Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alien Vs Predator (2004) extended edition review

Overall verdict: 4.5/10

The Good: fun fight sequences, a few shout-outs to previous alien and predator films, slick production design

The Bad: bland characters, thin plot, one sided fights, hand to hand combat looks artificially sped up.

Current Availability Status: on discount priced DVD in any major DVD store in singapore
DVD features:
Disc 1
- Both the theatrical AND Extended director's cut of the movie
- Commentary by director
- Commentary by cast and crew
- Trailers

Disc 2
- Extensive pre-production, production and post production "making of" featurette
- alien vs predator comic book and toy history
- deleted scenes

DVD value for money Grade: A-
It was only a matter of time after that Alien skull cameo in Predator 2 that someone made a movie pitting the ferocious Alien xenomorphs against the vicious Predators. Already that one scene spawned a number of video games, novels and a slew of comics, some good some terrible. On its own, Paul WS Anderson's "Alien Vs Predator" is a fun, mildly entertaining big budget B movie. However, it fails to live up to the reputation and standards set by its predecessors.

Alien Vs Predator starts off with the discovery of a pyramid deep under the antarctic ice. A team of explorers is sent in to investigate. Lo and Behold, they discover that the pyramid belongs to a space-faring species of hunters (the Predators) who use it to breed another type of Alien (the Aliens) as opponents/prey for their own coming-of-age hunting rituals. The humans stumbled across some "ancient artifacts", actually plasma weaopns to be used by the Predators. They unknowingly screw up what was to be a standard hunting trial for three young Predators by taking their plasma weapons and unwittingly setting the Aliens free ahead of schedule. What follows is a frantic free for all as Humans, Aliens and Predators duke it out in one surprisingly bloodless fight after another.

Now of course coming to a movie with "versus" in the title would imply lots of fighting. Instead Alien Vs Predator plods along for the first 45 minutes or so as we are introduced to one bland B movie stock character after another. Lots of talking, which perhaps the writers intended for "character development" sake, but nothing else substantial happens aside from a little nod to Aliens fans in the form of Lance Henriksen playing the role of a character named "Bishop" again.

When the action finally does come, it is seems like more bark than bite and ultimately not worth the 45 minute wait. There was only ONE actual bona-fide "Alien vs Predator" fight which is dressed to impress. An epic crescendo in the otherwise mediocre movie background music accompanies the very first big-screen face to face meeting of the two movie monsters. Fantastic fight choreography coupled with some clever use of slow motion makes that one fight very satisfying to watch and it is actually quite a nail-biter as you would never know who would turn out the victor until too late. However, most of the subsequent action sequences seem lack that level of intensity and actually seem a little "cartoon-y"; Some scenes involving the Aliens look to have been "sped up" in post production, possibly to make their movements seem faster and more inhuman.

One good fight just does not make up for the other disappointing ones. In fact, the creative team tended to be more partial toward the Aliens. The Predators are a far cry from the unstoppable killers in the previous movies. Here they are presented as big bulky bullies who pick on helpless humans with ease but are constantly being overpowered by their half-sized Alien opponents. It has been confirmed in behind-the-scenes interviews that director Paul WS Anderson is a bigger Alien fan than Predator fan, basically making the entire movie like a "fixed" fighting match with a biased referee.

Lots of action might be entertaining, but action was not the only thing that made the Aliens and Predator movies the classics they are. Ridley Scott's "Alien" film managed to keep up its eerie atmosphere and genuinely scary feel while giving viewers some well written character drama, James Cameron's Aliens upped the ante on action and threw in some very heartwarming character arcs with an impressive production design. Even Predator delivered unforgettable characters and intense bloodshed. Alien Vs Predator had none of these. It was not scary, the characters were under-developed, the pacing was erratic and even the violence was toned down despite the extended edition DVD featuring more blood letting.

Failing to live up to the hype, Alien vs Predator was seen big let-down for fans of the franchise. No doubt the set designs for the underground pyramid interior and the snowy antarctic scenes look awesome but that is where the praise usually ends. This movie lacks the smart gritty narrative themes of the comics and the all out bloody violence of the video games. The fact that the versus match was fixed from the start might not help matters.

AVP is essentially a whole lot of "style" trying to mask its lack of substance.

For the review of the sequel "Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem" see here

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

Go For it: if you really are that desperate to see two sci/fi horror icons duke it out in a mindless series of scuffles.
Avoid it: if you are going to miss the high level of action, drama and narrative standards set by this film's predecessors.

Entertainment: B-

Story: C- 
Acting: C+

Characters: C-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": D-

Blood The Last Vampire (2009) review

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: Very Faithful to the source material, intriguing sub-plots, well developed main character, strong first act.

The Bad: very low budget look, erratic fight choreography, truncated second act, bland side characters, weak dialogue

Current Availability Status: On DVD in any DVD store in Singapore
DVD features:
- behind the scenes "making of" featurette
- stunt coordination and combat training highlight reel.

DVD value for money grade: C
Considering the state of live action movies based on anime, be it from Hollywood or otherwise, Blood: the Last Vampire might arguably be one of the better ones along side Speed Racer and DeathNote. It manages to stay true to the original source material in terms of characters, setting and tone but the overall experience is marred by seemingly low production values and lackluster execution.

