Archive for the ‘Anime’ Category

h1

Nausicaa 0f the Valley of Wind

May 4, 2014

I had been a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s work since first being introduced to it back in the late 1980’s, having seen “Castle in the Sky: Laputa” when it first came to the US and finding his manga in my comic book shop. “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” is a powerful cautionary tale of ecology and the human condition. It dives deeply into philosophy and what it is to be human as well as how we affect our environments.

The animated feature of “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind,” is more of an encapsulated version of this, delving into the issues of war, and fighting for the right reasons. It too shares the message of how we humans have abused the Earth and how it is healing on its own without our help. It adapts the work of his manga, which was still ongoing, giving the story a bit of levity- it has a beginning and ending, where we learn that we must stop fighting amongst ourselves and work with nature instead of against it. This theme is among many of Miyazaki’s films, giving them that extra warmth and urgency.

I was fortunate to find that the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco was showcasing a screening of most of his and Studio Ghibli’s work. I was able to procure tickets to see he screening of “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” and hope to see additional screenings as well. This was the original Japanese language film with subtitles.

“Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” begins with Master Yupa exploring another village destroyed by the ‘Sea of Corruption’- a vast stretch of swamp-like land with huge fungal plants populated by large insects, the largest being the Ohmu- a noble, multi- eyed creature in essence is a giant potato bug. Master Yupa encounters the young Nausicaa who had been exploring the nearby toxic forest, collecting samples and finding a large molting of an Ohmu. She had deftly saved Master Yupa from the Ohmu, who was enraged by the accidental death of some insects.

They both return to her home village, the Valley of Wind, where the small village had survived thanks to a consistent wind keeping the encroaching toxic forest from spreading into their area. Master Yupa meets with the Village chief and Nausicaa’s father Jhil, where he learns of the spreading of the Sea of Corruption. Master Yupa has been seeking the meaning behind this forest for many years and hoping to help other with the means to keeping the forest at bay.

During the night a Tolmekian aircraft had crashed just outside of the Valley. It had carried prisonsers from the city of Pejite, including the Princess Lestel. Despite Nausicaa’s efforts to redirect the craft away from the village, it had crashed in the nearby cliffs. She tried to save Lestel, but she had died from her injuries.

In the wreckage of the plane, there was a giant pod containing some form of life form. It was the rumored God Warrior, a relic of the Seven Days of Fire, where the modern world was destroyed by these powerful creations. Not soon after the Villagers had taken the painstaking task of clearing the crash of its dead as well as clean their fields free of the powerful fungi that make up the toxic forest, the Tolmeckian Army led by Princess Kushana and her aid Kurotowa, invade the Valley. In the process, they had slain Jhil. Enraged, Nausicaa killed the men who had slaughtered her father, only to be stopped by Master Yupa.

She regained her senses and had the villagers stand down to the Tolmekians. The village was then set up to play host to the giant God Warrior, while Princess Kushana takes Nausicaa hostage as a prisoner of war to prevent the villagers from rebelling. She is taken along with her friends to Pejite.

Along the way, she is attacked by Asbel, prince of Pejite, taking revenge for the destruction of Pejite. In his atack, he is distracted by Nausicaa, who bears a resemblance to his twin sister. He is shot down by the remaining corvette fighter.

Meanwhile Mausicaa and her trusted friend Mito prepare a daring escape from their doomed aircraft. She also saves Princess Kushana in the process. They burst free of the cargo plane in the valley’s gunship, which resembles a large moth. They circle back to find their comrades who have made a landing in the ‘Sea of Corruption.’

They had landed in a Ohmu’s nest, where Nausicaa was able to commune with the monstrous creatures. She then pursues Asbel to save him from the wrath of the insects. She and Asbel crash into the forest below sinking into a sandy pit.

Meanwhile Mito and the others circle the toxic forest and then return to the Valley, where Kurotowa and his men set up a chamber to revive the God Warrior. Master Yupa spies on them, then finds Mito and his men on the outside of the village on the shores of Acid Lake. Here he confronts the imprisoned Kushana about her intentions with the God Warrior.

Nausicaa and Asbel has survived the crash and found themselves in a clear clean area deep underneath the forest. The water and ground have been purified by the large, now petrified plants of the toxic forest. It was the missing piece of the puzzle that Nausicaa had been trying to solve- the purpose of the Sea of Corruption. It was there to help cleanse the world after man had destroyed it. The results were that it was now a clean arable place with fresh water.

