Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight – episodes 1 to 5

July 27, 2004 on 6:50 pm | In Record of Lodoss War | Comments Off on Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight – episodes 1 to 5

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight is the 1997 sequel TV series to the popular 1990 OVA. It continues the story from the most interesting part of that original series and overwrites the rest. It works because it allows room for exposition without overcrowding or boring.

Five years after the freeing of Leylia, the original party of the Great War has separated. However, upon discovering that Ashram of the Marmo is out to gain the Sceptre of Domination, those of the party who did not die or become King in that time set out to claim it first.

The first step that shows this is a different take on Lodoss War is the reintroduction of Orson and Shiris. In the OVA, they were one note characters who appeared very briefly and didn’t get to say much. Here they take on a more important role, and Orson is very interesting for an emotionless character. Orson’s berserker curse is now manifested physically
At this point, the series belongs very much to Shiris and Orson, the mercenary siblings/potential lovers.
In fact, everything is much more interesting here because it doesn’t feel cluttered. There are so far only three simultaneous storylines that are all tied together. Suddenly, King Kashue feels like a deep, almost profound character. A mercenary king is no longer lost behind walls of leaden storytelling; It’s nice to see his philosophy that a king should not be expected to share the burdens of his countrymen, just that he should ease them.
The other interesting plot point is that Ashram has enlisted a priest for his party. It shows that he has some sense of balance. His quest is not so much evil as it is contrary to the wishes of the other major characters.

The highlight is Lodoss‘ second face: Welcome to Lodoss Island! Each episode ends with a two minute segment of super-deformed animation and puns which translate well enough into the subtitles. The changes of Slayn and Kashue made for this are completely hilarious. Slayn’s “Pupupu!” laugh is worth it alone, and King Kashue is loud and dresses in drag to provoke reaction from Orson in a competition to get him to laugh. Parn and Deedlit promote it as the “part that you’ve been waiting for”, and they’re not far wrong. Getting two programs in one, and such opposites, is some good value.

People generally complain about the animation of this TV series, but it’s fine by my non-exacting standards. It’s nowhere near as pretty as Yuuki Nobuteru’s OVA work, and Deedlit looks slightly too willowy sometimes, but in action there are few problems. In the first two episodes there is bizarre overuse of multiple angles at once, but the directors appear to have overcome that hurdle. The character’s noses in round table scenes, however, are occasionally too angular. It would be impossible to complain about Welcome to Lodoss Island! without seeming petty.
The OP and ED were composed by Kanno Yoko, and one of them was performed by the inestimable Sakamoto Maaya. The combination of music and vocals gives a really medieval feel to proceedings. Hayami Sho makes his character exchange seamlessly (going from Orson to Ashram between the TV and OVA), and Asakawa Yu gives one of her better performances as Shiris. There are some other good names coming up in the cast, but on the whole so far they’re unremarkable.

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight takes a relaxed pace and allows its characters and situations to make sense. The fact that you’re essentially getting two worthwhile programs give it that little extra glow.

Trigun – episodes 23 to 26

July 25, 2004 on 11:24 am | In Trigun | Comments Off on Trigun – episodes 23 to 26

That ending was quite odd.

There was an interesting question raised about Wolfwood: just what kind of holy man is he? I was going for Catholic, but there’s something about him that goes against that – perhaps he’s just a flawed man who can’t always conform to his faith, or perhaps the rules of Catholicism changed to meet the necessity of the barren planet. The way he turned out, however, was highly compelling and he was definitely one of the better characters of them all. The way they paired him was a total surprise.
He was weaker than Vash, while appearing to be strong. This idea of strength and morality was part of what made the interplay between Wolfwood and Vash, and Knives for that matter, was ultimately the series’ backbone.

The other aspect is that Meryl was allowed to come into her element. The one truly tear jerking moment of the series came with her bathed in a golden light. And, while it hadn’t seemed like romance, that’s exactly what came up. Because it was so tender and unforced, it blossomed naturally.
Again, Milly’s feelings were largely unexpected. What was taken as joking turned out to have serious undercurrents.

