The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Viewing Journal: Pumpkin Scissors (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= D+
Story = D
Video = C
Audio = C


After a long war with the Republic of Frost, the Empire abruptly signs a cease-fire, ending the war. Three years later, the Empire is in ruins with starvation and plague. Former soldiers have become bandits. Former Anti-Tank Trooper, Randel Orlando, unexpectedly runs into and joins the Pumpkin Scissors platoon, an Imperial Army relief effort led by Alice L. Malvin to restore order to the war-torn Empire. (Source: ANN)

The first few episodes of Pumpkin Scissors seem promising. It takes place in the aftermath of a war where a small band of soldiers is trying to protect the commoners from the corruption and abuse of the upper class. The group includes a gentle-giant with a mysterious origin who turns into a ruthless killer whenever he lights is blue lantern. There is a driven noble woman who goes against her family's wishes in order to work for the common people. There are all kinds of ironic characters, relatable themes, and intriguing mysteries that should have made for a compelling series. But it ends up either not cashing in on this potential, or cashing in too much, or waiting to cash in until just before the series ends.

Let's start with the "Anti-Tank Trooper" Randel Orlando. In the beginning, this is the character that makes you sit back and say, "This is going to be such an awesome show." He's huge with a scarred face and lives under a bridge with the other homeless people. He's kind with a quiet, gentle demeanor; but when he lights up the lantern that hangs on his hip, his eyes go blank, he pulls out his gun and nothing -- not even a tank -- can stop him from taking out his target. Power, compassion, and mystery all come together with this guy. So what happened?

First of all, the show never delves into Orlando's past. We learn that there is this scientist lady who apparently made him the way he is. We also learn the reason behind why he was created -- that being to wield the large anti-tank gun that can only be affective against a tank at close range; thus the person using the gun had to have no fear of death. But we never learn the specific past of Orlando himself. Where did he originally come from? Why was he specifically chosen to be an Anti-Tank Trooper? What kind of brain washing had to take place to make that possible? And of course, I couldn't help but think that there was a greater conspiracy behind it all. For instance, why would Orlando be sent to the Pumpkin Scissors unit in the first place? There had to be a story behind that, but we never learn what it is.

The other thing about Orlando is that he lights his craziness-lantern way too much. In every single episode for most of the series, that is how the Pumpkin Scissors unit gets out of a jam. That tank coming after you? Light the lantern. Guys coming at you with guns? Light the lantern. Kitten stuck in a tree? Light the lantern. After a while it lost it's meaning and intensity because it became predictable and seemed like overkill for most of the situations.

The other character that has a lot of potential is Alice. She is just the opposite of Orlando. She is outgoing and aggressive, but lives with her well-to-do noble family. And just like Orlando, she has her own set of mysteries that never pan out. These mysteries mostly have to do with her fiance.. what's-his-name. He is all suave and easy-going, but he is obviously just using her for some scheme of his own, but we never lean what that is.

I think that overall the reason this show is such a disappointment is because I was expecting all this character development and unraveling conspiracies over a long story. But about three quarters or of the show involve stand alone episodes that do not contribute to any grander story arc. So you never get the feeling of the story progressing or the scope of the story growing. And when we do finally get a string of episodes that show potential for a larger story, the series suddenly ends and we wind up with all kinds of loose strings.

The animation does not even make the show worth watching. The first few episodes have some quality animation, but after that it ranges from average to poor.

So I can not recommend this show at all. It has a lot of poential but nothing develops to any satisfactory degree.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Viewing Journal: Bleach (episodes 121-143)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

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


As quickly as the battle between the Soul Reapers and Arrancars began, it comes to an end. Having learned that Aizen and the Arrancars are planning initiate a large-scale attack on the world of the living, the Soul Society orders the Soul Reapers to begin preparing for the battle. In the meantime, Ichigo meets up with the Vizards in order to learn to control his Hollow-side, and Chad and Uryu go through their own training. To the Soul Reapers' surprise the Arrancars attack early and again leave unexpectedly, but not before convincing Orihime to come with them back to the world of the Hollows...
I've been following this series for a while now; so I thought this might be a good time to look back and see if the show is still as good as it was when it began. When I started watching Bleach, I loved it for its character development; balance of action, comedy, and drama; and the way that the characters would analyze each others' fighting styles. So how does this season compare to the first?

