Anime Blitz

Blue Sonnet - Took significant effort to see this, first phoning up Manga to get a copy, then returning it after the Post Office trashed it. And it wasn't worth the effort, for a tired cross between The Guyver and Project A-ko. The latter is especially drawn on: artificially enhanced, blue-haired schoolgirl, takes on red-haired schoolgirl with more natural superpowers (well, her hair turns red when she uses her abilities). Pity that this clone lacks any of the original's wit, style or quality of animation. B-ko, sorry, Blue Sonnet, is a cyborg secret-weapon of some multinational or other, suffering the usual guilt pangs, notably about offing the school nurse who discovered her secret, in the only effective sequence. Lettuce-like limpness. E+

Detonator Orgun - Certainly impressive, in terms of volume - 150 mins for £13.99 - and actually not bad, given my dislike of the giant robot field. Self-aware enough to defuse the portentousness with humour, it skates close to moralising cant, yet never quite goes over the top. The "alien invasion" plot, #3 in the anime canon, is twisted in novel ways (are the invaders actually our future selves?) and the animation is full-scale. The origin as 50-minute episodes is too clear (half an hour of plot, then 20 minutes of action, with the predictability of the tides), yet it's nicely self-contained in a sweeping, epic kind of way. C+

Elicia - Forgettable piracy romp with fantasy elements. Reminded me of Sol Bianca, except that one managed to have memorable characters and a plot that stuck in your head for longer than thirty minutes. This one is bright, shiny, nicely animated and possesses very little to recommend it above and beyond the hundred other titles on the shelf. The sort of thing for which the phrase 'Mostly Harmless' was coined, do yourself a favour and go watch Cut-throat Island instead. D-

Grappler Baki - Martial arts mayhem, albeit with a smidgeon more flair than, say, Shadow Skill. At moments, so excessive it may be a parody; though the fact that it's not funny suggests otherwise. The storyline is irrelevant, so let's move on to the lengthy, graphic battles: the final one alone lasts 15 minutes and features a guy who tears out his opponent's nerves. If that's the coolest thing you've ever heard, this is right up your street; otherwise, it could be of limited interest. I dozed off a bit in the middle, between fights, but suspect this did not impact my enjoyment of the show in the slightest. D+

Gunsmith Cats 3 - The final part of Kenichi Sonoda's paean to fast cars, babes and guns ties up loose ends left after previous episodes, when the heroines took out a gun-running operation. Said ends are very loose indeed, including a Russian hit-woman and a lot of political sleaze. This is 30 minutes of cheerful shallowness, with hardly a thought in its pretty little head. Like all bimbos, it's expensive for what you get; value for money isn't the strong point of this series, so wait for the compilation edition instead. However, bonus points to AD Vision for putting both dubbed and subbed versions on the same tape, giving the viewer maximum flexibility. C+

The Hakkenden - An animated version of The Water Margin is a good way to sum up this sprawling series. It details the adventures of eight characters whose fates are bound together by a series of pearls, engraved with the necessary attributes of a samurai, and tied to a princess who married her dog(!). Throw in the usual venomous power struggles, and you have something where you have to admire the width at the very least. However, this isn't enough to make it actually interesting, it was too hard to empathise with characters who never quite lift themselves out of the box marked 'cyphers'. It also seems often to forget that it's animation, and could easily be live-action for long periods. If you like samurai stuff, fine, otherwise this won't convert you. D

Hanappe Bazooka - Go Nagai is famous for mixing sex, violence and humour (Kekko Kamen is also his), and this bats down a similar line. It's like a parody of Overfiend - guy summons demons, mayhem follows - with the creatures in question more naughty than unpleasant, though just as sex-crazed. However, it's not actually very amusing, despite obviously trying very hard. Some decent in-jokes, and a healthy sense of political incorrectness, which the BBFC will no doubt trim, can't salvage it. In the end (and every other orifice, too), what you get is less parody than tame imitation. D

