Monday, May 18, 2015

Wild Arms Anime Review

Wild Arms: Twilight Venom
Wairudo Amuzu
ADV Films
Complete Collection - 5 discs
550 mins. - 22 episodes
$39.98 (2005)
$29.98 (2003) Vol. 1-5/ea.
$39.98 (2003) w/Artbox
ISBN 702727131721
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Itsuro Kawasaki/Koichi Mashimo
Studio - Bee Train

Synopsis: Dr. Kiel Aronnax is being tortured in a maximum security prison, but his prospects take a turn for the better when two bumbling thieves show up.  They're Loretta and Mirabelle (along with their pet/partner Jerusha) who are trying to find the treasure rumored to be hidden deep below the prison.  The treasure turns out to be Sheyenne Rainstorm who used to be a strapping 25-year-old gunfighter, but is now trapped in the body of a young boy.  He's none too happy and the group manage a daring escape.
Sheyenne is revived and tries to put the moves on Loretta, but he's just a kid
Sheyenne is able to use special weapons called ARMS which are left over from an ancient 'evil race'.  The weapons possess incredibly destructive power, but use the life force of the wielder and can only be used by very special people.  Sheyenne's original body is missing and he's trapped in a kid's body. He and Kiel end up becoming partners and try to find Sheyenne's body.  The pair also happen upon a small creature similar to Jerusha, but named Issac who joins their party.  The creatures are called Popepi Pipepo, are incredibly long-lived (thousands of years), and highly intelligent.  You wouldn't know that by being around them.
Sheyenne can use the powerful ARMS weapon technology
Loretta is a thief and treasure hunter using her stunning good looks to distract potential rubes.  Her partner Mirabelle is a Crimson Noble or vampire.  She drinks blood and can turn into a cute little bat, but is not destroyed by sunlight (or Christianity).  She ran away from her family and is hiding out with Loretta.  The pair are mildly successful and manage to cross paths with the two boys quite often.
Mirabelle tags along on Loretta's greedy schemes
The ARMS are legendary and highly sought after by power-hungry men.  The 'evil race' caused a catastrophe many years ago which earned them their name.  Sheyenne's original body may hold the key to unlocking the forbidden power of the 'evil race' and dooming the world again.  Will Kiel and Sheyenne ever find his original body?  What is Kiel's secret past and how does it threaten the future?  Will Issac ever get Jerusha to give him the time of day?
Kiel and Sheyenne go on a quest to find his original body
Pros: Interesting premise and some fun episodes, the characters were amusing with Kiel's mysterious past, Sheyenne's outrage at his predicament, Loretta's vain beauty, and Mirabelle's innocent bloodsucking, lots of twists and turns to the plot, decent opening theme, good mix of fantasy/sci-fi/western genres, decent ending
Mirabelle is a vampire from the Crimson Nobles race
Cons: Animation is fairly simple, the vampire clan turn into cute little bats and are really weak, the furry little creatures have annoying voices and aren't very funny, ending theme song was loud and obnoxious, what the heck is that magical wolf-creature?
Is Issac comedy relief or a form of sadistic torture for the viewers?
Mike Tells it Straight: Wild Arms: Twilight Venom spun out of the semi-popular video game series Wild Arms released for the Sony Playstation (a total of five full games released on the Playstation and Playstation 2, plus a PSP title).  It's interesting to note the franchise was never a blockbuster (like Final Fantasy), but was consistently good and garnered a decent following.  I found the anime to be decent, but much like the video games not a blockbuster by any means.  The character designs and animation are pretty mediocre while the stories are fairly straightforward.  Most of them are 1-2 episodes with the search for Sheyenne's original body and the secret of the 'evil race' as recurring themes.
Loretta uses magic cards which explode or create a shield
Wild Arms had some funny comedic moments and the characters worked well together.  Sheyenne constantly complains about being in a kid's body and Kiel is a good straight man.  Loretta's greedy scheming always gets her and Mirabelle into trouble.  The two little creatures are mostly annoying.  There are just enough hints about the 'evil race' and ARMS to keep it interesting.  I liked how the ending revealed all the secrets in a fun science fiction way.  I would recommend this show to beginning anime watchers.  There's nothing explicit and the humor is pretty tame.  The furthest it goes is gun violence and a few people die.
From left: Loretta, Jerusha, Issac, Sheyenne, Mirabelle, and Kiel