One thing that I had always forgotten to mention, beyond Hayami Sho’s Osaka-ben, was that the mysterious Rem was voiced by Hisakawa Aya. This is layered by the fact that Hisakawa Aya and Onosaka Masaya were both Kero-chan in Cardcaptor Sakura and here their respective characters share the same philosophies.
Another thing about Rem is that her relation to Vash is completely unexpected and subverts story types to a high degree. Vash’s final lines represent both the growth and limitations that had been imposed on him by this mentor, creating several of the more complex issues of the series.

Finally, the ultimate episode is weird. One would think that it would cover the present, but half of it was lodged firmly in the past. The final duel was very quiet, and Knives is someone who I will perhaps never completely understand, but the excitement ran rampant nonetheless. The last scenes, continuing into the ED (new animation, but still that awkward old song) are a fitting ending. It was abrupt while encompassing the spectrum of emotion and situation, and quite satisfactory.

Trigun was a highly enjoyable series, that made one crave manga. It has a definite, hopeful ending. It’s exactly what one could hope for, but its shift from high comedy to high drama might put quite a few off along the way.

Cardcaptor Sakura Movie 2 – The Sealed Card

July 24, 2004 on 6:23 pm | In Cardcaptor Sakura | 1 Comment

Four months after the conclusion of the television series, this final foray into Cardcaptor Sakura gives another, even more definite conclusion. It’s always nice to take another crack.

Sakura is in year six now and is a little older and a little wiser. Due to the lack of cards, Tomoyo passes the time by making Sakura fight the CREATE card in different guises, filming them and editing them to music. Yue and Kero-chan are living standard lives, and nothing much happens. Then developers tear down Eriol’s mansion which, being over 100 years old, should probably have been heritage listed. In its place they build an amusement park, and subsequently unleash the 53rd card that Clow Reed had sealed away all those years ago.
Shaoran and Meilin come and visit from Hong Kong and Sakura spends the film trying to answer Shaoran back – and notices her Sakura Cards are missing!

The Sealed Card is a slow film. The first half of it is spent largely on Sakura not talking to Shaoran, and Meilin and Tomoyo scheming to get the two of them together – apparently the unspoken TV finale was too subtle for these twelve year olds. It’s just living from day to day. Still, an interesting philosophical question is raised, Sakura once again shows her love for humanity, and it ends on the perfect note.

One really odd thing about this is that Shaoran smiles all throughout the film: he’s changed completely from his first appearance as a thoroughly unpleasant child. His discovery of humanity has been a high point; what makes him better is that because he’s been completely honest he lives serenely. It’s just nice to watch him, and slightly painful to watch Sakura.
Yukito has some good material and leads in directly on other things he’s said, but there’s not enough screen time shared between himself and Toya. Toya gets to wear a bunny suit and hand out balloons, so it’s okay.
And, as even further proof that someone must love Twin Bells, there’s even a shot of Maki somewhere in the film – she really is quite the enduring character.

There’s another play, this one written by Naoko, and as with all plays performed in Tomoeda, they never get to finish acting it. It’s romantic, with great staging, and naturally Sakura and Shaoran play the romantic leads, in an uncanny parallel to real life! It was very good for a production written, produced and directed for twelve year olds – and also showed Sonomi’s considerable softening.
The final confrontation with the sealed card is handled in a way only Sakura could – and it’s exactly how it should have been settled.

Then it’s over forever.

Also of note is that this film is the only Cardcaptor Sakura property that has an unedited dub. It’s interesting to check out purely for curiosity’s sake: after 70 episodes, the Japanese cast is far too ingrained for this to count for anything. For what it’s worth, this dub shares a great deal of its cast with Digimon, but it feels like it was recorded at a much higher pitch. And Sakura still says “hoeee!” despite speaking English. Wendee Lee’s Kero-chan sounds very much like a young boy.

