Fist of Crossdress

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Jan 082012
 

Let’s celebrate the end of the internet by talking about some shitty Go Nagai OVA.

So I watched Delinquent in Drag. It’s another one of these old school OVAs that I never got around to watching back in the day, except this is one that the “I’m still new to anime and think it’s all smart and unique and shit” me literally scoffed at. It wasn’t one of those hyperkinetic blood orgies like Ninja Scroll, and it wasn’t some pseudo-intellectual pontificating thing like Utena or whatever, so I ignored it. My tastes have hit their half-lives several times since then and have degraded well past their initial standards, so now that I’ve actually seen this thing I was kinda amused.

I have no idea how much the original manga (assuming there is one) predates or postdates Ranma 1/2, but that’s basically the vibe I got from this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole “crossdressing martial arts” connection between the two was one of the reasons why the damn thing got licensed in the first place. The premise behind the thing is that a dude gets mistaken for a girl when registering for a new school, so they give him a girls uniform. Being the sort of barely cognitive Neanderthal that most Go Nagai males tend to be (and I mean that as an endearing compliment), the dude just rolls with it and wears the uniform. It’s one of those “if he were actually a functioning human he’d never go through with this” decisions that almost every comedy is predicated upon, so you kinda gotta roll along with it just as much as the main dude. If he actually said something about it you’d just get five minutes of him going to the front office of his school, setting things straight, and that’d be that. Comedy sucks when you start trying to be all rational about it.

So this dude goes to school, making no attempt to actually look like a girl beyond his clothing, and he proceeds to get into a bunch of martial arts fights. It’s pretty much the same exact shit that goes down in every episode of Ramna 1/2– some misunderstanding comes about, or someone says the wrong thing to someone else, and everyone ends up trying to beat the shit out of each other over it. First the dude makes the mistake of sticking up to some poor sap of a nerd who’s being bullied by the school’s token girl gang. Once he makes short work of them the principal takes notice of him and realizes that the main dude has some pendant or some shit and wants it. So she does the same sort of thing that Principal Kuno would do in Ranma 1/2: she puts a bounty on the dude’s head and has all of the school’s clubs track him down in a sequence that ends up playing like that parody of The Warriors from that one episode of American Dad (Except, you know, made 20 years before said parody and at least 10 years before it was “cool” to parody The Warriors. And by “cool” I mean “when the internet started to churn out memes based on any vaguely interesting movie that’s vaguely nerdy.”).

And that’s about it. It ends even more abruptly than most OVAs from the era. The dude beats the judo club’s only member in an amusingly twisted and anticlimactic manner and its over. Other clubs still wanna beat the shit out of him. The principal (or whoever the hell this chick is, they never really say) still wants the dude’s pendant because, like, her cat has a matching one or something. The dude is still mistaken for a girl despite trying to molest the only girl that’ll give him the time of the day. Literally nothing is resolved at the end, but it ends anyway.

Yeah, the only real reason why I found this amusing is how it reminded me of Ranma 1/2. It begins with the sort of chase scene you’d expect from Ranma. The main dude and his dad are running away from something. You don’t know that it’s the main dude’s mom at first. All you see is some silhouette cracking a link of chain as if it were a whip. The resulting chase destroys half the neighborhood and nearly kills one dude when he merges with a trash can Katamari-style. It’s a shame that, like, Devil Man or Enma-kun or Cutie Honey didn’t pop up out of nowhere and joined the chase like one of those Ranma opening sequences where the entire cast ends up chasing after one another all because Happosai stole someone’s bra or whatever. That woulda been awesome.

There’s a few little outrageous touches that would be kinda fucked up if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a Go Nagai anime. The main dude’s mom is only 11 years older than him. And yeah, she’s his biological mother. She had a kid when she was 11. In a more recent anime that’d feel like some sort of lolicon fetish shit, but in something by Nagai it just feels like a part of his demented logic. He ain’t making the mother that young because “OMG I can have an 11-year-old bride too!” He’s doing it because he’s screwed up like that. He’s like the shock rocker of anime, doing it just to get a rise and/or a laugh out of you.

Can’t say Delinquent in Drag is all that, but it was amusing enough. People beat up other people, then people beat up more people. Then there was some more beating. Yeah.

