“The Good, The Bad and The Dangerous”

Recently, TC was able to talk to three hard working Martial Arts personalities, during a hectic SF convention at the Arcadian Hotel in Birmingham.

John Carrigan is a self-professed “action-actor” and martial artist, the guiding light behind ‘Heroes For Hire’, a stunt team demonstrating fighting arts at charity events, and an actor in his own right. He’s appeared in ‘The Bill’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, ‘Lovejoy’, ‘ST:TNG’, the movie ‘Double X’, and a recent independent drama, the Twilight Zone-styled ‘Hollow Man’.

Po-Ling Choi is described as a Hong Kong “action-actress extraordinaire”, and as well as working on ‘Impact’ with Bey, has appeared in several features, including the “quickie” The Good, The Bad and the Dangerous, filmed in the very hotel this interview was conducted (and also provided this article’s title!).

Bey Logan edits ‘Impact’, the martial arts/action film magazine, as well as being a writer-producer working in the UK & HK. He is half of Beymark International, a production company dedicated to producing Anglo-Eastern action films. Recently, he acted as Line Producer on “Killer’s Romance”, inspired by ‘Crying Freeman’, and available on Colourbox Video.

What inspired you to start in martial arts?

PLC: In Hong Kong, it’s traditional that when you’re young, if your father or relatives do martial arts, then you do martial arts as well. It’s a popular thing for girls to do kung fu in films now, so that’s why I’ve started doing the same.

BL: What got me involved was initially Bruce Lee. I think that probably 99% of people in this country involved in martial arts and martial arts movie-making were probably inspired by him.

JC: My involvement came just before Bruce Lee because I got beaten up quite badly in 1972 by six individuals, and I thought I either dig a hole or do something about it. David Carradine spun onto the scene and I saw a few episodes of ‘Kung Fu’. I thought he was good until I went to see ‘The Big Boss’ with Bruce Lee and that was the springboard. It was basically self-defence and then Bruce.

You’ve described yourselves as “action-actors”. What came first? Was it the martial arts, the stunt work, and then you decided to move into acting?

PLC: I was acting before – I was interested in acting when I was a child, and then with the rise of kung-fu women in movies, I added the kung fu. I was acting before kung-fu women were popular.

What do you find the hardest part of your career?

PLC: Remembering the moves during fight scenes. Not to get hit, to hit the right people.

BL: The hardest thing for me is getting financing for films. I’ve got a lot of ideas, and there’s tremendous potential in our stunt team and the people around us. That’s why it’s great: the thing we did here at the Arcadian, John’s film “Hollow Man” – that’s the way things get done. But the biggest stumbling block to creativity is that it is show business, and without the business, there ain’t no show.

JC: The hardest thing is to keep the dream alive, through the days when you think “I’ll never get there”, and not to listen to yourself, to keep the enthusiasm, to pass it on.

Have you ever been hurt?

JC: I’ve been hurt too numerous times to mention in martial arts, because when you train six days a week, you hitch up some marks. We say it’s not the years, it’s the mileage! In films, in stunt work, I’ve had loads of minor things. I did a twenty-five foot roof fall where you somersault, and for every six feet you fall, you go a foot out – when I got to the boxes, my kneecap went over the side of the box and almost snapped the wrong way. It took me 3 months to get right from that. And I dislocated my ankle, and the bone burst through the side of my foot…
How do you feel about the risks?

JC: It goes with the territory. I don’t just want to be a stuntman and burst into flames. If I’m going to do something like “Hollow Man”, if I did get injured, I want people to know it was me doing it, me as the character I was playing, then it’s worth it. But if I step in for a character who gets all the glory, and I get badly injured for five seconds of footage, it’s not justified because my living is my body.

Have you ever consider going behind the cameras, perhaps directing?

PLC: I don’t really know how to direct. In Hong Kong it’s very difficult for females. There are no female directors who have come from being actresses.

