Love Hina – episodes 1 to 4

September 28, 2004 on 3:32 pm | In Love Hina | 4 Comments

Warning: Extreme negativity ahead.

This might have come as a shock had I said it four years ago: I don’t like Love Hina. Putting aside the excellent, attractive and hilarious manga, this is not good anime. For me, just as it was all those years ago, the Love Hina anime is the beginning of the end of everything.
Continue reading Love Hina – episodes 1 to 4…

City Hunter – episodes 45 to 51

September 26, 2004 on 7:11 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 45 to 51

Despite featuring one of the most pointless episodes in City Hunter history, there is also a grand return to and above form. The seedy side shows itself at the end; the bloody justice necessary for such a job as Ryo’s shines. Also Ryo gets some of the best damn service out of Saeko that is humanly possible. Because really, when it all comes down to it, it’s not about death and rough justice; it’s about the mokkori.

There are two poor endings amongst the lot: the snow episode just stops, the pickpocket episode ends based on unrevealed information. The mokkori endings, however, are frequently hilarious. Mokkori, you see, has a miraculous restorative power. It is a power that can make women from pool sharks to nuns see the truth of their vocations.
The heroines are beginning to see right through Ryo, to the point that they are beginning the divine punishment themselves. Most clients are naïve, but put a pool cue in one of their hands and she’ll dish out all that Ryo can take.

There’s an episode about a widow, which brings up rare mention of good old Makimura. Kaori is a good example of mourning; not a day goes by when she doesn’t remember her dear brother, but she barely ever feels the need to mention him. Ryo feels that it is important not to forget someone, but that it is unhealthy to let your memories consume you. We not only learn that, but also that combining Ryo with traps is a surefire recipe for hilarity. Saeko has a tab, and she finally uses her trademark knives.
The pool episode, when Ryo goes off to look for topless women, reminds one of the days when City Hunter did feature the topless on occasion. The third to last episode is a totally pointless exercise about a nun who gets drunk and loses her rosary. It has the memorable line “It is not my place to judge, Kaori, but men should not wear miniskirts”, but not much else. There’s something inherently wrong about Ryo hitting on a nun, and also with the background menu offering “Potato Cola”. It was clearly an off week in preparation for the two part series finale, the best episodes of City Hunter yet.

The imagery that kicks off the final two episodes is excellent. The idea of Ryo as Makimura is the right way to look at things. Kaori takes it a bit farther than this, actually admitting jealousy. The line “I can be a beautiful woman, too” shows this. Ryo’s problem is that out of respect for Makimura he can’t let anything happen between himself and Kaori. It would just be too weird, as well.
The Lodos Mafia are the bad guys that Ryo is set against by the Nogami sisters. As it turns out, Makimura had been on their tail. Making Makimura a cop was a good idea because Saeko can bring unsolved cases to Ryo and spice some revenge into the deal. The Lodos Mafia look like they’ll be back sometime later, but without one of their bosses (who looked exactly like the villain of Thunderball).
The episodes were great, not so much on a humour level as on a character and drama level; also to see Kaori in a tuxedo being chased by women. To see Ryo revert to his hardened self from before he met Kaori in order to save her was truly worthwhile. Ryo is by no means some “hitokiri battousai” or “Vash the Stampede”. He chooses to operate in a world where people get killed. That he starts shooting without consciously trying not to kill was refreshing. Also, Umibozu pulled one of his flawless serious performances.

Even more bizarre than the M&M’s Airplane is the ship owned by the Lodos Mafia, christened “Ys Falcom”. It would be really interesting to know if this placement was actually paid for or if the animators just thought it would be fun. Maybe Falcom said “Hey, could you associate our game with drug smugglers in some way: perhaps a huge boat?”? It’s possible.

Kamiya Akira’s performance as Ryo has reached the point where it sounds out of place for him to make a smooth come on towards a woman. He’s gone straight for the “Mokkori!” attack for so long now it is hard to even imagine him being reserved in his actions. Ikura Kazue’s Kaori is so defined that she is able to do a spot on Ryo imitation. The two are really all about playing off each other, so this is a good thing.

City Hunter was a fine mokkori adventure with perhaps too few visits to the bloody side of being a sweeper. After this series, there’s still much more to go. The final two episodes were the best cap you could ask for to the series, standing as two of the most well conceived, well balanced episodes of all – and not just about the mokkori. At the risk of openly contradicting myself within the space of one article, sometimes it’s all about death and rough justice; not about the mokkori.

