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Column by Scott Green
Anime Preview Karas
Based on English dub of Episode 1
To be released by Manga Video April 25
The animation of Karas makes it one of the more attention grabbing older audience anime releases of late. How it delivers once it commands your attention is a bit problematic, but it is a dazzling feature with effects that demonstrate that animation can still top big budget live action. It's one of the now raw, direct to video in Japan OAV series that applies a larger than TV budget to a short set on episodes. The issue is that it makes for a brilliant trailer, but it is needs of some discipline in its story telling to lend some gravity to the effects. A better director was really needed to leverage some force behind the visuals.
Karas is from the historic studio Tatsunoko, the producers of classics such as Speed Racer, Macross (and the rest of the original Robotech trilogy), and apropos to Karas, the costumed actions that presented a Japanese take on the fundamentals of the American super hero: Gatchaman, Tekkaman, Time Bokan and the their spin-offs. Karas is Tatsunoko's second go at updating and modernizing this type of hero and grafting them to supernatural elements, along the lines of Go Nagai's Devilmen.
Tatsunoko's first in the strain was Soul Taker, which used digital animation to present a head-pounding kaleidoscopic atmosphere, akin to the recent Le Petite Cossette, but with violence. Karas takes a less abstract route and presents something more reminiscent of live action, it's almost Night Watch with a Japanese rather than Russian sensibility.
The first episode opens with two figures engaged in a mid air duel. At times flying in a dogfight engagement, strafing each other with glowing purple projectiles, at times so much transforming, as morphing into figures with black samurai armor/Daimajin like exoskeletons who slash at each other with swords as they drift in freefall. As they approach earth and come into proximity with human populations, time dilates, snow flakes hover in the air, and all the witness see is the aftermath of the fight.
In the modern, brightly lit world, it's hard to be afraid of the dark, but the idea of the spirit in the spider hole can still be chilling. It's that there are small gaps in between this world and another that creatures can pop out of in order to do horrible things, exsanguinates young women for example (beat 100 challengers in a pro-wrestling/MMA marathon for another, but best to stick with the frightening examples). When Karas spend times establishing an idea, rather than just a visual flourish, it does this brand of hidden worlds and their unkind inhabitants very effectively.
The effects excell in their integration of 2d and 3d. The seamlessness of the composition of elements pay off when put through the now familiar Matrix age effects. There's a really body to the figures and frames so than propelled at high speeds, or slowed down the full scope is accentuated. Think of anime's great high speed flight battles, with all the weaving acrobatics, and imagine it with 3d objects and time halting, or a ancient symbol spell barrier, Karas finds a nice way of offering it all.
The direction is a problem. There's little form and little lasting impact. It leaves more of a general impression than a memorable print. The guiding hand that could have used these tools to make something people would still be talking about a decade later, made something that was only novel because its flashy, and because there aren't many high budget older audience horror action titles being produced.
There is seldom a good explanation why what's happening is happening beyond the production of visual spectacle. It's not that the plot doesn't make sense. T It's not so much "what's going on", most viewers versed in sci-fi action will have a good idea, but "why would anyone do it this way." he light and sketchy in the first episode, but thinking about it, it isn't too hard to make some reasonable conjectures. It may or may not make sense to speculate on how well the plot will actually work out. There's a lot going on, but exactly how novel the skeptic/believer cop pair or burdened super natural pretty boy will turn out remains to be seen.
All the quick cuts to convey time and space being set on edge are the neon spell effect equivalent of holding a gun sideways. There doesn't seem to be logic, or in most but not all cases, ritual. The consequence to the notion that the uses of the characters' crazy abilities are transparently showy is that the more impressive the effect it, the movie it works the against the scene of danger and excitement.
The series writing and design team features a heavy crossover with Big O (and to a lesser degree Giant Robo or at least the Gin Rei special, and Witch Hunter Robin). They have showcase the strength of their design skills, but here they are doing Madhouse style horror action (Demon City Shinjuku, Wicked City, ect) and unfortunately Keiichi Satou, who takes a step up from animation director on projects like Wolf's Rain to director is no Yoshiaki Kawajiri (of the above mentioned and Ninja Scroll).