JC: I’d like to be in both places! I’ve not been trained as a director, but I know what I like to see, and I know how I feel when I’ve been directed, and I know what I think was wrong when I was directed. Whenever I’m on a film set, I’m never sitting around chewing my nails, I’m always with the make-up people, the directors, producers, sound-men, trying to learn and assimilate what the total picture is – a bit like a martial art, you try and get the total picture, rahter than just a segment. I’d love to direct – maybe one day…

Brandon Lee & Bey Logan in London in October 1992

Who are you favourite martial arts actors? [NB This interview took place before the unfortunate death of Brandon Lee]

PLC: Jackie Chan in Hong Kong, and Sashi Mitchell in the West.

BL: In the States, I like Brandon Lee and Thomas Ian Griffith, who has made a film called ‘Excessive Force’ which is really brilliant. These are two guys who are coming up, who are well worth checking out, trust me on that! From Hong Kong, it’s got to be Donnie Yen, who’s a good friend of mine, but I think pound-for-pound he’s the finest martial arts actor in the world.

JC: From the past, it has to be Bruce Lee. I think Brandon Lee is going to take the world by storm very soon. I think Van Damme is good, but I don’t like the re-use of the same kick over and over, it’s getting to be the ruination of some films. Cynthia Rothrock uses it all the time now. I think Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee. Steven Seagal has presence, not much as a martial artist, even though he’s very effective, but as a person.

What’s your opinions of the Western martial arts actors in general?

PLC: They’re pretty rubbish! I don’t like watching them.

BL: I think a head-to-head comparison is unfair. In Hong Kong, you have actors doing martial arts, and in America, you’ve martial artists learning how to act. In Hong Kong, they try to do martial arts in a theatrical way, which will entertain that audience – it’s one reason films don’t translate well in the West. In America, they’re basically trying to show real martial arts, aikido, kickboxing, whatever; there’s a kind of reality there. It’s interesting to see cross-pollination, like Brandon Lee’s “Rapid Fire” which combines the two, with the grittiness of a Seagal movie, but the action sequences are very theatrical and Hong Kong style. That movie, I think, is the first one to bridge the gap between the two.

JC: If you could get a balance between East and West as Bey says. Samo Hung, what he does is incredible, but Western audiences wouldn’t pay just to see him as a character – with the fight scenes, they would. If you can get that kind of action with the quality acting that some people do… I recognise the distinction between Chinese and Western – they both have their merits.

This next question is perhaps something of a controversial one…

BL: Fire away, I love controversy!

It’s said that some movies are shot at 21 to 22 frames per second, and then shown at the full 24 frames per second to give an illusion of speed. How true it this?

BL: I don’t think it’s controversial, that’s a technique of film- making that’s used in Hong Kong and again it’s to do with the theatrical nature of it. They’re not interested in realism. Their attitude is that we are filming a live action cartoon in which people happen to hit each other, and one of the aspects of cartoon making is that the pace of action is substantially faster than real human beings move – that translates onto the screen. But I’d say, if you don’t like it, if that sounds fake to you, look at the last reel of ‘Showdown in Little Tokyo’ and the last reel of ‘Police Story’ with an audience who like that kind of movie. Not the whole film, just the last reel. And then take a straw poll to see who liked what film…

So you would say that undercranking the camera in a martial arts film is like the special effects in a science fiction movie?

BL: Absolutely.

How true are the stories about Triad involvement in the HK movie industry?

BL: Triads are a fact of life in Hong Kong – they always have been in Chinese culture. The problem is that they have stepped up their involvement, more people getting greedier. One of the famous ploys that causes a lot of problems is when they go to a famous actor, set up a temporary money- laundering operation, a small film company, and say to the actor, “Do a film for us at 1/3 of your normal rate, as a favour to the ‘boys'”. The gang will release this movie and after a couple of months they close up the company, take the money and run. In principle, that worked okay.

