Anime Blitz

For reasons of space, extended reviews are only given for those deemed worthy (or that I can slag off in ‘amusing’ ways). A full check-list of titles and TC ratings is at the end.

Ambassador Magma (Episodes 1 to…far too many) – The best way to sum up is to say this isn’t anime, it’s a cartoon. It looks very little different from the usual Saturday morning crap: the dubbing is reminiscent of “He-Man” or “Thundercats” and everything is sanitised for our protection – even an impaled dog generates no blood. You might as well watch a Disney series.

Based on a manga by the first recognised anime king, Osama Tezuka, I can only assume his story got lost en route; there isn’t much visible here. Alien invasion, blah, Earth’s salvation, blah, only hope, blah, girl. Even giant robot freaks will be disappointed, as you only get about two minutes of the promised mecha per episode; thank heavens for small mercies. While a chance of reaching the tolerable is provided by occasional nice paranoias – ­the alien invasion is being covered up – it’s mostly unendurable, though after lots of Guinness, the heroine looks like Phoebe Cates. Mind you, drink enough and any girl looks like Phoebe Cates. Readers are advised to hold on for ‘Giant Robo’ if they want this sort of thing done well. Note the sleeve of tape one uses a picture that isn’t from ‘Magma’ at all, but ‘The Wind of Amnesia’. Tut, tut! E

Battle Angel Alita – Probably the best anime of ’93, and the magic is still there: spectacularly imaginative setting, driven heroine, and intense drama. In the future, the elite inhabit a city in the sky, while the masses scrabble for survival on the discarded scraps below. Police are replaced by bounty hunters; one such is Alita, a cyborg with no memory of the past. Effectively a clean slate, she has to learn everything anew, from her own name to the nature of love. ‘Alita’ is class, with the best animation you’ll see outside a full-blown movie. It doesn’t pull punches, but certainly has more to it than splatter, with the second part especially relying more on storyline and characters. Having seen one favourite, “Project A-ko”, sacrificed on the altar of lip-synch, I was worried this wouldn’t survive. But it’s fine; while synch is near-perfect, characters fit the voices well, though Alita herself is a tad whiny, with hints of political correctness which I’m sure weren’t there originally. This is the opinion of a serious pedant – as dubbed anime goes, they don’t come much better than this. A-

Black Magic M-66 – Miniaturisation is a speciality in Japan, i.e. the Walkman, and this OAV neatly compresses James Cameron’s career into 45 mins. A) killer robot, programmed to seek and destroy it’s target. B) heroine, bravely fighting the monster while protecting a young girl. And C) finale atop a skyscraper, complete with VTOL craft – especially remarkable as this was made in ‘85, slightly before ‘True Lies’. All that’s missing are some flying piranhas. Available in dubbed and subbed versions (guess which to buy?), this is still inventive and original, adding several nice touches to a common anime topic, industro-military tech gone wonky (c.f. ‘Akira’, ‘Bubblegum Crisis’, ‘Grey’). Energetic, intelligent and cool, it’s sharp as you’d expect from the creator of ‘Dominion’. I think we can confidently expect Cameron’s next movie to include a pair of Puma twins… B+

The Cyberpunk Collection – This title links three disparate series, AD Police, Genocyber and Cyber City Oedo 808, but with 30+ anime to review, I’m not complaining! What they have in common are futuristic dystopian settings, with power in the hands of corporations, and individuals ground underfoot. The execution, however, varies widely. Genocyber is a total mess, with too much crammed into one episode. By the end, you feel like a Viet Cong soldier who has just experienced what “back to the Stone Age” means. Extending this military metaphor, Cyber City is a blunt instrument. While it has some good ideas, it’s hard to pay attention when the dialogue has more cursing than a Tarantino script, without the wit. By far the best of the three is AD Police: a blow-dart at a mere 30 minutes per part, it hits the mark with precision. Next time I want to watch “Blade Runner”, but haven’t time, this will do admirably: rogue androids, sex, and plenty of dark ‘n’ moody lighting.

Galactic Pirates – Lots of great ideas here. Unfortunately, none involve a coherent storyline; the overall impression is “45 minute trailer for cool movie”. The chief reason for this is the central character, an unconventional galactic cop called Apollo, with a taste for junk food, the ability to control minds, a 30,000 rpm mouth and an irresistible attraction to trouble. Oh, and he’s a cat (voiced by someone who clearly watched too much ‘Red Dwarf’). All of which gets slammed into your face early on. While reeling from the overload, I vaguely caught other plot elements zooming past at high percentages of c. Pirates using a device for recording & projecting memories and experiences to take over the universe? Apollo getting fired as bait for the pirates? Sofas sprouting out of the ground? Any of these may or may not be significant. Certainly, it’s non-stop action – “something” happens about every fifteen seconds – but you may well need to lie down in a dark room afterwards. A bit too hyper for it’s own good. C-

Genesis Survivor Gaiarth 1 – Almost as incomprehensible as “Galactic Pirates”, but here, it’s too little information rather than too much. Feels like you’re dumped in the middle of a series, with hero Itai coming out of the wilderness after his “father” war-droid is killed by enemy forces – the war finished a century ago, but the machinery keeps fighting. However, the reasons behind the war are never explained, nor the resolution, nor the current state of play. Itai arrives at a city and teams up with a bounty hunter, but little else is clear, apart from the ending, when he repulses a threat to the city. I also found the animation style flat, and the music sounded worryingly like Yes. The lesson to learn is that while imagination is the key to good anime (and there is plenty of it on view here), it isn’t enough, when setting and storyline are over-thin. D