This live action movie based on the 2000 anime movie of the same name by Production I.G opens with a creepy narrative about am ancient war with demons and a heroic demon hunter who lost his life in the process. Cut to an eerie Tokyo subway in 1970s japan where a tension fueled chase and bloody sword fight on a moving train introduces the main character of Saya. Through dialog and some flashbacks interspersed throughout the film, the viewer discovers that Saya is a four hundred year old vampire/human hybrid who hunts demons for a secretive organization known as "The Council". Her latest assignment is to infiltrate a school on the Yokota Airbase to seek out clues to the whereabouts of "Onigen", a powerful demon who murdered Saya's father, the legendary demon hunter.

The first act of the movie is essentially a retelling of the original complete with full recreations of key scenes, filmed faithfully shot for shot. Story wise, it is a step up from the bland forty minute anime movie that this film is based on. Unlike the original anime where the events on the airbase was "just another day on the job", Saya in this live action movie is given a more convincing motive for vengeance that drives her actions. A little subplot that deals with a schism within the ranks of "The Council" is very compelling, ultimately adding some much needed meat to the otherwise paper-thin plot from the original anime. Not all of the added elements might have worked as well as one would have hoped. The character of Alice is one such element. Perhaps the producers meant for her to be a sort of human emotional anchor to Saya's inhuman personality as a way to "soften the savage beast". It would have worked for Saya's character development but ended up feeling a bit redundant thanks to either Allison Miller's bland acting or a half baked script.

Halfway through the movie, and after an intense action sequence that is a very faithful recreation of the original anime's climatic conclusion, the movie veers off into its own territory. Once free from its anime roots, the story somewhat sinks and is unable to keep up the narrative level of the previous act. After the Council subplot is resolved, the entire movie becomes a series of convenient plot twists and action sequences that get Saya and Alice from the air-force base to a remote abandoned village and ultimately to Saya's final showdown with Onigen. One gets the impression that the second half of the movie was written solely to pad the time in-between the material from the anime and a rather cartoony final battle.

No doubt the main let-down of this movie is its "look". Where the original anime fell short in its story and characters, it featured some of the most beautiful animation and stylish action sequences of its time. This film attempts to recreate that anime style surrealism by using a sickly yellowish, almost sepia toned, lighting to accentuate the "1970s" setting of the story and relying a lot on CGI. The way the action scenes are shot might remind some of Zack Snyder's "300", complete with slow motion bloodletting and whiplash cuts in the fight scenes. But instead of enhancing the movie, the CGI and fight choreography is its stumbling block. Blood spurts are nothing more than badly rendered globules of blackish red and demons look no better than old "stop motion" puppets. Even their movements were as stiff as those puppets. The only arguably thrilling fight scene was not even involving Saya or against demons, but was a flashback of Saya's old master, Kato, taking on a ninja army in a forest. Thanks to the erratic camera-work coupled with an overuse of speeding up and slowing down the footage in post-production, the action might not be as enjoyable as it could have.

Though Blood the Last Vampire 2009 is a far cry from the astounding visuals of its 2000 original source material, it still manages to present a good enough story while remaining true to the tone and characters of the original. A bigger, Hollywood level budget and script writing along with a longer running time for more plot development would have solved many of the film's flaws. Its faithfulness to the original may satisfy the long time fans, but to the casual movie goer the low budget look and feel might be too off-putting.

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

Go For it: if you want to see a adaptation movie from a japanese anime that is extremely faithful to the source while adding intriguing layers to the narrative, or if you just like the pretty star of the show.
Avoid it: if how a film looks is very important to your enjoyment or if you are a fan of traditional vampire action movies.

Entertainment: B-

Story: B+
Acting: C+

Characters: B
Music: B-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C

Witchblade (2006) 24 episodes

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: emotionally engaging characters, heartwarming family themes, top notch voice acting

The Bad: inconsistent animation and artwork, over-sexualised portrayals of female characters, bland cliche filled story, lack of adherence to source material, seemingly padded story

Current Availability Status: Not available in singapore. Code 1 DVD and blu ray available for order


A co-production between American comic book company "Top Cow" and anime company Gonzo, Witchblade is loosely based on the famous supernatural genre comic series of the same name. In retrospect, "loosely" might be giving this series more credit that it is due . Other than featuring a hand-worn object(an ancient gauntlet in the comics, but a bracelet in the anime) that "binds" to a woman thus granting her supernatural powers while replacing her clothes with an overly skimpy combat outfit, it seems to have little else in common with the comic book it is based on.

Where the comic series featured intriguing supernatural detective stories and down-to-earth characters in a more or less contemporary setting, the anime adaptation replaces magic with machinery as the dark occult themes are ousted in favor of more familiar futuristic elements that are a staple to many science fiction Japanese anime.

