Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anime Review: Dragonaut




So here we are with another edition of Beta’s Anime Review, where I try to recreate my once powerful love for Japanese Animation. For those keeping score I’ve been watching shows I’ve never seen and have so far tackled The Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. One was decent enough and the other was really great; so far it’s been a well worthwhile experiment. Today I add Dragonaut:The Resonance to the pile. Did it live up to the standard of the others or have I found my first bomb?

Just so you know this show is a Giant Robot series. Kind of. And yes, if you were wondering, the main characters in the show are something close to “Astronauts Using Dragons” hence the title. First aired in 2007 and it was brought over to America late 2009 by Funimation, presumably because it’s now their goal to bring every single anime ever made to the country. To think these are the same guys who raped brought us Dragon Ball Z in the 90s. If you’ve seen trailers for this show on any other DVD that the company put out you’ll have to ignore it. The trailer implies a comedy, maybe even a parody (We’ll get into the Gag Boobs later). This is a lie to make you watch this show.

WARNING: This review contains some spoilers.

She's the super powered one, yet she's always captured

Years before our story beings Pluto is destroyed by an asteroid designated “Thanatos”. For the next twenty years it does…nothing. Our story proper focuses on Jin Kamishina, an18-year old student who two years ago lost his entire family in a shuttle accident. Today (And by “Today” I mean “THE FUTURE”) he lives a solitary life as he broods about being alone. One day he comes across a monster of some sort apparently eating some woman in an alley and the creature immediately decides to eat him instead. However he is saved by a beautiful yet mysterious girl named Toa, armed with superpowers but no pants, who seems strangely drawn to him. Soon Jin is forced into the middle of war between government controlled weapons called Dragons, and what seems to be the creatures’ original origin: Thanatos. Love appears to be the only thing that can make things right.

I guess I need to say some good things about this show, right? Okay let’s see…the artwork was pretty alright. The style was inoffensive, if nothing to write home about. I didn’t notice any real dip in quality for sure. The music was pretty good too; a lot of the incidental music was a good as any other show I’ve seen. At best it reminded me of some of the music used during scenes involving the EVAs in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Speaking of similarities with that show I do want to comment that the mechanics of the “robots” is one of the more original I’ve seen in anime, something Eva also can lay claim to. Basically they can take on human form and interact with human beings perfectly. Not your typical weapon of destruction as they’re more friends than say a Gundam (But they still have cockpits, don’t be mistaken). In fact it’s closer to compare the dragons in this show to Pok√©mon than anything else, except these monsters can actually have conversations with their masters. Also the show’s attempted main theme, on whether dragons are more than just tools to be used by a master, is an interesting one to explore. Finally the English voice cast was pretty good. If there’s any indication that the modern dubbed anime is taken more seriously than back in the old 80s’/early 90s era then it’s this show. Plus I heard somewhere it’s something of an All-Star Cast, not that I’d know.

On the other hand…THIS ANIME SUCKS!!!


DAMN YOU, JAPAN!!!

The initial premise aside there’s almost nothing good about this show. Frankly it’s extremely dull. Why is it dull? Because the characters are dull. That is the source here: this is one of the least interesting ensembles I’ve ever seen. As a result nothing in this show works. The story drifts in strange ways because characters constantly make terribly stupid decisions and the plot is dry because the people we’re watching fail to captivate the viewer. I’m not sure exactly why this is but a large part is their motivations. Most of them have none at all and when they do it’s superficial and/or unrealistic. The only character who is even remotely decent is Gio, a dragon (And badass) who goes rogue early on. He tends not to do anything particularly annoying, which is a major plus compared to the rest of the cast. He’s solely motivated by his desire to protect Toa and while he doesn’t understand why he’s compelled this way at least he’s aware that it doesn’t make sense. Plus he is only the reason the plot is able to move forward since our protagonist is completely unable to do anything on his own. Speaking of Jin he is a pile of everything I hate about a main character in anime. He’s a pretty angst filled guy; his family was killed after all but still that’s not usually a trait I like with the fellow I have to watch for however long. He’s also creepily obsessed with Toa. He meets her exactly once before he’s ready to sacrifice everything for her and fight anyone, including his best friend, to be with her. He whines constantly about not being with her but is incredibly incapable of doing anything to achieve his goal. It is only by the grace of Gio, who lets Jin help him in his mission, that he is allowed to even participate in the story. Had Gio decided that Jin was useless (Which he is) or even a hindrance then our designated hero would have spent the show crying in the corner of a coffee shop, possibly writing poetry.

