The 2nd Dimension

Monday, October 30, 2006

Viewing Journal: Gankutsuou - The Count of Monte Cristo (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= A
Story = A
Video = A
Audio = A


Whether or not you are already familiar with the story of Gankutsuou, aka the Count of Monte Cristo from either having read the book (which I haven't) or seen the movie (which I have), I think this anime version has enough original twists and impressive visuals to keep anyone interested all the way through.

Gonzo treats the story of Monte Cristo much in the same way it did with Samurai Seven by taking a 19th centruy story and putting it in a futuristic sci-fi setting. So what you end up with is an anachronistic mix of old, new, and futuristic. The technique (called "mixing") can be incredibly effective as long as long as the anachronisms mesh well together as they did in Gankutsuou.

Admitedly the mixing does have an awkward moment or two. For instance, in one scene two characters take part in a sword dual. But, instead of doning armor, the characters pilot giant,possibly organic, mobile suits. I'm sure some viewers who are unaccostomed to anime converntions will scratch their heads at things like why the pilots feel pain when the robot gets stabbed or why the robots bleed.

But regardless, the vast majority of the show is able to effectively capture the tone and mood of an 19th century romantic novel complete with all the twists, and well-structured, naturally flowing plot elements. And I think that well-structured plot is a good part of what gives the show a distincly Western feel. Put that together with Japanese talent for character driven drama and it makes for a series that balances plot and character-development surprisingly well.

One thing that changed in the story (from what I've heard) is that in this version it is told from Albert's point of view. I think that change works really well because Albert has no idea what the Count's motives or plans are, so it makes the Count seem that much more intriguing. In fact, the Count is probably one of the coolest characters that I have seen in an anime in a long time. He's smart, driven, and has a strong personality, but he's also sympathetic and it's easy to feel for his plight. He also has a strong impact on the younger characters.

It seemed like the characters were divided into two groups: the "children" and the "adults". At the beginning there is a huge social gap between them as the adults manipulate the lives of their children for their own political, financial, and personal interests. The Count is the one who empowers the kids and through him they learn to take control of their own lives. And that growth in maturity and youthful rebellion is something that is easy to sympathize with as well.

The ending of the show was great for the most part, even though there were a few parts that bothered me. For instance, one character gets a little too out-of-control in a way that seemed out of place with the rest of the story. Also, I was kind of confused as to how exactly the Count and Albert resolve everything in their last scene. But despite all that, I was really liked how everything wrapped up, especially in the last episode were it shows what happened with all the characters.

Of course, I don't think any review of this show can be justified unless there are heaps of praise for the incredible visuals. Gonzo used a very original technique that uses patterns instead of colors. So as a chracter moves the pattern on their clothes stays still. It's something that is always noticable, but is never distracting and actually enhances the feel of the story. Beyond that, the other computer generated backgrounds, structures, and vehicles had an impressive amounts of detail and color in the design. Suffice to say that there is a whole lot to look at in this show.

The music adds to the mood as much as the visuals. The opening and ending themes flip conventions by putting the slow song at the beginning an the up-beat song at the end. What I especially liked about the ending theme was that it flowed naturally from the ending of each episode and into the preview for the next. It worked so well infact that I think this may have been the first time I've watched the opening and ending and preview in every episode! The rest of the soundtrack sounds like it was taken from a 50's sword fighting movie, which is a nice touch.

I watched this show in it's original Japanese, and I really recommend because not only is the voice acting better but each episode gives a recap in French which I loved. For some reason though, the english dub just translates that part into english, which seems kind of stupid to me. But whatever.

