Moonlight Mile, D. Gray-Man, and The Mysterious Cities of Gold
May 2009 Edition by Todd
Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Welcome to this month's installment of Anime Talk! So many exciting things are happening around in the industry, the country, and in our very own little corner of DVD Talk!
Starting with the changes in our neck of the woods, I'm pleased to announce that Right Stuf, Inc. has signed on as our official sponsor! They are without a doubt the premier anime store with great prices, a very wide selection of anime titles, and unparalleled customer service. We're excited to have them with us. Moving on to other things, what's going on in the industry? Well, FUNimation, Bandai, VIZ, Media Blasters, and ADV continue their release schedules with new title solicitations and repackaged collections. For this column we've pulled together some reviews of great shows such as Wolf's Rain, Moonlight Mile, D. Gray-Man, Gankutsuou, Shigurui: Death Frenzy, and so much more. Of note is the inclusion of some Blu-ray releases as well, so be sure to check it out if you're a high definition junkie.
Now, it's probably also worth noting that convention season is looming upon us! Sure there is almost always a convention being held somewhere, but once again we'll be attending Anime Boston this year. We'll be conducting interviews, hitting up industry related panels, drooling all over the dealer's room, and we'll probably check out some other things too. I'll be sure to put together a nice report when all is said and done, and I'm sure there will be plenty of pictures too!
Exciting times are ahead for sure, but by the time our next column roles around there may be some special updates as well. Until then, on with Anime Talk!
Shigurui: Death Frenzy is a violent and bloody anime that can be hard to watch at times. Based on the first chapter of a book by Norio Nanjo, it takes place in the 1600's in Japan, a very violent period, and the show doesn't flinch away from showing just how hard and demanding life could be. With CGI animation for some of the more gruesome sections, this show is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Like other anime shows (Gantz comes to mind) if you can get past the gore and spewing blood you'll find an excellent series that is well worth watching. This series is also the first time that FUNimation has released an anime show on DVD and Blu-ray concurrently. There's a kink or two present, but the splendid image and compelling story make up for the flaws.
Funimation continues their release of the Dragon Ball Z theatrical movies on Blu-ray with another double feature: Super Android 13 and Bojack Unbound. The DBZ films aren't as exciting as fun as the series itself, though they make nice diversions, and these two are good examples of that. Since they're really short they don't have any time to catch viewers up on what's going on, so if you're not familiar with the characters, stories, and background of the show you'll be totally lost. For fans of the show however, these are worth watching.
Anime shows are often outer space adventures involving huge mecha, galaxy-crossing spaceships, or system-sprawling empires. Those are fun and I enjoy them, but some of my favorite SF anime series are the ones that take a more realistic, near-future look at space travel. Shows like Planetes, which looked at the problem of man-made debris orbiting the earth, are easy to connect with. Another such show is Moonlight Mile, the story of two friends who are both trying to get into space. Gripping, beautiful, and unexpectedly engrossing this show has all of the adventure and excitement of a mecha series with the human face of a good drama. FUNimation has now released the entire first season in an attractive two disc set that will be a great addition to any anime library.
Another Dragon Ball Z movie release has hit standard definition as well. Rather than provide two films, this one includes three, and they all happen to revolve around a guy named Broly. In Broly: Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly Second Coming, and Bio Broly our heroes are put to the test once again. Naturally it's basically the end of the world and Broly is the big bad guy that has to be taken down. Lucky for the universe Goku comes back from the dead to put him down and the rest of the Z fighters are around to chip in as well. Of course there's more to the story for each film, but the same standard holds true that each is basically an extended episode and little more than that.
Project Blue Earth SOS rocks, and there's no question about it! This science fiction show has already been released by ADV, but FUNimation picked up the rights to the license along the way. In case you missed it the first time around, you should know that this is probably the best sci-fi anime you haven't watched. It's a throwback to science fiction shows from the 1950's and it pays so much homage to the genre it's not even funny. Sure it has the potential to be cliché, and yes it is a little over-the-top at times, but my goodness is it a fun show to watch!
Another volume of Darker than Black has made its way onto store shelves as well. This brooding futuristic series continues its march forward as more about the characters are revealed. We get another fine pair of storylines with four episodes here and we even learn a little more about Hei, and the world he lives in. The goals of the Syndicate still aren't quite clear, but as we edge ever closer to the truth this series is really being developed quite nicely.
Stylish, engaging, captivating, and original are all words I'd use to describe Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. This remake of the classic French tale takes place thousands of years into the future and depicts a possessed blue-skinned man seeking revenge against a specific Parisian noble family. This show has been around for a while and it used to be in Geneon's hands, so chances are good you may have already seen it due to the sheer amount of critical praise it received. Even though FUNimation has re-released it as a collection it's nice to know that praise still holds true. This show is incredible and it's undoubtedly one of GONZO's best works.
