The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oval X Over

OVAL X OVER is "a promotional video made by Production IG for the IRL's (Indy Racing League) Bridgestone Indy Japan 300". Animation by the same guy who did Dead Leaves. Unfotunately there's no translation, but I don't think you necessarily need it to enjoy . . . Though it sure would be nice.

Viewing Journal: Brave Story

Movie Overview
(Not yet released in US)
Bittorrent Download

Overall= C+
Story = C-
Video = A
Audio = A
When 11 year old Wataru's father leaves home and his mother is taken ill to hospital, he decides to change his fate by travelling through the door shown to him by his friend Mitsuru. In a land of magic and monsters, Wataru must summon all his courage and embark on a journey with several comrades to meet the Goddess of Destiny and change this "mistaken fate". (Source: ANN)


This movie has a pretty average "kid travels off to a fantasy world and has an adventure" type of story. But honestly, that's exactly what I was hoping it would be. I've always liked those kind of movies because they remind me of the fantasy adventure movies -- like Neverending Story -- that I watched when I was younger -- and still have a nostalgic fondness for.

And to its credit this movie does have some great fantasy elements. As the movie starts out, Wataru stumbles upon a door to another world called "Vision". He discovers that if he enters that world and completes a quest, he will be able to have one wish granted. So, after his mom falls ill, he decides that he will take up the journey in order to cure her. During this quest, he meets all kinds of odd creatures, fights monsters, and even gets to travel on the back of a flying dragon.

The problem is that the story is so rushed that it never gives the story enough time to develop the plot or characters. It introduces a character or story arc and then moves right on to the next thing without ever providing a natural transition from one event to another. For example, you see that Wataru's mom collapses but the movie never explains what her illness is. So throughout the movie I was actually wondering if she was sick at all. At another point, Wataru is in the world of Vision, and is imprisoned. He is subsequently released after his innocence is proven, and then, for no reason in particular, the woman who imprisoned him makes him an honorary "Highlander" (i.e., soldier of Vision). No explanation, she just does it out of the blue. As I was watching the movie I got the feeling that the writers knew exactly how much ground they wanted to cover and exactly how much time they had to do it, so they paced each scene accordingly, but provided only the bare minimum necessary to show each event or introduced each character. As a result the movie seems like the outline of a story instead of one that is fully realized.

The other thing that bothered me is that this is supposed to be a story about Wataru being brave in order to earn his wish, but it seemed to me that 9 times out of 10, whenever he was in trouble, it was someone or something else that saved him -- whether it was his sword (which appeared to act on its own at times) or his friends. But none of which had anything to do with his own bravery. So again, both plot-wise and theme-wise the movie failed to satisfy.


From a purely visual standpoint the movie is incredible. From the designs of the setting to the characters to the costumes, everything is simple, but also lush and colorful and just fun to look at. The designs of the large monsters and especially the dragons alone make this movie worth watching.


The soundtrack is exactly what I would want for a fantasy adventure movie. It is a full, booming, emotional track that could practically carry the movie all on its own.


So overall, I would say that this movie could have been great if it only dedicated more time to making a fully fleshed-out story and characters. But at the same time I have to give huge kudos to the incredible visuals and music, which are phenomenal.

Viewing Journal: Black Lagoon (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B+
Story = B+
Video = B
Audio = B+
Okajima Rokuro is a Japanese businessman…in a town full of Japanese businessmen. His normal day consists of social drinking with clients and being kicked around by his bosses. He finally gets a break though, as he’s sent by his company to the tropical seas of Eastern China to deliver a disc…only his boat gets hijacked by a band of mercenaries that were hired to steal it. “Rock” (as he is newly dubbed by his captors) catches the interest of the only female merc “Revy” as she thinks he’s worth a ransom, taking him hostage. However, the disc turns out to be more trouble than its worth, and complicates things both for Rock, and the mercenaries known as Black Lagoon. (Source: ANN)


The first thing that hit me about Black Lagoon is that everybody smokes. For some reason, even more than it's graphic violence, that me that hit me as being the biggest indicator that this was going to be a fun series with bad-ass characters. And as it turned out, that expectation was met and exceeded because this show was easy to watch with a cast of cool, strange, and violent characters that I looked forward to watching episode after episode.

