Gankutsuou-The Count of Monte Cristo, Todd Douglass' high and low fives
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, Chris Tribbey, and Todd Douglass
Welcome to another installment of Anime Talk. This week our newest reviewer, Todd Douglass, tells us the top five things he loves and hates about the anime industry today. We also have an early look at a new series Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. This unique, eye-catching, and surreal show based on Alexander Dumas' famous novel promises to be anything but boring. In our anime review round-up we also have a look at the first volume of Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7, the Fire and Ice 2-disc LE, and the latest Studio Ghibli movie to hit region 1, My Neighbors, the Yamadas, among others. We also have Holly's anime bargains and our usual table of upcoming anime discs.
One of the most expensive anime series to date, Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7, volume 1, is now out on the shelves and it seems to be taking the world by storm. Based on the classic tale of samurai warriors hired to protect a village of peasant farmers, the series is said to cost nearly $8 million, a fortune for a single season show. The initial episodes show the revised setting as being in the future at a time when a war has recently devastated the world to the point where rich merchants take the reigns of society after the fall of the ruling samurai class. Fleshing out the original classic movie by Akira Kurosawa, studio Gonzo took a few liberties with the material but added a rich tapestry of intrigue as Kira, a water priestess, and her friends find themselves involved in a whole lot more than they bargained for at the hands of a society wanting to forget about peasants nearly as much as samurai. For action packed antics done with a flair, you probably won't find anything close to this one any time soon.
As anime becomes more mainstream; older titles in related fields are finding release onto DVD in special edition packages. One such title would be the Ralph Bakshi epic, Fire and Ice: 2 Disc Limited Edition. A collaboration with the legendary illustrator Frank Frazetta; the movie details a war between two kingdoms, one of fire and the other of ice. See what happens what the evil Nekron sends out his savage minions to capture princess Teegra and the ensuing chaos as a young warrior, Larn, joins forces with the mysterious Darkwolf to stop the madness. This double disc set has a lot to offer even the most casual anime fan and the country of origin shouldn't stop you from checking it out.
Disney has released their latest wave of Studio Ghibli films and this time they've included a movie that has a different look and feel from most of the other Ghibli films: My Neighbors, the Yamadas. Though it looks like a series of water colors rather than the intricate and detailed animation that Ghibli is noted for, the Yamadas is a wonderful entry in their canon. This film has a lot of charm and gentle humor that will have both young and old laughing out loud. The film is a series of small vignettes involving the Yamadas; typical Japanese family living in the suburbs of Tokyo. Each of these short skits, reminiscent of a gag-a-day comic strip, are really funny because they his so close to home, even for American audiences. Don't be put off by the odd cover...this disc is highly recommended.
With an outrageously disproportionate bust line, Rushuna charges into the spotlight in the new series Grenadier. In a time where samurai and townsfolk are literally being outgunned by a class of warriors named senshi, the world is in much turmoil. It's up to Rushuna to journey across the land spreading peace and love with her smile. While she is trying to put an end to violence things don't always go as planned so more often than not she has to whip out her trusty pistol. This new series proves a lot of fun to watch with a good sense of humor, fan service and interesting set of characters.
On the recommended list this time is Daphne in the Brilliant Blue 3: Getaway, the story is about a group of futuristic female bounty hunters hell bent on destruction and mayhem as they attempt to complete various contracts for lots of money. The lead character, Daphne, seems to be a fish out of water compared to her skilled, and quite eccentric, coworkers who generally end up causing more trouble then the criminals they are hunting but its all in good fun as they prance around in skimpy outfits trying to outwit their prey (and each other). This time around, Daphne's memories of a troubled past surface, endangering the group at large while on a Siberian vacation, leading to a host of memorable antics for each of them. The cover of the title alone has caused considerable controversy in recent weeks so see what you've been missing.
Another recommended title is Madlax, a show that just keeps on getting better and better as it goes along. This third volume is the best yet, as a little bit more is revealed about the Gazth-Sonika civil war, and Margaret's friend Vanessa gets herself into a lot of trouble with Enfant. This solid show promises to become one of the year's best anime releases.