This is one of the best shows I've seen in a long time and I was sorry to see it come to an end. Overall, I think almost anyone could watch this and enjoy it because it's a familiar well-thought-out story that has enough originality to keep it interesting, characters that are easy to identify with, and a never-ending supply of impressive visuals.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Viewing Journal: Aim for the Top 2! (complete)

Series Overview
(Not yet available in US)
Bittorrent Download

Overall= A
Story = A-
Video = A
Audio = B+


Well, after months of waiting for the complete release, and after finally watching the original Gunbuster, I finally got through all 6 episodes of the fantastically epic Gunbuster 2 / Aim for the Top 2 / Diebuster (title varies depending on who you ask). And man was this show ever sweet.

AFTT2 is fulfilling in just about every respect. It has great art, animation, characters, and story. The settings have a cool, bright, colorful sci-fi feel to them. And the characters each have an original and distinguishable design. The mech designs are simple and dynamic and just cool to watch. The Gunbuster mech themselves actually remind me a lot of the mech in Gad Guard: simple, cartoonish design, but unlike Gad Guard these mech follow through with some wild weaponry that make for intense, frantic, fast-paced, action sequences that are fun to watch.

The soundtrack plays a big part in upping the dramatic feel to the show, especially during the battle sequences. The opening intro is like a happy j-pop kind of thing. It's catchy and has a good beat (though that didn't stop me from skipping over it for some episodes).

Another thing that I love about both this show and it's predicessor is that they both start out deceivingly slow and simple, but then build up to an enourmous scope and intensity leading up to a god-like climax and end with a perfect final scene. But unlike a lot of other anime that try to do the same, this show has a lot of substance to back it all up. The characters, technical concepts, and plot all drive the thing home to a resounding conclusion. I'm still trying to figure out how they pack it all into just 6 episodes!

I think fans of the original Gunbuster will love this one. Of course it's not as good as the original, but it's still just so much fun to watch, and contains a lot of the visual and story elements that I always want to see in anime but can never seem to find in one place. And the ending is exactly what I was hoping it would be.

As a final extra little tidbit of info, Gainax announced a while ago that they are going to be showing a theatrical Gunbuster vs. Diebuster movie October 1. There won't be any new animation as far as I can tell. It's just going to compile all the anime from the two series into two movies that will be shown as a double feature. I'd love to see that! Check out the sweet poster and the Gainax website.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Viewing Journal: Godannar (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = B
Audio = C+


This is a giant robot show but not the brooding-teenager/psychological-symbolism kind of giant robot show. This is the kind that focuses more on heroics than teen angst -- the "I want to save the world because it's the right thing to do and because I want to protect people" kind of show. And it throws in an extremely generous portion of in-your-face fan service to boot.

You won't find any hard science fiction here. The character, costume, and robots are designed to be flamboyant and dramatic instead of practical and functional. The show aims to please its audience with a combination of fond nastalgia for shows like Voltron, but also by reveling in its own low-brow excesses.

The animation focuses on two visual themes: giant robots and giant breasts; and the staff seemed to concentrate equally on animating both. A show that relies on visual energy like this one can break-down quick with the animation quality. But luckily, the quality is relatively consistent throughout.

Your enjoyment of the show will probably depend how you interpret the fan service. If you think of it as satire then the joke will probably get old quick. But personally I interpreted it (rightly or wrongly) as the animators being intentionally obnoxious and just generally having fun with the animation -- like a running gag where they are testing how far they can take it. And for some reason I found that hilarious.

The story is fast-paced and high-energy at the beginning but slows down at about the midway point. That's when the characters get a little more serious as they try to get their lives and relationships in order. It concentrates a lot around the love triangle between Goh, Anna, and Mira. Goh is married to Anna, but only after he thought his previous love, Mira, was dead. But after Mira comes back to life it causes all kinds of awkward moments. I never really liked this story thread, mainly because I really didn't think any of them should be together -- Mira was like the pining mistress, and Anna was just too young for Goh (17 vs 30). It's hard to take much of this too seriously though, since the T&A is in plentiful supply throughout.

The last few episodes pick back up the pace and ends the series exactly how a show like this should end: with an over-the-top battle sequence, explosive climax, and satisfying resolution that wraps up most of the plot points while giving closure to all of the characters.