Though the atmosphere has reason to be somewhat disjoint, the story telling is completely jointless. Satou seems to avoid lingering on anything. A strike in slow motion isn't the same as a slow reveal, shocked stare or a tense standoff. The dramatic pause seems to be a tool that was unfortunately left behind. Satou doesn't linger on substance. Even in the slower cuts, like a woman drinking a cup of tea, he doesn't allow the viewer to take in a scene, to establish the personality of a moment or a character. The narrative is completely motion bytes.
The Karas are a group of human looking beings from this spirit world that police incursions. The translation gets a little sticky here. It draws heavily from the Japanese yokai folklore. It's probably very obvious to a Japanese audience (some research seems to indicate that the name should be a dead give-away), but the Karas seem to be tengu, one of the mythology's animal/people, in this cases birds, specifically crows. Their role is very complex and varied, more akin to the western fairy courts than a simple "giants eat children" threat. With only the English dub available in the screener, it isn't clear whether they are directly called tengu, but the dub does mask the names of other yokai, such as calling "kappa" "water goblins".
"Water goblin" is a fair translation of "kappa", which are creatures that live in and around water, and are close to goblins. The problem is that is removes the exotic mystery of the creature. It's like calling a banshee a screaming ghost or the different between "sasquatch" and "big foot". One has more verve and mystery, the other is a description.
The naming also seems like unnecessary spoon-feeding. Most casual anime/manga fans are going to be passingly familiar with tengu, kappa, oni, the yokai versions of kitsune and tanuki, and maybe a few others. But the catch is that on Karas these are interesting portrayals of the creatures. If the connections are more plain, it is an extra aspect to think about when watching the movie that highlights some of its creativity.
There haven't been many recent examples, but Karas is view release dub that features known-name actors, in this case Jay Hernandez, Matthew Lillard and Piper Perabo (Armitage with Kiefer Sutherland and Elizabeth Berkley being another example of this type of release). This sort of casting has had its problems in the past, but here, no complaints about the voice work on the dub. Lillard's character doesn't do much talking, but it doesn't seem like the wacky character you'd expect Lillard in. The issue is that it's not a work that's good for dialog. There's speech, but little conversation. Almost every line is a pronouncement, so all there really is to judge is the sound of a voice, which is universally fine.
Manga Spotlight: Crying Freeman
By Kazuo Koike and Roiychi Ikegami
Released by Dark Horse Manga
Lone Wolf and Cub co-creator Kazuo Koike presents pulp fiction at it's finest. It isn't every day that you find a character whose origin involves being tied to a statue in a sexual embrace while being hypnotized via acupunctural needles. A chief selling point of manga and anime is that they present material not found in other media. In a Koike pot boiler epic like Crying Freeman, it's a brand of sex, violence and sexual violence that's exotic in any context. While the antagonist Yazuka gangsters of the series would be more familiar to the original Japanese audiences, the focus on ancient rooted Chinese criminal organizations was something from the outside.
Koike is a master at building intrigue by alienating the reader and the protagonist. When you have a knife duel between a muscular young man and an elderly woman on the deck of a galley, and the old woman starts wuxia jumping around the riggings, no one is at home with that scene. When the old woman tears off her robe revealing a tiger tattooed across her shriveled form, it is assuredly a "what the hell" moment. And when pair the follows the exercise by sitting down to eat a meal using their feet to hold their utensils, with the woman's sandals in her lap, obscenely drawing attention to her crotch, we've not only left our world, but that of typical fiction and gone into gangster Oz.
The high concept of Crying Freeman is that a young Japanese artist, whose medium is pottery, is of the brink on international acclaim when he lands himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's kidnapped, hypnotized and trained by a Chinese crime syndicate tied to the 108 Stars (it's Shui Hu Zhuan/Suikoen aka All Men are Brothers aka Marsh Bandits/Outlaws of the Marsh, aka Water Margin, if you're a genre fans and don't know it, it's well work looking up, because it's everywhere). Killing is anathema to the sensitive young man, so after completing his missions, following a ritual of wrapping the murder weapon in plastic explosives and detonating it, he silently shed's tears.
In the series' present day, during one of his hits, he's spotted by a Japanese woman while she's painting a park scene. She's 30 years old, a virgin due to her now dead father's fearsome political reputation, and hopes he'll sleep with her before returning to silence her. Realizing that she's the key to finding the chief assassin of the Chinese mafia, the police and yakuza soon begin work through her to plan their own counter attack.
