Sunday, 23 February 2020

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 63

The posts where I randomly talk about whatever happens to come off the to-watch shelf have been getting increasingly uncommon of late, but to make up for it, this is about as random as it could get: a couple of very different flavours of sci-fi, a bit of raunchy comedy, and is this the first straight-up romance anime that I've covered?  I think it might be.

Put all  that together and we have: Golden BoyMegazone 23 Part 2: Please Give Me Your Secret, Marriage, and Harlock Saga...

Golden Boy, 1995, dir: Hiroyuki Kitakubo

Here's what happens in the first episode of the six part OVA Golden Boy: twenty-five-year-old Kintaro begs his way into a job at a software development firm staffed entirely by women, then proceeds to screw up repeatedly while behaving like a massive sex pest.  (He has a particular fondness for rubbing himself on toilets.)  He somehow manages to get away with this behaviour for a few weeks, until a particularly catastrophic mistake sees the studio's latest project deleted and him unceremoniously fired.  But there's a twist!  While Kintaro was giving every impression of being useless, he was actually learning everything the women around him knew, and he single-handedly rewrites the software, only in a fraction of the time and better!  Needless to say, his former boss deeply regrets firing the young genius, but too late, he's already moved on - because, as will become apparent from the subsequent episodes, Kintaro's basically the Littlest Hobo if the Littlest Hobo was a colossal pervert instead of, you know, a dog.

What's galling - I mean, other than the entire concept! - is that when Golden Boy isn't embracing this formula, it's much, much better and often legitimately funny.  I mean, I guess there are people who find watching a guy rubbing himself on a toilet funny, what with humour being subjective and everything, so perhaps what I mean is that it's legitimately clever and novel in its humour: when the stentorian announcer who closes off each episode first reveals the secret behind Kintaro's weird lifestyle, for instance, it's a truly excellent gag.  And the better episodes stray far enough from the core idea of "Kintaro behaves like a letch, then is better than women at everything" to become genuinely entertaining stories in their own right.  For the most part, also, Golden Boy gets better as it goes along, and the last two episodes are comfortably the best.  For that matter, when Kintaro isn't being a jerk who literally can't see women as human beings, he's kind of a decent guy, one with a sound work ethic and a fascinating outlook: he roams the land taking job after job because he sees life as an opportunity to learn as much as possible.

Ultimately, though, what made it tough for me to dislike Golden Boy the way I felt I was going to based on the first episode is that it looks terrific.  I'd go so far as to say that it's one of the best-looking OVAs I've encountered, and there are scenes that wouldn't embarrass themselves in a feature from the time; a bike versus motorbike race in the penultimate episode is a tremendous sequence, not to mention a comic high point, and the opening credits are a sterling piece of animation in their own right.  Indeed, there's a real sense of love for the medium, as evidenced by the final episode, which is set in an anime studio and manages to wrap up proceedings on a far less sour note than the one they began on.  The result is a show that I flat-out hated at points, but also one that I can see why there's so much affection for out there.  I found too much of it obnoxious to go that far, but if ecchi humour is your thing, there are reasons why Golden Boy is considered a paragon of that subgenre.

If you haven't seen the original Megazone 23 in roughly the last ten minutes, this second part is assuredly not for you.  It couldn't make less effort to fill in vital back story or to avoid chucking the viewer in at the deep end and then not much caring whether they swim.  However, if you have seen Megazone 23 recently, you might find yourself equally as confused; months have elapsed since its ambiguous finale with little explanation, and perhaps more crucially, all of the character designs have changed, as indeed has the entire aesthetic, replacing its softer, curvier, cartoonier look with something a good deal busier and grittier.

