Preloader

Animenewsnetwork – Views

Animenewsnetwork - Views

New York, New York Omnibus 1

New York, New York is a bit difficult to fully quantify. Written between 1995 and 1998, the story, set in New York City with a jaunt to Newton, Massachusetts in this omnibus, is very much of its time. Marimo Ragawa (creator of Baby & Me and Those Snow White Notes) is not a gay man, and while New York, New York tries very hard to present a more realistic image of what it meant to be gay in the 1990s, it still falls prey to some of the misconceptions and pitfalls of what people imagined queer life to be while also adhering to tropes of BL manga. That doesn't make it a bad book by any means, but it's certainly one you want to go into with the context of when it was written in mind. The story follows Kain Walker, a New York City police officer, and Mel Fredricks, a waiter, as they form a life together. When we first meet Kain, he's very much in the closet, with only one of his coworkers aware of the fact that he's gay because they crossed paths at a gay bar. (By unspoken agreement, they don't say anything about it.) Kain's not into long-term relationships, and as we get to know more about him, that seems to be because he's under the impression that gay men can't have them. All of that changes when he meets Mel. Mel's not interested in a one-night stand, but Kain finds himself drawn to the slightly younger man in a way he's never been before. After some fits and starts, the two embark on a committed relationship, which forces Kain to reckon with his own internalized homophobia. Why didn't he think he was allowed to have a lasting, long-term relationship? Why hasn't he come out to anybody? And what does it mean for him to truly love Mel? Kain is the narrator of the book, an omnibus edition of the first two (of four) volumes. While we do get brief instances of Mel's thoughts, along with a few other characters, this feels very much like Kain's story specifically, and that can, at times, make for some uncomfortable reading. Mel is a much kinder, more accepting person, and Kain's first impressions of people aren't always positive – he's downright rude to Mel's boss J.B. when they initially meet, both because he's jealous of Mel's interactions with other men, and because J.B. presents in a more feminine way that Kain is uncomfortable with. While Mel absolutely has his own issues stemming from a past involving abandonment and sexual trauma, Kain is the one who really has to work through his issues in order to make his relationship work. We do see where some of those may come from; apart from the fact that growing up in the 1970s and 80s might not have taught Kain to be hugely accepting of different lifestyles, when he brings Mel home to meet his parents we can see that his mother is very homophobic herself. The trip to Kain's hometown of Newton, Massachusetts is probably the best arc in the book. That's largely because it forces Kain to really think about how he wants to present himself to the world, and when he's confronted with his mother's rude and hurtful behavior (and compares it to his father, who, as a high school teacher, has had more of a chance to understand that there's nothing wrong with being gay), he finds himself in the position of asking himself what kind of partner to Mel he wants to be. It's a major turning point for him, and while he's made some very questionable choices before the trip home, we can see that he's unlikely to make them in the future. Watching his mother's behavior is frustrating and infuriating (both for him and us), but it serves as a lesson, albeit a very soapy one from the reader's perspective. And New York, New York is, it must be said, very melodramatic in the soap opera style. Ragawa is clearly trying very hard to cover topics that really didn't get much space in the BL of the 1990s, such as coming out and HIV/AIDS, and that's admirable in and of itself. Also good is the fact that this isn't strictly a coming-out story; that's just one component of what's going on here. But it plainly isn't written by an Own Voices author, and that can be an issue at times. One striking scene involves a work friend of Mel's dying of AIDS; while the storyline is effective, it also feels like it's furthering the old-fashioned and harmful notion that only gay men got the disease, making this feel like it was written in the 1980s rather than the 1990s. Language is also very outdated, although Yen Press makes a note of that in the beginning of the book; “bisexual” is used where we would use “pansexual” now and there are a few other terms that stand to bring modern readers up short. Alongside the homophobia expressed by some of the characters (both internal and external), there is also a bit of anti-Semitism in the text. One of the characters, Gersh Stoneman, is Jewish, and Kain repeatedly has mild issues with that. He's never cruelly anti-Semitic (and believe me, I know the difference), but comments like “There were so many Jews there” at a Jewish funeral or Gersh's pointed comment to Kain about how being Jewish is only part of his identity drive the point home. As with the other problematic story elements, it's both admirable that Ragawa tried to incorporate them but upsetting that it isn't done quite as well as it could have been, with the cross-over point between them being the most troubling. On the plus side, the funeral does have all the men wearing yarmulkes, so she clearly did some research. New York, New York is, I think, at the end of the day worth reading. It doesn't get everything right and it is very much of its time, but it's also a solid (albeit soapy) story. Mel and Kain are a couple worth rooting for, and Ragawa's art really is lovely, even if it isn't as refined as in The Vampire and His Pleasant Companions. Go into this with a grain of salt or two, but do consider picking it up if the issues raised aren't dealbreakers for you.

