Millhiore F. Biscotti Nendoroid

August 17th, 2011

I’ve watched two episodes of Dog Days, and as much as I really, really, really wanted to love a show about inumimis, I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. For real? A show where “war” is really just Takeshi’s Castle?

However, I just can’t pass up a puppy girl toy! Especially not one that comes with a fucking bird she can ride on! *fangirlish squee*

Image shamelessly stolen from Amiami.


Note – any purchases you make at Play-asia after following my link helps me, and is greatly appreciated. I love both stores and have had nothing but good experiences, and would suggest that you buy from either of them.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica Review

August 17th, 2011

This anime… This is one of the darkest little girl/mahou shoujo shows that ever will be. It’s directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, who is the director mentioned quite often in the podcasts as producing a lot of “Shinbo-isms.” He has very common elements that he uses in his animes, usually slow pan-shots (which he often uses when he has run out of money), characters with their heads tilted back in every other shot, and the now-classic Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei shot:

Other anime that he has directed includes Dance in the Vampire Bund, Maria Holic, Bakamonogatari, and the new show Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko. He’s also rumored to have been the director in some hentai, such as Blood Royale and Temptation, under the alias Juuhachi Minamizawa.

Shinbo is well-known for the dark elements in the shows that he directs. Tsukuyomi, despite being quite played up and comical, had very dark, depressing elements to them, and Madoka is no different. Madoka is about, well, Madoka. A young girl who finds herself at the center of a battle between witches and magical girls. She has a dream about a little cat-like creature, showing her a young girl getting beaten up and at the end of her rope. He tells her, she doesn’t have to fight on her own! You can help her! Just make a contract with me.


There may be spoilers from this point onward! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rocko’s Modern DVD

July 11th, 2011

Rocko’s Modern Life was an incredible show. It manages to present the crushing realities of living in the lower-middle class, spurning the horny advances of ugly people, and trying to get those around you to join in singing “The Lumberjack Song” (only to fail miserably). Just like life all around us, it’s funny because it’s equal parts inspiring and pathetic. With just a bit more focus on the latter.

Rocko – a squat and honest wallaby with a legally retarded dog named Spunky – is living on his own for the first time. He has a crappy job he likes, crappy friends he tolerates, and no love or social life to speak of. He just wants to live out a simple, quiet life with his dog and his TV, but the world just tends to not let that happen. Normal episodes include him going grocery shopping, wasting away at the DMV, getting in over his head with his first credit card, and trying to keep his dog from fucking a mop. I’m not kidding, there’s an entire episode dedicated to Spunky having sexy time with a household cleaning item. At one point he helps his pal who suffers from OCD graduate… by fighting a giant mutant tooth, and drops the ball when he tells his best friend (who’s a steer) that he’s adopted. By wolves.

Having been created and produced by Joe Murray, a man who describes himself as “not having much experience with children”, Rocko’s Modern Life has a core of frustrated maturity wrapped in talking animals and barf jokes. While the formula of targeting children and adults simultaneously is as old as cartoons themselves, much of the show’s visual humor skews to either the disgusting or the absurd, while the dialog and stories themselves focus on the evils of consumerism, the bonds of family, death, bigotry and the horrors of… well, crap. I guess maybe Really Really Big Man doesn’t have much to say about these trying modern times. But he does have “Nipples of the Future”, and if that’s not worth a chuckle I don’t know what is.

Shout! Factory has released the first season in a $20 MSRP 2-DVD set, and it’s… well, it’s about what I expected. The show looks about as good as it’s ever going to. As was the norm through the 90s for American animation it was shot on film (I’m assuming 16mm), transferred to analog video, and then edited further by the episode directors from there. There’s dot-crawl, aliasing on some episodes, edge-enhancement, print damage, and a host of other video anomalies that fans of the show will be all too familiar with. These DVDs simply aren’t pretty, and anyone who’s gotten used to the clean, vibrant look of HD cartoons like Regular Show and Adventure Time might just puke a little in their own mouthes.

