Anime Action!

This piece was originally intended to be a look at all of the sixty or so pieces of anime that Island World were hoping to release in 93/94, but their ferociously paced release schedule (and, it has to be said, our habitual tardiness) means that even in a doubleplusbig issue such as this one, that idea was a non-runner; it was nine pages before any illustrations went in. Instead, both here and elsewhere in this issue you’ll find some of the highlights to look out for, but first, a trawl through the stuff they’ve released since last outing, in neo-chronological order:

Vampire Hunter D – From Toyõ Ashida, the director of ‘Fist of the North Star’, but let’s not hold that against him, as this cross between ‘Captain Kronos’ and ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ is several cuts above. Set ten millennia in the future, when a wide range of icky things stalk the land, the heroine is Doris, the reluctant bride-to-be of Count Lee, the local vamp. She hires an inscrutable stranger known only as ‘D’ to save her from Lee’s minions, and from the Count himself. It’s effectively a series of set pieces, but tied together with far more care than ‘Fist’, and the characters have depth and substance, notably the enigmatic D, whose background is divulged only slowly. The dubbing is acceptable; nothing special, and I could have done without the gratuitous, cliched Transylvanian accents given to the vampires (“I vant to dlink your blood”), but it rarely distracts from the visuals and the translation is mostly accurate. On a technical level, the animation is plain but convincing and music is used well to induce a dark and brooding ambience. Overall, short of “Dominion Vol.1” as Manga’s best release for entertainment purposes, yet still a satisfying chunk o’ Gothic fun. B

Legend of the Overfiend II – Released despite (or, more likely, because of) the wave of moral indignation that greeted the first instalment of this, it contains parts 4 + 5, joined at the hip. Part 4 always was my favourite in the series, being perhaps the most imaginative entry, combining Nazi death/sex machines, demonic blood transfusions, sex shows, plane crashes and a host of other such stuff, including (gasp!) some humour. Part 5 isn’t nearly as cool, relying more on the usual tenticular excess and monster-bashing seen last time out. Overall, pretty much “same again”. The major difference to the first movie is that the dubbing is worse, difficult though that may be to believe, though remarkably, this one appeared to be uncut – in the time-code I got, anyway! If you liked the original, this will go down well; if you found part 1 an appalling exercise in misogyny, then I hardly need to suggest the sequel should probably not go on your shopping list… B for Part 4, E+ for Part 5, total, er, C-?

Lensman – Based on a book from E.E.”Doc” Smith’s long SF series, this is more “classic” anime – cynics may read that as “old and cheap”. Those who saw the dire ‘Odin’ will be worried by this, but ‘Lensman’ isn’t as bad. Quite… It’s got computer animation that still looks impressive, nine years later. Unfortunately, it makes the hand-drawn stuff look relatively weak in comparison. But the primary problem is the plot, which is very much pulp material. A young innocent kid is taken from his home planet to take part in an epic struggle against the forces of darkness in the far future. Ring any, Luke-flavoured bells? To be fair, it’s not the animator’s fault that Lucas and Co. lifted chunks, but from a UK-in-1993 view it means the story looks hackneyed and trite. Fans of the books, or indeed ‘Star Wars’, may well enjoy it, but for the rest of us, paying 12.99 for twenty minutes of computer animation may be a questionable investment. E-

RG Veda – The most interesting thing here is seeing how minimal animation can get. People are seen in long-shot far more often than normal, and there’s rarely more than one thing moving on screen at any time. For example, no-one talks and blinks simultaneously. The story is a bog-standard quest in the face of cardboard cut-out evil, for the sixth member of a group, referred to as “the sixth point” (I must admit, I was also seeking the point…). They are needed for some doubtless critical purpose, which I think I drifted off and missed. Redeeming features? It looks nice if you put it on pause, as the artwork is several degrees better than the animation. Otherwise, it’s not actually bad, just absolutely, entirely, unequivocally without interest. E

The Heroic Legend of Arislan – This provoked gradually increasing feelings of unease, which took me a while to suss out. Half way through, it hit me – there hadn’t been a single significant female character. Plenty of feminine ones, but no actual babes. The whole thing, well, to be honest, the word “homoerotic” comes to mind; I suspect this was originally targeted at a female audience, not that this stops Island World from attempting to sell it as sex ‘n’ violence (whoever writes the sleeve blurb delights in the sort of factual distortion usually only seen in ‘Sun’ editorials). However, if you ignore that, this is ok; a medieval tale of treachery, battle and revenge that takes a while to go anywhere, yet does eventually engage. Nicely animated, although there’s little that couldn’t have been done with live-action, and good to see dubbing using non-Americans, including, of all people, Charles Grey! Some are still pretty naff – Prince Arislan sounds like the lead in a school play – but at least they’re British naff. Part two to follow; I’m mildly keen (it’s a pleasant change from SF/horror) but give me Kei ‘n’ Yuri any day. C