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
Animenewsnetwork - Views

Kageki Shojo!! GN 3-5

Well, Kageki Shojo!! wouldn't be a true school manga if it didn't have some kind of a sports or cultural festival arc, would it? It's practically a prerequisite for these arcs to pop up as a break in the monotony of student life, something that feels of deathly importance at the time when they don't matter much in the grand scheme of things. However, since Kouka Academy is a very unusual school, they have a very unusual sports festival: instead of students competing against each other while their parents root for them from the sidelines, superstar veterans compete for an audience of their adoring fans while the current students play strictly support roles. One of the fun things about Kageki Shojo!! is the opportunity to learn about the real-life traditions of the Takarazuka theater, which Kouka is very much based on regardless of any minor details that have been changed. The Grand Sports Festival in volumes 3 and 4 is a real tradition, a competition between the theater's troupes held for the fans every ten years. Information on it in English is sparse, so it's hard to say how realistically or accurately it's being represented. I can't really gauge how plausible it would be for, say, a current student to be pulled in as an alternate when one of the veterans gets injured. Plausible or not, that's exactly what happens, and Sarasa is naturally the one who ends up chosen. With the sports festival, Sarasa's internal conflict about not understanding how to create her own interpretation of a character is put on pause in favor of external events. Kumiko Saiki must walk a delicate balance, keeping Sarasa at the center of the action without giving her a case of Protagonist Syndrome, wherein it feels like the universe is warping itself so that everything revolves around her. Overall, she's done a solid job setting up the characters and story so that it doesn't feel unnatural. Sarasa, with her height, poofy hair, and extroversion, just naturally draws attention to herself, positive and negative. Her ignorance of the rigid traditions and hierarchies of Kouka make her stand out, supplemented by her enthusiasm for everything she does and her natural charisma. With everything falling into her lap, she could easily have morphed into the dreaded Mary Sue – a term I don't use lightly – by this point in the story, but a few things save her from that terrible fate. For one thing, you really do find people who are just naturally charismatic in the performing arts, especially when they have such charming, guileless enthusiasm. Another is that while some of her classmates adore her, others resent her for how easily she's noticed, and how she gets away with stomping all over tradition when others would be seen as disrespectful for the same faux pas. This resentment, along with her struggle to understand how to build her own characters, is a major source of insecurity for Sarasa. This insecurity also highlights the interplay between Sarasa, who is inexperienced but naturally talented and passionate, and Ai, who is a seasoned performer but has trouble settling into her niche as a musumeyaku. There's less emphasis on their bond than the last couple of volumes, but Ai manages to give Sarasa the advice she needs to understand what is needed of her, while her own growing attachment to her roommate and best friend serves as a source of inspiration that allows her to grow as an actress herself. While Ai is undoubtedly the deuteragonist to Sarasa's protagonist, the emphasis on her psychology and trauma in the first volumes of the series has already laid the groundwork for her own internality. Because of this, she never feels like she's just a convenient guide to Sarasa, but someone on her own journey that intersects with and are inspired by the others. They are twin stars, not a planet and its moon. Speaking of twins, Kageki Shojo!! continues to explore its secondary cast, both in the main plot and through side stories at the end of the volume. This time, the twins get the focus, and for a series with character writing as strong as this one, their plot is maddeningly boilerplate. They're close. They've always been together. As identical twins, they're always in sync, but now as teenagers, they're starting to want to assert their individual identities. This is a particular point of frustration because I myself am a twin, and while yes, that is an important phase of development for most sets, it's exhausting for it to be the only narrative we get over… and over… and over. I swear we have rich inner lives and goals beyond our relationships with our siblings, and the way writers keep turning to this gimmick represents a huge failure of imagination. Luckily, the side stories about Kaoru, Sei Satomi, and Hijiri fare much better, each delving into the characters' backstories and fleshing out their motivations along with their backstories. The pressure Kaoru feels as a “thoroughbred,” the third successive generation to attend Kouka, has been well-established, but it becomes the source of her bond with the younger brother of a popular baseball star that turns into a sweetly touching summer romance. Hers in particular could have worked well as a standalone story, with their circumstances both well-established fictional tropes that don't rely solely on Kaoru's connection to Kouka, and relatable to many people's everyday lives. Although it's not part of the main plot, it truly is a highlight of the series so far. Sei and Hijiri's stories may not have the same power as Kaoru's, but they still fill in important backstory for two characters who have mostly been mysterious so far. If you've been reading so far and wondering just what Hijiri's problem is, well, this won't totally offer answers; I'm 90% sure at this point that she really is just kind of a bully who gets mad when things don't fit her image of how they're supposed to be. However, I actually prefer that Saiki doesn't try to explain away her unpleasantness, even when humanizing her and depicting how she was kind of a misfit herself before enrolling at Kouka. Most of the time, bullies don't need a deeper reason to be jerks. These side stories go a long way toward making the world of Kageki Shojo!! feel less like it's revolving around Sarasa, and more like she's just the member of the cohort the story focuses on, a cohort full of driven young women with big personalities; in short, the kind of young women who go into theater. Kageki Shojo!! has continued to be a thoughtful character piece, exploring the lives of the people in the world of Kouka, all while largely avoiding indulging in cliches.