Included with the feature is the Leave it to Kero-chan! theatrical edition, which is a decidedly odd adventure about Suppie and Kero-chan fighting for love of Takoyaki. It’s presented very much like an old WB/Tex Avery/Disney short (the best actual analog is the Roger Rabbit shorts), and is bright, colourful and repetitive. The highlight was Kero-chan’s sweets song, written by Kero-chan himself, Hisakawa Aya.

Cardcaptor Sakura can’t be any more complete than this. An impressive, twenty DVD saga finally comes to an end with this film: it’s not the best part of the entire thing, but it gives just a little more time with these lovable characters, and that’s good enough.

They Were Eleven

July 22, 2004 on 11:12 am | In They Were Eleven | Comments Off on They Were Eleven

This 4:3 film from 1987 is one quiet, tense journey. Its isolation both in plot and property make it a true standout.

The final test to get into Cosmo Academy is to man a ship for 53 days without contacting the academy for help. On each of these ships, ten cadets are deployed. However, on the ship that this story is set on, They Were Eleven. Is it a mistake? Is it part of the test? Is it sabotage? There’s no way of knowing without failing – and if one member fails, they all fail. The presented hero of the story, Tada, has an ability that lets him know when others are lying. However, upon testing everyone, they’re all telling the truth. Naturally, this leads to the suspicion being turned on him, particularly as he seems to know precisely where everything is on the ship. Suspicions flare as the days wear on as no one trusts anyone else but everyone wants to pass the test and be accepted into the academy.
The Esperanza, the ship that the ten were chosen to man, becomes a democracy led by King (not just a nickname). There are no major decisions made without a vote being passed. As a result there’s order in what would otherwise have been total chaos, despite King’s arrogant, untrusting and domineering manner.
Somehow the team still manages to carry on regardless because it’s still a once in three years chance and the odds of them having gotten in in the first place were astronomical. Seeing the friendships form alongside the veneer of paranoia, so each character has a dual nature: as part of the group, and as desperate individual.
When later problems occur that force everyone to work as a team, the dynamic is stretched to its snapping point.

They Were Eleven offers a great mixture of characters and tension; if some revelations seem a bit anti-climactic and disappointing, it’s because they are. A couple of dead ends and red herrings are added to the mix to keep things interesting, and this almost never stops. There’s suspicion at every turn, and only one real scene where the characters forget themselves and try to have fun; oddly enough, a food fight is where the characters cut loose. The most hilarious line (admittedly, among very few funny lines) comes from the totally straight “man” Knu, who reasons that it is destiny to receive a pie to the face. There are other nice moments when the characters let their guards down and talk about their backgrounds
Tada is the focus of the story probably because it’s nice to show something from the suspect’s perspective; it’s interesting that he never questions whether he is actually the eleventh. Because really, the eleventh should be anyone. No real hints are given along the way to the identity. When it’s revealed at the end it makes sense, but it was too tight to be extremely obvious.
With eleven main characters, it would be difficult to give them all significant focus and a lot of screen time, but enough is granted to each without seeming clumsy or contrived. In normal circumstances, this would actually be a highly effective team.

This anime was produced by the dynamic team who brought us Blackjack, director Dezaki Osamu (here credited as Dezaki Tetsu – but the package seems to be riddled with crew errors) and character designer Sugino Akio. Amazingly, this is based on shoujo manga. Everyone’s just that little bit pretty, except for the really ugly ones (Rednose, for example). Dezaki applies his usual creative visual approach to the project (no matte, though), with unnatural light focus to emphasise the characters’ isolation and suspicion. Tada may have a weird hairstyle, but this is always interesting to watch.

The cast are fairly well chosen to play this suspicious lot, and Kamiya Akira is notable for playing a comparatively weak character in Tada; his roles are generally those of the self assured. Kawai Michiko is fairly flat as Frol, but that’s fine given the character’s ambiguities. The fiery personality and constant confrontations and very rough nature of Frol’s language makes her quite a character. So Kawai is flat in a good way. TARAKO also makes an appearance, cementing her fame as one of the best bit players of the eighties (she was credited in practically all of the Studio Ghibli films of the era in some capacity).
There’s a particularly good panic sequence where some characters desperately plead “We don’t have any more mice!”, one of the most dramatic in the film.
The music is equal parts suspence and science-fiction, representative of the great science-fiction music that only the eighties could produce.