The story is set in future Japan. A couple of years ago, a giant disaster ravaged Tokyo leaving one Masane Amaha and a little girl the only survivors at ground zero. Now Masane and the little girl Rihoko, whom she adopted as her daughter, have returned to Tokyo and get involved in A string of strange events that culminates in an encounter with a murderous biomechanical creature. Masane to discover that the little jewel on her wrist is actually "the witchblade", a legendary artifact that somehow became attached to her during the mysterious disaster. Upon activation, the Witchblade encases Masane's body in a skimpy armor while granting her superhuman abilities and a insatiable, almost erotic desire for bloodshed.(fan rant: this last bit was never in the original comic. Oh Japan....) Now Masane has become caught in the middle of a power war between the NSWF organization and the "Douji" group, each with their own bio-engineered super soldiers and each desiring to possess the Witchblade as a weapon for their own ends.

Though the characters are tried and tested stereotypical anime characters, their interactions come across as very genuine. Masane and Rihoko especially play out their mother/daughter roles rather realistically, thanks to an excellent voice cast both in the original Japanese and the English dub tracks. This would make it rather easy for the audience to establish an emotional connection to their plight. The theme of family and the difficulties facing a single mother are touched upon now and then but never seem to take center stage as the show's driving force. The first few episodes are promising in that they showcase the extent that Masane is willing to go through to get her daughter back from a corrupt child services agency, even making a deal with the leader of the Douji group to kill off their competitors. Mother and Daughter's loyalty and love for one another are truly put to the test by the events surrounding them, especially because Masane can never reveal to her Rihoko the immoral things she did and the people she killed while possessed by the Witchblade.

However, the series starts to falter following the first story arc. The subsequent characters introduced to the story tend to be rather one dimensional and set firmly in stereotypical roles of "the tough guy protagonist", "sadistic female assassin", "comedy relief gang" etc. The story and pacing also appears to take a dive as the "family" element is further downplayed in favor of more comedy, melodrama and action. Some might get the impression of an awkward production that changed its focus midway through just to appeal to a wider demographic.

Awkwardness also looks to have been carried over to the animation and art style. Fan-service is at an all time high with scenes of scantly clad blood-lusting females duking it out with blades slicing away at each other in skimpy outfits. Even the "blood lust" is quite literally a sexual lust.

Characters are drawn off-model sometimes with Masane's body proportions seemingly changing size in-between scenes. The animation itself also suffers from the typical money saving short cuts; Still shots and close-ups are rendered in a higher level of detail but may come across as stiff while action shots and many scenes involving movement cause the level of art detail to drop quite a bit.

For all the advertising Funimation and Top Cow did on the Witchblade anime, this series might come across as mildly disappointing. Instead of building on the more original mother/daughter dynamics and character drama, the series decides to play the "sex sells" card and deliver one fan-service laden combat sequence after another, complete with jokes about the main character's over-sized breasts. The series falls back on overused science fiction anime staples; it jumps headlong into "ecchi" territory while lacking the coherence and deeper themes of better anime or the novelty of the original comic books. One target audience that the Witchblade anime may satisfy are those hot blooded young male viewers who love to be teased by anime females in states of semi-nudity. Other than that, it is at least a mediocre anime production that seems to receive a lot more fanfare than it might deserve.

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

Go For it: if you like you're anime women hot, like your violence titillating and like a story with a nice family theme to it
Avoid it: if MILFs aint your thing, if you liked the original comic book or if you generally prefer less sexualised forms of entertainment.

Entertainment: B-
Story: C-
Characters: A
Animation: C
Art: B-
Voice work( japanese): A-
Voice work (english): A-
Replay Value: C
Brains: C-

Japanese producer: "How else does a parasitic armor bind to a young lady?"
You KNOW this is made in japan when you have one of these scenes.

Japanese producer: "How else can a horny robot attack a scantily clad hottie?"

Its white, its sticky, its being shot at a woman, ITS SUPERGLUE RIGHT?

Japanese producer: "how else do ladies subdue each other?"
Someone stop these dirty minded japanese people...

Japanese producer: "how else is she suppose to react when getting r....."
Someone please STOP THEM!

Big butts, cannot lie.
the animators were meticulous enough to provide full motion animated butts and boobs of all young adult female characters when they were running, jumping or fighting.

They're floating away.
Hilarious result of over emphasis on cleavage movement.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Samurai Champloo (2004) 26 episodes

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: action packed, delivers a wide array of genre without being jarring, professionally natural acting, endearing characters, top quality animation, interesting blending of different narrative and art styles.

The Bad: art issues in a couple of action heavy scenes, the intentional mixing of familiar genres might not appeal to those seeking entirely novel ideas

Current Availability Status: On code 1 DVD boxset and blu-ray but not available in singapore

Extras include:
- director and staff interviews and write ups.
- art gallery
- trailers
- clean opening and ending videos.

DVD Value for money Grade: B+

Six years after his western styled science fiction anime series "Cowboy bebop" became an international hit, Director Shinichiro Watanabe returns to his Japanese roots, employing his trademark style to 2004's Samurai Champloo. The entire structure of Samurai Champloo's setting, characters and story seems to mirror that of the Okinawan stir fry dish the show is named after; the word "champloo" in the title itself means "to mix" and mixing is what Director Watanabe apparently does best. Somehow, he manages to blend real historical events of ancient Japan with modern contemporary western elements like "hip hop" culture and gang land graffiti in a near perfect mix. Ordinarily, the different elements might clash with one another but under a director familiar with his own style, the amalgamation of all these different elements, and even different narrative styles, intermingle nicely, giving form to a brave new anime world.

