Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Robotech: Love Live Alive (2013) Direct To video animated OVA


Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: A creative summary movie given a new spin, high nostalgia factor, good voice acting, improved sound effects, marvellous music and songs, consistent and coherant narrative.

The Bad: sub-par new animation, reflects the shortcomings of the aged original animation, mediocre editing of scenes, over-reliance on reused scenes, some voice actors did not age well.

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none

 Robotech. A franchise best known as a successful rebranding of 3 unrelated japanese anime series. It's claim to fame was the construction of a cohesive narrative and rich backstory using footage from the Japanese anime Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeda. In a bid to shed that polarising reputation, the Robotech franchise created its first mass released original production "Roboteh: The Shadow Chronicles" in 2006.

Yet 7 years after that, they have gone back to old habits with this 'new' production "Robotech: Love Live Alive". True to what it did with the original Robotech, the production team took "Mospeda: Love Live Alive", a music video OVA, and expanded it into a full flashback detailing the experiences of fan favorite character Lancer, aka the concert Superstar Yellow Dancer, during the 3rd Robotech War.

Using footage from the Mospeda: Love Live Alive musical special, the original series and new original animation, Robotech Love Live Alive is a "summary movie" of the 3rd season of the original Robotech series. Now, summary movies are quite common in the anime market, compressing a whole season into a feature length production. Love Live Alive does that wonderfully by using a pre-concert interview with Yellow Dancer as a framing story for the movie.

In present day 2044, the war with the alien race known as the Invid has finally ended and Lancer is about to hold his final concert as Yellow Dancer. An intrepid reporter gets an exclusive interview with the superstar in which he shares the journey he had with his comrades:
Lost solder Scott Bernard, the mysterious Ariel, the happy-go-lucky Rand, hot headed Rook, spunky Annie, and gentle giant Lunk. We are brought through their first meeting where the group mistakes Lancer for a lady to the ups and downs of their relationships as they face a clash of ideals, betrayal and seemingly insurmountable odds. The narrative never seems disjointed, showing how much effort the producers took to craft a coherent story, reframing what was originally Scott Bernard's adventures from the perspective of Lancer. Amidst the backdrop of war, a "romeo/Juliet" like romance develops between Lancer and an enemy Invid princess called Sera. A romance that may be more than what Lancer is willing to share with the reporter.

Now other than jumping on the whole "summary movie: bandwagon, another trend Robotech producers have picked up on is combining old classic anime footage with newly produced animation. The most famous example of this is the "Dragonball Kai" series and the "Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam" movies. In Love Live Alive, the old footage is beautifully restored to a pristine state, both footage from the series and that from the music video OVA

Sadly, the "new" footage comes across as a major disappointment, consisting of only at most 10% (including a long drawn out opening sequence of planets and asteroid fields) of the movie compared to almost half of Dragonball Kai and half of the Zeta Gundam movies. The quality of the animation also varies, having apparently been done by 2 separate animation studios (Ragex and Big Star).

Some scenes do look spectacular at first, such as a flashback to the final moments of the Invid's initial invasion and the evacuation of Earth. The animation is smooth, it has a really dark atmospheric look reflecting the desperate hopeless last battle and the computer generated imagery (CGI) is blended seamlessly with the traditionally animated characters. On subsequent viewings, the stark reality of the animation's shortcomings become apparent.

 The cel shaded CGI has a "lag drag" in the models' movements. Character animations look like it was done in Adobe Flash. And To hide this clunkiness, the production company takes full advantage of the 4x3 frame and has a good deal of action take place out-of-frame or have close-ups of irrelevant foreground objects such that the object takes up most of the frame, thus drawing viewer attention away from the actual subject of the scene.

Although character designs between old and new footage do not vary that much, it is jarring when new footage has characters changing looks from scene to scene. Lancer himself is depicted as a svelte, thin, almost elegant pretty boy bishonen with sharp features. (compared to the relatively "rounder" designs of 80s anime)

 Yet some of the new footage has him with smooth features and a rounded chin

 whereas in the scene immediately after, he is back to having his sharp features. 

