Friday, February 26, 2010

Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic (2010) review: Blazes a trail of Blood, Guts and fiery passion.

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Deeper than most video game anime, thought provoking tale about repentence and forgiveness, perfect cast with extraordinary voice acting, non-stop bloody action, extremely powerful first half

The Bad: convoluted narrative, inconsistent visual styles, weak second half,

Current Availability Status: Edited version available in an DVD store


Would you traverse the fiery pits of hell and face down the devil himself to save the soul of an innocent loved one? But what if you found out that another's suffering were caused by your own misdeeds? Dante's Inferno, an anime movie adapted from the video game(itself inspired by the classic "Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri) chronicles the epic journey of the titular troubled Knight, a veteran of the Bloody Christian Crusade, who returns home to find his wife murdered and her soul spirited away by the devil Lucifer. Claiming to have been steadfast in his faith and his love for his wife, Beatrice, Dante travels through the nine levels of Hell, guided by the spirit of Virgil the poet, to challenge all sorts of horrors beyond imagination just to return her to salvation. But perhaps the greatest horror lies within Dante himself and the sins of his past that he so vehemently denies.

Like most anime adapted from video games, the story is a straight forward one for which its only purpose is to conveniently propel Dante from one level of Hell to the next; Seven levels named after the seven deadly christian sins, each level of Hell has its own blade fodder troops and "stage boss". Throughout the linear and somewhat simplistic main story, the more intriguing back-story is fleshed out in flashbacks. It seemed that Lucifer challenged Beatrice to a bet that Dante would never betray her trust or fall into sin while he was away fighting the war. Naturally The pure-hearted Beatrice, so full of faith in her husband, accepted that bet with her soul as the prize. As the show progresses and as Dante gets nearer to his goal, Lucifer delights in utterly shattering Beatrice's faith first in God, then in mankind and ultimately in her husband who's sinful past deeds ,stitched to his chest in the form of a blood red cross, indirectly led to her tragic death and damnation.

Animated by 5 animation studios and 6 directors, Dante's Inferno no doubt suffers from some inconsistency. The first half of the film generally displays top notch quality that stands toe to toe with the best anime movies in the market. From Film Roman's exceedingly fluid prologue to Manglobe's richly detailed gothic artwork and then to Dong Woo Animation's comic book styled portrayal of the characters, all of it done with meticulous professionalism that brings out the nightmarish feel of the underworld. Sadly the work by JM Animation and Production I.G (yes the same production I.G that made Ghost in the Shell and Sky Crawlers) leave much to be desired in the second half of the film. Either it is fluid highly stylised animation but artwork that is low in detail, or beautifully detailed art with stiff character movements. Even the mouth movements are not synced to the dialogue.
*For a more in-depth analysis of the animation styles, scroll all the way down*

Where the technical aspects start to falter as the film progresses, the narrative and script never lets up. The main characters are fully developed and easy to relate to supplemented by some of the finest voice acting to ever bless the animation scene. Graham McTavish is perfect in his debut role as our tragic hero Dante effectively conveying his anguish, desperation and inner turmoil. His powerful yet nuanced performance complements the rest of the cast with Vebessa Branch(Commander Zhanna from the game Red Alert 3) as Beatrice, Peter Jessop(Wesker in Resident Evil) as Virgil, Steve Blum(Wolverine from "Wolverine and the X-men") as Lucifer and Mark Hamil(Star Wars) as the narrator all delivering some of the most splendid voice work ever.

Anime from video games, much less so an anime movie, tend to favor "true-to-the-game" style action and characterisation over any other deeper themes. Not the case here. Dante's Inferno weaves in a heartwrenching tale about faith, forgiveness and redemption. It tells a cautionary allergory about how the sinful would use their religion as a shield to mask their hypocrisy and everything that goes around comes around, something like karma. In the end, you might even say it tries to impart a couple of very christian values especially in the way that Dante overcomes his ultimate foe at the film's climax.

