Excel Saga, Chrono Crusade Manga and Southland Tales
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, Todd Douglass, and Holly Beeman
Anime Talk looks at some great new anime releases this week including Green Green a show with plenty of fan service, the Area 88 OVA set, and the newly released Excel Saga thinpak set. Due to popular demand our manga section is back with a look at the Chrono Crusade series, and guest writer Jamie S. Rich covers something that a lot of you might have missed: the Southland Tales graphic novel. This book is the first of three prequel comics that expand on writer/director Richard Kelly's upcoming film of the same name. If you enjoyed Kelly's film Donnie Darko, you'll definitely want to check out this latest work. We also have a listing of all of the anime of note that will be released in the next couple of weeks, Holly's back with more anime picks for the budget minded as well. Be sure to check out our previous installments for reviews of the best (and worst) anime and manga to be released in region one.
More Gatchaman action is always a good thing. With only a few volumes left things are really starting to heat up for the Science Ninja Team. In this latest collection Galactor comes up with some more asinine ideas as far as taking over the world is concerned and they finally discover where Gatchaman's secret base is. Let's just say that what they do with that knowledge changes the way the Science Ninja Team has to operate. This is the prime example of a classic show that keeps getting better and better as it matures.
Taking place in the future, Kiddy Grade is a fun series from Gonzo that follows the exploits of two agents from the GOTT (Galactic Organization of Trade and Tariffs). Éclair and Lumiere aren't your typical pair of young girls; they are actually powerful butt-kicking femme fatales that always get their mark. This series is a blast from start to finish, though it's a little episodic in its structure. Around the half way point the show gets turned upside down and things change direction entirely. It remains a solid series throughout though and science fiction fans will absolutely fall in love.
One title we agreed on this month was Area 88: Original OVA Series; a nice companion piece to the recent Area 88 series by ADV Films but it also stands alone as it has for over twenty years. The story of Shin Kazama is “A classic tale of love, war and tragedy comes to life in the original fast-paced, emotionally charged thrill ride, Area 88. In a cruel twist of fate, talented young pilot Shin Kazama is tricked into serving as a mercenary for Area 88: a hell on earth where men survive by gunning down anyone who stands in their way. To return home, Shin must sell his soul to the battlefield and pave the road back to Japan with the corpses of his fallen opponents. Two feature length films, full of dizzying dogfights and heart wrenching drama that make Area 88 one of the most memorable anime classics of all time. Get ready for the ride of your life!” In essence, the story follows Shin from his training days for a corporate airline in Japan to his being tricked by a friend into signing away his freedom as part of an elaborate plot. Shin is carted off to Aslam, a Middle Eastern nation at war with itself as two brothers vie for the throne, with the penalty of death if he tries to escape before his three year hitch is up. The only means he has of getting away faster is to excel at air combat and raise $1.5 million dollars by shooting down various targets (balanced off by his expenses), all of whom are shooting back at him. Be sure to read both Don Houston's and Holly Beeman's review of this disc.
If you enjoy fan service harem shows, Green Green: Co-ed Casualties might appeal to you. It’s set in a formerly all boys school in a rural area in Japan. An all girls school is merging with them and the first episode, /Hearts Pounding Deep in the Mountains/ opens up with the ladies being bussed into the school on a trial basis. The lead male protagonist of the show is Yusuke Takasaki and he plays the usual knucklehead boy who is learning about himself as he follows his pack of pals around through their various dumb ideas to score with chicks. He's not exceptional in any way and his grades are average on a good day with limited other characteristics to make up for his apparent lack of brains. The lead female character is Midori Chitose, a gal who knows from first sight that Yusuke is a lover of hers from a previous life with their destiny being that they are fated to live and husband and wife forever. The only down side is that he doesn't share a memory of this prophecy and that makes her forward nature scary to him. The other problem is that an older girl at her school, Reika Futaba, is also aware of the prophecy but seems to be standing as a guardian to prevent it from happening. It will seem familiar to those of you into the genre but merits at least a passing glance if you enjoy this kind of thing.
