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All reviews - Movies (2) - Books (33) - Music (2)

Gekijouban Shakugan no Shana review

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 19 June 2011 12:08 (A review of Gekijouban Shakugan no Shana)

Let me start off by saying that, on the whole, I like this movie. I didn't get any opportunity to see it until after I'd already read the first light novel (which the movie takes much of its story from), read the first manga volume and seen all of the first season (and most of the second) of the TV series. So I'm afraid my opinion of the movie was shaped just as much by these things as it was by the movie itself, and in some ways this doesn't really work in the movie's favor. I'll explain below.

Let's begin with the negatives. I read somewhere (I don't remember where, but it might have been LJ) that someone felt that the movie does a much better job telling the story than the TV series. I very strongly disagree with this. The advantage of the TV series was that it had a full season of episodes to tell the story and it was able to move at a comfortable pace, giving us explanations at a satisfactory rate and developing the characters smoothly and nicely. The movie is only 86 minutes. The filmmakers barely gave themselves time to even tell a story (come on; 86 minutes ISN'T that much time), and consequently the movie, especially the first half, feels enormously rushed. We're whisked right through the opening scenes, barely given a sufficient explanation for what was going on (even the manga did a better job of this, and the manga is inferior to both the light novel and the TV series) and hardly given the amount or depth of character development the TV series allowed. If I had seen the movie before the TV series and before having read the light novel or the manga, I would have been somewhat puzzled. The fast pace and hurried explanations wouldn't have allowed me the understanding that I got from the TV series or the light novel. Streaking right through the plot is not an effective way to tell a story.

Secondly, the filmmakers tried to cram too much in there, which resulted in there not being enough. Sound contradictory? It might not once I elucidate: we're given Yuji's story, Hirai's story, Kazumi's story, Shana's story, Friagne and Marian's story and a bit of Ike's and Margery's story (more on Margery below) and, again, that 86 minute mark proves too little to effectively accommodate them all. We get enough for Yuji and Hirai, and BARELY enough for Shana, but not for any of the others. We really don't even get enough time for Shana's growing attachment to Yuji to make much sense, and we wonder why she really starts to care about him at all. In the TV series it's obvious why, but here it really isn't. Kazumi's story is especially disappointing because, after such a promising start, her story is abandoned halfway through the movie, and we don't even see her again. It's left on a low note, with her essentially giving up what she wanted to do, and that's what we take with us. With this being the case, it would have been just as well to leave her out of the movie altogether (or greatly reduce her role, with no specific plot line focused on her), since in the end she contributes nothing significant to the story.

I also had a problem with Wilhelmina's gratuitous cameos. I know why they were done, but it was too glaring (I mean that in more than one sense, too, for every time she appeared on screen, she'd turn and glare at the camera). They should have limited her to ONE cameo, and they should have kept her from looking towards us. Such a far less self-conscious cameo would have been much more of a treat than what we got. When she appeared again, doing just as she did before, I actually rolled my eyes. If I roll my eyes during a movie, this is a bad sign.

Now then: Margery Daw. WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING HERE? Yeah, yeah, I get it; she's here for the same reason Wilhelmina is: giving the fans what they want. But you know, when giving the fans what they want is detrimental to the story, it's a bad idea. Now, I have nothing against Margery as a character; she's fun to watch in the TV series, and Marcosius is always good for a laugh, but in the movie she's barely given any real significance in the grand scheme of things, and no real development. She participates in every battle once she shows up, and her participation does no good at all. She is, in a nutshell, in the movie to be in the movie. Margery and Marco weren't even in the first light novel at all, and when they were placed in the movie, Margery essentially got one of Shana's actions from the book, then stuck around like the fifth wheel that she was for the rest of the time, and making a largely unceremonious exit at the end. Margery and Marco were an intrusion. THEY DO NOT BELONG HERE.