Unlike “classic” cartoons from the bygone era of theatrical releases and local TV studios using actual film prints, Rocko was intended for a modern TV broadcast from the get-go, so there was no perceived value in keeping the original film prints. You really can’t remaster a BETA tape beyond tweaking the colors a little or blurring out some of the analog noise, and it’s perhaps to Shout! Factory’s credit that they seem to have done very little else. Broadly speaking the show is totally watchable and free of distracting errors that aren’t a part of the show’s production history. Rocko honestly looks slightly better on DVD than I had expected, even if it’s not breathtaking. This is as good as Rocko has ever (or will ever) look, so don’t waste your time waiting for a Blu-ray; to quote Ralph Bakshi’s seemingly lost-in-licensing-Hell masterpiece Coonskin, “This is it, fellas. This is really it.”

Frustratingly, some of the episodes are censored. Again, it comes down to materials; Rocko’s Modern Life is a repulsive show laden with heavy innuendo even in it’s current form, but some of the most obvious “ew!” moments – like Heffer accidentally getting his schlong milked – are simply nowhere to be found. Nickelodeon never bothered to keep back-up masters for the uncut versions of their cartoons, so much like The Ren & Stimpy Show, the only way you’re going to see the original, uncensored broadcast versions is if you taped them nearly 20 years ago. Me, I’d totally hop in a time machine to watch Rocko accidentally crush a gorilla’s testicle in his fingers, but I imagine people will come up with much lamer uses first – stopping the Lincoln assassination, or teaching the middle ages to wash their food and avoid the plague… you know, dumb shit like that.

There’s no special features, not even trailers or alternate language tracks. You get 6 episodes per disc and some simplistic menus in a nice double keepcase with some painfully stock artwork. That’s all. I’d love to hear what Joe Murray, Tom Kenny and Mr. Lawrence might have to say about the show after all these years, but the latter two probably make more money voicing a goddamn Spongebob TV spot than Shout! was willing to pay for them to show up. It’s really a lost opportunity, and compared to the ample features Paramount lavished on the thematically similar (but also much more expensive) Ren & Stimpy DVDs, the total lack to place this unique and still highly stylish piece of entertainment into any sort of context is really disappointing.

The show is easy to recommend, and the DVD is – for the $15 I paid, anyway – well worth buying on the strength of the content alone. I’m deeply frustrated to see that not one ounce of time or money was spent giving older fans some conversations with the twisted but sincere minds behind the wallaby, but if you can live with your cartoons not coming with any scraps on the side the set is still worth your dime. Not having children I’m probably in no position to say “Buy it for your kids!”, but come on, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

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Homura Akemi Nendoroid – available for preorder!

June 22nd, 2011

Amiami has just posted the Homura Akemi Nendoroid (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) for preorder!

FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF—- How am I going to afford all of these pre-orders? But there’s no way in hell I’m letting her pass me by! LOOK! She even comes with the pre-broken hair/face. ; o;!

Will also be available for ordering on Play-asia. Click here to go to her page.

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InFamous 2 Demo Review

June 19th, 2011

InFamous 2. Not as impressive as it should be, in my opinion.

Beware that there are probably spoilers in this review, as I am assuming you’ve played the first game before hunting down reviews for the second one.

To start with, I don’t really understand where this game lies in the storyline of the last game. Is it meant to be a pre-quel? But, no, he knows that Kessler is going to try to destroy the world and that he needs to get strong enough to kill him (even though we… already did that in the last game, if you play through the good end at least…). And it seems like Cole remembers some of what happened in the last game. Perhaps this one is on a new storyline completely, but it’s really quite confusing!

I liked the first game for it’s mind-twisting ability, and making you have to really think about the storyline in order to fully enjoy the game. This second game just sort of seems like … well, sort of like a sell-out. It’s an amped up version of the first game, taking advantage of the multiple-timelines in order to create some half-assed universe in the middle of the two. But without actually building upon the last game, or fixing any of the issues it had to start with!

In fact, I think the gameplay felt worse. My big problems with the first game was the troubles grabbing onto the sides of buildings in order to climb up them, the jumping onto the power lines (and missing and falling into a pit of gunmen) and the whole ‘aiming’ system. But now, Cole is actually anti-gravity! When he jumps, it feels like he’s floating in the middle of the air for no reason at all! It’s like they just forgot to program the downwards physics, and only programmed the lift. He still manages to miss the powerlines half the time when you make him jump at them, and climbing is just as frustrating as it was in the first game. Then when he’s running, it seems like his feet are made of lead.