Not many may appreciate the unnecessarily convoluted narrative which keeps flashing back and forth from past to present and back again, or the inconsistent visual styles. The characters tend to fall into hero/damsel/villain/hero's guide stereotypes even though the stellar voice cast play their roles with such burning passion. On first viewing, Dante's Inferno may satisfy fans of violent horror anime like Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust or Hellsing. The bloody action never fails to please though the more conservative types may be put off by the religious musings and some sexually graphic visuals (that level is not called "Lust" for nothing). It might seem like all style over substance at first but if one were to read in between the lines, Dante's Inferno thought provoking tale that delves deeper than your average video game anime.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see a competent animated adaptation of a popular video game that manages to surpass the quality of its source material
Avoid it: if you are easily turned off by extreme violence, nudity and/or feel uncomfortable with religious themes.

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Characters: A
Animation: B-(on average)
Art: B-(on average)
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": A-

*fan rant/in depth analysis of the animation styles*

Film roman's work opens the movie and where it lacks in artistic detail, it makes up for it by having the most fluid character movements in the whole film. Designs maintain the simpler contemporary western animation style similar to other Direct-to-Video animated movies like Planet Hulk yet preserves the game's dark gritty setting. Some CGI is used for certain objects like the gates of hell but they blend in perfectly with the 2D animation.

"Sweet Mother of Jehosephat! I'm about to lose my lunch........"
Upon entering the level of Limbo, Studio Manglobe(famous for their work on Samurai Champloo) takes over animation with director Shukou Murase (whose works include animation design for Gundam Wing and directing the anime series Ergo Proxy) at the helm. Dante in this segment is the closest to looking like a real person. Boasting the most incredible amount of art detail, a nightmarish Gothic feel and great looking character designs, Manglobe's segment is impressive to behold. No small cutesy characters, big kawaii eyes or bright cheery colors that so many Japanese productions suffer from.

"You will regret it if you ever 'cross' me"
From gritty Gothic the show transits to the amazing animated visuals of Dong Woo Animation (justice League Unlimited, Masters of the Universe 2002) and director Jong Sik-Nam(Batman Gotham Knight: Deadshot). Balancing beautiful artwork with slick animation, a leaner meaner Dante slashes through the levels of "Lust", "Gluttony" and "Anger" which are rendered in a stylish American graphic novel look not unlike 2009's "Tales of the Black Freighter" from Warner. Dante himself is now a tall, lanky man with almost androgynous features and long wavy hair, almost like an anime "pretty boy" or bishonen. Sadly from here on, the animation takes a slow dive in quality.

"Me Hulk no sissy boy! Me Hulk am STRAIGHT!!!
JM animation handles the next 2 segments and one thing they can never get right is the mouth movements of characters. The first segment, taking place in the level of "Violence", boasts a buff, muscular Dante and a stylized design more suited for a Saturday morning action anime than a dark gritty horror piece.

"Yes. For the last time, I DID lose weight. I've been through hell for heaven sakes!"
This is followed by the level of "Fraud", supposedly the start of the film's climax. But by now, Dante's look has changed for the worse again. Now he's a scrawny, bald headed islander looking like he came from the land of the "Orang Laut"(a brown skinned south east asian society).

"That's MISTER tubby to you!"
Lastly, Dante's Inferno animation goes out with a sad fizzle thanks to a sub-par rush job by Production I.G. It boggles the mind how the studio responsible for Ghost in The Shell, Sky Crawlers and other beautifully animated productions could turn up such a thing. The final showdown with Lucifer is an appropriate closure for Dante's spiritual journey but the animation presented is only mediocre, the artwork simplistic and the character designs, laughable. Dante is now a disproportionately wide oaf who looks more fat than muscular, easily conjuring up memories of sumo wrestlers, and Lucifer himself conjures up memories of some lost Digimon. The film would have definitely benefitted from a consistent visual style or maybe just getting one animation studio to do the entire movie.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Halo Legends (2010) review: Diversity over quality