Nausicaa and Asbel fly on her glider to the city of Pejite, only to find it completely destroyed by insects. It was the countermeasure that the Pejtian army used against the Tolmeckians. They would use the insects to rampage and destroy the Valley of the Wind, the God Warrior, and Princess Kushana and her forces. Nausicaa tries to escape with Asbel’s help, but is overwhelmed and captured.

The villagers of the Valley of Wind had taken up arms, not against the Tolmeckians, but against their own protective forest, which had been invaded by the dangerous spores of the Sea of Corruption. They burned down the forest that helped protect their village for centuries. They then turned against their captors after a long struggle with the forest.

Nausicaa is aided by Asbel and Lestel’s mother, whom they smuggle out of captivity to where Nausicaa could escape on her glider. Her escape is cut short by Tolmeckians who were hunting for the Pejitian frigate. She manages to flee as the Valley Gunship comes in to stop the corvette fighter. Master Yupa saves the Pejitians as Nausicaa and Mito race towards the Valley to stop the oncoming rampage.

This anime makes use of key elements found in the manga while making it both a cautionary tale as well as a cinematic adventure. While you want to hate some of the characters, you won’t as they are portrayed as being human and flawed. The scenarios that they are thrown in are subtly dangerous, much like a war movie where you can’t really trust a side. It does end well, making the story stand out as a single saga, and not necessarily a long drawn out epic. The manga does that, which give the characters real depth and gives the world a even grander scale.

The heroine of Nausicaa is a powerful character, both a capable woman and skilled at flying as well as fighting. She proves to be both a strong, yet vulnerable character who bears the weight suddenly thrust upon her with dignity and a layer of hope.

The story unfolds well, centering around the Valley of Wind, making it a character itself. It is the life and shelter for a village of people. The role of the Ohmu also lends to a bit wisdom and philosophy- much like a whale, this intelligent creature shows that there is a role that nature is playing and they are the guardians of that role.

“Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind,” is one of Miyazaki’s more personal efforts, breathing life to his manga creation. It limits the character to its cinematic trappings, but does so deftly that it does not lose its strengths after its near 20 years since its inception. His works get better and better, but this is where it began for him- one of his greatest creations. It is a must read manga as well as a must see film

h1

Rurouni Kenshin- The Movie

February 8, 2014

Seeing a live action version of your favorite anime and manga is a bit of a trip. In some cases, you can’t predict what you are going to get to see, whether it’s an encapsulation of the series, or if it is a ‘reimagination’ of the given material. Either way, it is often a mixed bag of results with casting, the story, and how the whole movie flows together.

After seeing several live action adaptations, I had come to the startling revelation that it is really cosplay in action. Actors are suited up as your favorite anime persona, acting out the character and the given story. In most cases, since this is a 90 minute to 2 hour movie, it is a condensed version of the original story.

I recently found a copy of “Rurouni Kenshin” live action. Not long ago, it was announced online and I squealed. It actually looked rather good and very promising as adaptations go. I hoped that it wasn’t going to be a bland or flat adaptation. After watching it one evening, I found it to be a rather faithful adaptation, albeit a condensed version, of the first series of the manga and anime. I rather liked how the story was structured, and added in the key elements of both story and character to make it a grand story.

Like any martial arts movie, it has some flaws- special effects, stunts, and some props just seemed a little fake-looking. It does have the look and feel of a period piece, but the hyper-reality that the manga and anime have doesn’t translate 100% to the screen. I am actually glad about that, making sure the film has more realistic roots while making it gives it credibility.

The opening sequence is excellent, showing how Himura Kenshin, or Hitokiri Battousai in his last act as a member of the Revolutionary Army. He abandons his sword as he walks away from the war. His sword is not left alone for long as another survivor takes up his sword.

Ten years later, he emerges as a wanderer, living a rather vagrant life. He wanders into Tokyo and encounters Kamiya Kaoru, a local kendo instructor. She mistakenly accuses the newly arrived Kenshin of being the mysterious Hitokiri Battousai, who has been slandering her family’s martial arts school, claiming that he was using that style.

Elsewhere, Takani Megumi is trying to flee from her current employer Takeda Kanryu, a business man who is a smuggler, weapons, and drug dealer. He has his men execute the workers Megumi uses in her job making opium. She flees and is pursued by Udo Jin-e, Kanryu’s top assassin. In his pursuit, he slays all of the officers that Megumi comes into contact with when she surrenders herself to the police.