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Psycho-Pass Anime Review

Psycho-Pass Season One
Saiko Pasu
Complete Collection - 4 discs
550 mins - 22 episodes
$159.98 (2014) Blu-Ray
$64.98 (2014) Parts 1-2/ea.
ISBN 704400094309
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Katsuyuki Motohiro/Naoyoshi Shiotani
Studio - Production I.G

Synopsis: The year is 2113 and Japan has achieved a peaceful society through the use of an advanced technological system which predicts the probability of a person committing a crime through neural scanning.  The Sibyl System is unique and uses a crime coefficient to determine whether at any time a person will be likely to commit a serious crime.  Cymatic scanners are honeycombed throughout each city to read the 'Psycho-Pass' of citizens and detect latent criminals.  The Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division is in charge of hunting down these latent criminals to remove them from active society.  A non-cloudy Psycho-Pass is a badge of honor in this society and proves an individual is highly stable.
Akane (driving) is a rookie Inspector with Public Safety
and her partner is Ginoza
The Sibyl system also performs aptitude tests and determines the vocational ability of citizens.  Some are graded to menial labor while others with exceedingly clear Psycho-Pass scores are given prestigious jobs.  In this way a new class system governed by a computer system has emerged.  When the Criminal Investigation Division hunts latent criminals they are armed with a special handgun called a Dominator.  These weapons are linked directly to the Sibyl System and are able to read the crime coefficients of anyone they are pointed at.  When they are pointed at someone with an unacceptably high coefficient score then the system arms them with an appropriate sanction response.  These range from stun to complete annihilation for those given an extreme sanction order.  This is a society where you are punished for crimes you may someday commit and lawfully killed if the your crime coefficient is high enough.
Akane is paired with the Enforcer Masaoka who was an experienced
detective before being labelled a latent criminal by the Sibyl System
Latent criminals are typically apprehended and sent to rehabilitation facilities where they are treated to reduce their crime coefficients and eventually rejoin society.  The success rate is not very high and many find their Psyco-Pass scores going even higher.  Some latent criminals are drafted by the Criminal Investigation Division to become Enforcers who assist Inspectors in apprehending more latent criminals.  The Enforcers are still incarcerated at PSB headquarters and only allowed to move in public under the supervision of an Inspector.  Both Inspectors and Enforcers can carry Dominators.
The Dominator is a variable handgun settings ranging from
incapacitation to complete cellular annihilation 
Akane Tsunemori is a rookie Inspector with an incredibly low and stable Psycho-Pass.  She scored so high on the aptitude placements that she could choose any profession and chose the Criminal Investigation Division.  Her naivete as a rookie is highly apparent, but she is determined to do a good job.  Working with Enforcers for the first time is a shock.  She's never been around latent criminals and society assigns a massive stigma to them.  She's surprised to find they are just like regular people yet have high crime coefficients.  She works with Unit One and struggles with the moral questions posed by trusting in the Sibyl System.  What if it's not perfect?  Can it be fooled?  These questions haunt Akane as she gains more experience investigating crimes and dealing with latent criminals.
From left - Shion, Kagari, Yayoi, Kogami, Akane, Ginoza, and Masaoka
Unit One is made up of:
  • Akane Tsunemori - bright and shining new Inspector with an incredibly clear Psycho-Pass.  What will happen to her perfect mental state when exposed to latent criminals and those who have passed wholeheartedly to the dark side of human nature?
  • Nobuchika Ginoza - senior Inspector to Akane and tasked with training her in dealing with the Enforcers and hunting latent criminals.  He treats the Enforcers as second class citizens and warns Akane to limit her association with them or risk clouding her Psycho-Pass.
  • Shinya Kogami - intense, passionately driven and an adept detective.  He's obsessed with solving a particularly gruesome case from the past which caused his Psycho-Pass to become permanently clouded.  
  • Tomomi Masaoka - an old school detective with skills to rival Kogami's and a prosthetic cyber-arm.  He's honest and becomes a mentor to Akane which makes her begin questioning the accuracy of the Sibyl System.  He describes the Enforcers as hunting dogs for the Inspectors.
  • Shusei Kagari - a spirited young man who was determined to be a latent criminal at the age of 5.  He is good-natured and enjoys teasing Akane.  
  • Yayoi Kunizuka - she is the calmest member of Unit One despite being a latent criminal.  
  • Shion Karanomori - analyst and support for Unit One, she is also a latent criminal
Unit One is sent to investigate a series of murders at a drone factory
which is completely cut off from the outside world
Several new and disturbing crime trends have recently started and Unit One is very busy investigating them.  They include popular online avatars being taken over by a mysterious killer, a copycat serial killer with links to the case Kogami is still trying to solve, and the appearance of a technology which may be able to fool even the Sibyl System.  Who is Makishima and what are his links to these seemingly unrelated crimes?  Akane, Kogami, and the entire Unit One will be put to the ultimate test to determine whether the Sibyl System is truly foolproof.
Kogami fires his Dominator
Pros: Interesting premise based on psychological profiling to regulate society, great characters and their interactions, opening/ending theme songs are really good, animation quality is top notch, some major plot twists which build up to the first season ending, Makishima is a worthy opponent (loved all the literature quotes and references), the relationship between Tsunemori and Kogami is powerful, Tsunemori's trials and character development are strong by the end of the series, there's a second season
Akane talks with virtual celebrity Spooky Boogie
Cons: Only 22 episodes (typical TV series is 24 to 26), currently only an over-priced complete collection ('limited edition') available (this should change as an economical box set is released in the near future), ending was a bit too philosophical
Akane, Shion, and Yayoi discuss a case
Mike Tells It Straight: I'd heard good things online about Psycho-Pass and decided to check it out (definitely not buying the over-priced, limited edition complete collection that's out right now).  It was a great mix of sci-fi and crime detective stories.  The animation was good, soundtrack was excellent (opening/ending themes plus background music during episodes), mix of characters was interesting, and storyline progressed to a decent conclusion.  There were quite a few plot twists thrown in there which kept me guessing and I dug the philosophical topics the series presented.
Who is the enigmatic Makishima?
The premise of having a society run by a supercomputer that judges people on potential outcomes was novel.  Akane seemed like a weak character when she started out as a rookie, but really picked it up by the end of the series.  She gets put through the wringer big time.  The antagonist, Makishima, is a worthy foe and he was a great character (loved the literature quotes and references he mentioned).  The varying crimes Unit One investigated were curious and used a two-episode style (introduce the crime in the first episode and then resolve it in the second).  The second half of  the series focuses on the Sibyl System and apprehending Makishima.
The sudden appearance of this group of helmeted thugs spells disaster
It's a dark show at times with serial killers and gory deaths (the Dominators can literally blow people apart).  I thought the guns were a bit gimmicky, but they served a distinct purpose to the plot.  The characters were good although practically no development happened outside of Akane.  The pacing is great and I liked the moral questions posed (judging criminals before they have even committed a crime).  Some good suspense and drama with a distinct conclusion.  I heartily recommend this show and it's well done.  Sure, there's plenty to nit-pick with the plot and the ending could have been handled better, but I found the series engaging.  Looking forward to checking out the second season when it's released.
Is Akane truly cut out to be an Inspector?

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Space Pirate Captain Harlock Anime Movie Review

Harlock: Space Pirate
Uchu Kaizoku Kyaputen Harokku
Movie - 115 minutes
$20.99 (2015)
ISBN 037117040391
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Shinji Aramaki
Studio - Toei Animation

Synopsis: In the far future humankind has spread throughout the galaxy and number 500 billion souls.  None of the worlds colonized by humans ever lived up to the standard of Earth and a mass migration back to the home planet sparked a devastating conflict called the "Homecoming War".  The Gaia Coalition, the human universal government, now holds the planet as sacred and forbidden for anyone to set foot on.  A group of space pirates headed by Captain Harlock refuse to leave the Earth alone and fight to regain it for access by the greater humanity.
Logan is the latest recruit to join the Arcadia
Harlock captains the elusive vessel the Arcadia, known as a Deathshadow-Class ship, with his crew of space pirates.  They fight the Gaia Coalition at every chance and have garnered a mythical reputation after a full 100 years as rogues.  How is it possible that Harlock has captained the Arcadia for 100 years without aging?  Is the pirate ship a supernatural force in space?
The Arcadia is a seemingly unbeatable ship powered by dark matter engines
The main crew of the Arcadia are:
  •  Kei Yuuki - beautiful and fierce female space pirate
  • Yullian ("Yattaran") - tough-talking first mate who wields a powerful hammer during melee combat
  • Mimay - member of the mysterious Nibelung alien race and expert at controlling the dark matter engines of the Arcadia
  • Logan ("Yama") - the Arcadia's newest recruit, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Harlock (merely coincidental?), and understands the Captain's pursuit of interstellar freedom
The main crew of the Arcadia (from left) - Yullian, Mimay, Harlock,
Logan, and Kei
The Gaia Coalition have unleashed a task force to take down the Arcadia once and for all.  It's led by a man named Ezra who is wheelchair-bound.  What is Ezra's shocking link to Logan and who is Nami?  Harlock's plans are to retake the Earth, but why is he collecting massive detonators and placing them at key points in the galaxy?  The famed space pirate is much more than he seems and his mission far more sinister.  Will Logan fall under Harlock's spell and embrace the pirate's lifestyle?  Can the Earth survive another conflict?  Get ready for epic space battle as you've never seen it!
The Gaia Coalition's forces led by Isola hunt Harlock and his pirates
Pros: Beautiful full CG rendering with incredible detail, killer character designs which look retro-futuristic, exciting space battles with guns blazing, some really cool scenes and interactions, a lot of the mystery behind Harlock is presented (his link to the Arcadia), Harlock actually gets into the action and shows his stuff (instead of just sitting around), Japanese voice acting is top notch
Harlock captains from the bridge with Mimay by his side
Cons: CG character animation is incredibly stiff and unrealistic, plot is all over the place and kinda bad, character allegiances seem to switch back and forth pretty quickly, space pirates in their shiny battle suits are invincible one minute and then cannon fodder the next, Harlock never really has a personality and overall character development of the cast is weak, major wrench thrown into Harlock's motivations and backstory, they kept the cartoon-looking 'Mister Bird' (Tori-San), English dub is not great, subtitles take some liberties with names and meanings
Yullian offers some comedy relief to balance the stoic Harlock
Mike Tells It Straight: This film is based on the manga Space Pirate Captain Harlock by famed creator Leiji Matsumoto (Space Battleship Yamato aka Starblazers, Galaxy Express 999, many more).  There was a 1970s anime television series (42 episodes) based on the manga and currently available with English subtitles.  This film originally shared the same title and I think it was changed for the domestic release to avoid copyright issues (a different company owns the licensing rights to the television series) or to at least differentiate it for the Western audience.  It's a visually stunning CG film with amazing textures and an exciting story.  Obviously a labor of love for the creators and contains serious artistic effort.
Kei is as tough as she is beautiful
Beautiful visuals aside I found the story to be rather haphazard.  The crew of the Arcadia don armored suits and are seemingly invincible when they board another vessel for hand-to-hand combat.  Then later in the series they get their asses handed to them in a similar situation.  It's inconsistent and there were several other instances which had me scratching my head (like the Gaia Coalition's 'grand cannon').  There's a major plot twist involving Harlock which really throws a wrench into his established character.  Either genius by the writers/director (for making this an original work) or abject suicide by alienating the established fan-base.  The body movements for the character animation weren't fluid (wrists are horribly awkward) which is a common problem with CG works (reminded me of the Final Fantasy CG movies).
Harlock unleashes his true power against the Gaia Coalition
One thing I liked in this film is the connection between Harlock and the Arcadia.  Both seem downright supernatural at times and each had some great action sequences to reinforce their otherworldly might.  Harlock is rarely seen in actual combat and it was refreshing (usually he's a chair jockey on the Arcadia's bridge).  The film is faithful to Matsumoto's work with classic scenes (Logan and Harlock with guns locked on each other).  The space battles were great and I really liked the plasma cannon fire lancing through the black void.  The Arcadia's dark matter effect (black smoke emanating from the ship) was pretty spooky and looked neat.
Mimay offers her advice to Harlock as he questions his motives
I'm not usually a fan of CG films (much prefer hand-drawn animation mixed with CG backgrounds/effects), but Harlock showcases the latest Japan has to offer.  It wasn't a critical success and garnered a lot of negative reviews from critics.  It cost $30 million and didn't make it back at the box office - that's a critical failure.  I'm kind of surprised it didn't do as well in Japan considering the fan-base, but there's hope the film will make it's budget with the DVD release.  Still a big disappointment after all the hype surrounding its release.
Kei talks to Harlock 
Love it or hate it, this film is a big budget version of Harlock.  It's visually stunning and has some great action sequences.  For these alone it's probably worth a watch.  The plot is filled with holes like swiss cheese, but what did you expect?  I could definitely see hardcore Harlock fans getting offended by some of the plot twists in the film.  Overall it's a passable sci-fi movie and has some cool space battles.
Logan and Harlock have a familiar standoff

TO BUY and Recommendations: