Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 58

Fighting!  It's a thing that happens in nineties anime a heck of a lot.  And also elsewhere, because we're a basically dreadful species that can't get along with each other or anything else, but hey, let's not dwell on the negatives, because that means lots of cool, action packed, martial arts-themed anime, and that means it's yet another excuse for a tenuously themed post.

So let's take a look at Crimson Wolf, Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, Ayane's High Kick, and Tekken, shall we?

Crimson Wolf, 1994, dir: Shôichi Masuo

Crimson Wolf is trashy pulp.  But to be clear, I don't altogether mean that as a criticism.  After all, there are a few things that trashy pulp can do to make itself stand out from the crowd.  Being legitimately well made is one.  Having a few interesting ideas up its sleeve is another.  But to really capture my attention, the way to go is definitely to be bat-shit insane, and that's a box Crimson Wolf eagerly ticks, if only really in its final third.

Up until that point, the plot is relatively boilerplate nineties anime, though at the quirkier end of that scale.  In the opening scene, a team of archaeologists uncover the buried tomb of Genghis Khan, only to learn a terrible prophesy from the ghostly lips of the great man himself: a cataclysm is coming that will spark a global war, and only the deaths of three chosen ones marked with the scar of an arrow will avert it.  But we're led to wonder if Genghis is altogether on the up and up when we're introduced to the first of our heroes, a young martial arts student named Shin who bears a wolf-shaped scar that seems to fit the description.  Shin doesn't seem particularly hellbent on ushering in any apocalypses, even if he does have a habit of punching people until their heads explode in gouts of blood.

There's a lot of that sort of thing in Crimson Wolf.  But to get the true measure of how much trashy pulpiness there is to go around here, we need to turn to another of our three protagonists, Mizuho.  It's no exaggeration to say that Mizuho spends more time in the nude than with her clothes on, in a manner that soon becomes awfully ridiculous.  If she's not being attacked in the shower then she's lying on a mortuary slab or being thrown naked into an underground prison cell or participating in one of the most gratuitous sex scenes you're ever likely to lay eyes on.  (At least it's consensual; in the grimy underbelly of nineties anime, that's far from a given.)  Only in the climatic third does she get up to much approaching chosen one stuff, by which point Shin has been merrily kicking ass for a good forty minutes or so.

Really, that climax redeems a lot.  It's the point where Crimson Wolf flips from gleefully exploitative, silly fun to serious bonkersness, as we find out who the villain behind all this nonsense is - I guarantee you'll never guess it in a million years, because it's awesomely stupid - and the battle suddenly becomes not a martial arts scrap but an epic showdown between historical archetypes conducted in a metaphysical realm of the imagination.  Or something.  Heck, it's hard to say precisely what's going on, but it sure is nuts, and the animation improves massively for the last ten minutes too, delivering some genuine spectacle.  Obviously that doesn't make what's come before one iota less sleazy or derivative, but if you're in the right mood, it does mean you might be left with a smile on your face.

Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, 1994, dir: Yûji Asada

In this wander through the darkest corners of nineties anime, I've come across a fair few directors who transparently deserved more career success than they got, but near the top of that list is Yûji Asada, who directed Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, would four years later make the superb Queen Emeraldas, knocked out an OVA called Early Reins in 2003 that no-one appears to remotely care about, and has apparently spent all of the rest of his time storyboarding Pokémon.  I mean, I get that there are less ignoble fates, but really?  The guy makes two of my favourite OVAs and that's where he ends up?

And here I'm generalising off precisely two short films, but it seems to me that what makes Asada a skilled director is his willingness to dig into his material and find just the right voice to make it stand out.  Because Grappler Baki and Queen Emeraldas have precious little in common other than the fact that they're both excellent versions of the things they are.  In the latter case, that means gorgeous, romantic, rather goofy space opera.  Here it adds up to horribly violent, blackly funny action spectacle told at a breakneck pace, and for that matter with no qualms if the odd neck gets broken along the way.  I confess I watched most of the last quarter through my fingers; yet as much as I'm not really one for gore these days, Asada played me like a fiddle, and not for an instant did I genuinely want to look away.

If I've danced around the story until now, it's because there isn't really one.  Baki, a seventeen-year-old kid with scars from head to toe and a fondness for drinking flat Coca Cola, wins a karate tournament effortlessly.  We then learn that he's also competing in an underground fighting ring - that's literally underground, because why not? - and that he's facing his most fearsome opponent yet, a foe known as the cord-cutter due to his fondness for ripping the nerves out of his opponents' bodies with his damn fingers.  And yeah, I was cringing just typing that sentence, though not half so much as I was during those climatic minutes.  Did I mention how violent Grappler Baki is?  Yet, partly because Baki himself is such a likable presence, sort of a more humble and cheerful Bruce Lee, and partly because Asada has such a sure grasp of tone, and partly because the action is so well conceived and slickly constructed, it's tough to find that violence really off-putting.

The result is a tremendously good use of forty-five minutes, delivering a solid chunk of story that's well fitted to its running time.  It's not exactly what you'd call great art - though a lot of the art is pretty great, and the animators do a fine job of conveying human bodies in motion, which is precisely what you need from a martial arts anime.  But, again like Emeraldas, it's an example of how to get one of these shorter OVAs right, devoting all its energies to doing one thing very well indeed.  Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter might be tough to find these days and all but lost to memory now that the property has had not one but two series adaptations, but like its director, it's worthy of a better fate.

Ayane's High Kick, 1998, dir: Takahiro Okao

Another of those shows that only U.S. Manga Corps would have bothered with, Ayane's High Kick is a two episode OVA with obvious aspirations to either more episodes or a series to call its own.  That neither happened isn't hugely surprising: it's a snip of a thing, really, though in generally appealing ways.  Most obviously, there's a definite good-naturedness to the writing, which follows high school girl Ayane, who we meet trying out for her dream role as a pro wrestler.  In doing so, she catches the eye of washed-up trainer Kunimitsu, whose creepy comments about how great her legs are turn out to be an invitation to learn at his gym.  Only, said gym is a ring that Ayane has to set up herself beneath an underpass, and what she realises way too late is that Kunimitsu is actually training her to be a kickboxer, something she has zero interest in.