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
Animenewsnetwork - Views

Vampire in the Garden

Vampire in the Garden is a fascinating production that almost feels like an anime from another time, even as it simultaneously exists as a project that could only exist in the age of streaming. It's an original property that is being produced by the famous Studio Wit and helmed by director Ryōtarō Makihara, who is probably best known for his work on Empire of Corpses and Hal (though he has artistic credits running the gamut from Attack on Titan to Doraemon and Paranoia Agent). What's more, it's a limited ONA that only runs for five episodes, four of which clock in at a standard 25 minutes. Back in the day, Vampire in the Garden either would have been released piecemeal across a period of months as an OVA, or just edited together as a proper feature film. In 2022, though, it exists as another example of the “anime mini-series” model that Netflix has been pushing, where it is not quite a movie, and not quite a full season of television. Though its distribution model may feel very modern, everything else about Vampire in the Garden exudes a vibe that knocked me right back into the mid-2000s era of anime culture. There is just something about how the vampire ultra-violence is contrasted against the somewhat muted and mournful visual palette of the setting, combined with the pared-down character designs, that makes me feel like the series would be right at home on a shelf in-between Wolf's Rain and Kino's Journey. This is not a bad thing, by any means, though it is an aesthetic that may feel less familiar and inviting for viewers who didn't have the chance to grow up during the pre-streaming anime boom of the early aughts. If anything, Vampire in the Garden works best when it is in full “mood piece” mode. Throughout its brief five episodes, Studio Wit's delicate visuals and Yoshinori Ike's gorgeous soundtrack work overtime to deliver a story that you can palpably feel, even when the script itself isn't always living up to those standards. Don't get me wrong, I actually found myself really enjoying the tragedy-tinged romance at the heart of the story. I watched the dubbed version of the film, too, and I was impressed with how well Xanthe Huynh and Larissa Gallagher did as Momo and Fine, respectively. The amount of chemistry and affection that the pair can give off over the course of such a short runtime is more than we get in a lot of would-be weepies. Sadly, the same can't be said of basically every other character in the show, from Momo's overbearing mother and increasingly unhinged Uncle Kubo to Fine's dangerously persistent brother Allegro. They are all perfectly functional pieces of the story, but the supporting cast is ultimately hindered by the fact that Vampire in the Garden only has five episodes to tell its story, and the vast majority of that time is dedicated to Fine and Momo. Everyone else has to literally and figuratively trail behind them, with some critical pieces of backstory existing as little more than single-scene montages that arrive at the very last minute. That issue of depth is really the closest thing that Vampire in the Garden has to a fatal flaw. It's a sweet, sad, and generally compelling little adventure, but I can easily imagine a version of the anime that had more room to breathe and really live in its world. The series' take on a broken-down, apocalyptic Eastern European setting deserves more exploration, more unique locations for the pair of runaways to visit, and more stories to give it shape and texture. If the production took a slightly more episodic route, in the same way that shows like Wolf's Rain and Kino's Journey had before it, I think it would have a much better chance of leaving a lasting impression on its audience. As it stands, while Vampire in the Garden may not have the kind of blockbuster ambition that will earn it a place in the top tiers of the genre pantheons, it remains a modest but enjoyable addition to the venerable canon of Sad Vampire Anime. Its throwback horror-fantasy trappings are nothing if not pleasing to the eye, and anyone that has been hunting for a slightly edgy (and quite gay) take on supernatural romance will probably enjoy the time they spend with Momo and Fine, as limited as it may be.

