For August, Chris Feldman looks at Time Bokan, The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye and Ghost in Shell: Stand Alone Complex-Solid State Society in AWN's monthly anime reviews.
Time Bokan OAV
(2004) OAV series (two episodes). Director: Akira Shigino. 60 minutes. DVD bilingual $9.99. Distributor: U.S. Manga Corps
Tatsunoko Production is a legend in the anime community. Starting back in 1965 they have produced some of the most classic and beloved anime series ever. Titles, such as Gatchaman, Robotech and Speed Racer, are just a few of the gems to have sprung from the amazing talents at Tatsunoko Production. Even today they still produce some really outstanding anime, with series production highlights, such as Video Girl Ai and even a remake of Speed Racer.
So, I find it funny that when a studio like Tatsunoko creates an anime OAV series, such as Time Bokan. Apparently this story takes place after the original Time Bokan TV series that aired back in the early '70s. The amusing part about this DVD is not that it is a plot line continuation of the original TV series, but that it was intentionally produced to make fun of Tatsunoko Production. Yes, much like Joe Namath in panty hose or Ozzy Osborne attempting to sing the American national anthem, it is always funny when poking fun at a legend.
Well, for those out there who are more familiar with '70s anime action heroes like Tekkaman and Casshan, Time Bokan will be an enjoyable experience. The rest of fandom will find it to be a nonsensical romp through the zany and often twisted humor of Japanese animators. A certain degree of familiarity with the older anime series and characters is a prerequisite to understand most of the shows content and humor. That being said, for those that can mimic the hero pose of every '70s mecha, the comedy in Time Bokan is pure gold. So many excellent choices were made in the production of this show that only the most fanboy of all fanboys will truly appreciate this DVD. Time Bokan's story seems to really only exist to provide a platform for which the comedy may ensue. But, I will attempt to sum it up, regardless of the futility.
It appears that the main characters of this story are the Dorombo Gang. The first episode is a race between seven trios of villains each in their own mech. Each trio is the exact same set of three people, a tall skinny smart guy with a weird nose, a short hoodlum/thug type person, and a young lady for eye candy. They are all washed up villains from the previous TV series and the winner gets a part in an upcoming movie. In standard '70s villain style, cheating and dastardly deeds abound, all of which seem to end in slapstick goodness.
In the second episode, the Dorombo Gang receives orders from their leader Dokurobe to steal a stone from the hidden kingdom of Tatsunoko. With their new mech, which happens to be in the form of a little first grade girl, they set out on their mission. A ton of cameos are made in this episode and most of the fun is picking them all out. The bulk of this episode's humor comes from poking fun at every type of anime from kid stuff through hentai. If anyone remembers a mech that used to make little boys blush called Aphrodite from Mazinger Z (Tranzor Z) there is a joke in this episode that may cause loss of bladder control.
To begin with, the art style of this OAV has gone beyond retro and has landed squarely upon antiquated. 009-1 and other modern animes that have an art style that harkens back to the older animes utilize modern animation techniques like CG. The Time Bokan art style is entirely old school relying solely on hand drawn techniques. And, I wouldn't have it any other way, because the look of this show really is an integral part of the humor. If the copyright date was not printed on the back jacket I would have a hard time believing that this was produced in the 21st century. The entire show is hand drawn with every cheesy little cheat that fans love to hate in shows like Speed Racer.
Each vehicle is only drawn from four angles -- front, side, back and front three quarters. No attempt was made to tween any additional rotations. Just like in Speed Racer, a vehicle will enter the frame in the correct perspective, but then will not change perspective until it moves into one of the other pre-drawn views. Character styles, especially their outfits, would have been right at home four decades ago. Everything is deliberately dated and stylized making things lots of fun to watch.
Audio has been given a similar treatment as the animation. All the music is performed in that synthesized '70s style tone. I half expected the audio to have a crackle in it from the recording. Even the sound effects are the same type used in older anime. It is a very nostalgic experience just listening to Time Bokan. The Japanese language version is very well done with perfectly mated voices to each character. English voices, while they are not going to win any awards, are at the very least a really good attempt. There is some added humor with various accents and impressions, but, sadly, they are not consistent throughout the episodes.
