Tuesday, May 18, 2004


I guess having been a bit of a newcomer to the field I've not yet felt confident to do much in the way of reviews while doing some catch-up; and even though there are a lot of "standards" I've not seen (or even have much desire to track down), now I'm picking up stuff as it arrives, I suppose it's a good enough time to set a baseline and go on from there. I'll concentrate on series (multi-disk sets) rather than movies, since those tend to be either old news (Ghost in the Shell) or reviewed elsewhere as movies in their own right (Spirited Away). By default, I've only watched these in subbed Japanese, so can't comment on the USAn voice actors.

Thumbs down

These are series where I bought the first disk and haven't feel motivated to go any further:

  • Excel Saga - A squeaky voice too far, too loud (both sound-tracks) and if the Pedro sub-plot is meant to strive for pathos, it just ended up pathetic. There is a fine line between silly and stupid, and this one was unsure of its balance. Redeeming feature - the necessary cultural context subtitle track. But there are easier ways to learn about quirks of Japanese culture.
  • Najica Blitz Tactics - I don't mind that this (as I noted earlier) had a panty-flash rate of over 1Hz, but it could have been improved with a bit more of a connecting plot beyond "collect the bioroid of the week". Crowded out by better stuff - and with the art quality of other recent material being higher, this is not likely to bubble to the top for a long while.
  • Gasaraki - This one is meant as serious cerebral power-armour anime, and it conveys a good deal of gritty realism in its portrayal of contemporary warfare (I assume, having given up TV before Nintendo War I in 1991). But it's cold and soulless - after the first disk, I thought - but wasn't sure - I could see who I was supposed to consider as the good guy (or perhaps guys); but had no reason to care about any of the characters (except possibly one notionally on the apparent "bad guy" team) - we really hadn't been introduced to any of them, certainly not in any unguarded moments.

Not sure

These are first disks where I might buy some more - on the list for future frivolous purchase if nothing else beats them to the top of the pile

  • Zaion - the first thing to note about this one is that it's only 2 episodes on the first disk; I think we're paying for the CGI work. Unfortunately I felt that the registration between the CGI mecha and the conventional animation was weak. Contains a completely gratuitous shower scene featurning the (non-)appearance of the canonical invisible anime genitalia - involving the male lead. Unlike Gasaraki, though, this one actually bothered to try and introduce the characters. If it weren't for the price per episode, I'd rate this one higher. [Later: dropped]
  • Angelic Layer - It's so kawaii! And a very faithful rendering of the original Clamp manga, with some interpolated material, and without the sillier drawing style (wiggly Icchan) that the original uses at time.
    Unlike the manga, it is easier to see what is going on during the Angelic Fight scenes. In anime the use of the streaky background to imply motion blur does allow one to see what's going on in, unlike the manga where the equivalent black streaky background can make a whole frame look like it's been scribbled out. This is something I've found with manga ever since I stumbled across Appleseed back in the 80's - I guess I'm too used to the kinetics of a fight scene being conveyed as per Marvel Comics.
    But now I've seen how it's done, and I've read the manga, do I need to watch the rest of the disks?
    OTOH, I now at least know how to pronounce the name of the Magic Knight who lent her name to the Battle Doll - in my dialect of English, at least, I'd phoneticise it as Hickerer (the strict Romanisation as Hikaru is so tempting to pronounce like Hindu). [Later: dropped]
  • Full Metal Panic - special forces high school mecha pilots! Yep, our mecha-pilot hero has years of combat experience around the world, and not only can he pass himself off as a 16-year-old high-school student, he is a 16-year-old high-school student. So, it's a genre convention, like the girls with blue or pink hair. I'm not sure if it's a mecha title with high-school romance elements or vice-versa, and I don't know whether it is sure either. [Later: dropped]

Got the Lot

- or getting, if the series isn't all out yet. In some cases I've not watched them all yet.

