Daisuke Aurora’s a lanky blond-haired fellow with an easy smile and a knack for being able to fall asleep on any soft horizontal surface. His partner, J, is an android, a synthetic creation somewhere between John Connor’s hacked T-800 and the robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw in Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories. They’re detectives, sort of — partners in a new experimental law-enforcement program where human officers are paired with androids, each filling in where the other falls short.
Even if they were both human, they couldn’t be less alike. A good day for Daisuke means hanging out with the girls down in the sleazy part of town, slacking off on typing up his progress reports, and sleeping in as late as humanly possible. J, on the other hand, was programmed to be a dyed-blue-in-the-wool cop, something that just makes Daisuke roll his eyes at first. Then they go outside and pound the pavement (in J’s case, it’s quite literal), and the underworld of the city-state of Judeau trembles.
With a story summary like that, I’m actually rather surprised Guy J turned out to be as good as it was. Where it starts out — buddy cops, near-future quasi-dystopia, etc. — isn’t also where it ends up, because the folks who put it together ensured that everything unfolds in a strongly character-driven fashion. Motives are important. People and their personality quirks get the attention they deserve. I was actually reminded of another, more recent show, Darker than Black, where the premise was simply a springboard off which we were bounced to bigger and greater things. Read more
August used to be a missionary somewhere overseas, trying to do good works in places where good works are seldom seen. One day he returns home to his native Denmark, and walks in on his sister Christina while she’s in the middle of one of her porno shoots. She wants nothing to do with him, especially now that she’s about to have her daughter. When August asks her if the girl deserves a better life than what she’s created, she shouts “Plenty of other people need salvation — go and find them!” and slams down the phone in his ear.
Five years later Christina’s dead of a drug overdose, and August has renounced his vows. His new mission is not to preach to anonymous flocks but to do his best to bring up Christina’s five-year-old daughter, Mia. She’s been living in and around the nebulous pseudo-family of people that sprung up around her mother’s porno production mini-empire. August plans to take Mia out of that environment, keep her safe under his wing, and do right by her. He winds up doing wrong by almost everyone around him, himself included. Read more
Call it CLAMP: The Remix. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE is one part original adventure and one part spirited romp through the gallery of CLAMP’s characters that have accumulated over the past two decades. You don’t need to be a CLAMPophile to follow along, but a) it makes some of the plot transitions a little less jarring and arbitrary, and b) you can play spot-the-cameo and put one over your less clued-in friends.
The most crucial characters in Tsubasa are lifted straight from Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura herself and Syaoran, albeit older than they were in that series and placed in a completely different setting. She is a princess, he the son of a prominent archaeologist, and they live in a desertlike land entirely different from the original Cardcaptor world (and, for that matter, from our world as well). One day they’re inside one of Syaoran’s father’s excavations when there’s a curious supernatural accident: Sakura’s memories are stripped from her, transformed into a flurry of feathers, and scattered across any number of different worlds. The two of them must now leap from world to world to reclaim what she has lost. Read more
If there’s one thing the Japanese movie industry has always wanted, it’s a massive international box-office hit on the order of Star Wars, Titanic or Jurassic Park. They’ve tried by aping the formulas of Hollywood blockbusters — but ironically enough the most successful of Japan’s movie exports have been Hayao Miyazaki’s animated productions. Spirited Away may have seemed “too Japanese” for other audiences by its own creators, but that also gave it a charm that couldn’t be copied, and it grossed over $250 million worldwide.
Japan’s other attempts at international blockbusters are strange creatures. Godzilla wasn’t really meant to be one (at least not at first), but it turned into just such a franchise after its studio, Toho, discovered an endless array of sequels and spin-offs not only made money but turned their giant radioactive lizard into a character as iconographic as Darth Vader or Indiana Jones. And there’s been other Japanese productions that were intended to make it big worldwide, and while some of them made big bank at home they ended up falling flat on their faces elsewhere: Kinji Fukasaku’s Virus (which I still need to see), or Sayonara Jupiter. Read more
Anthology films get no respect, if only because the vast majority of them tend to never be more than fair-to-middling. Most of them just grouped together a bunch of related stories that couldn’t be blown up to feature length. The best ones use the anthology format as a vehicle for other concerns: Bizarre was a satirical exploration (exploitation!) of the war between the sexes; The Animatrix used multiple animated segments to explore different facets of the Matrix universe that the movies couldn’t examine in depth independently.
Memories is an animated anthology film with three segments, each created by a luminary of the Japanese animation industry: Kōji Morimoto (of Mind Game and the “Beyond” segment of The Animatrix), Tensai Okamura (Wolf’s Rain) and Katsuhiro Ōtomo (Akira, Steamboy). Ōtomo created manga from which each segment was derived and wrote the second and third segments himself, while the first was penned by none other than Paranoia Agent creator Satoshi Kon. The segments are only vaguely related to each other; all are science-fiction themed, but they are more concerned with personality and possibility than graphics or hardware. That automatically makes them all the more interesting, even if the segments vary in quality.Read more
Burst Angel is aptly named: the girls look great, but the story pops like stale gum. It’s a chicks-with-guns action vehicle bolted together out of parts recycled from a dozen other places — the kind of show you watch in the background while doing something else, because the more attention you give to it the less you get back.
Call it another “mid-Pacific” production — a work calculated to appeal as much to the export market for anime, maybe even more so than the domestic market. The problem is such projects often end up being terribly bland, a mixture of cynical second-guesses about what’ll appeal to a demographic instead of a story with confidence in its own narrative.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Angel was assembled from notes left behind by someone who never lived to see the project completed. But this wasn’t a salvage job, and that makes it all the more depressing. Ugetsu Hakua (of Tower of Druaga fame) contributed classy-looking character designs, and veteran mecha designer Koichi Ohata (Gunbuster, Blue Gender) took the director’s chair and added some equally striking 3D CGI machinery to tear things up. All they forgot was a screenwriter, and a tale worth spinning. Read more