From Left, Hachi and Robby.

RobiHachi is a very different show than most of the anime series I’ve seen – particularly those about travel. Most anime series that are about travel and tourism that I’ve seen tend to be chill slice of life comedies, like Laid Back Camp. RobiHachi, on the other hand, is a very silly, wacky, over-the-top comedy – though one with some thematic elements in common with those other series.

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The three female leads of We Never Learn

A lot of fanservice anime tends to be gross. Maybe it’s because the fanservice comes through sexual slapstick of the “Whoops I fell and groped you or looked up your skirt” variety. Or it comes through battle damage of the “Female character gets their top shredded in combat and now their boobs are hanging out” variety. Or it’s of the “Male lead openly sexually harasses female characters variety.” Perhaps that’s why the fanservice that comes up in We Never Learn feels like a breath of fresh air.

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If I was going to describe 20th Century Boys in a high concept manner to someone in an elevator, I’d describe it as It meets The Stand. It’s a story that takes place over a vast scope of time, almost 30-40 years, with multiple time skips, and an apocalypse in-between, with a fundamental premise of a group of childhood friends being forced to face a great evil as adults. The difference is, the evil in It is a clearly supernatural, unearthly evil. The evil in 20th Century Boys is very, very human.

There are some spoilers below the cut.

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Gameplay of Tamamo no Mai from Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star

One of my guilty pleasures is the Dynasty Warriors games. They’re fun, engaging, somewhat mindless hack-and-slash games. However, they are not without their faults. There comes a point where you’ve put the Yellow Turban Rebellion down enough times that you just can’t play through it anymore. Thus the appeal of the other takes on the concept from within Koei and without. Such is the case with Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star.

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After the original The Yakuza Papers came out and did incredibly well at the box office, a sequel came out with a relatively fast turnaround. Unlike the first film, the sequel, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, bypasses Bunta Sugawara’s character, Shozo Hirono (who does appear in this film as a cameo appearance), for a new character, and new story of induction into the world of the Yakuza.
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Chronicle of the Chinese EmperorsMovies set in historical periods or otherwise based around historical events will never go away. We will always have Victorian tales of class-based angst. Same with tales of valorious (or conniving) knights in medieval Europe. For Eastern cinema, we’ll probably always have samurai films of various stripes, and the same with various Wuxia films, discussing various martial artists and their exploits in Imperial China.

To get try and some background on wuxia films and their I recently read The Chronicles of the Chinese Emperors by Ann Paludan. The book gives an overview of the reign of approximately every emperor in Chinese history that is considered to be “officially” an emperor. Officially is in air-quotes because the book appears to defer heavily to the official Imperial histories. (more…)

Red Hot Chili Samurai Vol. 1Red Hot Chili Samurai is a manga that feels like it’s not sure what it wants to be. The manga follows samurai Kokaku Sento as he fights various criminals in rural Japan during the Shogunate. Kokaku’s strength and weakness is his dependance on hot peppers, which he eats regularly, and which strengthen him, like Popeye.

Like Kenshin, Kokaku and his comrades, bespectacled Ento, ninja manservant Shou, and girly-girl of action (if that makes any sense) Ran refrain from killing at all times, even if by all rights it doesn’t make sense for them to do so. However, like Samurai Champloo, the series is filled with anachronisms. Ran is introduced wearing spike-heeled knee-high leather boots with stockings and garters under her kimono. Kokaku is also introduced to a young kid who invents the Polaroid camera, the squirt-gun (modeled after the Colt M1911A), and aerosol pepper spray. Additionally, Kokaku wears a distinctive tattoo, something that would have been taboo for a historical samurai.

With the various chapters in this volume, they all have a comedic tone. Even when Kokaku is infiltrating a brothel which is drugging the women with opium (and occasionally over-dosing them), and whose owners are responsible for several murders, the tone of the story tries to stay incredibly light. This leads to a cognitive dissonance, particularly when it comes to more serious subject matter. Hopefully later volumes will take things slightly more seriously, but this volume is simply average. It’s not great, not terrible, just average.

Get Area 88 from Amazon.com

In the anime portions of Gainax‘s OVA series Otaku No Video, there’s a sequence where the main character is being shown the various types of Otaku that the members of his friend’s club are part of. There’s the vehicle and mecha otaku, who is a geek about engines and how things work, and so on. One of the members of the club is an animation otaku, and he demonstrates his affinity for animation by pointing out the detail in an animated sequence (taken from the DaiCon IV video). I, personally, haven’t had many moments in animation where I felt compelled to freeze frame a video and stop to appreciate it – until I saw the OVA Area 88.

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Ryunosuke's wake

Ryunosuke's wake
Get "The Sword of Doom" from Amazon.com

It’s been a while since I put a film review together, for something outside of a genre film for Bureau42. However, what better place to get back into the swing of things than the 1960s jidaigeki film Sword of Doom.

The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai as samurai Ryunosuke Tsukue, a sociopathic-at-best samurai, who cares for nothing but the improvement of his skill. The film follows Tsukue over the course of two years, as his violent tendencies slowly get the better of him .

The script does an excellent job of making it perfectly clear that while Tsukue is certainly the main character of the film, he is not a protagonist. Literally, the first thing he does in the film is to kill a defenseless old man in cold blood, and he proceeds through the film with a sense of clinical, cold detachment similar to later anime and manga characters like Duke Togo of Golgo 13 and Ogami Ittō of Lone Wolf and Cub, which likely took a certain degree of inspiration from novel this film was based on.