Gunbuster – Dubbed anime sometimes has unexpected advantages. In the first subbed tape to get a wide release since ‘Akira’, much obvious care went into animating…well, put it like this, the effect is slightly spoiled as the subtitles have a nasty tendency to be about chest-height. Baby nutrition will not be a problem in the future, if you get my drift. Bounce, jiggle, bounce. Noriko, daughter of a star-ship captain who died in the line of duty, wants to follow her dad’s footsteps and defend Earth from alien invasion. To this end, she joins the Space Academy and struggles against petty jealousies, a bra shortage and the problems of getting a giant robot to do press-ups, plus the machinations of the instructor (a survivor from her father’s ship) who wants her to operate Earth’s secret weapon. Phew; I spotted a kitchen sink nestling in the corner, too.

You can tell from this and the attention to mammorial detail that it’s not too po-faced. At least, I don’t think so, but I can never take giant robots seriously anyway. Give the creators the benefit, and call Gunbuster a lovely genre spoof, pumping melodrama up to hideous levels, accompanied by stirring music, with no plot cliché or animation device unused. Some of the humour is more subtle, indeed obscure: a character called Smith Toren is amusing only if you know translator/author Toren Smith, who actually does the character’s voice. This is the crux. Casual viewers may miss the irony, as few true examples of the ‘Gundam’ genre have appeared here. To a novice, while nicely animated, it might seem overblown and wet, just as ‘Rabid Grannies’ is crap horror unless you realise it parodies crap horror. Therefore, for the full effect, watch ‘Dangaioh’ and see the sort of thing ‘Gunbuster’ rips the piss from mercilessly. B+

Guy – Similar to ‘Devilman’, not surprisingly, both are by Go Nagai, with bounty-hunter Guy meeting something nasty which lets him become a flesh-rending monster on cue – handwave, handwave – plus additional gratuitous sex (part one is conveniently set on a mixed race prison planet), an allegedly “adult” feel increased by lots of swearing in the dialogue. Ooh, naughty. The second half is notably better; it possesses a story to start with. Guy’s sidekick, Raina, enters a religious cult to locate a sacred statue, but finds she’s bitten off more than she can chew. [Another sympathetic view of the Church, hehe] Maybe it’s me; I found her more interesting than Guy, your usual macho bullshitter about as deep as a puddle. Overall, okay sex-gore-SF-soap, and possessing just enough beyond that, to keep awake those who prefer real girls. C

KO Century Beast Warriors – The unusual hook here is that we humans are the bad guys, looting an alien planet; the hero/ines are the natives, seeking a mysterious power to help defeat us, and who can become animals at (in)appropriate moments. My major complaint is a cloying taste of saccharine; the heroes are just too nice, a fault more often found with Disney than anime (see elsewhere) – with the worthy exception of native prince Badd Mint, who lunges at anything in a dress, even 6-year olds. Luckily, the villains are generally less flat, and it grew on me; given cute-furry-fantasy is a genre for which I’ve low tolerance, by the end, I almost got into it. It’s a parson’s egg of a dub: parts are good, but others stink to high heaven: if you want a Scottish accent, get a Scotsman to do it, or don’t bother. I also disliked the use of ‘real’ kids to play children; while perhaps more authentic, these simply didn’t cut the mustard. Children should be seen and not heard, maybe. I’d probably have liked it more subbed; a highlight of the film was the the opening song, bonus points for rhyming and scanning subtitles. Still, there’ve been far worse debuts, and it’s hard to envisage anything further from the Manga-stream. C-

Lupin III; The Fuma Conspiracy – As entertainment, this is perfect, an anime “Indiana Jones”, three separate groups (the good, the bad, and the ugly?) all chasing after a pot giving directions to a fabulous buried treasure. The bad news is, it’s a spin-off from a long-running TV series – imagine a Japanese person watching, say, a movie version of “Coronation Street” and you’ll get some idea of the problem. The characters and relationships are all taken as read; for example, it’s never explained that Inspector Zenigata is chasing the hero, Lupin because he is a master thief whom Zenigata has been hunting for years. However, allowing for this, it’s still a great piece of throughly enjoyable fun, with a great sense of invention, and prior knowledge is really not necessary. B+

Moldiver – This and ‘Tenchi Miyo’ mark the Big Boys arrival in the UK marketplace, Pioneer being major players in Japan. Consciously avoiding tits ‘n’ tentacles, they go for a comedy/ superhero series around a technology which makes the possessor invincible (as well as providing a natty line in superheroic fashion). Unfortunately, once the suit is established as utterly invulnerable, most of the point evaporates; you know the result of any battle. As with ‘The Guyver’ there’s only so much that can be done with this theme, and after four episodes, I felt distinctly ennui-ed. That is, however, three more than ‘The Guyver’ managed, and how can I truly dislike any anime with bad girls called Brooke, Nastassja and Jennifer? This sums up the show: all the frilly edges are there, but there’s nothing significant to hang it on. D

Ninja Scrolls – This bears certain resemblances to “Wicked City”, with a strong-yet-silent hero, aided by a woman who may not be on the same side but is anyway no fragile petal, and a sprightly old geezer manipulating everyone to his own advantage. It also believes in “plot advancement through gore”; when hero Jubei kills one of the members of a gang of dark ninjas after a gold shipment, you just know he’s going to have to kill the rest of the gang (the snake woman, shadow man, etc), in a variety of spectacular and imaginative battles with an enormous quantity of red stuff going everywhere. Still, I’m not complaining; switch brain off, detach critical faculties to prevent dubbing from grating, and wallow. B+