Watanabe's recipe for success is simple: Take a rude crude breakdance-fighting dude with a bad attitude, a stoic "by-the-book" ronin and a spunky young waitress who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Throw them together into the sizzling wok of a world where ancient meets modern and stir in a wide array of other interesting characters. Mugen (the breakdance-fighting dude) and Jin (the ronin) are "recruited" by Fuu(the waitress), after she saves them from execution. Together they must journey through this intriguing new world of a stylized Edo Period on a quest to seek out a mysterious samurai who smells of sunflowers. The narrative follows more along the style of American TV series; episodes are largely stand-alone but with an overarching storyline to tie one episode to the next while preserving the distinct Japanese flavor. Every episode is not only able to develop the story of the three characters but also flesh out this unique world as envisioned by the director.

On their own, each" ingredient" tastes great; each character has their own unique charm and distinct personality which might just end up growing on you within the first episode alone. But it is their interactions with each other and the different situations they are thrown into that this "dish" is really about. The script weaves the three different personalities together in and out from one misadventure to the next, covering a complete spectrum of genre from the funny and lighthearted moments to darker and even sad ones. Our heroes go from competing in a rice eating contest and beating down gangsters to getting swept up in a plot to overthrow the government and settling an old vendetta. Their wildly different personalities make for some timely comic relief especially the ongoing bickering between the serious Jin and the brash Mugen. The voice actors were able to bring such chemistry to the the characters as their dialogue flows very naturally, almost like real life. Performances are equally strong both on the Japanese audio track and the USA English audio track, and seeing how the show is a mix of both western and eastern styles, it makes it all the more difficult to recommend one over the other.

To complete the dish, Samurai Champloo is garnished with some of the most awesome animation, stunning action sequences and artwork seen in a 2004 anime series. Though not up to the standards of a animated movie, Samurai Champloo's animation is along the lines of a high budgeted OVA; fluid, smooth and with almost no reliance on the usual animation "short-cuts". A stunning achievement for the comparatively "young" anime studio "Manglobe". The artwork combines modern anime aesthetics with a style similar to the traditional Japanese paintings. A few action scenes look a little "flat" thanks to the stylized minimalist color shadings, but they do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the show.

So once again, master "chef" Shinichiro Watanabe managed to produce one delectable delicacy of an anime series. In interviews, he made clear his intent on taking familiar ingredients and giving a novel twist through blending. Evidently he seems to have succeeded and produced a lip smacking blend of old and new, funny and serious; there should be more than enough style and substance to satisfy almost everyone in this series. Arguable a true spiritual successor to his 90s hit "Cowboy bebop" and perhaps even a time honored classic in the making.

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

Go For it: if you like anime series that shatters expectations by bending ideas about pre-set genre and establishes its novelty in its combination
Avoid it: if you are used to anime genre being distinct from one another or prefer to look at the novelty of the components and not in the combination

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Characters: A
Animation: A-
Art: A-
Voice work (Japanese): A
Voice work (English USA): A
Replay Value: A
Brains: B+

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tau Man Ji D: Initial D (2005) review: A glorified Star vehicle with badly punctured tires

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: The chinese pop soundtrack, the professional acting by most of the cast, timeless underdog tale in new clothing.

The Bad: Lackluster racing scenes, "tacked on" romantic sub-plot, many changes from the original manga, low budget look.

Current Availability Status: on discount priced DVD in most retail stores.

Note: Also known as Initial D (eng) or Tou Wen Ji D (chi)


With a cast of A list actors, a veteran director and the promise of a blockbuster hit that would satisfy all, Tau Man Ji D(initial D) was Hong Kong's first big foray into the dangerous world of live action movie adaptations based on japanese manga/anime. Alas, it only proved that even veteran Hong Kong directors cannot make a good anime adaptation. Fans were appalled by all the changes made to the personalities of many of the main characters. Changes like that are actually fine if they are executed with finesse, but in Tau Man Ji D's case, they did not. In the end, the only things in common with the original source material is the names of the characters and the concept of "drifting". Having alienated the long time fans, at least the production team would do well to deliver a solid movie experience that a casual movie goer can enjoy, right?

Tau Man Ji D focuses on the story of young Takumi(a supposedly japanese teenager played by the obviously Taiwanese Jay chou speaking Hong Kong Cantonese), a tofu delivery boy who honed his drifting skills delivering for his father in the Akina mountain roads. He drives the Toyota AE86 like a pro and soon attracts the attention of local street race gangs who come to challenge Takumi to races on the treacherous downhill roads. Along the way, he has to deal with his budding romance with his girlfriend Natsuki and take on the notorious "Emperor team". Aside from the aforementioned changes in the personalities of many characters, the premise is the same as the manga. However the whole setting is a very confused one. Though obviously set in japan, everyone speaks in fluent Cantonese. It would have been a lot more believable to either set the story in hong kong or at least dub over the actors with a Japanese voice track.