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
Animenewsnetwork - Views

Frieren: Beyond Journey's End GN 3-4

Volume 3: The first half of this volume of Frieren is the continuation of the big, interconnected story arc started in the previous volume with the forces of Aura the Guillotine attacking the gateway city to the human territories of the south. It's basically the big action climax of the series so far. We get to see Fern and Stark fight without having Frieren to fall back on, as well as what Frieren is like when she's fighting a legendary mage who seems to outclass her in every way. But as good as the action is—and make no mistake, it's fantastic—what makes this story shine is how the battle is used to build up both the world and characters. In the previous volume, we got a glimpse into the psychology of demons. To recap, while they are human in appearance, they are all basically psychopaths. They have no sense of empathy whatsoever (even for their own kind) and see humans as nothing more than prey. The only reason demons have a society at all is to combat the strength in numbers that humans have gained naturally as social creatures. This volume gives us a better understanding of said society, which turns out to be much simpler than human society. It is governed by a single rule fitting the apex carnivores of the planet: the strongest reigns supreme, with strength determined by mana. The more mana you have, the higher in the pecking order you are. Once again, this does a great job of showing just how inhuman demons are. While they can talk to humans, they cannot understand them—nor do they have any intention of doing so. It makes them truly terrifying in a visceral way. All your interpersonal experience and social skills work against you when dealing with them, and the only people they actually have any respect for (if you can even really call it that) are mages like Frieren—who they actively fear for how high they rank within the demon society mana hierarchy. But just as this volume fleshes out the demons, it also expands Frieren's characterization as well. While we have received some brief peeks into it before, this arc lays out the vast majority of Frieren's back story: why she hates the demons, how she came to be the Great Mage Flamme's apprentice, and what she had been doing for the centuries between that time and when Himmel asked her to join his party. Basically, what we learn is that Frieren has trained all her life to appear far less than what she actually is. Since demons rank everyone based on their mana, Frieren has spent a millennium limiting her mana until it has become second nature to do so—making her seem decently strong but nothing a strong demon couldn't handle. Thus, in her battles against demons, she is always underestimated—which allows her to find the opening she needs to strike with overwhelming might. In other words, Frieren is powerful not because of her magic, but because she exploits the psychological weakness built into every demon by default: their arrogance. This makes her battle with Aura much more than a pair of mages slinging spells at each other. The action climax is a character-building moment that shows us both the patience and merciless rage that lie at the core of our often-scatterbrained heroine. It's a fantastic way to end the series' second major arc. The back half of the volume is basically a return to form—a series of loosely connected one-shot stories following Frieren, Stark, and Fern as they continue their journey north. While far less action-filled and with much more in the way of comedy, these one-offs are no less emotionally poignant. In one, we learn Stark's own backstory and see how Frieren continues to apply the lessons she learned during her journey 80 years before. In another, we meet our first elf besides Frieren—one much older than even she is—and once again dive into the nihilistic sadness that comes hand-in-hand with immortality. But perhaps the standout story in this volume is the one taken straight out of Arthurian lore with its “sword in the stone” premise. It's common knowledge that Himmel pulled the legendary sword from the stone, proving himself the destined hero in the process. But as we learn, this never happened. The sword sits in the stone to this day. The fact that Himmel failed to draw the sword makes him an even more remarkable character. Rather than a divinely chosen hero, he was just a good man with a big heart—a man who saw the suffering in the world and refused to simply stand by and watch it happen. He knew he was a “fake hero” and still refused to give up. And in