The second volume of Tenjho Tenge has come out and unfortunately for the series this disc doesn't offer any furthering of the plot or its characters. All three episodes on the disc take play in a bowling alley where the executive council attacks the Juken Club relentlessly. There is almost nothing but fighting from the first episode to the last and it moves at a breakneck speed. The show has a lot of interesting concepts, but really needs to flesh out its characters and story in the coming volumes.
The fourth volume of Saiyuki Double Barrel starts the second season of the show, and it starts things off with a bang. In the first episode they introduce a new major villain that promises to make the show a bit more interesting. Homura, the Prince of War is planning to storm the heavens, and he needs Sanzo's scripture to ensure his victory. This guy isn't a push over, and he proves to be a lot of trouble for Sanzo and his group. There are some pretty significant changes to the story in this volume, which improve the show a lot. The introduction of a single powerful villain gives the program and added feeling of danger that the previous volumes were missing. If you grew a little tired of the formalistic nature of the show's first season, be sure to check this volume out.
The next batch of Gatchaman DVDs has come out thanks to ADV and the 12 episodes that find their home on volume 3 and volume 4 are just as good as the first ones. The science ninja team takes on Galactor yet again and battles with whatever monstrous creation they throw at them. If classic shows are your thing then Gatchaman is right up your alley. The discs offer a lot of bang for your buck too, but keep in mind that even though there are six episodes in a volume, there are 105 total for the series. That's a lot of space on your shelf, but this show is definitely worth it!
Wataru finally gets off Promised Island and back to Tokyo in volume seven of Sister Princess, the last disc in the series. While the show started out with a lot of promise, it never really lived up to its potential and this volume ends the show on a low note. When all was said and done, this show wasn't funny, or very entertaining. It was like an episode of Tom and Jerry that was done in the 70's where the cat and mouse were friends. Everyone spent the show trying to be as nice as possible to each other. *yawn* The answers to the questions that were raised through the course of the show turned out to be pretty lame too. Overall a disappointing series.
Another series that came to an end recently was Chrono Crusade. Unlike Sister Princess though, this series ended on a high note with a conclusion that was well executed and wrapped things up in a very satisfactory manner. There are some unexpected twists to keep you guessing, but these episodes also answer most of the questions that have popped up in the show. If only all anime shows had such well thought out and strong conclusions.
Yugo completes his first negotiation in the Pakistan story with the second volume of his series. The pace picks up immensely over the first volume's speed as things come to a close in the middle of the dessert. Tensions run high as everything is put on the line including Yugo's life as he works against the clock to save the hostage's life. It's a little disappointing that there are only three episodes on each of these discs, but in this case the story wraps up nicely.
One series that has a few interesting aspects but is fatally flawed is Shadow Star Narutaru. Even in the third volume, the writers can't decide on a plot. This show is ruined by being very disjointed, to the point of almost being incomprehensible. Tangets are flung off left and right, often to be abandoned. There are only 13 episodes in this series, but they are introducing new characters in the tenth episode. How they are ever going to wrap this up in one more DVD I can't imagine. I would be very surprised if they were able to draw this series to a satisfactory conclusion.
Manga Entertainment has recently released the entire Virus Buster Serge series in one boxed setfor slightly more than just one volume would have originally cost you. While this is a great deal, the show isn't all that hot. Director Masami Obari creates a world filled with fan service and grotesquely odd looking characters, but once again forgets to put in a good story. Basically a Bubblegum Crisis rip-off but with all of the interesting characters and situations drained out, there isn't really a lot that's new here. The characters aren't as interesting, and the mysteries and questions that the show raises doesn't grab your attention at all. You'll just end up sitting on your couch thinking "I've seen this all before, haven't I?" Stay away from this series.
Scheduled for release on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2005
Scheduled for release on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005
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GANKUTSUOU: THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Anime shows that are visually one-of-a-kind usually end up being must-haves, regardless of the quality of story. Metropolis and Dead Leaves stick out. More recently you would have to count Appleseed among this crowd that relies primarily on shocking eye candy. Now we have Gankutsuou, a retelling of the classic revenge tragedy by Alexandre Dumas.