Even as a stand-alone story, barring any comparisons to the original manga and anime, Tau Man Ji D would still be a mediocre film. The main narrative is easy enough to follow but not exactly the most original of plots; typical underdog sports story with local boy going from zero to hero. Cue mandatory convenient romantic subplot, which sadly feels forced thanks to Jay Chou's flat-tire acting and a very cheesy script. There is fair share of comic relief moments but they come across as very awkward and horribly misplaced. Most of the other actors play their roles with utmost professionalism. Too bad The script itself has quite a bit of uncomfortable lines that read more like sentences in an essay than actual conversation dialog.

"D" in the film's title stands for "drift", a kind of extreme turn technique employed by race car drivers. Being part of title itself, one would expect the drift races to at least look good. The racing itself is fine and pretty well choreographed but the camera-work and editing is painful to watch. It lacks the kinetic sense of energy that made other racing films like Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift such a thrill. Most racing scenes in Tau Man Ji D involve documentary-style wide tracking shots of the cars zooming by or a static first person perspective shot that looks like it was sped up in post production to make the cars look like they are moving faster than they really are. Cheesy cartoony Freeze frames and choppily edited slow motion all give this film the look of a cheap B movie. They even tried to use CGI for one very obvious crash scene, but the crappy computer generated car looked very fake against the photo-realistic background.

Tau Man Ji D's possible success in Asia was probably due to the cast and Jay Chou rather than the actual narrative elements of the film itself. Banking on Chou's fame as a singer, this movie attracted not just the bulk of young Chinese music fans who were particularly enthusiastic to see their idol's big screen debut. A very clever though underhanded marketing strategy that indirectly relegates Tau Man Ji D to a status no better than a star vehicle for the Taiwanese pop idol. Well this star vehicle does not fire on all cylinders. It chugs its way from start to finish on flat tires, empty-tank scripting and greasy directing. Aside from Jay Chou fans, followers of the manga and lovers of good racing movies would do well to rev up their engines and leave Tau Man Ji D behind in the dust.

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

Go For it: if you like handsome chinese actors, a simple story to pass the time or if you are already an avid fan of Hong Kong Cinema and directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Avoid it: if you loved the characters from the manga, the adrenaline pumping races of the video games and the more natural character interplay of the anime.

Entertainment: C+
Story: B
Acting: B
Characters: C-
Replay value: C
"Brains": C-

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) review: The "classic" deconstructed.

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: realistic character interplay, trend starter of the gritty "real robot" war genre, sneaks in philosophies about war amid the drama and battles,

The Bad: mediocre animation and sub-par artwork even when compared to other 1970s productions, extremely dated Japanese vocal track, English vocal track tries too hard to sound dated, complex plot and political maneuverings may not appeal to many.

Current Availability Status: DVD out of print.....


"The all time classic", "the one that started it all", "The Original Gundam". It has been called "influential", "a masterpiece" and "a legend". However the first thing anyone would notice would be the god awful theme song, complete with horrendously childish lyrics that sounds like something from Tetsuwan Atom(Astro Boy to you guys in the west), all set to cheesy footage of a bunch of kid characters running, posing heroically and piloting a giant robot. It looked like some show aimed at 5 year olds.

But sit through that deceptively juvenile one and a half minutes and one will be greeted by a cunning surprise. Gundam's story is anything BUT childish or campy. Where the opening theme set up the show to be little more than kid friendly heroics involving giant robots, what it really presented was a very real and very engaging war story about a gifted but misunderstood youngster and his friends forced into the heat of combat by unfortunate circumstance.

The story goes that in the far future date of "Universal Century" 0079, "The Principality of Zeon" wages war with the Earth Federation over authority in the outlying space colonies. The war soon spreads to the colony "side 7" where our main character, Amuro Ray, resides. Following an unprovoked attack on the colony which spreads fear and chaos, Amuro and his friends stumble across the prototype Federation mobile suit called "Gundam". A series of events lead up to our unlikely heroes landing on board, and becoming drafted as the crew of, "White Base", a powerful Federation space carrier commanded by the then ensign Bright Noa. This motley gang soon learn to work together and in due time, they and Gundam come to play a pivotal role in the ongoing conflict, forever altering the course of the war.

Unexpected twists ensue as the conflict both between the Federation and ZEON and among the rag tag crew of the White Base builds. The drama of inter character relationships and interactions play out as good as some live action TV shows and they manage to engage you on an emotional level without coming across as overly melodramatic. You get a sense that the characters really grow and evolve as the story moves along, never falling too far into the usual stock character stereotypes. Amid developing the characters, the story manages to weave in some underlying philosophies and thought provoking points of view on war. It lends an edge to the show that makes it a whole lot "smarter" than your average shonen adventure or super robot series of that era.

Within The "enemy" ZEON forces themselves, there is great turbulence under the seemly calm surface. A complex subplot of political backstabbing and "power-play" among the ruling party of ZEON made for a very intriguing experience. What is more intriguing is the mysterious Char Aznable. Aside from being a highly skilled mobile suit pilot and "rival" to Amuro Ray, bits and pieces of his past and ulterior motives are revealed little by little in such a way that makes you want to know more about him. As the events that shaped his current mindset, as well as the reasons behind his ruthless actions and obsession with defeating Amuro, Char easily becomes the most well rounded character of the cast.

