Tripping The Rift, Karas, and Mr. Stain
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Todd Douglass
This time around we have a look at some interesting anime. Tatsunko Productions, the producers of Speed Racer and Gatchaman, among many others recently celebrated their 40th anniversary of being in the business. In honor of that event they released Karas, a big budget OVA series, the first volume of which has just been released. Both Don Houston and John Sinnott give their thoughts on the project this week. After teasing fans for the past few months by putting episodes on most of their discs, FUNimation has finally released Mr. Stain on Junk Alley, a funny and creative show that has been worth the wait. This week we also have a look at a show that wasn't made in Japan, but many anime fans will want to check out: Tripping The Rift an animated comedy filled with sexual innuendo, political incorrectness and a lot of laughs. In addition to that, Holly has a list of some of the best bargains in anime, we have out table of upcoming releases so you can plan your anime preorders, and capsule review of the latest anime discs.
The anime company Tatsunko Productions (Speed Racer, Gatchaman) has been around for 40 years, and to mark this feat they decided to do something special: create an OVA series that showcases just what they are capable of. The result is Karas, a present day tale of demons and demon hunters. Intrepid anime reviewers Don Houston and John Sinnott both got a chance to see the first half of the series and they came away with different opinions. Don thought that it was one of the better releases in recent months with some interesting animation. John, on the other hand, thought that it was a case of style over substance and that the plot was a muddled mess. Read both Don and John's reviews and get two different takes on this series.
The final volume of the short-lived DearS series has arrived and when the show ended I was left scratching my head. The last three episodes of the anime felt so rushed story wise that questions were never completely answered and there was no sense of closure. Then again it's not like the show was an epic of historical proportions by any stretch of the imagination. It was good clean (well, technically dirty) fun with a lot of fan service and sexual humor to fill in the gaps where the plot faltered. If the series had more time to develop with an extra thirteen episodes there is no doubt in my mind that it could have elevated to a higher platform. Instead it rest comfortably in the generic harem genre and doesn't really stand out amongst the sea of titles.
Fullmetal Alchemist just keeps on rolling with one fantastic installment after another. Up to this point the adventure of the Elric brothers has been going along at a determined pace as the two search for the Philosopher's Stone. Things get a little shady in this volume as they discover a strange child who is actually sporting Edward's arm and leg. It turns out that the runt is homunculi and is a dark figure from their teacher's past. I think the saying "do as I say, not as I do" is rather appropriate when it's revealed exactly what's going on. The show is around its halfway point right now and it just keeps getting better and better. This is easily one of the best anime on the market today.
One subject that usually stirs a lot of debate in the anime community is censorship. It doesn't happen an awful lot these days, but every once in a while a company makes a decision about a release that isn't in the best interest of true fans. Viz has started releasing the 4Kids renditions of One Piece and it's the perfect example of what not to do. The content has been censored for violence, racial stereotypes, and language. The DVD is also presented with an English dubbing as the only audio track. The three episodes that are on the disc are decent enough if you take them at face value but considering the very nature of this release leaves one with a sour taste in their mouth. Here's hoping that Viz listens to fans and releases an uncut version with the original Japanese content.
One show that John did like was Mr. Stain on Junk Alley. FUNimation has been including episodes of Mr. Stain on many of their DVD releases for the past few months. These short comedy bit played really well and were a great extra to include on discs. Interest in the series grew and now, at last, the wait is over. The entire Mr. Stain series has come out in a nice double disc package chocked full of extras. This is a very fun and touching show and one of the better anime sets to be released so far this year. Otaku fans of well crafted comedy alike should give this series a look.
Even though it has been going twice as long as most anime series, the eleventh volume of Fighting Spirit finds the show still going strong. Ippo has been climbing the boxing ladder for the whole series, and now has his first chance at a title belt. Fighting the champ isn't going to be easy though, and defeating him will be even more difficult. There's some great boxing and a fair share of comic relief in this volume of Fighting Spirit.