I have one other gripe I want to address, because this very nearly ruined the film's climax for me. Let me get to it by explaining something. Alastor, Flame of Heaven, is a King of Guze, and exists in this world by inhabiting the body of Shana, his contractor. He speaks through the pendant she wears around her neck. In the TV series we never actually see what Alastor looks like; the one time Shana mentions summoning him, he's summoned but we don't get to see him. That was effective because it upheld the mystery of his character. In the light novel, when he is summoned during the climax, he is never really described, and we are left to imagine his appearance for ourselves. This, too, is effective. In the movie, however, we see Alastor's true form. Without revealing what he looks like, let me just say I was sorely disappointed. I know what the filmmakers were attempting to do, but they didn't quite get there. Instead of seeing a form majestic and kingly, we see something that looks evil and, worse, rather uninspired. Since Alastor is, really, a force for good since he fights to maintain the world's balance, giving him an evil appearance is far from suitable, even if the intent was install a bit of irony. Irony isn't ALWAYS effective, folks. It sure wasn't here. The better thing to do would have been to use a different, more awe-inspiring design, or to have kept him obscured in the flames so that we never truly got a good look at him. When I saw the design they chose for him, I groaned. Yes, I groaned. I couldn't believe it. (Yeah, I know; how many movies have I made, right? Well, I bet I could make a pretty good movie if you could lend me some money; I only need about $49 million. I'll pay you back if the movie is a hit, and I'll credit you as a producer, too. What do you say?)

Now, after having said all of this, you may be wondering how I could have said I like this movie. Well, now that I got the negatives out of the way, let's get to the positives.

First, the movie wisely chooses to stick to the story of the first light novel, and during the second half of the movie especially, does a fairly good job retelling it. Like I said, Margery gets in the way, and Kazumi's story is abandoned, but the plot is not too drastically changed. It's rushed, yes, and the filmmakers should have allowed themselves an extra twenty minutes to flesh things out a bit more, but the story is at least intact. We do miss characters like Oga-chan and some of the other classmates (who appeared in the light novel), but since the movie left no room for them, it was a good idea to leave them out instead of trying to squeeze them ineffectively in like they did with Margery.

Friagne the Hunter is done a great service here. He gets just about the right amount of screen time, and his relationship with Marian is nicely demonstrated. He also is presented as being more powerful here than he was in the TV series (where he was something of a "little guy" compared to the series' main villains, Bal Masque), and he uses his Hougu with splendid results. They even put in a tiny scene at the very beginning of the film depicting Friagne using Trigger Happy to kill an unnamed Flame Haze, finally showing us just how dangerous he's supposed to be. He puts up one hell of a fight during the final battle (easily holding off both Shana and Margery), just as a good villain should, and when Marian sacrifices herself for him, his reaction is perfect. A well-handled villain makes all the difference in a story, no matter what its medium. And they got the villain right.

The animation is breathtaking. It stands above the TV series animation-wise, just as a movie should, and while it looks like it stole a few shots here and there during the first half directly from the first couple of episodes (a cost-cutting move, most likely), most of the familiar scenes were obviously reanimated, given more dynamic camera movement and greater fluidity. The fight scenes were especially well done and were very exciting to watch, and the CGI was very smoothly used alongside the characters to great effect. Visually, the movie doesn't disappoint.

A few little things were added that were actually not used in the TV series, which is a bit surprising. Before her storyline is abandoned, we see more of Kazumi's home life, including a group picture of her class. In a particularly nice touch, we see the photograph suddenly alter itself right around the time Shana takes over Hirai's existence, which was a great idea. Hirai's disappearance from this world is handled with slightly more dramatic flair than the TV series, not necessarily making it more effective, but making it different enough to be fresh and interesting. (I suspect the movie's flair for the dramatic is one reason why some people feel the movie does a better job telling the story than the TV series. However, superficial drama does not a better story make.)