They Were Eleven is tight and well produced, with one character that you’ll wish was the eleventh just so that they can shoot him. But they can’t, and you won’t know until the end just who shouldn’t be there. It’s not all about the mystery and is given some time to breathe, then some time to panic about other things. A class act all the way.

Arjuna – episodes 1 to 5

July 20, 2004 on 11:12 am | In Arjuna | Comments Off on Arjuna – episodes 1 to 5

In Japan, you graduate from science fiction and transforming fighter planes to environmentalism. Or at least, that’s what Macross creator Kawamori Shoji has done with Earth Maiden Arjuna. Despite drowning in symbolism and metaphor, and going on to present five minute seminars on the proper way of treating soil, Arjuna still has something going for it.

One day, high school student Ariyoshi Juna dies in a motorcycle. Chris, the avatar of time, shows her a horrible vision of the dead and dying Earth. He tells her that if she becomes the new avatar of time, he will let her live again. The nature of her accident is highly suspicious, and hopefully some sort of truth will come up later.

These first episodes are frustrating (in so far as a thirteen episode series can even have first episodes), because Chris expects Juna to act as the avatar of time without any sort of advice, and simply insults her when she makes mistakes. It’s hard to feel sympathy for him, even if he is in a wheelchair and is physically incapable of speech (when communicating to the non telepathic, he has to go through his ten year old nursemaid who is even ruder than him). Arjuna is just a teenaged girl who doesn’t know much about feeling for the Earth and certainly can’t be expected to know the secrets of looking after the soil.
When Arjuna is left to “discover” herself in the wilds and ends up working for an old man who explains that humans are killing the soil and progressively weakening the gene pool, one has to wonder exactly what is going on here. It’s not one of the philosophical attempts that anime gets at so often: it’s just an odd collection of preaching. This is the director’s cut edition, which means that some episodes have intermissions and epilogues, allowing for five minutes of no animation and explanations of exactly what we should do to the soil and how worms eat and so on, accompanied by the occasional live action piece of footage showing humans doing exactly what they shouldn’t be to the land. This is just agriculture now – it could get worse!

Visually, Arjuna is quite an attractive project: the characters are simple, but they live in a complex world (just like humans, perhaps). The digital animation is used quite well. The environmental hazards and that which Arjuna uses to fight them (infuriatingly prompting Chris to say “Why kill?” and “Why fight?” every single time) are made with CG, which stands out but is actually quite jerky. Ashura is the angry thing that Arjuna summons, that shows that environmental agression isn’t always the best option. Its multiple limbs are quite stiff.
Still, for the most part, this series is beautiful and unsurprisingly tinged with green.

The characters are actually all fairly annoying, but they at least have some nice voices. As Tokio, Tomokazu Seki does his usual good job as the slightly abrasive but ultimately good character. He seems to deliberately feign ignorance at times, and there’s no clue as to why he’s still with Arjuna because she’s such a tease. As Arjuna, Higashiyama Mami is fairly good because there’s a nasal quality to her voice that fits such a reluctant hero, along the lines of “I don’t want to know these things!” Funny, nor do we.
Ueda Yuji as Chris sounds like he never has before: Spiritually strong but physically weak. It’s just a shame that the character is so uncharismatic, even when he gets out of his wheelchair to hug Arjuna. Hisakawa Aya, who is now impossible to imagine without some sort of Osaka-ben, is also loyal as Sayuri, who seems a bit too hands on with Tokio.

The music is by Kanno Yoko, and is naturally superlative. There is no ED, as Kawamori has opted for an effective dramatic story opening each time, that shows a varying amount of recaps and new stuff. The insert songs are particularly superb and catch the atmosphere (as in the environment, not the heavy handed moralising). The ending song is an especially enjoyable Sakamoto Maaya piece but then, she can do very little wrong.