Ikegami's sharply realistic illustration style plays havoc juxtaposing the story in which larger than life figures fight, fuck often at the same time. There's no cartoonishness in the illustration to remind you that it's not supposed to be serious, as would happen in something like the Kurtzman/Mad Magazine-esque look of Monkey Punch's Lupin III. If the reader doesn't apply their own irreverence, there's plenty to be offended about. The series both primal and so far over the top that it's almost completely divorced from reality, and definitely divorced from political correctness. There's almost a caveman ethic to the sexual relationships, with more than a little featuring one party bleeding or the other, a majority of which isn't consentual.
Like Ikegami with the illustrations, there's an almost paradoxical realism in Koike's writing. He loves process and methedology. He's a Mamet for the truly obscure. As in his historical works, Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Assassin, and Lady Snowblood, he loves exploring and depicting how things are done. In this case it ranges from art: pottery and painting, to what is likely imagined , if not by him, then the reference book he was reading, such as the depicted esoteric cult training techniques.
Not everyone will love Crying Freeman. In fact, many will probably hate it. It's definitely an adult work, but you have to go in with a very credulous attitude. It's a testosterone dripping exercise in what, even for its time, was probably regressive sexual politics. One that, even if ironically, you have to accept a bizarro world of sympathetic assassins, where the rapists the author tells you are cool and sympathetic are cool and sympathetic, and the rapists the author tells you are deviant and villainous are deviant and villainous.
OEL Spotlight: The Abandoned
by Ross Campbell
Released by TOKYOPOP
The Abandoned is relevant, and emotionally and viscerally brutal. What more can you ask for in horror? Screw Zombi's eye piercing, and the really nasty disembowelment scene in Shaun of the Dead and what ever Rob Zombie is doing now, The Abandoned is the real deal. If you want to see flesh being rended by the undead, The Abandoned is the place to stop.
At the same time, like all the great horror works, The Abandoned explores a larger context... What happens when adrift in a the middle of a catalytic situation.. say a hurricane. The one volume original English language (OEL) manga is a perfect intense, human horror short story.
The survival horror sensibility of people trying to address the situation and not be victims can be found in the work, but it it is more uncertain than most survival horror. There doesn't appear to be a formula of planning, toughness and fighting wherewith-all that will beat the odds. You're not going to get to a situation where the hero is left with a longshot but clear way of beating the adversary and/or surviving. The situation is more akin to being trapped in a wake of a force of nature. From the title down echoes of Katrina are ecthed into the work. On a small scale, it's a group of people with their hopes and chances being ground away. Besides the horror of people dying badly, the journey of the characters' relationships through the struggle is an emotional pounding.
Horror's protagonists/victims have tended to either be pretty or rugged, but The Abandoned instead looks to alternative life style. Campbell offers plenty of homosexuality and punk and generally people not living life how it is depicted on popular TV. This effects the work in that it allows Campbell to exercise his marvelous ability to illustrate an extensive range of body types and looks. No two characters look too much alike (there is a pair of sisters, so they do look alike to an approach degree), though he might go a bit over board with this in some zombie crowd scenes. He's neither idealizing the look or overly drawing attention to features, but capturing the details of what composes how a person looks. The design isn't crowded, but it very thorough, capturing many aspects of shape, hair and skin. Manga or non-manga, with his range and consistency, he demonstrates he's one the premiere illustrators of real-looking characters.
The issue of sexual preference is arbitrary in this circumstance. It's enough that the character care for each other, and that their emotional bond are put through this ordeal. To paraphrase the Brokeback Mountain line that go so tired James Schamus had to joke about it at the BAFTAs, "it's not a gay zombie story".
Not everyone is going to go for a hero who's a zoftig, black, lesbian with a mohawk, and lip piercing. Maybe you're reaction is just "that's a little unconventional", but if the brand of brutality that the zombie material affords is to your liking, there's absolute no excuse not to check out The Abandoned. Campbell is clearly a new champion at envisioning how to grotesquely re-arrange the human form. There's plenty of insides coming out, and outsides being ripped and torn. Take it as social commentary and a statement or no, it's also top notch undead.
New Ghibli Project
Nausicaa.net points out that Ghibli has produced a picture story style feature for release in Japanese this summer. "Taneyamagahara no Yoru" (Night of Taneyamagahara), directed by Kazuo Oga's (art director for most Ghibli films, credits with the movies' backgrounds) adapts a play from beloved poet/children author Kenji Miyazawa, perhaps best known among anime fans for the adapatation Night on the Galactic Railroad.
