Anime released in the UK for 28/01/08

Made it to week two of this thing. POW! The distinct lack of other posts this week was due to my attempt at getting crippling RSI via Dynasty Warriors.

As there is only one thing released this week, let me weigh in on the whole ADV shutting up shop in the UK temporarily malarky. With the weak dollar, it’s the sensible thing to do. As nice as ADV’s UK office was (I dealt with them occasionally in my three years at Videolog), they were the only US anime company that had a UK office (Beez are part of a bigger, global organisation, that isn’t so reliant on anime, namely Bandai).

I imagine whoever puts out ADV’s content in the end will be getting a good deal with the weakness of the dollar, and ADV no longer have to pay what must have been becoming an increasingly expensive UK staff.

And now the one thing released this week!

Tales From Earthsea

Optimum have done a fantastic job with Ghibli releases over the past few years. Not just in terms of DVD releases, but cinema releases too. Many small, local and arthouse cinemas has shown this film over the past few months, meaning that it’s had a good chance to gather fans before it’s DVD release. It’s also meant that this and the other Ghibli films that have had the same tour of screens, have picked up fans that are outside the ghetto anime fandom. My mum owns a copy of Spirited Away for instance.

So, should you buy this on Monday? Well, I’ve not seen it, so I’m going to use two pieces of information to guide me. Firstly, it’s not been that well received. Secondly, if you are willing to wait, Optimum DVDs can usually be picked up for less than a tenner. So, unless you’ve seen it already and were a big fan, I’d wait until you can pick it up at a reduced price.

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Initial Thoughts on Oh! Edo Rocket

I’m now 6 episodes into this series, an adaptation of the Gekidan Shinkansen play by Kazuki Nakashima (who also wrote a little thing called Gurren Lagann last year), and I’m enjoying it greatly.

To a certain extent it’s another anime ABOUT anime, but it’s going a bit further than that. From reading about Gekidan Shinkansen and an interview with Nakashima, they have a strong belief in accessible, escapist, mass market entertainment. This has led Gekidan Shinkansen to claim their productions are a modern Kabuki, in that they fulfill the same role as a Kabuki did in it’s prime.

Oh! Edo Rocket is about that belief that art and entertainment should be escapist and available to the masses, not only the elite. This isn’t a metatextual theme, while the plot is ostensibly about getting a shape-changing girl from the moon back to said satellite, the message about art is upfront and blatant. It’s a view the majority of the characters seem to hold, especially the main character.

The story is set in 1842 making much of the enforced frugality in Edo of this era, and what impressed me in the sixth episode was how they drew the connection between this and the budgetary considerations of TV animation production. For a self-admitted filler episode, the script and direction had surprising depth. I’d like to get hold of Murakami’s Superflat book as I understand similar connections are drawn there.

Overall I’m finding it wonderful to find an anime that has something say about the form that isn’t pandering to otaku or overly cynical.

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Anime released in the UK for 21/01/08

Let’s see if I can do this more than two weeks in a row this year! Note, I’ve not seen any of these DVDs, I am solely commenting based on my experience with the series, the price, and the staff of the series. Mainly the price.

It’s all single discs of TV shows this week. So that means none of the following is worth buying. I’m sorry, anime industry, you need to catch up with the rest of home video market.

Tsubasa 3: Spectres Of Legend

It’s the recent CLAMP series that wasn’t xxxHolic, and thus not as interesting from an animation POV.

Paniponi Dash: Vol.4

Horrible “comedy” series from SHAFT, the greatest animation studio yet to make anything worthwhile.

Utawarerumono: Vol.4

A series that ranks high on the “what were ADV thinking when they licensed this” list.

School Rumble: Vol.1

Another high school comedy. What little I’ve seen, I found bland. Your mileage may vary.

Shadow Skill: Vol.5

Hmm, this is £7.99 on, almost putting it into a price range I could recommend. Almost, but not quite. Get it down to £5.99 and we might be talking.

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Yatterman (2008) – Episode 1

2007 is the year for anniversaries it seems. As well as the upcoming Golgo 13 TV anime and a new Space Adventure Cobra show, it’s the 30th anniversary of Tatsunoko Pro’s second (and most popular) Time Bokan series. Which means we have a new TV series remaking the original, and Takashi Miike’s live action film (now due in 2009).

In first episode we get introduced to Gan and Ai, 13-year-old mechanics who are fixing Gan’s father’s dog-like robot Yatter-Wan (this is robot homaged in the post-apocalypse episode of Excel Saga), assisted by the die-shaped robot Omotchama. Meanwhile across town the villains Doronjo, Boyacky and Tonzler (known collectively as the Dorombo Gang) plan to sell cut price dodgy sports cars. After they are successful with this scam, they are contacted by Dokurobey, the “God of All Thieves” who wants them to steal the 5 Dokuro rings that will grant any wish. Gan, Ai and Yatter-Wan try to stop them and the crime fighting team Yatterman is born!

This remake is a fun little show. I’m guessing it’s aiming at an audience of kids and adults old enough to the remember the original. For self-referential yucks, Boyacky appears to be the only character aware that this a remake, at one point bemoaning that there’s stuff they could get away with in the original that they can’t now.

