect series to watch with children, but adults will like it too. The anime was created in 2002 and directed by Masahiko Otsuka. Otsuka is a veteran of Gainax Studios, but this is his first time directing something on his own, although he has co-directed many titles before. And I must say he has his own style, and helps make this series become something very special. In some ways it's very different then a regular Gainax series, but in other ways its deeply rooted in their style. Anyway, I do hope to see more series directed by the man, because he is quite talented.

As for the story, although nothing completely groundbreaking, it is very good. The setting is a standard "sword and sorcery" fantasy realm, and I really thought that gave the series a nice touch. There are dragons, mystical creatures, fairies and who knows what else out there. The show revolves around Yucie, a 17 year old girl, who's stopped growing at age 10. Yucie wants nothing more then to age like a normal girl, so people will take her seriously. This is very understandable, I mean everyone takes one look at her and thinks she's a child, not some older teenager. And I doubt many people would believe her, if she told them her real age. But she has another reason why she wants to be normal. When she was a young girl, she was saved by a little boy but never got the chance to thank him. By now he would be grown up, but she still looks like a little kid. She wants to properly thank the boy, and feels she can only do so if she looks her age. She also seemed to have developed a bit of a crush on the boy, even though she would never admit this. And what kind of a proper relationship could he have with a girl that looks like she's 10!? Yucie ends up being thrown into this whole "Platinum Princess Candidate" thing going on at the town. Whoever can find something in the castle can become a Platinum Princess Candidate, and Yucie sees a light at the top of the castle, and she's instantly drawn to it. When she makes her way to the light, she finds the Queen of the castle there, and she celebrates the fact that Yucie will become a Platinum Princess Candidate. It is revealed that once every thousand years a group of girls are chosen to be candidates, and one of them will eventually become the Platinum Princess, will be given the Eternal Teairra, and granted one wish. Luck (or faith) was on Yucie's side it seems. Perhaps she can get her wish to become an adult at last!

Yucie must go to the castle's own Princess Academy, and learn how to become a proper princess. At this school she slowly meets her rivals, and it becomes clear that the Platinum Princess Candidates must grow their hearts if they are to become the true Platinum Princess. As the main cast is slowly revealed we noticed that they all stopped growing at age ten. The first girl introduced is the quiet and friendly Miss Cocoloo. Cocoloo is the princess from the Spirit World. Next we have Miss Glenda, the fiery and competitive princess from the Demon World. And we also have Elmina, the stoic Princess of Heaven. Yucie and her rivals must go on jobs in which they must accomplish tasks for the townsfolks, or help them with errands, or merely babysit little children. These jobs are designed to not only help their hearts grow, but to also learn what it means to be a real princess, and become a generally good person. Each of these episodes have the girls work together to accomplish a goal, and toward the end they all learn an important less. And the lessons are never after-school special lame either. The girls, despite being rivals quickly become friends. Even though they know only one of them may get their wish, and so there may be some hardships to overcome in the future. In between these jobs, the girls must also collect the "fragments" of the Eternal Tiara, which are each in one of the many worlds (Human World, Heaven, Spirit World, etc). These episodes are usually quite light hearted, cute, and very fun to watch. There is some really funny moments in the early episodes. And despite the pattern, none of this is repetive and all of these episodes tend to move the plot along quite nicely. The series continues in this pattern until another main character is introduced (don't worry I won't spoil much). In which after this character is introduced the jobs and fragment collecting finishes up, and eventually the series heads toward a very dramatic conclusion. The last arch of this anime is quite dark, sad, and has a lot of drama. And although I loved the cute opening episodes, these last few are my favorite. The series deals with some really sad things, and although it never becomes depressing you may want to have a few tissues nearby just incase. The second to last episode is very powerful, and it's ganna hit you in the heart. There is a very beautiful and heart wrenching scene at the very end of that episode that probably will make the tears start flowing. And I really loved how the show concluded, although I suspect many will not like the ending. But I think many will enjoy the fact that every single thing is explained before it ends. And just enough back story and interlinkings of plot exists to make everyone happy. And luckily for us everything is resolved and it does end. Although I'd love to see another season of this great show. Please Ganiax? Use some of that Gurren Lagann money you guys got.