Pictured: Who should have been the lead character

Not that Toa is any better. As part of her origin her reason for being here among us is that she’s on a specific mission, but instead of doing her job she apparently stalks Jin for TWO YEARS! Oh good! In addition it is heavily implied that her feelings for Jin are a manufactured side effect of a plot device called “Resonance” and not real love. While the two claim late in the series that is not the case, it’s pretty much the only thing that makes their bizarre relationship work and is supported by other characters’ connections. It doesn’t help that she has no personality outside of “I’m in Love With Jin” and everything she does in the series is based on that. This romantic plot is getting dangerously Twilight-like.

Proof that abusive relationships are awesome

However by far the worst character in this show is Kazuki Tachibana. Starting off the show as Jin’s best friend he soon degrades into an unintended comical avatar of misaimed vengeance. Basically Gio was created to be Kazuki’s partner but, due to reasons that are never explicitly explained, the dragon clearly could sense his inner doucebag and rebelled and instead teams up with Jin in order to “Protect Toa”. Exactly five seconds later Kazuki declares that Jin, again his supposed best friend in the world, has stolen Gio from him and swears to kill him in revenge and take his dragon back by force. Wait, what? How in the hell did that happen? How did we go from “Best Buddy” to “I’LL RIP YOUR HEART OUT” that quickly? He acts like Jin stole his girlfriend, which says a lot more about himself than anything else. Heck it’s actually implied later on that Kazuki may have actually had feelings for Jin, so if anything he should be mad at Gio. Anyway he spends almost the whole show trying to be “The Rival” while being as effective as Team Rocket. Ultimately he [SPOILER ALERT] comes back around late in the series just as quickly as he turned on his former friend in the first place. I suspect he may suffer from manic depression.

I'M NOT GAY!!!!

I love you, Jin

Also I’d like to make special mention of one character. I noticed a couple of what I consider to be nods and winks to Eva; somewhat subtle references. Sieglinde Baumgard, however, is a loudmouthed little German girl who graduated college super early and has a crush on the main character but lacks the emotional tools to do anything about it. Sound familiar? Not a criticism or anything, just something I noticed.

Someone better cut Soryu Asuka Langley a damn check!

Aside from terrible players the story also suffers from some dumb plot holes. Now a lot of this is just unexplained plot points, such as what exactly caused Gio to be connected to Toa, why exactly is Thanatos and the Erath at war, etc. But a few are just blatant and insulting. The main one I recall is what happens to a dragon that loses its human partner. At some point one of the characters is killed and their dragon turn into a crazed and violent monster; it is flat-out stated that this happens to any dragon who loses its human connection. Without their partner they can no longer maintain that semblance of humanity. Except that Widow, a dragon who aides Kazuki in his retarded quest for revenge, lost her partner before the show even started and she never once shows sign of having lost her human-side. Is she immune? Is she special? They never say! Her loss is a major aspect of her character so this isn’t just a minor glitch. There were some other, similar, things but that was my major one.

I mentioned the artwork being okay, but the character design is a complete failure. Everyone looks like their wearing futuristic clothes with bells and whistles (Not literally. That’d be weird) that just looks strange, as opposed to functional. Everyone wears the same set of clothes all the time, which I suppose is pretty common with animation but after a [SPOILER ALERT] one year time skip during the series no one so much as gets a different hair cut. Come on Jin, at least be a little taller. But the really weird thing was that this show is full of boobs. We're talking comically huuuge breast (This show is not a comedy). So big that nearly every female character must have terrible back pain. They are unrealistically large and mainly serve as fan service, but ultimately it is incredibly distracting.

And to add insult to injury the action scenes are boring as hell. How in the world do you mess up in a Giant Robot series when it comes to action? Take a giant robot and have it fight other giant robots or giant monsters! Instead we have robot dragons more or less ramming into each other and little more than that. My robot blood lust demands more, damn you!!!!

Uninteresting characters, dull plot, BOOBS unnerving character designs and noticeable inconstancies with the science of their world. This series was bad. The fact is this show has no saving grace. The Third: Girl With the Blue Eye managed to get its rating because despite its downside it had several good points to balance out the bad. Dragonauts has NOTHING. It’s not the worse anime I’ve ever seen but it’s the first in this grand experiment that I almost stopped watching because of how much I disliked it. If I’m only finishing a show so I can give it a fair and balanced review then I would consider it failure and so should you. I really can’t think of any circumstance where you might enjoy it.