Crying Freeman – The good news is, Island World have finally released some subtitled anime. The bad news is, it’s subtitled in Japanese. The story starts in China, y’see, and in the original, the characters spoke Chinese. Interesting but irrelevant, Ok, uninteresting and irrelevant. To the story. Very closely based on the manga (available in English), an assassin falls in love with a girl who witnesses one of his hits and brings her into his ways. The blurb promises “sex, drugs and violence”: sexy, yes – later episodes of the manga definitely push the envelope in that area (we’re talking child molestation) – violent, undoubtedly but drugs? None seen, presumably from the same artistic licence that describes one character as “Kimie, the topless temptress”, though admittedly, she does have an interesting line in costumes. Overall, like an anime ‘Nikita’ perhaps, cool and stylish; however, for some reason, several of the voice actors adopt dodgy Oriental accents – maybe they should have called it Clying Fleeman? Once again, there’s a “special guest star” and I think we can exempt his Chinese accent from criticism, as it’s Burt Kwouk! B-

Doomed Megalopolis – Another one of Island World’s multi-part series to keep track of (they’ve at least four on the go), this is, if not quite Lovecraftian, perhaps Lovecraftesque. Or at least, Lovecraftesqueish… Set in Tokyo early this century, we have a bad guy trying to raise the spirit of the city’s patron deity for his own aims, and a lot of other people having hallucinations and wondering what the hell is going on. The viewer may be forgiving for sympathising – this one does require that you pay attention, as plot and characters swirl around like mist. The animation is good, the dubbing is decent and you reach the end keen to find out what happens next. I forecast there will be tentacles involved, though anything could happen (well, almost: a negotiated settlement here is not likely). I haven’t been so enjoyably confused for some time. B+

Ultimate Teacher – Humour is been a bit lacking in most of the above; in fact, after ‘Dominion’ and ‘Project A-ko’, there has barely been a laff to be had, so this was a pleasant surprise, doubly so as it’s another Toyõ Ashida film. Neither ‘Fist’ not ‘Vampire Hunter D’ were exactly comedies, but ‘Teacher’ has some absolutely cracking moments. It’s a cross between ‘Akira’ and ‘A-ko’, with the former’s school of delinquents and the “somewhat unusual newcomer” from the latter. Here, the new bod is a teacher, there to lick the yobs into shape, though their leader is already pleasantly shaped as she stands… Violent and very strange, half the time I was wondering what the hell was going on, I suspect I’m missing out on most of the necessary cultural pickup points. Luckily, the other half of the time, I was creased double. Broad sexual slapstick, more like a ‘Carry On’ than anything else, albeit with hints of Python and Peter Jackson. It’s aided by the most impressive voice acting to date, Marc Smith in the title role showing how it should be done. Very, very, very silly. B

Judge – Starting off as “office politics soap opera”, this strange item meanders through “secret identity vigilante” and “battling magicians” before ending up as, er, “courtroom drama”. Something for everyone here, I guess. A mild-mannered salaryman moonlights as a kind of Director of Paranormal Prosecutions, taking revenge on the living for the dead they have wronged. When the president of the company he works for does something naughty, he has to take on the president’s supernaturally empowered defense attorney. While the individual parts are interesting, the whole is significantly less than their sum, despite good use of music and a fairly sound central idea. The characters are as thin as the cels they’re painted on, the voice acting is painfully bad, and the plot has moments that had even me going “C’mon…”. A tolerable rental, perhaps, but I can’t see myself watching it again. D-

Handy cut-out Manga Video guide.

Here’s a list of all their releases to date, ranked in order of TC-preferedness. Perfect for your wallet!

  1. Dominion
  2. Vampire Hunter D
  3. Ultimate Teacher
  4. Doomed Megalopolis
  5. Project A-ko
  6. Crying Freeman
  7. 3×3 Eyes
  8. Legend of Arislan
  9. Wicked City
  10. Venus Wars
  11. Legend/Overfiend
  12. Judge
  13. Fist of the North Star
  14. R.G.Veda
  15. Lensman
  16. Odin