These Pirates are Neither Bodacious nor Spacey (nor Pirate-like)

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Jan 072012
 

When I first started writing this post, I was gonna talk about how Senki Zesshou Symphogear and Bodacious Space Pirates were, like, super similar and shit. I was gonna talk about how both series had main characters who have Giant Robots/Ships thrust upon them because of some nagging detail from the past (making a pact/dad being a space pirate).

Then I realized I superimposed Rinne no Lagrange’s set-up on top of Symphogear’s crazy fluorescent alien shit. Like, I seriously thought the main chick suplexed a DayGlo slime before making with that creepy shadowed smile.

I think my brain is trying to amass a good anime out of the pieces of all of these half-good first episodes I’ve been watching.

Everything that’s good about Symphogear comes from the action scenes. These aliens are pretty damn cool. You have your slime-spouting giant ones, that are like ooze artillery or something. Then you have the slimes those things spit out, which dart about and devour people. Or make them disintegrate. Or something. The way people die when those things get a hold of them is pretty gruesome, since it doesn’t really seem to hurt them so much as it makes them cease to exist piece by piece while they’re fully aware of their impending demise. And people are well aware of this fact, so they see it coming. It’s pretty scary shit. And then you have those bird-like ones that spiral down like those bat things from Metroid. If I had to die at the hands of these aliens, I’d rather have one of these things kill me. They just splatter you all over the place all quick-like when they impale you. Quick and easy. That’s my kind of monster-induced death. And then you have those foot-soldier dudes that hold their hands up in an awkward pose like some sort of Ultraman monster-of-the-week. I’d totally buy a vinyl toy of them.

And I’m really digging how the names of the characters’ special attacks get flashed across the screen, with each character seeming to get their own personalized font and whatnot. I hope they stick with that, regardless of how much some people might find it repetitive after awhile. Just so long as they bust out new moves every episode or so. We don’t want it to be the same attack every episode.

And really, that’s about it. It’s a lot of flash and style, but it was enough to keep my attention once things got rolling. The school scenes were as lame as you’d expect, but they were thankfully brief in this episode. I’m sure that’ll change as things go along, but who knows. I wasn’t expecting this to be a kinda gory monster invasion thing. Maybe they’ll spare us from the banality of school life.

On the other hand, Bodacious Space Pirates was neither Bodacious nor Piraty. Sure, the main character has been told that she’s the daughter of a former space pirate and a dead space pirate, and now some peeps want her to take over her dad’s space pirate ship, but that’s about it. Other than a couple of lines of exposition and a really crappy “action” scene that consisted of two pictures of guns and lots of flashing lights, the first episode was the same as every single other “peeps at a high school doing high school shit” anime ever made. New teacher arrives. New student arrives. New student is haughty or arrogant or knows something or whatever background detail is needed to explain why she isn’t instant friends with the main character. There’s maid cafes and drinking tea and… that’s about it.

That’s where I was going with my initial comparison that fell flat. While Rinne no Lagrage’s first episode wasn’t particularly great, at least it got to the point and gave us some action. Space Pirates (mini)skirted around the whole space pirate issue and gave the larger audience what they really want: high school girls being high school girls. Never mind that some of us are actually interested in space pirates and shit like that.

I’m sure Space Pirates will get around to all that later on, but I gotta make the usual “does every anime have to take place in a high school” complaint. Do fans really need that kind of safe, comfortable “grounding” to buy into any sort of story? Can’t we, y’know, just have an anime about space pirates doing space pirate stuff? I wanna see pillaging and looting and boarding and boozing and space keelhauling. I don’t need all of that tempered with plaid skirts, tea cups, and school desks.

Really, I could have forgiven all of that if the last scene with all of those mobster dudes and the fake security guy trying to kidnap the main chick actually panned out. Instead, we got mysterious transfer girl partaking in a scene of parfait porn while the actual conflict was reduced to the aforementioned screen caps of guns and flashing lights. Couldn’t we have gotten some swashbuckling shit going here? Pirates are way better at swashbuckling than they are at being maids.

It’s, Like, a Moe Prequel to Grosse Point Blank

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Jan 062012
 

Yeah, I was genuinely looking forward to Kill Me Baby. I read some of the manga awhile back. I thought it was OK. Figured it’d be something that could potentially work well in animated form.

And… it’s still just OK.

 It’s the sort of novelty shit that I like. High school girl is also an assassin and has assassiny reactions to everyday stuff. It’s predictable and safe and all that, but it’s the sort of predictable and safe that tastes right. It’s assassins, man. That’s my lifeblood there.

Hell, when I was in school I wanted to be an assassin. Like, seriously. Ever see Grosse Point Blank? That’s how I wanted my ten-year high school reunion to play out. Never mind that I think the movie came out a year after I graduated from high school. It was like the writers of the movie were tapping into my every adolescent fantasy and bringing it to life. Except the love interest is so not my type, but whatever. Can’t be a perfect representation of my dreams.

So Kill Me Baby sounded like my kind of thing. Let’s laugh about a cold-blooded murderer doing cute anime girl shit. Problem is that the comedic timing is way off on this thing. A couple of gags work, but for the most part things linger too long or repeat the punchline or don’t build things up properly or whatever. That’s how things were in the manga, but this is the sort of shit that you can fix if you’re actually paying attention and not just copy/pasting manga art into Flash and coloring in-between the lines with the bucket function. You gotta use the real definition of adaptation, dudes. Don’t just slap what’s already there onto a computer screen. You need to think this shit out and ask questions like “Hey, I’m a smart guy, how can I make this mediocre source material better?”

But yeah, blahblahblah JCStaff blahblahblah money blahblahblah 4komas suck blahblahblah whatever. The makers of this thing don’t care. The fans don’t care because they’ll either eat it up because OMGPONYTAILSMAKEMEHARD or completely dismiss it because it isn’t some in-depth treatise on the human love condition of the post-post-modern high school freshman.

I don’t know, man, I just want my assassin comedies to actually be funny and shit. Being afraid of cockroaches ain’t comedy. That’s, like, an excuse to go buy some Raid. Investigating  rumors of ghosts in the school can be funny. Saying you’re not sure if you can put one in a headlock is funny. Having the punchline of that build-up be “oops, I tripped on a stick” is fucking unfunny.

I don’t want my assassin comedians tripping on fucking sticks. I do want them fulfilling the potential of that ghost/headlock joke. Don’t throw such an awesome set-up away just to give us a pratfall that wasn’t even funny when shit like Bosco and Betty Boop were cutting edge.

But I’ll likely keep watching Kill Me Baby. Such is the pain of being an assassin connoisseur.

Iron Chef Italy

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Jan 032012
 

My little exploration of David Production’s stuff was short-lived. Turns out they’ve only done two series that I hadn’t seen yet. Dogs was the first, and Ristorante Paradiso’s the second.

This is likely the first and only time I’ll ever make this comment: the one about the middle-aged dudes in a restaurant was better than the one about the amoral badass assassins.

I’m not much for “slice of life” stuff. Y’all know that by now. No need to go off on that rant again. So when I realized Ristorante was playing up that angle, I wasn’t too enthused. Granted, the subjects of the series are a bunch of dudes in their 40′s and 50′s who work at a small, upscale restaurant in Rome, so it wasn’t like it was the usual “obnoxious gaggle of walking schoolgirl stereotypes,” but I was still worried that the dreaded cloud of banality was gonna rain down on me. The series has a few of those moments, where things fixate on a plate of food for just a little too long and little “heartwarming” details like that, but for the most part the series is more concerned with having relationships play out.

Ristorante is more about dealing with divorce, marrying late in life, dealing with being a widower, and dealing with irresponsible family members. Once I realized that, I was no longer afraid of the threat of banality. Instead, I was worried that the series would resort to something that can often be worse: melodrama. The main character is a young twentysomething girl who kinda wants to get back at her mother for ditching her when she was a little kid to marry some guy. Catch is that said guy wasn’t interested in a woman who already had kids, so the mother played it as if she was never married and never had kids. Were this your usual shoujo or josei anime, this would result in pitched screaming fits, dramatic scenes of running away while crying sparkly tears, and other trademark “This is tailor-made to make you sad, you easy to manipulate puppet! Dance and cry for me!” moments. Instead, Ristorante plays things out way more coolly. The daughter’s pissed at the way her mother behaves, but she’s far too stubborn and far too smart to resort to that shit. She plays it to her advantage and basically blackmails her way into a job at her mom’s restaurant– “Get me a job and I don’t tell your husband you’re used good” is her game plan, and she gets away with it. The mother and daughter have some tension between them, but it thankfully never erupts into a pity party or a shouting match. Save for the final episode, but even then it’s toned down far more than what I’m used to seeing in these sorts of dramas.

