Joe Strike chats with a few top execs to collect the stories of their "worst pitch ever."
Movie, 2004. Director: Noriyuki Onda, Koichi Hashimoto. 95 minutes, DVD, bilingual, $29.98. Distributor: ADV Films.
This is one title that I was particularly excited about seeing because it takes place in the Bubblegum Crisis universe. For those of you who are not familiar with the Bubblegum Crisis universe (and you should be ashamed of yourself) let me sum it up for you. We have a setting in Japan in the future around 2030, and mankind has begun to rely on robots called "boomers" to help with everything from hostile environment construction to the person who stands in the fast food service window. These boomers are produced the great mega corporation called Genom. Boomers begin to attack and harm humans and the police are in force to try and stop them.
Only the regular police find that they are ill-equipped to stop them. Enter the AD Police, a highly trained and heavily armed special section of the police who exist to combat terrorism and the boomer threat in Tokyo. Sadly, in Bubblegum Crisis the AD Police suffers from a lack of funding and a bigger fight with red tape than haywire robotics. This inability to deal with the boomer threat gives rise to the lovely ladies of the Knight Sabers, and, with their specialized powered armor hard-suits, they kick some serious boomer buttocks.
After Bubblegum Crisis was released, it achieved a fair amount of success and built quit the fan base. Later, an alternative story was told within that same universe. That story was that of the officers of the AD Police, and, in the 1990s, the first AD Police OAVs were released in the United States by Manga Ent. Compared to BGC the AD Police stories offered a much grittier and mature type of story. With its heady plot and very violent action AD Police was a cop drama without the pretentiousness of Ghost in the Shell.
Parasite Dolls is another layer into the BGC universe. It is the story of Branch, a shadow wing of the AD Police. They are a specialized unit who deal with especially brutal crimes concerning boomers. Their methods are -- shall we say -- slightly outside the normal protocols of how the police are supposed to operate. We have our main character Buzz, a hardened detective with a past whose work is his life.
Then there is Michaelson, one tough chic who is out to prove something. Kimball is a boomer that is supposed to be Buzz's partner and shows sign of a soul. Angel is the sexy and flirty undercover operative that is the eyes and ears of the Branch inside Genom. And, to round out our group of usual suspects, we have Myers the genius, hack any system, techno geek, and Takahashi the sarcastic chief that knows too many people to lose his job.
It's been a while since the last AD Police title, so when I saw this one coming down the pipe I had pretty high hopes for. And, to be totally honest, I am kind of split on this one. Parasite Dolls is broken up into three separate chunks or acts. Naoyuki Onda directs the first and third acts while Koichi Hashimoto directs the second act. These three acts take place over a period of seven years following the Branch team as they solve boomer crimes and begin to uncover a conspiracy. While this seems like a novel idea for this type of story, its fails miserably in execution. Regardless of how a movie plot is constructed it should follow the three-act format where there is the establishment of a problem, a rise in action and then a resolution.
Parasite Dolls follows this plot template within each chunk, but not as movie as a whole. As a result Parasite Dolls feels more like a series of animated shorts rather than as a whole movie. Each of its three parts stands alone as a short and really has nothing tying the other chunks together. As a result, you could watch this movie with its acts rearranged in any order and still follow it just the same. It is unclear why this movie wound up like this, but after watching it, I felt as if Parasite Dolls started as more of a series instead of a movie. That and either the production company ran out of funds or the writers realized that they couldn't pull enough of a story together for the length of a series. At any rate this is the weakest part of this title.
On the other hand, if you look at each act as its own mini-movie, it really has its moments. Act One has the Branch team hunting selected boomers that are supposed to go off their rocker and start raising hell throughout Tokyo. All the while, these rouge boomers are being watched by voyeurs on virtual reality gear. Act Two has a boomer crusher that is targeting boomer prostitutes. And Act Three has Buzz and crew trying to uncover a political conspiracy. Underlying questions about what makes something alive, and can machines ever truly be accepted as living by humans are dealt with in a rhetorical manner in the second and third acts, but never really developed.
All three acts have a good amount of action and suspense. The violence is over the top as with the previous AD Police anime, and, in fact, the violence is often very brutal and twisted. The battle with the boomer crusher in the second act and the helicopter chase in the third act alone make this movie something worth seeing. Production quality does change from act to act with a mix of 2D TV quality animation and some really high-end 3D animation. This leaves the viewer with a not quite finished feeling about this movie.