The animation is competent all the way through, with Yoshitaka Amano’s original character designs updated but not losing their charm. There really isn’t much to wow you though in terms of animation. Notably Mitsuki Nakamura is the Art Director, they performed the same role on the recent BoBoBoBo anime and this show has similar visual cues to that show. In particular the shots of the dispatching of the “Surprise Mecha” could have come straight from BoBoBoBo.

Wait. I just rewatched it a little. There’s a shot of the Dorombo Gang’s mecha of the week exploding through their base that looks really nice.

What did look extremely nice straight off the bat was the opening animation.

The show is a nice casual watch, but there’s nothing there as yet to make it an essential watch.

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Dragon Gate – The Gate of Destiny

Recently I had a chance to watch Dragon Gate’s November 2007 PPV, “The Gate Of Destiny”. It’s the first full Dragon Gate programme I’ve seen. I’d seen some of their earlier incarnation as Toryumon, and matches here and there on video hosting sites, but this was the first full event I’d seen.

1. Super Shisa, Anthony W. Mori, PAC beat YAMATO, BxB Hulk, El Generico

This was the first I’d seen of PAC, Yamato, BxB Hulk and El Generico, so I was looking forward to seeing this.

Dragon Gate, and Toryumon before it, is built around warring stables. Here we have what is a Typhoon (sorta) vs. New Hazard Match. Typhoon are the top face stable, of which Mori is a member and the British wrestler PAC teams with them when he’s on a DG tour. Shisa is sort of a fill in face who makes up the numbers. Mori has had the gimmick of being a fake Englishman AND a fake Italian in the past.

YAMATO and BxB Hulk are part of New Hazard, a stable made up of the first generation of DG-only (non-Toryumon) wrestlers. Canada’s favourite fake Mexican, El Generico teams with them on his DG tours. New Hazard come across as a tweener stable of sorts, here they get a kinda-heel reception compared to Mori’s team, but they don’t really wrestle as heels. It’s a bit odd, and there are other inconsistencies we’ll get to later.

This was a fun match. The gangly, pale Generico looks great in at DG match as looks unique next to the DG wrestlers pretty boy looks. And he has great body language that seems to get over the language gulf. BxB Hulk has a similar dancing entrance to Magnum TOKYO and Milano Collection AT had when they were in DG/Toryumon. But he really can’t dance as well as Magnum could.

2. Genki Horiguchi, Arik Cannon beat Akira Tozawa, Keni’chiro Arai

And here’s the other two stables.

Genki and Arik Cannon represent Muscle Outlawz, the heel faction in DG. Arik Cannon is a US wrestler who teams with MO on DG tours, and he is no good. Tozawa and Arai are part of Tozawajuku, a faction based on the manga Sakigake! Otokojuku (and it’s parody manga Sakigake! Cromartie High School). Despite being the nominal leader of the faction, Tozawa is the jobber of the group. Arai is a longtime wrestler with the group, with a head butt orientated offence. The faction is now more a vehicle for the team of Arai and the former Florida Brother, Taku Iwasa. The appeared to be an angle where Muscle Outlawz had been stealing Tozawajuku’s ring gear, as they came to the ring with Tozawajuku school uniforms and Arai was missing his uniform. When Tozawa was inevitably pinned, Genki and Cannon debagged him.

3. Magnitude Kishiwada beat Cyber Kong

This is a Muscle Outlawz (Kishiwada) vs. New Hazard (Kong) match. Both are the “big men” workers of the company, Kishiwada being a part time independant worker who plies his trade in various promotions and Kong a DG born wrestler. Kishwada is a high flying, power wrestler in the mold of Big Van Vader. Kong is more of a straight power wrestler with a weightlifting physique rather than a jacked up body builder build. His outfit is a strange mix of Tarzan and futuristic masked wrestler (hence his name). I’d not seen either before and it was fun. Kishiwada can do some nice high flying for a man his size. The story was about who was the strongest of the pair, which proved to be Kishiwada in the end (although actually looking at the pair lifting one another, Kong looks to be the legit stronger wrestler).

I’ll pause here to mention the three person commentary team which included a young lady who seemed to be there soley to declare things amazing or scary.

4. Open the Triangle Gate: Masaaki Mochizuki, K-ness, Don Fujii beat Yasushi Kanda, Gamma, NOSAWA Rongai

This was for the Triangle Gate belts (the six man tag belts) and featured Muscle Outlawz against the holders Mochizuki, K-NESS and Don Fuji. These three are the veterans of DG (I believe K-NESS is the booker nowadays), and are unaligned to the four factions. All of them had been major heels in the past, but their pure longevity has placed them firmly as babyfaces nowadays.

NOSAWA is an All-Japan wrestler brought in by Gamma to help Muscle Outlawz win the belts.

