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Columns



Kikaida 01, Mushi-Shi, and Air TV

AnimeTalk

a bi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai

Well, it's about that time of year again. The weather is (or should) be getting cooler and all of those pesky children finally have to go back to school. Now you can watch anime in peace during the days without having to hear the neighborhood kids play Marco Polo in the pool when it's a hundred degrees outside!

As usual there are a ton of shows out there to watch and barely enough money to spend on them. For this column we take a look at several and John also brings a little non-anime slice of Japan to the table. It's all good fun and we hope you're enjoying whatever you're watching!


The Latest Anime Reviews:
(Click on the links to read the full review.)

The horror genre is one that is so rarely done correctly. When all of the right elements come together though you have a force to be reckoned with and after the first volume of Red Garden it appears this show has what it takes. The offbeat setting, interesting characters, and unique premise come together to craft a show that is mostly unlike anything you have seen before. When a group of girls discover that they have no memory of the previous night, their friend died, and then the fact that they are dead themselves things get a little crazy. Supernatural powers begin to escalate and a larger mystery is given time to cultivate. GONZO outdid themselves with these four episodes and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Speaking of genres that tend to go sour quickly if things aren't done right, what about the romantic comedy? So many shows try to get a laugh out of you by throwing love interests around, and most of these are typically in a high school setting. It should be surprising that School Rumble is a cut above the rest. The premise is simple and features a bizarre love triangle between an eclectic cast of characters that stand out amidst the sea of high school students. Many of the jokes are truly inspired and I found myself laughing out loud often which doesn't happen that often.

Ever hear of Gatekeepers? This show by GONZO was popular enough back in the day to warrant a sequel OVA. For the most part it's straight forward secret organization of humans versus an alien menace kind of fare. The story doesn't contain many surprises and the characters tend to stick with stereotypes. However, the 1960's setting and personality of the script helps keep things fresher than you'd expect. The show becomes a lot of fun before long and during the 24 episode stint you'll find yourself glued to the television just for the simple guilty pleasure aspect.

Do you like girls who aren't afraid to show their goods? What if there were three and they were sisters? Granted these naughty bits also come from the youngest of the bunch but, hey, what can you do? Popotan is a fascinating little show that has recently received a full collection boxed set from Geneon. With a story about a traveling house, dimensional powers, and a group of girls who are looking for a particular kind of flower it's obvious from the start that Popotan is an unusual program. Your appreciation of the show will depend strictly on your interest in naughty bits and episodic content.

When you think of classic anime what comes to mind? Does Slayers make that illustrious list? Well it certainly makes mine! Fantasy comedy simply gets no better in my opinion than Slayers and over ten years later the original series still gets me to laugh. The show was a lot of fun for its time and the adventures of Lina, Gourry, and Zelgadis are legendary by this point. Thanks to FUNimation the original season is available yet again and it's not to be missed!

Along the same lines as Slayers, another classic show seeing a re-release these days is Ranma 1/2. You know Ranma right? He's the martial arts master who is cursed with the body of a young girl when he comes into contact with cold water! The second season has just been released and the antics are raised to the next level. More characters are introduced and several story arcs come through to continue the thrill ride that is Ranma 1/2. Check it out and you won't be disappointed!

Air TV is the latest series from ADV to generate a lot of buzz and hype. The show is about a traveling puppeteer who winds up at a seaside town where many strange things seem to occur. Before long he's living with a young schoolgirl and her mother, doing odd jobs for the town's doctor, and witnessing magical events left and right. In between it all he's searching for a girl with wings and trying to make an honest living with his light telekinetic ability. Air is unique in atmosphere and the characters are interesting. A sense of mystery also looms over everything and the next volume promises to be exciting!

Beck rocks! It's as simple as that. The second volume of FUNimation's latest hit has been released and provides as many thrills as the first volume did. The forming of the world's greatest band continues as things intensify for Tanaka. His practicing has paid off and in this volume he is placed back in touch with Ryusuke. Shame on you if you haven't seen Beck yet! It's one of the best series on the market and quite possibly one of the best in the past decade.

When a pair of shrine maidens awakens as an evil emerges from the moon all hell breaks loose. That's more or less the setting in Kannazuki no Miko. The show balances a twisted love triangle and a story about the good guys versus the bad and a struggle to save the world. In many ways the series offers some new aspects that keep it original but in other areas it's safe to say that we have seen shows like this done and done better. Giant robots and pseudo lesbian girls alike.

Every once in a while someone decides to throw several anime styles together to make the ULTIMATE anime. Unfortunately, these shows just about always suck. Instead of concentrating on a good story, they are more worried about meshing styles together. Gonzo Studios tried this with Vandread. This show was a SF/Mecha/comedy/action/fan service show with just a bit of 'harem' thrown in for good measure. In Gonzo's hands however this show turned out to be really good. Funny and action filled, the complete series, 26 episodes spread across two seasons, has now been released in a convenient and compact set. While the non-anamorphic image is less than desirable, this series is still a lot of fun to watch.

Based on a long running and popular manga by Yuzo Takada, 3X3 Eyes has had a surprisingly uneven time on home video. The beginning was originally animated in 1991, but only four OVA episodes were created. In 1995 another OVA series was started, taking up where the first one ended, but it only lasted 3 more episodes. Pioneer released the entire seven episodes on an incredibly expensive DVD set ($65 MSRP) back in early 2001. Now Geneon is releasing these OVA's once again, this time in a reasonably priced pair of discs. (We have reviews of both volumes here and here.) The story is revolves around Pai, a young girl who is the last of a race of immortals and Yakumo a Japanese kid who is trying to help Pai become a real human. The program has a good mix of plot, action, romance, and horror, with just a touch of humor added for good measure. The horrific aspects aren't as gruesome as some recent shows, but arms do get severed and there is a fair amount of blood. With a retail price of only $14.95, it's certainly priced attractively too. Well worth picking up.

In the second volume of Shonen Onmyoiji things start to become more interesting and the stakes are raised. Masahiro is still determined to become a great onmyouji, one more powerful than his famous grandfather, but it's a long and difficult path. There's still the foreign demon out there somewhere, and though the demon has suffered a setback at the hands of Masahiro and Mukkon, he hasn't given up yet. He takes a different tact this time. Instead of attacking Masahiro directly, he goes after his friends. With another five episodes on this disc the plot moves along nicely with this volume. This is turning out to be a pretty good series.

It just wouldn’t be a real installment of Anime Talk if John didn’t have another volume of Law of Ueki to discuss. This time we've reached volume nine and the show is still going strong. While no one will ever accuse this program of being anything more than a simple fighting show for kids, it does that quite well and with a lot of flair. The show has a lot of imagination behind it and is filled with bizarre powers and strange characters. A fun and enjoyable show for both children and adults who are looking for a change of pace in their anime watching.

In the second volume of Suzuka the tone of the series changes a bit. In the first volume the show came across as a harem series about a young high school boy, Yamato, who has to live in a girl's dorm just like in Love, Hina. In this set of shows they get away from the wacky girls who live in the dorm and concentrate on Yamato's love live in a fairly serious fashion. The show has evolved into a surprisingly mature program that is actually a lot better than it seemed at first glance.

In celebration of the 10th Annual Japan Media Arts Festival, attendees were asked to vote for the top ten anime of all time. Neon Genesis Evangelion came in first place, which isn't a terrible surprise. Hayao Miyazaki was heavily represented, again that's to be expected, with four of his projects making the top ten (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, and My Neighbor Totoro.) What was a surprise was the inclusion of a Mushi-Shi in the list, a show that hasn't gotten a lot of buzz here in America. That show has just started to be released in the US by FUNimation and Mushi-Shi Volume One shows why the series was rated so highly regarded in Japan. This quiet yet engaging anime has a lot of charm and will quickly win over anime fans.

Originally released as separate volumes in 2003, The Twelve Kingdoms The Twelve Kingdoms is a fantasy anime that takes conventional plot devices of the genre (someone from our world transported to another reality, transforming magical beasts etc) and uses them in new and exciting ways. Instead of telling a story of grand battles and powerful magicians this show examines the way a new world, one where the god of the land makes his will known to the rulers, would work, how the people would live, and the problems the kings would face.. A surprisingly addictive series, after watching the first few episodes you'll want to churn through the rest of the installments as fast as you can. The entire series has recently been re-released in cost effective multi-pack cases and both Set One and Set Two come highly recommended.

The first volume of Galaxy Angel Rune was soundly criticized in the fan press (and in John’s DVDTalk review) for having a $20 MSRP but only containing a single episode. Bandai takes a step forward with volume two by including four episodes on the disc. Unfortunately they also take a giant leap backwards by giving the disc a MSRP of nearly $50. That's more than many collected series! It has been stated that prices for the rights to anime shows has been climbing at an incredible pace, but even so I can't see even the biggest fans of this series plunking down so much for so little. On the good side the show itself picks up a bit, this volume is much more enjoyable than the previous one with more laughs and more outrageous situations, but it still only falls in the average category.

The fourth volume of To Heart wraps up this short series in a fairly satisfying way. The show has always been very low key, and the last three episodes that are contained in this volume are just as sedate as those that went before it. Looking over the series as a whole, it seems to be a bit of a missed opportunity. Many of the characters are never developed as fully as they could have been and a lot of the situations that crop up are never fully examined. Still, it's a show that's worth watching when you feel like something simple, calm, and sweet.


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Presented by Wen-Tsai King


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    Something Else From Japan:
    by John Sinnott

    Kikaida 01

    The Series:

    When I was a child back in the 70's, I'd rush home from school to watch Ultraman and Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot on a local UHF channel. These shows were much more action packed and vibrant that the US made children's programming. I mean who wants to watch the Electric Company when you can see a pair of giants fighting and knocking buildings down? I remember at the time wishing that we could get more Japanese programming. Surely those two shows weren't the only exciting ones that they had. It's too bad I didn't live in Hawaii. Back in the 70's a local station imported a pair of Japanese henshin shows, Kikaida and its sequel Kikaida 01 (among others.) While these shows weren't dubbed, they had subtitles for the non-Japanese speakers. (I'm sure if I had the chance I could have convinced my mom that reading the dialog was actually educational.)

    The show was popular by all accounts and the Hawaiian company JNProductions in association with Generation Kikaida released Kikaida on DVD a couple of years ago. At the end of 2005 the released Kamen Rider V3 on home video (read my review of that series here), and just this past spring they released the second Kikaida series, Kikaida 01. This latest release is another great series full of colorful villains, big fights, and flashy henshin action.

    Kikaida 01 (pronounced Key-ky-da zero one) takes place three years after the original series ended. If you haven't seen the earlier show, it's still very easy to follow the story. They bring viewers up to date in the first minutes of the premier episode.

    At the end of Kikaida, that hero destroyed the criminal organization DARK and rode off into the sunset. Three years later the remnants of DARK regroup and formed the Hakaida Force, lead by a robot that has Dr. Gill's living brain transplanted into it. (Gill was the leader of DARK in the first series.) Along with his three generals known by their colors, Red, Blue, and Silver, Gil Hakaida is searching for blue prints that will allow him to make the ultimate weapon; an unbeatable robot.

    Kikaida 01 senses this and awakens by breaking out of the statue where he was hidden. Programmed to come to life when Japan was threatened by evil Kikaida 01, (who can change into a human named Ichiro at will) fights Hakaida at every turn. Early in the series he also meets a young boy who has lost his memory, Akira. For some unknown reason Hakaida is hunting the boy, and Kikaida 01 vows that they'll never get him. Akira is also aided by a strange woman, Rieko. She appears at different times to protect and take care of the child, often showing up in disguise. It's clear that she knows something about the boy's past, as well as why Hakaida wants him, but the mysterious woman isn't about to reveal any of that to Kikaida 01 if she can help it. 01 isn't sure if she's a good guy or not, since she acts in such an odd manner. It's almost like she has a secret herself that she's hiding.

    While Hakaida is a formidable enemy, things go from bad to worse when Shadow Knight arrives on the scene. He's a member of SHADOW another evil organization that is more powerful than the Hakaida force and eventually they take the weaker group over. Now Kikaida 01 really has his work cut out for him.

    Like most henshin (transform) shows, this was a lot of fun. The show actually had a fairly complex opening for such a program, and the first handful of shows weren't your generic monster-of-the-week episodes. There was a fairly involved story that gets told over the first four or five installments. One of the enjoyable things was the inclusion of characters from the first series. Not only are Dr. Gill and Dr. Komyoji (the creator's of both Kikaida robots) but when things start to go poorly for Kikaida 01 at the start of the show he gets an unexpected hand from... the original Kikaida, his little brother. The original hero appears frequently in the first half of the series, but is rarely seen in the later episodes. That's okay because 01 gets some help from Bijinda, a robot originally set to destroy him who turns against Shadow. (And she can transform into hot babe too, but she has a weakness when she does.)

    One of the factors in this show's favor is that it has a sense of continuity. Though they don't often refer to previous episodes, but things advance as the series progresses. Minor bosses are defeated and others take their place, the bad guys get a bit desperate, and mysteries are solved and secrets revealed, and not just in the final episode.

    This is a show aimed at kids, so there's a lot of action with Ichiro transforming into Kikaida 01, fighting evil minions, and foiling his enemy's schemes. The stunt fights were performed by Sonny Chiba's Japan Action Club and they're enjoyable, with monsters flying through the air after being punched, sparking explosions when someone is hit, and of course the bad guy blowing up at the end of a fight. Who can't get into that?

    On the down side, the budget wasn't huge. This program looks cheaper than either V3 or the original Ultraman, which were both on the air at about the same time. The costumes for the villians don't have the detail of the monsters on the other shows and they are more sparse and simple too. This isn't a fatal flaw, but it is unfortunate. The series does drag in places too, especially if you watch several episodes in one sitting. They start to feel all the same and run together. After a few lesser shows however something will change, a character will be added or a new mystery will pop up, and it gets rather engaging again.

    A word about the cost: Though the price might seem a bit steep at first, for the small, limited run that was pressed it really isn't bad at all. A 26 episode anime series on six discs would retail for more that these 46 episodes. If you buy this you'll also sleep, well knowing that you've helped support a company that's bringing entertaining Japanese children's programs to R1.

    The DVD:



    This entire 46 episode series comes on 6 DVDs which are housed in three slimline cases. The set comes with and illustrated slipcase. This is a nice and compact set that doesn't take up nearly as much room as the first Kikaida set does.

    Video:

    Originally airing in 1973 in Japan, the full frame image has been cleaned up but is still showing its age a bit. Like JNProduction's release of Kamen Rider V3, the transfer was done from a 16mm master. The picture is good and easy on the eyes though there is some of grain to the image which is assuredly inherent in the master used. There was also a bit of dirt on the print, some spots here and there but nothing major. The colors look very nice and the colorful villains, not to mention Kikaida 01 himself, are bright and vivid. The level of detail is generally fine, but some detail is lost in the dark scenes. While not a reference disc, this image is solid and acceptable.

    Audio:

    Like the video, the Japanese two channel audio is acceptable not great. The range isn't great, and there is a slight bit of distortion now and again, but the dialog is easy to hear. The effects and music are strong and though I would have loved to hear this show in 5.1, this mix will do. There are two optional subtitle tracks, one a direct translation and the other with the mild swearing removed. Though I don't speak Japanese, I thought the translation was very good with the dialog sounding natural and seeming to capture the spirit of the original. As far as the cursing goes, it's limited to the frequent use of "damn" and "hell" with an occasional "bastard" thrown in when some particularly nefarious scheme is unveiled. There is no English dub.

    I viewed much of this series with my two sons, aged 11and 14, and they didn't have any trouble reading the subtitles. Occasionally they wouldn't be able to finish reading before the word left the screen but this was the exception rather than the rule. I was also surprised to discover that the subtitles didn't diminish their enjoyment of the series. They never complained about having to read the dialog, and loved the show.

    Extras:

    Like the Kamen Rider V3 set, this collection has a lot of bonus material. First off, each disc has copious liner notes discussing each episode and pointing out supporting character actors and production snafus. I'm not talking about 5 or 6 pages either, there are 40 to 50 pages of notes on each disc. These are very informative and contain more information than you'll ever want to know about the series. My only regret is that they didn't include them as a .pdf or text file so that you would have the option to print them out. Paging through all of those screens of information can get tiring, especially when you are looking for something in particular.

    In addition to the notes, disc one also has an essay, What is Kikaida 01? This is a nice introduction to henshin TV shows in general and Kikaida in particular. Written by August Ragone, owner of the web site Henshin Online, it was interesting and well worth reading.

    The rest of the extras are on the final disc. They include an interesting half hour interview with Ikeda Shunsuke (Ichiro) and Ban Daisuke (Jiro) which was filmed in 2002. They talk about their time working on the show, relate some behind the scenes anecdotes and discuss some of the people they worked with on both series. Next up is a 14 minute interview with Joanne Ninomiya, the woman who brought Kikaida to Hawaii. She talks about buying the show in Japan, getting it subtitled, and the anime that her TV station used to run. Listening to her makes me wish that I had grown up in Japan.

    As if that wasn't enough, there's also a trivia quiz, a 3D interactive CGI model of Kikaida 01, a How to draw Kikaida art lesson, and character profiles. For those of you who can't get enough of the catchy theme music, there are four karaoke videos along with three music videos with music from the show. This is an all around excellent set of bonus material. JNProductions should be commended for their work in assembling such a nice package.

    Final Thoughts:

    This series is a lot of fun for both young and older viewers. My two sons really got into it and I enjoyed the show too. The series moves the story along at a good rate to keep things interesting, is filled with kinetic fights, and has enough surprises so you're never sure what's in store. Some of the monsters are rather over the top, but that's part of the series charm. While we all enjoyed Kamen Rider V3 a bit more than this series, Kikaida 01 is still a great show and comes highly recommended.


     
     


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