As in all things, even the best of series have to end some time so it was with bittersweet interest that we watched the concluding volumes of the Samurai 7 series with Samurai 7 V6: Broken Alliance and Samurai 7 V7: Guardians of the Rice. The team is fractured into different groups; each thinking the other is handling the impending doom of their respective worlds incorrectly. Kambei fights the demons forcing them apart as the Emperor seemingly spares his life, only to plot a more subversive manner to rid himself of the problems the samurai causes him. With the destruction of Kanna at the top of the list for obstacles to erase, the question of whether the remaining members of the team can stop the full might of the Empire and wishes of the Emperor or will they perish in the attempt. With a more cerebral approach punctuated by some fantastically climatic battles, the series goes out with the kind of bang that fans demanded in this tribute to the legendary Akira Kurosawa.
Kannazuki No Miko: V2: Lunar Priestess continued the exploits of a trio of youth who have embarked on a mission to save Earth, or at least each other, from an ancient foe of the world called Orochi. Modern technology is mixed with popular myth as Himeko, a girl about to enter womanhood on her 16th birthday that is afraid of her own shadow; Chikane, a wealthy young lady with the kind of self assurance and skill that comes only from within; and Souma, a boyfriend of Himeko and moody type who seems drawn towards a different path; are all found facing destiny. The two girls seem to have a very close relationship and their birthdays are just around the corner when all of a sudden, a demon appears out of the morning sky to wreak havoc. Fighting the enemy and their own selfish desires, the second of the three volume show proves to be almost as confusing as the opener but manages to light a spark of creativity all the same.
Fans of whacked anime rejoice, ADV has finally released a thinpack collection for Excel Saga! Over the years since it was released this anime has garnered a cult following and in many ways has become the very symbol of the comedy genre. Describing what transpires in this series isn't an easy thing to do for sure, because every episode is a parody of another genre. Excel is a loyal follow of Lord Ilpalazzo and a member of ACROSS which is an organization bent on taking over the city above. To put it simply: this is one of the most outrageous shows ever created. From start to finish you never know what's coming and when you see the outcome you won't believe your eyes. Not everybody will "get" the sense of humor here though, so you need to have a true appreciation for the bizarre.
If you ever wondered what it would be like to be a ninja in today's society then Ninja Nonsense has the answers you're looking for. This peculiar comedy series follows the exploits of a busty young ninja in training named Shinobu as she goes through day to day life and completes various ninja related tasks. In the first episode her master requires her to go to town and steal girl's panties where she runs into another young girl named Kaede. The two become friends and from that point we see the world of ninja from Kaede's eyes. The humor is random, though not as random as Excel Saga, and features a ninja crocodile, a sentient yellow ball, and a ninja with a case of diarrhea. It's laugh out loud funny at times but at others it seems to be trying a little too hard to get that chuckle.
From Akamatsu Ken, the creator of Love, Hina, comes another romantic-comedy show, Negima! This story of a ten year old boy with secret magic powers who just happens to be teaching a class of eighth grade girls. It's funny, sweet, and has just a touch of mystery to keep the story interesting. There is also a slightly dark undercurrent that makes the program interesting, and hints of a bigger story that will be told. If the rest of the series can build off of the foundation that was set down with this volume, it'll be a very entertaining show. Fans of Ken's earlier work will surely want to give this series a look too.
Speed Grapher V1: Limited Edition is a futuristic story about a burnt out photographer named Tatsumi Saiga. Developing a taste for capturing pictures with his keen eye for detail, he has traveled the world seeking the perfect picture. In his travels of the past, he has been a war correspondent and taken pictures that literally transformed the landscape though at great personal cost (as adrenaline junkies often find out too late). A near death war injury addicted him to anti-pain medication and reduced him to a shell of his former self, landing him back in Japan with his wings clipped by authorities. No longer able to travel and coming off like a film noir detective that has seen too much in his limited time on Earth, he sticks to mundane local assignments until he happens to come across a situation that leads him on the trail of a huge conspiracy involving tremendous wealth and power that crosses government and corporate interests. Using all the skills developed in his years, he infiltrates an almost mythical nightspot called simply The Club; a modern day Sodom, as created by a company known as The Tennozu Group, where leaders from all walks of life can have or do anything they like for a price. Saiga ends up rescuing a young lady that grants him supernatural powers, resulting in his becoming a fugitive from the most powerful people on Earth, desperately seeking a way to survive against all odds. This looks like another winner from Gonzo as producer domestically by FUNimation so keep an eye out for it if you want something admittedly decadent and twisted.