And that's Megazone 23: Part 2 all over, really.  I genuinely get the impression it considers itself a faithful sequel: the actual part 2 that it claims to be, and so effectively the second half of a single entity.  Plot-wise that makes a considerable amount of sense; we're watching the same characters in broadly the same scenario, and all the dangling threads left over by Megazone 23's very open ending are picked up and dealt with to at least some degree.  So it's surprising how tonally at odds it manages to feel.  It's hard to fault the creators for that decision: our protagonist, Shogo Yahagi, is a very different person in very different circumstances to the cheerful, naive hero of the first part, and he can't unlearn that movie's twists.  But it doesn't altogether explain how much darker everything has suddenly got, let alone how violent.  I'm not easily shocked, but, in part because the first movie was so relatively tame, I was taken aback by how gory this second entry got in places: one sequence in particular is downright nasty.  And for that matter, there's a sex scene that makes the one in Megazone 23, and indeed those in ninety-nine percent of anime that isn't actual hentai, look awfully timid.

Then there's the animation - and I hardly know what to say about the animation.  I don't doubt for a second that it cost a lot of money, because it's littered with the sorts of ambitious shots that don't come cheap, and the level of detail is overwhelming in places, to an extent that I've seen almost nowhere else in anime.  It's tremendously busy work, and tremendously show-offy, and at the same time, it's frequently a little bit terrible.  Countless shots are subtly but distinctively off in a manner that you wouldn't expect from experienced animators, as though everyone was so caught up in the ambition of what they were doing that they never entirely got around to finishing anything.

Taken all together, it really is befuddling: it feels like a sequel made by people who were given all the resources they could need on the back of a successful first entry, and were determined to do it justice and to make its fans happy and to draw its narrative to a satisfactory conclusion, and at the same time didn't really like it very much and secretly wanted to chuck the lot out the window and do their own thing.  Really, Megazone 23: Part 2 is closer to what would have happened if Akira had continued in the vein of its opening twenty minutes for its entire length, only with the plot of Megazone 23 intruding every so often.  And as much as I've probably made this sound terrible, the truth is that I found it exhilarating, and in many ways exactly the sequel I'd have hoped would follow the fun, imaginative, but ever-so-slightly lacklustre first entry.  Megazone 23: Part 2 is nuts, and a mess, and for every moment of brilliance, there's a shot that's totally wonky or an element that doesn't work, but by damn its not short of energy or risk-taking or moments of visual brilliance.

Marriage, 1995, dir: Kazuhiro Ozawa

It's hard to know what to make of the 1995 OVA Marriage.  Even pinning down precisely what it is hasn't been as easy as I'd have hoped, and though the most plausible suggestion I've come across is that it's an adaptation of one of those dating simulator games that are such an untranslatable feature of the Japanese cultural landscape, I'm not altogether certain that's the case.  It certainly has to be the epitome of AnimeWorks fetish for releasing anything they could lay their hands on, though who they were imagining the target audience to be is anyone's guess.  Oh, I totally see an argument for bringing romance anime over, and that's kind of what I was expecting this to be.  But, based largely on this release and its reviews, it seems fair to say that, at least in 1995, what counted as romantic in Japan was very much not what counted as romantic in the US or Europe.  Because Marriage is hella unromantic.  It's actually kind of forcibly anti-romantic for the most part, in its headlong focus on a single goal at the exclusion of all else.  And you can guess what that goal is, right?  It's there in the title.

What we have amounts to two short stories.  At the time, I thought that many of the cast of twenty-something career women and their male friends and co-workers carried over from one to the other, but having read the back of the box, they're apparently different people who just look the same.  Anyway, in the first, the group try and find a match for the shy Shizuka, by any and all means necessary, and the result is a moderately charming insight into the life of Japanese career women in the mid-nineties, along with the arcane mysteries of the dating scene they put themselves though.  The characters are shallow, but they're deftly portrayed, and though she's subjected to a tooth-grittingly ghastly date at one point, there's the sense that things are going to work out okay for Shizuka.  But then comes along episode two - with a different writer, notably - and boy does everything just explode into a horrible mess.  In this one, the clones of the cast from part one are four sisters trying to fix up their fifth sibling, Kiyomi, the only one not yet to tie the knot.  And wouldn't you know it, even as the topic gets raised, a suitor arrives, in the shape of Mikimaro, who's been hankering after Kiyomi in secret for goodness knows how long.  Well, what can the sisters do except school him on how best to propose?