City Hunter – episodes 37 to 44

September 21, 2004 on 8:38 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 37 to 44

City Hunter is not only the home of some happy mokkori and good two parters, it is also the home of M & M’s. In this group of episodes there at least seven viewings of the branding, from Kaori’s grocery bag, to a truck, to Ryo’s toaster. His toaster, dangit!

The first two parter out of this set was about one of those old style, kimono wearing, yakuza warrior women. The scene where she goes to exact her revenge was poetic in its execution, and practically cried out for blood on the snow. City Hunter‘s weakest aspect is at its most obvious here: there is no sense of justice because, since Kaori came on to the scene, no one has been killed by Ryo. He lives in a section outside of the law where the only real way to teach a criminal is to kill him. It’s not even as if he’s taken an oath or anything, it’s just sanitisation. Sometimes people whom Ryo has failed to put down have come back to get him in the same episode.
Consider that many criminals spend their time inside planning their next crime – consider that many are back in almost before they’re out. Ryo’s “stern admonition” approach to dealing with the underworld’s ne’er do wells is highly ineffective.
This episode also highlights that sometimes it would be better if the hero or heroine could succeed without Ryo’s intervention. It would be that much more effective if it could happen with just Ryo’s guidance, not Ryo’s “shooting direct into the barrel of the other guy’s gun, thus making it explode” trick, which frankly wasn’t that impressive all the other times.

The rest of the episodes had some great moments, including Ryo’s way of showing up a gang of punk women (threatening to tell everyone in town the colour of their panties). Ryo is not only taken as a “baby-sitter”, but sometimes as a vicarious boyfriend. These women, who invariably have not yet had a taste of the real world, for some reason look to this man as the ideal model of masculinity. On that note, only my mind could think that a woman could be cured of a grandfather-con by replacing it with shota-con.

The best episodes are always those which display the care and trust that Kaori and Ryo have for one another. That Ryo can make fun of Kaori while she’s wielding a rocket launcher is proof that they are the best of friends. Their relationship is questionable though, because Kaori is always worrying about their lack of work. Is it due to lost credibility from Ryo going so soft? Somehow even the kids on the street know about City Hunter and play at being him; at least he’s not instantly recognisable, which is a small mercy.
It’s hoped that as the series progresses, Ryo will gain credibility, because he can’t stay as he is. The OVAs look more like the serious side of City Hunter (or, depending on who you ask, the more creatively bankrupt).

Unsurprisingly, the specifically best episodes of this set were the two parter wherein justice was served. This episode tackled important questions such as “is it corruption if it’s for a noble cause?” and “how do you fight corruption at the highest level?”. This episode not only featured the major criminal getting what was coming to him, but also featured him killing one of his subordinates. I’ll bring it up again, but the writers seem to think that killing someone is dehumanising. They have a point, but Ryo is too “human” for the profession. Softening is not good. The episode also does quite a job of answering its own improbabilities, which is something too infrequently dealt with all along the board. It also featured one of the best ending lines ever.

Ryo also works on his brilliant non-sequiturs: when everyone looks on him after he makes a mokkori move, he changes tact with “I say, waiter, what do you make of the latest developments in the Persian Gulf?” His abilities as “the man” are beyond doubt as he somehow manages to remove a bra without touching a woman.
Surprisingly for a program seventeen years old, only one thing seems out of date – the cultural reference to tanka: short poems. It just didn’t seem to mean anything. It might still be in Japan, but it’s not something that really has much cross over appeal and it seemed odd to base an episode around it in part. On the other hand, scissors paper rock baseball (featured in the same episode) is always fun, as is the smooth manner of Hayami Sho.

There was some great animation and design in the episode about the moon princess but, as always with City Hunter, this show is from a time when long shots weren’t very good. Anything that’s not a close up is low on detail and not that interesting. That’s not to say that the whole thing is ugly – such shots are generally avoided – but it’s not pleasant to watch those particular scenes.

City Hunter is undoubtedly enjoyable, but still feels like it needs more bite. Despite its seemingly high amount of fan service for the era, the violence seems less than was acceptable for the day. Not to say violence is cool, but it is necessary for the subject matter to mean something. Even though Ryo is the “good guy”, he has to accept the way his world is. He can’t tone it down on account of his partner who, coincidentally, has no problem with violence.

