Monday, September 27, 2010

The Panda Meter Review System


Mr. Panda Says: "Your movie sucks"

It has occurred to me a few months back that I never gave specific guidelines for my grading system. While the Panda Meter seemed to be pretty self explanatory to me at least one person seemed confused by it and repeatedly questioned me about it. So, for future references, here’s how the grading works.

When grading I mainly focus on the writing, the dialogue, the characters, the acting (If applicable) and how overall entertaining the work was. As a secondary focus I may also look at overall production/technical value, artwork (If applicable), and specific details in the work that annoy or please me (For example having a Strong Female Lead Character is a big plus while having an overly ridiculous romantic plot could be grounds for rage). Ultimately the most important thing is the “Enjoyment Factor”; anything else can be ignored or forgiven if I had enough fun watching it. Also note that reviews are separated into several categories as noted in the “Tags” section at the bottom of the entries. The items being reviewed should only be compared to other works in their category because I don’t look at the details of a work the same way interchangeably. A movie isn’t a comic book (Talking to you, Zack Snyder) and anime is a foreign work that differs from its Western counterpart. For example Scott Pilgrim vs. The World suspiciously scores higher than its source material and despite Monsters vs. Aliens scoring the same as El Cazador de la Bruja I greatly prefer the former. The categories include, as of this writing, Anime, Movies, Comic Books, and Television.

1 out of 5 Adorable Pandas: Please Kill Me


This work is the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low. It’s so painful to watch that under no circumstance would I ever watch it or allow it to be watched around me again. I will often react violently over even the mention of this work. If you are a fan of this particular film/anime/whatever I will respect you less and never take you seriously when you suggest something for me to watch. You obviously have bad taste and will make me watch equally bad things given the chance.

2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas: Pretty Dang Bad


This work is either very bad or otherwise hard to watch. Perhaps it’s very dull and tedious or maybe the plot doesn’t make sense. Regardless it usually means I greatly disliked watching it. If in the review I specifically say something along the lines of “I can’t recommend this” assume it’s at the lower end of this grade, bordering 1 out of 5. Usually it’s bad but not bad enough to warrant a failing grade, but sometimes it’s a piece of work that is scored lower than average as punishment for having the potential to be great but ultimately dropping the ball hard. Major problems in several aspects without sufficient positives to balance it out usually result in this score.

3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas: Average


This work is average, though it may still warrants a look. Sometimes I may be indifferent (Though if it is indifference chances are I wouldn’t bother reviewing it) or otherwise it didn’t promote an emotional response from me but usually it’s a decent work that suffers from many problems that keep it from being considered quality entertainment. Sometimes I actually liked the work in question but felt that artistically speaking it couldn’t be considered anything special. With this score readers should feel encouraged to rent or otherwise borrow the work and try it for themselves as they could easily like it themselves. Usually recommended to fans of its genre.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas: Pretty Dang Good


This work is very entertaining or otherwise artistically relevant. It’s the lower tier of fiction that I strongly recommend, especially to fans of its genre. With this score the work is fun and/or satisfying to watch and can be watched more than once and still enjoyed (Unless stated otherwise). Sometimes an average show/film may sneak in simply because I enjoyed it very much, but normally this score implies a show that would have been considered among the best if not for one or more glaring problem that couldn’t be ignored despite my best efforts. Still very, very good stuff.

5 out of 5 Adorable Pandas: Awesome


This work is amazingly well done. While it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect it does rank among my personal favorite examples if its genre, its category, or both. This score gets awarded to one of two types of works: ones that are artistically fantastic that I can appreciate (key word) or ones that for whatever reason left me feeling extremely enamored with it. These works will often have the best cast of characters, among the best writing, and have the most satisfying conclusions. If you hate anything awarded this score take that as a sure sign that you and I will never see eye to eye in life. If you hate something awarded this score and love something awarded 1 out of 5 please stop visiting my blog.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nerd Rage #2: Turn A Gundam

I must have been spending the summer with my head in the ground because I apparently missed some extremely exciting news…for me, not you. I’m not sure how much you care about this, my silent and possibly imaginary reader, but this has been the highlight of my week since I learned of it a few days ago. After several years of quiet anger in regards to it never being exported to America Bandai Entertainment announced this past July that Turn A Gundam has been licensed and will make its way stateside in the future.


Squeeeeee!

Again you might not care. Chances you may never had even heard of this anime. But I’m excited over this. Kind of. Mostly. Sort of.

Turn A Gundam was an anime produced from 1999 to 2000 as part of the Gundam franchise. You’ve probably heard of this franchise as it has been on American television off and on since 2000 in some form or another. For the uniformed the metaseries is about giant robots in space that are varying degrees of awesome. The series has been called the “Star Trek of Japan” which is true in a lot of ways. I’ll leave it at that for now because really if I’m going to ramble on about the whole series I really should write a blog under that topic. Turn A Gundam was the fourth series in the franchise set in an alternative universe to the main continuity (“Hail Zeon”, and all that). There are two main reasons to be intrigued by this show, aside from the simple fact it involves giant robots; #1) It was directed by Gundam creator Yoshiyuki “Kill ‘em All” Tomino. Infamous for his decades long battle with depression resulting in him brutally, violently, and often pointlessly murdering his main cast of characters (Hence his famous nickname) in the most heart wrenching way possible Turn A Gundam marked his return to the franchise after taking several years away from the director’s chair. Luckily by that point Tomino had beaten depression and managed to not let his baggage influence his work, avoiding repeating his horrifying mistakes with Victory Gundam and other TV shows. Appropriately many Gundam fans consider Turn A Gundam to be among the best in the metaseries.

Tomino is well adjusted and loves a happy endin-JOSSED!

#2) Yoko Kanno did the music. Now don’t feel too bad if you don’t know who she is since she’s not nearly as famous here in America as she is in Japan and you’d probably have to be a pretty big fan of anime to know her. She’s most famous, from our point of view, as the composer of the score to Cowboy Bebop. She’s worked on a lot of different types of anime producing significantly different types of music over the years. Basically if it exists as a musical genre Yoko Kanno can probably fake it seamlessly. Other anime scores she’s done include Wolf’s Rain, Escaflowne: The Movie, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the opening music for Cardcaptor Sakura (As opposed to the god awful and sexist American dub “Cardcaptors”) and this new show running around called “Darker Than Black” which Netflix repeatedly tells me I should watch, among many others.

The real question is "Why don't all Gundams have mustaches?"

So we have the father of Gundam and one of the most prolific composers in anime working on one show. How could it go wrong? Well, very easily because everything in the world is potentially terrible until proven different. I have watched the first five episodes or so of Turn A Gundam and it didn’t exactly set my world on fire. It was kind of wordy and the action wasn’t as in the forefront as I assumed it would have been. But hey, there’s 45 more episodes to get it together so no point in making any judgments yet. What I’m really curious about though is “why now”. Why bring Turn A Gundam to America now when the iron is so cold? Why didn’t Bandai do this in 2003 as a follow-up to Mobile Fighter G Gundam back when the series was still, you know, relatively popular in the US? Or even earlier than that, before releasing the 20 year+ old Mobile Suit Gundam killed all the momentum the ultra successful Gundam Wing provided in 2000 (Because, SHOCKINGLY, an anime made in 1979 looks like brightly colored poop an anime made in freaking 1979 and thus the kids weren’t interested in it). I assume the main reason it was never exported was become the central robot in the series, Turn A aka The White Doll, is very different from the normal style of Gundam. Mainly it’s significantly manlier than most of the others due to its EPIC mustache. Make no mistake, gentle reader, this makes the White Doll a GODDAMN MAN but the unenlightened (i.e. American society) may have found it laughable. Curse your hides! Also I’ve heard there’s a Gundam Committee that is responsible for which series is allowed to be exported to other countries and that these assholes have deemed shows like Gundam X and Victory Gundam off-limits to the world. If true perhaps Turn A Gundam was on that list as well.

Pictured: What Cartoon Network showed instead of Turn A Gundam

I guess it’s better late than never but I still can’t help but wonder what caused the Powers That Be to change their minds about this particular show. I have two possible theories.

Theory # 1: Dynasty Warriors: Gundam

Called Gundam Musou in Japan, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is a video game series (Two games with a third coming out) that takes the gameplay mechanics of the redundant, but still pretty fun, Dynasty Warriors series and adds the characters and robots of various Gundam TV shows and films. Though it featured characters from the original Gundam as well as from Gundam Wing, G Gundam and Zeta Gundam, shows that had a presence in America in some capacity, it also featured a few shows that never made it over here and therefore completely unfamiliar to the average fan. Of these characters easily the most prolific was Loran Cehack and his mobile suit Turn A, the main protagonist of Turn A Gundam. A combination of his being visually and philosophically unique among the main characters we in the States were used to as well as Turn A being freaking sweet may have caused many fans to question why the show wasn’t licensed already and Bandai has since picked up on this feeling. I sure as hell didn’t know who that white haired girl was before playing that game but once I finished it I was damned interested in seeing more of her. It’s like how the Fire Emblem series didn’t make it to the USA until AFTER Marth showed up in Super Smash Bros. (NOTE: You won’t get this reference unless you’re a dork/nerd)

Loran Cehack: Actually a Boy

Theory #2: What Else Are We Gonna To Watch?