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Expands the rich Halo game universe, offers fresh new takes on existing stories, manages to capture the look and feel of the Halo games, excellent English voice acting

The Bad: Lack of coherance, wildly varying story styles that may not appeal to all, wildly varying art styles, the japanese voice acting

Current Availability Status: Pending DVD release locally. USA region 1 DVDs and blu ray Widely available

DVD features:
- The Making of Halo Legends - An introduction to Halo Legends followed by a making-of segment for each episode.
-Halo: Gaming Evolved - Explaining the Halo phenomenon from its inception as an Xbox video game to a present day entertainment franchise.
-Audio Commentary with directors Frank O'Connor and Joseph Chou
Halo Legends is an anime anthology series in a similar vein to "Animatrix" and "Batman: Gotham Knight". It consists of 8(but actually 7 since two of them are just parts 1 and 2 of the same story) short animated stories that explores areas of the rich Halo game universe which were previously only the stuff of rumors. Different anime studios and directors worked on each segment as as such, the quality of both the stories and the animation varies a lot from one clip to the next. Some for the better, others less so. For convenience sake, each segment will be reviewed individually.

The first segment is the two parter "Origins" story. In part one, a very hot looking anime Cortana (a holographic Artificial intelligence construct) narrates the tragic tale of the ancient race that built the titular "Halo" worlds, The Forerunners, and their cataclysmic clash with the "flood"(a race of parasitic creatures that feed on intelligent lifeforms). Part 2 details the war torn history of mankind, their initial encounter with the Covenant right up to the events of the 3 main Halo games. Directed by Hideki Futamura(director of "Genius Party" Key animator of Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust) with animation produced by Studio 4C(Transformers Animated, Spriggan) we finally get to see a coherent fleshing out of the game's historical back-story. The artwork is top notch; characters are rich in detail yet nicely blended with some of the best looking CGI backgrounds and vehicles. From a cartoony 1980s minimalist style used to visualize the ancient history of the Forerunners, the design slowly evolves to its full 2010 animation glory by the end of the segment. But beauty does come at a cost. Many scenes of the 2D characters have all the fluidity of a power-point presentation in which the camera just pans over stiff or still pictures of 2D characters while Cortana narrates. Special commendation goes to the running theme about mankind's war-like nature where Cortana tries to wax in some philosophy; great bit of writing there. Also to the choice of using the original music from the Halo games.
The third segment titled "The Duel", might be the most misunderstood segment of all. It is a tale of a Covenant Arbiter named Fal who fears that the Covenant's ways are dishonorable and would lead his people to their doom. The prophet uses this to accuse him of heresy and has Fal's wife killed in order to lure him to his death. Boasting a graphic style reminiscent of classic Japanese watercolor paintings courtesy of Production I.G (Ghost in The Shell: Innocence, IGPX), it is easy to put off the stylized looking CGI as bad animation. But Judging from the style of the story, the themes of honor and betrayal, the production design such as the costumes worn by the characters and even the traditional woodwind music, it is safe to assume that the directors, Hiroshi Yamazaki and Mamoru Oshii(Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawlers) intended this to be a homage to traditional Japanese folk tales and art. It really is refleshing to see an anime studio experimenting with a new unique visual style. On a side note, this is the only segment where it is recommended to be watched with the japanese audio track. It gives a more genuine experience of what the director is trying to convey.
Production IG returns to a more mainstream anime design in "Homecoming", the 4th segment directed by Koichi Mashimo(Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and .Hack//Roots). The main character is a SPARTAN II soldier named Daisy 23. While the story takes place during a mission in present day, flashbacks reveal the sad origin of the SPARTAN program where children are kidnapped to be surgically augmented and trained to be super soldiers. The flashbacks tell the tale of a failed escape attempt by Daisy and some other trainees and how she finally comes to terms with her role in the coming war. Even more unoriginal than the previous segment, Homecoming tries to tug on the heartstrings but ends up a mildly boring, cliche ridden mess. The flat 2D art and uninspired character designs clash badly with the beautiful backgrounds. Whats more, the tough SPARTAN soldiers are portrayed as angsty emo teenagers. Coupled with an utterly predictable ending, this is One of the weakest entries in the whole movie. Yikes. At least the english voice of Daisy sounds like a tough woman soldier with a soft spot, the japanese voice track actually makes her sound a kawaii schoolgirl.

Number 5 on the list is "Odd One Out" and that title not only describes the main character SPARTAN 1337 but the entire segment itself. While other clips focus on dark gritty war stories, Odd one Out focuses more on lighthearted slapstick comedy. It is no surprise that director Daisuke Nishio, who also directed the Dragonball anime, would imbue this with all the staples of those long running Shonen action series. Exaggerated hand to hand combat, quirky characters, super powered kids, cheesy dialog. Even the flaws like repeated scenes and inconsistent animation is present here with characters constantly being drawn off-model during the combat scenes. Everything is rendered in a bright cheery color palette that further enhances the shonen jump feel. Odd one Out is a fun ride but it seems more for anime fans. At best, Halo fans might be mildly amused at this odd little entry, at worst this would be regarded as downright insulting to the very name of Halo. In the end, this one serves no other purpose than to be a parody Halo with bad tastes.
"Prototype" by Studio Bones(Rahxephon, Wolf's Rain) blends Halo with another typically Japanese anime genre: Mecha. Directed by Tomoki Kyoda of "Eureka 7" fame and new comer Yasushi Muraki, Prototype is basically like a short Gundam episode. "Ghost" is a platoon sergeant with a kind heart who suppresses his feelings and his humanity in order to stem the pain he feels about the loss of his comrades 3 years ago. Now On the Planet Algolis, the "Cole Protocol"(something only a die hard Halo fan would know about) has been enacted but Ghost steals the experimental "Mobile suit" that he was supposed to destroy and uses it against the covenant in an attempt to buy time for the evacuation. Imagine Gundam Wing's Trowa or Heero or any other emotion suppressing(see: pretending to be badass) anime protagonist as a Halo marine. That is Ghost. Despite the outright plagiarism of Gundam, "Prototype" is a heart-wrenching little anecdote about the effects of war from the perspective of the frontline soldier and boasts some excellent animation that hardly relies on CGI.
Studio 4C returns in the 7th segment to animate "The babysitter". Not only is this little story one of the weakest in terms of narrative but in the animation too. The story does not have the emotional impact of the previous ones and only serves as a reminder for the Halo fans that the production team has not forgotten about the Helljumpers from "Halo: ODST". Toshiyuki Kanno's animation is flatly colored and clashes with the detailed CGI backgrounds. Character movements are painfully stiff except for one or two shots.
Had enough anime for one sitting? No sweat. Halo Legends ends off with the fully CGI "The Package" by Casio Entertainment and directed by Appleseed's Shinji Aramaki. This one is for the fans of the game as it looks just like one of the in-game cinematic cut-scenes. For the only time in the whole anthology do we finally get to see Master Chief 117 in action. First, an amazing scene of space combat that rivals even Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Then all out Guns-a-blazing action as Master Chief and a team of Spartans attempt to retrieve the titular package "John Woo" style. So many little easter eggs including a short FPS sequence and an important cameo appearance, easily make this segment a fan favorite for sure. Probably as an apology to Halo game fans for the anime styled story liberties the other segments took.

Overall, the whole production plays the "diversity over quality" card. Unlike other anime anthology films like "Animatrix" and "Batman Gotham Knight", Halo Legends suffers from a lack of creative direction. Each segment goes its own way leading to a very non-cohesive viewing experience. There is something for everyone to enjoy but at the same time, there is something for everyone to criticise and hate. Half the clips appeal to the game fans but might not impress anime viewers, while the other half would enthrall even the most casual viewer of anime but put off the hardcore Halo fans. It also requires viewers to be well versed in at least the most basic of Halo jargon but that is covered in one of the DVD's extra features. A Curious little piece but not quite essential viewing for either anime or halo fans.