Plot-wise, that's mostly all there is, though the second episode ups the ante when the head teachers at her school discover her extra-curricular activities and threaten to throw her out if she doesn't win her first major bout.  (Presumably this is how schools work in Japan.)  Filling out the cast we have Ayane's apparently only friend Kayoko, a boy who I'm not sure even gets a name, a couple of opposing fighters with their own eccentricities, and that's pretty much it.  Like I said, a snip of a thing, though given how busy some of these short OVAs can get, I don't know that that's altogether a criticism.  Indeed, the leisurely pace is a boon, giving us time to get comfortable around the small cast and to invest in Ayane's objectively kind of ridiculous struggles - something that's easily done since she's a fun character, with enough rough edges to feel reasonably real.

The animation is dirt cheap, with stills and repeated footage and other shortcuts aplenty, and could easily have come from a decade earlier, were it not for character designs that positively scream their late nineties-ness.  But for all that, it's not an ugly show, with its strong personality and sense of energy going a long way to compensate.  Which is Ayane's High Kick all round, really: like its determined, none-too-bright heroine, it's a plucky underdog, lacking the budget or ambition for greatness but nevertheless wading in wholeheartedly.  It's sweet, funny, moderately exciting in its fight sequences, and pulls off the crucial trick that any sports story needs to of fooling you that maybe the protagonist might not win.  It's definitely one I'll watch again, and if that series had transpired, I'd probably be hunting that down too.

Tekken, 1998, dir: Kunihisa Sugishima

The first thing you're likely to notice about the Tekken movie - and quite surprising this is, under the circumstances - is that it looks bloody awful.  I mean, it really is spectacularly crappy looking, and in a special way that separates it from the ugliness of mere cheap hand-drawn animation, which generally still retains a certain scrappy charm.  None of that for Tekken, which chooses instead to lean hard into the emergent field of computer-assisted animation, a good five years before the industry would learn how to make best use of it.  The result looks like a series of cut-scenes from an exceedingly bargain-basement video game (which of course the Tekken series itself wasn't) and which can't get even the simplest techniques right, even when they're techniques that anime as a whole nailed decades before.  Digital pans and zooms have none of the fluidity that animators would eventually learn to apply, making them nauseating in their artificial smoothness.  Even things like the movement of eyes looks plain wrong in a way it would be hard to accomplish animating by hand.  And the clunky character designs, which presumably were contrived to work within the limits of the technology, don't help matters, appearing bland at a distance and wildly awful close up.

What's maddening is that probably none of this was actually cheap, and that, with a similar budget applied to traditional techniques, the results would be moderately fun.  I mean, this is Tekken after all, the fighting game series that arguably found the best balance between seriousness and frivolity in a genre that tended to veer in one direction or the other.  Thus we have a plot that balances grim familial conflicts and brutal quests for vengeance with the tender tale of a robot fighting to save a little girl's life and, er, velociraptors with stealth camouflage.  Also, one of the characters gets beaten up by a boxing kangaroo.  What the film never manages to deliver is any decent fighting, which seems like a bizarre miss; indeed, all the action is distinctly bland.  Nevertheless, if you like the franchise, the way familiar elements have been cobbled together feels like the right sort of fan service, providing a central narrative that's solid enough to get a sixty minute film from A to B but stringing enough weird silliness along its path to keep matters enjoyable and interesting.

Indeed, its amusing enough that the animation slowly becomes less of a hindrance, though there isn't a single point where it could definitely be called an asset.  And as further proof that some proper money was spent on this thing, there's a lovely orchestral score that fits the material surprisingly well - so much so that ADV's replacement on the English dub, replete with songs from bands like The Offspring and whoever the hell Soulhat were, feels terribly jarring, especially given how artlessly its been grafted on.  What I watched of the dub was enough to push the movie into the territory of definite badness, whereas the original was a tolerable enough diversion.  I respected its attempts to do right by its source material, even when they were frequently undone by a lack of decent fights and that ghastly animation.  The result is very much fans-only, but if you like the wacky world of Tekken, there are worse ways to waste an hour.


Is this the first post in a while without a single standout recommendation?  I'm afraid it is.  I really did like Grappler Baki, but given the difficulty in tracking down a copy and its brief length and the fact that it's been superseded by not one but two far longer adaptations, it's tough to say honestly that anyone should track it down.  And while Crimson Wolf and Ayane's High Kick had their charms, neither was mind-blowing enough to warrant the effort of acquiring them.  How frustrating, then, that the only title here that's easy to lay hands on is Tekken - because if there's one thing the international anime market was great for back in the day, it was manufacturing huge quantities of crap titles!

But let's not get disheartened, not when our next post (assuming I'd don't change my mind or get distracted) is going to be a deep dive into the beloved mega-franchise that is Dirty Pair...

[Other reviews in this series: By Date / By Title / By Rating]

Friday, 1 November 2019

Fantasycon 2019: A non-Review

So I won't be reviewing Fantasycon this year.  Its virtues were the same as always - good company, the marvelous efforts of the red coats to keep no end of plates spinning - and its flaws were, well, just about everything else.  I suspect my own experiences are a fairly good summary: for my first panel, the moderator didn't know they were moderating until we began; for my second, we were a person short and the moderator also didn't know they were moderating; for my third, the panel topic was so incomprehensible that we wandered from it and never went back; my reading saw three of us rushed into a thirty minute slot, which the room supervisor who'd been interrupting us throughout saw fit to cancel five minutes early so that a nonexistent crowd could come in; and the glorious silliness that is Dungeons and Disorderly played to a tiny audience compared with last year thanks to a bizarrely late time slot.

At least Dungeons and Disorderly always makes for weird fun.
But, no, I'm straying into reviewing, and that I said I wouldn't do!  The thing is, for me there was one outstanding problem that eclipsed everything else, which after all was largely patched up by good improvisation on the ground.  Really, so long as there's a decent bar at a Fantasycon, it's always possible to muddle through.  Though, that said, the bar closed at one o'clock even on the Saturday ... damn it, this finding positives business is tough!

Look, here's the one issue that's not so easy to ignore: international events aside, I've never been to a conference where so many people flew to be there, and in 2019, the year when just about everyone woke up to the fact that we're in the midst of a catastrophic environmental crisis, that's not a thing that ought to be happening.  Flying is environmentally horrific; flying domestically is a fundamentally horrible idea and ought to be avoided at all reasonable costs.  But the location of this year's Fantasycon made it really hard to avoid for a great many people.  I discussed this a lot, and not one person who'd flown felt comfortable with doing so, but their reasons were invariably the same: getting there by any other means was prohibitive, either because of absurd rail costs or impossible travel times.  And let's not forget that, for many, Fantasycon very much counts as work: if you're a writer, editor, or publisher, it's a major date on the calendar.  A great many people felt they had to be there and that the only way they could do so was to fly domestically, and that's not okay.

Am I saying that national conferences shouldn't be held in Scotland?  Well, it's important to note that had the venue actually been in Glasgow, rather than its remote outskirts, that alone would have shaved an hour and more off the journey time for many, me included.  But that aside ... yeah, I guess I am.  But that's nothing against Scotland!  Do you remember when Fantasycon always seemed to be in Brighton?  That was an equally lousy location from a travel point of view.  And Heathrow?  Nearly as bad.  Surely it's common sense to favour locations that are as accessible as possible from both north and south, but that accessibility can't mean "there's an airport nearby," because that attitude is well past its sell-by date.

I feel bad using Fantasycon as a whipping post for this issue.  Yet, at the same time, I feel it's justified, because the location was misjudged, and you only need to look at the drop in attendance to see that.  But that aside, this is something I fully intend to raise more in future, and Fantasycon just happens to be first in the line of fire.  If conference organisers give the impression that they haven't considered the environmental impact of their events, that's something I believe we as an industry need to be discussing, as those in all lines of work should be.  Indeed, it's long past time that every conference had an environmental policy to go along with its harassment and other policies, one that was clearly published and treated it as a benchmark by which to judge every decision that gets made, but location most of all.  Because let's face it, if there's one thing that's bound to really bugger up the conference scene, it's not having a planet to hold them on.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 57

Nineties anime is a lot like peanut butter; you have to take the rough with the smooth.  Wait, no, that's not how peanut butter works, is it?  In fact, it's the exact opposite.  What I mean to say is that, however much smooth excellence you get, there's always going to be a bit of crunchy unpleasantness to mar the experience.  Although, thinking about it, I much prefer crunchy peanut butter to the slimy muck that is smooth peanut butter.  This is an awful simile!  The point I believe I was trying to make is that we have a moderately good selection this time around, but all of it comes with its share of flaws, much as having a slice of toast with mostly crunchy peanut butter and a bit of smooth smeared over one corner would be an ultimately disappointing experience.

No, still a dreadful simile!  This time around: Like the Clouds, Like the Wind, Jewel BEM Hunter Lime, Garzey's Wing, and Hyper Speed GranDoll...

Like the Clouds, Like the Wind, 1990, dir: Hisayuki Toriumi

From the perspective of 2019, it's hard to credit that there was a time when anime was so hard to come by in the West that a film could become known and yet be attributed to completely the wrong production studio.  But such, apparently, was the fate of Like the Clouds, Like the Wind, a production by Studio Pierrot for Nippon TV, adapting the recently published and award-winning novel Inner Palace Harem Story.  Partly due to a fan's subtitling mishap (who knew Hayao wasn't the only Miyazaki?) and partly due to the presence of Katsuya Kondō and his distinctive character designs, many incorrectly ascribed the movie to Studio Ghibli, who at that point had a considerably smaller body of work behind them and an infinitely smaller profile in the US and Europe.

On the one hand, it's an easily understood mix-up.  Like the Clouds, Like the Wind is extraordinarily lovely, far more so than almost any other animation was in 1990 that didn't have Ghibli's name on it.  (Had it been theirs, incidentally, it would have been sandwiched between Kiki's Delivery Service and Only Yesterday.)  Squint hard and it's possible to believe that it was made for television, but many a cinema release from the time doesn't hold up so well.  The backgrounds are lush, Kondō's designs are splendidly expressive, giving even the most insignificant characters a degree of inner life, and the animation is very fine indeed, not to mention integrated with the sort of attention to detail that you'd expect of a studio like Ghibli and almost nobody else.  Of course, in retrospect, 1990 was a pretty damn fine time for anime, and Pierrot were no slackers themselves, though perhaps there's not a lot else on their CV that's up to this level.  But heck, even the soundtrack could easily be mistaken for being by Joe Hisaishi, Miyazaki's frequent collaborator.

However, start to look at the story and the mistake seems harder to credit.  Of course, again, there was a good deal less to compare with, but the tale of peasant girl Ginga, who gets entirely the wrong idea about what it means to be a concubine in the court of a young new emperor and promptly sets out to volunteer her services, feels in many ways unlike something Ghibli would touch with a ten-foot pole.  Oh, you've the plucky, resourceful female protagonist who succeeds more through kindness and diligence than any innate talent, that part fits just fine.  But there's a special sort of tonal dissonance in what's ostensibly a kid's movie where the protagonist is a trainee royal concubine; it's not like the film skirts around what that job entails, or how little respect the world of ancient China had for girls like Ginga.  And it's fair to say that both Miyazaki and Takahata would have coped better with the harsh shifts between good-natured fun and political maneuvering, not to mention the screaming ninety-degree turn into sex, violence, and tragedy that is the third act.  I mean, okay, the sex is off screen and the violence is entirely bloodless, but still!  It's a shock.

Mind you, none of this should be taken to suggest that Like the Clouds, Like the Wind isn't worthy of your time, and especially so now that the good folks at Discotek have seen fit to resurrect it on blu-ray.*  The point is simply that it's a little too weird and structurally off and generally imperfect to stand being attributed to the mighty Ghibli.  If we were being seriously harsh, it's fair to say that director Toriumi does a solid but unspectacular job, never quite figuring out how to keep a story that's effectively all over the damn place on the rails.  Yet chaotic as it may be, it's still lovely and appealing and an all in all a marvelous piece of animation craft.  If it doesn't leap the impossibly high bar set by the studio it once got wrongly attributed to, it's good enough to be mentioned in the same breath, and there's not much anywhere in the world of animation that can say that.

Jewel BEM Hunter Lime, 1996, dir: Tetsurô Amino

Honestly, all Jewel BEM Hunter Lime had to do to get a little praise out of me was to be better than that title and that cover art suggest.  I mean, what on earth were they thinking?  Whose idea was it to scrawl "cute and sexy" in sharpie over the artwork?  Would Jewel Hunter Lime on its own not have been an incomprehensible enough title?  (BEM stands for Bug Eyed Monsters, though you have to pay awfully close attention to tease out that fact.)  If AnimeWorks were often slipshod, this release, an unfinished OVA tag-on to a video game lost to the annals of history, represents a new height of passing work off to the office intern and hoping nobody notices.

As such, the fact that Jewel BEM Hunter Lime is for the most part charming, and reasonably amusing, and actually has a rather clever comedy hook to it is both a pleasant and a disproportionate surprise.  Basically, the concept goes like this: in a mystical world parallel to ours, the hapless Lime and her demonic servant Bass inadvertently allow a casket of magical gems to plummet to earth, where they immediately begin turning into monsters and absorbing the negative energies of those around them.  Only, for the purposes of this show, that might mean taking on the embittered form of a candle that's sick of a world where electric lighting reigns, or a purse that doesn't know its purpose but has a vague idea that it's meant to do bad things.  In short, the monsters are goofy and surreal, and Lime and Bass's quest rapidly becomes more to do with teasing out their bewildering logic.

This side of things is just fine, and even a bit inspired in its best moments, and the technical values, while never impressive, are good enough to not get in the way; the weakest aspect on that front is a score that leans too hard into being self-consciously wacky.  Still, if Jewel BEM Hunter Lime was all about Lime and Bass's blundering attempts to catch weird monsters with weirder grudges, I'd happily recommend it.  Unfortunately, rather than focus on its one moderately original idea, the creators seem eager to tap into some of the crapper trends of nineties anime humour.  Boy, have "jokes" where Bass gropes Lime and Lime gets a bit indignant not aged well!  And things come to a head in the last of the three episodes, which manages to double down on all that while adding a hefty dose of transphobia to the brew.  Even if that doesn't bother you, it's still an awfully lackluster finale, indulging in gags that had been done to death half a decade earlier and ignoring most of what succeeded in the first two thirds.  Which is a shame, because an hour and a half on a level of the adorably silly first two episodes would have made it worth looking past AnimeWorks' efforts to make sure no-one would ever want to watch Jewel BEM Hunter Lime.

Garzey's Wing, 1996, dir: Yoshiyuki Tomino

Despite being written by and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, he of much Gundam fame, and despite being a tie-in to the popular series Aura Battler Dunbine, Garzey's Wing is generally regarded by critics with outright contempt.  And heck, there's a perfectly good chance you too will hate it, but let's not rush to conclusions!  Because I think I've devised a little test that should clarify that fact.  Do you a) insist on choosing dubs over subs and b) have any tolerance for the sort of fantasy that throws made-up names at you with machine-gun regularity?  If your answers were yes and no, you will indeed probably consider Garzey's Wing to be among the worst things ever, since it has a spectacularly shambolic dub and the sort of vocabulary you'd end up with if you threw a dozen trashy seventies fantasy novels into a blender for ten minutes.

And here ends the "respecting critical consensus" portion of this review, because, as someone who'd never put up with a bad dub when subtitles were available and who has no real issue with silly fantasy terminology if it's justified, I liked Garzey's Wing just fine.  In fact, I suspect a lot of what I liked was a lot of what's generally despised.  But before we go there, let's glance at the plot: our teenage hero Chris finds his soul sucked from his body, and seconds later he's in the deeply fantastical land of Byston Well, accompanied by a fairy - apologies, a Ferario - and fighting in what appears to be a slave rebellion, aided by giant magical swan wings that sprout from his ankles.  He soon discovers that he's been summoned by the priestess of the Metomeus tribe, as the latest in a series of mythic heroes aided by the power known as Garzey's Wing, to help liberate them and vanquish their oppressors.

Utter fantasy boilerplate then, but the show has a few tricks up its sleeve, and quite the original take on the "hero summoned from another world" template that's become so achingly familiar.  For a start, only Chris's spirit is in Byston Well, the rest of him is functioning perfectly adequately back home, though manifesting the various bruises and injuries his ethereal half suffers.  Indeed, the two can even communicate via the necklace they wear, which means corporeal Chris can offer spirit Chris tips on military strategy, chemistry, and even the construction of guns, all useful information when you're fighting a guerrilla war.  Which is essentially what Garzey's Wing boils down to: a three episode rolling conflict with a hugely disadvantaged force using every trick in the book and a few that aren't to keep themselves free and on the run.

This aspect is great stuff, and Chris makes for a surprisingly terrific hero.  For every scene he's being a chosen one with unearned magical powers, there are ten where he's simply doing his best at whatever the cost and trying to apply twentieth-century ingenuity to the problems of fantasy-land warfare.  The result is bloody, chaotic, desperate-seeming, and also, to my mind, the justification for all of that nonsense terminology: Chris is thrust into this madness without compass or anchor and therefore so are we.  There's precisely one scene that went too far into word salad for my tolerance, but generally it's easy enough to keep track of who's who and what's what if you concentrate.

Look, I don't want to oversell the thing.  Clichéd fantasy is still clichéd fantasy, even when it has the nous to upend a few of those clichés in interesting ways.  And while the animation is perfectly fine, it's never mind-blowing, nor is it aided greatly by Tomino's presence as director.  His experience certainly shows, but this is the work more of a solid but unspectacular storyteller than an established master.  It's simply an ingenious take on a well-worn idea, which sacrifices traditional narrative in favour of a ninety-minute-long fight for survival - and one which, unfortunately, U. S. Manga Corps saw fit to saddle with a dub so catastrophic that it's entered into anime legend.  One of the reasons I insist on loving U. S. Manga Corps, though, even when they don't altogether deserve it?  They always provided a sub too.  And I'd hazard that if, on this occasion, they'd kept it to just that, Garzey's Wing might be remembered with mild fondness.

Hyper Speed GranDoll, 1997, dir: Hideki Tonokatsu

The problem isn't so much that Hyper Speed GranDoll tries to do too many things, but that none of them are even slightly original and it does every one badly.  Anime often flits between genres and lumps together tropes, and it's perfectly possible that a release could cram comedy, space opera, romance, heart-rending tragedy, and robotic suit action into one perfectly successful mix; in fact, I've seen plenty of shows that do.  Heck, even the vigorous lifting of elements from elsewhere needn't be that huge a problem; the biggest point of reference is clearly Project A-Ko, and it's not as if A-Ko was a touchstone of originality in its own right.  No, the only irreparable problem here is that it seems like nobody involved gave enough of a damn to inject a bit of life.

Actually, I say that; there's a vein of humour that works pretty well, and the show's willingness to ditch it within an episode for totally unearned drama is its most frustrating failing.  The setup - a high-school girl finds that she's not the daughter of the mad scientist father and ditzy mother she believes to be her parents, but actually the princess of a galactic dynasty, and now the rebel leader who took down said dynasty is after the invincible armour system sent with her to guard her - is absolutely generic nineties anime.  But mad science can be funny, and that most of what our heroine Hikaru's adoptive dad devotes his inventive energies to is trying to help her run her life while actually making it hellish is a fun notion.  As such, the first ten minutes of the first episode are by far the most entertaining.