One of the more interesting aspects to anime homages is when a series finishes up with the major aspects of the source material and then continues on. In essence, that's the make it or break part of the series where the creativity of the new team is truly challenged so it is with great pleasure that we report that Samurai 7 #5: Empire in Flux not only continued to provide a great show for fans of the Kurosawa classic, but also managed to push forth with a lot of reasons why some of you should pick up the entire series. The bandits are largely defeated and the machinations of one evil man are coming into play, jeopardizing not only the team and the village, but also the entire empire built on a precarious trading arrangement to stabilize the country. Kambei's mission to return the kidnapped women hits a few snags and the rest of the team seem unable to keep his head firmly on his shoulders, preparing the series for the climactic ending. Whether you're new to the series or already a fan, you won't want to miss this volume in the award winning series.
The first volume of the second season of Kaleido Star was a big disappointment. They seemed to throw out the charm of the first season and added a group of unbelievable characters and situations. Unfortunately the second disc doesn't improve the story at all. Trying to recreate the tension filled moments from the first season, they put Sora in some difficult situations, but none of them ring true, and a couple are ludicrous. This is a pale imitation of the original and not worth even a rental.
With its seventh volume, Madlax comes to a conclusion. The show wraps up very nicely wrapping up dangling plot lines and explaining what happened to Margaret in the plane accident 12 years ago, as well as revealing exactly who and what Madlax is. Though there's a lot of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo about the nature of reality and what it means to exists, but this doesn't get so deep that the ending is ruined. A satisfying conclusion to a solid series.
Every once in a while a series takes you by surprise, turning out to be much better than it has any right to be. Planetes is one such show. This program about garbage collectors in space doesn't have giant robots or laser battles, instead it's filled with real people dealing with realistic problems. With excellent scripts and high quality animation, this is a series that earned a coveted place on DVD Talk's Top Ten Anime Series of 2005. Though a little late, we finally received copies of the rest of end of the series and now have reviews for volumes three, four, five, and six. The series ended just as strongly as it started. It's one of those shows that all anime fans should check out.
One series that is responsible for turning many impressionable youngsters into otaku is Robotech. That dubbed and edited show introduced a lot of people to the world of animation, and it has been released several times on DVD in various forms. Now ADV is releasing the uncut version of the show, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, using the same beautiful restored video that Animeigo used for their OOP Macross set. The main difference between the releases is that the ADV DVDs have an English dub too. There are some great episodes included on this second ADV volume including the Miss Macross competition, landing on Mars, and Hikaru getting captured by the enemy. With a restored picture and 5.1 audio in both English (for the first time) and Japanese this is the version to pick up if you don't have the hard to find Animeigo set.
Out Your Local Best Buy for:
by Don Houston
Adult themes tend to get the short end of the stick (pun intended) when it comes to television series these days. While we've come to expect this for network television, cable television has undergone a renaissance in recent years to help liberate us from the mundane nature of what is acceptable to the censors, both corporate and governmental, that seem to hold the most sway these days. It's almost shocking when a show like Firefly has nudity yet even years ago, the clever writers would make sly innuendos that slipped past the people that would dumb shows down. In a sense, this is a constant battle behind the scenes of many programs as each "side" wages a war against the other. Personally, I think anything shown after a certain hour, if not any time, on TV should be open season since the technology exists to protect the fragile little minds of those who'd oppose this form of freedom of expression but I'm part of the true silent majority from what I'm told by those who seek to protect us from ourselves. This mindset was what I went into watching the subject of today's review of Tripping The Rift: The Complete Second Season with.