However, the sense of detachment is where the similarities end. While Ittō and Togo are certainly remorseless, compassionless killers, their opponents are often even more vile creatures then they are, to keep the audience on their side. On the other hand, as the film progresses, Tsukue never improves as a person. By the end of the film, guilt and fear have come to get the better of him, but even then they are unleashed in a psychotic episode comparable, in terms of violence, with the climax of Scarface. All of this is executed wonderfully by the writers and the director, as we see Tsukue’s sanity slip further, further and further.

The film is not without its faults. Originally intended as part of a trilogy, based on the absurdly long novel (about 1,533 chapters long) of the same approximate title as the film, several sub-plots are introduced that go just about nowhere. While they do intersect with the main plot in several points, they otherwise introduce what seem to be Chekov’s guns that turn out to be little more than display pieces. These side plots are significant enough that dramatically trimming them down could easily cut the film down from its current 2 hour run-time to closer to 90 minutes. These side plots could have been resolved in a sequel – however, we didn’t particularly get a sequel to this film.

All that said, the film is extremely well done, and a wonderful example of what this genre of cinema is capable of. If you consider yourself a fan of samurai films, you owe it to yourself to see this film.

Ogami Ittō

Get The Crimson Cult from Ebay

Occasionally a horror film comes about where the premise might be unimpressive, but the film’s cast commands attention. The Crimson Cult, originally titled “The Curse of the Crimson Altar” in the UK, is one of such films.

The film follows Robert Manning, an antique dealer who has come to the town of Graymarsh, in search of his brother – another dealer who has failed to return from an antique buying expedition. In the town he arrives in time for a festival celebrating the burning of a witch 300 years earlier, and he finds himself suffering from horrific and vivid nightmares that are more real than they seem.

The plot itself is nothing special. It allegedly takes its plot incredibly loosely from the HP Lovecraft story “The Dreams in the Witch House”, however it’s little more than a standard Satanic/Occult Horror film. What makes the film special is the film’s two co-stars – Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff. Both characters are similar. The script has Lee and Karloff both playing warm, welcoming, landed gentry, with each seeming to have sinister undertones. This, combined with Lee and Karloff’s history in horror films playing dark and sinister villains leaves the audience wondering who the villain is. Is Lee’s character, J. D. Morley who our hero is staying with, the villain. Is Karloff’s Professor Marshe, who collects torture instruments and studies the history of witchcraft the villain. Or are they in cahoots?

The rest of the cast’s performances are fair, and Manning’s nightmares of a “Witch’s Sabbath” are bizarrely surreal – with the witch wearing green body paint and wearing leather nipple covers, and attended by a large hooded man in an almost-too-tight loincloth. The series of sequences feel far too much like something out of a bad horror comic than anything else, and make the film more laughable than sinister.

Fortunately, Lee and Karloff’s genteel menace really help to carry the film, and help get across the audience’s confusion on who our hero can trust. I can definitely recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys older horror films, particularly those which focus a little less on the gore effects, and more on building a sense of dread and the supernatural.

Note: This film is not in print on DVD, so if you want to get it, you’ll have to go to eBay.

Get Mighty FInal Fight from eBay.com

On multiple occasions, I’ve heard the expression mentioned that restrictions breed creativity. Sometimes that doesn’t hold true. My last Quality Control pick, Raging Fighter, was a great example of this. The game was a fighting game that just didn’t hold up well on what was essentially a 4-bit hand-held system. Such is the opposite with this Quality Control pick, Mighty Final Fight, from Capcom for the NES. Capcom was basically given the task of porting the SNES (and arcade) classic brawler Final Fight to an 8-bit platform. I would say that they succeeded admirably.

Now, to be fair, Final Fight wasn’t a particularly complex brawler – and the brawler genre in general doesn’t have as much complexity to it as fighting games do. That said, Capcom handled the port very well. As the game couldn’t support the same size of sprites that the original game used, characters are instead depicted in a “Super Deformed” style. To tie in with the change in art style, the story has been altered to something more comedic. This in turn really helps to differentiate this version of the game from the original and give it a sense of identity.

Similarly to the original game, Mayor Mike Haggar‘s daughter, Jessica has been kidnapped by the sinister leader of the Mad Gear Gang, who has gone absolutely gaga for her. Haggar, Jessica’s beau, Cody, and Cody’s friend and training partner, Guy (yes, Guy is in this game), must fight through all the members of the Mad Gear Gang before the wedding ceremony. The game only has a single player mode, instead of an alternating two-player mode like in Double Dragon. However, similarly to Double Dragon, only two enemies can be depicted on-screen at any one time, making crowd control a little simpler.

The game also borrows the sort of “leveling” system used by Double Dragon, among other similar games, of gaining experience points by defeating enemies, which in turn, in theory, unlocks additional moves. I say in theory because, really, you can only unlock one move, and that’s at level 4. Each fighter has a special move that can be unlocked, and is performed by hitting the attack button and a direction on the D-Pad. This move gets you a little extra XP if you defeat an enemy with it. However, by this point you really don’t need to level up any further and the move itself does less damage on average than your regular combo, and you gain no other benefits, like life bar increases or anything else). Power-ups are also moderately scarce, as are weapons (there’s one dropped weapon in the whole game, at the obligatory Elevator level).

All in all, this is a decent classic style brawler, and I would say that I like it better than the original Final Fight, blasphemy though that may be. I would recommend picking it up, if you can find a copy, either as the NES cart or in the GBA collection “Capcom Classics Mini-Mix”.

Box art for Tiny Toon Adventures - Buster Busts Loose
Get Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose from eBay

With my last Nintendo Power Recap, I picked Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose for my next Quality Control pick. This was in part because I was a fan of the Tiny Toon Adventures TV series, and partially because I kind of liked the last Looney Tunes game I played, Death Valley Rally.  So, we’ll see how well this game holds up. (more…)