Want another incredible show that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final episode roles? Check out Wolf's Rain by Bandai Entertainment. Sure, like Gankutsuou, this show has been around for a while. It already has two other collections on the market and has been featured on Cartoon Network ad nauseam. But you know what? The attention is worth it. Few shows have such an original concept and bring together so many unique elements so seamlessly. Check out the review of the Perfect Collection to learn more, but needless to say if you haven't seen this show yet, it's an absolutely must.
Another release by Bandai, Ghost Slayers Ayashi, has recently had its second part come out. This package includes the third and fourth volumes and contains another ten episodes. The story about Yuki continues as he and other members of the Ayashi continue to track down the demonic Youi. These episodes do bring new understands about the characters to the surface, and they are definitely developed much better than they were in the first part. The tone of this show is still dreadfully glum, and the series is decidedly darker than others of this nature. That's not a bad thing, and it sets this show apart from the rest, but you definitely need to have an appreciation for moody anime in order to "get it".
Isn't it just a little ridiculous how popular many of Shonen Jump's series are? I mean, with titles such as Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach you simply can't argue the facts. Their latest effort, D.Gray-Man has recently made its way to the States and I'm pleased to say that it's every bit as worthy of the Shonen Jump moniker as those others. This show features a very different kind of hero, and rather than be gung-ho with confidence he comes from a troubled past and has been cursed to boot. This first part of the show is definitely a nice way to get introduced and I'm really interested to see where this one goes!
by Todd Douglass
I suppose this may be more television related rather than anime, but I genuinely feel The Mysterious Cities of Gold deserves more attention from the anime crowd. This show from the 80's was produced by a Japanese production company and aired in Japan before anywhere else. Sure an original Japanese cut doesn't exist anymore, and yes the story more or less came to fruition in France, but through and through this is a quality story and an awesome release that is worth a look.
When it comes to children's cartoons from the 80's there are many titles that spring to mind. Thundercats, Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, She-Ra, the list goes on and on. But do you remember The Mysterious Cities of Gold?
The show was originally produced in 1982 by DiC and Japanese animation company Studio Pierrot. With international origins it should be no surprise that The Mysterious Cities of Gold was a hit all across the globe. From Japan to France, the UK, Australia, and eventually the U.S. (via Nickelodeon), the show turned out to be quite popular. Unfortunately it didn't catch on in the States quite as well as it should have, and it simply avoided mainstream attention probably due to the exclusivity of it being featured on a cable channel. That's a shame really, because this is one of the truly outstanding productions from back then and it is every bit as entertaining today as it was over twenty years ago.
For years now fans have been longing for someone, anyone, to release the show on DVD. Their prayers were answered when it was announced that a UK release was on the way thanks to Fabulous Films. The show hit Region 2 with a nice little boxed set with all 39 episodes last June, and now almost a year later we finally receive a similar treatment for our region. For the purposes of this review we are looking at the six disc Deluxe boxed set with all the bells and whistles. There is a regular boxed set available as well, but the only difference between that collection and this one is some of the packed in promotional material discussed below in the extras content.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold takes place in the year 1532 and begins in Spain. Everyone is going on about the New World to the west and a couple of guys named Sancho and Pedro are at the local pub telling stories about their impending voyage to search for the cities of gold. Listening in on their conversation is Esteban, an orphan living at the local church who was rescued as a baby while adrift at sea with his father. Considered to be the Child of the Sun, Esteban possesses a medallion around his neck which is rumored to be from a golden city. A man named Mendoza introduces himself to Esteban and tells the boy that he was the one who rescued him, filling his head with the notion that his father may still be alive somewhere.
Mendoza convinces Esteban to travel to the New World with him aboard the Queen's ship in order to find his father. Little does Esteban know but Mendoza has also kidnapped a young Incan girl named Zia, and is planning on using the two of them to find the city of gold. With his little trick and the kidnapping, you'd presume that Mendoza is a bad guy though that's not exactly the case. He doesn't wish the kids ill-will at all, but rather sees an opportunity to utilize them to fulfill his golden goal. Their journey to the New World is kind of a bumpy one and it's not long into the show that they make enemies out of the Spaniards they are traveling with. They also meet a young boy named Tao, who is the surviving member of the Hiva Empire, and he joins them in their quest.
When they finally land in the New World, breadcrumbs litter their path. Ancient stories and relics guide them to new people and places. Each episode builds up to something and there are several climaxes throughout the show. For instance an early adventure has them discovering a massive and ancient ship from Tau's ancestors. Another involves finding a faux city of gold that holds another icon from the show, the golden condor. And of course, there is always the goal for Esteban and Zia to find their fathers. Little by little the pieces come together until finally almost all the questions are answered. The Mysterious Cities of Gold definitely wasn't like so many other shows from the early 80's. There's a great deal of continuity here and it only has a few standalone episodes, though thankfully they don't mess with the pacing too much.