Well maybe if you like tits more than women

I give this anime 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas. Dragonaut: The Resonance should be avoided.


Pros

-More or less decent presentation of animation and music

-Good English dub

Cons

-Terrible characters, especially Kazuki who make Ryoga Hibiki from Ranma ½ look reasonable

- Plot holes that can fit a truck

- Where the hell’s the damn action?

-Some character designs that are a little more than disgusting caricatures of what real women look like BOOOOOOOOBS

Friday, May 28, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #13: Earthworm Jim


Yes yes; I’m aware of how long it’s been since I uploaded anything. What are you gonna do? Anyway at some point in the recent past the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show watched Earthworm Jim, the often forgotten video game based cartoon.

Frankly it’s a tossup whether we’re getting a good show when a video game makes the leap into cartoon form. Sure Sonic the Hedgehog (aka Sonic SatAM ) was a great cartoon, with its dark setting and real consequences of the actions of the heroes, but the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Underground were some of the worst creations ever to grace the video medium. I mean seriously, man: watching those shows is like pouring propane in your eyes and lighting a match. Thankfully that is avoided here. Based on the unapologetically bizarre and surreal 1994 game of the same name Earthworm Jim premiered in 1995 lasting two seasons. Alas it was too beautiful (i.e. weird) for this wicked, ugly world and was canceled soon afterwards. It was broadcasted on Kids WB! during the era where cartoons like Animaniacs and Freakazoid were in production. If you follow the radio show you may recall that DJ Muppet and I were practically glowing over Freakazoid. Well in actuality when I was a kid I loathed that show. I thought it was just really moronic and unappealing in every single way. Of course now I realize that a lot of the jokes were simply over my head, but the point I really want to make is that I loved Earthworm Jim and thought it was by far the superior show despite all the naysayers going on and on about Madman that show that totally wasn’t a rip-off of Madman.

The heroes who don't do anything

Anyway the plot of Earthworm Jim, like almost every aspect of the franchise is weird. Just like in the game the story involves Jim (Voiced by Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta), a regular earthworm who finds itself in possession of a high tech super suit that was supposed to be used for galactic conquest. After being mutated into a larger and more intelligent (But still pretty dumb) life form by the suit’s power Jim decides to use the wealth of tools and abilities at his disposal to fight suit’s intended user: the evil Queen Slug-For-A-Butt. He is joined by his sidekick Peter Puppy an anthropomorphic puppy who, when hurt or scared, turns into vicious monster dog who seems to really enjoy trying to murder Jim.

The cartoon is a pretty straight forward translation of the game, though a few things were changed. Peter’s origin was significantly different (In the games Peter is an alien; in the cartoon he’s an Earth born puppy who was cursed by the Satan-like Evil the Cat). Jim lost the southern drawl he possessed in the game and a few other details were altered as well, but mostly the cartoon was very faithful to the source material. Pretty much all the important characters appear; Jim’s love interest, the hideously disfigured Princess What’s-Her-Name (Born with horrible pink skin and a vile human-like body), her evil twin sister and series primary antagonist Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt, Jim’s archenemies Psy-Crow (Get it? Crows eat worms!), and the creator of the super suit Professor Monkey-For-A-Head who is exactly what his name implies (the monkey’s name is Monkey Professor-For-A-Head).

My God! She's a monster!

As a kid I loved this show with all my heart, as did I love the original game. It was so silly and so off the wall that I was always quoting it all the time in increasingly inappropriate situations. I thought that everything good and pure about the world, everything that was funny and amusing, was represented by this show. When it was canceled I fell into a deep depression; a self-induced coma of drugs and abuse as I slowly and willingly drank myself to death.

Well not really. But I was still pretty bummed out by it. I guess 1995 just wasn’t ready for a show like this. Perhaps, after a decade or so, we might be ready to try the formula again.

Wait a second: colorful but incompetent heroes? Tongue in cheek villain spoofs? Monty Python inspired humor? Narrated by Jeff Bennett? Why does that sound so familiar?

Son of a bitch!

Oh well. Maybe by the year 2015 the world will finally be ready to accept such a show.


For more on the Earthworm Jim franchise click here.