the end, he saved the world. It completely redefines his character and makes for a remarkably powerful tale on an emotional level. Its message is as inspiring as it is obvious: there's no need to wait for a fated hero—everyone has the potential to save the world. All they need to do is stand up and fight for it. All in all, this is the best volume of Frieren yet. With its grand action climax, numerous character-defining story beats, and captivating world-building, it truly has it all. Even the weaker of the one-off stories are still good. And on top of everything else, it also makes sure to lay the groundwork for its next big arc. What more can I say? It's great stuff all around. Volume 4: While the past two volumes of Frieren have been a mixture of major interconnected stories and stand-alone tales, this volume goes back to the first volume's purely episodic roots. There are no invading demon hordes or climatic battles—the closest we get to an actual fight is Frieren one-shotting a monster that puts people to sleep. Instead, this volume of Frieren is focused mainly on character building—most prominently the party's newest member: Sein the priest. In a lot of ways, Sein is similar to Frieren (which is the main reason she is determined to have him join the party in the first place). He's a middle-aged man who believes he missed his chance to become the adventurer he dreamed of being as a kid. Now, just as Himmel dragged Frieren out of the forest and onto the adventure of a lifetime, Frieren does the same for Sein. Sein is a vehicle for all of us to revisit our feelings of regret about the road not traveled. Few people have lived the life they dreamed of when they were young and most of us are just doing our best to make ends meet. Sein serves as an example that it's never too late—and that staying stuck in your undesired situation just because you feel its already too late to change things is the biggest waste of all. It's a great message and one that hits close to home if you are well into middle age yourself. Within the story, Sein fills the role of big brother to Fern and Stark. Both are orphans that have spent the second halves of their young lives being raised by non-humans (an elf and a dwarf respectively). Because of this, their social skills are somewhat warped and they constantly butt heads. Of course, there is no real malice on either side—they are just opposites in many ways. One is a mage, the other a warrior. One is female, the other male. One is book-smart, quiet, and responsible, the other street-smart, outgoing, and impulsive. As Frieren is incapable of understanding the feelings of either of them, it is up to Sein to help them navigate their conflicts—especially those stemming from the wild emotions caused by puberty. His presence allows us to see a new side of our heroes as they develop in interesting ways. But while Sein is the glue that holds this volume together, it is still Frieren herself who stands out the most. As always, the most emotional moments of the story center around her immortality and her attempts to connect with her new companions on a deeper level. Be it the story of the hidden meaning behind a ring Himmel gave her or Frieren coming to terms with the idea that Fern isn't a child anymore, there are multiple moments all-but-guaranteed to bring you to the edge of tears. The standout one-shot of this volume involves Frieren meeting an old dwarven friend she encountered in her time with Himmel's party. This story reminds us of the perpetual tragedy of Frieren's life: she has no elven friends. A human's lifespan is no time at all to her and even dwarves only last four hundred years or so. Everyone she's ever known will eventually be lost to the sands of time, forgotten by all except her. Her life is one of fleeting happiness where, in the end, only she and her memories will remain. Yet, despite all the sadness it entails, there is also beauty in her carrying those memories. It grants a form of immortality to all those she has encountered and will encounter. It's a wonderfully bittersweet exploration of what it means to live forever and showcases Frieren's writing at its best. Honestly, the mixture of tragedy and hopeful beauty in this volume overall is enough to get me choked up even writing this. The fact that Frieren continues to do this is proof that this series is far from losing its touch even four volumes in. And with the prologue for the magic test arc finishing out the volume—with its massive cast of new characters waiting to appear on stage—this series doesn't look like it will be running out of gas anytime soon.