Then Hyper Speed GranDoll goes downhill, and more or less keeps going for the next hour and change.  Simply put, no other element is worth a damn.  The science-fiction back story is muddled and largely irrelevant; the fights are outrageously simplistic, and the romance falls flat, perhaps because neither party has an identifiable character trait between them.  Worst, surely, is the plot line that starts in episode two, in which the villain's lover poses as a student at Hikaru's school and they become friends, to the point of a bath scene so gratuitous that it actually undermines the wider story, since the two are clearly way more into each other than they are their respective menfolk.  Anyway, this character, who's name I can't be bothered to look up, is one we're clearly supposed to become invested in, to the point where her inevitable choice of whether to betray Hikaru or her psychotic, mass-murdering lover is a big enough deal to hang the entire climax on.  This, as you may have guessed, doesn't work one teeny bit.

Oh, and the animation is mediocre at best, and the designs are mostly horrible: the GranDoll suit is possibly the least intimidating thing imaginable, for all that it has an attack called "shining breast" that you can probably figure out for yourself - though even that's not half so interesting as it sounds!  And the music, even the end theme, never rises beyond the level of acceptable.  But when you get right down to it, it's the unsupportable shift from wacky lightheartedness to high-stakes violence and misery that the show simply can't survive.  A version of Hyper Speed GranDoll that remembers to be fun for its entire running time would at least be, well, fun.  The one we get, that seems to believe anyone's going to care deeply about it's drab plot or tiresome characters or wholly predictable battle for the fate of the earth is entirely a waste of time.


That was a weird old batch!  Nothing quite turned out to be what I expected, except possibly for Like the Clouds, Like the Wind, and even that was a good deal stranger than I'd anticipated.  I'd assumed Jewel BEM Hunter Lime would be ridiculous tosh, and it came awfully close to being a charming little comedy; I'd had high hopes of Hyper Speed GranDoll, for reasons I've totally forgotten, and it was so mediocre that it made me kind of angry.  And Garzey's Wing, widely considered to be one of the worst anime releases from the decade - well, I surely didn't think that would end up being a keeper.  It just goes to show something, though I'm buggered if I can say what.  Probably that I ought to watch more nineties anime.  Yeah, let's go with that.

[Other reviews in this series: By Date / By Title / By Rating]

* Though brownie points lost for the incredibly vanilla blu-ray and the fact that, while the picture looks just fine, the sound appears not to have been remastered and is pretty much a mess.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

My Fantasycon 2019 Schedule

I've been largely skiving from the convention scene this year, and 2019 might even have proved to be the first year in goodness knows how long that I didn't go to any at all, but a recent bit of (as yet undisclosed!) good news spurred me to take the leap and, as the kids say, get me some Fantasycon.  And at time of writing, I'm glad I did, since I've managed to blag my way onto a lot of fun, interesting stuff over the course of the weekend.  Here's what that looks like:

Friday 7pm - Scotland on Screen (with Allen Stroud, Shona Kinsella & Heather Valentine)
Highlanders, Outlanders, Trainspotters, Scots! The best of Genre film that draws on Scotland for inspiration, direct or otherwise.
Honestly, I'm not sure there's forty-five minutes of subject matter here, and yet, of all my three panels, this is the one I'm most excited for, partly because I love talking movies and partly because I love even more talking about obscure movies, and this has the scope to get pretty damn obscure!

Sat 1pm - YA genre fiction (with AK Faulkner & Ian Hunter)
Writing it, reading it, what works, what doesn’t, and how it overlaps with fiction marketed towards older and younger readers. What do you want to see more of? What gives it a sustained home in our hearts?
Whereas this is theoretically safe territory, except that my approach to writing for young adults is just to write for adults and hope no-one ever calls me out on it.

Sat 3pm - Person or Pet? (with RJ Barker Katherine Inskip & Jacey Bedford )
Sentient non-humans, nonsentient pets, soulbonds and free will in fantasy stories. The panel explore the muddy waters of how we treat non-human characters, and the problematic issues of consent tied into these tropes
In which I'll be talking a lot about a certain floating eyeball companion who, as up-to-date Black River Chronicles readers will know, is steadily getting that series' weirdest plot line.  Yes, it's the Pootle panel!

Sat 5.45pm - Reading

Though actually, due to an apparent programming snafu, my slot amounts to eight minutes or so somewhere between half five and six o'clock, since there are three of us crammed in there.  Then again, I have Pete Sutton and Ramsey Campbell as more than respectable company, and I'm sure that if I talk fast I can get through a page or three.  It'll almost certainly be from the newly out A Savage Generation, assuming I don't forget to bring a copy.

Sat 10pm - Dungeons & Disorderly D3: Vault of the Cow (with David Thomas Moore, Mike Brooks, Ali Nouraei, Stewart Hotston & Jonathan Oliver)
The Terrifying Sorcerer of Terrifying Evil has been defeated, the Sheep on the Borderlands sheared and penned, and the Temple of Elemental Weevils properly fumigated. It is time to venture in the Underdork! In module D3, Vault of the Cow, the players will clash with the sinister, mysterious race known only as The Cow of the Underdark...
Very likely to be the highlight of my event weekend, this, since David Thomas Moore's surreal, audience-interactive role-playing pastiche proved great fun last year, when my barbarian accountant managed to save the day (or possibly undermine the entire quest, I can't exactly remember) by realising at the last minute that our party had gone over budget.  Incidentally, gang, I'm still waiting on your expenses claim forms, and no, Lembas bread is not tax deductible.


So that's me.  I'll be around from around six on the Friday, assuming that by some rare miracle the British transport system doesn't fail me, and ducking out at banquet-time on the Sunday, since banquets are a tool of the wealthy oppressor and not for us impoverished writer types.  (Okay, it's mainly because I want to get home in time for tea.)  Do find me and say hello if you're there, and assuming I genuinely don't forget, I might have a few budget copies of A Savage Generation to sell to anyone who's interested.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

A Savage Generation Reviews Round-Up

A Savage Generation has been out for a couple of weeks now and has already gathered itself a smattering of reviews, so I thought I'd compile them here for anyone who's on the fence about grabbing a copy.  Fortunately, they mostly seem to be very positive, and a couple are seriously glowing, so clearly the consensus is that you should!

Given how far outside my usual wheelhouse this one is, it was reassuring to discover that a couple of people I know to be familiar with my wider work hadn't been put off.  Andy Angel, who blogs at Ebookwyrm's BlogCave, must have read just about everything I've written, as he himself says: "I'll admit I'm a big fan of Tallerman and his writing in various genres, I've been reading him for years."  So that he concluded, "I tell it as it is and this is one of his best" means a lot!  The same goes for Theresa Derwin's very thorough (and five star) review on Goodreads, which I'd recommend to anyone who wants to get a solid sense of what the book's about, since it does a great job of setting out the major characters, conflicts, and themes.  And she wraps up by saying that "It’s an excellent novel and there were genuinely tense moments throughout, as well as some great characters.  Another great book from Tallerman."

Of course, you can never be totally certain that people you've met aren't sparing your feelings ever so slightly, so it's reassuring to get a similar response from total strangers!  There's a nice, in-depth write-up at The Coy Caterpillar Reads which begins "The book world is rife with Post-Apocalyptic novels of zombies, disease and despair.  A Savage Generation cracks that mould and gives us something alarmingly real" and ends "Overall, this one of the best Post-Apocalyptic novels I have had the pleasure of reading."  But perhaps my favourite of the exceedingly positive reviews is the one from Bekah's Bookshelves, which states that "I read a lot of post apocalyptic fiction and I'd say this book is up there with the better ones."  While the reviewer struggled to start with - "Initially it was a little difficult to connect with the characters as the book switches POV quite frequently" - she urges that it's worth sticking with to "...see all these different characters come together in unexpected ways" and wraps up, "I highly recommend this book..."

Not quite so positive or detailed, but still definitely on the thumbs up side of things, there's the review at The Bookwormery, which notes, "...while this does feel like an episode of The Walking Dead, there is so much more to it. Yes the Sickers are out there and if they bite, scratch or spit on you, you will get infected, BUT, this is also about children, and how they are affected, left to pretty much fend for themselves while the adults plot and fight amongst themselves and the Sickers."  And Booker T's Farm awards 3 paws, which I think is a fairly good amount of paws, and says, "I found "A Savage Generation" to be a very action-packed, speedy read.  I was invested in what was happening to most of the characters," adding, "I felt an attachment to some while others I not-so-secretly wished would meet then demise."  Given how horrid a few of them are, that seems fair enough to me!

Inevitably, there were bound to be people who didn't dig A Savage Generation quite so much, and one of those was The Caffeinated Reader, though they're nice enough to point out that the only real reason was down to personal taste: "I would have enjoyed this SO much more if it hadn’t been in the present tense and I have to say because it was I found it a struggle to get through, just solely on that. Because the plot is interesting, the characters are stereotypical but I’m not looking for unique ones in a zombie story, they’re appropriately awesome and simultaneously scared sh**less when the time calls for it."  In fact, does that even count as a negative review?  They even add that "it’s not the book, it’s me" which seems awfully fair-minded.  So that only leaves Dark Reads, and even they didn't exactly hate it.  While they "...found the story slow moving and ... didn’t get the suspense and excitement I would usually get from this type of book" the reviewer does go on to say that "overall ... the premise, imagery and writing were good, this one just didn’t work for me on an emotional level."

So there we go!  A fair bit of love, a lot of liking, and a couple of folks who didn't get on with A Savage Generation but were nice enough to point out that maybe the book wasn't altogether at fault.  Given some of the bizarre reviews I've had before now - yes, person who gave the second Black River book one star based on the synopsis, I'm thinking of you! - I'm pretty happy with that.  And if you've been won over, you can find A Savage Generation at all the usual stockists, in e-book, audiobook, paperback and really lovely hardback edition.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

A Savage Generation Unleashed

It's the 26th of September, and you know what that means?  It means that A Savage Generation, my second book with Flame Tree Press (after The Bad Neighbour) and the novel I've been working on for, I kid you not, approximately a decade, is out today.

I mean, obviously I haven't actually been working on it nonstop for a decade.  It's not War and Peace.  But it was March 2010 when I wrote the first words of what would become, via many drafts and numerous title changes and one total reimagining, A Savage Generation, and that's a level of effort I'm pretty certain I've never put into anything else ever.  Does that make this the best book I've ever written?  Of course not, it doesn't work that way; you don't craft great books by just throwing hours at them!  But it's definitely unique among everything I've done: a bit more complex and ambitious, a bit denser, and a whole lot grimmer.  That last one's probably a coincidence, but then, you can never be sure, can you?

This is perhaps a weird thing to publicly admit, but every time I look at A Savage Generation, I'm surprised by the craftsmanship there.  I don't know that it's better written than my other work, but it's certainly differently written, and it has a distinctive voice that I barely recognise as my own.  But I do think that it contains a lot of my best writing, a consequence of reaching far outside my various comfort zones and getting burned, and then slowly figuring out what was working and what wasn't and chipping out a shape that - again, uniquely among my novels - was almost unrecognisable from what I'd originally set out to create.  It's not a process I'd willingly go through again, because who wants to spend a decade getting a novel right?  But I'm glad I did it just the once, and I learned a lot in the process.

Look, I'll shut up now!  The point is, if you like my fiction, you're going to be intrigued by this one, because it's something altogether different, and also maybe something a bit less filtered.  But if you don't like my fiction (and it's weird that you'd be reading this blog post, but thanks, I guess!) then why not have another try, with a book I can guarantee you is unique among everything I've put out?

Okay, here's the blurb...
Sickness is ravaging America, driving the infected to savagery.
Petty criminal Ben Silensky is determined to get his girlfriend Carlita and son Kyle free of the quarantined city they live in, enough so to risk a foolhardy crime and then to team up with Carlita's equally desperate cop cousin Nando.  Once they're out, Nando is certain they'll find a safe haven in the prison, White Cliff, where his uncle works.  But unbeknown to him, White Cliff has already become a survivalist colony named Funland under the management of entrepreneurial convict Plan John.
In Funland itself, guard Doyle Johnson is shocked when his ex-wife abandons his son Austin into his care.  Fearing the vulnerable position he's been placed in, he recruits the help of Katherine Aaronovich, the prison's doctor.  However, Aaronovich's traumatic past has left her with vulnerabilities of her own, along with a radical theory on the nature of the epidemic that will place all their lives in jeopardy.
As the last vestiges of civilisation crumble, Funland may prove to be the safest or the most dangerous of places, depending on who comes out on top, and what can't be held together will inevitably be torn apart.
A Savage Generation is available from all good stockists of books and book-shaped objects, in e-book, paperback, and hardback formats.  The hardback is flat-out gorgeous, so that's probably the one to go for if you have the cash.  Oh, and there's an audiobook on the way, though it doesn't seem to be available quite yet.  Watch this space!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 56

A small personal accomplishment of note: I had an opportunity to review a bit of seventies anime here and I resisted.  No siree, I may have ended up reviewing way too much eighties anime in this series that has 'nineties' right there in the title, but that's where I draw the line!  Though now that I think, probably 'anime made between the start and end of the nineties' would have been a more sensible place for that line to go.  Ah well!  Mistakes have been made, let's face it.