Now, you get ten guys saying to this actor, “Please do this film”, and the actor’s thinking “I’ll be doing a year’s worth of films for no money, I don’t want to do that”, and the ones he says “No” to are the ones who are getting stroppy. This is where you hear about managers getting kidnapped, and all the other horrible stuff going on. I think it’s not that the Triads are involved with the film-making, whether that’s good or bad is immaterial, it happens. What I think is the problem is that there has been an unrealistic approach to the film industry by the Triads, and that is the cause of the recent problems, and the march and the protests. It wasn’t actually Artists Against Triads, it was Artists Against Violence – violence being perpetrated against actors or actors’ managers.

Do you think it’s less sinister to the people who are involved than it appears to us from a Western viewpoint?

BL: Much as it would be great if these things didn’t exist, they will exist, they’ve always existed , and whether they are benevolent or malign depends on which side of the fence you are on. Certainly, everything Oriental has a mystique to it; that’s as true for the gangs as anything else.

[Thanks to the three interviewees for their time, and a special tip of the TC hat to Bey Logan for translating for Po-Ling]

kallerna, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Truckee, California – A tree trimmer who was found with his throat cut committed suicide with a chainsaw. investigators said on Wednesday. Officials believed it was the first such suicide in the United States; Richard Possehl. 27, was found dead near his pickup truck in Truckee, Eastern California. on June 27. the Nevada County sheriff’s department said. His neck and spinal cord were cut and a chainsaw was found lying next to the body. State Department of Justice officials recreated the killing to show it was possible for Possehl to have committed suicide in this way.

Legal News

Plastic surgeon shot by defender of “aryan beauty”

Chicago – A white supremacist motivated by his hatred for anyone “feeding off aryan beauty” has confessed to the execution-style killings of a Chicago-area plastic surgeon and a San Francisco hairdresser, officials said on Tuesday. Jonathan Haynes, 34, will undergo psychological testing to determine his fitness for trial in the killing of Dr Martin Sullivan, whom witnesses say he gunned down on Friday. In a suburban chicago court on monday, the dark-haired Haynes, who refused a lawyer’s services, said: “I condemn fake aryan cosmetics. I condemn bleached blond hair, tinted blue eyes and fake facial features brought by plastic surgery.”

Snap decision clears Aussie who shot crocodile

Darwin, Australia – An australian who shot a crocodile and cut it up for meat will not be punished for killing a protected species, a court decided on Thursday. Fishing guide Brett Smith, 27, normally uses a plastic baseball bat to fend off man-eating saltwater crocodiles. He told a magistrate’s court the beast that made for him last June would not give up and he shot it in self-defence. He later cut up the crocodile so as not to waste the meat. “Crocs come up to your boat trying to take your fish, so you just go (whack) on the head with the baseball bat and they’ll, um, well it usually gets rid of them,” he said.

Copyright copycats cop it

Beijing – A Chinese state-run publishing house has been found guilty of pirating studies on copyright piracy, the Guangming Daily said on Monday. The Beijing People’s Court fined two editors and the China Procuratorial Publishing Company for plagiarising reports by government researcher Zheng Chengsi, it said. They stole whole sections of the studies Zheng wrote for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on computer software protection, intellectual property rights and publishing law. “They took his ideas as their own and represented them as new ideas,” the newspaper said.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. without looking too hard, I found:

  • Swedish anti-crime film star jailed
  • Anti-graft candidate arrested for bribery
  • Japan drug-squad policeman fired for drug use

which makes you wonder what Mary Whitehouse gets up to in her spare time…

Driving Ambition 2: The Road Worrier

Readers who’ve been with TC for a while may recall an earlier article, in which I related my stress-filled experiences with automobiles and concluded that there was no point having a car as long as I was living in London. So why am I now the possessor of a driving licence, and a Renault 5 named The Beast? (So called, by the way, because it isn’t one – save for its ability to chew large lumps of my money come tax, MoT and insurance time)

To deal with the former, I passed my test at the third attempt. This is vaguely perverse – I fail twice in the wilds of Scotland, then succeed in the Dante-esque atmosphere of London. No problems. Bit of an anti-climax really; I didn’t even get to feel ultranervous, a work colleague having supplied me with some beta-blockers, which she’d been prescribed in the past for some reason. Whether they had any real effect or whether it was purely psychological, I don’t know, but that day, if you’d cut my throat, liquid nitrogen would have flowed out.