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
Animenewsnetwork - Views

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA MegaMix+

With how much a certain blue hedgehog and a would-be reformed Japanese gangster dominate Sega's limelight, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that Sega also plays host to the video game exploits of Hatsune Miku, the famed digital singing platform musicians have used for years to create all kinds of music videos. The Project DIVA games have done a fantastic job of giving players as much Miku as they can handle, and with the port of Project DIVA MegaMix+, players can look forward to even more Miku than ever. How does it hold up? Well, at first blush, it's almost overwhelming: MegaMix+ features just over 170 songs right out of the gate. These include remixes of classic hits from old Sega titles like "After Burner" and "Magical Sound Shower" from Out Run, or plenty of Miku's old hits like the "PoPiPo" vegetable song and "Black Rock Shooter." There are also some curious entries like a Miku-cover of the Nyancat song. And it's not just Miku: plenty of these songs are sung by fellow Vocaloid “members” like the Kagamine siblings, Meiko, Megurine Luka and Kaito, and some songs even feature alternate vocal tracks. There are also full music videos for each song, and you can even view them divorced from the gameplay. But what about the gameplay itself? It's your typical rhythm game affair: input the command as the appropriate symbol flies onto the screen and lines up with the indicator, be it tapping or holding the face buttons or flicking the control stick in the appropriate direction. The commands come in from all over the screen, and depending on the controller you use you might get confused (God help you if you're used to a Nintendo layout and you're using an Xbox controller on PC). The sheer number of prompts swarming the screen can be a little overwhelming at times, and because they come in from all over it can be a easy to miss the occasional prompt. And for the dedicated player, that can cost more than your combo: songs in Project DIVA have extended bonus sections that are only unlocked by surpassing a given score threshold. So not only is good play rewarded with an extra challenge, but also with an extra music video—even if it's hard to pay attention to Meiko belting on an aircraft carrier because there's a swarm of “Bs” drifting in from off-screen. Besides extended music videos and high-score bragging rights, successfully clearing songs earns you rank points and in-game currency. Ranking up and earning points unlocks new options for the in-game wardrobe menu where you can customize the look and design of any of the characters in-game. Outfit pieces can include costumes based off of other Sega games, as well as the usual gamut of pajamas, swimsuits, and holiday outfits. There are also shirts you can design from the ground-up, and all of these outfits can be saved and used by the characters during music videos. You can even designate specific outfits per video. There is no in-game photography mode, and given the wealth of outfits (and the nature of Miku and her friends), this feels like a huge omission. And that's about it for MegaMix+. Besides the extensive music list and the wealth of customization options at your disposal, there isn't much else to it. Provided, “only” 170 songs (with many more available in a DLC bundle) is nothing to blow your nose at, and you could easily spend hours fiddling around with every last character's outfit. There are also higher difficulty modes to unlock, for those who wish to truly master MegaMix+. The music videos are all crisp and fun, with Miku and friends looking as cute and colorful as they ever have. It's a bit of a shame the music videos are newly choreographed dances and not the original videos that were popularized on Nico Nico Douga all those years ago, but I can understand Sega wanting to have those lovely Miku models instead of the original "Miku Miku Ageru" music video. It would be nice to see a Project DIVA game delve deeper into the history of Vocaloid, and given the Sega connection I'd have liked to see more Sega-themed songs, but that's a subject for another day. For fans looking for as much Hatsune Miku as their heart can bear, MegaMix+ is as good as you could ever hope for on the PC. For folks just looking for a fun rhythm game, hey, this is still a tremendously fun time unless you just really have it in for girls with green hair.