 This lack of quality control in the newly produced animation is disappointing. Those expecting quality over quantity thanks to the small amount of new footage would be let down. The voice acting is expertly done but, again, there is a clear distinction between lines from the original Tv series and newly recorded dialogue. Some of the actors, particularly the women characters like Rook, clearly sound older in the new dialogue.  Afterall, 20 years is a long time and can change how a person sounds. Thankfully, Cam Clark who reprises his role as Lancer is able to maintain consistency with his recordings from back then.

 No doubt a labour of love from the producers of Robotech, Robotech Love Live Alive remains polarising among audience. Those expecting a musical extravaganza like the original Mospeda Love Live Alive would be let down by the inclusion of 2 snippets of songs, one full song over the end credits and one more full song that Yellow Dancer performs in concert.

That concert, by the way, seems hastily edited, with Lancer changing costumes and even stage props constantly throughout the song, and too much repeated footage; a flaw that permeates the entire production. Seriously, there are at least 4 of the same shot of the reporter with her obsolete tape recorder on her lap pausing and restarting the recording. The whole finale comes across like a fan made anime music video.
For all the time and effort that went into digitally restoring the old footage, perhaps this summary movie would have been better off if it were animated from scratch. That way the flaws in the original series animation, like inconsistent quality of artwork, would not be so apparent. Or perhaps the slip shod editing of re-used scenes would not be so obvious. But most importantly, with a fully reanimated production utilising modern animation styles, Robotech would have finally shed it's sad reputation of being no more than a cut-and-paste americanised edit of japanaese anime.

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

Entertainment: B-
Story: B-
Characters: A-
Animation: C
Art: B-
Music: B+
Voice work: A-
Replay Value: C-
 "Brains": D


Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Power Rangers: Infernal". Part 1 of 3 in a POWER RANGERS big budget hollywood reboot trilogy

Monsters have risen from the depths of the earth. Under the control of an ancient cult led by the sorceress Rita Repulsa, these demonic creatures emerge to wreck havoc on major cities across the globe. Earth's only hope lies in an alien being known as Zordon and 5 mysterious technology augmented troopers known as "Power Rangers". But will the people of earth be desperate enough to place their future in the hands beings that they know nothing of? Will the people of earth put their trust in an unknown technology? Does Zordon's and the Rangers' benevolent intentions hide a far deeper plot?
To destroy demons, perhaps one must make a deal with the devil.

Director: Neil Blomkamp (Elysium, District 9)
Special Effects: Weta Digital (Man of Steel, Avatar)
Soundtrack: Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3, Battle Los Angeles)
Studio: Warner Bros

CaptainWill Mitchell (ranking officer in Lightspeed Rescue organisation)
Jason Lee Scott (Red Ranger)
Black Ranger
Yellow Ranger
Blue Ranger
Pink Ranger
Zordon (Alien benefactor and defender of peace)
Rita repulsa (Leader of satanic cult, witch)

By the year 2090, astronomers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Ryan's comet which would pass harmlessly through the solar system and pass between earth and Mars in a year's time. Technology has advanced but not to the point of flying cars and teleportation. It is a world much like our own but with a culture that is slowly moving away from war.UN peacekeeping force has been reformed from an armed coalition into an organisation focused on rescue and relief efforts. Dubbed "Lightspeed Rescue" by the international press, these brave individuals utilise cutting edge technology like exo-skeletal protective gear to respond to any disaster.

One Sunday night, the San Andreas fault is breached from below. From the fissure, grey humanoid looking creatures and fearsome monsters up to 4 meters big pour forth. They are followed by a monstrous titan in gold armour with fiery eyes and the face of a blue lion (Goldar). While the titan is tearing itself out of the fissure, the smaller monsters and humanoid creatures (putty patrol) swarm down in the direction of suburban Los Angeles seemingly heading toward the mountains on the other side of the city. The town of Angel Grove is in their way.