Arjuna is infuriating precisely because it’s impossible to pinpoint what makes it compelling. To explain it to someone when you’re not watching it, it just sounds heavy and weird. I deliberately turned off my “judgemental images” detector when I went in, so the impact was lessened: get past that, and the mean characters, and you’ll find something you might just want to watch – but you’ll be hard pressed to know why.

Trigun – episodes 14 to 22

July 19, 2004 on 6:10 pm | In Trigun | Comments Off on Trigun – episodes 14 to 22

Trigun isn’t very funny anymore. In fact, one episode has some of the most horrifying moments I’ve seen in a long while. Admittedly, I’m not much of a one for horror and have different standards … but still, pretty damned horrific!

The thirteenth episode was supposed to be a turning point, but there’s an episode about Milly and Meryl before the biggest drama ever comes into place. It’s the sort of episode in which Vash does something, says “That’s all I get?!” and then disappears for the remainder. The insurance girl scenes are funny and sweet, but the Nebraska family are clearly among the worst villains written for this or any other series. They’re hideous and bad and once was enough, even if these are the female members. Even if the writers were going for the family motif, it didn’t work. The rest of the episode was more than good enough, however.

Then the Gung-Ho Guns come about and damnit they’re fierce. Vash doesn’t kill, regardless of the weight of sin … but they end up dead if they fail. That’s what they call real lack of mercy.
Because of the different backgrounds of each of these Gung-Ho Guns, Trigun gets to play with genre and once again it becomes clear just how alike the samurai and western genres are. The interchangeable imagery has been one of the many joys of watching this. Generally the whole thing is now high on the drama front, and Vash can’t do too much to change that; however his retort to Dominique the Cyclops’ ‘I could have killed you three times’ was some pretty good comedy right there.
However, even if Vash can’t read Japanese, Legato is evil all the same and it comes to light how tortured his existence might well have been.

Possibly the most horror inducing episode of things produced is Rem Saverem, which details Vash’s past. Seeing the humans and seeing what Knives did is hard to go into, but it confirms some of the darkest fears that one might have had for the series. It’s important that this episode was entirely set in space, as the Western side is starting to wind down and the science fiction is kicking in. The confined space of the ship and the uncertainty as to whether it was genuine malice that fuelled the character’s motives or if he was provoked is too hard to fathom.
Everything about the episode was compelling in a truly discomforting way: it makes one sympathise with Vash more, but also makes his own philosophies harder to understand. Pacifism can’t always be strictly enforced; the inhuman don’t believe in mercy, so Vash really shouldn’t show it to them. One simply can’t compromise him, I suppose, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he did have to kill someone. At least one.

The rest of the episodes have more of that sci-fi flavour and make for more interesting viewing with few moments of comic relief; Meryl’s undecided feelings for Vash and Milly coming full circle to not being the sharpest agent still shine every now and then. Wolfwood is welcome as he’s a priest but can see that everything can’t be defined as clearly as one would like to think, and he knows when he has to kill. He’s the smartest, most realistic thinker of the characters, but at the same time the guiltiest and probably least worthy or capable of redemption.
Finally, montages of dead characters who were only around for two episodes are hard to produce, so Kuroda Yosuke must be commended for that.

Good characterisation, some genuine moments of terror, suddenly very few jokes … Trigun is almost over, and how different has become. One knew from the outset that there would be darkness, but this dark? A true surprise. (Well, not now …)

Miyazaki Showcase: Porco Rosso

July 12, 2004 on 1:19 pm | In Porco Rosso | 1 Comment

In Porco Rosso, Miyazaki created his finest work and a film that resides among my personal favourites. Never before has one of his films been so well animated, so emotional, so beautifully designed, so atmospheric. A true triumph of the form, etcetera!