Kaoru is on her way home, when he encounters Jin-e, the one who claims to be the Hitokiri Battousai and has been sullying her family name. She tries to fight the powerful Jin-e, only to be saved by Kenshin in an amazing display of agility.

Returning Kaoru to her family dojo, Kenshin tends to her injuries. She allows him to stay as thanks for saving her. The modest Kenshin leaves letting her rest.

Later, a local gang tries to take over the Kamiya Dojo, where Kaoru is teaching the only student she has, the orphan Myojin Yahiko. They are overwhelmed by the thugs, when Kenshin steps in to intervene. He unsheathes his sakabato and defeats every one of the gang, not killing any one of them.

Kenshin is arrested for carrying a sword (illegal at this time) and is thrown in jail. He is later found out by Saito Hajime a former rival during the Bakumatsu, who had become a Police officer. He is bought back to Yamagata Aritomo who tries to recruit him to become an assassin for him once again. Kenshin refuses, and after a duel with Saito, he is released. Kaoru picks him up from prison and takes him home to the Kamiya Dojo. Meanwhile, Yahiko helps Megumi hide from her pursuers at the dojo.

They try to enjoy an evening out at a local sukiyaki restaurant, when Kanryu tries to recruit Kenshin after learning that he is the true Hitokiri Battousai. Kenshin refuses, and is then challenged by Sagara Sanosuke, a local brawler. He is nearly beaten by Kenshin, who refuses to draw his sword.

For his refusal to be hired by Kanryu, he has his men poison the local well water near and around the Kamiya Dojo. The training hall becomes a makeshift hospital, as Megumi treats all of the people who have gotten sick from the poisoned water. Megumi returns to Kanryu, intending to kill him.

Kenshin is angered by the threat and upon learning that Megumi has returned to Kanryu’s side to stop him. He goes to stop Kanryu and his men, and is joined by Sanosuke. The two take on Kanryu’s men who are no match for the pair. Kanryu is also prepared with his elite guard, and his top assassin Jin-e, who has his own machinations for Kenshin.

This is in my humble opinion a fine condensed version of the “Rurouni Kenshin” manga and anime. If you have seen or read either the manga or anime, you can pick out all the key scenes from the series. What gives this movies some volume is how these rather iconic scenes are sequenced out into the movie. It gives the characters an introduction without lengthy exposition like in the series.

The episodic nature of the series worked in the film adaptation’s favor, being to take large story areas and rearranging them into a cinematic experience. It is refreshing to see this interpretation play out in a film structure , with each plot point being used well, leading one to the other up to the climatic showdown.

“Rurouni Kenshin” is one of my favorite series of anime and manga. Seeing it in live action can be a little jarring, but it takes the fantastic story and elements and puts it into real world context. It makes for an excellent adaptation and an entertaining film.

h1

Bleach: Fade to Black

October 6, 2013

Many movies based on manga and anime series often fall into two camps- those that are well thought out and articulated, the other being cheap looking and rushed just to capitalize on the popularity of the series. Depending on who produces the movie, the work can appear rich and carry depth or it can look cheap and pasted together.

I found this instance of “Bleach” to fall into the well thought out and executed camp. The animation is sharp with a strong story. While those who may not necessarily know the story or the premise of “Bleach,” the movie has little reminders scattered throughout the movie that reminds us who some of the main characters are and why they do the things they do.

The problem with this anime feature is that it has a huge cast of characters. You don’t get to learn anything new about them, and some of their background is not filled out. Many characters are thrown in for appearances and only are there to help advance the scene, not necessarily contribute to the story.

Despite that, the story is rather refreshing as it doesn’t focus on the main character Ichigo Kurosaki. In this case, the story follows Rukia Kuchiki and an element of her past. It also involves an old foe in the form of a Hollow, the degraded form of ghostly spirits who are often monstrous due to the depth of hatred or anger towards the living or how they died.

Soul Society, home of Soul Reapers like Rukia Kikuchi is invaded by a pair of creatures. Using a weapon that erases memories, they start their attack on the head of the science and research division Mayuri Kurosuchi. The attack resulted in covering Soul Society with spiritual energy resembling dragons. Soon everyone began forgetting about Rukia Kuchiki.