Having passed the test, my kneejerk reaction was to buy a car in case I forgot how to drive, in some form of post-test traumatic stress syndrome. And by chance, the brother of a guy I knew was selling his car; I thought this was less likely to be a lemon. Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. It went beautifully when I test-drove it; after I’d bought the creature, it arrived under it’s own steam with no problems; but after stopping outside the front door, it absolutely refused point-blank to start. This was when it got its name – it simultaneously received several others, none of which are printable here. Fortunately, it was a new points and plugs job, so one service later, it was going like a dream (albeit one of those slightly worrying dreams where people keep smiling at you), and I could sample the delights of London traffic on my own.

There’s a famous Disney cartoon, the name of which escapes me, in which Goofy undergoes a Jekyll & Hyde transformation whenever he gets into his car. I laughed when I first saw this. I’m not laughing now. On the roads of London, psychosis = survival, pure and simple – do unto other before they do unto you. This is most notable somewhere like the Elephant and Castle, a massive double roundabout South of the Thames. The Highway Code gives elaborate instructions on how to negotiate roundabouts, but at the E&C, following these would be suicidal. The only way to survive is to get in the left lane, and stay there till your exit. Otherwise, you will be ground up and spat down Walworth Road like tinned spam, regardless of whether or not you actually wanted to go to Walworth.

The car came ready dented, saving me the bother of doing it myself. While mere cosmetic damage, I think this acts like the black-and-yellow markings on certain species of caterpillars, warning predators to keep away: the message with regard to my car is “I don’t care, my no-claims is gone anyway – do you feel lucky, punk…?” Which is actually a lie, my no-claims bonus is pristine and intact. Good job too, as the insurance is punitive (SW2 would seem to in the same insurance group as Sarajevo and the Bronx) – and getting worse. Despite a 30% discount this year, it still went up by twenty quid, and at this rate in one more year, I’ll have paid out more in insurance than I did for the damn car.

The psychosis induced by my car takes several other flavours. Firstly, will it work? The trauma of it’s ‘birth’ means that I’ve adopted a ritual mantra on getting into it: “Hope it starts, ha ha ha”. It does, usually, as long as follow the rules; the cassette player must be switched off, the choke must be in and pulled out only when you twist the key, and the blood of a virgin must be smeared in a pentangle shape across the bonnet.

Charlie from United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stage two is en-route psychosis. On the journey, every rumble is magnified into a piston preparing to shear a flaming path through the engine. The car is constantly about to run out of petrol – not helped by a gauge which reads ‘full’ if the tank has more than three hydrocarbon molecules in it – and every turning is The Wrong Way and will lead you straight into an ambush by urban punks or rural inbreds, depending on location. This may seem a tad exaggerated coming from someone who’s driven through South Central LA, in a nice shiny hire car, with Pop Will Eat Itself playing at full blast, but the major difference is, that time I didn’t know and ignorance truly was bliss. Even with a map, perfect instructions and another car to follow, my innate sense of direction will still mean that I unerringly screw up, while my subconscious screens selected scenes from ‘Deliverance’.

When I get to my destination, I then have to endure the third phase. This is the paranoia of separation, and can be summed up in the question “Have I left my lights on?”, asked of oneself at roughly twenty second intervals. For variety, this may occasionally be changed to “Did I lock the door?” or “Have I been towed away?”. The last is a perpetual terror, as the regulations about when and where you can park in London are obscure, to say the least. However, to all intents, they may be summed up as “You can’t”.