Teknoman: Collection 2 was released too; the edited version of the original Japanese series /Uchu No Kishi Tekkaman Bureido/ brought back in the form of the second part of a three volume double disc set. The next 15 episodes are presented here with the Vemenoids stepping up their attack on Earth as they recruit all new Teknomen to fight Blade. His friends and allies travel with him as he learns about his sorted past from a family member, just in time to fight off that past; most of which have been enhanced with the same type of powers he enjoys (though without the imposed time limits he must follow). After winning numerous battles, it seems the team is losing the war through attrition with the same political intrigue causing problems once again. If you enjoyed the Americanized version ten years ago, this might serve to whet your appetite until the restoration of the original is finished so check it out already.
Though Shojo (girls) manga and anime are good sellers in Japan, there have been relatively few series that have crossed the Pacific. Viz, publisher of Shojo Beat a monthly magazine devoted to manga aimed at young women, has tried to reverse that trend by publishing several shojo manga series and they have started to release Shojo anime too. One of their first titles is Full Moon the story of a terminally ill 12-year-old girl who wants to be a singer. A light show with a good amount of humor and some cute bits, the series is getting off to a good start. Mitsuki is a likable character and the humor generally works well. Though the volume was a bit on the slow side and had some aspects that were hard to swallow, it was still a lot of fun to watch. Not all anime has to involve giant robots fighting with teen aged pilots, and this series is a nice change of pace.
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by Todd Douglass
Chrono Crusade Manga Volumes 1 & 2
The Chrono Crusade manga has been out for some time and the same can be said for the anime. Chances are very good that by now you have checked out one or the other depending on your level of interest, but in case you missed it we got the first couple of volumes to take a look at.
Nuns with guns are the main draw for this action series and one nun in particular finds herself being the center of attention. The year is 1928 and Rosette Christopher is an exorcist from the Magdalene Order who has a talent for sniffing out trouble and an even bigger talent for getting herself in the middle of it all. Luckily for her she's not flying solo since she tends to drag her pointy eared buddy Chrono along for good measure.
In the first volume things get started rather ominously with an ocean liner crashing into New York harbor. A demon leaps from the boat and onto the pier to start scaring the bejesus out of people, luckily for them Rosette's car is expendable. With a resounding bang Rosette and Chrono crash head-on into the monster and drive him back onto the tanker. They pursue the beast and with the help of some of the Magdalene's trinkets and Chrono's demonic powers they subdue their foe. Oh, did I mention that Chrono is a demon?
As this volume progresses we discover that he had actually made a pact with Rosette and is bound to her soul. A watch that hangs around Rosette's neck is not only the capsule for his demonic strength but also shows how long Rosette has left to life. Every time the seal is broken on the watch her soul diminishes so needless to say they need to use it sparingly. This is something that gives the higher ups in the Magdalene Order reason for concern, but due to the strength of the friendship between the two partners they don't intervene.
As the volume continues the pair's next mission involves a young girl named Azmaria who has been bestowed with an angelic voice. Dark forces are trying to utilize her powers of healing in order to turn them into that of destruction. Rosette and Chrono slip in and rescue her but before long Azmaria falls back into the hands of the bad guys. This leaves it up to our two heroes yet again to go save her.
One of the two men responsible for kidnapping the girl is actually a shadow from Crhono's past. He's a demon with a vendetta against Chrono, who finds himself in trouble with his powers sealed in Rosette's watch. Naturally, since Rosette is foolhardy, this means the seal is broken and Chrono's true nature is unleashed. A really cool fight scene comes next and leads up towards the end of the first volume.
As the manga moves into the second volume Rosette's character gets more fleshing out with some flashbacks into her past. Having watched the anime there is some stuff that comes up with her brother that impacts the entire series in a big way. The second installment of the manga introduces some of those juice morsels and really takes a look at the characters of the story. There's a little bit of action to be had but it isn't really the running and gunning stuff that the series started out with.
If you're into manga, or just want to see where the anime drew its inspiration from, then Chrono Crusade is a definite must have. The characters are deep, the story is far reaching, and the action gets very creative with a great deal of intensity. The second volume feels a little more drawn out than the first, but in the grand scheme of things everything here is important to the plot. Six other volumes remain in the series and there is a lot of room for development.
