ADV Films and the industry
a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Welcome to this week's installment of Anime Talk where we take a look at recently released titles, offer some bargains, and also discuss issues of the industry when they come up. And trust me when I tell you that there are some issues to chat about.
We all know what happened with Geneon and how they went kaput. The industry consolidated somewhat and fans are still trying in vain to finish some of their collections (with some shows that may never be complete). While a lot of it is just speculation there has been some word buzzing around about ADV having somewhat similar troubles. Apparently a letter was leaked briefly that stated some of their recent catalog titles (37-ish) were to be cancelled. Not much is known at this point but all indications are that this is a licensing issue and not ADV going under (hopefully just restructuring).
Otaku all over the web are talking about this in forums and amongst one another but it's important to keep a level head about things. Don't start freaking out about ADV going down; at least not yet. Many factors go into these publishers having business troubles and while many will say that it's the current state of the economy the truth is that the industry has set up business practices for failure. Some titles are released at astronomical prices, every publisher sells individual volumes and then a boxed set for a discounted price after the fact, and of course there is the fan subbing issue that is a plague on the industry. Whatever the case you can't deny that anime is a niche market. Its fans go above and beyond to support publishers but many feel that respect is not reciprocated.
The jury is still out on ADV but on the whole I'd say the American industry itself is in for a rough year in 2008. Geneon has folded, ADV is having trouble, and the economy is pinching people's frivolous spending budgets. Publishers should really take a look at their business practices and titles they license. In my opinion they should be more selective and consider the treatment they provide. Do obscure titles really need three volumes and an English dub? Or would a complete collection and original Japanese dub suffice? Is there even a big market for the show? Pricing is another area they should obviously look at. Also push up release dates and offer exclusives to bring people away from fansubs. There are many ways that anime publishers could turn the tide and build business though the best would be to listen to fans.
Until we know more about the ADV situation the point is out there that you shouldn't panic quite yet. Then again, it may not be a bad idea to preemptively complete those series you've had your eye on "just in case".
Now that I got that off my chest it's time to look at this week's Anime Talk Column! The aforementioned silliness hasn't completely stopped the anime from coming in thankfully and we've been able to check out some fantastic releases since our last time here. The fantastic (and fantastically expensive) SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next, Noein, Ghost in the Shell: Individual Eleven, and Gunbuster VS Diebuster: The Gattai Movie all came in. Not only did we have the opportunity to check those out but WTK has kept us busy with his bargains.
The romantic soap opera Suzuka comes to an end with volumes five and six. The high school soap opera continues to come this close to being a good show, only to have the characters sink into nonsensical behavior once again. The series wraps up at the end of volume six, but it's not as satisfying as one would like. There are a couple of dangling plot lines, some that are fairly significant, and the ultimate resolution doesn't feel like an ending so much as a way to finish the series in the shortest amount of time.
Not many people have been impressed with Bandai Visual's recent releases (not to be confused with plan ol' Bandai...they've been putting out some good stuff.) Releasing very expensive anime discs without even going to the trouble of creating an English dub would have been bad enough, but what's worst is that the shows aren't that entertaining. Most of the discs they've put out have been either yawn fests or a waste of time. That's why hopes weren't high for the awkwardly named SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next which was recently released on Blu-ray. This stand alone 45 minute story is based on a manga by legendary comic creator Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) however and the film itself turned out to be very good. Filled with charm, excitement, and adventure this is a great anime disc. It's just too bad that the cost will deter people from buying it.
One series that didn't get a lot of buzz when it was first released in the US was Noein. This five volume show starts off a little slow and seems pretty similar to other shows we've all watched in the past. If you're willing to give it a chance however, you'll be rewarded with a great SF anime show that has a lot of engaging characters and some interesting concepts. The show has just been released in a nice money-saving boxed set that is the perfect way to get the whole show in one fell swoop.
Most horror anime leaves something to be desired. While there are some excellent horror shows, in general their production values are a little lower than your average anime, and the shock value of seeing someone's arm getting sliced off soon wears out since is happens so often. At first glance Tokko seems to fall into that catagory and a second look soon confirms that. Though the show has an interesting premise and some enjoyable characters, it wasn't able to develop either over its short 13 episode run.
I don't know why and I can't explain it but girls and robots simply go together like peanut butter and chocolate. There's just something about the pairing that works so well that it's always a hoot to check out a show with these elements. Along those lines Jinki:Extend was a very interesting ride. With two timeframes to work with and a story that involves girl pilots defending the Earth from total destruction, the show had a lot going for it. Unfortunately some of these bits felt tired and the timeline jumping didn't quite work most of the time. Even so the action was intense and the concept warranted a second visit once the final episode's credits rolled.