The series has many strong points, one of them being the interactions between the characters. It's just great to watch these girls become friends, and bump heads with each other along the way. I really enjoyed watching Glenda and Elmina fight with each other. The two girls are clearly friends, but they won't admit it. Glenda would usually say something about another girl not being up to her level, in a joking tone, and Elmina would always manage to turn it around on her, making Glenda seem like the butt of her own joke. Some of Elmina's lines are priceless, and since she speaks in an almost emotionless manor, it makes them even better. Since they are both princesses of the demon world and heaven respectively, it makes sense why the two fight a lot. They seem to always be at odds with each other, but manage to come together when the moment calls for it. Another thing I really liked to watch was the close friendship between Yucie and Cocoloo. And hearing Glenda joke that Yucie is a "brat" and that she's a "fantastic" and "elegant" princess never gets old. And surprisingly all the main characters evolve and change. The character development was handled quite well, and even the supporting cast changes somewhat. Each of the girls have a "steward", who helps them along their ways, and all of the girls fathers make an appearance. And of course a series like this would not be complete without a Prince as a love interest (although he may or may not turn out to be a surprise)Perhaps my favorite example of this is Glenda changing, which is clearly shown with a fight scene toward the end of the series (I'll be vague in order to avoid spoilers). Since she is from the Demon World, she has magical powers, and when she fights someone later on you can't help but feel for her. You notice how she changed and became a truly better person, caring for others more then herself. This fight was really a defining point in her evolution and I just LOVE that scene. And let me say this is one of the few series out there where I like each and every character. All the characters are interesting, unique, likable, and never annoying.

Another strength of the show is the many themes it deals with. And for this type of show it is actually quite deep. The show asks us what it truly means to grow up. Because Yucie and the others have aged, at least internally. But at times they still act like children, and their youthful bodies help to keep them young. This may be a metaphor for young adults. On one hand they look like children, but on the other hand they are mature enough to be considered adults. It's like they are trapped in between phases, in between ages. Just like the girls here, they don't fit in with the adults, but on the other hand can't relate well to the children. And their youthful appearance helps to keep them young and active. The series also deals with friendship in great detail. What does it truly mean to be ones friend? And how much do you really care about these people you label as your friend? Throughout life we will have many rivals and will bump heads many a time with them. But can we still be friends with them, despite fighting over something very dear to us? Petite Princess Yucie has a lot to say about that as well. And the series also deals with father-daughter relationships. I'm sure many fathers and daughters out there will get a lot more out of this aspect then me, but I did find it very touching and sweet. OK so this series may not come up with a new philosophy on life, or delve into quantum physics or anything like that. The plot is not overly complicated or complex either. And it doesn't dissect it's characters in classic Anno style either (although he was the supervisor on this series!). But it's certainly not some shallow throw away show either. It's not at all fluff. It has a real heart, and the story can move you and make a real impact on the viewer. To me that is a sign of good storytelling.

As for the visuals, well this is Ganiax after all, so expect some impressive stuff. For a TV series the artwork is very well detailed. It's colorful, light, and beautiful at times. The backgrounds help to give this a "fantasy" feeling, by detailing the towns, hills, valleys, and castles really well. The non-human worlds are also quite distinct, and not exactly what you'd picture. But they work quite well. Gainax seems to have ignored their other more common styles (FLCL style and Nadia style), and went with a more standard magical girl style that obviously is very fitting. Character designs are all cute, with big eyes and colorful hair styles. However the series style of characters does look different enough to help it stand out among other series. It should also be noted that AIC co-produced this with Gainax, so perhaps that's one reason why this looks so different then their other stuff. The animation is always great, and I doubt anyone would ever have a problem with it. All in all the series looks really great when everything is together. Well animated, light and colorful color palette, and great character designs. It may look a little too cute and childish for some, but I like the style.