All of which is to say that we're back in the eighties, and this time we're looking at Dallos, Crusher Joe: The Movie, Garaga, and Fist of the North Star: The Movie...

Dallos, 1983, dir's: Mamoru Oshii, Hisayuki Toriumi

For years, I thought of Mamoru Oshii as the guy who made the Ghost in the Shell movies, and that was enough to earn him a spot in my personal pantheon.  On the back of those, I kept an eye out for his subsequent work, hard as it often was to find in the West.  His live-action effort Avalon is one of my favourite science-fiction films, and The Sky Crawlers, while hard to love, remains a hell of an achievement.  Then, returning to the Patlabor movies for this series, I was reminded of how astonishing and innovative they were.  And the retrospective dragged me back further, through the bizarre Angel's Egg to Oshii's two stabs at making Urusei Yatsura features, the first a rollicking bit of franchise fare and the second a surreal, distressing explosion of that selfsame notion.  But even those weren't anywhere near to Oshii's debut; he had a ton of TV work behind him, and more relevant to our current purposes, he co-directed Dallos, which so happens to be the first OVA ever released.  What would become a mainstay of the anime landscape was still an innovative idea in 1983: to put out a big budget but not cinema budget release, with a greater degree of artistic freedom than made-for-TV films allowed.

Point being, Mamoru Oshii is a goddamn legend, who'd earned his place as one of anime's great innovators long before he came to fame in the West.  Dallos is fine stuff, and thanks to Discotek, who recently released its four episodes unmangled for the first time, it's possible to see what an achievement it was.  Oshii's tale is ahead of its time in ways big and small: notably serious, with an attention to detail that approaches hard science-fiction, exceedingly brutal, and perhaps most surprisingly, politically conscious in the extreme.  Following an outbreak of rebellion on a lunar colony whose existence has drifted by degrees from necessary hardship to needless exploitation, it insists on asking difficult questions and presenting conflicting interpretations, none of them altogether wrong.  In fact, its core is an argument, one sometimes fought with guns and re-purposed mining mechs but as often with words, and it's telling that the climax is simply protagonist Shun Monomura sitting down with his grandfather, trying to choose between the ideas he's been stranded among for two hours.

If you're at all on Oshii's wavelength - which is to say, if you're happy to have your cool action sequences interspersed with moments of heavy introspection and philosophising - then this is immensely satisfying.  But that's not to say it's up there with his later work.  Partly that's due to technical restrictions he would surpass with the Patlabor and GitS films: Dallos looks good, and there's some terrific design work, but ultimately it's animation from 1983 on a less than stellar budget, and that does frequently show.  For that matter, its age is evident elsewhere, and nowhere more so than in the hit-and-miss score, which in its worst moments actively hurts the material.  And it's fair to say that Dallos doesn't go in much for character development, or have the smoothest of edits.  Nor does it exactly finish, leaving huge questions open for a sequel that would never appear.

But ultimately, I think the issue is that Oshii would subsequently get better at modulating his approach, and it was only with the first Patlabor that he learned to dial his ideas back enough for them not to be slightly exhausting.  At times, Dallos is simply too much, much as Beautiful Dreamer and Angel's Egg would have their moments of feeling like an assault on the intellect rather than entertainment.  Still, when my worst criticism of something is that it assaulted my intellect a little too vigorously, that remains a recommendation!  The frequently negative reviews I've come across suggest Dallos isn't to all tastes, but at the least it's a title you ought to make your own mind up on.

Crusher Joe: The Movie, 1983, dir: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

If you've any familiarity with Japanese hand-drawn animation, you'll have grown familiar with those set piece sequences that exist in part to let the animators show off their stuff: those with cars or spaceships or giant robots moving in complex fashion through three-dimensional space, or even entire landscapes tumbling toward the screen.  The point, of course, is that the more you have in motion, the more work is involved, and the harder it is to portray convincingly, which is why they tend to crop up maybe half a dozen times amid vastly simpler scenes.

Crusher Joe has one of those sequences roughly every two minutes.

Granted, they're not all perfect.  In an odd misfire, the opener, a battle on a raised highway between speeding cars and a truck, is by far the wonkiest.  But so many of them are flat-out extraordinary that it's churlish to quibble.  This is an incredibly show-offy performance from a studio, Sunrise, with talent to spare, and what's being shown off is frequently eye-popping.  And by no means is it there to disguise cost-cutting elsewhere, either.  There are the usual minor problems that seem to plague eighties animation, like characters going off model or being visibly the work of different designers with not-quite-compatible aesthetics, but on the whole it's terrific work, as sly and witty in its slower moments as it's splashy and bombastic in its space battles, gun fights, and dance sequences.*  Couple that with a lavish orchestral score and the result is something that absolutely feels like it was made to wow the heck out of cinema audiences.

Which is great, and you won't find many people more willing to sit and watch gorgeous animation for two and a quarter hours regardless of what it's showing.  But oh if there was a bit more story underneath it all!  It's not substance that's missing, precisely.  Our heroes, a bunch of amoral bounty hunters (rather, crushers) led by the rough-and-ready Joe, are utterly one note, but they're good notes, and the supporting cast are much the same.  More importantly, the universe they inhabit, presumably taken largely intact from creator Haruka Takachiho's light novel series, is a fine background of space opera at its grubbiest and most corrupt.  Since it's tough to avoid Star Wars comparisons with an epic sci-fi movie made in 1983, imagine a universe where everywhere was different shades of Mos Eisley and you're basically there.  So no, the cast are fine, the setting's more than fine, and the problem is simply that there's nowhere near one hundred and thirty five minutes of plot in Crusher Joe's thin tale of a deal gone wrong and the conniving and violent retribution that follows.