The complete second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has been consolidated. Individual Eleven is the shortened and highly edited theatrical version of the 2nd GIG. Like Laughing Man, this movie edition works very well as a stand alone release and serves as a nice dose of GitS for people who don't want to dig into a whole season. Unfortunately some stuff does get lost in translation and the experience isn't as rich or fulfilling, but it's still great just the same. If you haven't watched 2nd GIG, check it out and you won't be disappointed!
One of those overpriced Bandai Visual titles we mentioned is Gunbuster vs. Diebuster Aim for the Top! The Gattai Movie. This classic science fiction franchise was a Gainax project from some 20 years ago and recently had a sequel produced. Both OVA proved to be very entertaining with fun stories and interesting characters. Sure each is essentially about a girl piloting a big robot and destroying space monsters but it doesn't feel cliché really. A cool element surfaces when the space traveling science is explored as time passes quickly back on Earth. Our heroine returns to find her childhood friend grown up and married though she has only been gone for a short amount of time from her perspective.
While our team already reviewed the individual volumes of the recently released Tenchi Muyo! GXP: The Viridian Collection, it comes as no shock that the harem show gained another fan when Don took a look at it too. A spin off in the truest sense of the phrase, this time, the protagonist is Seina Yamada; the most unlucky guy on Earth. Mistaking a Galaxy Police application for a lottery ticket, he wins a place on the front lines for fighting space pirates; encountering them before he even makes it to the academy. His unusual knack for running into the pirates prompts high ranking officials to accept him and the trouble really ensues as scores of ladies chase the hapless teenager all across the universe. As we found, all the extras and episodes were included this time so if you haven't picked up a copy yet, this might be the perfect time to do so.
Gundam MS Igloo 2: Apocalypse 0079 then finished up a brand new series that used advanced CGI to tell the tale of the Zeon side of the story; using a more personal approach by focusing on the crew of the Jotunheim; a military evaluation ship. The war closes in on the end as desperate battles are fought to protect friends and comrades, the crew eventually called to arms themselves as the fleet attempts to flee to the safety of deep space. Oliver May finds himself at the helm of a huge ship called the Big Rang and truce or not, his opponents won't stop until he's dead. This may well be the wave of the future in terms of bringing the Gundam universe to life so give this one a look too.
Le Chevalier D'Eon V6 finished off the tale of the Royal Psalms and tied up most of the loose ends with a bloodbath of carnage. D'Eon is hot on the trail of the ones ordering his sister's death and no one can stop him from fulfilling his mission in her name; least of all former allies that have agendas of their own. While set in Revolutionary France, the way anime is used to tell the supernatural story has been bandied about as one of the best titles in recent memory so catch this ending volume while it remains in print.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi: Perfect Collection was a quirky season set about a couple of wayward youths trying to get home after a magical talisman is broken and sends them on a series of quests. Combining the wackiness of Excel Saga and homages to all sorts of pop culture icons, Arumi and Sasshi figure out their roles in the grander scheme of things as they bounce around a number of dimensions where their mere presence triggers random events allowing them to essentially play a prolonged videogame knowing if they return home, they are likely to find a loved one in great danger. Still, the lighter nature of the show and ADV Films helpful Vid-Notes make this one a trip you might well enjoy repeatedly.
The final volume of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad has been released by FUNimation. This proved to be a fitting end for the show though I have to admit that I had an uneasy feeling about things. Of the four episodes here the final two are kind of an epilogue of sorts that could have been fleshed out significantly more. It was still thought-provoking and a lot of fun which has been a mainstay of the Beck series. This was one of the best series to be released this year and the music helped push it over the edge. If you're looking for a unique show then this is one to check out!
by Todd Douglass
With a name like SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next it's safe to say that Bandai Visual's latest release is designed strictly for adventurous hardcore otaku. Ironically its creator, Katsuhiro Otomo, was the mastermind behind some of anime's most beloved features (well, one of them is beloved anyway). Akira and Steamboy are household names but does SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next have the ability to be the same?
With a runtime of 40 minutes SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next proves to be a charming little film but it's not quite as epic as Otomo's other works. The show explores several facets of childhood and presents a story rife with a sense of wonder, discovery, and fear of the unknown. It's a throwback to the simplicity of adolescence and it's very offbeat from beginning to end. The movie truly bucks the trend by offering innocence as opposed to violence and fan service. The result is something that may not be for everyone but if you're looking for something different then you're going to be very pleased.