As a point of reference, I never saw the entire first season but it was easy enough to figure out based on an episode or two of the boxed set I picked up to review. Set in the distant future, space travel and a merging of alien cultures has been the norm of the universe for as far back as anyone can remember. The planets are governed by a bland group that resembles the Federation from Star Trek although a new group led by a man named Darth Bobo, a cross between Star Wars' Darth Vader and the clown-faced Creegan from Cleopatra 2525, is making headway top taking over. Each group demands conformity of the populace, with the Federation spouting all that crud we've heard a million times before and Bobo essentially being a power hungry emperor wannabe. On the fringes of the two groups are the cheats, knaves, and scoundrels of society that are looking out for #1 (much like the popular book by Robert Ringer in the 1970's), and one such group comprises the main characters of the television show.
The ship is called the Jupiter 42, an homage to Lost in Space and is led by Captain Chode McBlob, a guy that really only thinks about porn, sex, eating, and making a quick buck; some would say he's a universal male in that sense. The ship's computer, Bob, is a cross between Hal (of 2001: A Space Odyssey), the dry-witted computer from Red Dwarf, Orac from Blake's Seven, and at least a couple of other similar ship computers from a variety of series that based theirs on those two. Bob is about as helpful as a sack of dirt, generally pointing things out well after the information is of any use to the crew. The pilot of the ship is T'Nuk, and ugly, foul mouthed, three breasted cow that can best be described as the stereotypical mother-in-law who is not above using physical violence to get whatever it is she wants. Chode's nephew, Whip, is a lizard like creature (of a completely different species than his uncle) is the generic teenage slacker who is as smart as a brick and almost as energetic unless under the immediate supervision of an adult. The engineer is a robot named Gus; who is the butt of all the gay jokes since he's clearly designed as effeminate and just inside the closet. Lastly, is Six of One, the sexy android that is a cross between Xev of Lexx, Galaxina, and of course Voyager's Seven of Nine (I think her original designation was to be Six of Nine if you catch my drift). Six is owned by Chode and is programmed with a complete litany of sexual functions, though she's been upgraded to be the science officer of the ship too. If anything, she's the smartest one on the ship, the most likely to do the right thing, and the most willing to use her body to full advantage.
Okay, so we have a crew of antiheroes flying around the galaxy in search of staying one step ahead of the authorities and those who'd do them harm, much like the aforementioned Firefly but with fewer ethics guiding their course. If played straight (no disrespect to Gus), the series would soon become yet another generic knockoff in a long line of knockoffs but this one was different. Not only was it animated, but it was a dark parody too. Admittedly, the animation used for the show was somewhat dated (remember that it was designed for a niche market on the Sci-Fi Channel after starting out as an internet short); looking like it came out of a mid-level computer game from the late 1990's. The comedic aspects were another matter altogether. The show has been compared to Southpark but in fairness to Trey Parker and Matt Stone's silly show, it stopped being funny years ago so the comparison does more for their show than Tripping. It has also been branded a cheap knockoff of Futurama, the failed Fox effort that also parodies science fiction, pop culture, and other movies but I think that's unfair too since although it tends to take a lower road at the material, it has just as many pointed barbs with a lot less political correctness. In all, the show is designed as a fun look at the genre and it skewers both sides of the political fence and modern topics equally though I can see why it bothers the G&L crowd as much, if not more so, then Basic Instinct, based on the frequent jokes about homosexuals and using Gus as the focal point of the humor.
I haven't seen the entire first season of the show so if I miss something, feel free to email about it but the basic humor of the show seems to be split about 50/50 between sexual references and social commentary, both using the wealth of material available from past movies and other sources as needed. From Chode saying "Geez, you bang a chick twice a day and you think you know her" to Gus (when asked to check a case for a possible explosive device) saying "I just finished watching Jessica Simpson in that moronic Dukes of Hazzard. What's one more bomb?", the playful sense of fun often missing in mainstream shows was offered up in spades. Each episode is replete with similar one-liners but there was a lot of visual humor too. In the opening credits, the C3P0 appearing Gus vacuums the ship with an appliance that looks identical to R2D2 as Whip pilots a smaller version of the Star Trek Enterprise ship about the cabin. Seeing drunken Vulcans, lightsabers, and a plethora of other standards from the movies is so common that it's doubtful that you'll catch them all (even numbers and address if you pay close enough attention).