Special features are pretty sparse on this one. The DVD has no insert and no other art other than what is on the DVD jacket. On the actual DVD, there is a special feature section that contains the OAV trailer that really doesn't give a good impression of what to expect out of Time Bokan and an art gallery. The gallery is pretty generic consisting of mostly images captured from the two episodes and the box art. There is an additional section on the DVD with additional trailers. On one hand there are the standard anime trailers. Nothing to get all crazy and write home about, but what is on this disk that is really cool is the manga previews. I have seen a few different attempts of previewing a manga comic in video form. For the most part, what I have seen up until now haven't been very successful. But here the manga previews have sound, music, and Foley and they are done in an animatic style complete with motion graphics and 3D visual effects. Very cool stuff.
The rating of Time Bokan is 13 and up. Despite being aimed at a slightly younger audience, Time Bokan earned that rating from its cartoon violence, some crude humor, fan service and some occasionally bare-breasted young ladies. Funny thing is I don't think that anyone under the age of 13 would really understand the humor of Time Bokan, so I think that the rating is really more of a formality. I can definitely see this one being popular in the late night viewing rooms of anime conventions. At the $9.99 price point, this one is a steal and will have any fan of the old school animes cracking up.
The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye V.1
(2007) TV series (four episodes). Director:Jun Kamiya. V.1 Four episodes 100 minutes. DVD bilingual $24.99. Distributor: RightStuf
XBEC Studios, whose animated works, such as Outlaw Star and Martian Successor Nadesico isn't afraid to take convention and turn it on end. Or at the very least laugh a little at it. The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye is a strange and lengthy title for an anime but don't let it scare anyone away from this one. True to XEBEC's previous works The Third takes an interesting and role reversing spin on the youth pilot mecha samurai warrior thing. Traditionally this role is played by an angst-filled young man, but this time around the honor goes to a young and upbeat girl. Through creative use of humor, action and fan service, the story is kept interesting. While as a huge mecha samurai fan myself, I did enjoy The Third. But, at the same time, I don't think that it will appeal to everyone.
There is a feeling that The Third is geared a little toward the ladies with its independent, butt-kicking, very cute leading lady and her effeminate love interest. Not to say that there isn't something in store for the guys with all the action and some light fan service; it's just that the pacing and character development is more along the lines of Revolutionary Girl Utena than Gundam.
The premise of the story is familiar. In a world in the aftermath of horrific war that turned the planet into a burnt out desert, survivors are forced to live reliant on technology for their very existence. Living above the planet is a group called the Third who are constantly monitoring the planet below and policing its inhabitants. After war ravaged the landscape, the Third decided that in order to protect those who remain, they would institute techno taboos that would limit the amount of technology people could use and thereby actively controlled the degree of destruction they are capable of. Of course, this law does not apply to the Third as they use incredibly advanced weaponry against those who break these taboos.
The mechanics in this world are referred to as technos and in Gestapo-like fashion the Third will attack and detain (if they are lucky enough) these technos if they are found guilty of breaking any taboos. Enter our heroine, Honoka. She is proud to make her living as a jack-of-all-trades, but her real talents lie in the sword she is carrying. Given the name of sword dancer, Honoka has developed an almost mythical reputation out in the wasteland. Her steel easily dispatches giant spiders and can ever cut the barrel off of a tank.
Speaking of tanks, Honoka's partner is an A.I. tank named Bogie whose main job is to watch her back while out in the field. Life is pretty normal until Honoka rescues someone she finds out alone in the desert at night. The person she finds, named Iks, seems to stir up feelings inside of Honoka that she isn't familiar with. It's not that other suitors haven't vied for her affections before, Honoka just never had feelings for another like she has for Iks. The trouble comes from the Third who have taken an interest in this boy Iks and the mechanized armor Honoka just purchased that breaks the technos taboo.
This story is laid out very deliberately. The narrator portion gives this anime an almost RPG feel to it. Each scene relates to the one before it, and any jumps in time are described in detail by the narrator. It hurts the pacing a little but in its defense, narration only seems to be used when jumping between locations or similar breaks in the action. Plus, with the additional exposition, a younger audience will be able to get into this story. Dialogue is written at the standard sixth grade level and easily followed. The Japanese language track is far superior to the English version. There are some good points in the English language version. For instance, the character Iks speaks in an effeminate tone in the Japanese version and the English voice actor did an excellent job translating that over without making the character irritating.