For the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show blog and/or podcast click here and/or here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Anime Review: Gurren Lagann



My journey to re-kindle my love affair with anime continues. Last time probably should not have countered: Last Exile, as I said before, was a show I was very familiar with and thus didn’t jive with the mission statement of these anime reviews I'm trying to do (Shows and whatnot that I haven’t seen before). Today we get back on track with what has been considered one of the most important anime of the past decade, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Now I had watched the first, fourth and fifth episodes of this cartoon years ago when I was still attending the WMU Anime Addicts meetings and those alone were enough to make me extremely uninterested in watching any more. Has my opinion changed now that I’ve watched the whole thing?

WARNING: This review contains some spoilers. On that note I am kind of vague throughout mainly to avoid ruining any important aspects/details of the series. Bear with me.

Kamina brought a sword to a Giant Robot fight...

...And won.

The first thing I should mention about this series is that it was done by Gainax, which is the studio well known for doing Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL but more on that later. Simon is a young digger who lives in an underground village. He’s completely content to keep his head down and just dig to help expand the village day in and day out. Kamina is the village delinquent who dreams of going to the supposedly fictional place called “The Surface” which he claims he saw with his missing father when he was a child. Together they make up “Team Gurren” which seems to mainly involve Kamina dragging Simon on some harebrained scheme or another. One day Simon, while digging as he is want to do, finds what appears to be a giant pilotable robot head. Almost immediately after this discovery the village is attacked by a larger giant robot battling a giant rifle wielding girl named Boobs McGee Yoko Littner. Simon is convinced by his “blood brother” to use the smaller mech to battle the intruder while also leading to the three’s escape to beyond their subterranean village. However the surface is not nearly as optimistic as Kamina hoped as it appears to be crawling with enemy robots out to kill all humans who escape from the underground. Oops.

How should I describe this series as a whole? This show is what happens when you take Giant Robots, throw out logic and replace it with BECAUSE IT’S COOL, and insert the “Hot-Blooded Ace Pilot” archetype found in giant robot stories with the volume way the hell up. Gurren Lagann should be a train wreck, but good lord did it work out! This show is compelling, it features dynamic characters that change and grow over time, great physical comedy while trending darker waters storyline wise and Giant Robots fighting each other on a constantly escalating scale. I mentioned Evangelion before. It’s interesting that Gainax worked on both shows since Eva is considered to be the ultimate deconstruction of the Giant Robot genre. Gurren Lagann on the other hand celebrates the genre, reconstructing much of what Gainax tried to tear down ten years earlier. These shows are basically polar opposites of each other, as well. While Eva ended up being a dark and depressing ride in hearse filled with religious imagery and complex psychological profiling which ultimately turned into to a twenty-car pileup of pretentious B.S. Gurren Lagann ends up being a roller coaster ride that’s just fun, easy on the brain, and with a satisfying conclusion that makes sense in regards to the world they created.

Simon the Digger aka "The Anti-Shinji"

Looking at Gurren Lagann on its own merit we find that it’s surprisingly deep. It utilizes so much slapstick in the beginning of the series that it’d be easy to assume it was a parody. It blends action and comedy while not really sacrificing the other. It’s also extremely MANLY. Kamina may be one of the manliest protagonists in anime, especially considering that he actually doesn’t do a whole lot of “winning”, and his speeches throughout the series are enough to move whole armies to tears of passion (aka “MANLY TEARS”). The show also runs exactly the right pace it needed to. It actually felt a lot longer than it actually was (27 Episodes) which is something a lot of shows tend to screw up. This is partly done by the fact that the series is basically split into four different parts/storylines: Part One introduces the major protagonist and sets them on their first goal, Part Two continues them on their path as they grow as characters while the conflict continues to escalate, Part Three involves a Time Skip which shakes up the status quo, and Part Four is the (MANLY) finale. I don’t want to give the ending away but I will say that I literally sat at the edge of my seat every episode of this show and when I finally got to the end I got an over the top, yet very emotional, conclusion that left me saying “That’ll do pig” while trying to hide my weeping from my roommates.

