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:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Deadman Wonderland Anime Review

Deadman Wonderland
Deddoman Wandarando
Complete Collection - 2 discs
325 mins - 12 episodes + OVA
$34.98 (2014) Blu-Ray/DVD
$64.98 (2012)
ISBN 704400075803
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Koichiro Hatsumi
Studio - Manglobe

Synopsis: Ganta Igarashi is a normal high school student.  Or so he thinks.  Ten years earlier there was a mysterious and devastating event centered in Tokyo which destroyed the city and most of the surrounding areas.  Ganta was one of the survivors and he has regained a seemingly normal life among his friends.  This all changes when a frightening figure attacks Ganta's classroom and massacres all of the students.  Only Ganta is spared, but he doesn't escape unharmed.  The floating and deranged man embeds a red crystal shard into Ganta's chest.
The 'Red Man' embeds a glowing red crystal in Ganta's chest
Awakening in the hospital and clearly traumatized, Ganta discovers his wounds have miraculously disappeared.  The authorities question him and to his vast dismay they suspect him as being the perpetrator of the slaughter.  Ganta pleads innocence and is subjected to a rigged court trial where falsified evidence damns him to death row.  He's living a nightmare and gets sentenced to 'Deadman Wonderland', a privately owned prison modeled after and functioning as an amusement park.
Ganta is handed a death sentence for killing his entire classroom - say what!?
The inmates all work in the theme park and are fitted with tracking/suppression collars.  Condemned prisoners are administered slow poison doses through the collars as well.  If they don't earn 'candy' every three days then the poison overwhelms them and they die (fulfilling their death sentence).  Inmates can earn candy by participating in dangerous (often deadly) games for the guests amusement.  The prison is run by a sadistic and well-endowed warden, Makina, who brutally punishes any misbehaving inmates.  She especially likes to cut them with a sword she wears.
Deadman Wonderland - first amusement park prison
Ganta obsesses over finding the cause for his torment - the Red Man.  Surrounded by killers and criminals he's gotta watch his back!  A strange girl appears who says she knows Ganta and acts very familiar.  Her name is Shiro and she dresses differently than any of the other inmates.  The two become friends and she has an uncanny ability to get out of trouble.  What is the top secret G Block and the tournament called Carnival Corpse?  The red crystal in Ganta's chest has changed him and he's about to discover a horrific, hidden world behind the colorful facade of Deadman Wonderland.
Shiro finds Ganta, who she swears is her childhood friend
Pros: Great visuals, interesting character designs, great opening/ending theme songs, strong profanity, some epic battles, underdog story as Ganta must overcome incredible odds to stay alive, Shiro is a cool character
The head of the prison is a total slimeball nutjob
Cons: Major suspension of disbelief in the world set up by this series (seriously, who is going to take their kid to a theme park staffed by criminals), Ganta cries like every episode, this show is clearly a first season for a longer story yet there is no second season (it didn't do well in Japan although success overseas may garner its continuation, US release was censored (no nudity and some of the gore was blocked)
Ganta runs afoul of one of the G Block cellmates - The Crow
Mike Tells It Straight: Deadman Wonderland aired on Cartoon Network in the States and is based on a manga by Jinsei Kataoka/Kazuma Kondou.  It's a slick looking anime series with cool character designs, an awesome theme song/opening, and ultra-violent action.  The plot is outlandish and hard to believe, but enough hints are dropped (if you pay attention) to give you a little backstory of why things are happening.  I liked the animation and the characters looked cool doing a bunch of violent things.  Ganta is a sympathetic protagonist and the mysterious Shiro was an intriguing character.  A lot of battles and neat tricks happen with the powers of the Deadmen.  That's the good stuff.
Ganta's power surfaces from the red crystal
One major issue with this series is it doesn't have a definitive ending and begs for a second season (to finish out the manga).  Apparently it wasn't a success in Japan and no second season is planned at this time.  It saw domestic success in the States and might possibly get that second season, but I wouldn't bet on it.  Big disappointment.  Anyone who wants to finish out the story can turn to the manga.
Ganta befriends another Deadman called Hummingbird
Ganta was a serious crybaby throughout the series and cries at least once per episode.  It gets pretty sad although I'd probably do much worse in his shoes (plus I don't have freaky telekinetic blood powers or a hot girl like Shiro to watch out for me).  His pathetic demeanor is tempered somewhat by the tougher characters he befriends.  Some of the plot was confusing and far-fetched.  When I saw the Carnival Corpse matchups I thought the series was going to be a tournament show.  The Undertakers were stereotypical bad guys and didn't garner much sympathy despite their tragic backstories.
Seriously, who is taking their kids to a prison amusement park?
I enjoyed watching this series although it was a bit violent and overly cruel at times.  Definitely not for younger viewers.  Opening theme song and animation sequence was great.  It's hard to recommend a show which doesn't have a satisfying ending (the OVA episode is a prequel focusing on one of the Deadmen).  I would watch a second season if it comes out and may get around to reading the manga someday.
From left - Koshio (Game Fowl), Nagi (Owl), Ganta (Woodpecker),
Shiro (Wretched Egg?), and Senji (Crow)