The correct answer is anything, because Mikimaro is a creepy little sod without a single redeeming feature, and the closest he comes to displaying an actual personality is when he loses his temper at Kiyomi for not taking him seriously, a genuinely shocking moment that couldn't ring many more alarm bells if it tried.  Add to that the fact that Kiyomi is clearly hung up on her philandering ex, and her seemingly overwhelming indifference to Mikimaro, and the strong implication that she has no real interest in getting married full stop, and the result is excruciating, not to mention impossible to parse as entertainment.  Surely we're not supposed to be on man-child Mikimaro's side?  Surely our role as audience members isn't to will Kiyomi into this miserable union?  Who the hell knows?  But it's an agonising experience, all right.

What that means is one episode that's vaguely interesting on the level of cultural insight, though certainly not as romance, and one episode that's actively uncomfortable on any level whatsoever.  And neither of them has anything remotely exciting happening on the level of animation or design, though they look fine as these things go, and certainly neither impresses with their achingly bland music.  So unless you're researching dating practices in nineties Japan, or obsessively picking up AnimeWorks' bewildering catalogue so that you can be snarky about it on your blog, it's tough to say why anyone might consider tracking this one down.  I won't pretend it wasn't a little fascinating, but then so are car crashes, and you probably oughtn't to spend money to watch one of those.

Harlock Saga, 1999, dir: Yoshio Takeuchi

It makes me a touch sad that, with the occasional exception, I can't quite fall in love with the works of Leiji Matsumoto, because I feel like I should.  And that's truer of Harlock Saga than most of what I've come across, which has all the virtues of the better entries - the grand scope, the dizzy romanticism, the treatment of absolutely preposterous notions with such straight-faced solemnity that you can't but buy into them - and adds a whole extra layer of ludicrous ambition.  For Harlock Saga, you see, is not just any Matsumoto story, but an adaptation of Wagner's Das Rheingold, the first part of his vast musical drama Der Ring des Nibelungen.

That right: it's Wagner dressed up as space opera.  And if you're anything like me, and even if you don't like Wagner - do people like Wagner these days? - it's awfully hard not to get excited about the sheer, crazy aspiration of that prospect.  Not only that, but if anyone in the world of manga and anime was likely to be a solid fit for a science-fictional Wagner adaptation, it would surely be Matsumoto, whose Harlock universe operates in precisely that sort of mythic register, where everything and everyone is larger than life and the fates of entire galaxies rest on the shoulders of a stoic few.  Indeed, there's an argument to be made that the Harlock-verse actually works better with an injection of Wagner, since it means that the material is firing on all the same cylinders as the general atmosphere.

And that's not mentioning the production standards.  Aside from the odd bit of misjudged CG work, this is as good looking as any Matsumoto adaptation, and he's a writer who invariably seems to get the deluxe treatment.  That CG aside, there's nothing that would place it at the back end of the 1990's; indeed, a faithful adherence to Matsumoto's distinctive aesthetic gives it such an air of timelessness that it could easily have been made ten or even twenty years earlier.  Probably the animation was computer-assisted to a greater or lesser degree, but it certainly looks hand drawn, and wonderfully so.  There are no end of elaborate shots, all pulled off with considerable flourish, and the animators rise to the challenge of conjuring the scale and majesty that's integral to such a story.  Though arguably even better is Kaoru Wada's score, which draws extensively on Wagner's influence without lifting directly - the exception, perhaps inevitably, being an appearance of that most famous of pieces, Ride of the Valkyries.  At any rate, pair that music and those images together and the results are frequently magical.