Ryuhei Ozaki seems to be your typical fifth grader though an unsuspecting discovery changes his life and sets up a big adventure. Ryuhei and his brother Sasuke are going through some tough times at home thanks to the fact that his parents are in the process of splitting. It would seem Ryuhei's father is obsessed with putting together anime models and his mother finally got sick of it and decided to leave. I'm sure there's more to the picture than meets the eye but considering we only get that portion of the story from the viewpoint of a child there's naturally a sort of innocence in the reasoning. At any rate, while looking through some of his father's things Ryuhei stumbles upon a notebook that belonged to his dad when he was younger.
The notebook that Ryuhei discovers has a map and talks about a "treasure" hidden beneath the streets of Tokyo. Like any curious kid would do he goes online and starts a chat room in an effort to find some other kids who want to go treasure hunting. With his brother unwittingly in tow, Ryuhei meets up with other members of the party, Shun, Yoshio, and Momoyo. From there the real adventure begins and things start off with a trip through a manhole cover in a back alley.
After spelunking beneath Tokyo for a while the group of kids comes across a senile old man who shouts at them about being spies when he discovers them in his mushroom garden. Not only does he tell them off but he also whips out a katana and chases them into a swarm of rats. Ryuhei and company don't let this deter them and soon enough they meet up with a strange man in a suit who also happens to live in the sewers. This gentleman bears nothing but goodwill as he takes the kids to his home where a bunch of people hard up on luck live.
We soon learn that the old coot that was running around brandishing a sword is a Japanese soldier who was stationed in that location way back in 1945. He's a tragic figure who knows nothing of the current state of affairs above ground and isolation has driven him mad. He perceives Ryuhei and friends as members of the allied forces and goes over the edge when he hears the homeless people singing a song in English thinking they are there to attack him and steal the "treasure" he's guarding.
Because it's important to the story I am not going to reveal exactly what this "treasure" is but let's just say it fits the story appropriately. SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next quickly goes from a children's adventure to a story about a tragic, yet honorable figure. Ryuhei's adventure never deviates from its purpose but layer upon layer is added to give the otherwise simplistic story some real depth. The 40 minute runtime ticks away all too quickly in my opinion and when it was all over I wished it had been longer.
Like I said at the beginning of this review SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next will not appeal to everyone. It's not as grandiose as Akira or Steamboy but it succeeds in telling a charming tale that will stay with you for a while. I highly recommend this film to everyone looking for something off the beaten path. With that being said just take a look at the MSRP and try to figure out exactly how many people are going to bite with that price tag. Bandai Visual really needs to re-evaluate their pricing structure or else they'll be pricing themselves out of the market.
SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture quality here is practically flawless thanks mostly to the manner with which this release was produced. Ditching traditional animation the production team went with CGI. The end result is a show that looks crystal clear with sharp details and only a few instances where grain is noticeable. Quite seriously though, it's the detail in this picture that truly impress. Subtle additions to the environments around Ryuhei bring the world to life in ways that most anime doesn't see.
Keeping in line with other Bandai Visual releases SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next only features the original Japanese language track. There is no English dub included here and that's a crying shame, especially considering the cost of admission for this DVD. That being said the Japanese dubbing is perfectly fine and fits the movie fantastically with a wide range of emotion and personality. The technical quality of the audio matches the video well with a fine amount of immersion and no flaws to gripe about.
A few of the original Japanese bonus features made their way onto this release which certainly extends the viewing of this disc. To kick things off is a "Making of" documentary that goes into nitty-gritty detail about the production of SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next. Clocking in at 17:45 this feature includes some of the original production staff discussing various aspects about creating the show. Oddly enough this feature is also dubbed in English at parts which adds to frustration considering there's no dub for the movie. Next up is an interview segment with the original Japanese cast. There's nothing major revealed here but it feels a little more in depth than the interview bits we typically see here in America.
After those two the only other feature through the "Extras" menu is a minute long trailer for the film. The real treat on this disc comes in the form of an audio commentary which features Director Shinji Takagi, Animator Tomonari Nakajima, and CGI Director Masashi Kokubo. As you'd expect this commentary is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles and I have to say that was very refreshing. Here in the States we've become accustomed to silly English commentaries where the voice actors riff on a particular episode but this one feels more focused. There's a lot of information here about the film if you take the time to watch it though I do have to admit that there's not a lot of colorful banter between commentators.
SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next is another gem from the mind of Katsuhiro Otomo. Full of charm, wit, and an endearing sense of adventure this stands as one of the best ways to spend 40 minutes where anime is concerned. The video quality is stellar, the audio quality is good, and the bonus features help complete the package. It's a shame that Bandai Visual priced this release the way they did because this is something that nearly every otaku should check out. For the quality of this film I'm going to highly recommend it as it's an instant classic. Take that to heart when looking at the MSRP.
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January 2015 Edition
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