Rumic World – Maybe it’s a flashback due to bad Kinski in the 80’s but ‘Laughing Target’ reminds me of, er, “Cat People”. Both have mysterious, orphaned, virgin girls who transform into something life-threatening, endangering themselves and those they love. Ok, there are differences – no thigh-length waders here – but the sex/horror mix is familiar. While cramming a lot in, to the extent that it sometimes seems to be a series of set pieces, ‘Target’ remains near-traditional fare, favouring atmosphere over in-yer-face gore (making it closer to Lewton than Schrader). My only disappointment was that the “lurking secrets” in the heroine’s background weren’t quite lurky enough. When I finally saw them, my reaction was “Is that it?”! B+

Stuck behind the worst video sleeve ever (the picture, left, captures the technicolour awfulness!), ‘Maris the Wondergirl’ is a hyper-strong interstellar policewoman, perpetually broke through paying for damage she and her family cause. Fortune beckons when she’s assigned to the kidnap of a millionaire’s son, but things are not as they seem. Sadly, nor are they as funny. The weakest Rumic World tale, while still strong on animation, it possesses no real punch, almost as if Takahashi used her best humour in Urusei Yatsura. The funniest joke – a Jackie Chan style sequence of out-takes behind the credits – is wrecked by squeezing them into a corner to make way for the English titles. C-

Mermaid’s Forest‘ is the gloomiest anime yet released – pain, mutilation and cannibalism, a bit unexpected from the author of ‘Ranma 1/2’. Intensely dark and moody, it’s based on a myth that eating mermaid flesh makes you immortal albeit, in FRP-speak, with a bastard of a saving throw. The villainess drank mermaid blood, getting eternal youth with a side effect: a perpetual need for body parts from (presumably) unwilling donors. While some atmosphere is lost from the subtitled version, enough remains to make this pointedly nasty and tastefully tasteless. B-

Tenchi Muyo 1-6 – For some reason, I took an instant dislike to the first episode finding it cliched, limited and pedestrian. Not bad going for a show that revolves around a demonic extra-terrestrial babe capable of totalling property on a whim, unwittingly freed by a teenage boy. Screwing that scenario up takes a serious lack of talent. Normally, that’d be it, in the dumper. However, there were two episodes on the tape, so what the hell? And curiously, I found myself thawing out…

Don’t really know why. The cast expands beyond two, with the arrival of other ET’s intent on finding the babe for various reasons, allowing greater flexibility than ‘Boy gets chased by demon’. And there’s certainly much more imagination on view, such as a cute, carrot-eating, baby rabbit/cat/spaceship [sic]. In any case, by episode four, I was charmed and heartily looking forward to the conclusion, which managed to warp most of the usual “final battle” cliches. Full of nice touches and, unlike ‘Moldiver’, unpredictability seems to be it’s aim. B-

Tokyo Babylon – In the month between the two parts, I somehow forgot absolutely everything about episode one. Even more scary, reading the sleeve didn’t help. However, on rewatching it, this was because the blurb lied. Phone sex? Gang rape? You’ve got to wonder what the Advertising Standards Authority would say about such misrepresentation. After the re-view, I realised why the first part had been so eminently forgettable: hero Subaru is a medium who looks and sounds like Michael Jackson (sensitive = wimpy, it seems), accompanied by an annoying comic relief sister. I guess “medium” here = “neither rare nor well-done”.

Luckily, part two is decent enough to beg a pardon, with interesting psychic Mirei, who can see the past history of objects. She’s called in by the police to help catch a serial killer stalking the city subway. Coming on like a telepathic version of ‘Halloween’, it’s nicely handled, right up to the conclusion which blows it by seeming to semaphore part 3 (though as yet there is no sign of it appearing!), which destroyed the nicely self-contained quality. Animation is excellent in both, but you’re better off not bothering with part one at all; you won’t be missing out on anything significant. D- and B

The Wind of Amnesia – Nice idea. Mankind’s memory is wiped by a mysterious wind that leaves almost all civilization in ruins, and humanity teetering on the brink of Neanderthalism. Hero Wataru still retains some knowledge and drives across America seeking a solution, accompanied by a mysterious girl who can communicate with the savages. Poor execution. Every plot twist is semaphored a long time in advance; it’s stultifyingly moral (I hate being preached at and this is so soppy I felt like spin-drying my VCR afterward); and the hero is utterly flat, when he finds out the cause of civilization’s decay, his non-reaction is awesome. The writing is also slipshod: one caption tells us it’s the year 1999, but we later visit a city built “at the start of the 21st century”. We are deep in unsatisfying territory. E

Wings of Honneamise – Oh, wow. Put simply, one of the best animated films you will ever see; only Miyazaki (“Totoro” et al) has done better. Indeed, it’s a great film full stop, managing to be simultaneously entertaining and thought-provoking. The setting is an alternate world, where one country is on the verge of getting into space: the hero is training as the first astronaut and the film chronicles his hopes and fears as take-off nears and war approaches. Though nominally SF, the technology is irrelevant, what matters are the characters, and those here have more depth than many live-action films. The level of imagination is startling, with every facet of the world fully realised, and Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack is up to his usual standard. At two hours long, it may be a test of stamina, but I didn’t want it to end. Not Manga’s usual fare – Guyver groupies will hate it – so they deserve enormous praise for releasing such a piece of sheer class, and with an almost un-noticeable dub. Excellent. A

The Trash City Handy Anime Chart

Wings of HonneamiseMangaA
Battle Angel AlitaMangaA-
Black Magic M-66KisekiA-
Lupin III: Fuma ConspiracyWestern ConnectionB+
Ninja ScrollsMangaB+
AD PoliceMangaB+
Rumic WorldMangaB
Tenchi MuyoPioneerB
GreyWestern ConnectionB-
Cat Girl Nuku-NukuCrusader (RIP)C+
Devil Hunter YohkoWestern ConnectionC+
Monster CityMangaC+
Tokyo BabylonMangaC
Samurai GoldWestern ConnectionC
KO Century Beast WarriorsAnime UKC-
Galactic PiratesWestern ConnectionC-
The ProfessionalMangaD+
Return of the OverfiendKisekiD+
Genesis Survivor GaiarthAnime ProjectsD
Cyber City OedoMangaD
Kama SutraWestern ConnectionD
Adventure DuoKisekiE+
Wind of AmnesiaMangaE
Ambassador MagmaKisekiE
The GuyverMangaE-

Life Imitating Art

Heartbreak leads to death on demand (I Hired a Contract Killer)

Athens – A Greek dentist found dead after being shot at point-blank range paid an assassin to kill her because she could not cope with her husband’s extra-marital affair. Athens police said Georgia Vagena, 41, persuaded Mattheos Monselas to kill her for an unspecified amount of money. “She did not have the courage to commit suicide and persuaded Monselas that killing her would be the only way to solve her family problems,” police said. “A few days before the murder she had told a psychologist that she had finally found somebody who had agreed to kill her. The therapist unfortunately did not believe her.”

Love-stricken man digs up fiancee’s corpse (Nekromantik)

Rio de Janeiro – A 21-year-old Brazilian, unable to recover from the accidental death of his fiancee, confessed to having sex with the woman’s corpse three months after her burial, the Estado news agency reported Wednesday. Roberto Carlos da Silva told police in a small town in Sao Paulo state that his fiancee Raquel Cristina de Oliveira died a few days before their wedding in a motorcycle accident. Three months later he dug up the body, which was dressed in a wedding gown, and found it to have been well-preserved because of chemicals that had been applied. “I was desperate and needed her,” da Silva said.

Calf’s head sent to anti-Mafia mayor (The Godfather)

Corleone, Sicily – The mayor of Corleone, the Sicilian town immortalised in the movie “The Godfather”, has had a calf’s head left on his doorstep in a classic case of Mafia intimidation, Italian television reported on Monday. It was the second time in less than a month that Giuseppe Cipriani, a member of the ex-communist Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) and an outspoken critic of the Mafia, has received threats from organised crime. Television reports said that other mayors in the area had also received threats.

Students keep decomposing body secret (River’s Edge)

Kansas City, Missouri – Dozens of Kansas City high-school students toyed with a decomposing body for several days, some of them poking it with sticks, before authorities were tipped off, police said. They said two boys from North Kansas City high school discovered the body in a field near where they were fishing May 26. The man apparently died in the field in early March after walking away from an area hospital. Police were not informed about the corpse until May 30 when they were contacted by a relative of one of the teens. The cause of death could not be determined due to the decomposition.

Blood and Black Lace

In the preceding pages, Rik has given us a introduction to life on the shelf, for at least the male side of the genre. The selection for the fairer sex is a lot more restricted, especially in the ‘pictorial magazine’ market. There are several possible reasons for this: the stigma attached to buying them, the plethora of women’s magazines which already deal with sex to a greater or lesser degree (no-one who has ever read the aptly-named “More!” could possibly need to find out any more about the subject), or the daft laws in this country which equate an blood pressure increase in a certain organ with obscenity. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that the sales of the few titles there are do not come close to living up to their masculine cousins.

However, in one market, women’s “erotica” (god, don’t you love a good euphemism) has stormed ahead of men’s. In the paperback book world, series like ‘Black Lace’ have achieved highly respectable sales figures, and according to informed sources (hi, Mum!) evaporate off the shelves of libraries, even in the far North of Scotland. Again, the reasons are complex; women have always been avid readers of “romantic” books, the Mills & Boon imprint being merely the best-known, and this provides an easy jump-off point for something…harder.

In the interests of research, I subjected myself to reading one of them. I appreciate that to some extent this is a pointless exercise: I’m not the target market for this kind of literature, so it’s a bit like me carrying out a tampon trial. But curiosity finally overcame these qualms – anything that might help to get a handle on the psyche of the female race (an endless, fruitless task) deserves some attention.

And so one night, I settled down with a Wall of Voodoo LP, and started reading ‘Gemini Heat’ by Portia da Costa (I wonder if that’s her real name?). This was a random choice – it could have been “Fiona’s Fate” by Frederica Alleyn (ditto), or even “Avalon Nights” by Sophie Danson, (which does show a spark of punning ingenuity in its title, being about King Arthur and his men) – and I appreciate that a sample of one is maybe not statistically significant, but life’s too short. I wanted to find out if the publishers had succeeded in their quest to “provide the brightest, best-written, bonk-filled books you can buy”.

The first point of similarity between male and female porn is that bad writing seems to be a universal constant. Ok, I appreciate we are talking about a genre where implausibilities are as common as verbs, still…have a representative quote from the first couple of pages:

“Only an idiot or a masochist would come to an exhibition of erotic art when she was dying of frustration. But what else could you do when you were alone on your birthday and fed up?”

Oh, I dunno; take in a movie, get a carry-out, phone up some friends. As the rest of the book reveals, the heroine would seem to fall into both the categories mentioned: idiot and masochist. I say heroine, though as the title implies, there are two, identical twin sisters. The main male character is a bisexual, half-Japanese billionaire whom the girls take turns having sex with. As you do.

This lack of writing credibility is perhaps not surprising. At the back of the book is a questionnaire, where readers are invited to tick boxes and mark up their favoured characters and settings i.e. medieval, barbarian, Victorian, modern, futuristic. I can see these responses getting poured into the back of a computer somewhere, which then spits out plot synopsis to Portia, Frederica and Sophie for their next novels. Echoes of ‘1984’ may be ringing round your brain at this point; do the authors exist at all, or are they just the result of a Julia somewhere, pulling switches?

Ok, while they may not be the “best-written”, I can’t argue that they are most definitely “bonk-filled”. The trio go at it like knives from about page seven; without question, a task helped by the fact that the twins appear to be a single massive erogenous zone, and are capable of climaxing at the drop of a pheromone:

“And she orgasmed again from the intoxicating scent of his body and his intimate wild-flower cologne”

Never mind Linda Lovelace, this woman appears to have her clitoris stuck somewhere up her nose.

There are some significant differences in the type of sex scenes present here, from ‘male’ stories. The latter are fiercely heterosexual; in ‘Gemini Love’, a rather freer approach is taken. This isn’t necessarily a problem – I’m not averse to a spot of all-girl action – but the live sex show involving two men was skimmed over rather hurriedly, and I would also speed past a scene in any male-oriented story with detailed descriptions of the hero masturbating!

Perhaps the most startling point of note was the almost universal presence of what can only be described as rape fantasies. Virtually every sexual encounter in the book begins with the female partner being unwilling yet ends with her begging for more. In the world of ‘Gemini Heat’, “no” does not mean “no”, it’s far more likely to mean “yes…Yes!…YES!!”. Now, this is only a single book, and it is possibly just catering to a specific group of women who ticked the “Submission” box, but I still find it hard to comprehend. I imagine the major appeal is that with control taken away, you can do whatever “bad things” you want, without having the associated angst; it’s not your fault. Despite this, I confess to feeling a certain guilt myself, at reading these sections.

However, it’s all in the mind, and if there’s one thing which I’m sure of, it’s that any sane person will be able to separate reality from fantasy – despite the innumerable differences between the sexes, I’m sure this applies just as much to women as men! So I’m more than happy to write “Gemini Heat” off as harmless rubbish, no worse than it’s male equivalent – but certainly not any better.

But, as mentioned, I’m not what you would call the expected readership – so I passed the book on to a reviewer with the correct chromosomes…

If you want to have any kind of a sex life, there are two key pieces of information; what turns you on, and what turns your (intended) partner on. The difference between male and female eroticism has always intrigued me. Why is it that watching blue movies reduces women to fits of giggles, while the men sit there and discuss the quality if the shot ? And the giggling is nothing to do with embarrassment, it’s to do with the complete absurdity.

So. when Jim asked me to review ‘Gemini Heat’ for him, I willingly accepted…but purely in the interests of research you understand. What did I expect? Best case was that the book would be imaginatively and well written, focusing on mood rather than detail, with positive female role models to relate to. Worst case – a regurgitation of stereotypes, clichés, and male orientated situations, going for the easy marks.

What did I get? Two women, identical twins, and a charismatic and mysterious man who takes control of their lives – exactly whose fantasy are we dealing with here? The book is unimaginative and poorly written, stretching my patience with its absurdity to the limit. These two innocent girls, who are so awakened by the oh-so-wonderful Jake, just happen to have a collection of modern porn literature hidden on the bookcase… I think not, and that’s just one example.

Every time the writing was broad enough and simple enough to allow my own imagination to kick in, some absurd and out of place detail would intrude and bring me firmly back to reality (I did try to get into the book in the right spirit, honest, but it was hard work!).

At the end of the book there’s a questionnaire, a bit of a survey to check on what the readers want. ‘Gemini Heat’ seems to have taken the list of possibilities and tried to tick off as many as possible, even down to a small interlude written from the male point of view. It doesn’t work, and there’s absolutely no reason to suspend your belief and get involved.

There may be those of you who believe I read this book expecting it to abysmal (and I wouldn’t have been disappointed). These things often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies (singularly appropriate given the subject matter), but I can assure you I approached the subject with an open mind. I am happy to be tested on this; if you can suggest a book which would fit my best case scenario, I will undertake to review it in an open and honest manner, no holds barred (purely in the interests of research of course).

As for ‘Gemini Heat’, it’s written for people with no imagination – Jilly Cooper’s books are more erotic. I don’t know who the target audience is, but it’s not me.


Different Strokes

A Users’ Guide to the Top Shelf by Rik Rawling.

My first exposure to the then-unknown female form was thumbing through the pages of my brother’s “nuddy books” in the hazy morning light when I thought he was asleep. I think these early experiences of hushed secrecy and (literally) dawning revelation have shaped the way I look at these publications today. When I go into a newsagent and scan across The Top Shelf, I feel that childlike sense of mystery and wonder flush through me every time. Having sampled virtually all the legal variations on the available themes, I’ve obviously found personal favourites, and quite a few that are nothing but a sad waste of trees.

Based on years of dogged research, I’ve compiled the following, which is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives those about to embark on adventures into the SuperUnknown some pointers to keep them out of the ditch that is Readers’ Wives.

Level 1: Escort/Razzle/Parade/Park Lane/Adult Fantasy

This is by no means the general initiatory level. I usually equate these sort of mags with that mythical archetype: the Dirty Old Raincoat. Something about these titles implies that you’ve sunk to a level below that which you originally had your sights on – a bit like shopping at Poundstretcher. The women who appear in these mags are of two types:

a) Readers’ Wives: these are either home shot Polaroids – the favoured hardware of home pornographers, avoiding as it does those embarrassing trips to Boots – emphasising that old truism, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, or special photo-shoots when the least foul are invited in for a proper session on satin sheets with what appears to be a Kodak Brownie.

b) “Proper” “models” that can’t quite cut the mustard to get into Mayfair or Men Only. The shots are usually ineptly staged, poorly framed and reproduced on the crappiest sort of glossy paper. Pink flesh glows almost fluorescently from the pages, and the overdone make-up and Ann Summers underwear lends the entire venture an air of desperation and silliness.

The letters and ‘Confession’ stories tend to be of the “Scrubber has three truckers” variety, with heavy emphasis on multiple penetration and oral sports. These scenarios can be easily imagined taking place in grotty front rooms amidst crusty coffee cups and furniture smelling of old dogs.

About as arousing as shit on your shoes – or if this is not clear enough, let’s say it explicitly: you can have these, I don’t want ’em.

Level 2: Men Only/Knave/Model Directory/Men’s World/Club International

Now we’re talking. Really good-looking models ranging from drop-dead gorgeous to eminently agreeable ‘girl next door’ types. Well-staged poses with appealing (and occasionally bizarre) backdrops, and good graphic layout allowing the eye to roam freely and smoothly from page to page. The best ‘posers’ appear regularly in the different titles (changing names with each appearance) and ‘seem’ to develop a genuine fan-following amongst the regular letter-writers. All yer basic fetishes are catered for – lingerie; high heels; bikinis; leather and rubber – with occasional interesting variations.

As for the letters and “Ladies Write” (I’m not fooled for a second), they’re quite varied in their settings but usually degenerate into lively oral and doggy sessions. Some titles have special features like agony aunts, but my favourite, “Men’s World” has the amazing ‘You Lucky Git’ where an alleged reader writes in and gets the chance to pose near naked on a bed with one of the mag’s regular “Stable of Stunnas”. At the end of each session, there’s a picture of next month’s model and an invite for readers to write in. Basically, if you’re lucky, you get to pull the model’s clarts off with your teeth, or lie under her while she squats suggestively on your boxer shorts/Y-front trapped member. It doesn’t look too awful… I’d be half tempted myself, if I got a chance to cavort with ‘Amy’/’Patricia’, the one true goddess.

As these are the most popular titles, they are the most widespread in circulation, and therefore the ones 8-year old boys are most likely to find in bushes, or under big brother’s LP’s. Basically, we’ve all seen ’em and we like ’em. Unless your tastes are particularly ‘different’ or you really do like the cottage-cheese thighs and bulldogs-licking-piss-from-a-nettle faces in Razzle, then you can’t go wrong here.

Level 3: Mayfair/Playboy/Penthouse/Hustler

Not much different to level 2 really, but these are the titles that really hang on the “Men’s Magazines” euphemism, by featuring articles on vintage cars, windsurfing and Dr. Crippen, along with woefully inept, unfunny, comedy skits and the obligatory Hunt Emerson fan-club illos. Playboy and Penthouse play on the ‘celebrity nude’ deal, which can be anything from a proper photo-session with Pam Anderson (yes!) to fuzzy shots of someone who might be Madonna on a beach that could be Copacabana or Cleethorpes; the former has a nasty habit of turning up on British shelves in an emasculated format, with a sticker on the front saying “certain pages have been removed for legal reasons”. Make of that what you will…

Mayfair has some good models in more ‘tasteful’ than level 2 poses, but the American mags really go for air-brushed Barbie perfection, and after a while you get tired of the preposterously tiny ‘cute’ noses, sultry heavy eye-lashes and strawberry blonde bangs, and long for a dark broody Amazonian fire queen to spice things up. Hustler is almost a law unto itself, but I include it here because of it’s origins and price. It’s articles are actually of interest to thinking humans and the photo sessions go for a no-nonsense, splayed-legs, split-beaver approach (known in pro-video as ‘The American Shot’) which leaves nothing to the imagination, thereby losing it for me. Stories are your standard ‘Nympho Wants It’ type, and serve to fill in the gaps. Overall, not bad, but expensive. Give me “Men’s World” any day.

Level 4: Playbirds XXX/Whitehouse/Derriere/Rustler

Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Pricier again than Playboy and Penthouse, these titles point to the darker fringes of what ‘porn’ can be to some people. What you get for your extra cash is a massive reduction in production values, but thicker, shiner, wipe-clean pages (ahem!) and occasional card covers. Some of the models are ex-Men Only stable, but some are so rough that they obviously bypassed all that and went straight out to the edge of the map.

Graphic, gynaecological close-ups of almost painfully splayed vaginas. simulated lesbian licking sessions and splayed buttocks to reveal rosy pink anal ducts. Occasionally, you’ll see dildos in here, but never fully inserted. Once upon a time, Whitehouse was notorious at our school for featuring a session where two fat old bags reamed each other out with a broom handle. It doesn’t go quite that far these days, but I still find their contents so blatant and crass that I have to feel sorry for those out there who can only get the blood rushing with this sort of material.
Absolutely no imagination is required.

Level 5: ???

This is the far fringe of newsagent availability as far as porn is concerned. Expect to pay around a fiver for dull-looking girls, wearing back of the market underwear, in simulated sex scenes with building site rejects sporting penii flaccid enough to hang below the crucial 45 degree legal limit. Looking at the girls and the settings (like a wing of Auschwitz painted by blind children), it’s easy to see why these men have got the flop on.

Beyond this sort of crap, you’re into sub/dom SM territory, contact mags, and the sort of shrink-wrapped strangeness that regularly gets advertised in ‘The Sport’, as there is an enormous range of what might be called “specialist” material, going down to incredibly refined levels. I can see the possible market place for a magazine catering to those who like Oriental females; I can just about cope with the existence of a publication specialising in women without hair on their genitals; but the existence of “Shaved Orientals” magazine leaves me shaking my head in awed disbelief. My interest is definitely not picqued by ‘Dwarf Sex’, ‘Golden Shower’, or the well-known fuck mags like ‘Color Climax’. I leave that to the connoisseurs.

So there you have the top shelf as I see it. However, everyone has their own definition of pornography, be it good or bad. I just like looking at pictures of women. But if your interest has been triggered, and you do intend to reach ‘up there’ for something, just remember:

This is not a library. If you do not intend to purchase, please do not read.
Thank You

(Un)Dressed to Kill

While I definitely remember my first trip to the drinking establishment known as Brown’s, it’s difficult to work out where I originally heard about it. Maybe it’s ingrained on the collective race memory of those who work in the City of London; I certainly don’t recall being told. The first visit to said location came courtesy of a couple of guys at work, whom I’ll call Nick and Dave – whether these are their real names depends on how much they pay me – who used to vanish every Friday lunchtime for “a game of pool”. I was eventually invited along, only to discover that their idea of “a game of pool” seemed to involve standing around watching cute girlies take their clothes off. But, hey, I’m willing to adapt.

Brown’s, y’see, is a pub with entertainment, where lunchtimes and evenings, a congregation gathers to worship at the temple of Venus. But what distinguishes the place is how remarkably unsleazy the whole affair is. The Soho cliché – as exposed by unimaginative tabloid TV shows – is 250 quid drinks, enforced withdrawals from cash machines, etc. Brown’s proves this need not be the case: there’s no entrance fee, and drinks are pretty standard City prices (though I appreciate that to Northern readers, two quid a pint is sufficient to bring on apoplexy anyway). I suspect the reason behind this is licensing, though the exact legal status of the place is uncertain, anyway. The tight-assed City of Westminster council would certainly require a public entertainment licence, and probably a ultra-costly sex show licence too – thus Peter Stringfellow’s attempts to open something sounding slightly similar to Brown’s in central London are unlikely to be prove as amusing or good value.

However, out in the wilds of the East End, no-one seems to bother. Or perhaps the authorities realise that when strip-clubs are outlawed, only outlaws will run strip-clubs; better to have a civilised place than one run by a Kray wanna-be. This seems to me to be an enlightened view, as Brown’s hurts no-one: it gets increased custom; the girls make more in an evening than they could generally expect to earn in a week, and we get to see pretty girls take their clothes off, without all the expense and tedious effort of talking to them, buying dinner, etc. All-round benefits, as far as I can tell.

Due to the relaxed attitude of the authorities, the area is something of a Golden Triangle, with at least three in a 200-yard radius, though Brown’s is the undisputed champion. These included the well-named ‘Spread Eagle’ pub, whose most memorable act was notable less for beauty than an uncanny resemblance to Edwina Currie. Last time I passed, the place was boarded up, but I wasn’t quite able to decide whether this meant it was closed, or was just some new form of post-holocaust decor. All these places share a marginal sting in the tail, in that between sets, the girls meander round with a pint glass, soliciting contributions. You don’t have to give anything, but c’mon, we’re not cheapskates; it’s their only pay-cheque, and girls displaying their all for your delectation and delight surely deserve something in exchange. A quid per request is standard; fail to chip in and, well, the girls can do a very effective job of making you feel like something scraped off a shoe. Expect to be hit half a dozen times over an evening, and it’s still pretty good value.

The girls work in pairs, alternating their acts. The stage is chest high, maybe 25 foot long by 10 deep, with a ledge on the outside for the pints of those skilled enough to edge their way to the front. [Generally, the height and size of the stage is a good guide to the quality of the joint: seedier establishments have a lower or smaller stage, and some truly low-brow places don’t have one at all]. Each girl generally performs four times: the first and third are relatively mild, minimally clad dance routines, while the second and fourth are not. The content seems to be left to individual girls, but are generally at the hard edge of soft-core, for want of a better phrase (firmcore? floppycore? crumblecore?) – just about anything short of actual penetration goes. I’ve even had the unquestionably novel experience of seeing a girl mime selections from ‘Grease’, taking “lip-synch” to whole new dimensions, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Prince, Madonna and Enigma are perennial favourites as far as music goes, but I’ve heard everything from Tom Waits to The Human League.

Ewan Munro from London, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What makes a good stripper? That nebulous term “charisma” is probably more important than anything else. The best aren’t usually the prettiest, who seem to think “I’m here and I’m beautiful, what more do you want?”. The less stunning apply more effort, and the results can be startling: “We try harder”, to borrow an ad-line. The key talent is being able to convince each and every member of the audience that you are taking your clothes off for them alone. Important here is the viewer’s attitude; as in the cinema, you have to be capable of suspending your disbelief. To gain the full sock-knocking-off effect, you must be utterly convinced that when the babe gazes deep into your eyes, she means it. Of course, two seconds later, someone else is getting the treatment, but that’s show-business, and you can play the same game – in five minutes, you’re looking into another girl’s eyes. This must be the ultimate open relationship.

A pair of independently suspensioned hips are also useful, the sort only loosely attached to the rest of the body (cf. Kate Bush). Otherwise, there seems to be no obvious common factor; tall, short, young, old, blonde, brunette, redhead, it doesn’t make much difference. But the best raise taking clothes off to an art-form worthy of comparison with ballet dancing; it’s sometimes hard to link the girl you see slipping quietly out the side door at the end with the angelic creature on the stage, who could probably teach De Niro a thing or two about method acting.

Brown’s position on the fringe of the City means customers are a strange mix of suits and donkey jackets, one of the few pubs where both are found. But despite this flammable cocktail, the phenomenally high levels of testosterone presumably present, and the alcohol factor, I’ve never seen anything even approaching aggression between the customers. Indeed, it’s one of the few pubs in London where I’ve talked to people I didn’t know – admittedly, not much more than “Phwoar!”, but for a Southern pub, this counts as unprecedented levels of informality. It helps that to reach it requires moderately serious effort, thus only true students of beauty make the effort.

So behaviour is generally highly civilised, to the point of chivalry; “Thou shalt not touch the girls on stage” is commandment #1, obeyed by virtually all, even when there are interesting bits of babe-shaped anatomy within licking distance. Precisely what would happen if someone got over-heated, I don’t care to think, but peer pressure seems to be a very effective restraint. No-one really wants to risk the wrath of fifty cavemen, denied their gynaecology lesson.

Most people attend in groups, though a few, generally pretty sad, individuals come alone, then stand around reading newspapers between the acts. Personally, I garner much amusement from taking visiting friends to Brown’s, and monitoring their reactions. Watching a formerly streetwise, cool dude get reduced to a pile of shambling drool is a salutary experience. Even better is seeing an alleged ‘New Man’ revert to a more normal condition: it’s amazing how much can be undone by a ‘Prudence’ or ‘Jennifer’ set to stun…

But I carefully ration my visits, because it’s a fair trek, and part of the appeal lies in the delight of rediscovery. I’d hate to grow a tolerance to cute girls undressing, a fate which seems to have befallen the DJ. He exhibits a frighteningly impervious air, far more interested in cueing up the next record than anything the girls were doing – terminal Beauty Shock, I imagine.

In these days of increasing political correctness, it is nice to know that part of London remains proudly and defiantly non-PC. And hopefully while Browns’ is open – pause to switch into Winston Churchill mode – the forces of darkness shall never, ever prevail!

A bird in the hand, or two in the bush?

My experience of Brown’s was an interesting and enlightening one, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. While the evening was certainly highly enjoyable, having a few beers and watching a couple of young, naked ladies dancing about on a stage, to me it was far from an erotic experience. On the one hand, perhaps my feminist sympathies – as mild as they are – wouldn’t let me take pleasure from such one-sided entertainment: i.e. a large group of men standing around and watching a woman stripping, etc.

While it might generally be considered grossly degrading to the women (and to “woman”), to me it also, paradoxically, degraded the male viewers – transfixed, tongues out, salivating like a bunch of dogs, virtually brought to their knees by the sight of “sex”. It was often more fascinating to look around the room a the audience, at these faces, for amusement than at the act itself. How weak men can be, believing in such superficial illusions.

That’s what it’s all about: illusion. What prevented Brown’s from being even remotely erotically stimulating to me was probably the incomplete nature of this illusion. It was perfectly clear the female performers were there for the employment, and the money – coming round with a glass to collect financial contributions hardly helps you forget what they are really there for, whatever their practised smiles may say on the stage. And when the show’s over, you see them get their clothes on and toddle off home, the apparent “sexual excitement” utterly extinguished. I would suggest that other forms of “pornography” are far more effective, since whatever the reality of the sexual state of the performers – whether they are really enjoying it or not -the illusion of the acts and the performers’ enjoyment is more complete.

With Brown’s, it is perhaps seeing “behind the scenes” and being reminded of the financial relations involved that enhances its falsity and undermines its erotic potential. Although I don’t claim that all performers in hardcore (for instance) actually enjoy their work, at least the illusion is preserved that they do, and we see nothing to suggest otherwise. Unlike at Brown’s…


[Brown’s – 1 Hackney Rd, London, E2. Tel: 0171-739-4653. Times are uncertain; I know they operate evenings during the week from 6-11, and lunchtimes Mon-Sat from 1-3. I’d recommend getting to the place about 8 pm, as that allows you to catch the end of one shift, and the start of the next, thereby letting you maximise the Cute Quotient! But be warned that Friday evenings can be very busy, so avoid if possible. Nearest tube: Old Street, about a ten minute walk away. See map for details.]