*****************************Review End******************
Go For it: if you want to see various interpretations of stories, both old and new, set in the Halo universe.
Avoid it: if you are very particular of the kind of style of anime you like to watch or if you are a hardcore Halo fan who believes that anything different from the games' cinematics is sacrilegious

Entertainment: A-
Story: B- (on average)
Characters: B+
Animation: B(varies from segment to segment, but this is on average)
Art: B-(varies from segment to segment, but this is on average)
Voice work: A-(english), C(japanese)
Replay Value: A
"Brains": C


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Speed Racer (2008) Review: Fires on all Cylinders but may leave casual viewers in the dust

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Childlike nostalgia, great fun, revolutionary visuals, heart warming character drama, deeper anti-corporate message, faithful to the original show that inspired the movie, great fun for the whole family.

The Bad: "Childlike"-ness may put off viewers expecting something more serious, simplistic story, flashbacks may distract viewers

Current Availability Status: On DVD in most stores at discount prices

DVD features:
- Spritle in the big leagues: child actor Paulie Litt gives a tour of the movie set
- Speed Racer Supercharged: featurette about he characters, cars and racetracks

DVD value for money grade: C

The original 1960s anime "Speed Racer" was never a big hit here in Singapore. Anyone with the faintest memory of that old series might remember the intriguing stories and intense high speed races. However they might not remember The crappy animation, the over the top acting, campy dialogue lines, and the one-dimensional portrayal of the characters. It was a kids' anime, aimed squarely at the same crowd that watches Fintstones or Jetsons. The Wachowski Brothers (same guys who created The Matrix) were very aware of the anime's juvenile tone and only tried to preserve it. However, thanks to a flawed marketing campaign, people expected another "Matrix" or "V for Vendetta", not a heart warming family centered underdog story that Speed Racer is.

The story is Pure nostalgia; simple enough to follow and aimed squarely at everyone's inner 12 year old. In a sci/fi alternate future, extreme formula 1 racing is all the rage and big multi national companies are hoping to profit from the popularity of the races through the famouse "World Racing League"(WRL). For years, Pops Racer has run his humble family owned car buisness with his wife and his sons, Rex and Speed. Young Speed practically hero worships his elder brother who has won much acclaim for the family name through winning races in his car, the Mach 5. But one day tragedy strikes and Rex perishes during a cross country rally due to suspected foul play. The family is shattered but they manage to pull through together as young Speed trains to become a driver just as good as his dear departed brother. Years later, Speed Racer's gift for racing has won the attention of the insidious "Royalton industries", a Corporate conglomorate interested only in profiting from racing. Though Speed politely refuses their offer to buy out the family buisness, Royalton lays down the ultimtum: either join us or be forever ruined. A clash of values and a startling revelation of a hidden race fixing conspiracy within the WRL sets the Racer family on another run in with tragedy. But this time help appears in the form of the mysterious Racer X who offers the family a chance to not only win back their reputation but to blow the WRL conspiracy wide open nad bring the coporate moguls behind the race fixing to justice.

The first thing anyone would notice about Speed Racer would be the adrenaline pumping races and astounding visuals. Everything is pure eye candy right out of a child's colorful imagination. Gravity defying stunts, rapid drift spins and car against car action set against the backdrop of a lively rainbow colored future world. The film definitely looks the part of a live action anime thanks to the Wachowski brothers' dynamic filming technique. Little anime-styled touches like freeze frames, slo-mo cuts to close ups and superimposing of talking heads into the action further emphasises the amount of respect the directors had for the source material.

That same respect translates into the story which never tries to be any more complicated than the saturday morning cartoon it is based on. But wait, dig deeper in between the lines and the you will see that the Wachowski's have added a hidden level of complexity to this film Not wanting to exclude the older crowd, the Wachowski brothers have blended in some thought provoking themes and heart warming drama into the narrative. Simple, everyday moral teachings like family togetherness, brotherly love and sticking by one's friends are interwoven with more complex allegories about corporate manipulation, finding one's calling and purpose.