Everyone who has a connection with Soul Society lost their memories of Rukia. Only Ichigo seems to be able to recall Rukia. Sensing something is wrong, he contacts Kisuke Urahara, who also can’t recall any memory of Rukia. Ichigo travels to Soul Society with his doppelganger Kon, who is in his stuffed doll form. The Soul Reapers do not recognize Ichigo as their friend and comrade, and treat him like an outsider and invader, much like before when he first came to Soul Society.

Meanwhile, Rukia finds herself in the outer areas of Soul Society, where she came from. She is united with two young teens, a boy and a girl who seem to know her. They explain that they once lived together in the same area. Rukia struggles with the memories of her past as a commoner. She has no memory of being a Soul Reaper.

Ichigo is hunted down by the Soul Reapers who have no clue that they are in fact allies. He seeks help from Rukia’s brother-in-law Byakuya Kuchiki. Neither of them remembers Rukia or Ichigo, but they are compelled to help him in their own ways. Byakuya  gives Ichigo a clue where he might find Rukia: Rukongai, where Rukia and her older sister Hisana, Byakuya’s wife, were from. Renji Abarai, Rukia’s childhood friend, attacks Ichigo, but is defeated. He tried to convince Renji that they are friends and Rukia is real.

Ichigo follows this lead, but are still pursued by the Soul Reapers. He is cornered by former allies Ikkaku Madarame and Toshiro Hitsugaya but is saved by Renji, who is convinced that Ichigo is telling the truth. Before being captured, Urahara steps in to intervene with information on a dangerous Hollow that has the ability to erase select memories. Somehow possessing the twins that Rukia once knew, they were the perpetrators that had wiped out the memories of Rukia.

Meanwhile, the nameless twins decide to put an end to the Soul Reapers, believing that they were the ones that took Rukia away from them. Using Soul Society’s own Research lab, where the reiatsu spilled out like a living oil slick, they use this to their advantage as a weapon capable of destroying  Soul Society. When Rukia begins to regain her memories of being a Soul Reaper after coming into contact with Ichigo and Renji, the twins take Rukia over, turning her into an evil version of herself and the twins. Now it is up to Ichigo and the Soul Reapers to stop ‘Dark Rukia’ from destroying Soul Society.

While some of the elements are rather familiar- like Ichigo being cast as the outsider and intruder in Soul Society, and having Soul Reapers hunt him down- there are some fresh ideas that make it more original. Having a monster that can erase memories is a great plot device that causes a few divisions between Ichigo, Rukia, and the other Soul Reapers that are rather scary. There is a villain behind all this trouble, and it has a reveal that is intense and heartbreaking. It also reintroduces the key characters, reminding fans and new ones what brought Rukia and Ichigo together and the root of their friendship.

I found this animated film to be quite entertaining. As a standalone feature, it strikes the right balance of using the main characters and the rest of the cast well, using familiar elements to remind us of who they are, while dealing with a unique and new threat. The focal point is on Rukia and an aspect of her past that was not revealed or explored. By having her be at the center of the storm, the dramatic weight of her life before being a Soul Reaper is realized. It is worth watching.

h1

Case Closed: The Last Wizard of the Century

September 7, 2013

conan1

I love a good mystery. I love how the hero detective comes across the clues and solves the crime through wit, deduction, and investigation. I really do enjoy many murder mysteries and am thrilled by shows like “CSI,” “Sherlock,” and “House.”

In manga, there are many detective stories. One of the most interesting that I have found is “Boy Detective Conan”  created by Gosho Aoyama. It stars a teenage detective named Shinichi Kudo, who assists the police solve crimes. His father is a renowned murder mystery writer. Accidentally coming into contact with the Black Organization in a murder attempt, he is drugged with a powerful experimental, narcotic that is supposed to kill him. Instead, he is turned into a young child.

Not wanting to endanger his family and friends, he adopts the identity of Conan Edogawa, taking part of the name of  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  He now lives and works with his girlfriend Ran Mori and her father, private investigator Kogoro Mori. No one realizes that Conan is in reality Shinichi. One of the few people who knows his true identity is Hiroshi Agasa, a friend of the family who creates gear to help Conan in his work as a detective.

In many of the mysteries of the manga, he stuns Kogoro and uses his voice changing bowtie to voice his deductions and solve the mystery at hand. There is a huge cast of characters that include a woman who invented the drug Conan was given, neighborhood school friends, and many different police officers.

I have read many of the manga and wanted to see how well the anime is. I lucked out and found a copy of one of the movies of the series at the local library. I hoped for the smart writing and mysteries. I wasn’t completely disappointed.