Appleseed sequel, TV series in production
Anime News Network and Shirow Age report that according to an interview with creator Masamune Shirow reports that production is is underway for a sequel to the CGI Appleseed film and a TV series based on the franchise.
Studio 4° C Interview
Midnight Eye has interviewed Studio 4° C head Eiko Tanaka, touching on Mind Game, which is one of the most outstanding anime movies in recent years.
ADV Comments on Hypatheticals
From Anime News Network's report on the ADV Panel at the New York Comic Con:
Evangelion creator/director Hideaki Anno suggested Emma Watson for the role of Asuka in the live action adaptation, but by the time filming is likely to start, she will be far too old. Ultimately, whichever actors are picked to play the four pilots, they are currently very young, and most likely, not on the general radar.
As for the Farscape anime, it appears that the next step in the franchise will be a theatrical feature, and the anime series is currently a low-priority project.
Production I.G. Announces New Production
Anime News Network reports that Production IG (Ghost in the Shell) will be announced a new anime series with Kenshin director Kazuhiro Furuhashi at the Tokyo Anime Fair. The 24 episode historical horror action, be accompanied by the manga official Chevalier D'Eon homepage. sample here
18th Century, just before the French revolution, multiple religious cults of the dark side were engaged in secret maneuvers under the name of Revolution.
"Le Chevalier D'Eon" (Knight D'Eon) a diplomat and a special agent working for Louis XIV, is fighting against those cults, and also on a mission to find the killer of his own sister. A mysterious cult organization called “Rose Cross” stands in his way, using vicious powers to create a dark creature, “Gargoyle” to over take Europe....
Anime on DVD points out trailers for Kara from Manga UK in
Ghibli Museam Shorts
Ghibli World has posted a look at the short animated films Studio Ghibli produced for their museam.
"Hoshi wo Katta Hi" or "The Day I Harvested A Star" was the first of the shorts. The short was directed by Ghibli key animator Ai Kagawa and based on Naohisa Inoue's, who painted the backgrounds for Whisper of the Heart. original work "Iblard"
"Mizugumo Monmon" or "Monmon the Water Spider" is a 15 minute feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki about love between aquatic spiders in a pond. The short features a beautiful look at the inhabitants of the pond. Yano Akiko, a 76 year old singer/song writer provides the voide work for this work, the short "Yadosagashi" or "House Hunting" and My Neighbor the Yamadas.
Ghibli World also features a break-down of the Gedo Senki/Earthsea TV preview.
Lawson has a site dedicated to the Ghibli museam shorts here
After confirming the subject for Anime News Network, Viz sent out a formal announcement saying that they have secured from the worldwide licensors, TV TOKYO Corporation and Shueisha Inc., the television, home video and merchandising rights to SHONEN JUMP’S BLEACH in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. The appointment of VIZ Media as Master Licensor was facilitated by TV TOKYO Medianet, the licensing arm of TV TOKYO.
VIZ Media plans to introduce a dynamic rollout strategy that will leverage the strong manga (graphic novels) and entertainment brands into a broad licensing and marketing program. BLEACH’s television broadcast partner and key licensing partners will be determined shortly.
BLEACH is the story of an average 15-year old, Ichigo Kurosaki, who never asked for the ability to see ghosts--he was born with the gift. When his family is attacked by a Hollow – a malevolent lost soul – Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, dedicating his life to protecting the innocent and helping the tortured spirits find peace.
Soccer Anime in Iraq
Manga News reports that soccer anime Captain Tsubasa has been dub into Arabic as Captan Majed and donated to the Iraq Media Network.
Hikaru no Go on ImaginAsian
Anime News Network reports that ImaginAsian will broadcast Hikaru no Go, the popular anime based on the ancient strategy game go, with English audio, and Japanese audio with subtitles.
Black Jack 21 Anime Premiere
Anime Nation reports that the anime Black Jack 21, based on Osamu Tezuka's maverick doctor, will air on Japanese TV starting April 10th.
Elemental Gelade Premiere
Geneon will be releasing the first volume of Elemental Gelade on June 13th.