So what's the problem?  The problem is exactly the same one I've had with every Harlock story I've come across: Matsumoto has no time for those aspects of storytelling that everyone else considers to be more or less essential.  Want even a hint of character development?  Not a chance!  Heck, for the most part, the cast of Harlock Saga don't even do anything, and that's truest of Harlock himself, who effectively stands around being inscrutable until he's required to act, for all of about thirty seconds, in the last of the show's six episodes.  As outrageously epic as the proceedings may be, on a minute by minute basis, they're hollow, a tale of puppets that could never be mistaken for living, breathing people.  Truth be told, that's less bothersome here than elsewhere - it's Wagner, for crying out loud, it's not like we really need relatable, dynamic characters - and for that reason, I'd rate this that bit higher than other Matsumoto adaptations I've come across.  Still, it's a shame, because as special as Harlock Saga undoubtedly is, it wouldn't have taken a lot to nudge it into genuine masterpiece territory.


Unsurprisingly, the results were just as random as the choice of titles: Harlock Saga and Megazone Part 2 are both pretty splendid, though with obvious flaws, Golden Boy bounces between good and dreadful, and Marriage ... well, the first episode was okay, I guess?  Then again, the second episode is among the most painful things I've ever sat through, so overall it's pretty damn wretched.

Next time around: we're heading back to the eighties again without a hint of shame, because I'm not really pretending anymore that I'm keeping this Sisyphean lunacy to a single decade!

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

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Announcing To End All Wars

It felt like I spent the back end of last year sitting on more news than I was sharing, but finally I get to announce one of those big secrets that it's been driving me crazy to keep quiet about, and that's that my novel To End All Wars will be coming out this year from publisher Aethon Books.  Indeed, it's actually quite far on in the process, as I'll come to in a minute, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's out sooner rather than later.

To End All Wars was one of three novels that materialised out of the reckless burst of creativity that was my first year of writing full time - the other two being The Bad Neighbour and what ended up as A Savage Generation, both of which have since come out via Flame Tree Press.  But of those projects, To End All Wars was by far the most personal, the most ambitious, and probably in many ways the most difficult, both from the point of view of writing it and the point of view of subsequently convincing anyone that it was a valid commercial prospect.  For To End All Wars belongs to what, so far as I can tell, is an extremely small sub-genre, maybe even a sub-genre of one: it's a serious science-fiction story set during the First World War.  Or, thinking about it, maybe it's a novel about the First World War that happens to contain some elements of science-fiction, but either way, there are surprisingly few books out there that bring the two together.

But Aethon, thank goodness, were willing to look past that hard-to-categorise awkwardness to the equally hard to categorise book underneath.  They're a new publisher for me, and their approach is excitingly different to what I'm used to: To End All Wars will be out in all the usual formats, but there's an added focus on the audio edition, which they're putting a good deal more care into than usual.  And for that reason and others, while I've been unusually lucky on that front, I  suspect this one's going to be in a whole 'nother league.  The book's currently in the hands of actor Macleod Andrews and, based on the brief sample I've heard, I've got absolute confidence that he'll bring infinitely more to it than a mere reading, because that sample was as faithful to the tone of To End All Wars as I could have hoped for.  Oh, and the same, by the way, goes for the cover art; isn't that stunning?  I'm still amazed every time I see it, it's so precisely what I had in mind and so full of the sort of period-specific detail that only a seriously dedicated artist would bother to get right.

The upshot is, the book of mine that I'm perhaps proudest of, and certainly poured most of myself into, is finally close to seeing the light of the day, Aethon are knocking it out of the park on the presentation front, and I can't wait to have it out there and in people's hands - and, perhaps even more so, their ears.  As ever, I'm bound to be talking a lot more about this one now that the cat's out of the bag, and hopefully that'll include a release date in the not-too-distant future.  But for the moment, I guess I'll just go back to gaping at that cover art in slack-jawed delight and listening to Macleod's sample recording over and over again.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 62

It says a lot about the breadth and depth of nineties anime - and of how grossly I underestimated that when I began this! - that here, some sixty and a bit posts in, we're finally getting to one of its most seminal and enduring franchises.  But there's no more putting it off: it's time to grapple with Sailor Moon, which until this post I'd only seen a few episodes of from the original TV series.  However, there were movies too, and three of them fell in our decade of choice, so there's really no excuse not to take a look, is there?