City Hunter – episodes 27 to 36

September 19, 2004 on 5:13 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 27 to 36

City Hunter comes back from the enforced mid season break (due to the architecture of ADV’s release) with a brand new OP! At first it’s something that is no match for “Don’t go away, my love”, but “Go Go Heaven” grows on a person after a while. Sometimes it is played as an insert song, so it becomes quite enjoyable. The elegance of the Saeko animation is wortwhile, too. On the other hand, the “Get Wild” ED tradition increasingly demonstrates its limitations, with every episode ending on a freeze and pan. Some of them aren’t even interesting freezes or pans, but rather arbitrarily chosen shots of not much.

Easily the best thing about these episodes is the increased role of Umibozu, the best comedy sweeper since Saeba Ryo. Well, not that that’s saying much, but he’s damned funny. Umibozu can take shots from a standard gun without sweating, and he’s the best booby trapper in Japan – but he’s terrified of kittens. When you get a situation where Umibozu wants to protect a girl, and Ryo wants to get to that girl, you have one of the greatest situations for comedy ever posed by City Hunter. Umibozu, like Ryo, also knows when and how to play it straight, so he’s a perfectly flexible character. It’s a crime that he is not included in the new OP, while Saeko is. Seventeen years on the statute of limitations is likely to have expired, and anyway it’s something that is likely to have been fixed in the ensuing 100 plus episodes.
The point is that Umibozu is a great character, from the time he falls in love (because despite being the hardest man in Japan, he blushes in the presence of a beautiful woman) to the time that he referees a death match between Ryo and the underworld’s most famous assassin. He’s the sort of character who, when it is discovered he will be featured in an episode, you can’t help but cheer.

The variety of situations Ryo is placed in are still pretty fresh but, as Umibozu remarks, “Ryo has been reduced to the level of a babysitter”; a lot of the times he just looks after women. The episodes with danger in them are the best because otherwise Ryo shows nothing but his soft side. The aforementioned Ryo versus Michael Gallant was a very high point and brought Umibozu and Saeko together, which is something to see.
The other interesting episode out of this was the biker gang, which showed that City Hunter can play around with genre, something admirable in anime. The scenery in this episode in particular showed a different side of the world, and not the underworld Kaori is used to … although the “overworld” with the rich young girl was a bit generic. The fight scenes were great, and there was an ejnoyable resolution to be found.

City Hunter is a lot of fun to watch, and benefits from its sudden inclusion of two-parters. However, due to its lack of an underpinning story and, let’s face it, the hardboiled gunfights and brazen killings of the earlier episodes, it’s not straight out compelling and very infrequently gives that adrenalin rush that it needs to provoke.

Project A-Ko 4

September 19, 2004 on 1:30 pm | In Project A-Ko | Comments Off on Project A-Ko 4

This is undoubtedly the best Project A-Ko since the first. What they appear to have done is taken Project A-Ko and turned it into a drama. That’s right, a dramatic episode! Just what Moriyama was trying to do with his child is beyond me, but this entry works quite well – although, on closer examination, it might not actually make any sense.

Project A-ko 4 opens with a party of archaeologists digging in the ruins of Iraq (why Iraq is in ruins is anyone’s guess, as this anime was made some time prior to the Gulf War) and discovering a tablet that prophesies the coming of an alien race to reclaim their Goddess. Their symbol is the Star of David – which of course raises the question “Jewish aliens?”.
Coincidentally (or is it?!), Miss Ume – hard done by teacher of A-ko, B-ko and C-ko – wears a pendant around her neck that bears the very same Star of David (embellished with a heart in the middle). Further to this coincidence, an alien fleet is bearing down on Earth – their mother ship emblazoned with the Star of David!
These – of course, unrelated – events culminate in a story that involves Miss Ume’s wedding to A-ko and B-ko’s “true love”, Kei, and C-ko’s intense jealousy of all of A-ko’s fun.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to realise that in this case there isn’t a whole lot of Judaism going on – this is anime, after all, and sometimes a symbol is just a symbol.