Now if "The Matrix" catered to the mind, Speed Racer caters to the heart. Thanks to terrific acting, great casting, and excellent writing, the characters really shine with interactions and dialogue that make you forget that they are merely actors playing their roles. As the characters go through joy, sorrow, tragedy and victory, it is just so easy to relate to them like real people in a real family. Even the "villains" like Royalton and Togokahn have a believable motive for doing what they do. In no time, this movie will have you rooting for the underdog and cheering our young protagonist on as he guns the car around the track.

All in all, The team that brought us Matrix and V for Vendetta lives up to the hype once again. They deliver a faithful big screen adaptation of a classic anime that fires on all cylinders; containing a well balanced blend of seriousness and fun, of thought provoking issues and realistic performances. All the while, it retains the child-like nostalgia of innocent times long past. This movie is definitely for only the open minded viewers and the long time fans(and seeing as how Speed racer is a VERY old show, and haven't been updating with the times like Transformers or gundam, its fan base is dwindling). All else would get lost in the kaleidoscope of swirling colors and explosive races.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want a fun little family story to remind you of a time when you were still a child and when the world was still full of wonder
Avoid it: if you are expecting a mind boggling philosophical epic or a political intrigue satire.

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Acting: A
Characters: A
Replay value: B
"Brains": B-

Friday, February 12, 2010

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (2007) Review: Tries to hard to please all

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Continues all aspects that made the original series such a hit, top notch voice acting, attractive character designs, realistic human drama, high flying space combat action

The Bad: inconsitstent animation, clashing visual styles, rushed story, requires prior knowledge of Robotech lore.

Current Availability Status: Limited availability of code 1 version in local DVD stores. Code 3 and code 6 versions are limited as well but going at discount price.

DVD features:
- "Birth of a sequel" behind the scenes featurette
- trailers

DVD Value for money grade: B-

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is the long awaited sequel to the Robotech franchise that started in the 80s. Its release was met with very mixed fan reaction and reviews with ratings ranging from awesome to downright terrible. Shadow Chronicle's main mistake was not being able to decide which target audience to appeal to and trying to hard to please everyone. Did it want to appeal to the long time fans of the original? Fans of japanese anime? Or maybe fans of american science fiction comic books? This movie has elements that appeal to all three but what appeals to one would put off the other.

The story takes place during the final episodes of the original TV series and then branches off into new territory halfway through the film. Going into the back story alone would require an entire essay but some expositionary flashbacks fill the audience in on the bare essentials. A miraculous source of power called "Protoculture" has been the cause of many wars between earth and various alien races seeking to harness that power. Humanity tried to take the fight to the invaders by launching a expeditionary fleet but this in turn left earth vulnerable. Finally the alien race known as the Invid conquered earth and enslaved the human population. In 2044, the expeditionary fleet returns to earth in a last desperate attempt to regain their homeworld. But as mankind and Invid clash in their final apocalyptic battle, a far more trechrous enemy lurks in the shadows. This new enemy, who works through deciet and sabotage, is intent not on harnessing protoculture for itself, but in eliminating all races that use it.

The "bare essentials" of the backstory leading into the movie are adequate but since this movie is intended to be "episode number 86" , one is required to sit through at least season three up to episode 85 of the original series in order to get fully appreciate the story developments. Returning characters and their continued developmental arcs would only appeal to the fans of the original but new characters are thrown into the mix, each with their own well defined personalities and quirks which make them instantly likable. Despite the stellar voice acting, character development feels a little rushed as the production tries to cover too much in 88 minutes. On the plus side it manages to weave in suffecient human drama, a social allegory about racial intolerance and xenophobia plus little bits of humor here and there for variety. A longer running time would have benefited Shadow Chronicles and allowed for the charaters to grow naturally.