“Case Clsoed: The Last Wizard of the Century” has a rather intricate plot, involving a lost treasure: a Faberge Egg called the Memories egg that allegedly belonged to Nicholas II of Russia. This artifact was to be shown at the Suzuki Modern Art Museum, but is being targeted by the ‘Kaitou Kid,’ a mysterious thief that has eluded Conan and other detectives. He leaves a letter challenging the police that he was to going to steal the egg through an elaborate plan.

He is stopped by a sniper, and Conan, who pursued him after solving the riddle of the letter. Kaitou Kid is nowhere to be seen. The owner of the egg, Shiro Suzuki, is glad to have the egg secured. He hires Kogoro to help keep an eye on the egg, along with the police. Ran is friends with Sonoko, Shiro’s daughter. They all take a cruise liner to Tokyo. They are approached by Natsumi Kousaka, who claims that she has information on this egg, noting that her great grandfather was an artisan that worked for Faberge. She provides artifacts that support this, including a torn diagram of the Faberge Egg. We are introduced to several other characters involved, including Seiran, an expert historian on Nicholas II and his family.

Videographer Ryu Sagawa, who is documenting the discovery of the lost egg is found murdered. Suspicion is thrown at several people before the M.O. is matched to a notorious assassin known as Scorpion. The police arrive to investigate the crime.

The group is taken to Yokosuka Castle, Natsumi’s ancestral home. Clues found hidden in the egg lead them to this place, where her great grandfather lived and worked creating many wondrous creations. The curious design of the egg leads to other clues regarding the history of the egg and its purpose. Conan and the others are led to Natsumi’s great grandfather’s study and workshop. Conan discovers a passageway that leads to catacombs of the castle.  Here they find a coffin in a chapel deep below the castle. A key left to Natsumi opens the coffin, which contains another Faberge Egg. They believe that the body in the coffin is Natsumi’s great grandmother, who may be related to Nicolas II.

Conan helps solve the mystery of the egg and its purpose, as well as help solve the mystery behind Natsumi’s great grandparents. However, another murder victim hints that Scorpion is staking claim to the Faberge Eggs. Conan races to save his friends and stop Scorpion.

The animation and character design is a little simplistic, while matching the manga well, makes it a little dated. As for the overall story, it is rather complex and has some pleasant twist and turns. If you are unfamiliar with the cast of characters, this is filled to the brim with them all, making it too confusing and hard to keep track of the main story. The manga’s other storylines are added in to round out the characters, but makes the new characters seem flat.

Overall, I enjoyed the anime as a nice murder mystery and treasure finding adventure. The huge cast of characters and the bland animation drag the anime down, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.

h1

Ranma 1/2: Nihao My Concubine

August 3, 2013
Mousse, Ranma, and Ryoga prepare to take on the men of Togenkyo Island in "Ranma 1/2: Nihao My Concubine."

Mousse, Ranma, and Ryoga prepare to take on the men of Togenkyo Island in “Ranma 1/2: Nihao My Concubine.”

Felt a little nostalgic when I saw this box set at the library. This was a collection of two of the Ranma ½ movies. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Ranma ½ is the story of Ranma Saotome, a lifelong martial artist who turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. This curse came about while training in China, where they trained in cursed springs. Ranma fell into a pond where a girl had drowned, while his father Genma fell into a pool where a panda drowned, thus cursed to turn into a panda when cold water is thrown at him.

They now live with Genma’s close friend Soun Tendo at his dojo, the Tendo Anything Goes Martial Arts school. (Think mixed martial arts.) Ranma is supposed to marry Akane Tendo, a very tomboyish young lady, who is also quite skilled in the martial arts herself. This is an arranged marriage, with both sides constantly bickering. Deep down though, both Akane and Ranma like each other.

The overall story shares Ranma’s development into a fine martial artist while living with his curse. There are many stories both hilarious and heart-warming as Ranma struggles with rivals, potential fiancées, and many zany situations.

Here in “Nihao My Concubine” (a title take on Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine”) Ranma, his father and the Tendo family were taking a weekend sailing, courtesy of Tatewaki Kuno, one of Ranma’s chief rivals for Akane’s affection. Kuno invites Akane and the pigtailed girl (Ranma as a girl) for a luxury cruise aboard his newly minted sailboat. The rest of the family tagged along. (More like invited themselves…)

A storm shipwrecks the group on an island. While Kuno tries to repair the sailboat, the others are enjoying the sunny weather and the beach. Akane, Nabiki, and Kasumi Tendo enjoy the summer weather sunbathing and fixing up their temporary shelter. Ryoga Hibiki, Ranma’s main rival is assisting Akane.