This time around: Sailor Moon R: The Movie: The Promise of the Rose, Sailor Moon S: The Movie: Hearts in Ice, Sailor Moon Super S The Movie: Black Dream Hole, and, er, Sailor Victory...

Sailor Moon R: The Movie: The Promise of the Rose, 1993, dir: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Sailor Moon is a heck of an interesting series in and of itself, one that countless essays could and no doubt have been written about; even a straightforward-seeming question like "Is it feminist" is rife with complications when viewed through the lens of three decades.  But while all of that's hard to ignore if you happen to be coming back to the franchise after many years away, it ended up not being what intrigued me most with this first film.  Because Sailor Moon R: The Movie happens to have been directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, and Ikuhara would go on to direct Revolutionary Girl Utena, and I happen to consider Revolutionary Girl Utena one of the finest anime shows ever created, not to mention one of the finest cultural works of the twentieth century full stop.

Given the extent to which Utena would revolve around confronting traditional notions of gender and sexuality, and how explicitly queer its narrative would become by the time it got around to Adolescence of Utena, it's no surprise to find similar subject matter being explored here, albeit less directly.  The main antagonist's motivation is born of what amounts to a misplaced gay crush, though importantly there's never any suggestion that the gayness is the part of that equation that's misplaced.  It's easy to imagine a very different take on the narrative, and to suppose that the reason we got a version that refuses to remotely judge its nominal villain for his sexuality is down to the fact that Ikuhara was at the helm.

Still, not judging is a far cry from Utena's eager embracing, and in truth, on that and other levels, the most unsatisfying aspect of the Sailor Moon R movie is that it doesn't push further into being a Kunihiko Ikuhara film.  Though it would be another three years before he stepped away due to a lack of creative control, you can feel him champing at the bit, teasing the limits of what something like this could be.  There's a deep streak of surrealism that bubbles through frequently, a visual boldness that hints at the sort of off-kilter imagery that would dominate in Utena, and more generally, a wealth of details that are simply weird or interesting for no apparent reason other than that Ikuhara takes pleasure in interesting weirdness.  Take, for example, the first time we see Tuxedo Mask, where he steps from a billboard poster showing similarly dressed figures, or the faintly distressing sequence in which child character Chibi-Usa conjures a very real-looking gun from thin air and shoots Sailor Moon at point blank range with what turns out to be a motivational message.

As such, the worst that can be said about the film is that it feels as though it could be more than it is.  That's aggravated by the slender running time: though many an anime movie has done wonders in making an hour feel like feature length, here the result is more like an extended episode (albeit with considerably classier animation) and we're never really encouraged to take the end-of-the-world conflict seriously.  For better or worse, the focus is always on personal, individual stakes.  No, let's be fair, it mostly is for the better, and aside from Ikuhara's attempts to do legitimately creative things with what might easily have been a bit of insubstantial fluff, it's where Sailor Moon R: The Movie most succeeds: for all that it's surprisingly violent in places, the end result is tremendously kind-hearted and positive.  I guess that makes it a very good Sailor Moon movie, and one only kept from full-on greatness by a lack of ambition and the unfair knowledge that its creator would go on to something that allowed him a far broader canvas on which to experiment.

Sailor Moon S: The Movie: Hearts in Ice, 1994, dir: Hiroki Shibata

Compared with the first film, Sailor Moon S: Hearts in Ice is a trivial bit of business, and it's not as if Sailor Moon R: The Movie was exactly weighty drama.  Still, by comparison with the fluffy non-crisis on offer here, it feels as though it was.  Our nominal antagonist is some sort of extraterrestrial ice witch by the name of Princess Snow Kaguya, but the film doesn't foreground her much or take her very seriously, and in fact it's much more concerned with what you'd normally expect to be its B plot, in which Luna - Luna, importantly, is a talking cat - falls in love with a young astronomer who is himself in love with his astronaut girlfriend Himeko, but unwilling to fully admit it because she won't take his theories about a strange princess living on the moon seriously.  (A side point: how could anyone exist in the Sailor Moon universe and think that lunar royalty was a remotely outlandish notion?)  The point being, what the Sailor Moon S movie primarily wants to concern itself with is a tale of unrequited love in which one of the parties is a cat.