I can't possibly bring myself to condemn Crusher Joe: it looks stunning, it's compellingly mean-spirited as space opera goes, on a scene-by-scene basis it's marvelous, and it contains the first appearance of Takachiho's other famous creation, the Dirty Pair, in a cheeky background homage.  But there truly is too much of a good thing, and no more so than with anime, a medium that tends toward the dense and fast-paced.  More than once I found myself checking the clock, only to be stunned by how little running time had passed, when surely there was no way so many action sequences could have been crammed into so few minutes.  The result is a must-watch if this is at all in your wheelhouse, but if its creators had only shown a dash of restraint and limited their ambitions to the story they had to tell - or even better, come up with a story as lavish and intricate as their animation - then we'd certainly be looking at a masterpiece.

Garaga, 1989, dir: Hidemi Kubo

Garaga has more than its share of problems, but the one that especially stood out for me was confusing busywork with plot.  Its tale of a crash-landed interstellar crew and the planet they find themselves stranded on has its share of twists and turns, almost nobody is quite what they seem, villains are revealed to be heroes and vice versa - but Garaga supposes that all this is interesting in and of itself and it simply isn't.  Discovering that a character you've been led to suppose is an average Joe is in fact a member of some galactic army or other doesn't make that character any more fundamentally engaging.  And that's partly because none of the cast are given even so much as one dimension and partly because there's just so much of this stuff: too many people doing too many things in too many places for too many reasons.  We're two thirds of the way through before the real shape of the plot begins to show through, and it's not even a terribly interesting shape: a familiar scenario spruced up with, again, more ingredients than it needs or can really bear.

And here I am being terribly negative, when in truth Garaga was always on the right side of watchable.  In its first third, as our knowledge is restricted largely to that of the stranded crew, it's actually quite charming, doling out its world building and character development in an organic fashion.  The animation is cheap but watchable and never actively bad, the score is energetic and used with restraint, and all in all it has the feel of the kind of movie you might have found yourself stuck in front of as a kid on a Sunday afternoon, not so great that it's going to stay with you but hardly bad enough to warrant turning off.  And it regains ground in its last minutes, too, once all the twisting and turning and people being other than who we were led to believe has mostly worn itself out.

Actually, thinking back, there's even an interesting enough plot struggling to get out from under all the scaffolding, and possibly it would be clearer on a rewatch.  But the truth is, I can't see myself bothering.  Other than more focus and depth, what Garaga really needs is that one ingredient to separate it from the crowd, the odd stunning sequence or genuine glint of originality, and it's simply not there.  Everything is just about fine, the elements that might stand out get lost in the mire, and the result is that rare title I find myself totally unable to recommend.  It's hardly horrible, but "hardly horrible" isn't a reason to seek out rare eighties anime, is it?

Fist of the North Star: The Movie, 1986, dir: Toyoo Ashida

It may surprise anyone who's read a few of these posts to discover that, way back when I was a university student, Fist of the North Star was one of the shows that first got me into anime.  I may have drifted away from the more violent end of the market over the years, but in those days, having never seen anything like it, the TV show's outrageous extremes, wherein a single punch could shatter someone's head to mush and a rapid-fire series of blows could turn them into a veritable shower of bloody meat, were as mind-blowing for me as they were for those poor, dumb fools who regularly crossed paths with its hero Kenshiro.

Two decades on, I can still see the appeal.  At its best, the Fist of the North Star movie occupies a mythic sphere of bizarre and blood-soaked grandeur.  In the opening scenes, Ken is betrayed by a brother martial artist from his school who covets his girlfriend and leaves him for dead - having carved the symbol of the north star into his bare chest using just his fingers - only to be tossed into an apparently bottomless ravine by another bitter rival, only to then have a giant rock sent down after him to make triply sure.  When Ken returns, apparently from the grave, it's in a baffling sequence where he casually punches his way through crumbling skyscrapers while covered from head to toe in stone.  There are literal giants, and apocalyptic wastelands that make those of Mad Max look like a nice place to raise a family.  Entrails are torn out and, yes, there are certainly no shortage of exploding heads along the way.  It's ridiculous, but it's ridiculous in a grand register that at times make it feel like some muddled translation of an ancient myth, Gilgamesh revised for the video nasty generation.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, that's kind of all that truly works.  The characters are non-existent, as is the plot; indeed, by being only one chunk of a bigger story, the narrative refuses to go anywhere in a manner that's especially galling.  The backgrounds are routinely stunning, and it's evident that a great deal of money and labour went into the character animation, but in the hands of Toyoo Ashida - director also of the original Vampire Hunter D - the cumulative effect is less than impressive.  And it's not helped by Eastern Star, who felt the need to pad out an otherwise glorious remaster with a few previously censored scenes that add nothing and look as though they've been ripped from VHS.  There's even a sequence with obviously unfinished backgrounds that are basically pencil sketches, though where the blame lies for that is anyone's guess.  In short, it's a technically impressive film that rarely does much impressing.  Indeed, only one lengthy chase scene through a ruined cityscape sticks in the memory as a superlative bit of animation.

Mind you, if you're of a mind to enjoy what Fist of the North Star is offering, these sorts of criticisms probably won't matter.  There's no end of preposterous manliness and absurd but imaginative carnage, there are a couple of fun and booming heavy rock anthems that are a perfect fit for the material, and as I say, at its best it really does capture a mythic quality that's appealing in its own right.  Were the plot a bit tidier and had the creators found a more satisfying way to wrap things up, I'd still be inclined to give the movie a favourable review, if only as a fascinatingly weird corner of anime history.  But as it is, I found my interest ebbing over the nearly two hour running time, as the plot ground to a halt to busy itself with yet another tangent or side character - and if there's one thing a hyper-violent post-apocalyptic martial arts film can't afford to do, it's bore you.  Sad to say, for all that Fist of the North Star was revolutionary in its time, this movie version is limited in what it has to offer anyone outside of its target audience.


You know, in retrospect, it would have made more sense to wrap up the nineties reviews and then drift back to the eighties, wouldn't it?  Especially as the appeal of the earlier stuff is steadily growing for me: weirdly, eighties anime feels in many ways newer to me than nineties anime, since I saw a much bigger proportion of the latter the first time around.  Anyway, give Dallos and Crusher Joe a look, why don't you?  They're both pretty great, and not so impossible to get a hold of.

Next, back to both the nineties and total randomness!

[Other reviews in this series: By Date / By Title / By Rating]

* Yes, there's a dance sequence, and it's downright brilliant.