Said to be an inflight movie that grew into a full fledged feature, Porco Rosso tells the story of a man who left the Italian army after losing his faith in humanity and becoming a pig. In 1929, he makes his living as a bounty hunter on the Adriatic Sea, forever chasing after air pirates. Most have forgotten his real name, and have come to know him as Porco Rosso: The Crimson Pig.
Unfortunately, the bounty hunting business is dying and Porco is wanted by the fascists. He just wants to make a clean break and live a life alone, but an American named Curtis has been hired by the pirates and wants the glory …

This is a stunning film. There’s something about it that makes it rise above Miyazaki’s already superlative films, something that’s hard to pinpoint. Porco himself is a great character, Moriyama Shuuichirou providing a gutteral voice that distinguishes him from his human contemporaries. He refuses to acknowledge that he used to be a man; there is only one picture and he has taken to it with a pen. Pigs are clean animals, he reasons; humanity is filthy. Not surprisingly, he can be seen as misanthropic, but he secretly thinks that there is still hope. For this reason, people sometimes see him in a different light …
The other characters are similarly well realised; Gina is the owner of the Hotel Adriano, who has seen three of the men she loved die. She doesn’t want Marco (as she is the only one who ever calls him by his name) to be the fourth, even if he is technically a pig. Her scenes alone in the garden are some of the best. She’s a strong willed, caring woman, and it’s no wonder that she has all of the pilots of the Adriatic, bounty hunters and air pirates alike, in her thrall.
The other “woman” in Porco’s life is the 17 year old Fio, the girl who redesigns his plane after Curtis shoots it down. She has been given the opportunity to work because all of the men in her family have left Milan due to the depression; Porco is horrified to see that his plane is entirely remodelled by an army of women, and the all important trio of old women.
No one is truly bad, not even the air pirates. They have their own code of honour, their own hilarious ethics and give the feeling that they might just go on to become “legitimate businessmen”.
Perhaps the most optimistic of Miyazaki’s films, Porco truly shows the audience that no one is beyond redemption. No one.

Porco Rosso is not a journey or a quest; it’s a film about the end of an era, when independent pilots are having their last hurrahs. The film is by no means painted with the brush of nostalgia, but it’s still loving testimony to an age long gone. The intrusion of fascism is simply too political for these ultimately good natured characters. They may live lawless existences, but each one of them knows exactly what is right. The feeling of the piece is very important; the characters don’t allow the fascists to oppress them. They live ingeniously in the only way that they can.
There are events that never seem contrived, and the whole thing comes together as a work of beauty.

The Adriatic is the most wondrous setting that Miyazaki has ever devised (admittedly not a place of his own creation); it feels real, and the cels and backgrounds co-exist beautifully. The planes are always cels, and can jump into action at any time. So much love went into this, suggested to be the most personal of all Miyazaki’s films and the most captive of his love of flight. There’s even an example of unprecedented self promotion: Porco’s plane is powered by a Ghibli engine. For the first time, the characters are actually attractive. Gina is genuinely glamorous, and Porco is naturally interesting to look at. To see him in human form as he tells the story of his origins is actually weird; he inhabits the body of a pig as more than the simply cosmetic.
Hisaishi Joe’s music is a great collection of adriatic and flying sounding pieces, and there’s even a perfectly delivered French song in there.

Porco Rosso is as near perfection as any film could ever possibly hope to be; anime doesn’t come much better than this. Just by thinking about it, one can bring tears to their eyes. Not to be missed. Ever.

Project A-Ko

July 11, 2004 on 7:06 pm | In Project A-Ko | Comments Off on Project A-Ko

Project A-ko is home of perhaps the most annoying character in anime history; a character so annoying that one can never decide whether to laugh or cringe at her actions and therefore end up doing both. A character so beguiling that two wars are fought to lay claim to her.
Featuring an eighties American pop soundtrack and every joke that had ever been invented up to that point in history, it’s definitely a memorable film.

A-ko and C-ko move to a new school in Graviton city. There they meet B-ko, who instantly falls in love with C-Ko and tries at all costs to extricate A-Ko from their lives. B-ko’s arsenal of robots, however, is no match for A-ko’s superhuman strength … and all the while they’re being monitored by aliens!
Project A-ko is clearly a collection of everything under the sun, and proud of it. Despite the mash together, it’s actually a surprisingly coherent film.