Gundam may not be as popular as it once was in the States but it does still have a strong fan base who will continue supporting the franchise/feed their habit. Bandai had been just licensing whatever new Gundam series that had come out in Japan to get their money off of Gundam fans the last six years or so, even scoring some TV deals for a few of them. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there isn’t any more. Gundam Unicorn, a six episode straight to DVD series, is years away from being completed (For some reason) and no full series has been announced. So if they want to keep ripping dollars off the yanks they need to provide something new. Turn A Gundam is the most recent series not already licensed and thus doesn’t look like dated 80s bullcrap (Sorry Gundam ZZ, but you do) so perhaps they view it as something to distract us wile a new, more modern, series can be produced.

I have no idea if either of these theories have any credence, but the important thing is that Turn A Gundam will be available to purchase, probably within the next year, so I’m happy. With this show in the works the idea of other Gundam series coming over isn’t so radical anymore. Really, how can you say that Gundam X will probably never see the light of day in our country now that Turn A Gundam will soon grace our shore? Let’s not be so pessimistic.

On the other hand Garrod is the worst Gundam pilot ever

Maybe Gundam X is fine where it is

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anime Review: El Cazador de la Bruja



If my math is correct I started watching El Cazador de la Bruja around July 11th and I finally finished it last night (September 18th). Why did it take me so long to finish this twenty-six episode series? Well part of the reason was that I was preparing to move from Kalamazoo to Chicago for most of July, moved out in early August and spent the rest of the month concentrating on finishing my degree and then spent early September trying to get used to this strange and baffling city. However the main reason it took me so damn long was that I was just so painfully uninterested in watching the show that I kept putting it off. Whenever I did got around to popping in the DVD I had to literally force myself to sit through it and even then I usually would watch three episodes and then have to stop for weeks at a time. Now I know that may sound like a dubious beginning for a review but would it surprise you that I actually really enjoyed this cartoon?

Just kidding. This anime was BLOODY AWFUL!!!!

Pooor quuuuee?!?

Originally aired in 2007 in Japan and recently released on DVD in North America El Cazador was animated by respectable studio Bee Train. When I first started watching this garbage show I noticed that it was thematically similar to Noir, an anime produced in 2001 that I watched a little bit of a few years ago. It turns out since Noir came out there have been two spiritual successors to it produced, Madlax and El Cazador, as part of a “Girls with Guns” trilogy all done by Bee Train. All three anime feature a woman gunslinger who has an ambiguously gay friendship with another female character. Henceforth the trilogy shall be known as The Triple G Trilogy (Gay Girls w/ Guns)!

[WARNING: This review contains spoilers]

Ellis is a young woman wandering rural Mexico who is on the run from bounty hunters due her being the lead suspect in the murder of a scientist and is wanted Dead or Alive. She comes across Nadie, a scantily clad lady bounty hunter who aides her in escaping her pursuers. While Nadie claims she’s come to collect the bounty herself she seems to be in no hurry to cash in and offers to allow Ellis to continue on her mysterious journey south. Thus the two embark on an adventure through Central America. However neither of the women is who they seem to be as Nadie’s motivation seems suspect and Ellis apparently possesses a strange power.

I liked Ellis, more or less. I thought she had some funny lines over the course of the series and her childlike interaction to the world could be somewhat entertaining. There was also an episode or two that really featured good storytelling. I found myself griped by it, even though ultimately things ended in heartbreak (The episode, not necessarily the series).

Ellis, deciding if what she's staring at is edible

And that, my friends, is all the good things I have to say about this goddamn, piece of crap show.

This anime is sooooooooo boring. It has similar issues with its cast being dull as hell as Dragonaut: The Resonance did, except that the pacing of this story is slower and more mundane. There is almost no character that I find interesting in the show. Sure, I liked Ellis alright but I was constantly put off by just how often she shows up naked. I’m not sure how old she was supposed to be but she acted like she was a young girl most of the time so any of the MANY times I was forced to watch her bare ass I was thoroughly creeped the hell out. I don’t want to see little girl nudity, Japan. Why do you keep showing it to me? Are you mad at me or something? Nadie is very one note and flat as a character. Plus she keeps repeating the catchphrase “Got any last words? Say ‘em” to people she points her guns at when she thinks she has the upper hand, although 9 times out of 10 she doesn’t kill them. Maybe the Japanese track would have been less annoying but in the English dub a combination of that line and the delivery made me want to kick puppies in frustration.