Like any good piece of fiction it lives and dies by the strength of its characters and happily the cast of this show are more or less excellent. If anime is taught in academia somewhere I hope Kamina is used as a “literary” example. I loved how he ticked, with his speeches and borderline insane reckless abandon and overall eccentric nanture. How he was used throughout the series was incredibly appropriate and any time he was on screen or even just mentioned it was powerful. Simon is no slouch either. I honestly can’t think of a character in an anime I’ve seen that developed so much so naturally and organically. By the time the series ends he’s a completely different person, but you never once feel like it was forced. More importantly their relationship to each other, a key plot point throughout the show, is deeply touching and emotional. Theirs is a friendship you will likely never have, but if you are lucky enough to find it you will have someone will do anything possible and even beyond the impossible to ensure that they have your back at all times no matter the circumstances. Yoko is pretty good as well. She’s tough, throws herself with the boys in the thick of combat and is presented with having skills that neither Simon nor Kamina have but are important in order to routinely defeat their enemies. On the other hand she wears nothing but a skimpy bikini that show off her gigantic tits. Yeah. So personality wise she’s strong female character that I like, but she’s also Miss Fan Service which bugs me. Also she doesn’t have nearly the development the other two have until much later in the series and even then it’s lacking.

It's Guy Love!

The other supporting characters are varied and pleasing to watch. From the stoic Rossiu to the straight forward thinking Kittan to the Simon and Kamina’s rival Viral (Get it?! It’s “Rival” spelled sideways!!!!) the cast was filled with a variety of interesting and fairly complex people who you got to watch grow and change over the course of the series (Although Leeron is clearly a gay stereotype and his presence was kind of upsetting in that regard). Hell, even Team Mascot Boota the mole-pig plays a great role, if surreal. Nia, a later arrival in the show, is okay I suppose though she’s more like a plot device than anything. Unfortunately the secondary characters in Team Gurren who are introduced during the first couple of parts are horribly underutilized to the point that some of them don’t even get named right away. They end up being used as window dressing and not much else.

Also I should point out that the animation in this show is piss poor. Oh man…it’s bad, and sometimes it dips even worse depending on the episode’s tone. It, with its physical humor style, reminded me of the anime Dead Leaves. That’s a very bad thing, folks. I will say that it was overall worse than The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye. The action sequences suffer a bit from this as well as there are a lot of still frames with speed lines to imply movement and enough stock footage for me to take notice. The science utilized is as soft as anything you’ll find. The Gurren Lagann super robot can do anything; literally anything the pilot wants. And the explanation is extremely weak, but even that you don’t get until very late in the series. Of course that absolutely didn’t bother me because whenever the mech did something cool I simply threw my fist up and screamed “Alright, Damn it!!!” The silly tone of the first two parts is balanced out by a darker one starting in Part Three and it may be somewhat jarring if you prefer silly to serious. Frankly these issues ultimately meant nothing to me as I watched the show. They were minor concerns, or at least they felt like minor ones, that were quickly ignored. The show was strong enough that these problems are not noticeable so long as you’re not nitpicky.

Well hey there, Boobs. I see you brought Yoko along

(This was the least naughty pic I could find. Yuck!)

I am unsure if I am capable of expressing just how much I loved Gurren Lagann, especially since I wasn’t sure if I would even kind of like it. It’s not that complex and the art is garbage but it had my undivided attention throughout the entire run and had me cheering with excitement and anticipation with every passing episode. To make this clear the last show that had me doing that was Trigun ten years ago. Yes, I just compared Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann to Trigun, one of the best anime ever written. And the ending here is better. Yeah I said it. With themes of deep friendship, brotherhood and self-worth, as well as being a showcase for character growth, and of course GIANT ROBOTS, this show has just about everything you could want in an action cartoon.

Drill Baby Drill

I really didn’t want to rank it this high, but every time I tried to give it Four Pandas I felt like I was underselling it. Therefore this anime gets 5 Adorable Pandas out of 5, my highest awarded score. It’s not a perfect show, but it stands much taller than most anime I’ve ever seen and deserves a spot on your shelf next to Cowboy Bebop and FLCL. This is highly recommended and I’m afraid my words can’t do it justice.


Pros

-THIS DRILL WILL PIERCE THE HEAVENS SO LONG AS I BELIEVE IN THE YOU THAT BELIEVES IN ME!!!!!!!!

-Possibly features my two favorite anime protagonists: Kamina and Simon

-Surprisingly emotional affair

-Great physical comedy keeps things nice and easy going throughout most of the series

-The overall likability of the show distracts you from its flaws

Cons

-Downright upsetting art style (At least to me)

-Secondary characters could have used more to do

-If you don’t care for Soft Science-Fiction you will hate this show (If just for the scale of the robots)