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Death Note Anime Review

Death Note
Desu Noto
Viz Video
Complete Collection - 9 discs
850 mins. - 37 episodes
$44.98 (2014)
$24.98 (2013-14) Parts 1-2/ea.
$69.98 (2008-09) Parts 1-2/ea.
$39.98 (2008-09) Vol. 6-9/ea. Limited
$24.98 (2008-09) Vol. 6-9/ea.
$49.99 (2008) Vol. 5 Limited
$34.99 (2008) Vol. 5
$39.98 (2007-08) Vol. 1-4/ea. Limited
$24.98 (2007-08) Vol. 1-4/ea.
$29.98 (2007) Vol. 1 w/graphic novel
$24.98 (2007) Vol. 1 w/calendar
ISBN 782009243595
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Tetsuro Araki
Studio - Madhouse

Synopsis: There exists a world set apart from ours.  It's filled with Shinigami - gods of death or perhaps they should be called demons.  They have lived for a very long time and they are very bored.  Each Shinigami possesses a notebook called a Death Note which has the power to kill any human whose name is written inside.  If a Shinigami accidentally drops their Death Note in the human world then whichever human picks it up will become the owner and have the power to kill humans.  The Shinigami named Ryuk manages to get his hands on a second Death Note and decides to drop it in the human world.  This is the story of what happens afterwards.
Ryuk in the Shinigami world
Light Yagami is an honor student and star tennis player.  He's the son of a high-ranking police officer and has even helped his Dad on a few cases.  Incredibly bright and terribly bored, Light is the perfect student, son, and potential boyfriend!  One day he finds a notebook on the ground with the words 'Death Note' written on the cover.  The notebook includes some additional writing which shocks Light:

Light doesn't know what to make of the notebook and considers the implications of it's 'rules'.  What if it's real and how can writing someone's name in a notebook possibly kill them?  He decides to test it out after seeing a news broadcast of a man has taken several children hostage and the police are trying to save them.  The news broadcast shows the man's name and face so Light has exactly what the Death Note specified.  
Light possesses the Death Note and begins using it
He writes the man's name...and the man dies.  The Death Note is real and suddenly a monstrous creature appears before his eyes.  The creature is a Shinigami (God of Death) named Ryuk who says he has dropped the Death Note in the human world for someone to pick up.  He is only visible to the Note's owner and not completely trustworthy.  Light takes all of this incredible information in stride and decides to use the Note as a way to cleanse the world of criminals and create a better world.  Naturally Light will be the God of this new world.
The mysterious and world-renowned detective L
Scores of criminals begin dying of heart attacks and the authorities take notice.  They call in a world-renowned and secretive detective calling himself L.  Despite being a genius savant, L has two things going for him - no one knows his real name and Light has never seen his face.  It seems Light has met his match and must deal with an intense man-hunt to find the mysterious killer who is breathing fear into the criminal underworld.  The public gets wind of the killings and people begin forming opinions.  The killer becomes known as "Kira" and crime rates drop.  It seems the killings are primarily located in Japan so L begins closing in on Light.
Ryuk is only visible to the Death Note owner and follows Light wherever he goes
Light's father gets drawn into the investigation to find Kira and even meets the mysterious L.  It becomes increasingly difficult for Light to hide the fact that he's Kira.  Things get sticky when a second Kira appears out of nowhere.  Will this second killer align with Light's plans for a new world?  The greater question is will L take down this copycat and learn the true secret of the Death Note?  With L and the investigative team (including his father) breathing down his neck, how far will Light go and who will he kill in order to achieve his 'greater world'?  The answer will surprise you.  