Another aspect in which Shadow Chronicles suffers thanks to its indisicive appeal is in the animation. Made on a tiny budget, even less than many anime movies, Combining 2D character art with 3D CGI backgrounds and vehicles was a bold move that paid off. The characters are drawn with a mixture of american comic book proportions and japanese anime styled features. In other words, every male is a tall, buff, handsome "bishonen" and every female is lean, hot and with "assets" that would make WonderWoman Jealous. Really, whether you like the art style or not is up to personal taste. Taken on their own, the 2D and 3D animation is able to stand up to most big budget anime movies. Balancing a decent amount of art detail with fluid animation, it is only when the 2D characters and 3D models blend in the same scene that you can see how painfully they clash.

As a first time anime Director, Tommy Yune's inexperience shows. Fight choreography of the space battles looked like they came straight out of the original 80s anime. This is not really a good thing since this is a 2007 production. In the original anime, to save on budget, a still picture of a space fighter would zip across screen locked in a set pose to give the illusion of motion, enemies would disappear in gaudy balls of light and space cruisers exchange volleys of fire while making no attempts at evasive maneuvers. Basically on screen movement of mecha and spaceships were kept to a minimum back in the original series. Robotech the Shadow Chronicles continues that tradition except that now space battles involve CGI models that look more like toys than actual spacecraft. Yune directs this movie conservatively like a comic book but never fully exploits the limitless potential of animation.

Robotech: the Shadow Chronicles is a good effort for a debut production. Sadly, while grabbing around in the dark, trying to decide which target audience to appeal to, the production team made the mistake of continuing now just the good aspects of Robotech, but its flaws as well. The sometimes campy dialogue, derivative music, limited mecha animation and inconsistent production standards were all carried over from the original series. On the other hand, maybe this was just their idea of keeping true to the original.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see the definitive sequel to a famous 80s classic anime series or if you like shows such as Star Wars.
Avoid it: if you obstinately believe that all anime has to be japanese in origin or if you never even heard of Robotech.

Entertainment: B
Story: A-(if you are long time fan) or C- (for new comers)
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: B
Voice work: A+
Replay Value: B-
"Brains": B-

hey thats one hot........wait she's a robot?
Maia and Louis discover the android Janice Emm.

Girly features and wild hair is all the rave in space
Marcus and Alex, the main pretty boy chara
cters of Shadow Chronicles

Leeeeevvvviinnnnnn onnnn a jet plaaaane......
The 3D CGI is quite awesome considering the measly production budget

Hand cannon. FOR THE WIN!!!!
But notice how the 2D foreground characters dont really fit in with the clean colored CGI background

All figures sold seperately
Quantity over quality. Sometimes having too many spacecraft in one scene comes at the price of animation detail

Ooh look down there, Maia is pointing at me!
Skull leader opens fire on the enemy

*while pointing at the previous pic* I could have sworn that white cloud was a space fart.
Maia Sterling. Latest addition to the Robotech hot chicks list.

Oh My Gawd! Marcus! You finally grew a pair!
Marcus and Scott's happy reunion

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (1987) review

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: Great animation for a 1980s show, exceptional voice acting, well developed romance subplot, takes full advantage of the animation medium

The Bad: inconsistent art and animation at some parts, story style might feel to "western", legal DVD copy is practially non-existent

Current Availability Status: Non-existent. Internets(youtube) is your best friend.


Though its not the first time Ultraman has been done in animated form, this is the first time that an Ultraman show has been done outside of Japan(yes this series precedes Ultraman: Toward the Future by a couple of years). Ultraman: the Adventure Begins is a Japan/USA co-production which proves that animation might have been the better way to go in order to fully flesh out epic battles between monsters and giants. No longer encumbered by goofy looking rubber suits, laughable special effects and other limitations of live action, this short lived TV movie allows the concept that is Ultraman to be fully realized.