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
Animenewsnetwork - Views

Darkstalkers Blu-ray

Adapting the Darkstalkers games into an animated series is harder than it seems. True, the games are largely plot-free cavalcades of marvelously animated monsters sparring with each other, but therein lies the challenge. Should a Darkstalkers anime series be comedic, in keeping with the goofier characters and the exaggerated cartoon look, or should it be grim and brooding, since these are, after all, vampires and succubi and werewolves and such? And who out of the game's large roster should emerge as the main characters? And should the character designs tone down the technically naked catgirl's appearance or not? The four-part Darkstalkers OVA series from 1997 makes up its mind quick, playing its tale of combative creatures of the night as straight-faced as possible. We find the world mired in darkness both literal and figurative, as monstrous beings roam the land while the sun itself is masked. Human civilization is reduced to a strange hybrid of medievalism and modern remnants, where peasants labor over decaying crops while zombies peel out in sports cars. The beleaguered mortals attempt only meager resistance, as we see when the effervescent, revealingly fur-clad catgirl Felicia and soul-devouring undead rockstar Lord Raptor tear through a squad of would-be exterminators. Even so, these creatures of the night are often at each other's throats. The vampire Demitri Maximoff revives and runs afoul of the vexing succubus noblewoman Morrigan Aensland, and they're interrupted by a fleet of Huitzil robots. And then a vaguely demonic alien named Pyron arrives to make the planet his latest playground. Much of the series focuses on the half-human Donovan Baine, however. Toting an enormous sword and commanding magical abilities, he morosely roams around until fate crosses his path with that of Anita, a small girl possessing ominous special powers. Before long they're teamed up with Hsien-Ko and Mei-Ling, two ghostly sisters out to avenge their mother's demise by taking down Pyron. It should be impossible to make a completely boring anime series with a zombie rocker, a troublemaking succubus, two Chinese hopping vampire-zombies, and a wealth of other unique monsters. But the Darkstalkers OVA sure tries. The script is long on monologues and short on meaningful character interaction, with a lot of the central cast never even meeting. Donovan, Anita, Hsien-Ko, and Mei-Ling wander around, Demitri and Morrigan square off, and Felicia hangs out at a Lord Raptor concert and then befriends some humans and the gruff werewolf Jon Talbain, all without their stories adding up to anything. In stark contrast to the colorful, fast-paced, and humorous tone of the Darkstalkers games, the OVA series makes everyone too stilted and distant. It spends a lot of time following Donovan and Anita around while they brood and stare and deliver grim pronouncements on the nature of humanity and the overwhelming darkness of the world. Characters frequently announce things that a more adept series would show us; when Morrigan announces that she's strangely drawn to Demitri, we have to take her word for it simply because the two of them have no apparent chemistry. Supporting characters get very little closure, as every human ally from a despondent priest to a kindly doctor just disappears from the story to make room for the actual video-game characters. In that department, though, the Darkstalkers OVA is at least nice to look at. CAPCOM and Madhouse clearly spent some money on the production, and director Masashi Ikeda (who also scripted the first half of the series) emphasizes the fight scenes with crisp, dynamic style and some sharp music from Kou Otani. Character designer and first-episode animation director Shukou Murase, whose style was inescapable if you watched mid-1990s anime, ably marries the original CAPCOM designs to the anime's more realistic and shadowy tones (with the possible exception of Felicia, who often looks pointy enough to be a Masami Obari doodle). There's no shortage of stylish battles, but it raises the question: if it's nicely animated Darkstalkers fighting you want, why not just play the exceptionally well-aged fighting games? The Darkstalkers games had a vaguely defined world and storyline, but the anime doesn't quite flesh things out. We get only a murky idea of where these monsters actually came from or how the human world relates to the demon world that we see in glimpses of Morrigan's courtly life. And yet the story insists on taking everything oppressively formal, as though it's afraid to the let the cast cut loose and enjoy themselves. Only the scenery-shredding Lord Raptor seems to be having any fun, and he doesn't show up after the first episode. Yes, fans of the Darkstalkers games shouldn't count on seeing every character in the spotlight. Movies and series based on fighting games usually struggle to include the games' entire rosters, and most make the harsh decision to focus on a core set of characters. This reduces the rest to disposable, briefly-seen opponents who are just there to make the heavy hitters look good—in wrestling parlance, they're jobbers or “enhancement talent.” The Darkstalkers OVA initially tries to give every beastie his or her moment, but when the fourth episode arrives, we barely see the mummy king Anakaris, the curiously attractive fishman Rikuo, the Frankenstein's monster Victor, or the adorable yeti Sasquatch before Pyron thrashes them. It suggests a rushed production, though the series still finds time for a weird last-episode appearance by a scientist who resembles Mega Man nemesis Dr. Wily and serves no apparent purpose other than to snipe at Donovan. And for a quick note, this OVA is based on the secondDarkstalkers game, so don't look for any faces from Darkstalkers 3. The Japanese voice acting is competent across the board, and the dub is a typical late 1990s effort from Ocean Studios: a little flat here and there, but with mostly good performances. The script tries for eloquent flourishes to compensate for the uptight tone, though you could make a potentially lethal drinking game out of how many times characters say “The Dark.” It's a shame that Felicia gets only a single cat pun, but at least it's a good one. In fact, the most amusing part of the dub finds Scott McNeil voicing Raptor just as he did in the short-lived Darkstalkers: The Animated Series. The American cartoon may have been a disgrace, but at least it realized that perhaps you shouldn't make a straight-laced animated adaptation from a video game where the typical fight has a ghost-girl dropping one-ton weights on a snow-spewing bigfoot or a mummy turning a werewolf into a little dachshund puppy. Discotek's new Blu-Ray version of the Darkstalkers OVA is the sharpest the series has ever looked, and it's packed with extras for both the anime and the video games, plus extended treatments of the inexplicable but strangely catchy “Trouble Man,” which CAPCOM really tried hard to make into the Darkstalkers theme song. The voluminous art gallery has sketches for every major character and, as further evidence of the series being hurried, a few supporting cast members who never actually show up in the series. The Darkstalkers OVA deserves some credit for sticking to its guns: it wanted to be a serious adaptation of a somewhat goofy fighting game, and that's what it is. Yet it doesn't really succeed on any point. It's too grim to capture the same cartoonish appeal as the video games, yet it doesn't dig deep or mix the characters together well enough to intrigue any casual viewers. It's sometimes enjoyable to watch for Darkstalkers fans, but it's also a reminder of how easy it is for an animated series to miss the point. xbxvvt04 ut tt tp ieo