The characters are simple: A-ko is just a girl who wants to get to school on time; C-ko is her best friend who can’t cook, is really loud and cries a lot; B-ko is the rich girl who builds robots because she wants to wrest C-ko from A-ko’s evil clutches; Mysterious Character “D” is a mysterious character who never learns his lesson. Still, the pattern works. It’s substantial without being anything at the same time, making for a mighty confusing event.
Each day, A-ko and C-ko come to school, and B-ko is waiting at the gate for them with a new machine to take out her vengeance. Then the aliens come to Earth and all of the Earth’s forces are deployed for one big climactic battle!

Project A-ko is considered the ultimate in parody anime. While this isn’t as much of a misnomer as Martian Successor Nadesico, one of the most sleighted titles of modern times, it still robs the film of part of it spark to call it that. There’s no doubt that there are elements of parody riddled throughout, but to call the entire thing a “parody” suggests that it alone doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s by no means a strong story, but it’s a well told one that was lovingly crafted. Parody suggests too much in the way of cynicism, and correct usage of the term should be enforced. With an iron fist. Loving homage is more like it, but Project A-ko is too much like everything else to be like anything else. It’s the concentration of vitality that makes it such a delight to watch.

Moriyama Yuji, the man who seems to be responsible for almost all of Central Park Media’s catalogue, wrote directed and designed the characters. They’re all very attractive with their eighties hair styles and, at least in C-ko’s case, never closing mouths. The men went to the Fist of the North Star school of grooming, although after a while you might question whether the film actually has any men in it. It messes with your mind that way. Anyway, it’s always very well animated and designed, in a way that you don’t really see any more with the seeming death of mechanical otaku writers and directors. They’re probably still around, but now they care more about the environment.

Project A-ko is another “spirit of the eighties” anime; this is compounded by the music, which was actually outsourced to America. As a result, the soundtrack is a haven of sci-fi music that only the eighties could yield and glorious, wonderful eighties motivational love songs! A mixture of industrial sounds and pop make the film more memorable than it already is, with its scarily masculine men and penchant for destruction.

Project A-ko makes a lot more sense than it sounds like it does. It’s very simple, and by that token it’s too complex to write about. The layers of parody encompass a lot of anime that most of the modern generation of fans could never hope to see, but it’s funny enough by itself. Just so long as C-Ko’s scream doesn’t destroy your brain before you can finish it.

Trigun – episodes 6 to 13

July 11, 2004 on 11:39 am | In Trigun | Comments Off on Trigun – episodes 6 to 13

Trigun is turning out to be anime that is very hard not to love. The comedy is very funny, and because of this the drama doesn’t jar but is actually intensified. Vash is a great protagonist because he’s a goofball but totally understands the gravity of situations.
At times, the situations get very dangerous indeed, and when Vash is deadly serious Onosaka Masaya shines even more than he does at when Vash is acting coquettish, and he’s pretty damned good at that.

While definitely a road anime, it’s one of those that still manages to keep a continuity. The episodes frequently bleed into each other, allowing for great cliffhangers or simply logically continuing the situation. Every time something happens, a little more of Vash comes out. Almost all of these episodes have great Vash moments and if they don’t, they have great Wolfwood moments!
Nicholas D Wolfwood – voiced by perennial favourite Hayami Sho, who has been consistently securing work for more than twenty years with his deep and smooth delivery -is a character who comes and goes, frequently where Vash and the Insurance Girls happen to be. He also happens to be a pistol packing priest with a portable confessional and a weapon loaded crucifix that he carries on his back (you see, just as Vash has a dark past, Wolfwood has … a cross to bear. Wahaha). He’s another great comedy character without resorting to Vash’s foolish antics, and despite all of his drinking and smoking he’s quite dedicated.