Becoming a driver has even made me a nastier pedestrian. I can no longer pass a zebra-crossing without suppressing an urge to use it gratuitously. There are two alternative methods: either cross very, very slowly, or don’t stop on the pavement at all, boldly striding out and forcing cars to brake suddenly. It’s possible to induce some brilliant ‘discussions’ between drivers if you time it right, though I recommend a gazelle-like agility in case you encounter David Carradine.

On the other hand, I’m a lot more careful in the evenings. Driving in the dark makes you realise just how small and invisible pedestrians are. I live in mortal fear that some night there’ll be a thump as I drive across a zebra-crossing, and I’ll be able to supply add a new punchline to the joke “What’s black and white and red all over?”

The car does have it’s uses; last summer, during the cricket season, it provided transport to the obscure corners of London where Tulse Hill Cricket Club (motto: “No opponent is too crap”) played matches. I’d always thought East Cheam was a figment of Tony Hancock’s imagination, but thanks to my car, I’ve played there (albeit very badly).

Then there was the house move, when a good few shuttle-runs were done between Tummons Gardens and Perran Road, though I actually hired a transit van for the weekend, to break the back of the possession-shifting. That was surprisingly good fun to drive, as everyone (even Volvo drivers) gave it right of way. I imagine survival instinct takes over when you see several tons of van, with the suspension crushed onto it’s axles, hurtling towards you with a manic Scotsman grinning wildly at the wheel.

Thirdly, while an A-reg Renault 5 does not attract women in quite the same way as a Ferrari Testosterone, it does allow you to offer lifts to cute babes. ‘Nuff said, though be warned that significant negative cool points will be earned if you leave your lights on and the battery is flattened to gold-leaf levels. Car-pushing is not romantic.

Fourthly, I now have the freedom to visit all those places in Britain I’ve wanted to see. Except that, in the two years since getting the car, it’s been outside the M25 four times: to High Wycombe for cricket, to Birmingham and Sheffield for anime conventions, and to Scotland for a week at home. Most of said week was spent recovering from the drive up, the highlight of which was going round – or rather over – a roundabout on the A1 at about Mach 4.

This experience was a result of motorway madness, that interesting condition where after a while, 80 mph seems like a slow crawl and, especially at night, the whole road takes on the appearance of a video game. Find yourself looking for the smart bombs, and it’s time to stop for a dose of sanity in a service station, or at least the warped version of sanity on display there. This usually means playing a real video game, in order to re-establish that hold on sanity.

Overall, I wouldn’t get rid of the car now. Even though it’s only used sporadically, it’s nice to know it’s there – the same could be said for certain parts of my body! But stay tuned for part three, as sitting on my bookshelf is a copy of ‘Crash’ by J.G.Ballard…

The shape of anime to come

So what of the future? Skimming the list, we see a general continuation of the same themes we’ve had so far i.e. sex ‘n’ violence (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course). However, there are a few marginally less cheerily gratuitous entries on offer. The first up – alphabetically, anyway – is Area 88 (above). The manga was released in English (it was one of the first I read) and is about a pilot, betrayed by his best friend into service as a mercenary in a desert war. It’s best feature is great action sequences, which may explain why it Inspired the very successful arcade/computer game, UN Squadron.

Proof that the Japanese aren’t averse to ripping off American ideas is seen in Black Magic M-66, which bears a certain resemblance to ‘Terminator’; a killer robot has to be stopped before it reaches it’s target. I personally reckon it may actually be better, Arnie is definitely less realistic than 24 hand painted cels per second. For collateral damage, however, you can’t beat the Dirty Pair: trouble-shooting babes (with the emphasis on ‘trouble’) for a pan-galactic group. They’ve a great record in solving cases; pity about the inevitable repair bills. No solar system is safe.

Those keen on the subject of babes should also check out Gall Force, best described as a cute version of “Blake’s 7”. An all-female race is engaged in a war with their deadly enemies, across most of space, and a great deal of time. The word “epic” comes to mind. Back on more familiar ground i.e. sex ‘n’ violence, there’s Goku: Midnight Eye. A private detective has a computer link-up in his eye, giving him access to any information in the world instantly. Needless to say, he doesn’t use it to play the Stock Market.