These events are not unnoticed. The media gets in on it, filming from choppers. The military is deployed to stop the swarm and the titan. A fierce battle involving both US Airforce and the armoured tank divisions ensues. The humanoids prove impervious to conventional weaponry. Nothing short of the direct impact from tank cannons can slow them down. Nothing short of decapitation and dismemberment can stop them. Armed forces are decimated when the titan arrives at the scene, leaving the monsters and humanoids to swarm toward Angel Grove.

The UN Rescue forces work to evacuate the town of Angel Grove just as the humanoids arrive. In the distance, the golden titan is finishing off the armed forces then holds back as if waiting for the putty patrol to do the dirty work for him. As the putty patrol swarm the town, one Captain Will Mitchell and a small team attempts a last ditch effort to save some trapped children. Mitchell and 3 of his team attempts to fight off the putty patrol as the children are airlifted to safety. It does not go well. Although they put up a good fight, the suits start to fail and The team is killed, and mitchell has been beaten to within an inch of his life.
Just then,  a mysterious individual enters the fray. He is a tall man, clad head to toe in a dark bodysuit that mimics the human musculature structure.(think crysis nano suit). The suit is armoured, consisting of segmented plates that allow flexibility, a solid chest area protecting vital organs, silver gauntlets and shin guards along with chrome markings across his abs and helmet. He proceeds to launch impressive fighting moves against the humanoids, finishing them by ripping off their heads and limbs. He introduces himself to Mitchell as a "Ranger". More Rangers appear in Angel grove, each with distinct color markings. They make short work of the putty patrol using deadly superpowered hand to hand combat and what looks like hand held rail weapons. These rangers are reinforced by A.I controlled war machines shaped like ancient creatures such as dinosaurs and sabre tooth tigers which tear into the monsters with surprising ferocity.

Thanks to media presence and satellite, the battle is broadcast around the world. With the putty patrol and its accompanying monsters decimated, the golden Titan makes his move, heading toward the mountains beyond the town when he is suddenly stopped by a blinding light. From this light a robotic giant emerges.

 He is a towering metal colossus with a Viking like horned head, a shield across his chest; his size matches that of the golden monster. The rangers teleport inside and the two giants engage in battle.

The robot's first punch is tremendous, it's force causes a sonic boom which shatters windows in the town. The battle is joined as robot and monster grapple with each other, neither seeming to get the upper hand. Reinforcements arrive in the form of another squadron of US Air Force jets. It is clear now. These rangers and their giant robot are not the enemy. After a titanic struggle, assisted by jets, the giant robot triumphs as the monster is beaten and seemingly explodes from within.

World media opinion is split on the Rangers. Some welcome these saviors, others are suspicious of them, citing their alien origin and timely appearance and air of secrecy surrounding their identities.

Second monster appears approximately a week later and the rangers are called back into action. Similar formula. A pattern emerges. One monster appears each week.
By the 10th week, a particularly disastrous battle ends with the Red ranger cornered by the media. In desperation, he reveals his identity to the world. The Red Ranger is merely Jason Lee Scott: Son, Brother, university student, Practices Karate in his free time. He is just a regular guy.

Overnight, the rangers become celebrities. In between monster battles, they are invited to press conferences where they reveal their own backstory. They were picked by a being of light called Zordon. A self proclaimed guardian of galactic peace, This being has taken it upon itself to provide earth with the means and technology to defend itself against attacks that threaten to destroy the peace on earth. These monsters are the work of one "Rita Repulsa", a witch who apparently made a deal with the devil, sending monsters to wreck havoc on earth. Yet among the rangers a schism starts to develop. The rangers question Jason's decision to go public with his identity, citing the dangers of such an act. Jason merely shrugs it off and says that this is the only way for the public to fully trust them.

This move of public disclosure is welcome by the world media. Reporters are invited to tour the hidden ranger command centre and Zordon makes his first public appearance, assuring the UN and the people of earth of his mission to main the peace.
Battles take a turn for the better with the Rangers and their "Megazord" Robot titan are backed by the full resources of each country's military. Each ranger leads a team of high tech troopers in clearing out putty patrol infested locales. Captain Will Mitchell and much of the lightspeed rescue team is recommissioned as field medics, with Mitchell assigned to Jason's squad. Then when a giant monster arrives, the rangers activate their Megazord backed by heavy artillery, air attack vehicles and tanks.