Cou, the bumbling rookie of the "Red Lynx" sky pirate squadron, has just discovered the treasure of a lifetime - a mighty member of the ancient race of Edel Raids. Ren, at first glance, seems to be a shy and defenseless girl, but she holds within her a power that many are willing to kill for. When Cou takes it upon himself to protect Ren on her journey to a mysterious place called Edel Garden, he immediately makes new friends and dangerous enemies.
Negadon With Message for NA Release
Creator of CGI kaiju (giant monster) movie Negadon has posted a message on the site for the North American release here
Do you like Kaiju (Giant Monsters) and Robots? If you like them more than double cheeseburgers, then you’ve got to watch NEGADON. Don’t confuse NEGADON with cheap monster movies you can find in a dollar store, OK?
The Japanese Drawing Room Manga
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, UK - in association with Boychild Productions will release The Japanese Drawing Room. The Japanese Drawing Room is written by Sean Michael Wilson and illustrated by Sakura Mizuki (of best selling THE RING horror manga). It includes an extensive text and glossary on the period by the Museum editor, Shaun Garner.
A true story set in Meiji era Japan (1885), with combines the visual appeal of manga with a well-researched historical account. A foreign couple travel throughout Japan, seeing many interesting aspects of life then — such as the Shogun's Temples, Buddhist ceremonies, a diamyo's funeral, and the festival for a great warrior. They come across fascinating aspects of Japanese history, such as the story of 47 Ronin, who committed suicide after avenging their dead Samurai master. Mizuki's artwork on this book reaches a new level of beauty and sophistication.
Preview pages and more info can be seen at:
Onegai Twins Manga From DrMaster
DrMaster Publications Inc. announced that it will release the Onegai Twins manga, the relation comedy adaptation of the popular anime (which was a sequel to the anime Onegai/Please Teacher) starting in July.
FMA TCG Adds Autograph Cards
ICV2 reports that the next Fullmetal Alchemist TCG release, A Hero's Passing, will include autograph cards featuring autographs from voice actors from the FMA anime. The autograph cards will be reprints of FMA TCG cards from previous sets printed on a special foiled chase template featuring the character played by the actor. The characters and actors involved are Edward Elric, Researcher (signed by Vic Mignogna); Lust, Cloaked Stranger (signed by Laura Bailey); Scar, Cold Hearted (signeed byDameon Clarke); and Maes Hughes, Dedicated Soldier (signed by Sonny Strait).
Writer Names for Labyrinth OEL
TOKYOPOP announced at the New York Comic Con that Jakes Forbes will be writing their orginal English language (OEL) sequel to Jim Henson's Labyrinth.
Rising Stars of Manga Finalists
TOKYOPOP has posted the finalists for their latest Rising Stars of Manga talent competition here.
Love Manga has a rundown of controversy of Samurai Zombie's appropriation of Blade of the Immortal layouts.
TOKYOPOP editor "LillianDP" commented that:
Heh. The whole being selected thing can entirely be attributed to the fact that none of the three editors who decided on the top 20 entries (including myself) have read Blade of the Immortal (for shame!). I thought, "Hey, this looks a lot like one of those dark, rough-edged samurai manga," but no connection was made beyond that. :-)
Priest Continued in 2007?
Anime on DVD forum posters point out that Amazon lists that the awaited 15 volume of horror action Priest, already released in Korea, is scheduled for released by TOKYOPOP on November 13, 2007.
Japanese Artist Mamechiyo in Toronto
Comics 212 points out that Toronto toy and Japanese culture retailer Magic Pony is hosting Mamechiyo The Modern Art of Kimono. Mamechiyo is a contemporary designer who has been revolutionary in redefining traditional Japanese dress. Her use of modern intertwined with tradition has resulted in a refreshing and unique interpretation of the kimono. Pulling inspiration from all around her, Tokyo-based Mamechiyo sources vintage fabrics, creates her own textiles and styles whimsical Kimono creations that are enthusiastically embraced by a new generation.
Mamechiyo's flair for creating cutting-edge fashion centered around the Kimono has resulted in a resurgence of popularity in both the Kimono and traditional Japanese dress. Celebrated throughout Japan for her textile design and kimono styling, Mamechiyo has only recently gained recognition in North America.
Magic Pony Gallery
694 Queen St. W. (Queen West of Bathurst)
Toronto, ON M6J 1E7