While all that’s going down, the main girl also starts to develop feelings for one of the waiters at the restaurant. The guy’s recently divorced but still has lingering feelings for his ex. What’s cool about the interaction between the girl and the waiter is that age isn’t really a factor. None of the supporting cast gives them dour looks or speaks behind their back about how uncouth it is for two people who are at least thirty years apart to have a thing for one another. The nature of their attraction is never a source of unneeded drama. Hell, one of the other guys working at the restaurant is married to a girl more than half his age. They address the age issue, but it’s never about that difference. Once the other characters catch on to their obvious feelings for one another, it’s more a matter of them encouraging the two to either fess up or move on– no need to lead anyone on or anything else that can hurt their feelings. And the girl even makes a move early on, clumsily trying to seduce the guy to no avail. They don’t end up as an out-and-out couple at the end of the series, but they actually act on their feelings and deal with their issues. It’s basically the exact opposite of how romances usually play out in anime.

In the end, Ristorante isn’t about trying to be heartwarming or healing, and it isn’t about amping up the drama factor. It’s about what these sorts of slice of life/romance anime should focus upon: people interacting with other people in interesting ways. It’s the exact same shit that makes for a good sitcom. I love Working because the characters play off of each other in an entertaining and amusing way. Their little relationships and conflicts make it worthwhile. The same goes for Ristorante. It’s hardly thrilling, and it isn’t exactly a comedy, but the way the characters deal with one another’s issues and such was genuinely compelling.

So, in its own way, Ristorante helps support my little theory. Every other series David Production has done has been some sort of action-adventure story with its own distinguishing quirks that made them stand out, but Ristorante bucks trends by handling slice of life situations in ways you rarely see in anime.

Also: I went ahead and read the first chapter of the Inu x Boku, the new series that David Production is doing. First appearances make it look like yet another “girl protected by a bishounen” sort of thing, but it has its own quirks to it. The first chapter dealt with dudes robbing tenants of the girl’s apartment complex and a shy girl turning into a giant skeleton. Haven’t read past that first chapter, but it looks like Inu x Boku might have its own tinge of weirdness to it.

Also Also: Yeah, all the dudes in Ristorante Paradiso wear glasses. That little bit is dismissed pretty quickly, since the first episode outright says that it’s due to the mother’s fetish for older men in glasses. And yet her current husband has perfect vision. Goes to show that your fetishes are just that.

Dogs with Uzis Suck

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Jan 022012
 

I mentioned in one of my Ben-To posts that I had my eye on David Production. They haven’t done much in the way of anime series, but the few that they’ve done seem to steer away from popular trends. I have no idea if it’s a deliberate choice in their part or if its purely coincidental, but Book of Bantorra, Level E, and Ben-To all came off as decidedly non-mainstream. I was curious to see if this was a trend in David Production’s stuff, so I’ve made a deliberate effort to go back and look at other series they’ve done.

Turns out I’d already seen part of one of their first efforts: Dogs: Stray Dogs Howling in the Dark.

When I first realized this, I remembered kinda hating Dogs. I couldn’t remember why, so I decided to give it another shot. Maybe I was just in a bad mood that day or something. At the first episode of this OVA made me think that was exactly the case.

Dogs is split up into four 15 minute stories, each one dealing with a different criminal and their personal problems and shit like that. The first one was pretty cool. An old school assassin returns to his hometown and has to deal with his former protegé. Turns out said protegé murdered the assassin’s girlfriend several years prior and has it out for the assassin as well. Flashbacks show us that these three were something of a makeshift family unit, but the protegé was jealous of how the girlfriend occupied a lot of the assassin’s attention. The kid never had a proper father figure, and the assassin was the closest he had to that and didn’t wanna see him get pulled away by some woman. So he kills her, because that’s how assassins-in-training deal with little issues like that. They don’t run away from home or threaten to never speak to you again, they just put a pillow over your face and shoot you. I guess that solves your issues, but it also kinda makes other people mad and stuff. So the assassin and protegé finally realize how the other one feels, but it’s only after a third-party successfully assassinates the protegé. Again, the only way assassins can fully express their feelings is if someone’s life is lost, so it’s fitting that it takes the protegé’s proverbial death-bed to finally confess his jealousy. It doesn’t make his actions right or anything by your usual moral standards, but in the world of professional killing this is the sort of shit that gets your sanctified.