Macross Plus - Reviewing part four of this was a bit tricky, since they never sent parts 1-3. Thank heavens for the Macross Plus movie, which combines them all (with an extra twenty minutes of footage), and alleviated the vague sense of loss, since Part 4 wasn't totally without merit, despite being full of giant robots. It's epic, trans-galactic stuff, though the ending has dialogue so cheesy you could put it on toast and call it Welsh Rarebit. Just the sort of po-faced nonsense one expects from mecha-anime. Up until then though, it's very impressive: the animation is top of the range, fluid and fast, and music is used to great effect too. Overall, a very pleasant surprise. B+

Makyu Senjou - My, just what the world has been crying out for: a Guyver wannabe. Bloke turns into secret weapon of mega-corporation, and has to fight all the other secret weapons in bloody battles. Yawn. A marginally better storyline than The Guyver (not hard -- the appearance of a telepathic kid tips the balance there) and with a decent minimalist soundtrack, yet it has even worse animation, and dialogue that might be funny if it wasn't serious. Deeply tedious. E

Neon Genesis Evangelion - I'm going to go against the grain here; despite uniformly good reviews elsewhere, this again is little more than The Guyver, albeit with extra teen-angst. Every twenty minutes or so, a new alien threat attacks and has its arse kicked by Earth's giant robot corps, between which the young pilots agonise about...stuff. Not so much a story arc as a story flat-line, despite the high-quality animation you'd expect from Gainax (responsible for Wings of Honneamise). There's no sense of forward momentum, and having sat through twenty episodes without anything significant happening, it's not a series I ever want to see again. D-

Phantom Quest Corp - That's "Corp" as in "Corporation", for this refreshing take on Ghostbusters, in which an army of freelance exorcists, led by our spendthrift heroine, take on the usual supernatural suspects. It's frothy, feisty fun, with a dub that's a pretty good attempt at capturing the spirit of the Japanese original. With hardly any plot or character development (admittedly, the characters don't need much development being quite fully formed as is, and they are all the more entertaining for it), this is shallow entertainment, no more and no less. Perky and frolicsome candy-floss. B

Power Dolls - 'The Knight Sabres Go to War' might be an appropriate title for this one. An all-girl brigade in power suits ("dolls" is actually a heavily contrived acronym for something), fighting against the invaders from Earth. Yes, "from" rather than "of", an interesting twist, albeit one previously used in KO Century Beast Warriors. This is more tech-inclined, and needs better characterisation on the voice front, where they all sound too alike. The action is dully predictable, and by now the words "AD Vision" should also automatically trigger "value for money" warning bells; in this case, however, the brevity is almost welcome. D-

Shadow Skill - Don't bother. This one has all the charm of a video game turned into a cartoon, even though it isn't, being based on a comic (however, I suspect it probably has become a video game since). A thin excuse for a plot is clearly designed to do no more than link fight scenes. After 20 minutes, I had a strong urge to play Tekken 2 -- I didn't resist, and not only is the animation there superior, it's far more entertaining. I may have blisters on my thumb as a result, but would probably have got one watching this anyway, through savage usage of the fast-forward. Also available in a "movie" which is three episodes on one tape, and is thus marginally better. E-

Tokyo Revelation - For the first ten minutes, this looks like it might do interesting things with the traditional demonic high-school setting: we get two investigators going undercover at said educational establishment, in a cross between The X-Files and cult Japanese horror film Wizard of Darkness. However, neither of these angles are explored significantly, and it descends, perhaps inevitably, into another 'put-upon bloke summoning icky things' show. You've seen it all before, and it's neither extreme enough nor well-animated enough to be other than instantly forgettable. E

Zeoraima - While some anime has certainly been BAD, this may be the first to reach "so bad it's good" status. It's dreadful, kid-piloting-mecha nonsense, with a portentous, monotone voiceover and every cliché of the genre you could wish. The dubbing is so dreadful, the characters rarely pronounce the title the same way twice in a row (Zeo-RYE-mah? Zeo-RAY-mah? Zeo-RAH-mah?), and the plot is a tedious succession of battles between ever more giant robots. Even if the second episode adds nothing save another pronunciation (Zeo-REE-mah), this is certainly entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons -- I haven't laughed so much in ages. On that basis, and for that alone, C+.

Stop Press...