As for the music in thsi anime, I found it to be above average. The opening is cute and fluffy, and really never fails to put a smile on my face. It has become a real favorite of mine! The background themes don't really stand out on their owns, but they are very fitting and I did really like them. There's one insert song toward the end of the series that I loved (and it's song by the English Dub actors as well who do an amazing job by the way), and the second to last episode plays a slightly different version of the opening theme that works really well with the final scene there. The ending theme is fitting, and more quiet then the opening. And it's also another good song. As for the dub, I really loved it! There's nothing anyone could ever find wrong with it. ADV gave this title to their studio in Austin, Texas to dub. Austin's studio was named Monster Island, and frankly I'm kind of sad they didn't dub more titles. Because Petite Princess Yucie was quite a dub. It's a very fresh, and expertly acted dub, with a great script and perfect casting. Rachel Rivera plays the lead, Yucie, and she does a great job. She makes Yucie quite adorable at times. You just can't help but root for Yucie, and part of that is because of Rachel Rivera's great performance. Cocoloo is played by Monika Bustamante, who has a really unique voice and helps makes the character Cocoloo come to life. Really, it's hard to imagine anyone else play that character. She has Cocoloo's quiet nature down pat, and sounds just a little strange, but not at all weird. So Cocoloo. It's hard to play the balancing act here between just a little weird, yet kind and warm, and also very quiet. But Bustamante handles this like a veteran. Kelley Huston plays Glenda, and her voice really suits the character well. She captures Glenda's more passionate side with ease. She knows exactly how to get worked up about something, and can say her little catch phrases perfectly. She always manages to get a laugh out of me. But she also knows when to tone her character down, and when Glenda's sweeter side is being shown is when Hutson really can shine. Elmina is played by Leigh Anderson Fisher, who mangaes to get her almost-emotionless state of being down pat. She can make Elmina sound distant, but not cold, monotone but still caring, and even can subtely change her tone of voice just enough for when Elmina is joking around that it sounds perfect (but never too much as to give Elmina too much emotion. After all angels in this anime are almost emotionless, stoic, and always calm or firm sounding). I must also commend David Jones, who plays Glenda's father, the Demon King.I have to say this guy is really good. He should move to Houston ASAP! I want him in more dubs! The Demon King is not at all evil, although he is a demon, so he must still sound powerful. And David Jones gets this. The Demon King really cares for his daughter with all his heart, and is always bossed around by her. David Jones does a great job at making the Demon King powerful, silly, and a little over the top, all which fit his character to a T. But he never crosses the line into annoying, which was probably hard to do. This is quite the contrast from his previous role, the cold hearted and evil Gargoyle from Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. Another role in which I really enjoyed him in. The supportive and episodic characters are all very well cast, and do a very good job as well. And almost none of the cast is recognizable There are practically no long time veterans, or fan favorite voice actors here. And so it all sounds very fresh, very new, and it stands out among the hordes of generic sounding dubs which have become the norm. This is a keeper.

So is the show perfect? Well for this type of show I would say just about. There are very few if any problems I can find with this show. Not many flaws overall. Perhaps they waste too much time early on with the light hearted stuff? And maybe it's a bit too episodic in the beginning? But I find that those episodes did add to the story, and they were never repetitive. And the early episodes are vital for fleshing out and introducing the main characters. So perhaps the biggest flaw in the show is being in the magical girl genre to begin with. Not because I personally dislike the genre, but because many will dismiss it just because of that. Which is really quite a shame because the show is worth a look at. In fact I specifically recommend this show to those who say they dislike magical girl shows. They may find that in Petite Princess Yucie, they finally have a magical girl show in which they can say they enjoyed. Ok so it probally won't change your life, but the story is very good, the characters are likeable, and it's very well done. And it's a very powerful story with a real heart. And sometimes that's just enough.

This anime is not for everyone. It's very cute, sweet, and at its heart it is a magical girl show. I mean the girls do have tranformation sequences, the show is about retrieving magical shards. Many people do not want these things in their anime, so I don't know if they would enjoy this. But it's also about growing up, and learning to love your friends and family. And it is a very powerful story. But if there's just one magical girl show you must check out, let it be Petite Princess Yucie. The show could easily be enjoyed by those that are not big fans of magical girl shows, and you will enjoy the very powerful story it has tell. One with a real heart, great characters, and great production values. It's very sad at times, but instead of focusing on only that emotion the series has you laugh along with the characters, get scared with them, get exited together, and finally grow with them. You may cry along with them, but on the large it is a very uplifting story that I cannot recommend enough. Are you manly enough to watch Petite Princess Yucie?

Prede's Raiting