Ranma enjoys the day surfing instead of helping Akane, and in teasing Ryoga and Akane, nearly gets beaten up by Ryoga. The resulting argument lends an opportunity for Happosai (Grandmaster to Genma and Soun) to fondle Ranma and steal his tank top. Their pursuit leads to the destruction of Kuno’s sailboat.

Stuck on the island for much longer than they need be, and having not yet figured out how to get home, they contemplate their situation. While waiting, Kasumi, the eldest daughter goes missing. The only clue left behind where she was is a peach. Soon other girls are disappearing. Ranma, Ryoga, and the others search for their missing friends.  A mysterious shadow had taken the girls, leaving only a peach behind as a calling card.

They finally set a trap with a reluctant Ranma as bait. They are surprised by three men who proceed to capture Akane. The three men work for Prince Toma, ruler of a floating island nation called Togenkyo. He uses his illusion techniques to defeat Ranma and his allies. He possesses a gourd of water that can turn anything into a man.

Akane is taken to a harem, where women from the nearby islands have been kidnapped for selection of becoming Prince Toma’s bride. Here Akane finds her two sisters Nabiki and Kasumi, and Ranma’s suitors Shampoo and Ukyo (Shampoo and Ukyo are rival chefs who were also set up to marry Ranma at an early age). They try to formulate an escape, but are warned that they can’t and would also be stuck with a tremendous bill for room and board and dress rental. (?)

Ranma, Soun, Genma, Ryoga, Kuno, and Shampoo’s would be fiancée Mousse infiltrate the island. They plan to sneak in, when Happosai had already breached the island and stole the women’s panties. Ranma is knocked unconscious by Happosai and is soon captured by Toma’s men.

Ranma vamps it up to save her friends.

Ranma vamps it up to save her friends.

Ranma is awaken and told to choose a gown for the upcoming bridal selection process. He wows Toma’s men with her choice of attire. He is soon reunited with Akane and the others, where they begin competition for the right to be Toma’s bride. Toma selects a string of contests, where Ranma hastily tries to win, so that he can gain the water that can remove his curse. Fed up with the menial contest, Akane slaps Toma, noting that he is being childish and thoughtless in kidnapping the women and selecting a bride through a ridiculous contest. Toma, taken aback by Akane’s bluntness and honesty, chooses her.

Ranma, upset by the whole thing, tries to stop Toma, while the others show up to help the rest of the girls. Ranma races off to find Toma and Akane before he weds her. The others square off against Toma’s guards, who were made from different animals. There are many interesting fights and arguments as Ranma scours the island to find Toma and his chance to put an end to his cursed life.

I was giggling a lot watching this. I had forgotten how funny “Ranma ½” is. Rumiko Takahashi crafted a side splitting story of how a guy deals with a curse that changes him into a girl and the many women who wish to marry him, and the one whom he really loves. The series is funny, heartwarming, and full of martial arts. This particular movie, the second of three, just gives a snapshot of the adventures Ranma and his friends and family have. It has a great charm that just kept me laughing.

h1

ThunderCats

July 12, 2013
The ThunderCats Panthro, Cheetara, Lion-O, Tygra, WilyKat, WilyKit, and Snarf.

The ThunderCats Panthro, Cheetara, Lion-O, Tygra, WilyKat, WilyKit, and Snarf.

This nostalgic wave of taking famous creation from the 1980’s and early 1990’s has claimed yet another victim. But I have to admit, it’s pretty good. Good enough to attract my short attention span enough to check it out from the library.

“ThunderCats” came out shortly after “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” for me in 1985 (yes I am that old). It was pretty high concept- an alien race of humanoids evolved from cats, escaping from the destruction of their world, land on Third Earth to start over. The surviving member of the royal family, Prince Lion-O, was merely a child when he escaped with loyal noble family Tygra, Jaga, Cheetara, Panthro, Wilykit and Wilykat.

Due to damage sustained in their escape, Lion-O’s stasis pod is damaged, and he slowly aged as the ship headed toward their new home of Third Earth. When they arrived, Lion-O was a grown man, with a mind of a young child. He rather quickly adapted to his sudden change and rose to become Lord of the Thundercats.

The arrival of the ThunderCats did not go unnoticed, as an ancient evil awakens. Mumm-Ra, empowered by the Ancient Spirits of Evil, seeks to destroy the ThunderCats and continue his domination of Third Earth. The ThunderCats battle Mumm-Ra’s forces as they try to bring some order to Third Earth.

This version of the “ThunderCats” had a lot going for it, with good animation at that time, a long ongoing plot with story arcs that help define Lion-O and many of the other characters. The combination of science and mysticism was fantastic, embodied by the traditional weapons used by Lion-O, the Sword of Omens and the gauntlet, and the technology of their home: Cat’s Lair, the Thunder Tank, and other devices used to help in maintaining the peace. Mumm-Ra has faint Egyptian motifs that make him truly a frightening villain.

In the most recent incarnation of the “ThunderCats,” The origin story is molded into a tale how race division and prejudices have divided the many nations and species of Third Earth into different camps. How this came to be is revealed later in the series, with many of the main characters’ histories rewritten and changed to go along with the overall mythos of the story.

The Thundarians or Cats have a widespread kingdom ruled by King Claudus. The kingdom is rather peaceful, although they have an ongoing disagreement with Lizardmen. This community thrived as one of the largest on Third Earth. Prince Lion-O, Claudus’ natural son was coming of age, and stood to inherit the kingdom, much to the chagrin of Tygra, the older adopted brother. The two brothers are usually at odds with each other and have a huge sibling rivalry.

The pair also have a crush on Cheetara, a young woman who has been following Lion-O. It is later discovered that Cheetara is a member of the Cleric Order and one of the protectors assigned to watch over Lion-O by Jaga.

During training with the Sword of Omens, Lion-O caught a glimpse of an ancient evil threat of Mumm-Ra, whom he believed existed and not a myth. He is also curious about technology, which is lacking within the kingdom. He tries to explain what he saw to his mentor Jaga, head of the Clerics that protect the kingdom.

Before Lion-O could warn of the danger, the Kingdom is attacked by heavily armed Lizard men, armed with advanced weapons, and large robotic soldiers. Claudus tries to repel their enemies, but the attack is a feint as Lizard troops had infiltrated the kingdom, surrounding the army. Unleashing the Sword of Omens, Claudus tries to strike back, supported by Lion-O, whose curiosity of technology allows him to take on the invaders inside the city, destroying the large mecha supporting the ground troops.

To further complicate matters, Grune, one of Claudus’ trusted generals betrays him and sides with the mysterious enemy. He holds hostage Panthro, also one of Claudus’ oldest friends. In trying to free Panthro, it is actually a ruse by Mumm-Ra, who kills King Claudus. Enraged, Lion-O tries to fight Mumm-Ra, but retreats  and escapes as Mumm-Ra was not able to maintain his form.

Lion-O, Tygra, and Cheetara escape, with Jaga’s final act anointing Lion-O as Lord of the ThunderCats and entrusting him with the Sword of Omens. He sacrifices himself to ensure their escape. They flee along with the two orphaned twins WilyKit and WilyKat.

This version of the “ThunderCats” has a lot of things going for it. The characters are truly strong and have depth. Lion-O is a bit naïve, but harbors the makings of a good leader. Tygra also has similar qualities, but the differences in some of their beliefs in equality make them different. Their rivalry is quite antagonistic, yet, they stand up for each other in a pinch. Cheetara is the love interest, who I think is a little one dimensional. I think given more development, she would become quite a different character. WilyKit and WilyKat are your typical kid sidekicks which serve as a bit of comic relief, at the same time add a little optimism to the story. Panthro embodies the old war hero who begrudgingly follows an untested king. He out of all the characters has the most history and background explained, making him the most developed character.

It is the story which drives this vehicle along. It is quite epic in scope, with an updated origin story that makes a whole lot of sense. It also introduces a lot of the familiar elements from the original series in a whole new light, making some of the chief villains more primal and sinister. It has the making of a long series with the heart of it being Lion-O uniting the different kingdoms and species together to stop Mumm-Ra.

I like a lot of the little nods and how they had adapted some of the original stories to modern times. It moves away from the limited syndication rules of no deaths and bloody violence. Instead, we get a lot of stuff from fantasy, some serious violence, and deep plot. I like that they were able to even include some of the original voice actors in the new series, acknowledging their predecessors.

From all of the episodes that I have seen so far, it has quite the dynamic. The animation is sharp, re-envisioned characters are modern with a nod to the popular anime style, and the story sets the tone for the entire series. It’s a long journey for a prince to suddenly become king, and to then find the real meaning behind his quest and leadership. Sadly, I learned that this series was to be cut short, only surviving one season of 26 episodes. This series had a lot of promise of bringing characters that I liked as a kid to a more mature, epic, longer story of becoming a leader and not only uniting those under you, but nations as well. It is quite the gem.

h1

Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo

June 18, 2013
Beast Boy gets a little too much attention from the locals.

Beast Boy gets a little too much attention from the locals.

I’m a fan of the “Teen Titans” animated series. They combine a lot of different themes into one pop-tastic cartoon. You’ll find anime styles, lots of in-jokes, a kind of 60’s and 70’s aesthetics married to great stories and plots. It also fuses the long running comic book series and back stories into this fun to watch series.

I’m also a fan of the theme song. J-Pop songsters Puffy AmiYumi crank out this catchy ode to 70’s cartoon theme songs that just gets stuck in your head. If you watch the series, you will know that the song is performed in English and alternately in Japanese for some episodes.

“Trouble in Tokyo” is credited as being the series finale of the long running series. It shows how these heroes live in their city and how they ventured off to unknown territory to go after their new foe. It also brings in some elements from the comics that were not yet introduced in the series.

The Titans, led by Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) are on routine patrol. They come across a red and blue-clad villain destroying property. The team, Cyborg (voiced by Khary Payton), Raven (voiced by Tara Strong), Beast Boy (voiced by Greg Cipes) and Starfire (voiced by Hynden Walch) attempt to stop this mysterious person from terrorizing the city.

The villain proves successful in evading the Titans’ pursuit and eventually attacks Titans Tower, headquarters for the Teen Titans. They are finally able to stop and capture the mysterious assailant, but at the cost of their trashed home. Robin tries to solve the identity of the mysterious attacker, who is later identified as Saiko-Tek. A failed interrogation and escape left the team to follow the only lead they have- the name of Brushogun.

The team journey to Tokyo ,Japan in hopes to find who was responsible for sending Saiko–Tek. They encounter another monster that is then thwarted by the local defense force, The Tokyo Troopers, led by Commander Uehara Daizo (voiced by Keong Young). He gives the Titans a warning that they are considered civilians in Tokyo and not to do anything above the law. He also tells the Titans that Brushogun was an urban myth.

Beast Boy, Starfire, and Cyborg encounter hilarious adventures as they encounter some Japanese culture. Starfire becomes enamored with the video arcade, while Beast Boy encounters the adoration of the Japanese school girl. Cyborg fills himself taking in the local cuisine. In a short respite, Robin and Starfire try to sort out their feelings for each other, with Robin putting his heroics before his feelings.

He encounters Saiko-Tek and they have a one on one duel. Robin seemingly kills Saiko-Tek in a bare fist fight, where he is then arrested by Commander Daizo.  He is taken into custody, only to be freed by Brushogun. On the lam, Robin tries to find the rest of the Titans, who are encountering their own side adventures within the streets of Japan. Robin goes undercover to investigate the local criminal element to find any leads.

The Titans encounter many of the other of Brushogun’s creations, such as a cat girl, a giant hovering robot, a robot boy, and ghosts. The streets of Tokyo become a battlefield, with the Titans branded as vigilante outlaws. Robin is cornered at a local bar and flees the scene being pursued by The Tokyo Troopers. Starfire helps him escape capture. The team reunites and compares notes.

Raven finds a book on Brushogun (voiced by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) while shopping, which gives his apparent origin as an artist who falls in love with one of his creations. He tries to bring his creation to life by using black magic. The spell backfires and Brushogun becomes a monstrous creature. With this new information, they go seek Brushogun in the one place where he could be hiding: a manga publishing house. The Titans are pursued by all of their adversaries before their final confrontation with the mysterious Brushogun.

I have lost count to how many homages they make to manga and anime characters, scenes, and Japanese pop culture in general. From Astro Boy, to Commander Daizo’s look, and Saiko-Tek’s resemblance to Kamen Rider and Ultraman, the movie had me hooked. The ending had a rather predictable ending, as I figured out who was the true villain in the story rather early on. As an feature length story, this movie has a lot of fun poking at some of the 70’s kind of cartoons, as well as paying some respect to the Japanese anime that partially inspired the series.

I found this movie to be a fun filled romp through an imaginary version of Japan. It was also satisfying to see one of the main components of the Teen Titans’ history come to the screen. It’s a lot of fun to watch.