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Some stories are too big to tell in one slice. Consider Richard Kelly's first film, Donnie Darko. Though Kelly didn't originally set out to have two versions of his movie, now that they both exist, each cut casts its light in different directions, becoming two pieces of a larger whole.
For his second film, Southland Tales, writer/director Kelly has thought ahead, drawing up a plan to give his story room to breathe beyond the multiple cans of film it will take to show it in theatres. To give his audience every piece of the narrative, he has turned to graphic novels. Working from elements of Kelly's original script, artist Brett Weldele has joined with the writer/director to adapt these segments into a three-volume Southland Tales comic book prequel.
Volume 1, Two Roads Diverge introduces four distinct characters. The first three are Boxer Santaros, an action movie star wandering the desert without his memory; Fortunio Balducci, a rootless gambler; and Krysta Now, a porn star who dabbles in poetry, black marketeering, and the occasional psychic vision. The fourth is a largely unseen force--the government, perhaps?--watching their every move. This presence is felt through satellite pictures and the occasional panel or inset to remind us that everything is being watched and recorded, the images shifting to black-and-white, the red light of a camera viewfinder inspiring paranoia.
These are the moments where Weldele shines, and it's what makes him a perfect collaborator for Kelly. Having previously drawn the sci-fi adventure The Surrogates (Top Shelf Productions) and the Shakespearean political thriller Julius (Oni Press), he's got the prior experience to be able to handle Kelly's interlocking conspiracy theories and post-apocalyptic future. Southland Tales takes place in 2008, and America is still recovering from a nuclear strike that rocked Texas in 2005. It's a smart move on Kelly's part to set his yarn within our current timeframe. It makes Southland Tales an alternate reality rather than a futuristic fantasy. Time can never catch up with him if the events chronicled have already happened.
Weldele also cannily steps over some stylistic bear traps. Comic book tie-ins to movies can often be hobbled by artwork that loses its verve due to an artist being shackled too heavily to recreating the likenesses of well-known actors. If you know Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays Boxer and Sarah Michelle Gellar is Krysta Now, you can see them in Weldele's sparse renderings, but it's more of an essence thing than a realistic recreation. He goes for the aura that makes them who they are rather than photo referencing the panels to death. Additionally, his solid color washes create mood with subtle strokes, using less detail to achieve greater impact.
Donnie Darko fanatics will find plenty to chew on in Southland Tales: Two Roads Diverge. There are some hints of time travel that have a payoff that has yet to be seen, but where the folks who love to hang out on the internet and pick apart whacky stories like this will really go to town are the metafictional elements. Krysta decides to use Boxer for her own purposes, and to manipulate him, she unveils a screenplay she wrote, The Power, that has some prophetic parallels to the predicament Boxer has found himself in. In an excellent contextual move, the book shifts from the graphic element to ten pages of screenplay, turning Two Roads Diverge into a comic adapted from a movie script about lost souls whose lives are informed by a movie script. Have fun with that, story theorists.
All in all, the scope of Southland Tales suggests a move forward for Kelly. The dialogue is more adult, both in sentence structure and subject. In some cases, the relaying of information through captions can distract, giving information we see in the pictures and suggesting a filmmaker who is not as comfortable with the silence on a page the way he might be on screen. For the most part, though, the captions are chosen for their lyrical relevance, ricocheting off the action to give us a poetic insight into what the characters are doing. (Poetry plays an important part in the story, including Krysta's haikus and the regular references to Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot.) While Weldele delivers a lot of concise exposition through well-chosen images, Kelly adds to the sense of purpose by giving us hints of what lies beyond what can be seen.
By the close of the first book, Southland Tales: Two Roads Diverge does exactly what the start of a serialized story and a prequel is supposed to do: make the audience hungry for more. At the last page, I wanted to know what happened to Boxer and where Krysta is taking him. I was curious of who was watching and why. If Kelly and Weldele can make me want to read volume 2, and then volume 3, then I'll probably want to see the Southland Tales movie, as well. Rather than a cash-in, this graphic novel reads like a true supplement to something bigger. If that bigger story is as good as this one, Southland Tales is in business.
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