True to the hype, the numerous battles in Gundam are done in a comparatively realistic way. There is a greater emphasis on teamwork between Amuro in the Gundam, the weapons and support team on White Base and the other pilots in the other mobile suits. The inexperience of the crew and the vulnerability of the Gundam make each battle a true nail-biter with a greater sense of actual peril.

Admittedly, this is not an easy series to get into, mainly due to its age. Already mediocre compared to other anime series that came out in the late 1970s and 80s, the animation style is painfully dated compared to today's fare. Stiff animation with a low frame rate, sketchy lines, inconsistent artwork, faded colors, not to mention the periodic "off model" character design. To judge Gundam based on its visual merits alone would not be doing its great story justice. Gundam's age is also apparent in the voice acting. The Japanese voices fit the characters well, but the script is definitely dated and the poor, almost muffled, sound quality betrays the earnest acting. On the other hand, the english language track handled by the "go to" team for gundam dubs, "Ocean group", feels like a lost dub of the 70s. Despite being produced in 2000, the way the actors emote, and the way the dialogue blends with the background music and sound effects feels 20 years older than it actually is.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM was no doubt an influential piece of work. But perhaps that was due more to it being a trend starter for the gritty "real robot" war genre in a market over-saturated by child friendly and sometimes comparatively cheerful "super-robot" anime. The dialogue heavy nature of the narrative might cause the story to drag in certain parts and for all its complexity, it might actually end up alienating those more used to simpler plots. On its own merits, Mobile Suit Gundam is a cut above the rest, though not as big a "cut" as the hype may claim.

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

Go For it: if you have a vested interest in the good ol classics that helped shape the identity of the japanese anime industry.
Avoid it: if anime, to you, has to be digitally rendered in bright colors, feature upbeat j-pop songs and have characters that look sexually attractive.

Entertainment: B-
Story: A-
Characters: A
Animation: C-
Art: D+
Voice work (japanese): B
Voice work (english): B-
Replay Value: C
"Brains": B+

Believe it. This is the only time in the entire series where the Gundam's face is actually PROPERLY drawn
Thanks to poor quality control, the Gundam never seems to have the same face twice, sometimes becoming disproportional with the body, other times falling serverely off model.

Give me Zaku back me purse!!!
simplistic low detailed artwork. Notice how the seemilgly solid titanium "skirt" around the Zaku's thighs warps and wraps itself like a real cloth skirt as the Zaku's legs move.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lucky Star (2007) 24 episodes

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: Lovable characters, is special by not trying to be special, natural character interplay, awesome voice acting,

The Bad: sub-par animation, low detailed artwork, lack of coherance in story, faltering focus

Current Availability Status: On code 1 DVD boxset but not available in singapore


Lucky Star is a curious little gem of an anime series. Curious in a way since it does not adhere to the usual tenants of popular anime series yet managed to achieve its own level of popularity. Its story can be summarised into a single sentence: Four close high school friends, Konata Izumi, Kagami Hiiragi, Tsukasa Hiiragi, and Miyuki Takara go about their daily lives.

That is it.

No grand adventure, no magical powers, nothing special, nothing complex, just plain and simple. The simplicity of the entire concept behind this production is clearly evident in the animation style. Clean lines, easy-to-draw character designs, basic color fills and plain backgrounds. Even the actual movements of the characters are un-sophisticated and the animation itself is far from what anyone would consider "dynamic". Nothing really stands out, making this series merely "a face in the crowd".

But that is exactly what the series is.
It never tries to be more than what it is, never gives in to the whims and fancies of a viewership that extols mainly the action and drama genre. It stays true to its own identity despite running the risk of ending up as an "outcast" of sorts among the more popular kids on the block. In a way, the very attitude that this series adopts toward other mainstream anime and its audience is personified in the main character, Konata Izumi.

Affectionately called "Kona-chan", Konata is the ultimate embodiment of one of Lucky Star's main target audience: otakus. She is everything and otaku is as well as wishes to be. A die hard anime fan, a video game addict and a slacker, Konata is quick to incorporate references to obscure anime culture in her conversation, has a habit of copying homework and doing last minute revision before exams, lines up for hours at manga conventions and works in a comic shop. However, she is also extremely athletic, miraculously aces her every test, and most importantly, she is accepted by her friends despite possessing attributes that would easily render one an unpopular social outcast. A very clever parallel to the nature of the show itself.

That being said, it is the characters, and the fresh new perspectives they give on the otherwise mundane happenings of life, that is the main attraction of the show. Through the eyes of the quirky Konata, the hot headed but innately emotional Kagami, the adorably innocent dim-bulb Tsukasa and the polite and beautiful "walking wikipedia" Miyuki, the audience is treated to different facets of every day Japanese life presented in new lights from varying points of view. For non-Japanese fans, it is a light hearted immersion into aspects of the Japanese culture without the show becoming a sort of "Discovery Travel and living" documentary. Comedy is well placed and well written, extending even into the laugh-out-loud "Lucky channel" segments at the end of each episode.