Project A-ko 4 isn’t riotous, but it’s well done. The archaeological dig scenes are presented in a mysterious fashion, the marriage interview is downright awkward, and its revealed that all of these characters actually have hearts. C-ko, world renowned for having the most piercing voice and no sense of what’s happening around her, gets to show some depth. Her final scenes are actually, in some way, moving. A-ko and B-ko can actually cooperate when they see what is right, and really, everyone should be friends.
This also boasts the best animation out of the three followups.

So what Project A-ko boiled down to was the power of friendship. Nothing can match the original, but 4 was at least worth its while – with its unique atmosphere and interesting (and largely successful) attempts to lend depth to the characters. Moriyama was not attached to The Versus, so it still remains to be seen how that one went.

Tokyo Godfathers

September 19, 2004 on 1:27 pm | In Tokyo Godfathers | Comments Off on Tokyo Godfathers

If enough coincidences converge, you end up with a narrative. Tokyo Godfathers is the ultimate in miracle movies, based almost entirely on the momentum of random events and chance encounters. The energy and free flowing nature of the story make for a truly enjoyable film.

On Christmas Eve, three homeless people – a middle aged man, a disgraced transvestite, and a run away teenage girl – find a baby as they fossick in the trash. Caught between taking “Kiyoko” to the police, keeping her or finding her parents themselves, they embark on a frequently hilarious and sometimes touching Christmas/New Year adventure.

The three homeless represent all walks of life (well, three), and have their own reasons for not having homes – mixtures of pride, shame and fear. Gin, Hana and Miyuki make an unlikely family unit, but that’s exactly what they are: a family. Again, they all have their own reasons for being in this group, and for taking in the baby rather than going straight to the police. Their choice to search for Kiyoko’s parents leads to a series of increasingly unlikely events and further transvestites.
Kon’s way of story telling lends itself very strongly to the art of spoiler, so to say exactly what the three get up to would take a lot of the fun out of the movie. The unexpected nature of everything and how it all fits is just one part of the joy. The huge amount of divine intervention is guaranteed to make anyone happy.

Kon Satoshi seems adamant that he’s not going to make the same anime twice; three completely different films make up his present cinematic ouevre, not counting the projects that he did production work on. Kon has not embarked on this film with his previous writing partner, Murai Sadayuki, instead joining chief Cowboy Bebop scenario writer Nobumoto Keiko in creating this significantly different, yet still warm, movie.
It would be very easy to be annoyed by the way everything happens: the proximity of such totally unlikely events can wear down one’s patience in the wrong frame of mind. Two things must be remembered: this is how movies work, and there is a greater power in force. Laughs, joy and a few tears are wrung out of this system which is smooth and shows no signs of contrivance.
The film isn’t entirely unrealistic: some of the obvious harsh sides of being homeless are shown, and there would be no emotional impact if the characters didn’t have some sort of reason for being on the streets. The action packed finale deals with what is actually a quite serious issue.

Tokyo Godfathers is neat, but not entirely so. There are a few threads, but everything is looking up come the final scene. Ultimately, it’s a film designed to raise a few questions but to mainly make the viewer feel good (and not in the horrible “I’m glad I’m not homeless” way). Whatever it is that Kon set out to do, he succeeded. It’s hard to pin this movie down as any one thing: it’s the ultimate friendship movie, it’s the quintessential holiday movie, it’s a rollicking action comedy, it’s a brief foray into the world of organised crime. It’s really a little bit of everything, a beautiful whole.

Visually, Tokyo Godfathers is what you’d expect of Kon, while being nothing like his previous works in presentation. Gin and Hana have been on the streets for years and look rough, but Miyuki looks like her health hasn’t failed her yet – she’s just become a lot skinnier. The world isn’t divided along the lines of the beautiful and the ugly, the rose and its thorns. Everything makes up a part of the world without seeming out of place or set to too high a contrast. On a couple of occasions the lines blur when things seem just that little bit more unreal – there is a character who lives in squalor in his own home who isn’t taking any sort of realistic approach to life, so he doesn’t appear like a real person for the time when he doesn’t have himself together. It’s a very short part of the film, but it’s really quite noticeable.
The rest of the film is filled with nice, easy to miss visual gags and interesting cuts (although, of course, not the free flow editing of eras present in Millennium Actress). Kon’s films are again not just interesting on a story level: they’re really quite fun to watch – the faces that the Tokyo Godfathers pull are excellent evidence of this.