The soundtrack is typical for cyber punk with pounding techno, but it is varied and helps with mood and storytelling. The audio is also recorded in 5.1 audio, which is always nice for those of us who like the home theater experience. Subtitles are nicely timed and clean, and the English dub has some nice acting, but, like so many dubs, it contains unneeded exposition of the plot, which I personally find that irritating. Character models are nicely done with sexy ladies and heroic males. There is a fair amount token tig bitties flashed on screen and adult situations are aplenty, so this is another one to put the kids to bed for before watching. Special features on the DVD are OK with the title song Get on the Beat music video, promos, DVD credits, ADV previews and, my personal favorite, production sketches.
All in all this is a pretty good title if it's watched as three separate shorts, because as a whole it is confusing. It's worth a watch for the action unless this is your first exposure to the BGC universe, then I wouldn't start here. I would start with the original AD Police OAVs, Bubblegum Crisis or even the update Bubblegum Crisis 2040. More hardcore AD Police fans looking for some additional story would be more the type to enjoy this one.
Ranma 1/2: The Digital Dojo
TV series (18 episodes), 2001. Director: Tomomitsu. Four-disc box set/450 minutes, DVD bilingual $99.98. Distributor: VIZ Media
This time I am pleased to write about a re-release (of sorts) of an all-time classic anime that everyone should see at least once, if not own. This series is the absolutely wonderful and indelible story written by Rumiko Takahashi: Ranma 1/2. This story started as a manga in Shogakukan's Shonen Sunday back in the late '80s and ran for nine years in print. Currently the manga is back in print through VIZ Media. I highly recommend it to anyone, even if they are completely unfamiliar with the series. After the success of the manga, Ranma 1/2 has made its way into an OAV series, two movies, seven seasons on TV and several videogames. A big part of Ranma 1/2's success and longevity is its totally original characters.
Ranma 1/2, at its core, is the story of two young, independent and fairly modern thinking people betrothed to one another in marriage and how they deal with the union between the two of them and the melding of their families. But this minor description does not even touch the tip of the iceberg that is the story of Ranma 1/2.
One cannot begin to understand or appreciate the story without first knowing the characters. The series namesake, Ranma Saotome, is a young martial artist who has trained with his father Genma since a very young age. Genma Saotome is very good friends with Soun Tendo who is the head of the "Anything Goes Martial Arts Dojo." Soun has three daughters -- Kasumi, the oldest; Nabiki, the middle; and Akane, the youngest. With no son of his own to take over the dojo after he passes, Soun makes an arrangement with Genma to marry one of his daughters to Genma's only child, Ranma. This sounds fairly typical of how arranged marriages up to this point, but, thankfully, this is right where the typical part ends and what makes this series a classic begins.
We soon find out that both Ranma and his father, Genma, suffer from an ancient Chinese curse that was put upon them while training at the Jusenkyo Springs in China. Turns out that if anyone were to fall into one of the many springs at Jusenkyo, they would be cursed and turn into what ever died in that spring! Enter Ranma and his dad who ventured to the spring to train and test their skills. As fate would have it, they both take a dip into the cursed spring and now are cursed forever. Oddly enough, a lot of different sorts of creatures tend to fall in and drown in this spring. Genma finds the one where a great panda has drowned, then becomes a panda. Becoming angered at his new form he leaps up from the water and knocks Ranma into a different pool. Only this time it is a place where a cute young red-haired girl has died, and now Genma's son has become his daughter.
This actually brings us to where the series begins, because we find Ranma and his father fighting in the rain with their newfound bodies on the way to the Tendo's to fullfill the engagement, much to the confusion of onlookers who wonder why a panda would be fighting with a young girl. We are introduced to Soun's three daughters. There is Kasumi, the oldest, whose role in the household is filling the void left by Mrs. Tendo by performing most of the domestic chores. She is quite and respectful, never angry or violent, and has no interest in martial arts.
Then there is Nabiki, the middle child, who is still in high school. She seems more interested in making a buck than martial arts. She is very calculating and, while her heart is good, she won't hesitate to even make money off of her own family should the opportunity arise.
Finally we have Akane, the youngest of the Tendos. She is in school with Nabiki and is really considered to be a tomboy compared to her sisters. Akane loves to train in the family's dojo and prides herself on her skills as a martial artist, and that she does not need any boy. Actually pride is Akane's biggest fault and the single greatest obstacle in her actually marrying Ranma.