From start to finish The Mysterious Cities of Gold tells a fantastic story. The mystery surrounding the seven cities of gold will keep you guessing for a great deal of the show. Some of the stuff can be a little hokey, and the introduction of a specific group of characters towards the end has always rubbed me the wrong way, but all around this is a great show that stays very consistent throughout.
Whether you were a fan of The Mysterious Cities of Gold when it aired on Nickelodeon, or you simply have never heard of the show, this boxed set is highly recommended. Fabulous Films did a great service to the series with its presentation, and the quality of the program stands out based on its own merit. This is one of the classics that will simply never go out of style. Sure it may have a misstep here and there, but the fact that the core story is strong, and the characters are memorable keeps it timeless.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold is presented on DVD with its original 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio. Before we really get into the quality of the picture, let me just say that this show wears its age well. Considering it is 27 years old and the original print didn't receive the greatest of care, Fabulous Films did a nice job of bringing everything together. Despite their best efforts they were unable to completely restore the show (that would take a larger budget and better source material).
The video in The Mysterious Cities of Gold is affected by dirt, occasionally full of grain, there are scratches, and some of the color has faded in parts. The abundance of each of these elements varies greatly from episode to episode and scene to scene. With regards to some of the work Fabulous did here, there are many moments that truly stand out compared to the rest. When you watch a scene that has a solid image and vibrant, natural colors, it will really stand out. A majority of this release maintains this level of quality, so kudos to Fabulous for the nice job they did! Still, if you're coming to this show you have to take the picture quality with a grain of salt and watch it with the understanding that the film is more than 25 years old.
Likewise the sound quality in The Mysterious Cities of Gold is good, but it definitely shows some age. From the catchy theme song and incredible soundtrack to the voiceovers and sound effects, everything sounds like you'd expect it would. Some moments in the show come across as tired with scratchy or muddied audio. For the most part the quality ranges from acceptable to good.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold is presented on DVD in two varieties. There's a regular boxed set which contains six discs with supplemental content (which I'll be discussing in a moment). Then there's the Deluxe Version which has the same six discs, but includes additional material to entice fans with. With the Deluxe Version you're getting a fold-out poster with character artwork on one side and a map of where Esteban traveled on the other. The box set also includes six postcards with some fantastic art from the show and a 12 page booklet with historical facts and information. A very cool 32 page booklet with information about each episode is also included as well. It also contains details on the characters and a lot more artwork.
With each of the 39 episodes Fabulous Films has included the original historical bits. These short clips contained pertinent historical information to moments in each episode, whether the characters went to a particular location, met a new tribe of people, or learned something. They aren't quite documentary worthy, but for a children's programming and as a way to educate youngsters who are watching the show they definitely add a lot of value. Each episode also includes a synopsis of the story, a review of the previous episode, and preview for the next.
The rest of the bonus features are broken up across the six discs here. Unfortunately there is no information on any of the booklets or packaging to denote what features are on what discs. I guess that means you have to explore!
The first disc includes a textual synopsis of the series, four brief deleted scenes (presented with no sound), an alternate intro sequence for the first episode, two storyboard pieces presented in realtime, and a treasure trove of original production drawings. On the second disc we find an interview with members of the original dubbing cast (29:31). This proved to be one of the meatiest and most interesting inclusion on this set since Shiraz Adam (Esteban), Janice Chaikelson (Zia), Adrian Knight (Tao), and Howard Ryshpan (Mendoza) offer a great amount insight into working on the show and what they took away from it, considering the kids in the show were in fact kids when they were recording it.
The material on the second disc continues with the same cast members recreating a scene and showing us how they did it. There's also a list of cast members and their biographies, character drawings, character biographies, and another storyboard sequence. For the third disc things get skimpier with a textual interview with Mitsuru Kaneko, another realtime storyboard sequence, and two galleries with bits from episodes and the opening sequence. The fourth disc kicks things up a notch again with members of the original French production team talking about making the show (36:26). It's very interesting and there's a lot of insight behind the series as far as what went into making it and how it came to be the classic it was. Some biographies are included for production crew as well as more original drawings and a random art gallery. The fifth disc features a little deleted scene for Episode 32, some more production drawings, and sales brochures for French, Japanese, and English. Closing out the collection on the sixth disc is another storyboard sequence, additional production drawings, DVD credits, and a karaoke version of the theme song.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold is a timeless show that offers memorable characters and a robust story. I think part of the show's success also has a lot to do with the way it approached the material. This was a cut above the average children's cartoon with loads of historical facts and some elevated plotlines. It never really talked down to its target audience and sought to educate as well as entertain. That's something missing from most kid's programs today and because of that The Mysterious Cities of Gold remains a gem.
This Deluxe boxed set is a perfect way for fans of the show to get it into their collection. Don't waste your time scouring Youtube for videos or looking for illegitimate copies, Fabulous Films' edition is remarkable in so many ways. From the restored portions of the program to the bonus features and packed in material, this Deluxe set is a must have. Highly Recommended.
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