What I did find irritating was the inconsistencies in the pronunciations of the main character's name. Half the time it is hard to tell if people are saying Honoka or Hanukkah. Her name isn't even that hard to say, so I don't know where the confusion is. What's worse is that a lot of the English voice actors seemed to be reading their lines off of cue cards. That flatness and reactive emoting of feelings is a dead giveaway to a voice actor reading their lines with their face in the script. The Japanese voice acting is delightful and, with this DVD, I definitely would recommend watching this one is Japanese. The translations seem solid and the script makes perfect sense. There are some pretty significant differences between the subtitled translation and the spoken English translation, but nothing to get too worked up over. The English narration does leave out some of the exposition, but any information omitted is either obvious or learned in a following scene.
Character designs are either cute or pretty as in all bishounen anime. There is plenty of eye candy to go around, as I did not see one ugly person in any of the four episodes. With the exception of the perverted doctor, but he is supposed to be really old and, as ballast, his android assistant is smokin.' Background characters all dress in a different way that shows their profession. Farmers dress different than technos, bounty hunters have cybernetic implants, miners are dirty, everyone is wearing something that seems to have a little story about who they are. There is an interesting old west kind of feel to a lot of the technology used that seems intertwined modern warfare machinery.
This is an odd mix, but it is one that seems to work pretty well. The 3D models and animations used rock. The 3D model for Bogie is simply awesome. Unlike a lot of 3D that is to be integrated with 2D, detail wasn't spared to help with the blending. The action sequences that use the 3D for effects, as well as machinery, really stand out. These scenes just looked so cool.
Special features are indeed special with this DVD. On the disk itself there are two music videos that are done really well, but do contain some spoiler material. There are also voice actor interviews with the Japanese voice actors for Honoka and Iks. Of course there are the obligatory trailers, but there is also a character bios section that comes with commentary from the Japanese voice talent. Always a personal favorite of mine is the character art gallery. There are model sheets for six different characters that include changes in clothing as well as accessories.
The DVD itself comes with a reversible artwork for the cover. The second side does not feature the Japanese cover art, just an alternative cover art. Inside the case is a 12-page booklet with a nice card board cover that has some additional character art and some poetry no less. On a side note, one thing that was added in the DVD was a real comment card. Not just some 3x5 thing with a box to check if you liked the title or not, but a real questionnaire giving the fans an opportunity to give some constructive feedback. My suggestion is for everyone that buys this DVD fill it out. All of the cool special features show that the producers want to give fans what they have been asking for, so help them to help all of us fans by filling it out and sending it in. I know I did.
All in all The Third is a very strong title that is worth picking up. The story has a fair amount of humor that is actually funny, and plot development is very thorough allowing ample time to get to know each of the main characters very well. There is plenty for everyone on this DVD, and I think it is nice to see a samurai mech anime that isn't full of angst for a change.
Ghost in Shell: Stand Alone Complex-Solid State Society
(2006) movie. Director: Kenji Kamiyama. 108 minutes. Bilingual DVD $19.98 Limited Edition $39.98. Distributor: Manga Video
Back in 1996, an anime feature film was released based on Masamune Shirow's cyberpunk manga Ghost in the Shell. The Ghost in the Shell feature, while not completely faithful to the original manga, was groundbreaking in its use of cutting edge 3D animation and extremely highbrowed plotline. The immense popularity of this original movie sparked renewed interest in the original manga, and spawned a sequel manga and second equally groundbreaking film. Both of which were followed by an anime series titled, Stand Alone Complex. This new series is set in the same world as the manga and films, but followed its own story independently. While the action and adult content had been toned down somewhat for television, the same heady political and philosophical plot devices along with surgical military strike action that made Ghost in the Shell so intense still remain. Now after two seasons a new feature in the Stand Alone Complex universe has been created at a reported cost of more than $3 million.
Solid State Society takes place two years after the end of Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG. A lot of big changes have happened, but Section 9 is still standing. I don't want to say too much, but this one should definitely be seen after 2nd GIG.
The movie itself is an entirely new and has a complete story that can be followed with only a bit of knowledge of Stand Alone Complex. But the first 25 minutes worth of film contain a ton of spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen 2nd GIG. So, consider this fair warning. The movie takes place in 2034 Japan and another hacker called the puppeteer is drawing all of Section 9's attention. As with the other Ghost in the Shell animes the plot is rather convoluted. Not to worry, if anyone gets lost or confused, there are points of exposition at the end of each act to bring everyone back up to speed. The really great part about this story is that all of the characters aside from the Major are changing and maturing.