I’m also not really big on the new graphics. The graphics in the last game weren’t perfect, but they fit the charisma of the game to a T. All of the characters had pock-marks and rough edges. InFamous 2 turned that completely around. Now Cole suddenly appears to be much younger, without any pock-marks and much less stubble, and with a new, much younger sounding voice actor. Were they trying to appeal more to the ladies? If so, I’m sorry, but you missed the mark completely on that one! Where the character’s faces are much smoother, so are their attitudes. What I played had a lot less mistrust, a lot less playful back and forth, basically no chemistry what-so-ever.

Well, I only played through the demo, so maybe it gets to be better the longer you play it. Maybe they mesh in the first game’s storyline better as the game goes on.

Feel free to check out the trailer for yourself:

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Dance in the Vampire Bund: Worth the Controversy?

June 15th, 2011

Nozomu Takami’s manga DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND was announced as a TV series for the Winter 2010 season. The initial promotional video essentially promised that it would be a lovingly rendered shot-for-shot adaptation, handled by one of anime’s most unpredictable directors – a man who I simultaneously consider both a pretentious hack and unrivaled genius, Akiyuki Shinbou (or “Shimbô”, if FUNimation has anything to say about it). Something happened between those promises of moving-manga glory and its initial trip to the small screen, something that took what was the single most exciting anime-related news for me in the second half of 2009 and turned it into a brilliantly frustrating train wreck.

In the near future, a mysterious and doll-like child claims to be the Queen of the Vampires, and pays off Japan’s national debt in return for a habitable area she’s dubbed “The Bund”. Decreeing it a safe haven for her own kind, she’s ended centuries of secrecy and doubt; vampires exist, and most of them want nothing more than to co-exist with humans in peace. This unexpected and bloodless territorial coup doesn’t sit with either the ancient princes of the vampires or the panicky masses of mankind, however, and with her personal bodyguard by her side – a fine young werewolf by the name of Akira, the mysterious Queen Mina Tepes sets out to destroy her obstacles one by one, be they snarky political figures or fang-gnashing monsters just waiting to usurp her throne.

Blood drinking fiends engaged high-stakes political blackmail might not sound like the most exciting combination, but that level of carefully measured absurdity is exactly what makes the show such an intriguing concept. Tales of powerful, exotic aristocrats with dangerous and mysterious customs was the inspiration for the vampire myths we know in the Western world today, after all – go on, read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and tell me he’s not a 19th century Jewish stereotype on steroids. Having brought the mythological aspects back to the roots of xenophobia, racism and fear of the unknown makes the idea shine with a certain kind of irony that’s more subtle than you might expect. That’s not to say that there isn’t any conventional action, as few (if any) episodes go by without one of the cast members getting into a bloody life of death struggle. But all of those battles are deeply rooted in the philosophical, political, and personal grudges that anchor the storyline, to the point where the impressive horror set pieces are just the gruesome topping on this unusual thriller.

Don’t worry though, there’s  more than bloody politics on display. The relationship between Akira and Mina – arguably the show’s focus – is one that could have been exploitation gold in different hands. Mina herself is tiny, doll-like, and manipulates Akira with cloying behavior, but she proves time and time again that her ancient life has left her anything but naive. Anyone complaining that Dance in the Vampire Bund is a “lolita complex” anime has clearly never watched it;  Mina Tepes is a brilliant, dangerous monster who’s oft-undressed form is merely the ironic trappings she uses to twist the world around her little finger. Rather it’s Akira, duty bound in chivalrous idealism to protect his childhood sweetheart, who’s infantilized himself; denying himself even basic romantic relationships with “normal” girls around him, and willing to put his life on the line for a person who’s more than willing to march him into grave danger, merely to prove the point that he can walk to the other side unscathed.

With echoes of Anne Rice’s watershed postmodern vampire novels (Lestat’s “daughter” Claudia, specifically) Mina appears to be an immortal adult trapped in a child’s body, but unlike Rice’s eternal child Mina is well aware of – and possibly even able to enact upon – those “adult” feelings… but she can’t do a thing about it, largely for unusual political reasons that are brimming just beneath the surface (rest assured “pedophilia” isn’t actually the problem).  While I suppose I could forgive those so unwilling to divorce the grim reality of child abuse from watching those norms satirized, anyone willing to look past the glimpses of Mina’s nude body will see the all too painful game of cat and mouse she’s playing with the person closest to her. Mina’s caught in a cruel romantic compromise, and uses her position to make Akira – the object of her most personal affections – feel just as frustrated as she herself does.