Sometimes the drama gets really heavy, and Vash almost always defuses these scenes without becoming annoying. One of the most hilarious of these scenes is the discovery of Vash without a shirt on … and how he reacts when the Insurance Girls see him. There’s another of those sorts of incidents, and really far too much more tomato sauce than is acceptable, but there are two points when no one can escape the heavy drama.
Lost July is one of the best episodes so far. Here one can really start to understand Vash.
Then in episode 12, there come the eyes. It’s a well known fact that if an anime character has a dual personality, each has different eye colours. Quite how they do this is never explained, but it’s damned cool. Vash can do that. Even when he becomes The Humanoid Typhoon, he still feels like he is Vash. His internal conflict is handled very well. I don’t think it’s possible for him to cut loose and murder, even out of revenge.
This episode also introduced Vash’s telepathic powers and more technology, which will no doubt become important.

Episode 13 is a recap, probably the first I’ve seen since Gundam Wing. The events of Trigun so far really haven’t seen connected or complicated enough to really warrant one of these episodes, but Milly’s meditations on Vash are worthwhile enough.

Also worthy of note is that Ishizuka Unsho, traditional villain and all around nice guy, has a two episode appearance as Big Dynamites Neon. It’s always nice to hear him.

Trigun is compelling anime, a rare mix of perfectly balanced comedy and drama. It can be compared to so many things, but still it feels incomparable. Even if Vash does seem to have a Julia.

Miyazaki Showcase: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

July 10, 2004 on 11:38 am | In Nausicaä | Comments Off on Miyazaki Showcase: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Miyazaki Hayao took one of his manga series and made it into a film. On the strength of this film, Miyazaki and Takahata Isao formed Studio Ghibli. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, therefore, can be considered an honorary Studio Ghibli film.

One thousand years after the Sea of Decay formed, humans have survived but are slowly being killed as the Sea spreads. There are many forests where insects work. The humans randomly try to kill the insects or work with them. In this post apocalyptic world, Princess Nausicaä lives in a valley (of insect sympathisers) protected from the Sea of decay by the salt winds that blow in from the ocean. Lots of wars break out between many different factions during the course of the film, and there’s a plot to resurrect a flame giant. It’s all quite complicated, on a level that Miyazaki didn’t attempt again until Princess Mononoke, and while the film is self contained it’s clearly part of a larger story.

This is a great film; there’s a continuity error towards the end that turns out not to be an error at all but part of a grand scheme. Miyazaki is not a careless writer or director, so the realisation of just what has happened is an outstanding pay off.
There are so many factions and so many characters that the only one you can ever be sure of is Nausicaä herself. Everyone else has cloudy motives, plans to use the same thing for different purposes and different justifications for their actions.
The only innocents are women and the inhabitants of the Valley of the Wind.
There’s a short bit of comic relief in a trio of old men; three old people are universally a ticket to comedy, but this is a serious film and they aren’t given too wide a rein. Still, they are there and are welcome for their loyalty to Nausicaä.

There’s a lot of story, and it is layered so well that when one thing bursts into another it’s a pleasant surprise to see previously unrelated things working in harmony. This sense of unexpected events that have been seeded all along works in favour of the film’s suspense.

Even the desert world is interesting, because it’s another law of anime: deserts are boring, but giant skeletons spice them up. The post apocalyptic technology is weird; perhaps tellingly the innocent citizens of the Valley of the Wind live in fairly organic stone buildings with windmills drawing on the power of the land. They fly on the currents of the wind and ride on flightless birds, whereas the misguided have giant battle ships. The “deadly” forests that house the sea of decay are overgrown and beauteous, and an excellent place for the insects to work.
The whole project suggests that humans, through their misunderstanding of their situations, make them worse. Killing giant insects isn’t going to make things better. This has always been Miyazaki’s message: humans are always to blame, and only the young can solve the problems caused by the old.

Hisaishi Joe’s music is usually perfect for context when it comes to Ghibli films; here, however, it captures the spirit of the eighties. This is great as it really fits the film. It’s an old style post-apocalyptic world, so the “ultra modern” sound track is perfectly suitable. What can a fictional future possibly sound like? It sounds like the eighties, that’s what.

Despite being part of a whole that spanned many years, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind contains itself well. It’s good enough to stand by itself, but it doesn’t have to, and began a legacy of its own.

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