One especially interesting title is Rumic World, an umbrella covering one-off stories by Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2. These range from the very silly – ‘Supergal’, about a female wrestler turned superheroic policewoman – to the downright strange, with ‘Mermaid Forest’ being a distinctly dark tale with hints of cannibalism. But for sheer gloom, there are none worse/better than Tombstone For Fireflies. Slash your wrists to this one, an undeniably well-made but depressing as hell story, set in the last days of World War II as an orphaned boy and girl struggle to survive. It starts off bleak and goes downhill from there.

The lighter side of death, relatively, can be seen in Vampire Princess Miyu, probably more interesting, and certainly more uniquely Japanese than ‘Vampire Hunter D’ about a vampire who only drinks blood from those who want eternal undeath. Sheer atmosphere, minimal gore, superbly handled. Heard rumours this will be renamed “Miyu, Princess of the Bloodsuckers”. Hope not. Finally, but certainly not least, there’s Wings of Honneamise. Set on an alternate world just getting into space, like “The Right Stuff”, it concentrates on characters instead of spaceships, to excellent effect. It also has a soundtrack by Oscar winner Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Of course, there are some not-so-good items on view (Sound FX: editor placing head on block and handing mob of enraged anime fans the axe). For example, there’s Gundam, which is giant robots fighting. Ok, there is a more to it than that – but not much. From what I’ve seen (quite enough, thank you), it’s a triumph of obsessive technology over plot and character, designed to cynically sell model kits. Or else it’s “a vast sprawling epic as space colonists fight for independence from earth in the near future, featuring an incredible range of characters and extremely complicated plots, too many series, movies etc. to be classifiable!”. Hmm….

Another overrated series, IMHO, is Record of Lodoss War. The basic problem with it for me is that it is all familiar territory A saga of the battle between immense opposing forces of good and (you guessed it) evil. Having played AD&D for four years, flighty elves, dour dwarves and brave fighters are not exactly novel. You can almost hear the rolling of percentiles throughout each episode. A party of adventurers seek, oh, the usual stuff: kidnapped princesses, villages threatened by goblins, etc. I’ve not been able to take this sort of story seriously since I started reading Terry Pratchett. Still, the animation is ok and the music – a mix of nicked and original – is used to good effect.

And then there’s Robotech. Oh dear. This is three totally separate series (Macross, Mospeada and Southern Cross) forced, edited, and crammed into one show. The man behind this is Carl Macek, a man so hated by anime fans in America, his family has received death threats, I kid you not. His reputation for pointless tampering is legendary – titles, character names, plots, all are subject to his whim, but naturally he “knows better” than those who actually produced the stuff. I have met the man. I was not impressed. He claims to be attempting to popularise anime – for popularise, read “lowest common denominator”, and you can imagine how low that is in America!

But don’t think Island World have cornered the market. There’re rumours of other players entering the market, and over the page you’ll find a quick sample of some excellent bits of anime that I’ve not heard word of anyone acquiring, in reverse order of impressiveness, from good to superb.

  • 7. Luna Varga (Fantasy/Action/Humour) – Girl with large sword gets dinosaur stuck up her bottom. I’m not kidding.
  • 6. Sol Bianca (Action/SF) – All girl group of pirates taken on the empire. Even more “Babe’s Seven” than “Gall Force”!
  • 5. Robot Carnival (SF-ish) – Compilation film, on the theme of robots, varying from the abstract to the horrific, via humour. drama and Katsuhiro Otomo’s black-edge technology.
  • 4. Video Girl Ai (Comedy/Raunch/Drama) – Thanks to a malfunctioning VCR, a girl from a softporn tape comes alive and makes life “interesting” for the guy who rented her. Six episodes, the final one is very strange, with staircases of splintered glass, etc, and was pulled from the schedules at Anime Day 3, allegedly deemed too dodgy to show!
  • 3. Nadia (Drama/Action/Humour/SF) – Probably the best TV animation ever. 39 episodes, loosely based on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. Channel 4 nearly bought it, but found it too intense.
  • 2. Outlanders (SF/Humour) – Cramming 1000+ pages of manga into 45 minutes, with all the characters and humour of Dark Horse’s translation, just minus 90% of the plot! A fine example of BiMBO anime – that’s Babes in Minimal Battle Outfits. (pic above)
  • 1. Silent Mobius (Horror) – A four-pack of female “cyber-psychics” battle icky cross-dimensional monsters trying to break through to our world. Cinematic in scope, scale and style.