This probably all sounds like I'm criticising, and I suppose to an extent I am: Sailor Moon S: Hearts in Ice is the sort of frivolity you find yourself forgetting practically as you're watching it.  But Sailor Moon isn't about epic, detailed storylines, it's about goofy humour, friendship, and swooning romance, and by those criteria it gets the job done fine.  Between the efforts of the animators and Keiko Han's heartfelt vocal performance, there's actually something rather sweet and sad about the central relationship, and it helps that both the film and Sailor Moon herself treat it with proper seriousness.  It's flimsy stuff, to be sure, but it's cute enough to work in this kind of context.

Elsewhere, everything is largely business as usual.  You've got the bouncy theme tune, the lengthy transformation sequences, the special-move-heavy fights that lack even the vaguest sense of danger, and visuals that are just sufficiently beyond what you'd expect of a long-running show with a respectable budget to warrant a cinematic release - though fair play to the special effects team, there's some noticeably nice work on that front.  For that matter, while Hiroki Shibata may be no Kunihiko Ikuhara, he's a perfectly capable director, if somewhat workmanlike.  Which I guess is Sailor Moon S: Hearts in Ice all over, really, with the proviso that with a franchise this basically solid, even a run-of-the-mill tale with no ambitions beyond "Let's tell a gentle little story about a talking cat falling in love, with maybe some stuff about an evil space witch ticking away in the background" is a charming experience for as long as it lasts.

Sailor Moon Super S The Movie: Black Dream Hole, 1995, dir: Hiroki Shibata

There's no getting around the fact that the third Sailor Moon movie is the most minor and trivial-feeling, in a series that's never strayed far from being either.  Indeed, for the first half of its running time, it's almost impossible not to mistake it for a regular episode of the show, so unhurried and inconsequential is every single thing that happens.  I mean, there's a scene that seems to go on for about five hours wherein the sailor scouts bake cookies and discuss the baking of cookies and generally get very into all things cookie-baking related, and while it sort of informs the subsequent plot, it could easily have been trimmed to half its length without consequence.  Which isn't to say it's not pleasurable on its own terms - if there's one thing Sailor Moon is good for, it's being basically entertaining to be around - only that it doesn't feel like it belongs in anything so grandiose as a feature film.  And for that matter, the first half is lodged firmly in the realms of TV animation too, though if you squint, it's actually a little better than all that.  The point, I suppose, is that's it's as happy to look like a TV episode as it is to behave like one.

There's a plot to all this, though you'd barely know it for a good long while, and as with the first two, it's not what you'd call a priority.  What starts out as a riff on the Pied Piper story, as presented in a rather fantastic cold open that's one of the more interesting sequences anywhere in the movie, drifts eventually into a story of interstellar child theft, before shifting into a more science-fictional gear in the closing third.  Not by coincidence, this is also where stuff actually begins to happen in earnest, and the frivolous tone turns deadly serious with such shocking speed that you can practically hear the tires screeching.  As is already obvious by then, the film doesn't give much of a damn for its plot, nor its disposable villain, but it's heartily invested in the relationship between Usagi / Sailor Moon and Chibiusa / Sailor Chibi Moon, her [consults Wikipedia] ... um, time travelling future daughter?  Wait, that can't be right, can it?  At any rate, whatever the hell's going on, the real core of the narrative is Usagi being kind of a jerk to Chibiusa and then having to rescue her from certain death and in doing so dealing with the realisation that she probably shouldn't be jealous of a little kid that she'll eventually give birth to in a few thousand years' time.