[Those titles which didn't quite turn up in time for the above section]

Hyper Dolls - It's nice, once in a while, to see something that doesn't take itself in the slightest bit seriously. And these two tapes certainly fall into this category. Heroines Mica and Mew are the protectors of Earth -- it's kinda like Men in Black with skimpier costumes. They get their orders through the medium of pizza (look, I call 'em as I see 'em) and fortunately, their opponents are just as dumb as they are: for example, a yokel giant worm with a penchant for imitating a tube train... Though hardly taxing the attention span over its thirty-minute duration, bonus points are due to Pioneer for the live-action shorts which follow each episode: part 1 is especially silly, with a 'giant' rubber-suited monster, straight out of some early Godzilla flick -- part 2's is disturbingly...well, competent, and thus much less fun. It's all unremittingly silly, and deliciously frothy. B

Landlock - I tried. Not once, but twice. And singularly failed to get through more than 20 minutes of this dreck. It's supposed to have something to do with Shirow, who did Ghost in the Shell, and it does have the same twisted technology, mystical babble, and unfeasibly large-breasted women, though I suspect that his contribution was a few drawings scrawled on a fag packet one Friday lunchtime down the pub. The translation provokes more unintended sniggers than anything else (po-faced pronouncements about being "master of the wind", for example), and the voice acting is dreadful. Totally irredeemable, this is Manga's worst since Odin -- it may be slightly worse, but I'm damned if I'm going to make a third attempt at it to find out. E-

Psychic Wars - "Mum, my head hurts", begins the press release, and yes, a migraine would be preferable. The odd thing is, it feels like a part 3, the first chunk smells suspiciously of story-so-far. At least that bit kept me awake: even though it was just 7pm, sleep overcame me after 26 minutes - between this and Landlock, maybe I could start rating tapes by how long I stay conscious. A swift rewind revealed I'd missed nothing; bloke with special powers/save Earth/demonic forces. Fill in the blanks yourself, you've seen it all a million times before, and done a thousand times better. Two words to Manga: quality control. Keep this up, and even the undemanding teenage boys market will desert you. E+

Sword for Truth - "NINJAS FACE SAMURAIS IN BLOODY SEVERED LIMB DECAPITATION SHOCKER..." shrieks the promotional blurb, in typically understated Manga Video style - there are times when reading them is more entertaining than watching the tapes. Though for once, this is only mild hyperbole -- the gore, while copious, is drawn in a style bordering on the Impressionistic and, most unlike Manga, they even forgot to mention the sex, both straight and lesbian. It plays like a video game, with strong, silent hero Shuranosuke slashing his way past henchmen, then taking on their boss, before moving on to the next level, er, adventure. Despite a familiar plot and some clumsy anachronisms (why is the River Styx mentioned in a supposedly medieval Japanese setting?), Shuranosuke is an interesting, well-rounded character, and the film benefits from its solid visual sense. C+

Once again, that handy cut-out-and-keep TC anime guide!

Title

Label

Grade

Macross Plus

Manga

B+

Hyper Dolls

Pioneer

B

Phantom Quest Corp

Pioneer

B

Gunsmith Cats 3

AD Vision

C+

Sword For Truth

Manga

C+

Detanator Orgun

Manga

C+

Zeoraima

Manga

C+

Grappler Baki

Manga

D+

The Hakkenden

Pioneer

D

Neon Genesis Evangelion

AD Vision

D-

Elicia

AD Vision

D-

Power Dolls

AD Vision

D-

Blue Sonnet

Manga

E+

Shuten Doji

AD Vision

E+

Psychic Wars

Manga

E+

Tokyo Revelation

Manga

E

Makyu Senjou

Manga

E

Shadow Skill

Manga

E-

Landlock

Manga

E-

AnimeXTRA

1997 was a dreadful year for Japanese animation in Britain, the majority of titles released were hard to imagine anyone over 12 (age or IQ) buying. Going by the reviews on the previous pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking all the ‘good stuff’ has come out. But the problem is less the lack of decent anime, more the narrow market to which it is targetted here. Back in TC14/15, there was a list of seven excellent, unreleased titles: with the sole exception of Sol Bianca, they all remain that way four years later. So let’s take a look at a selection, available on import or through other fan sources, which all ram a tentacle up the orifice of the prevailing, erroneous opinion which says that anime is just for a 16-25, male audience. Ladies and gentlement, please welcome our first contender! At 99 lbs. dripping wet -- and she usually is...

Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland - Er, perhaps prevailing opinion might have a bit of a point here, despite the lack of any male characters. Cross Alice in Wonderland with Barbarella (to which the comic explicitly pays homage) and you’ll be in the right area...sort of. For this little gem crams Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass into thirty minutes, while loading them both with a heady air of sexuality.

In terms of pheromones per minute, it’s world-class stuff; the minimal nudity and lack of any actual sex is simply evidence of the creators’ skills. The main twist is making every character female and more or less sex-crazed i.e. the White Rabbit is now a bunny-girl on a skateboard. Familiarity with the books is thus useful, though at only 15 mins each, plot development is, shall we say, somewhat limited; Wonderland comes off better.

In terms of frilly undergarments per minute, this is also world-class stuff; there’s copious lingerie. However, it’s done with such charm and humour that you can’t possibly be offended, except perhaps by the relentless techno-reggae soundtrack, that will liquefy your brain and keep you humming for weeks. Deal with the inevitable accusations of sexism by revealing that it’s based on a strip by the female artists group known as ‘Clamp’. [God knows what they were on. It probably used lots of batteries...] and it was even a woman who first dragged me to see it (Hi, Christine!). Maybe the creators should label their product "politically-correct smut", and get Channel 4 to buy it.

Child’s Toy - While most kids’ TV is dreck, every so often, you get a show aimed at a younger audience, that also makes fine entertainment for adults: Tiswas, The Press Gang, Tiny Toon Adventures, and now Child’s Toy, a Japanese show whose target audience would seem to be pre-teen, but whose central characters include an eleven-year old schoolgirl and her pimp.

Yes, pimp. This appears to be how heroine Sana, refers to her manager -- she also has a part-time job as a TV actress. And she needs looking after, since her mouth gets her into trouble constantly, notably with the class delinquent, whom we first encounter blackmailing the teachers into permitting his anarchy. Being made for television, the animation isn’t the greatest, but this is made up for by a razor-sharp script that can swing from comedy to pathos in a second without seeming strained or forced. And Sana, too, is both wise beyond her years and terminally dumb; Clueless, starring a hyperactive version of Wednesday Addams. It also benefits from truly great supporting characters: the mother, as unflappable as Sana is manic, with a squirrel living in her hair; the delinquent, not quite what he seems; and a bizarre bat/rabbit narrator that crops up sporadically.

This amphetamine-crazed remake - the original video told the story rather less energetically - resembles Dragon Half, with a willingness to throw the rule-book away and fly blind. Putting it in conventional terms, Heathers meets Saviour of the Soul is as close as I can get, for it blends the mundane and the fantastic with a pithy wit which blows away anything on British TV.

Here is Greenwood - A traditional staple of Japanese animation is the high-school comedy, in which a spectrum of kooky characters interact with humourous results. This is seen frequently, even in shows aimed at adults: it may be that in a strictly ordered and disciplined society like Japan, school is one of the few places where a (very) little individuality is tolerated. Hence shows like Urusei Yatsura have an appeal far beyond the contemporaries of the teenage characters.

Thus we have Greenwood, whose title springs from Robin Hood – a place where outlaws hang out. In the show, it’s the name of a school dorm which acts as a dumping ground for religious nuts, guys who act like girls, and hero Kazuya Hasukawa, in love with his brother’s wife. The whole show is low-key, lacking the manic chases, fight scenes or slapstick humour seen in other series, relying instead on a berserk solar system of plots and subplots (imagine Jerry Springer shows entitled My Sister is a Psychopath, or A Ghost’s got a Crush on Me), though a lot of its charm is the phlegmatic way in which the characters react even to these bizarre events.