Speaking of heightened drama, the music is different here than in the TV series, and a very beautiful song is performed when Hirai is about to vanish. This was a good move on the filmmakers' part, since Hirai, even after she is gone, is important to the story, and having such effective music for her final scene helps us feel the distress and frustration Yuji experiences. Another very beautiful tune is played at the end of the film as we see Shana and Yuji standing together, finally sharing a friendly, trusting moment with one another (an effect nearly mired by Margery zipping around overhead). The music, really, is one of the best things about the movie.

Overall, the movie is enjoyable (if more on its own merits than compared to other versions of Shana), and any anime fan would likely enjoy watching it. Due to its flaws, I award it a 7/10, but I still regard it as recommended viewing. I hope, if they ever choose to make a second film, they're more careful in their approach to storytelling.


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The Haunted World of El Superbeasto review

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 19 June 2011 12:01 (A review of The Haunted World of El Superbeasto)

The great thing about animation is that it can be used to depict just about anything. Whether the work is crafted using traditional hand-drawn art, computer-generated imagery, models or any combination thereof, the result is always something that just can't be captured with live action. Provided, of course, the filmmakers put any imagination into it.

There is certainly no lack of imagination in The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. There are no boundaries, either. The fact the film was directed by Rob Zombie (and adapted from his comics) should be enough of a warning, but if it isn't, just consider this: a close-up shot of a man's unwashed foot and his chipped, infected toenails is one of the less-disgusting images you're going to run across.

This film has been described as Spongebob for adults, or Ren & Stimpy meets and gets it on with the lovechild of Ralph Bakshi and Heavy Metal. Let me put it another way: it's not for kids.

In fact, this film isn't for most adults, either. The extreme gross-out humor, frequent nudity and in-your-face violence have many convinced this is purely a teen's movie. However, most teens are likely to miss the references to old cinema's horror flicks and yesteryear's pulps, as hard as it is to believe that a movie written by Zombie and rowdy comedian Tom Papa could have any subtlety. But then, anyone who knows anything about Zombie is aware of his love for the classics, and how cinema's horror greats have inspired not only his music, but his drawings, writings and videos as well.

The movie even opens with a parody of the warning that accompanied 1931's Frankenstein picture, in which an impeccably-dressed gentleman warns the audience that what they are about to see could shock them. Karloff's Frankenstein isn't likely to shock a modern audience, but by God, El Superbeasto just might.

So what exactly is this movie about? That's the real kicker. The story doesn't matter. The story is an excuse to show everything the movie shows. It's not about the story. It's about watching 77 minutes of what happens when filmmakers get gleefully carried away. But there is something resembling a plot: the nerdy evil scientist, Dr. Satan (voice of Paul Giamatti), wishes to have the ultimate power ("All the sudsie powers of HELL!"), and to get it, he needs to find a woman with a triple-six birthmark on her booty, marry her at a specific time, and... you're rolling your eyes already, aren't you?

It's not worth sweating the details. We don't really care if Dr. Satan succeeds or not. We just love hearing Giamatti go so overboard with his role, and oh, does he go overboard! But then, so does pretty much the rest of the cast, and if you listen carefully, you'll hear the voices of Cassandra Peterson, Laraine Newman, Dee Wallace and Clint Howard pop in. This movie is all about excess, and if excess is your thing, this is the perfect movie for you.

Basically, Dr. Satan's target is a foul-mouthed topless dancer named Velvet Von Black (Rosario Dawson), who also happens to be the target of the title character's boundless lust. Beasto (Papa), a luchador with bad taste and worse manners, just happens to witness Velvet's kidnapping by Dr. Satan's intelligent servant ape, Otto (Spongebob's Tom Kenny, who performs several other voices in the movie as well), and decides that saving her and getting a "reward" just barely wins out over devouring a plateful of hot wings. And this is long after the movie has already sunk to the low, low depths it will joyously sink to again and again.