Come December, if there really is a place for the “Christmas Movie”, Tokyo Godfathers needs to hit big (the decision to release it on December 29 2003 in the US was decidedly odd). This movie is filled with “Christmas spirit”, a spirit that has nothing to do with either Jesus or commercialism. It is a perfect “season” movie, capturing the true essence of good will towards men (and women, and transvestites).

Chance Pop Session – Episodes 6 to 13

September 13, 2004 on 9:55 pm | In Chance Pop Session | Comments Off on Chance Pop Session – Episodes 6 to 13

Chance Pop Session took a turn around episode seven. No longer content with being a look at people getting into the industry, it shed its single ambition and split into a highly, perhaps overly, dramatic story about characters and coincidence. The emphasis must be placed on coincidence because the series did indeed become very chancey. If the title didn’t include the word “chance”, then it would almost be unforgivable.
Continue reading Chance Pop Session – Episodes 6 to 13…

Geobreeders Breakthrough

September 4, 2004 on 3:23 pm | In Geobreeders | Comments Off on Geobreeders Breakthrough

After the original action packed Geobreeders comes its sequel, Geobreeders Breakthrough (real name Geobreeders 2). Director Moriyama Yuji, perhaps one of Japan’s greatest producers of “hits and misses” (being responsible for both the genius Project A-ko and its lacklustre sequels), said that because he had four episodes this time he wanted to make a more complex story. How he thought he had done this is beyond me – because he patently hasn’t.

Geobreeders Breakthrough begins with the folks of Kagura Total Security moving into their new offices. Umezaki, the Crimson Shooting Star, is targeted for assassination and the office is almost instantly destroyed. After this, the now homeless company goes off to find the person who has hired them for their latest job.
Unfortunately their car is destroyed at the end of the first episode, and they spend the following three wandering in the jungles of Japan looking for civilisation. Meanwhile the Phantom Cats have some sort of evil agenda and the government agency Hound tries to destroy them. This leads to some action scenes but not a whole lot of sense as there is no sense of character and the main characters are just wandering around.

Moriyama Yuji has created an almost entirely directionless four episode OVA. This was designed to be set after the Geobreeders manga, so it has to make a little bit of sense. It doesn’t have the shield of being based on a preexisting story to fill in the gaps. The main part with the phantom cats seemed like nothing more than a flimsy backdrop for having a few action scenes which, while well executed, would be much more enjoyable with some context behind them. The wandering lent itself to some good comedy, but no story. And three episodes’ worth of it wore. It wore thin quite quickly, and some of the characters got fewer than a couple of lines and didn’t get to do anything.
The villain, as far as I know, didn’t have a name and government agent Irie was as infuriatingly smug and cryptic as he was in the first OVA.

The fan service is a little lacking; there’s two brief onsen scenes and a seemingly inserted shot of Himehagi’s seatbelt. It’s just put in rather than thought out, and there’s not a lot of it. This was animated towards the start of the digital revolution and as a result bears a lot of the soft focus look that anime produced around that time had. It can appear a bit painful to the eyes because of this, but the character designs are slightly better than that of the original production. The best example of what this series looks like is Excel Saga, which was produced by Victor at the same time and promoted in tandem. The animation is by no means bad, it’s just fuzzy. There’s some noticeable CG that isn’t ugly but isn’t particularly useful, the OP is the same as the first OVA (which, for some reason, seems unforgiveable), and the ED doesn’t make much sense but refers to a great Japanese comedy act of days long past.

Geobreeders Breakthrough makes one wonder what the point was at the end; what, exactly, happened. It’s not offensive to watch and it’s not bland to the point of nothingness; it’s simply a directionless adventure with a few moments. Not exactly recommended, but not consigned to the bonfire.

Chance Pop Session – Episodes 1 to 5

September 2, 2004 on 10:24 pm | In Chance Pop Session | Comments Off on Chance Pop Session – Episodes 1 to 5

Chance Pop Session (AKA Chance Triangle Session) is sport anime. Except instead of sport, we’re thrown into the bitchy, feel good, cut throat, exhilarating world of Japanese pop music! Everything, in the end, boils down to sport. The thing that I love about sport anime is the raw emotion and occasional over dramatics that go with it.
Continue reading Chance Pop Session – Episodes 1 to 5…

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