Damn but Sailor Moon is weird!

Anyway, the point I'm aiming for is that, while you can certainly see what Sailor Moon Super S The Movie is trying to accomplish and how the focus on one particular relationship might justify an hour-long story, it's not altogether successful, in part because the last third is so drastically different in tone that it feels like a whole 'nother film has been stapled on - indeed, one with distinctly better animation of a sort that might actually have deserved to grace a cinema in 1995.  Neither section is what you'd call bad, at least if you have any affection for what Sailor Moon is up to, but nor are they sturdy enough to survive the drastic shift of the third act.  That's odd in a sense, since the first two movies functioned in precisely the same way - structurally they're all but identical - but then those two had sturdier foundations than this one, and also didn't rely on their protagonist being obnoxious to a little kid for a significant chunk of their running time.  The result is hardly horrible, but it's unmistakably the weakest entry in a series that peaked with its first attempt.

Sailor Victory, 1995, dir: Katsuhiko Nishijima

I'll come clean: Sailor Victory has nothing to do with Sailor Moon.  Or perhaps not quite nothing; we're firmly in the realms of parody anime here, and it's safe to say that a certain bunch of sailor scouts are among the many victims.  But Sailor Victory is too scattershot to pin itself down to lampooning any one show, and I won't pretend I got a fraction of the gags, though Patlabor is an obvious and repeated target.  After all, what need would there be for our five sailor-suit-wearing heroines if the local police and their goofy mechanical armours were up to dealing with the recent rash of giant-robot-related crime that's been inflicted on their fair city?

Mind you, this doesn't quite explain why anyone thought that three colour-coded, ninja-themed robots were the ideal solution, or how we ended up with these particular pilots, none of whom seem especially qualified.  Kiyomi is holding down a dogs-body job with the cops under the pretence of spying on them, Mika delivers noodles, and Mami is such a dope that she can't get halfway through the first episode without being replaced by her own less useless robot double.  Their wealthy sponsor Reiko and her tech genius Shizuka round out the team, and offer limited support via a helicopter that launches out of a swimming pool, because why shouldn't Thunderbirds get a nod too?

Sailor Victory consists of two episodes and runs to just under an hour, and that's perfect for what it is.  There's no meat on these bones whatsoever, it's silly, wacky, frivolous stuff, and yet for sixty minutes, it's a bit of a delight.  There's absolutely nothing exemplary here: it's easy on the eyes, the opening and closing themes are fun, there are enough genuinely funny jokes to keep things moving, and in so much as the plot is basically "giant robots fight!" there's enough imagination on display to keep the material feeling fresh.  The characters are absolutely one-note, but as is often the case with anime, the designs and performance add an extra layer that makes them distinctive company for a brief while.  I could happily have kept watching, but it was also nice to get a satisfactory ending out of one of these short AnimeWorks releases, something that's by no means guaranteed.

Sailor Victory is nothing special in the grand scheme of things.  Yet, for me, these shorter releases that manage to provide an hour's worth of self-contained fun are kind of special.  Sailor Victory is by no means the best, but it was a compact pleasure, briefly entertaining and nice to be around with a few good gags.  I suppose that lumps it into the vast collection of titles that would be worth tracking down if they hadn't been out of print for a couple of decades, but personally, I'm glad I made the effort.


So that was Sailor Moon (well, mostly.)  And my main take is that, much as I'm fond of the franchise, I'm not sure that any of these three films, except perhaps the first, do it justice.  Then again, perhaps the perfect Sailor Moon movie would be an oxymoron, since even dragging something this breezy out to feature length starts to impinge on what it is.  For that matter, while the first movie is the only one I'd be inclined to wholeheartedly recommend, the three work quite nicely together, teasing similar material in different directions and finding subtly different areas to concentrate on, even if that only means feline / human romance or watching our hero bully her time-displaced future daughter.

Hey, did I mention how weird Sailor Moon is?

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