The movie starts off with a team of stunt pilots called the "Flying Angels" consisting of Scott, Chuck, and Beth, performing death defying aerial acrobatics. During a mid flight accident, they are caught in a bizarre flash of light and crash, only to emerge unharmed. It is soon revealed through a mysterious contact that the trio have now become the host bodies of warriors from a far away galaxy, M78, who were sent to capture escaped monsters that have arrived on Earth. They become the Ultra Force under the guidance of an old golf course groundskeeper(who is actually an intergalactic peace keeper agent), and assisted by 3 robots, Andy, Samson and Ulysses. From their headquarters within Mount Rushmore they respond to any sightings of monster attacks across the globe. If a monster proves too tough to take down by conventional means, one or more of the team is required to transform into an Ultraman(or UltraWoman in the case of Beth), a powerful red and silver giant, to battle the evil threat.
(yes. believe it. UltraWoman. )
The first thing anyone would be blown away by is the look of the show. Sure is hard to believe that the animation was done by the same company that did Flintstones, Jetsons and Scooby Doo. The level of art detail is astounding with full shadows, metallic sheen, and dark/light contrast. Dynamic shot angles and some creative storyboarding adds to the dramatic effect and impact of the intense battle sequences. Too bad the rich, detailed art comes at a price, which in this case is the animation. The frame rate is inconsistent with many shots looking only as well animated as a modestly budgeted anime TV series. There are a few good "money shots" like the Ultra Transformation sequences, some aerial fighting scenes and the signature "finishing moves", but other than that, the animation is mediocre at best. There are points where the animation takes a turn for the better, but this time at the cost of a lower amount of art detail.

The characters are likable with great personalities given form by a excellent voice cast assembled by Casting director Andrea Romano(who would go on to cast and direct the critically acclaimed Batman Animated series and other DC animated series). The three robot sidekick characters might remind one of Alpha 5 from Power Rangers but they are a lot more helpful to the team; not just giving combat strategies and advice but also actively helping the Ultra force when they are in trouble, as opposed to Zordon's irritating little desk clerk. They are also great in lending some lighthearted comic relief at the appropriate times.

Story-wise the show keeps many of the usual Ultraman staples but is blessed with a more competent script, a romantic subplot and stronger adherence to the whole science fiction setting of the series. It definitely has the feel of a "saturday morning cartoon" but written for teenagers, which fits in well with the animated nature of the show and does not take away from the overall entertainment value. The limitless potential of animation is fully exploited allowing the writers to feature monsters that would have been near impossible to realise in live action, such as a plant creature that regenerates its limbs or a beast that grows twice its size every hour.

It was a huge pity that this TV movie, quite obviously a pilot movie for a potential animated series, was never followed through. Instead it descended into obscurity, appearing only on a few TV broadcasts, bootleg video tapes and most recently, youtube. Despite such wasted opportuniy, Ultraman: The Adventure Begins is truly THE show to watch for some good giant vs monster action. Viewers of all ages young and old, Ultraman fans or just cartoon addicts, would get a real kick out of viewing this.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: If you want to experience a lost gem of 80s animation. Afterall its on youtube.
Avoid it: if you absolutely cannot accept "Ultraman" unless its done with live actors in goofy suits.

Entertainment: A
Story: C
Characters: B
Animation: A-
Art: B
Voice work: A
Replay Value: C

The 3 stooges. Robo versions.
From left to right: Ulysses, Andy, Samson.

One of the first monsters encountered by the Ultra Force

USA Producer: "Won't a plant monster with regenerative capabilities be so cool?"
Japan Producer: "yessss.......coool. But only if UltraGirl fight him"
(result of Japan Producer's decision on next pic)

A Plant monster was a great idea...

Japan Producer: "But its a monster and she's an alien robot. Nothings wrong with a little tentacl..."
USA Producer: "You sick DUDE! you do NOT wanna go there.........'

Thankfully they did not go there and the show kept its PG rating.

Wait. Let me try out my new bat-signal searchlight.
Chuck's Ultraman form.

Dammit! I want a word with the japan producer!
Beth's UltraWoman form

Scott's Ultraman Form