So that first episode was really good crime drama stuff. Real good Luc Besson shit. So I was thinking I was wrong about Dogs. Even if there’s a drop in quality in the next episode, it couldn’t be enough to ruin all this cool stuff from the first one.

I was wrong.

The second episode is godawful for two reasons. The first is the fact that the assassin from the previous episode is shown to have lived. See, at the end of that first episode, the older assassin gets knifed by a street urchin type. It was a sort of karmic balance– he was paying for his own sins with his life much in the same way that his protegé died in the previous scene. It was a fitting end to his character arc. But in this second episode we find him alive and well. All of that drama and shit from the first episode was rendered null and void.

But what makes this second episode worse is the character it focuses upon. He has a mildly amusing bit where he photographs a mob boss having a little bondage fun with a young boy and has to run for his life afterwards, but it’s the resulting climax that ruins everything. This guy normally avoids violence at all costs, but he snaps if you take his cigarettes away. His nicotine withdrawal turns him into an Uzi-wielding maniac, and he sprays everything in sight if he can’t get his fix. So the other characters use this to their advantage, take his cigs away, and then sic him on the mob boss and his cronies. And on top of that, when he does his spray and pray tactics, he never kills anyone. He unloads clip after clip, but he hits everyone in the shoulder or arm or knee or leg or whatever. ALL of his shots are perfectly placed to wound and not kill. He’s like some sort of druggie Vash the Stampede, and he manages to suck even more than Vash.

That’s what pissed me off about this OVA back when I first watched it. The second episode managed to render the first one meaningless and topped it off with one of the worst characters ever seen in an anime. And I still think this episode is among the worst I’ve ever seen. But unlike last time, I pressed forward and watched the second one. Hell, it’s only 30 more minutes. Even if it sucks as much as the last one, the suffering will be short.

Turns out the second two episodes are considerably better. The third one is probably the best of the bunch. It deals with another assassin and protegé scenario, this time with a swordsman who takes in a girl whose parents he murdered. The assassin trains her, never allowing her thirst for vengeance to die and using it as motivation to improve her skills. But there’s a few catches to this scenario. First, she’s robbed of her vengeance by the swordsman’s partner in crime. This guy turns on the primary assassin so he can finally be freed of his influence. This leads the girl to take him on and kill him in a pretty damn good sword fight. But once he realizes he’s dying, the usurper busts out the truth: it was someone else that murdered her parents, and the initial guy allowed her to believe it was him to give her a reason to keep living. He did this because it was his former student that performed the murder, and you gotta assume that he was hoping he’d be able to train this young girl so that she could take on his former pupil in his stead. Kill a rogue student and get a new one at the same time. That’s some clever assassining there.

The fourth one starts to get into genetic manipulation with some dude that looks like a Devil May Cry reject and some mute chick with angel wings. They toss in the asshole that ruined the second episode, repeating his shtick yet again. The parts without said asshole are decent, but it’s not really worth talking about. The best stuff is in the first and third episodes.

All in all, the thing’s a mixed bag. Two genuinely awesome stories, one mediocre one, and one that makes me hate every living thing on Earth for being of the same carbon-based life as the Uzi asshole. When it’s playing things right, Dogs is great stuff in the vein of more recent assassin-themed movies like The Professional. It takes itself seriously without being completely dour and whatnot while playing off all sorts of crime elements that I dig. But when it sucks, it fucking sucks.

Still, it’s offbeat compared to most anime we see nowadays. The closest thing that comes to it is Black Lagoon. Maybe CANAAN, although its primary sucktastic character was completely different from Dogs’. So far my theory about David Production stands. For whatever reason, they seem to be targeting stuff that isn’t completely beholden to the proverbial new hotness. That doesn’t necessarily mean that said anime is good, but at least it isn’t the same old shit placed in a different school uniform.