This was the first time I’d seen any of the three members of the Muscle Outlawz team. Gamma is a great heel. His offense doesn’t look that strong, but that actually helped the story. He came across as the sort of heel leader entirely reliant on foreign objects and outside help to stand any chance of victory. The match for a great deal of time was Don Fuji against all three of the MO team. Fuji is great for this role, he’s old, short, homely and slighty dumpy, a world of difference from the look of most of DG’s roster. He just has a really sympathetic look to him. The heels worked him over again and again, each time he made a comeback he’d get cut off again. Eventually he got the hot tag, everyone unleashed a mass of fast moving highspots, K-NESS joined the list of people you should never try to powerbomb, and in a great finish Fuji found himself in the ring with Kanda and hit the NICE GERMAN onto the BLUE BOX* for the pin.

*the BLUE BOX is a blue plastic tray (the sort you get rolls delivered in to supermarkets) and the foreign object of choice for Dragon Gate and Toryumon before it.

5. Dragon Kid beat Kenzo Suzuki

I didn’t watch this because I really don’t want to see Kenzo Suzuki wrestle. Unsurprisingly the inept Suzuki is now GONE.

Open the Twin Gate Unified Tag Titles: Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino beat Ryo Saito, Susumu Yokosuka

At this time Doi and Yoshino, the Muscle Outlawz team of “SpeedMuscle) had unified the DG tag title (The Twin Gate) and Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Jnr Heavyweight tag titles.

I’d seen all four wrestlers here before, although in different roles. In fact I think the roles were pretty much reversed as it came to Heel and Face alignments. Saito and Yokosuka are part of Typhoon. This match was really, really good. It built slowly, before entering the final stage when SpeedMuscle really began to heel it up and finisher after finisher after wacky lucha-submission after finisher were hit. One thing about DG is that the older wrestlers have amassed a variety of finishers and submissions, and so you can get these nice final minutes sequences, where you can never be sure where the finish is going to come.

Also, Masato Yoshino is still really fucking fast.

This was the first match on the card where the crowd began to really sound like a Toryumon crowd of old. Which is to say female voices screaming the names of their favourite wrestlers. The crowds I’d seen on Toryumon footage was heavily female, the crowd here looked more of a mix.

7. Open the Dream Gate: CIMA beat Shingo Takagi

The Dream Gate is the top belt in the company, held by Toryumon and DG veteran CIMA, who is easily their top star. Shingo Takagi is the leader of the New Hazard faction. Now as good as this match is, and it is great, there is some strange stuff here.

CIMA clearly is the face in the match from the response of the crowd, and his faction is pretty much the face faction (it has Mori and Dragon Kid in it for starters), but the way he wrestles is pretty much as a heel wrestler. He goes for outside brawling and foreign objects early as he works over Shingo’s hand. And that tactic works for the story they are telling in the ring, Shingo is stronger and younger than CIMA and therefore CIMA needs to use every trick he knows to beat him. It’s just really odd to see this guy cheat and attempt to break someone’s hand and hear his name loudly cheered in appreciation as he does it.

The finish is great, as a battered CIMA tries desperately to get a variety of quick pins in different moves and one finally pays off. It leaves Takagi as clearly on CIMA’s level and paves the way for a future rematch (or even better to Gamma getting the belt from CIMA, then a Takagi/Gamma feud, which would hopefully get Takagi the babyface reactions he deserves.).

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Amazing Spider-Man 547

Now, that’s more like it.

Freed of new status quo exposition, Amazing Spider-Man read much better than the opening issue of “Brand New Day”. As much as people wanted to see a return to the everyman loser Peter Parker, what was really missing was the everyhero loser Spider-Man.

I would much rather read a story of Spider-Man having a bad day because of the stress in Peter Parker’s life infringing on his heroics, than read one of ordinary working schlub Peter Parker having a bad day. Likewise, it’s similarly fun to see the superheroic lifestyle of Spider-Man infringe on Peter Parker’s everyday life. It’s about two lives, with two sets of responsibilities, pulling at one man, and last issue was too much about Peter Parker having a crappy time because he was Peter Parker.

Here, Peter finally puts the Spider-Man suit back on as he sets out to track down the mugger who robbed him last issue and save the Daily Bugle from bankruptcy with much needed pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man! Through a series of  coincidences, of the sort Dan Slott writes so well, he ends up entangled with another plot line we saw begin last issue.

We also get editor footnotes, something I don’t think I’ve seen in ages. Just like the good old days (i.e. when I read Spider-Man comics as a kid), they are used to reference old issues of Spider-Man where necessary. While I’ve missed these, I do have a slight reservation seeing them used here. As I mentioned before, I think there’s a risk in referencing old storylines so soon. They may act as a reminder that we just had a major fiddling around with the perception of the past. I think they pull it off this time. The references that crop up are to 1969’s “Secret of the Petrified Tablet” story and what seems to be a tidying up of a dangling plotline from a recent book.

Best of all, I thought Dan Slott’s script now flows with Steve McNiven’s art a lot better. McNiven could probably stand to break up his long rectangular panels a little more often that he does, but the combination of the art and script worked very well this issue. The pacing felt a little more relaxed, with the (near) weekly schedule there really isn’t the call for an infodump like the one we got last week. Especially not for the first issue.

Anyway, enough whining about last week’s issue, this week was what I wanted from a Spider-Man comic and the plotline that put us here never came to mind once.

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