This is especially true for Togusa. Actually I haven't liked Togusa since the first movie. I always felt that he was fairly weak and whiney, almost useless, compared to the others in section 9. In this story Togusa has grown up so to speak and has become far more interesting. There are plenty of action sequences to keep things moving, and a head to head sniper dual with Saito that is just darned cool.
Another great aspect of this story is that it further expands on the possibilities and consequences of a future that is dependent upon the net and the cost of physically connecting oneself to that net. An underlying tone of current political struggles in Japan is moderately veiled, and adds to the believability of this world. A negative criticism of Solid State Society is that the plot is more or less the same idea that was dealt with in the previous installments of Ghost in the Shell. That is a fair criticism, but what is important here is that the creators keep inventing new and interesting ways to approach this same idea.
I can't see anything wrong with that. After all, this is a sequel and the characters have a very specific job that they do. I somehow can't see Batou doing comedy or anything else that wouldn't have a gun in his hand or his elbow in somebody's face. So, aside from the superficial plot line similarities, this is a fresh and interesting story that is worth seeing. Plus there is a twist ending that surprised even me.
For this movie, the already high production quality of the TV series has been turned up to for this movie. There is ton of eye candy everywhere. Production I.G does an outstanding job recreating the world that Masamune Shirow first visualized in his original manga. Everything has a real but futuristic feel to it. Research for what the world will look like in the future is so thorough that Production I.G even partnered with Nissan Motor Corp. and used actual concept vehicles for section 9 to use, as well as other actual but retro-looking vehicles.
Personally, I think Batou has the best taste in cars ever. 3D integration with the 2D elements has been smoothed and often it is difficult to distinguish between the two. In the TV series I sometimes found that the 3D elements were sometimes too clean and they looked like they didn't belong. This was especially true with the Tachikomas, because they usually appeared right along side the 2D main characters. The animations are top notch and there is only one awkward motion study that I could see, but it was only after several viewings. It is very impressive that so many complicated movements can be hand drawn with such a realistic movement and weight.
What is even more impressive is the number of cuts used throughout this movie. Normally in anime the scenes with a lot of cutting are reserved for the action scenes to aide in making them more exciting, because of their expensive nature. Not here, Production I.G constantly cuts throughout this movie, and, as a result, scenes where the camera fixes on a subject for a length of time really builds tension and drama. Was it necessary to do all of that shot cutting to tell the story? No. Did it help make the movie awesome? Yes.
What is there to say about the sound for this movie other than is was composed by the legendary Yoko Kanno? Kanno lends her amazing musical talents once again to the Stand Alone Complex. Honestly, I don't think there is anything that she can not do incredibly well. Her music adds a sense of epic scale that matches the grand scope of Ghost in the Shell world. Background elements have a nice layer effect thing going on. Anything that moves, buttons pushed, footsteps, basically anything that can make a noise has a sound attributed to it. Background music coincides with little clicks and clacks of Foley adding to the atmosphere of a scene.
English translation is right on with the TV series with the same voice actors returning. All of the performances were solid and consistent. Japanese voice acting is well done as always, so no surprises there. There are variations between the subtitled translation and the English language version but nothing that really that changes the story any. Due to the education level at which the dialogue is written, the subtitles sometimes have a tendency to be a bit quick on screen. I wouldn't have wanted to be a translator on this one, but, considering the mouthfuls that some of the characters spew, I am seriously impressed with the job done here.
Special features are very fan friendly. On the standard movie disk there is an option to show the movie with coinciding storyboards. Very cool to watch if anyone has ever wondered how an animation is visualized. And there is a very cute little video called Uchikomatic Days that really is about nothing, but still fun to watch. The real special features haul is in the limited edition. It includes the audio soundtrack, which is great, and an entire new disk of special features. Most of the content has to do with production, such as the collaboration with Nissan. The other videos are more promotion pieces, such as the English and Japanese trailers and a how they made a real working Tachikoma that was used as part of a press junket to generate attention about the movie. I would so spend big money to have a working 12-inch Tachikoma on my desk at work.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex-Solid State Society is one very solid title. This DVD's animation, music, and story are all top notch. While it is not as groundbreaking as the first two movies, this title really holds its own and is worth seeing. Having the option of buying the limited or standard edition is appreciated, and at each respective price point either of these versions is a steal for what is included. Anyone who is a fan of Ghost in the Shell will not be disappointed and will be eager to see what is next in store for Section 9.
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 well as a long time staff member/promoter of anime and comic conventions. In his very finite spare time he volunteers teaching animation to kids.