Beasto is all brawn and no brains, and decides to enlist the help of his quick-witted, impossibly-stacked zombie-killing sister, Suzi X (Sherry Moon Zombie) and her perpetually horny robot Murray (Brian Posehn). Of course, Suzi and Murray already have their hands full, as they've abducted the animated head of Adolf Hitler and are on the run from the Nazi Zombies and their Commandant (Rob Paulsen using his hilarious Dr. Scratchensniff voice). Yes, it's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, but if you're still reading this, you're likely going to be laughing too hard to care how absurd this so-called story is anyway.

Beasto stumbles his way through every situation with bravado and non-stop chatter, pausing only to yell at his agent over the phone or oggle the closest hottie he sees. He's all too happy to get into a scrap, and is clearly a student of the "shoot first and ask questions later" school of thought, though his sister seems to be no better in that regard, in spite of her greater success at gathering information. He's strong enough to take out a foe five times his size, and he's already a pretty big boy himself. He's also not afraid of using whatever is handy for a weapon, even if it happens to be a new acquaintance whose most prominent characteristic is an over-sized scrotum, which holds a pair of solid metal testicles. And when a girl he's getting freaky with falls under the influence of the full moon and morphs into a five-headed monster, the ceiling fan becomes his best friend, and the result is a torrent of blood sufficient to cover the camera (though Beasto at least has the decency to walk over and wipe the lens off a moment later). Pretty much the one thing Beasto truly fears is his Uncle Carl (Jess Harnell), who farts rats. Don't ask.

On top of all of this insanity is a series of songs to accompany the, er, action. The songs, which more-or-less tell the story as it's happening, were composed and performed by Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman, a duo known as Hard 'n Phirm (get it?). These increasingly goofy tunes tell us the details of Dr. Satan's rise to demonhood, and tell us it's okay to stimulate ourselves while watching cartoon women fight each other, since "the Japanese do it all the time." Even the Nazi Zombies are given their own theme music, which sounds like what the Beatles might have composed if they'd taken even stronger drugs.

Obviously, this sort of movie isn't going to win any awards (unless it's the Way Too Over The Top award, which it would win in a heartbeat), but no matter. It's a fun escape into sheer madness that anyone with a love for this kind of humor will get a big kick out of. And if it becomes too much for you, well, as the impeccably-dressed gentleman said, we warned you.


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A must for Junk Force fans

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 11 June 2011 11:18 (A review of Junk Force V.2)

The second Junk Force audio drama collection is every bit as fun as the first. The same cast returns for a second set of stories, including "Fun Park Jealousy," which, when its two parts are counted together, is the single longest story on the two volumes. It is a variation on a story that was presented in both the manga and the second light novel and thus is familiar and still new, as we finally have voices to go with the characters. (We also learn from this that Louis' name is actually pronounced "Louie." I'd been pronouncing it as it was spelled.)

I love the Junk Force series, and I wish the apparently-planned anime series had happened. The characters are appealing, the stories are a lot of fun, and this audio series brings them to life in ways the books simply can't. Probably what really stopped it from getting bigger than it was was insufficient marketing and, at least in the case of the light novels, rushed production. A series like this has a world of potential, and its full potential was never really realized.

While it's only in Japanese and not in English, this CD is a treat to listen to; its production values are high and its cast stellar. Junk Force fans will get a kick out of this. Listening to it with your eyes closed gives you a chance to experience what it might be like to have a Junk Force anime.

It's out of print now, but if you look around, you should be able to secure yourself a copy. If you like Junk Force even half as much as I do, the effort will be well worth it.


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Great fun!

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 11 June 2011 10:31 (A review of Junk Force V.1)

In addition to the light novels and manga, the Junk Force series also boasts two audio drama CDs, with professional voice actors filling the shoes of our heroines and hero. This first volume features four stories and two special dialogue tracks, with "Scavenger" and "Crater City" being among the stories told.

This collection features audio drama versions of stories presented in both the manga and the first light novel, and if I may venture a guess, I think this was meant to be the forerunner to an anime adaptation that sadly never came to fruition. (Seiyu heavyweight Nana Mizuki plays Liza and YĆ« Asakawa plays Wooty if this tells you anything.) There isn't a theme song, but there is atmospheric music, including a nice little tune that plays whenever Liza reads off the episode number and title.

The voice acting is solid and the CD as a whole is a lot of fun to listen to; it brings the series to life in a whole new way. I really think this series would have flown higher if it HAD received the anime treatment. Hopefully this could still happen, but I won't hold my breath.

In any case, this is a great addition to the Junk Force fan's collection, even if you don't speak Japanese.


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Best of the three English-language novels

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 7 June 2011 12:01 (A review of Junk Force Novel Volume 3)

The third Junk Force novel (and the final one to be translated into English) presents us with five mini-stories detailing the ongoing adventures of Liza, Louis, Wooty, Mill and Mamet in their hostile, post-apocalyptic world.

While Hideki Kakinuma does a marginally better job in the narration department, his writing is still largely that of a scriptwriter, so at times the book can be a little awkward to trudge through. However, Dr. Master's editing team presents a noticeably improved effort, with far fewer errors and formatting problems than the previous two entries, earning this volume an extra half-star from me.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it truly is a shame novels 4 and 5 weren't translated; Junk Force is a very fun series with good concepts and stories and with the right marketing it could have been much bigger than what it was. I hope another English-language publisher might one day give the series a chance, though that certainly looks unlikely.

I really think this would work well as an anime series, and I get the feeling from the novels' episodic nature that Kakinuma was trying to get it going as an eventual anime series, and just wasn't able to gain quite enough momentum. He did manage to get two audio drama CDs out of it, so at least the characters eventually gained voices, but that's as far as the series ultimately got. Shame, too, as the top-quality illustrations look like something straight out of a fully animated cartoon; they add a lot to the books.

The book ends with a bang as the final story, "On The Road Again," has quite a lot of tension and action and feels almost like a season finale. On the whole, it makes a better read than the other two Junk Force novels, though it never quite approaches the quality level of the manga. Still, the improvements here encourage me to believe that the fourth and fifth novels, had they been translated, would have continued this trend in improvement. Alas, we'll never know.

Junk Force fans should check this out. The series had enormous potential and only barely scratched the surface of what it could have been, but what we got is worth having.


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Decent read

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 6 June 2011 11:20 (A review of Drifter)

Pik Lando (no, not Lando Calrissian) is a smuggler whose ship, The Tinker's Damn, looks ratty and neglected but is actually in excellent shape. Lando is a master of deception and good at the smuggling business, but he has an honest side to him too.

Lando is hired to help a pacifist doctor named Wendy Wendeen, whose community The Chosen are at war with powerful corporation Mega-Metals for control of the planet Angel (which has a "halo" -- check the cover art). The Chosen want only a place to live, farm and raise their families, while Mega-Metals wants to mine the planet for metals. Lando isn't too keen on going against Mega-Metals until a brutal event makes it a personal thing for him.

Lando and Wendy develop a physical relationship, but their differing personalities make a lasting relationship impossible, something that hurts Lando more than he ever expected it to. However, he sticks to his guns and adheres to the agreement made, even though he is risking his life unnecessarily in doing so.

Deitz has a decent writing style, though a bit inconsistent, which can be distracting at times. He also jumps relentlessly from one character's mind to another within the same chapter, which works for character development but works against storytelling. Also, the final few chapters of the book are more like a mini-story that feel like a set-up for a sequel (and it has two sequels) and make a somewhat clumsy if action-packed ending for the book.

So, it's okay. Not great, but okay.


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On-par sequel

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 6 June 2011 11:15 (A review of Drifter's Run)

I liked Drifter enough to pick up this sequel and give it a read. This book remembers the continuity established by its predecessor, but it doesn't pick up immediately where it left off. Instead, we join Pik Lando sometime later, when he's on the run and down on his luck. Even his beautiful new ship is gone.

Dietz's writing style doesn't change much, remaining at times satisfying and at times distracting. He does well in describing his characters, but very few of them really have very much development. Luckily, the ones who are developed to any great extent are the most important ones in the story.

The way this book is written makes each chapter feel like a new episode of an ongoing TV series. It seems as though Dietz couldn't think of any other way to flesh this book's story out, so he threw in a bunch of hardly consequential sub-plots that usually end the chapter after they begin. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't exactly an award-winning idea, either.

The plot, such as it is, involves Lando joining the tiny crew of a tug ship called, appropriately, the Junk. The Captain spends most of his time inebriated, the engineer, Cy, is a floating cyborg orb (see the cover) and most of the business stuff is taken care of by the Captain's young daughter Melissa, who hires Lando. Lando proves to be a more effective father figure than Melissa's own father, and this is one of the really good points of the book. The relationship they build is a solid one, and it's hard to not feel sympathy for Melissa.

The book also has a few more humorous moments in it than the previous one, especially with Cy and various other machines. Cy, in fact, is good mainly for getting himself into trouble, though he manages to redeem himself in a big way later on.

This book ranks about equal with the first one. I may check out the third one at some point.


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Best of the three

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 6 June 2011 11:12 (A review of Drifter's War)

Drifter's War, the final book in the trilogy of smuggler Pik Lando, is the best book of the three, and a satisfying conclusion to an average-to-slightly-above-average sci-fi series. The title is apt, as Lando is indeed caught up in a pretty big war, and a rather grim-looking one at that.

This time, a race called the Il-Ronnians wants the entity known as "God" on a planet populated by light and heavy constructs. It takes quite a bit of deduction to come to the realization of who God actually is, and I won't spoil it by revealing it here.

Lando is still part of Captain Sorenson's crew (the crew he joined in the previous book), and unlike Drifter's Run, Drifter's War reads less like a series of related episodes and more like a true single story. It kind of takes a while for the real meat of the plot to show up to the table, but the appetizers are satisfying enough.

Of course, Cap and Cy being the troublemakers they are, things are not easy for our heroes, and the crap really hits the fan early on in the story. Lando and Melissa (Cap's daughter), close companions by now, work well together and manage a pretty daring escape, while Lando's lover Della does her best to keep the pathetic Cap alive. Cy, as always, gets himself up to his non-existent ears in gambling debts.

Every member of the crew has a chance to shine in this book, and it's rather fun to see how each one deals with being in the hot seat. Perhaps the most moving sequence, however, is when Cap finally makes a decision to act, and his heroic effort has enormous impact. I wasn't expecting him to do what he did (and again, I won't reveal what it is) and was a little surprised at how much I cared. The old fool grew on me, I guess.

Overall, while still not really a great book, Drifter's War is a definite improvement over its predecessors, and a decent read for any lover of science-fiction.


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Lightning Warrior Raidy review

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 5 June 2011 08:13 (A review of Lightning Warrior Raidy)

Not much story here, but any fan of Lightning Warrior Raidy isn't going to go into a manga such as this expecting a detailed story. A fun adaptation of the game series, with a lot of very interesting art from multiple contributors. Fans of the games will like this.


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Different but enjoyable

Posted : 6 years, 4 months ago on 5 June 2011 12:26 (A review of Devil Hunter Yohko)

This manga adaptation is very different from the anime; in this version, Yohko has no parents and receives her devil hunting powers and yoma ring from a goat spirit instead of her grandmother. As it isn't available in English, I can't describe the story too accurately, but I can say that it involves an evil spirit with the ability to transcend time. The art is wonderful and a great deal of fun to look at. I wish this had been given a translation, but I suppose there simply wasn't a big enough international audience. Pity.


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