"Please don't kick us"

L.A. is a character that is actually “interesting” in the sense that he’s not boring, but is easily my least favorite person in the cast. A super powered young man, L.A. follows the girls at the behest of the show’s villain. Unfortunately he’s obsessed with Ellis and prone to psychotic and murderous outbursts over it. He also gets, um, “excited” whenever he sees her use her powers. Really excited. He has no redeemable qualities, is insanely dangerous, he’s homicidal, wants to kill Nadie, probably wants to rape Ellis, and has superpowers. And yet the protagonist don’t seem to view him as an threat. At worst they seem to think that Edward Cullen L.A. is an eccentric guide to their ultimate destination. He also spends a good chunk of time naked, except when he does it he’s usually either fawning over or crying over Ellis. The implications are...unpleasant. Speaking of villains Rosenberg appears to be the closest thing this show has to an antagonist and he almost comes off kind of cool. He spends most of the show looking extremely laid back and lacking any hands-on approach when dealing with the heroes. At some point for something like ten episodes he just hangs out with his girlfriend. But even so you get the feeling that his mastermind plan is slowly coming together even if we can’t see it. Sure enough it turns out that just about everything that occurred over the course of the happened because of his direct/indirect actions or at the very least something that he predicted and thus incorporated into his plot. Villains like that are awesome. Sadly Rosenberg apparently forgot to add “motivation” to his scheme because we NEVER find out why he’s doing all of this! Does he want power? He already seemingly has wealth, connections and a brilliant mind so why he needs Ellis I don’t know. Revenge? He flat out says that’s not the case. Then why? Why the hell is he here? Why has he orchestrated this grand plot for YEARS? For the hell of it? WE NEVER GET TOLD!!!!!

L.A. seems to have a fanbase

His stalking/murdering/sexual assaulting ways are clearly misunderstood

Also the little girl who shows up in every episode who never speaks, Lirio, hangs out with gruff and dangerous Ricardo but she’s explicitly said to not be his daughter. It’s never explained what she is to him or why she never talks. I thought for certain that her past would be some big reveal, like she’s a robot , or a ghost or something. Nope! She’s just a little girl who adds nothing to the plot whatsoever. The one time she did talk I’m pretty sure she as being controlled by someone else. They should have added some cute animal or another to fill her spot because at least that way I wouldn’t have wasted time expecting plot relevance!

She serves no purpose; she is illogical and must be destroyed

Speaking of the plot the show suffers from having a very slow moving one. Most of the episodes are stand alone but follow a similar formula: Nadie and Ellis go to a dirt town, make a friend, have an underwhelming shoot-out or car chase or both with some random dudes, then leave town; episode over. The action sequences are short and unenthusiastic so it’s all very tedious to watch. El Cazador is supposed to be much more lighthearted than the rest of the Triple G Trilogy so it’s pretty goofy and the violence isn’t all that graphic because it’s suppose to be focusing on the main characters’ friendship. Unfortunately their relationship doesn’t really do much for the majority of those boring as dirt formulaic episodes. It just feels like there’s a lot of padding. They probably needed more connection to the main plot in a lot of these episodes because it usually didn’t feel like the stakes were very high in most of the ones I suffered through.

The animation was fine, save a few dips in quality here and there. Nothing major. The music was fine; nothing to write home about. I guess props should be given to the creators for at least trying to have appropriate style of music for the ambience of the show, but whatever. It didn’t set my world one fire.

To avoid just ranting on about nothing I’m just going to say that this series was boring as hell. The characters were all kind of flat and two-dimensional, the pacing of the story was too slow and ultimately hard to be invested in, the action sequences were pedestrian (And other pretentious words), and the dialogue was completely cringe worthy. That last part might just be the English dub but there’s no way I’m going to watch it again to verify. The fact is that there’s nothing about this show that pulled me in. It was painful to watch and it took me over two months to do it. I wouldn’t give this show my lowest score possible (1 out of 5) simply because I feel that rating should be reserved for the things that people should actively be punished for making, and ultimately El Cazador isn’t that level of bad. I hated it but it seems to be popular enough. That said it was so terrible that I’m thinking about awarding The Third: Girl With the Blue Eye an extra panda because while the shows share some superficial similarities that show was much, much more entertaining than this unfortunate pile of suck. Maybe you’d like it but I refuse to recommend it. With a strong female lead, guns all over the place, and a deadly puppet master villain I feel like I got cheated out of seeing a potentially good show. It’s kind of like knowing that the kid down the street has a cache of badass fireworks but he only ever likes to use snakes.

Exploitation says "what"

I’m giving El Cazador de la Bruja 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas. And that’s a gift.


Pros

-Ellis is kind of funny.

-Strong female lead...I guess

Cons

-Characters are boring

-Plot is boring

-Action scenes are boring

-This show is BORING


Aw man, that was rough. I’ve reviewed five anime I’ve never seen before to help recapture my spark with the genre and so far all but one of them was kind of a waste of time (And the one that wasn’t was one I’d seen a little of beforehand so it might not even count). I don’t know how many anime fans visit this blog with any regularity, but if someone could send me recommendations I’d really appreciate it. So far my brilliant strategy of “Hey, the cover looks kind of interesting” has basically resulted in no returns, so maybe it’s time to change the game plan. Send them to Betaisdead@gmail.