However, by the 25th week, a tragic event occurs. Rita Repulsa's monsters launch a shocking retaliation. They attack and kill Jason's family and his entire home town, then they manage to capture jason. Rita makes her first media appearance with a televised execution of Jason.

"People of the world. You may not understand why we do what we do. How could you? But we assure you, we do this with earth's best interest at heart. Ask yourselves. Why You are so quick to put your trust in these aliens? What purpose would I have to call forth these creatures? I only seek to unite a shattered world. A far greater war is looming. One I intend to win. But first, all that stand in our way, must be eliminated"

She is not an old crone in a dark hooded cloak, but a young girl, barely a teenager. She leads a cult of hundreds claiming to be an agent of some greater power who has used satanic magic to call forth horrors from the depths of hell. Her agenda is, ironically, to unite earth under a single leadership. The Ranger Command Centre is levelled by 3 monsters which are barely defeated by the singular Megazord which sustains heavy damage.

The decision is made to take a more proactive stance in the war. Instead of sitting by waiting for the next attack, a global manhunt for Rita Repulsa and her cult. A new age of witch hunt begins as paranoia flares across the globe. Among the rangers themselves, the war has just gotten personal. Mitchell is along for each assault and slowly grows disenfranchised with the Rangers' new level of viciousness. They would shoot suspected cult members on sight and openly torture others for Rita's location.

 War escalates.
Between the worldwide witch hunt and defending cities from monster attacks, the Rangers are stretched thin. However, Zordon slowly shares his alien technology with the United Nations, enabling humans to create their own anti-monster defense. Humans start to equip their own soldiers with mechanical augmentation suits and the first human made Zord is completed: The Dragonzord.Shaped in tribute to the famous "Godzilla" movie monster.

Other Zords are created; Titanus the carrier zord (modelled after the ancient Brachiosarus), the T.O.R mobile repair base and a new Zord called "Thunderzord":

Captain Will Mitchell remains with the Rangers, aiming to be a "conscience" of the team. In the meantime, he tasks the other members of lightspeed Rescue to begin construction of their own Zords; The Lightspeed Rescue Zords which are able to combine to form the lightspeed Megazord to carry out large scale relief missions in the wake of monster attacks. This is a bid to creature an autonomous defense force free from the influence of the Power Rangers.

Mitchell expressed the doubts in the Power Rangers' methods, citing that their new proactive campaign makes them just like the monster threats they seek to destroy.For in the midst of the witchhunt for Rita Repulsa, the Rangers invade countries that refuse to lend support to the campaign. Countries like Syria, Egypt, South East Asian Nations are all "coaxed" into signing a treaty agreeing to lend support and resources to the WitchHunt.

On the 50th week of the year, merely a few days before the arrival of Ryan's comet, the rangers have tracked down the remaining cult members to a huge cave in the Himalayas. Upon arrival, Rita Repulsa sacrifices the blood of half her cult to summon form a legion of a thousand putty patrol creatures, at least a hundred monsters and 5 gargantuan creatures.

The resulting battle is utter chaos. Mountain slopes, glaciers and ancient lost monuments, untouched by human hand, are levelled by the clash between the Zords and the monstrous titans. On the ground, troopers and Rangers alike are swarmed by overwhelming forces but manage to hold their own allowing a small team led by the green and pink rangers into the cave where Rita is hiding.

The insertion team encounters the cult but amidst spells of fire and ice, they manage to take down all the cult members standing in their way and head to the inner sanctum, a massive cave with numerous ancient paintings etched into the walls. There they are disabled by Rita Repulsa'snumerous ancient paintings etched into the walls. There they are disabled by Rita Repulsa's dark magic and captured. Outside, the battle is swinging in favour of the monsters as Dragonzord is demolished and Megazord is disabled. With no choice left, Lightspeed Rescue is Forced to used their Lightspeed Zord to extract Megazord from the battle as Titanus launches a suicide run, taking out three of the monsters in the process. Just then, Zordon unveils a new team of Power Rangers, backed by the samurai shaped ThunderZord.