Ultimately though, the animation was good enough to convey the stories and the writing, however hit or miss it might be for some, was far better than average, perhaps best described as a version of Futurama made by a group of men sitting around drinking booze while watching old science fiction shows late at night. I know there have been objections about the way the show encourages treating women as sex objects, fosters a mean spirited brand of comedy, and advocates violence as a means to an end but to some of us; those are qualities we wish we'd see more often. By all means, if you're a diehard conservative, a tree hugging liberal, a feminist, or gay rights activist (or anyone else lacking a sense of humor), skip this one but otherwise, this 13 episode set should be required viewing for all movie junkies and as such gets a Highly Recommended.
Tripping The Rift: Season Two
1) You Wanna Put That Where? (7/27/2005)
Picture: Tripping The Rift: The Complete Second Season was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in for release on the Sci-Fi Channel last year. Having seen a few episodes of the first season, it looked like the production company updated the look of the show a bit but still retained the general type of computer generated imaging (CGI) that was reminiscent of Shrek and somewhat more advanced than the wonderfully hilarious Mr. Stain on Junk Alley (an extra on most of the FUNimation releases these days). Without going into a multitude of technical terms, the characters had an internal consistency with all the usual shading techniques and other tricks used to make it look pretty good, if somewhat dated. It also reminded me of an adult animation The Princess Has Come of Age I watched earlier this year, although the voice acting was substantially better with this series. There were some uncaught technical glitches where the animation seemed to distort but I only noticed it a few times, again reminding me of my earlier computer game analogy.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo English with a French track too (being made in Canada, I believe they had no choice). The music was often a sly imitation of other genre music, even going out of the way to come close to commercials and sound effects employed elsewhere. The vocals were supplied by a number of popular character actors, with the main replacement for the second season being the use of Carmen Electra as Six, replacing Gina Gershon from the first season). In large part, the synchronization between the animated mouths moving and the spoken words was accurate and after a few episodes, they seemed somehow fitting in the roles. As an experiment, I turned off the screen and listened, noticing no unnatural pauses or parts that seemed out of place. Some of the dialogue was a bit rushed but the nature of the material was such that it didn't matter much.
Extras: Considering how inexpensive the entire season was, I really didn't expect a lot of extras this time. In the fold out (three page) DVD case, were two discs; one single side and the other a double sided disc, and an 8 page booklet. The booklet started off with a quiz to test which character you're most like (with funny results) and then provided a short breakdown of the episodes in the order they aired. On the second side of disc two was a trailer for the upcoming Sci-Fi Channel series Eureka, a short Blooper Reel (with no audio), and a short feature called Tripping the Rift Season 2: Where No Chode Has Gone Before. In it, the actors and crew were interviewed in short clips with some footage from the show and discussion of the material from the season. It was glossy and upbeat, though amusing how frequently the cast said they wouldn't let their kids watch the show.
Final Thoughts: Tripping The Rift: The Complete Second Season was a lot more fun than I had been led to believe by reading up on it awhile back. It combines parody, social satire, and an obvious love of movies with a somewhat darker brand of humor than most of us are used to from an animated series but does so in a manner that typically made me laugh out loud. If you like the kind of stream of consciousness humor used by the writers (there were at least 30 movie/pop culture references per episode, usually far more) and the shots at so many people, including the cast itself, you'll love the show. In short, Tripping The Rift: The Complete Second Season had the replay value of a show that goes far beyond the geek audience it was designed for, with the animated breasts of Six looking like they had a life of their own, the snide brand of youthful humor found in abundant supply on the internet, and it amazes me that such a show could have had two seasons on the Sci-Fi Channel given the nature of how bland most of their offerings are these days (with a few exceptions). Perhaps The Comedy Channel or Cartoon Network will pick it up but it'd be a shame to see the show disappear.
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