To start, in these episodes we do learn more about the different characters. Specifically we learn that the Soul Reapers have some kind of limit on their power when they are in the world of the living, which they then are able to remove provided they get the proper permissions. Then we have the bald Ikkaku Madarame, who reveals that he really isn't allowed to use his bankai because it's too powerful (or something like that). There isn't quite the exploration of characters' backgrounds as there has been in previous episodes, but at least there's some degree of character development.

As for the battles, they can be intense as each character reveals new fighting techniques and increases their levels of power, but there isn't as much analysis of technique and strategy as there was in earlier episodes. This is disappointing because as much as I like to see intense fighting, seeing the mental side of the battle makes them more engrossing.

Although there is still action, comedy, and drama in this show; it isn't as balanced as it was when the show started. Now an entire episode might be dedicated to either action, comedy, or drama, but you don't see all of them all together as much. I was even getting worrie because for a good while there was a lot of action but not a lot of drama. But then the whole part about Orihime getting kidnapped came up and totally got me excited about the show again.

For the filler episodes there was some good and some bad episodes. The first filler arc dealing with the brother trying to save his sister from the Arrancar was dull. But then there is a series of stand-alone episodes that ended up being the best filler yet. They are more character-focused and if you don't like the story in one, you don't have to deal with it for more that one episode. The final filler story about the rebel Arrancars surprised me because I originally through it was part of the regular storyline. The character designs and quality of the story had me convinced and it wasn't until I looked it up online that I realized it was filler.

On a final note, I'll say that Ichigo's dad does show up as his Soul Reaper self near the end of this collection of episodes. I know I said in my last review that I was wondering what ever happened to him, so I thought I'd mention that.

So overall this is a nice mix of episode of varying quality, and includes both filler and regular episodes. Even though it isn't as good as the first season, the last few episodes re-ignited my excitement for the series. Hopefully the next set of episodes can justify that excitement.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Viewing Journal: Sky Crawlers

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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


The story unfolds in another 'possible' modern age. The main characters are youngsters called "Kildren", who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence. The Kildren are conscious that every day could be the last, because they fight a "war as entertainment" organized and operated by adults. But as they embrace the reality they are faced with, they live their day-to-day lives to the full. (Source: ANN)
It's hard for appreciate a Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Avalon) film the first time through. His movies are filled with weighty silence and philosophical characters and deep themes; and usually it's hard for me to understand what it's all about, especially when all I want and expect is something entertaining. Sky Crawlers is no exception to the rule. Sure, it's more accessible that some of Oshii's recent work, but that's mainly because it has some visually dynamic, intense, and innovative aerial battle sequences and the relatively smooth and detailed character animation. But when it comes to the rest of the story there is still that deep, moody character interaction. Usually it takes me a couple of viewings to fully appreciate it and pick up on the subtleties and story details I might have missed the first time around (although I'm not sure I'll get that chance).

But putting aside the thematic depth or dark mood of the movie, I think the story suffered a bit due to its lack of explanation for some key plot elements. For example, the movie the pilots talk about this unbeatable enemy pilot called "Teacher," but no further explanation of "Teacher" is provided. And then, near the end of the movie we are told that the pilots are eternally young and are created purely for the purpose of taking part in battle. But I can't help but think that there might have been greater opportunity for dramatic impact if I had known that closer to the beginning of the movie.

So in the end, this is probably among the more accessible movies that Oshii has made, and it is certainly praiseworthy for its mood-building and action sequences. But the story itself, while full of meaning (I think), suffered from either misplaced or a complete lack of plot explanation -- although, maybe that was the point.