  • Burn Up/Warrior + /Excess - Big girls with big - er - guns. IRL, I'm not one for the top-heavy Dolly Parton style figure, but hey, this is anime, right down to the funny hair colours. Veers between the pure comedy (underwear thieves and transsexual jewel robbers) and fairly straight police/SWAT/special agent storylines (hostage situations, stalkers) , with a nice sentimental twist at the end of the plotline - but it has an obvious continuing plot (unlike Najica, which might otherwise be more in tune visually with my tastes when being exploitative). The first OAV disk (/Warrior) is a pilot which doesn't quite carry on smoothly in the main series either in plot or quite in tone. The lecherous token male character can be annoying at times, but those bits are usually end-of-episode filler, for which fast-forward can be employed.
  • Original Dirty Pair - For the serious kyotaku, I'm afraid (yes, these are my region 1 DVD collection). The OAV series is slight, and of uneven quality. The movies are better - Nolandia has a memorable intertwined chase sequence, Flight 005 is actually a fairly straight SF adventure, and Project EDEN has the only real planetary scale disasters caused by the Lovely Angels, A pity in the latter case that the Dirty Pair/Aliens plotline is weak and burdened by "light hearted" elements.
    Some kyotaku dislike this last movie for the fact that Kei has some sort of romantic interlude - but then I guess that some would only be happy if Kei only ever had eyes for either a) the kyotaku in question or b) Yuri - but I figure her as an easy come, easy go sort of girl.
  • Dirty Pair Flash - Two characters of the same name as the originals, different background, and a hundred years later. But still has the essential spirit of mayhem. Disk 1 is a good straight origin-of (with a villain who could be Original Kei turned to the Dark Side), disk 2 lampoons other anime styles - the romance episode (Sparkle Bright True Love Flower Shop) continues to crack me up. I'm saving disk 3 for a suitable occasion when I'm down and need something frivolous.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion - Deservedly known as very much the definitive anime series. Yes, it may look like it's giant robots vs the fungi from Outer Space from the first few episodes, but, well - when a Continental film director makes a bleak incomprehensible movie about the human condition, people call it art cinema but not many people watch it. This is the same sort of thing but with characters you can get attached to and giant robot action as well, and more people do watch it. If you make it all the way, you love it despite the fact that they ran out of money and had to produce the last few episodes on a shoestring, before going out to make a full length movie (The End of Evangelion) to completely replace the last two on the strength of the reception the series received. And despite the "Next episode, more fan service" in the TV episodes - which generally amounted to the odd camera angle that seems to forget that the female closest to the viewer has a face, some denim clad haunches wriggled at the camera and one (tame) down T-shirt shot (& not even a gratuitous shower scene).
    I'm eagerly awaiting the region 2 release of the Director's Cut disks (reworking the last episodes with some budget, with some more revelations of what might really have been going on). And quite the opposite for the possible live action movie - since most of it will be CGI, why not stay honest with the animation; the more so when all the information I have suggests that it has been USAnized by folk who can't even pronounce the title properly.
  • RahXephon - I'm two disks in so far to this series. It could be dismissed as sub-Evangelion, or NGE-Next Generation in so far as it re-uses several NGE tropes, but does like Trek-NG, and splits some roles from the earlier series amongst two characters - you can watch and pretty much say "Those two are Misato, those two are Gendo Ikari,..." But it's easy to watch, looks pretty, has a somewhat different set of tensions between characters, suprisingly has intro and outro music I don't feel compelled to skip over, and Ayato-kun doesn't act the asshole like Shinji-kun* did ("I'll never pilot the RahXephon again... Oh, all right, since you asked nicely, and explained why it was a good idea, I will.")
  • Noir - Conspiracy thriller played straight. You can tell it's played straight from the fact that not only do almost all the characters have normal hair colours (only a couple of lilac haired characters, admittedly, significant ones), the only shower scene in the first 4 disks is so chaste that you wonder if it only appeared for contractual reasons, and the women do acrobatics in short skirts without even so much as a hint of gusset being displayed. It could have been done live-action without needing CGI.
    The Japanese do France exceedingly well, there are simply gobs of atmosphere, I've raved about the soundtrack (though I do skip the intro and outro). And it's an unsentimental story that makes one give one's sympathies to a pair of killers for hire.
  • Serial Experiments Lain - Low key cyberpunk weirdness. Only watched the first disk so far, I don't know what's going on, but I'm hooked. Subverts the normal "next episode" post-credits section with short live action snippet talking about parts of the body - eye, ear, hand, etc; and has intro/outro music I'm happy to listen through. The copyright on the box says 1988, and I'm inclined to believe that in terms of some of the visualisations used - but if so, an incredibly prescient one, in its casual use of text messaging by school-kids. If it's actually '98, it's still good, not quite so gobsmackingly so.

* Did I mention that I really like Evangelion despite having little sympathy for the notional lead character? The attitude might just spill over into my NGE fanfics. Maybe I can take 17-year-old angst better than the 14-year-old variety.

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