Character designs, backgrounds, crowds: none of that stands out. Wardrobe and hair are different stories. Imagine cutting out a jacket shape from a white piece of paper, and then running that piece of paper over the most bizarre, retro 1970s wallpaper you can find. Now imagine those clothes (and hair done in the same way) moving at different speeds than the characters wearing them. While the characters move, the patterns in their hair and clothes seem to stay still. When an arm moves up, more of the pattern is revealed. It's a trip, and endlessly fun to watch. It's a good thing too, because the story isn't up to par (so far).
Two young, pampered royals from Paris take a vacation on the moon during a festival that very well could be Mardi Gras (everyone in the city of Luna looks like they're French too). The boys run into the most famous royal of the moon, the Count of Monte Cristo (a smoky black, fanged character with elf ears), who has them join him during a public execution. He shows a creepy interest in one of the boys, Albert, and after gaining his trust (in a roundabout, silly way), convinces Albert to invite him into the fold of Paris' high society.
The subtlety of the Count and his impending revenge is much more in keeping with Dumas' book here, unlike the 2002 live action movie directed by Kevin Reynolds. But through volume one there are few inroads into the past of any of the main characters, especially the Count, who desperately needs more of an apparent reason to join these boys. Things happen and unfold the way they do, but without any sense of impending doom for the audience. We should know that the man Albert admires is a vengeful demon, but all we know is that he's bizarre. It's early.
Based on looks alone, Gankutsuou is easily Recommended. The animation is unique and eye-catching, a surreal, Alice in Wonderland mix of colors and patterns. And this show is by no means boring through this first volume, just lacking any sense of anticipation.
1) Anime produced with anamorphic widescreen. There's nothing that says quality show like an anime that presented with a 1.85:1 ratio and great image quality. I understand that shows before a certain year in production can't be redone in this format, but props to companies that have met the demands of the DVD generation.
2) Likewise DVD presentation with a 5.1 selection. Chances are most folks buying a DVD now-a-days have a surround set up, so why not exploit that? Maybe the original material was recorded with 2.0 in mind, but an English dubbing goes a long way at 5.1.
3) Cartoon Network. Even though I tend to catch all of my anime on DVD the fact that the Cartoon Network airs some of the currently hottest shows is a definite plus. Granted they show them at relatively odd times, but the exposure that anime gets on the channel is a definite big plus.
4) Anime related merchandise. I admit that I'm a sucker when it comes to trinkets and if there is something available for a show I love I'll get it. Be it a wallscroll, action figure or other doodad, some of the material for anime merchandise is a must for any Otaku.
5) Shows that don't use fanservice. It's not that I hate fanservice, in fact I find a lot of it amusing and entertaining, but when so many series do it, it can get rather old. That's why I love series like Ghost in the Shell: SAC, Cowboy Bebop and Paranoia Agent.
1) Clean Opening and Ending montages as the only extra on a release. Am I the only one that doesn't really considering this a special feature? Every series that's released seems to cover this basic “extra”, but the ones that have it as their only bonus material should be ashamed of themselves.
2) Collector's Box. I may be a minority, but I have to admit that I see absolutely no reason paying $10-15 more for a first disc of a series just to get a box to put the rest in. I appreciate that there is an option available for people to buy into it and some series actually provide a trinket or something inside the box. I just don't see the point.
3)Bad dubbing tracks. There's no reason in this day and age that with more attention on anime than ever before that a lame English dubbing track is put together. Some shows just need better actors and translations if they want to be looked at seriously.
4) DVDs with less than four episodes per disc. What's the point of doing this other than a marketing ploy? There isn't one! A barebones release could hold much more than four episodes of a show and yet time and time again we see releases with a whopping three episodes per volume. What's up with that?!
5) Cosplayers that shouldn't be cosplaying. You've all seen it when you go to a convention. Some Otaku is dressed as a character that they just shouldn't be. If you can't pull off a costume or a member of the opposite sex, please, think before you put on that outfit. Nobody wants to see that fat guy dressed as Faye Valentine fiasco ever again (except maybe Don… ;) jk).
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