The show is all about criminals doing jobs for other criminals in order to gain the upper hand on even more criminals. There are no real good guys. And the members of the mercenary group Black Lagoon only seems to be the good guys when taken in comparison to even worse characters, like say a group of neo-Nazis. But at other times it's like no one is really the good guy, because all the characters are equally tough, cool, criminally violent, and at times just plain a maid who is tough as nails and packs a umbrella with some serious fire power. Of course my personal favorite is Balalaika from the crime syndicate "Hotel Moscow", with half her face scarred and smoking that giant stogy, she is easily the coolist of the cast.

There is, of course, plenty of violence but it is the kind of violence where the characters are giddy and enjoy it so much, while at the same time being casual and matter-of-fact about it -- but without making the kind of corny, lame quips that you see heroes make in similar scenes in American movies -- that it's hard not to feel the adrenaline rush right along with them.

Another part of what makes the characters so enjoyable to watch is that they have multifaceted personalities. For instance, Dutch, the leader of Black Lagoon, is a tough fighter, but is intelligent and level-headed and has a gift for being able to read people. Another example is Revy, who has a mysterious past that partially explains why she is so violent and makes her all the more empathetic. And even though she seems to have fighting in her blood, she also seems to envy Rock's old life of normalcy. Rock, on the other hand, is constantly weighing that normalcy and morality against his involvement in the criminal activities of Black Lagoon. This causes a lot of arguments between Rock and Revy; but that conflict is also what causes Rock and Revy to develop such a deep connection. Rock's need to choose between those two lives is the driving force of the show and by the end Rock must make his final choice of whether to give himself over the the dark side or to return to his previous life.


The animation is top quality throughout. The character designs fit the character personalities. The weapons are detailed. And the overall art design is just solid.


The opening and closing animations are incredible. The opening animation really gets you into the mood with its blunt, violent, action-oriented attitude. And the closing animation... it threw me off at the end of just about every episode. It was so subtle and understated that the first time I saw it I wasn't sure if it was the end credits or a continuation of the episode. But it has with a such dark, mysterious tone that it's like ending each episode with a question mark.


So suffice to say that I really liked this show. In fact as the show reached its final episodes I was a bit anxious. Revy and Rock were developing their relationship and it was just so cool to watch that I just did not want it to end. Though I guess it's just as well that it did end on a good note for me. At least I have the memory.

The first season is available on DVD now, but the second half is in limbo since Geneon halted its distribution of anime. So you can obviously download, or you can just wait for some other company to pick up the second half. Either way, I definitely recommend this show if you enjoy anime with action, compelling characters, and plenty of attitude.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Viewing Journal: Death Note 1 & 2 (live action movies)

Movie Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = B-
Audio = B-

Yagami Light is a brilliant college student who, one day, finds a notebook simply titled "Death Note." Inside of this book is a list of rules and details as for the use of the "Death Note." When he realizes the power he holds, he decides he's going to make over the world. He wants to make it into a better place by killing those who do others harm. He has been nicknamed by the police "Kira." L, a brilliant detective who lives in secrecy, rises from the shadows and puts his life on the line trying to capture Light. Both L and Light believe themselves on the side of Justice, and the two match wits trying to show exactly which of them is "good" and which of them is "evil." (Source: ANN)

Have you ever watched a movie based on a book, and -- regardless of the quality of the movie -- had a hard time enjoying it because you were constantly comparing it to the source material? Well, that pretty much describes my experience watching the live action Death Note movies. That's probably because this is the first live action movie where I have both read the manga and seen the anime versions, so the story is so ingrained in my head that it's hard not to compare. But to be fair, I'm going to at least try to review it from both the perspective of someone who is coming into it fresh, and someone who has previously experienced the story. So here goes.

One good thing for newcomers is that this is a re-telling of the Death Note story so you won't need any previous experience to understand it. Essentially it revolves around a notebook which will kill anyone whose name is written in its pages. The notebook was previously owned by a Death God named Ryuk who dropped it in the human world just to see what would happen. The notebook is picked up by a genius college student named Light who decides to use the notebook's powers to rid the world of criminals. The UN, having recognized the unnatural number of deaths occurring within the world's prisons, decides to hire internationally renowned detective L to uncover the murderer's identity. A battle of wits between Light and L commences, each trying to protect their identity from the other.