In terms of progression, there doesn’t seem to be a lot, story- or persona-wise, probably an inevitable result of condensing a long running story into a few animated half-hours. Yet this lends it an audacious air: one episode depicts the making of an amateur movie, and the opening credits of the film become the closing credits of the show. The end result is a show that’s charming and lightweight, without ever evaporating completely.

Sailor Stars - Finally, a brief nod of unexpected appreciation to this version of infamous teen-girl merchandising machine, Sailor Moon. While still engaging in a relentless recycling of animation, it has...well, a Gothic horror feel which certainly came as a shock. In the first six episodes, the multiple heroines (tall! short! blonde! brunette! one for every taste! collect the whole set!) have to face villainess Neherenia, whom they previously sealed into another dimension. She’s great - think Cruella DeVille with a hangover - and for two hours, kicks Sailor arse. Sadly, part VI lets the side down with an (admittedly, entirely expected) "love conquers all" ending, but until then, it’s far better than I’d have predicted, assisted by a good score. Chances of this grimly fiendish series ever appearing on British television? Well, do you see this snowball, and this inferno-like region..?

So, despite the gloom and doom of the opening paragraph of this article, there are also signs of hope – maybe not quite a field of daffodils yet, but the odd green shoot. One such title achieved fame after a single late-night screening at a convention, and has since led to it becoming perhaps the most eagerly anticipated title of 1998.

It’s always a delight when something manages to surprise you, or bypass your expectations. Anyone looking at a piece of Japanese animation entitled Perfect Blue might be forgiven for thinking they were going to see something involving barely pubescent girls, demons, and places daylight doesn’t reach. You would, however, be utterly wrong.

The first anime giallo owes a lot to the works of Dario Argento, with perhaps a nod to David Cronenberg, as the heroine moves through a lurid world of hallucinations and stylish murders. You wouldn’t guess it from the start, as a trio of idol singers squeak away for all their worth, though one, Mima Kirigoe, has decided to leave the group and try to make a career as an actress. Things soon start to sink into the Twilight Zone, with Mima finding herself the target of obsessive fan, ‘Mimaniac’, who documents her every move on the Internet in disturbing detail, and is clearly not chuffed by her decision to quit singing, as the parcel bomb she gets proves.

Despite this, her first acting job is a stripper in detective series ‘Double Bind’, and she finds herself exposing rather more than she’d like. Neither this nor the nude publicity pics go down well with her stalker, and the writer has his eyes gouged out for his temerity. Mima is by now seriously losing it under the strain: her old self keeps appearing to her in visions, and the reality/fantasy/ dream/nightmare lines become perilously thin. I’ll say no more -- not purely out of a desire to avoid spoiling it, but also because I’m still not confident enough to state precisely what the hell is going on; as well as Argento’s visual style, they borrow his plot coherence! [And I think Masahiro Ikumi must have listened to Goblin while writing the score...]

Regardless of this, it’s one hell of a ride. At first glance, there’s no point to Perfect Blue being animated; the style also bears more comparison to a Hitchcock movie than any anime, and the characters lack the excessively over-sized eyes often seen in the medium. It could certainly be said that the film contains little that couldn’t be done in live-action -- while technically true, it is hard to envisage how they could have made the hallucinatory sequences which litter the movie, so utterly convincing in any other way. Instead, from half way through (which is only about 40 minutes -- this is no bring-yer-own-sandwiches epic), it becomes incredibly easy to lose track of whether anything is going on purely in Mina’s head or in ‘reality’. [If ever those quote marks were justified, it’s here] The movie is based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, and even before it opened in Japan, a semi-sequel was already in the pipeline -- it will apparently be ‘Double Bind’, the TV show featured in the film.

Like Miyuki-Chan in WonderlandPerfect Blue’ is animated by Madhouse, and so is typically slick. Director Satoshi Kon wrote part of Katsuhiro Otomo’s latest, Memories (see the Film Festival Blitz) and Otomo himself was an advisor here, which perhaps helps to explain the painstaking effort that has clearly gone into the project. All of these names are a fine pedigree for any piece of anime, and while Perfect Blue is not a ground-breaking pioneer like Akira, it’s adult entertainment in the best sense of the word.

[Perfect Blue is out theatrically in late ’98, with a video release to follow]


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