Believe it or not, it is this simplicity, this sense of "normalcy" and the presentation of the mundane everyday going-ons through new anime-styled eyes, that is the ultimate form of escapism. In a world fret with overly sexualised portrayals of the female figure, Lucky star presents a feeling of carefree innocence barring the occasional allusion to Miyuki's near perfect "curves". In a life of fluctuation, surrounded by tragedy reported in the daily news, Lucky Star's predictability and optimism is more than welcome. Things and people around us, people that we know, constantly change and sometimes for the worse. Lucky Star's characters never change from the first episode right up to the last. Some might say that is just an indication of a lack of character development, but it works to establish the identity of the core characters, in a way making them feel more "real". A closer look into the style of interaction among the characters shows how realistically each conversation plays out, augmented by some top notch voice acting.

As it stands, adapting a 4 panel comic into an anime series is no easy task. The source material itself has more in common with the newspaper comic "Peanuts" than your standard manga. Yet despite the scant amount of story details, the anime series managed to remain faithful to the spirit of the source while expanding on its core aspects. This resulted in the anime even replicating the general lack of coherent story from the manga. Each episode seems to have a running theme yet there is never a sense of focus in the episode's narrative. The second half of the series sees the introduction of more characters but none seem to be as interesting as the core four.

For being just "another face in the crowd" among other more popular anime, Lucky Star has managed to earn a dedicated fandom based on the very fact that it is something different. It embraces the culture and attitude of its main target audience, parodying it yet glamorising it at the same time. When you watch Lucky Star, you do not just watch a show, you pay a visit to some extremely lovable characters, more human than you might imagine, and just hang out with them.

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

Go For it: if lovable characters are your thing and you want to be able to just sit back and have a good laugh at life itself.
Avoid it: if your idea of good anime has to include a good dose of action or drama.

Entertainment: B+
Story: C
Characters: A
Animation: C+
Art: B-
Voice work (japanese): A
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": C+

Konata's opinion of Lucky Star

Tsukasa is startled by The mysterious floating red question mark

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Random Rant: My movie rating style

"Overall Verdict" <----this indicates the overall rating of a show on a scale of 1 to 10. 10/10 is NOT the prefect movie. The perfect movie would be 11/10 which would never ever be achieved. When i give a movie 10/10 it indicates that the movie is a near masterpiece for its time and its genre. however i do acknowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect movie and thus, i never expect one. Should a movie fully reach my 10/10 expectations, it gets a 10/10.

Exceeding that expectations would be attaining perfection, hence an 11/10. So a good enough movie that excels in all aspects of story, entertainment value, replay value, characters, "heart", "brains", acting (in the case of animation, voice work, animation and art) and it succeeds in conveying what the director intended, it gets the honor of a 10/10 rating. 1/10 is the ultimatum. It is a rating i only reserve for the worst of movies, the kind filmed on some noob's cell phone and gets posted on youtube or some college student's adobe Flash animation project. If a professionally made movie or animation reaches that dismal level, then let it be labled with a 1/10 *****************************

Movies and animations are evaluated while taking into consideration 2 main factors
1) age (not fair comparing a 1970 film with a 2007 film and saying the special effects were trash)
2) genre (i do not put a independent romance film on the same scale as a summer blockbuster)
So i usually compare movies that come out within the past 2 to 3 years and within the same genre. That being said, i try to regulate the "exchange rate" as much as possible by refering back to "all time greats"(movies that constantly recieve critical acclaim) as a point of reference.

Language and country of origin is NOT a factor.
In other words a china made fantasy film like Storm Warriors will be put on the same scale as Lord of the Rings. An american or french made animated series will be put on the same scale as a japanese or korean series.

I always say, "I do not like japanese anime or western animation. I like GOOD animation"

Movies, animated shows and animated series are all reviewed comparatively within their medium.
In other words, all animated series are compared together and all anime movies are compared together.

An "A" grade anime series among all the shows would not be a "A" grade when compared to anime movies as the two were compared on entirely different standards and viewing methods.

: - the "enjoy" factor. A, B, C, D and F. How satisfied i feel by the overall experience of the film. How often i got bored watching the show. Those are two main factors affecting entertainment value.

Story: - coherance, natural "flow" of events as well as apparent plot holes affect this rating. Novelty factor also is a small booost (need not be novelty in story narrative itself, but novelty in excecution of said narrative)

Acting: - kinda obvious right? how well do the actors convey and channel the characters. Emoting, body language that sort of thing. Too over-the-top is also not good.

Characters: - the "heart" factor. how likable or easy to relate to are the characters? How strong Is the emotional connection of the characters to the viewer? How natural are the characters' interactions within the story

Replay value
: how worth it is this movie on DVD or blu-ray which you can watch over and over again. How willing am i to watch it again

: underlying themes, clever allusions, morals etc. things that require one to think about.

Animation: movement of the on screen characters. Fluidity and composition with the background art affect this score greatly

: consistency of design style. Level of detail also factors in but is not as importatnt.

Voice work
: similar to acting

Naruto (2002 - 2007). 220 episodes

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: original premise, likable characters, decent development of main cast

The Bad: relies too much on "tried and tested" narrative, over the top acting, gets convoluted with too many supporting characters, mediocre animation that often dips below par.