I think that regardless of the medium in which you experience the story, the initial draw remains the same -- that being the whole concept of the Death Note as being an easy and discreet way to kill anyone you choose provided you know their name. What would you do if you had that kind of power? That's the question the viewer starts to ask himself and what sparks curiosity. And then, when you find out that Light is going to use it to kill "bad" people, you have to ask whether or not that action is justifiable, and that moral quandary sparks all the more curiosity. Then you are introduced to the master detective L, and you wonder how it would ever be possible to uncover the identity of someone who had possession of such a covert killing power. And when you see L's genius at work the question becomes how is Light going to keep himself from being uncovered. And that's when it really draws you in.

Then there are the characters themselves. First there's Light. Watching him as he his well meaning intentions are corrupted by the power of the notebook is part of what makes the story so fascinating. And L, with his quirky and unexpected mannerisms, is far from you standard Sherlock Holmes type of detective, making him as much amusing as he is ingenious. And the dynamic between the two -- each believing he are on the side of justice -- is the clincher that completely draws you in.

That's pretty much how the fascination with the story works for any of Death Note's various incarnations. But there are a few things that makes the movies different from the others -- some of which may or may not improve the story depending on your thoughts about the originals.

There are a few complaints that some readers of the manga had with that version, and most all of them came about whenever the L/Light dynamic was interrupted. First there was the whole Yotsuba Group arc where L and Light worked together to get the Death Note away from a group of corporate big-wigs. Another time was at the manga's half-way point, when L was replaced entirely by Near and Mello. The Yotsuba arc is still in the movie, but it is compressed and instead of eight businessmen it involves one woman -- the TV anchorwoman Saeko Nishiyama. And Near and Mello never show up -- it's Light and L all the way to the end which fans should be pleased with.

The major change that fans' reactions will vary for is the addition of Shiori Akino -- Light's girlfriend. I wasn't quite sure what to make of her at first, and originally thought she was just there to act as someone for Light to debate with over the ethics of killing criminals. But as it turns out she plays a much more significant role at the end of the first movie, and acts to illustrate just how far Light has fallen.

Another thing that fans may or may not care about is that there is no internal monologue in the movie like there was in the manga. I personally thought that was the biggest detriment to the movie since, in the manga, I enjoyed seeing how the characters reasoned out their actions. Plus seeing their reasoning added a lot to the suspense. I also think the absense of the thought process detracted from Light's character because without it, he seemed less intelligent and more like he was just purely evil.

I'm sure fans are also wondering how well the actors play those all-so familiar characters. To me the best acting was performed by Light's dad and L. Ken'ichi Matsuyama who played L had the mannerisms down as well as any actor could. From the way he held the cell-phone to eating the candy bars, you can tell he put a lot of effort into studying the source material. (Although, seeing L eat so many sweet in live action is a lot more nausiating. And what that stuff he's eating near the end?! Liquid sugar?) Takeshi Kaga also did a good job as Light's dad playing the stern, focused, dedicated cop who also wants the best for his family. I was less impressed by Tatsuya Fujiwara who played Light. His acting just seemed wooden because he seldom changed his expression. Maybe that was intentional in order to show that Light was hiding something, but it just didn't work very well. A few of the other actors had just the opposite problem, they over-acted. The worst example was with the heart attack victims. Now, I have never actually seen someone have a heart-attack, but the way they portrayed it in the movie was just so over-the-top that I couldn't take it seriously.

Of course the other character in question is the Shinigami Ryuk. How did he do as a CG animation? The results varied between movies. In the first movie he looked okay as long as he didn't move much. But as soon as he starts laughing in the first scene, the animation looked so jerky as to seem amateurish. The second movie improves on the CG quality a lot, especially with the introduction of the new Shinigami Rem.

I actually didn't notice much for the movies' soundtrack. The only thing that I did notice is that the theme song is Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It sounds cool in the trailer, but to me it didn't seem to fit in the movie.

So I'm not sure if this review helped to either show my own opinion of these movies or help determine whether you would be interested in them. At the end of the second movie my thought was something like, "That was kind of okay, but the anime and manga were so much better." I think I'd have to watch the movies a second time -- when my preconceptions are out of the way -- to get better grasp on what I think. But that probably won't happen.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Viewing Journal: Death Note (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

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


Yagami Light is an ace student with great prospects, who's bored out of his mind. One day he finds the "Death Note": a notebook from the realm of the Death Gods, with the power to kill people in any way he desires. With the Death Note in hand, Light decides to create his perfect world, without crime or criminals. However, when criminals start dropping dead one by one, the authorites send the legendary detective L to track down the killer, and a battle of wits, deception and logic ensues... (Source: ANN)

I can hardly see much point in writing a review for this show. Part of that is because Death Note has gotten so popular that I think most anime fans have made up their mind about it. The other reason is that I read the manga before the anime came out, and since the two versions follow almost the exact same storyline, any review I could muster up would essentially be a reiteration of my review of the manga with the added commentary that the anime has a darker gothic tone, is occasionally more melodramatic, and has high quality animation; but both versions are resounding successes.

So in lieu of being so redundant, I thought it might be fun to instead make a list of some of the most surprising story elements (to me anyway) from the manga (They would be mostly the same in the anime, but that at point they obviously weren't a surprise to me anymore), as well as a list of some of the unexpected (though not always better) alterations/additions in the anime. Warning: Spoilers abound here, so if you have not finished either version, you best stop reading now. Otherwise, here goes:

Stuff that surprised me in the manga

Ryuk's design: It's not the usual cloak and sickle reaper that you'd expect. Ryuk -- as well as all the other Shinigami -- each have original, weird, and demonic designs. And at the same time they have such snappy dialogue!

The number of the rules of the Death Note: One rule after another after another. Some seemed more necessary than others, but the level of detail that the author went to to cover every possible scenario was incredible.

Light hides the notebook: It's in the drawer, but no, it's under the drawer, and if you don't open it just so the whole house may burn down. What?? I think that's the point where I just started realizing that this would be something different.

L pinpoints Light's location: If that scene doesn't hook readers, I don't know what will.

L and Light working together: Handcuffs anyone?

Misa's appearance: What a moron! Lucky for Light she was willing to pretty much be his Death-Note-whore for most of the story.

Light imprisoned: I really thought that the story would end there. But no, that's just the quarter-way point.

Watari shoots Higuchi: That whole Yotsuba Group storyline had me worried until I saw Watari nail the guy pinpoint on the hand from a helicoptor with a sniper rifle. Yee Haw!

Light kills Rem, Watari, and L: PWND defined.

That contraption that Mello uses to get the Death Note: Most of Near/Mello story arc was less impressive than the part with L in terms of the characters, but was still just as good from a strategy standpoint. Most notable is that contraption that Mello used to get the Death Note from the police in exchange for Light's sister. Impressive.

Mello's death: It happened so suddenly and without fanfare that I wanted to shake the book and say, "Hey, wake up! You can't really be dead."

Final scene with Light and Ryuk: The look Ryuk gives Light... Bone-chilling.

Surprising changes in the anime

English voice actors: I caught a few episode in of the English version on Adult Swim. Not totally horrible, but not particularly good either. Of course on the plus side, it does give us that classic line: "I'll take a potato chip... and EAT IT!".

Ryuk's dark laugh: No more goofy "hyuk hyuk", but instead a dark ominous chuckle.

Motorcycle-guy gets creamed: It's the same scene as in the manga, but the way it was done in the anime still made me jump a little.

Light writing in the Death Note: Let's hear it for cool shaky-camera effects!

That scene between L and Light just before L dies: Borderline yaoi material.

Light's sudden mood change in the end: The melodrama in the anime worked against it in this scene. The same scene in the manga was a bit unnatural but more acceptable because it was more subtle. In the anime it just seems totally forced.

The final scene between Light and Ryuk: The manga's version worked for the manga, and the anime's version worked just as well for the anime -- but in a different way.

Well, that was a lot of fun. Maybe I should do that kind of thing more often.

Anyway, if you want more Death Note goodness, there are two live action movies (review coming soon) and prequel spin-off. Plus I heard a few of the TV episodes were rebroadcast with some extra scenes. The live action movies will hit US DVD soon. Not sure about the re-cut TV episodes though.