So in the end, I'm not sure I could call this a great series, but neither is it a bad one. Ultimately, you're not going to get any deep thematic value out of watching Godannar. But it has plenty of energy and can be fun to watch, and sometimes that's all I need.

Yet another Death Note 2 trailer


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Death Note starts today: trailer and review

It starts in Japan today. You can find a review and tons of screen shots at Memento. See the opening and ending animation and teaser trailer below.

Opening- The World:

Ending - Alluminia

Teaser trailer:

Viewing Journal: Samurai 7 (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

Overall= B+
Story = A-
Video = B
Audio = B-


Samurai 7 takes the story from the original Seven Samurai movie and wraps it in the guise of a futuristic steam-punk-like setting. It's set in a world where a skilled human samurai can face off on equal terms with a 15-story tall mechanized fortress/warriors called the Nobuseri. It's not the kind of thing you'd call realistic, but in order to enjoy this show I think you have to be able to look through the sci-fi facade and see original story beneith it. I think the setting is really just there to give the old story a new spin and make it fresh for a new audience. But when you get down to the heart of it the themes of maturity, experience, war, and sacrifice are all just as relevant.

The story itself revolves around a village that gets plundered annually by a group of bandits. In order to protect their crop, the villagers send out their "water priestess" Kirara to find and hire a group of warriors to fend off the bandits. It starts out kind of slow and takes its time to develop as the samruai are all gathered. It's like you know that the story is going to develop into something epic, but it's hard to see how at first. It's not until about the midway point -- where the magestrate's son Ukyo makes his status transition -- that the story finally starts to take off.

The slow development may be frustrating for those looking for strait-out action, but I really thought it helped set the mood. Plus it gives the anime a chance to flesh out the background and internal politics of the world. So when the action really does start rolling, you have a better understanding of why things happen the way they do.

The pacing also allows more time to establish the characters' personalities. So when they start to develop and mature the impact of their change is more dramatic. The best example of this is the novice samurai Katsushirou. He's young and naive and full of ideals about honor and romance. But as he journeys to fight the nobuseri and save the village he's faced with many harsh realities. He's ready to die for his cause, but it's when he's faced with the death of others and starts to understand the true price of war that his idealism turns to rage and things start to get ugly.

Other characters develop to varying degrees as well. The one character that really surprised me was Kikuchiyo. At first he just seemed like the stereotypical brash dim-whitted comic relief character, but eventually I really started to like the guy. He had a sense of the real world that the other characters lacked. And there was something about the english voice actor that played him that seemed to bring out a loud-but-honest quality that I grew to like.

The ending of the show was suitably climactic and brought satistfying closure to most all of the characters. There's success, but not without sacrifice. And some people may not like how the romantic relationship develop and end up, but to it's credit the story stays true to the theme of sacrifices made in war.

The animation quality varies through out the show. The CGI parts are consistently high-quality, but the 2-d animation ranges from excellent to average. Regardless though, GONZO did a good job of making the two mediums as seemless as possible. And the visual quality is never a distraction for the story.

The music was good and subtle enough to compliment the mood of the story.

So in the end I'd say this is definitely on my list of recommendations. Don't let the slow start fool you. If it wasn't for the fact that the show aired on IFC I might have never bothered to see it, but I'm definitely glad I did. I even bought the recently released Seven Samurai DVD, and I'm willing to bet that the anime will encourage other fans to follow suit.

On another somewhat distracting note, while watching the show I kept thinking that the plot sounded familiar somehow -- other than from the original movie. And just a few days ago it hit me: A Bug's Life. It has the same basic premise: a village hiring a group of warriors in order to protect them from bandits who annually plunder their crop. So I wonder if the Disney flick was influenced by the original Seven Samurai movie. Hmm... (Wikipedia says so, but that's far from gospel.)