Current Availability Status: On DVD locally from "Blue Max Pte Ltd"


So much promise, all wasted when a production team gets cold feet and decide to "play it safe".

Adapted from the long running shonen jump manga of the same name, Naruto presented a rather original premise, a potential for a great story and tons of action. In a fantasy world where magically powered ninjas rule, one boy strives to an ambitious young boy named Naruto Uzumaki dreams of becoming the next Hokage (the head ninja who rules the village). What he lacks in talent and brains, he makes up with his stubborn determination and optimistic enthusiasm despite being shunned as a social outcast for the most of his childhood. Now Along with his friends, the stoic Sasuke Uchiha, the hot headed Sakura Haruno and their eccentric teacher Kakashi, Naruto is dead set on the road to greatness. Many difficult trials await this unlikely quartet including the criminal organisation "Akatsuki", the evil rival village leader "Orochimaru" and numerous new characters they meet on their journeys. All the while they must train for their ninja exams and learn to be more than just a team. But young Naruto himself holds a dark secret for sealed within his form is the ancient power of the nine-tailed demon fox that ravaged the village many years ago.

Definitely fascinating, but where Naruto fails it is in its execution of the story premise.
Instead of banking on originality, the creative team decided to go with what has worked in the past. In other words, do not be surprised when you end up saying to yourself "hey this is exactly like *insert name of another show here*".

Whatever "originality" there was went flying out the window. One can easily compare Naruto-"I wanna be the Hokage"-Uzumaki to so many typical kid anime characters like Ash Ketchum, Goku(from the original Dragonball), Monkey D-"Gonna be the king of the pirates"-Luffy and the list just goes on. The Further we get into the show, the more typical anime staples get thrown into the mix. .
All The other characters are not original concepts either. They all fall into typical anime stereotypes than one can find in any "guide to making your own anime characters" book. By the end of everything, the only thing original left is the bizarre world in which this story takes place.

Now "originality" is a very debatable subject. After all, if the audience are used to what they like, giving them what they like all the time would guarantee a stable viewership as opposed to risking viewer ratings by trying new things. The problem with Naruto is that it handles its narrative aspects very clumsily. The writers' excuse for "character development" is to merely slap on some tragic back-story in order to make the audience "feel" for a character. As the number of new characters grow and swell, the writers must have discovered that characters with tragic pasts are more well liked by the audience and as a result soon every other character is given some form of tragic childhood or some old grudge or worse.
Such things devalue the concept of drama making sad scenes look like they were put in place to milk a cheap tear from the audience.

To Naruto's credit, this anime sees a few of the main characters grow both mentally and physically as well as learn a couple of life lessons along the way. It also boasts a good mix of dark and lighthearted elements, drama, tragedy, comedy, adventure etc. Too bad the director handled the mix of genre so badly. The comedy is misplaced, more silly than funny, coming in at the most inappropriate of moments and The drama feels forced at times. Not helping matters is the way the seiyuus(japanese voice actors) ham it up like they're at some high school stage play. Almost every role is over-acted; when they are supposed to sob, they bawl a big boo-hoo river. When they're supposed to talk loudly, they scream. Emoting is essential but when it is overly done to such extremes in Naruto, it just makes the supposedly emotionally charged scenes come across as unrealistic. Naruto and Sasuke are horribly miscast; Naruto's female seiyuu never tries to add that boyish gruff to her voice leading Naruto to sound more feminine than other female characters and sasuke sounds exactly like a forty year old man. The english and chinese voice acting fares no better choosing to mimic the over the top nature of the japanese voices.

Animation is standard TV series fare with many short cuts and budget saving techniques. Once in a while there is the "better than usual" fight scene but those instances are few and far in between. Overall, the show has an unimpressive and inconsistent look.

Kids love junk food and Naruto is to anime what the calorie loaded, pimple causing double cheeseburger is to food. This is your typical everyday garden variety shonen adventure/action series wrapped in a new skin but with slightly better character development. Whether one adores the main character's sense of optimism and "never say die" attitude or hates his obnoxious outlook on life and stubborn demeanor, it boils down to personal preference. Too bad for its less-than-mediocre animation, over-reliance on "sob stories" and the usual shonen action anime staples like long draggy fights and constant "powering up".

Inconsistent from start to finish, Naruto recieves a lot more fanfare and praise than it really deserves but it is slightly enjoyable no less and will keep the more juvanile ones happy for the time being.

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

Go For it: if you like the typical fun action/adventure style shonen series, flaws and all.
Avoid it: if you want to spend your time watching better stuff since Naruto has 220 episodes which is going to take a long time to get through.

Entertainment: B
Story: B-
Characters: C
Animation: C-
Art: C-
Voice work (japanese): B
Voice work (english USA): B-
Voice work (chinese): C
Replay Value: C+
"Brains": C-

Naruto prepares to drop a poop bomb
Meet the team. Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto and Master Kakashi

I've got my eye on you.......
Scary looking Kakashi stare


The true meaning behind the phrase "up yours"
The show's lack of art detail(notice the lastily sketched trees) is apalling

"Balls to that!"