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
Animenewsnetwork - Views

Thermae Romae Novae Streaming

Japanese bathing culture, writes Garrett G. Fagan in his exhaustive 1999 text Bathing in Public in the Roman World, “bear[s] resemblance…to documented Ancient Roman practice.” Since that is likely to be a persistent question in the back of your mind as you watch Thermae Romae Novae, the most recent adaptation of Mari Yamazaki's Thermae Romae manga, it's good to get it cleared up right from the start. Although Fagan goes on to note similarities between Finnish and Roman bathing cultures before saying that, strictly speaking, the Islamic hammam is actually the most similar to how things were done in Ancient Rome, Yamazaki is well within acknowledged history of bathing culture to draw a line between modern Japan and Lucius' world under Emperor Hadrian. That's fortunate, because part of the joy of this series is the realization that people are people no matter where and when they live. Having Lucius travel through time and space to a totally foreign world only to realize that the people there aren't so different from the ones he knows is a nice cultural message, and, more importantly in the context of this show, takes the sting out of his racist comments made at their expense. It must be noted that his words about “flat-faced slaves” are time-period appropriate; the Romans were xenophobic to a certain degree. That doesn't stop Lucius' words from being vastly uncomfortable for modern viewers, but for what it's worth, he does eventually stop adding “slaves” to his narration and he does come to appreciate the people he meets, at least as much as he's culturally able. And since he doesn't spend all that much time in Japan in this version of the story, we perhaps should take what we can get on that front. Luckily that doesn't entirely take away from the more enjoyable aspects of the series. The plot – that Ancient Roman thermae (bath) architect Lucius Modestus rises to fame because he somehow keeps naked time-traveling to Japan and brings home ideas to improve Roman bathing culture – is the right kind of goofy that makes for good edutainment. Lucius is proud of what he does and of his family legacy of building and designing bathhouses, but he's also mired in the past, and no one wants his old-fashioned baths anymore. His arrogance makes that hard for him to swallow, and when he first gets whisked away to Japan he can't quite stomach the idea that someone not Roman might have an edge over him in the bath design game. But slowly his prejudice is worn away by the sheer joy of learning new ways to design public baths, as well as new methods for enjoying them, and Lucius comes to respect the Japanese – which he shows by happily appropriating their ideas. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that? This doesn't always work in historical context, which perhaps shouldn't be a surprise. The major standout is when Lucius brings back the idea of drinking fruit-flavored milk; Ancient Romans not only didn't drink milk, they also disparaged those who did as barbarians and inferior to Romans. Likewise, the presence of bearded Roman men is a bit odd for the time period, although Hadrian's fondness for Greek culture did make him one of the few Roman emperors to wear one, so the fashion was changing at the time. It is worth noting, however, that the ill-behaved Russians Lucius meets in Japan are much hairier than any of the Romans we see in the show; this is perhaps a nod to pre-Hadrian Roman beauty standards and an earlier background line in a bathhouse when a man is offering body hair removal. Beyond that, though, history is decently well respected (one episode is set in the Edo era and background commentary tells us it is a year after the Black Ships arrived, so we know it's 1854), which is both nice and important for this kind of show. While there is an overarching plot, it definitely takes a backseat to Lucius' time-traveling adventures. Lucius' relationship with his wife Livia forms the through-line of the story, and manga readers will notice that things pan out a little differently for them here than in the source material. Hadrian and Lucius' pal Marcus get more screentime than poor Livia, and it frankly feels like Lucius forgets that she even exists most of the time. On the balance there are many more male than female characters, but that does make a degree of sense, given the segregated nature of public bathing – Lucius only shows up in a mixed bath twice (once in 1854 and once in a rural area in the modern world), so women wouldn't be expected to be there. He does, however, pop up in a waterpark and a bath showroom, which causes considerably more of a kerfuffle, since he's in the buff both times. The animation for the show isn't terrific, which is a shame, and while aspects of Yamazaki's artwork transfer quite nicely, there's a grainy filter over the whole show that detracts from the overall look. Presumably the goal was to make everything look “old,” but it just looks as if you need to adjust the screen, which isn't great. On the plus side, there are distinctly different body types and male figures on display depending on a character's age whether they're Roman or Japanese, and that's a wonderful detail – and an important one, since most of the people we see are naked. This apparently also gives the series an “M” rating, which frankly feels unnecessary – there's nary a penis to be found, and since everyone has a butt no matter what their gender, slapping an “M” on the show is a bit silly. Each episode ends with a brief segment of original series creator Mari Yamazaki touring various hot springs in Japan, and these are in some ways the highlight of the series. Yamazaki is clearly having a wonderful time learning more about traditional bathing culture, and there are plenty of practices and facts that are fascinating to learn even if you aren't an onsen afficionado. Honestly, this could be an entire full-length series on its own and it would be wonderful. (And as an added bonus for literature fans, she pops into a room at a ryokan where Yosano Akiko stayed and sees a framed, original poem she wrote there.) Yamazaki ends each segment by drawing a new illustration of Lucius on her tablet, and this is both a lovely chance to see her at work and to compare her original art with the adaptation's. Thermae Romae Novae isn't perfect. It's got grainy images, stiff animation, and not much of an overarching plot. But it's also a genuinely interesting and occasionally funny show about an unexpected cultural intersection with two stellar performances (in Japanese and English) for Lucius. Whether you've read the manga or not, history buffs shouldn't miss this, and neither should anyone just looking for an easy-going, comfortable viewing experience. xbxvvt03 ut tt tp ieo

  • no reactions
0
0 Share
August 2022
M T W T F S S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  
Verified Users
Profile Photo
Brian Crow
@briancrow
Profile Photo
Nonoka Chikugo
@nonokachikugo
Profile Photo
Yuuki Mochimaru
@yuukimochimaru
Profile Photo
Yuumi Asahina
@yuumiasahina
Advert