[Editor: of course, it’s pure coincidence all contain cute babes…]

Anime Update

Typical, wait ages for an alternative to Manga, then along come two at once. First, Koseki release two volumes of “Macross II“. Must admit I didn’t like this at all, thanks to a rotten dub (will companies ever realise this does make a difference?), but they deserve cool points for nicking ‘Legend of the Overfiend 3’ from Manga, who’ll be seething at losing their best seller. More promisingly, March sees Crusader Video offer 3 episodes of the strange-but-cute “Super Cat Girl: Nuku Nuku” for 12.99; more next issue, but watch out for the Liverpudlian accents!

Further Manga tapes have come out, and are certainly value for money, most at £8.99 for 50 minutes. Fortunately for the page-count, the only new titles are ‘Wicked City’ & ‘Fire Tripper’, reviewed elsewhere. Otherwise, it’s extra Freeman, Megalopolis and Arislan; none deviate much from my first impressions and I’m looking forward, in varying degrees, to all three continuing. Arislan looks more and more like a purchasing error, steadfastly failing to contain the Manga requisites of sexy violence or violent sex (despite Part One’s box blurb!). It’s interesting evidence of the difference between “dubbing” and “voice-acting”; the dubbing is good, lip-synch matches very well, but the voice-acting leaves a bit to be desired, most notably Arislan himself who sounds as if he has a plum in his mouth and a dick up his ass. However, producer Haruki Kadokawa was recently charged in Japan with coke trafficking, threatening both his live-action and anime produce, which also includes ‘Silent Mobius’.

Rumour had it Manga licensed 100 titles, though this seems unlikely to me, because at current rate, even not allowing for multi-part series, that’d keep them going into the 21st century. The bad news for those hoping to see a kinder, gentler Manga is that the most mentioned title therein was Cream Lemon, the undisputed kings of “More sleaze! Make the girls look younger!” anime. Put it this way; ‘Pandora’ (TC10) was a Cream Lemon film. Also, Manga now advertise in places like ‘Penthouse’, alongside the “listen while I play with myself” phonelines…

It’s strange, because the live-action schedule doesn’t go for the lowest common jugular (not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that, of course, but anime is getting an undeserved bad rep), it heads out to the beautifully left field. ‘Tetsuo’ 1+2 are deeply strange movies, hard to watch for longer than five minutes, while future titles include ‘Gunhed’ and the superb Takeshi duo, ‘Violent Cop’ and ‘Sonatine’. The release of class acts like these, treated with respect (presumably they won’t be dubbed, or at least, not by people with fake Oriental accents), make it a shame the anime line is so hit-and-miss – for every ‘Dominion’, an ‘Odin’. Even stranger is ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, screened at Christmas on BBC, part-financed by Manga; technically awesome, and nigh impossible to work out what was going on.

On the import front, definitely worth mentioning is ‘Battle Angel’ (above); linked to the comic ‘Battle Angel Alita’, this is an excellent pair of OAVs, technically superb, and greatly entertaining too. Set in a future where the elite live in an enormous floating city and the rest scrabble for survival on the rubbish tip underneath, it details the flowering of a cyborg bounty hunter as she comes to terms with her nature. Dramatic and messy, I vote it the best of 1993. Think it’s scheduled for a May release by Manga, and it’ll be one of their finest – dubbing permitting of course…

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