A stalemate is reached as both side have a momentary pause in the battle.

Two soldiers have an exchange

"More Rangers and another Zord? We could have used them earlier. They've been holding back on us"
"I wonder what else they've been holding back"

Carrying out emergency repairs, a team of technicians utilise the "T.O.R" mobile repair base to retrofit Megazord with upgrades salvaged from the parts of the demolished Dragonzord. Within the hour, the retrofitted DragonMegazord is ready to go and is launched back into the fray to assist the Thunderzord.

Rita Repulsa confronts what remains of the insertion team and with her dark magic disables the rangers, leaving only Captain Mitchell.
Rita: "You see me as pure evil. But mine is only a necessary evil. Much like yourselves. You murder as I do, plunder as I do."
Mitchell: "We are not like you. We work for the good of mankind"
Rita: "As do I. And I applaud you for succeeding where I have failed. Yes. You have united a world under one leadership. Cruel Irony, yes."
Mitchell: "Rita Repulsa, we are taking you in for crimes against humanity. Surrender"
Rita: "I am yours Captain. Merely another daughter of earth, making ends meet and trying to protect my home. But think about this. Funny how quickly you throw your faith behind an ambiguous alien who claims to be the good guy. Funny how no one even bothers to ask where my monsters come from or what their purpose is?"
Mitchell: "You will remain silent...."
Rita: "You dont see the pattern. In fighting evil, you turn to an even greater evil. You've seen it yourself. Their methods, their tactics. Murders, torture, things that were supposed to be outlawed by the geneva convention. Yet all these were deemed necessary in a bid to A far greater threat is coming Captain Mitchell. To stem this threat, I serve a higher power".
 Mitchell: "Who the hell do you work for"
Rita: "Earth. I serve our planet and she has been generous in providing an army. An army you silly humans continually decimate"
Mitchell: "Who are you amassing against?"

Suddenly, the pink ranger regains consciousness and shoots Rita Repulsa dead.
It is an anti climactic end to the worldwide witch hunt. 

Casulties number in the thousands. Cities like Los Angeles are ruined by monster attacks while other cities suffer in the wake of attacks by the United Ranger/UN Coalition in their worldwide witch hunt and bid to coax countries into cooperation. A bitter New Year's even arrives as the world mourn the loss. The arrival of Ryan's Comet is all but forgotten as thousands gather around a memorial erected in China honoring those who gave their lives. Zordon addresses the UN that he would continue his vigil over the planet earth to protect it against any threat.

The power ranger programme is opened to the public where aspiring Rangers will be trained thus bolstering the ranks of earth's defenders.

A sombre Captain Mitchell sits at his desk, pondering all he had experienced in the past year. He recalls the cave paintings. He recalls an image of a shooting star passing across a planet. From that star, a being seems to emerge and rain fire upon the planet. The planet itself has unleashed creatures to protect itself against the rain of fire. Rita Repulsa served the earth. The monsters came from within the earth. The shooting star.......a comet.

Oh no........

Ryan's comet passes through the solar system but suddenly, small pieces break off and rocket toward Earth's moon. NASA scientists let it slide as an anomaly. Later, amidst fireworks commemorating the new year, a shower of meteors rain down upon earth. It is a beautiful sight, as if the sky itself were crying.

Awe and wonder turn to stunned horror as the meteors crash into city centres across the globe. Dubai, Beijing, Tokyo, London, Washington, New York, Paris and more. From the fiery rocks, a new breed of monsters emerge; Bulkier, bigger and fiercer than ever, exhibiting phenomenal alien powers of plasma projection, electro magnetic discharges, and chemical weaponry.

Zordon unleashes the full arsenal at his disposal. Multiple teams of Power Rangers and at least 5 new Zords are teleported across the globe to launch a full scale counterattack. As the credits roll, the Zords battle valiantly against the titanic creatures. We pull back from earth to the surface of the moon to reveal the mastermind behind the attacks.

 The Zedd War has begun.