After the introductions are over, Soun finds it strange that his friend, Genma, would send a panda and a girl instead of the son to marry his daughter. After a hot bath, Genma and Ranma return back to their original states, and begin explaining themselves. Seeing that there is a very simple solution to the problem of his son-in-law becoming a daughter-in-law, he deems that the match is valid and Ranma should pick one of his daughters.
The elder two daughters cite issues such as age and the fact that Akane doesn't like boys to begin with and nominate their youngest sister to marry Ranma and carry on the "Anything Goes Martial Arts" school. With their lives chosen for them both, Ranma and Akane head into their marriage like a cat on the way to a bath, kicking and screaming bloody murder all the way. The dynamic between these two is arguably the best part of the story, but there is a lot more inside this story than just the engagement.
There are others who have been cursed by the spring, such as Shampoo, a female Chinese warrior who was defeated by Ranma, and now, by Amazon law, she must marry the one that defeated her. She returned to the spring to train with her great-grandmother, Cologne, and became cursed. Then there is Mousse. He is a longtime friend of Shampoo from China and seeks to woo her, but seeing as how Mousse is unable to best her in combat, he is rejected. He is small in stature but carries several hundred pounds of bladed weapons under his shirt. Mousse also has been cursed and turns into a duck.
Ranma has a rival in Ryoga Hibiki since childhood. He is an incredibly strong martial artist with absolutely no sense of direction. Ryoga was pushed into the spring by Ranma and turned into a little piglet. Ryoga has fallen in love with Akane and, with his piglet known as P-chan, he tries to stay close to her while keeping his real identity hidden. There are others that are not cursed, such as the Anything Goes Martial Arts grandmaster, Happosai, and other suitors for Akane and Ranma that add a great deal to the comedy and the odyssey that is Akane and Ranma's relationship.
The artwork and animation for this series is outstanding, especially for a television series, which typically suffers low quality because of production restraints. Plus, this animation was created before widespread use of computers, so that means all that complicated fighting animation was all done by hand. The story is deep enough, but still simple enough to appeal to a wide range of ages. One of most often recurring jokes in the series is when others abuse the knowledge that cold water will change certain people into their alternate forms.
Since Ranma is a boy, he will often be exercising with his shirt off or wearing a loose fitting top when he gets a surprise splash. So the occasional token breast appears, and, in addition, many of the ladies will often wear revealing clothing, so fan service is in plentiful supply. Good judgment will have to be used to deem if this series is appropriate for preteens to watch. On the bright side, both girls and boys universally enjoy Ranma 1/2. The disc is bilingual with the English in stereo and Japanese in mono. Subtitles are cleanly done and there isn't a big issue with them following the dialogue.
The English dub is one of the best I have ever heard. The English voice actress Angela Costain, who does the voice for Akane, is right on. Akane's voice is exactly how I imagined how it would sound when I read the manga. Not all the voice acting is done as well as Akane's, but none of the voices are irritating.
My only complaint about these discs is that there is a lack of extra content. It would have been nice if there were some production art or some Japanese TV promos. The price for this set saves a good chunk of change, as opposed to buying each disc as it comes out. Also, the entire set comes in slim line DVD cases, so it only takes up half the amount of space as normal. I think most anime fans agree that the two biggest drawbacks to the anime addiction is the sapping of funds and lack of space to put it all. So if you haven't yet seen Ranma 1/2, or if you have copy, but it is an old and busted VHS, this set is one to pick up.
MegaMan NT Warrior Vol.12 MegaMan vs. ElecMan
TV series (four episodes), 2007. Director: Takao Kato. 88 minutes, DVD, bilingual $14.98. Distributor: VIZ Media
Here we have the latest adventures of aspiring net battler Lan Hikari with his NetNavi MegaMan and their friends. In episode 45, "Hot Tempers!", Mr. Match is back with TorchMan, and this time it is personal. After his previous humiliating loss to MegaMan Mr. Match feels as if his fire has gone out. So he teams up with TorchMan to wreak havoc in the real world to get the attention of MegaMan for a rematch. Only this time it backfires.
TorchMan causes numerous headaches to happen including causing a hairdryer to overheat while Maylu is using it at the salon. After showing up at school the next day with an awfully large hat for the weather, Lan gets suspicious and pulls the hat off. After Lan gets a good laugh at Maylu, she decides to get revenge on him by deleting his homework. This causes a rift between the two friends.