A second Death Note and Shinigami (Rem) appears!
Pros: Highly suspenseful and a gripping story, interesting characters (especially L), makes you seriously question your morals, nice animation and backgrounds, intense and slow buildup to final ending was masterful, L is a serious badass who can do almost anything perfectly
The hunt for Kira intensifies, from left: Light, Matsuda (standing), L,
and Light's Father
Cons: Second half of the series gets confusing and definitely not as strong as the first, it gets hard to tell which Death Note and Shinigami Eyes are at play, some very convenient plot twists in Kira or L's favor, creepy foot-rubbing scene between L and Light, L's constant eating of sweets (it gets a little pathological by the end)
Light manipulates Misa Amane who pledges her undying love for Kira
Mike Tells It Straight: Death Note is really a story about power corrupting otherwise good people and it forces the viewer to consider what they would do with the ability to become an anonymous executioner.  At first Light appears to be the perfect student and an exemplary son, but then he transforms into the vengeful god Kira who will remake society one criminal death at a time.  A fascinating premise which offers a lot of moral allegory to the information age.  Highly suspenseful with a ton of twists and turns as Light tries to stay one step ahead of the police and L.
L shows a sadistic side when he begins questioning suspects
The series is fairly long at 37 episodes while most anime series are only 26.  This allows the story to progress at its own pace and build up a lot of tension.  It follows the original manga series by Takeshi Obata very closely.  The characters develop over time and we get to know each one.  There are so many plot developments and contingencies to Light's planning that it gets confusing at times, but keeps the viewer guessing (and on their toes).  The tone of the series is very serious (people are dying after all), but we still get a few comedy relief moments (Matsuda was my favorite) which serve to lighten an otherwise dark show.
Ryuk loves apples and likens them to cigarettes and alcohol for Shinigami
It's a complex story and sometimes hard to follow.  Every eyecatch (an outro/intro scene bookending the commercial break at the middle of every episode) consists of another rule of the Death Note which adds to the complexity of the story.  The 'rules' make the story far richer to the viewers and more challenging for the writers.  Utterly fascinating was the intricate web of Death Note rules and how Light was able to work within them.  The first half of the story was brilliant as Light used his cunning intellect to stymie the police investigation while being so closely involved.
Light and L come to blows with Misa as witness after a particularly difficult day
The character of L was truly memorable and made a lasting impression.  He was built up to be uniquely intelligent and a mysterious detective with quirky personal traits.  Whatever it was it worked. He's socially awkward, sits weird, holds things weird, is constantly drinking coffee, and eats sweets non-stop (he needs the sugar to fuel his mental capacity).  Totally classic and an integral part to why the story worked.  The other two detectives we meet who are linked to L were not as impactful (these were Mello and Near).
Near is an unflinching detective with even less social skills than L
The whole Shinigami realm thing and Ryuk (plus the other Shinigami who show up like Rem) were a major stretch to the imagination, but I eventually got used to them.  Death Note was pretty darn popular and had two live-action spinoffs (plus a prequel starring L).  The portrayal of Ryuk with cheesy CGI doesn't sound very appealing.  It worked in the anime at least.
Mello is another detective, but he believes the ends justify the means
and is never without a chocolate bar
I have to say there's nothing out there like Death Note and it's a unique show.  Dark, suspenseful, and sprinkled with a few lighthearted moments.  I definitely suggest watching this series (not for young viewers or highly impressionable teenagers with access to firearms).  One thing to note is the first half of the series is pure gold, but the second half becomes a bit more questionable as the rules and Light's machinations become more cumbersome to the story.  It's still a wild ride and highly recommended.    
Light will stop at nothing and let no one stand in his way of creating a new world under Kira

TO BUY and Recommendations: