Reviews of Appleseed, Madlax, and Reviewer biographies
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott and Chris Tribbey
Ever wondered just who the reviewers who write this column are and how they got interested in anime? Well, you won't have to stay up nights pondering those questions after reading this week's feature. We have brief biographies of all three reviewers, as well as the bargain diva, Holly. But wait! There's more! We also have a bumper crop of DVD reviews, the best anime deals and a list of all of the anime DVDs that will be released in the next couple of weeks.
This week we start off with one of the year's best series. The sixth volume of the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a real roller coaster ride. Crammed full of more plot twists than most entire series, this volume ratchets up the tension as the Laughing Man’s plot becomes more clear, and takes some surprising turns. Shows like this are the reason that we watch anime, so go out and pick up a copy.
Every once in a while, an anime series comes along that has a really strange premise. I mean really strange. Midori Days is one such show. Seiji is the most fearsome kid in his class, he never loses a fight due to his terrifying “demon" right hand. All of the boys at his school tremble at his name, but the girls do too. Because of that Seiji can’t get a date to save his life. He’s very lonely, and really wishes that he had a girlfriend. One day he gets his wish, though not in the way he had hoped for. When he wakes up in the morning, he has a little girl in place of his demon right hand. Yes, there is a small girl, named Midori, grafted to the end of his arm. This show is obviously not grounded in reality, but if you can get past that, it’s a lot of fun. It’s an outrageous show, and every episode has some laugh out loud moments. If you are looking for an anime series to tickle your funny bone, this is it.
ADV’s newest series is the very intriguing and interesting show Madlax. The program starts off as a straight adventure saga, but turns into something greater as the show progresses. The main character is Madlax, a mercenary who is reputed to be the best there is. This assassin doesn’t look like a hired killer though, she’s a delicate looking young lady. Looks can be deceiving thought as she is quite competent and deadly. This is also the story of Margaret Burton, an odd young girl. Margaret marches to the tune of a different drummer. She will spend a long time staring at shoes in a store’s window display, or leave school early because she’s afraid that it will rain, even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky. When she looks at the world, it’s almost like she’s seeing something different from what everybody else sees. These two people haven’t met, and seem to be about as different as two people can be. Yet their stories are related, though exactly how isn’t revealed yet. The thing that sets Madlax above your average anime is the unique way the story is laid out. On the surface, it is a regular story about two women, but if you scratch down just a bit, there are mysterious machinations occurring in this series that draw the viewer in. This seems to be a tightly plotted show, and I’m sure that small events in these opening shows will have a great impact latter on. It will be very interesting seeing how this all works out.
On the opposite end of the spectrum there is Star Ocean EX. If awards were handed out for being unoriginal, boring and utterly free of humor, Star Ocean EX would sweep. A boy whisked away to a “strange” world gathers a group of “unique” companions en route to a reunion with his father. Or maybe they’re out to save the world. Or maybe they’re out to make names for themselves. Maybe they’re just here to torture the viewer. Unimaginative young boys are Star Ocean EX’s only possible audience, as these characters – Claude and Co. – wander aimlessly in a lackluster world, spouting awful lines from a script that’s already in shambles 10 episodes in. Watching something –anything - from Hallmark Presents is a better option than sitting through this show. I weep at the thought of seeing more volumes, yet hope springs eternal. Maybe Claude and Co. will find their way.
Another show that isn't as odd, but just as funny is Cromartie High School. The second volume of continues the series' look at the worst high school in Tokyo. This is sort of the anti- Azumanga Daioh. The plots are quickly discarded for a chance to add another joke, and a lot of it doesn’t really make any sense, but the show does deliver deep laughs at every opportunity. If you like bizarre, off-the-wall humor, then this is a series you’ll enjoy.
Please Twins! is a simple show that ran on a simple premise: what do three young roommates do – two girls, one boy – when two of them are related, and no one knows which two? This fourth volume answers that and more. A sequel to Please Teacher!, this show looked nice and produced a few laughs, all revolving around uncomfortable sexual situations. It was a unique romance offering in that the boy, Maiku, is less horny than the two girls that live with him, and just suffers their existence for most of the series. A cast of supporting characters lend their own baggage, though the opening premise of the show, which featured aliens, is nearly, completely abandoned. We’ll call it anime light: Please Twins! Isn’t thick and goes down easy.
That wasn't all in for comedy show this week though. Another pair of humorous anime DVDs are Galaxy Angel Z volumes two and three. The Galaxy Angels are a special military unit that is charged with finding lost technology, and helping out wherever they can. That means anything from battling giant monsters to running errands. With little plot and even less seriousness, this is a comedy show that moves at a fast pace. Each of the six episodes on this disc run under fifteen minutes each, and so there’s not a lot of time to set up the plot or go into characterization. They jump right into the thick of things, often revealing major plot points (for that episode at least) in a single sentence: “You forgot, Ranpha quit the team to get married.” This just adds to the show’s humor. While not as entertaining as Midori Days it's not as strange and will consequently have a wider appeal. This series is good light entertainment. Nothing special or outstanding, just good wacky comedy.
One of the most successful anime series in Japan, spawning scores of copycats over the years, is KOR or Kimagure Orange Road, a story about a love triangle with a super-powered twist. Well, after the series finished up, its creators wanted one last bite of the apple and came up with New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer's Beginning, a show that takes several of the leading characters from the series and puts them in a time travel oriented plot with some interesting results. Kasuga Kyosuke is back as he tries to figure out what happened when he mysteriously transports three years into the a future; a future where he has not hooked up with either his one true love, Ayukawa Madoka, or even his gal pal that forever chased him in the past, Hiyama Hikaru. While not as good as the original series, fans will want it for their collection for the way it revisits the characters in a warm, pleasant story.
The second volume of Divergence Eve improves a bit on the first set of shows. The four buxom babes are still defending humanity in skimpy clothing, but the show is evolving into something more than just an excuse for fan service. There was some good plot development and some interesting things being discovered about the secret project that’s taking place on Watcher’s Nest. Unfortunately, it's not enough of an improvement. The characters are still very two dimensional and the show feels like a low grade copy of Neon Genesis. If there’s nothing else available, this might be worth a rental.
Another disc that ends up in the rental category is the second volume of Gravion Zwei. This volume picked up the pace of the series quite a bit. A lot was revealed about Sandman and the Gravion, it was found that the Gran Knights had a traitor in their midst, and at least one character isn’t going to be in the next volume. Despite all of this, the show still isn’t that good. They rely too much on deus ex machina endings and twists that often don’t make sense. (A character who has been in the show since the beginning is revealed not to be a man, but a woman. A woman with DDD breasts that no one seems to have noticed. What a crock.) A tepid series that is starting to pick up some, but by this time does anyone really care?
Continuing with the rent it discs, we come to the fourth volume of D. N. Angel starts picking up the pace, but only a little. After a couple of volumes where not a lot happens, there are some actual plot advances this time around. They managed to add two new characters and show some significant developments between Dark and Risa. I was disappointed that all of the plot developments concerned more minor subplots though. The main story, what there is of it, hasn’t evolved much since the first volume.
Geneon is releasing a new fantasy series, Kyo Kara Maoh, and it has gotten off to a good start. Though this show has all of the trappings of a fantasy anime show, the program is just different enough so that people who have tired of that genre will enjoy it, as well as the fans. Yuri Shibuya is a typical high school student who finds himself transported to another world. When people see his black hair and black eyes they proclaim him the Demon King, leader of all demons. This isn’t something he really wants or needs, but it’s hard to turn down a kingdom. Poor Yuri finds himself in a lot of trouble though, as word of his arrival has made the humans nervous, and caused them to launch attacks on demon villages. Many of his followers are looking to Yuri to lead them in a war to rid the world of humans. The fact that Yuri was raised as a human makes him see things differently though, and adds a nice twist to the show. This series could still devolve into a standard fantasy epic, but there are enough gray areas in this first volume that I don’t believe it will, so this one is recommended.
A cute little series that's been growing on Don for some odd reason is Petite Princess Yucie: Encounters, the second volume of the show about a group of gals all vying for a mystical tiara that will grant their every wish. While I don't generally recommend you view anime series volumes out of order, sometimes it happens and the series might actually appeal to an older crowd if they watch it in sequence. This second volume of the series dealt mostly with Yucie and Glenda as it introduced more of the ensemble cast into the picture. Give it a rental and you may find enough to warrant getting a copy for your own growing anime collections.
After all of the excitement in the last volume of Stellvia, volume four acts as a sort of buffer between major plot lines. These episodes focus on the students and their relationships with the opposite sex more than great catastrophes. It was a nice break, and they used the time to set up the plot that is going to take us to the end of the series. A fun, light, and entertaining series, Stellvia is worth checking out.
Impressive visually, a flawed and hurried story line keeps Appleseed from being a must buy for action anime fans. The first anime feature done completely 3D CGI, Appleseed looks awesome, with motion capture work coming through impressively in the digital environment. The movie is a remake of a 1988 feature (based on the manga from Shirow Masamune of Ghost in the Shell fame) and follows Duenan Knute, a beautiful and deadly remnant of World War III. She’s thrown into a political and military struggle in the futuristic city of Olympus, where the next evolution of mankind – bioroids – is being threatened with extinction. Heavy on the action with only a touch of philosophical layering, Appleseed uses its visual oomph wisely with a lot of gun battles, martial arts, and giant mecha. An excellent techno soundtrack accompanies the show, and the DVD special edition was released with a ton of great extras and was packaged in a nice steel case. John Woo is said to be producing a sequel for summer 2006.
Arts Magic, a DVD producer that specializes in Japanese films, has started to release its first anime series with this premier volume of Salaryman Kintaro. Yajima Kintaro was once the leader of a motorcycle gang 10,000 strong, but he gave that up and moved away to settle down with his wife a couple of years ago. His wife died in childbirth though, and now Yajima is back. The ex-gang leader takes a job as a salaryman: a white collar office employee, but Yajima approaches this job with the same gusto, and philosophy, that he used to run his gang: kick ass and take names. I’ve started to really like this show. The plot is interesting, and there is enough action and humor to keep things entertaining between plot developments. Kintaro’s background, and that of the company he’s working for are being revealed at a good pace, and that gives the show a good amount of depth. All around a solid show that has good potential.