After watching this, MegaMan and Roll decide that they should help the two make amends, but before that can even happen, MegaMan says something in the wrong way and offends Roll. She storms off with GutsMan and runs into TorchMan who is sick of waiting for MegaMan to come after him. TorchMan gives Roll an email challenging MegaMan to a net battle, but, instead, she decides to take him by herself to show MegaMan what she is capable of. MegaMan learns of Roll's plan and rushes in to help. With each others help they are able to defeat Torchman and repair their friendships, but not before Maylu lets Lan know what is on her mind.
In episode 46, "Don't Mess with Mama Zap!", Count Zap returns home after his beating from MegaMan and the destruction of world three to find his Momma waiting for him. With her son demoralized, she zaps her son back into Net Battle shape (literally) to bring back the family's honor. Count Zap sabotages the bus MegaMan and Lan are riding on to stop right in front of Count Zaps Manor. With the bus and communications disabled, Lan steps out into the rain to see if he can find help at the old manor.
Too bad for Lan; Count Zap has a trap waiting for him and MegaMan that they are about to walk right into. Once inside the castle, Lan and MegaMan find themselves locked into a cage match with Count Zap and ElecMan, but this time Count Zap has rigged the game so that net ops feel everything that their navis' do. But MegaMan and Lan pull a few old tricks out of their hat to help defeat them. So much for Lan's time off.
On the third episode on this disk #47, "The Great Curry Battle!", Lan and MegaMan, on their last stop on their tour, visit the land where their favorite food on the entire planet was invented -- curry. Upon arrival Lan meets a tour guide that he wasn't aware of who has plans for him. Lan's first challenge after his arrival is the 88-curry dish feast tour. It could be perilous to eat 88 separate curry dishes in three days, but our boy Lan is definitely up to the challenge before him. Over the next three days, Lan eats his way through the curry tour, putting all who have come before him to shame and paving the way to becoming the next curry champion. But we soon find out the Lan's old rival is behind this curry feast. Yahoot has arranged everything and he has a plan to rebuild world three.
Not only that, but he has assembled a team of Lan's defeated foes from world three to combine their skills through team work and finally take down MegaMan. Lan's final dish is at the restaurant owned by Yahoot, and, despite the warnings from MegaMan, Lan can only think with his stomach and he follows his nose inside. After sitting down to feast on his last curry dish the trap is sprung and Lan is pulled into a four-on-one NetBattle, but Lan is ready with his full stomach of curry. The four-on-one battle proves too much for Lan and MegaMan, but Lan's friends show up at the last minute to save the day. Yahoot's plans are foiled, but, more importantly, will Lan ever eat curry again?
The final episode on this disk is #48, "Guess Who's Coming to NetBattle?!" Lan and his friends make a new friend. While at their arcade, a new kid shows up with a really powerful NetNavi that takes GutsMan out with a single blow. After that impressive show of force, there is only one team willing to battle the new kid and that's Lan and MegaMan. Just as the battle is about to start, four mysterious people chase the new kid off. Not willing to back down from a NetBattle, Lan is in hot pursuit as well. After catching up to the new kid and helping him to escape, they negotiate -- that is Lan shows him around for the day that they will NetBattle again.
Pumped about the chance to go against such a tough opponent Lan takes the deal and around the town they go. But it turns out that he is really a she and a princess no less. And that really powerful NetNavi, KnightMan, is really an antivirus programmed created by Princess Pride herself. But when KnightMan and MegaMan finally get to NetBattle, ShadowMan shows up to ruin the fun. ShadowMan uses his awesome powers to take Lan out of the equation, and it is up to Princess Pride to set him free while KnightMan and MegaMan battle ShadowMan. Despite the dirty tricks of ShadowMan the teamwork of Lan and Princess Pride come out on top.
Overall this is pretty standard fair and age appropriate. This show does have some of the best 2D/3D combined animations I have seen. The cel-shading that is being used is a perfect fit for the 2D animations. Action is smooth and boasts lots of nice effects. Special features have a kind of cool MegaMan manga preview and MegaMan videogame preview for the Gameboy Advance. This DVD is dual language, but the languages are in English and Spanish. There is no Japanese audio track available. Another missing option I found strange on this DVD was no subtitles. I think this would make it hard on kids who are hearing impaired to enjoy this title. Overall MegaMan NT Warrior is a solid overall title.
Chris Feldman is a freelance 3D modeler and animator whose work has been featured in television, games and manufacturing. He is an active member in the pop art community as a long-time staff member and promoter of anime and comic conventions, as well as a volunteer teaching animation to kids.