Scheduled for release on Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Scheduled for release on Tuesday, May 24, 2005
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Don has a long standing appreciation of anime that started when Astroboy and Speed Racer were first aired in the United States. Not knowing much about Japan as a child, he reveled in the continuing adventures of numerous "cartoons" including Star Blazers, Force Five, Captain Harlock, Robotech, and all the other shows being Americanized for our viewing pleasure. It wasn't until he moved to Houston, TX and became a friend of the owner of a small videogame store in Southwest Houston, Gametronix, that he was introduced to the larger world of Japanese anime; uncut and unedited, that the store rented on laserdisc that he became hooked on our favorite genre. Eventually, the store shut down but only after giving birth to ADV Films, the number one importer of anime in the USA.
Throughout the nineties, Don managed to rent a number of shows that he came to like but it wasn't until the explosion of the DVD format that he became much of a collector. Not content with the choice of material offered on VHS such as only one or two episodes per tape, subtitles or dubs, and a complete lack of extras, it's no wonder that the burgeoning format lent itself to Don's tastes. Some of Don's favorite releases on DVD are: RahXephon, Noir, Neo Ranga, Kino's Journey, Arcadia of My Youth, and Witch Hunter Robin, but this list is by no means exhaustive as a lot of great anime has been coming out in recent years.
Some of Don's pet peeves are edited releases, poor dubs, DVDs with less than a full plate of material (four episodes and some decent extras should be the rock bottom standard in his opinion), and technically flawed releases that companies refuse to fix since the general consensus seems to be that no one will complain loudly enough to force them to fix such errors (welcome to the wonderful world of the internet where that's been changing rapidly though). On the other hand, Don is of the opinion that many companies have been getting better at dubbing (particularly as the growing legion of voice actors learn and improve), working on better extras, and generally releasing far more titles to an appreciative audience at better prices. Don welcomes constructive input from anyone and reminds folks that his email is on the top of every review.
John didn't know he was watching anime when he first saw Speed Racer in a UHF channel back in the 60's, but he knew that it was different from the other offerings and was intrigued. Catching Battle of the Planets, Star Blazers, and Robotech on TV when he could, he started renting anime on VHS after finishing college. While he enjoyed Guyver, Slayers, and the other offerings he could track down, he soon got frustrated at how hard it was to find anime to rent, and how expensive it was to purchase.
Fast forward to the late nineties and the advent of both DVDs and internet companies who thought that gross sales were more important than profits. With DVDs providing both the original Japanese and English dubs and some titles being released in season sets, coupled with the obscenely low prices a determined bargain hunter could find, John rediscovered anime and has been collecting it ever since.
He just about always prefers the original language track, but likes having the option of an English dub. John, secretly a kid at heart, enjoys watching anime with his two sons: Joseph age 12 and Alex age 9. They are invaluable in helping him determine the quality of Power Rangers and other DVDs aimed at a younger audience.
John's tastes are wide and varied. He holds a special spot in his heart for harem shows like Tenchi Muyo and Happy Lesson, but also enjoys mecha shows like Robotech and Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. His favorite recent series include Paranoia Agent, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and the odd Cromartie High School. He is also a closet Dragon Ball fan, but don't tell anyone. Okay?
Chris got into anime just a few years ago, when he was asked to write about anime DVD releases and the domestic anime DVD industry for the weekly DVD Release Report, a trade publication for studios. His very first anime: Robotech. Since then, Chris has burned grooves into his copies of Neon Genesis: Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Animatrix, Boogiepop Phantom, Paranoia Agent, and anything by Miyazaki.
Tribbey believes “cartoon” is the wrong word for anime, since there’s often little funny about these shows, and doesn’t care how popular an anime was in Japan, with American tastes differing the way they do. Tribbey dislikes bare-bones DVDs, believes too many anime DVDs are coming out too fast, and is wary when there’s less than an hour of entertainment on a $20 DVD. He loves thoughtful DVD commentaries, believes the very best DVD box sets and extras are found in the anime aisle, and is impressed with improving English dubs. Though he always watches anime in Japanese first.
The 28-year-old works as a city editor for the daily newspaper in Napa, Calif., writes anime reviews for the weekly video store publication, Home Media Retailing, and is a big sports fan (San Diego and Ohio State).
Holly is now 20 years old, but was first exposed to anime in her early years through her father and brother, both of whom are most definitely geeks at heart, though Holly should not be excluded from the label herself. She and her family essentially rented out every seemingly worthwhile title available on VHS at the time from such rental joints as Blockbuster and later, Hollywood Video. Her first memories of anime include the not-quite-so-spectacular oldies like Doomed Megalopolis (1988) and Kimera (1997); nevertheless, her interest was piqued, and soon she came across the more memorable feature films of Akira (1988) and Vampire Hunter D (1985), and from that point on, she was hooked.
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