There’s a clearly lot going for the show… so why aren’t I telling you to order it right goddamn now? What in the name of Vlad went wrong?

In interviews following the premier of the series, Shinbou went on record saying that Takami requested the staff at Shaft animation come up with an “original” storyline… which sort of defeats the purpose of adapting a popular manga, but being troopers, they shrugged and did it anyway. To be fair, the first episode – an almost uncomfortably ‘meta’ take on the world of both Japanese television and the modernized interpretation of the vampire – proved that there was some merit in taking the concepts in bold new directions. But not all of the ideas set quite as perfectly. One new character in particular, Mei Len, is the definition of a Mary Sue and does virtually nothing to the narrative until the final two episodes or so. She doesn’t even get to be a clunky Mary Sue who kicks all sorts of ass (the thing that mostly prevents  Mari Makinami Illustrious from being dead weight in the new Evangelion franchise); she’s just an idea that Shaft thought would be a cool visual, but struggled to find a way to work her back into the framework of the original story they were interested in adapting to begin with.

Perhaps just as frustrating were the multitudes of choppy, seemingly unfinished shots in the broadcast version. Countless cuts of “real” animation are replaced with still shots of a red screen (I called them “slugs” at the time), and sequences of quick, motionless cuts are clearly just photos with photoshop filters slapped on as an afterthought. The fact that parts of the show were gorgeously rendered suggested either a budget strained to the very last yen, or a production schedule that wasn’t doing the series justice. Shaft’s other 2009 Shinbou TV series – Bakemonogatari - suffered many of the same problems, and upon being released on DVD and Blu-ray was essentially re-animated from scratch. It’s fair to say that Bakemonogatari went from being one of the worst looking shows of the year on TV to one of the best on home video, and knowing this, it was with baited breath that I finished the miserable-looking TV version, hoping that the  inevitable Blu-ray would fix up at least some of those massive problems.

FUNimation only made matters worse by picking up the rights to the show just before broadcast. They took issue with the second episode showing Mina getting sunblock rubbed over her nude body by Akira – an act the Queen demands, and one the ‘servant’ is clearly unhappy about. At first this sounds like small potatoes… until you remember that Mina looks like she’s about nine years old and Akira is clearly in his late teens. FUNimation cut the offending scene from the internet broadcast, and censored other scenes which showed more of Mina’s delectably misleading form than they were comfortable with, ending the clusterfuck of a PR nightmare by saying they were afraid the images would be taken out of context as obscene material, and as such would never release the uncensored version. Naturally, the internet quickly got to stamping its’ collective feet, either in favor of the cut (by saying it’s child porn when it clearly isn’t) or against it (mostly out of principle)… FUNimation finally relented once the broadcast of the final episode was over, saying there was a strong possibility that the uncensored version would be released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Here we are a year and a half later. I’ve got my “Limited” DVD+Blu-ray combo set (in both Limited and Regular editions), and in the interest of giving it a fair assessment I’ve decided to re-watch the program fresh, hoping the video release would fix up the stilted animation and make more of the action at least sensible on the screen… but first let’s talk about dat box! FUNimation has been producing “Limited Edition” sets lately with a glossy chipboard sleeve and standard size DVD keepcases, while the ‘normal’ release is the same content in a flimsy cardboard sleeve. One of the very few things I missed about getting 7 separate DVDs at thirty bucks a piece was that at least you usually got a nice artbox to house them in, and FUNimation’s LE boxes have been consistently attractive and high-quality. If you literally don’t care about the sleeve on the discs you get, I suppose you could save a few bucks, but this artbox is worth the price they’re charging, easy. The fact that the Blu-ray is in a regular DVD sized case is a downer for reasons I just can’t explain, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about it that’s not so horrible. It’s not like I don’t already have a shelf or two dedicated to DVD sized cardboard boxes…

The video quality is top-notch,  something FUNimation is usually good about anyway (early SD upscales aside). The hazy, blooming cyan outlines, fine layer of digital grain, TV scan-lines and changing aspect ratios have never looked better. The Japanese stereo and English 5.1 mixes are both lossless, which means they sound bit-for-bit like the master tapes; if you don’t like the way it sounds, you can only blame the original sound engineers. Menus are nice and simple, and while not all of the Japanese extras (particularly the staff interviews) are present, there’s a nice assortment of promotional material, clean OP/ED footage, and some manga-panel based bonus “Intermission” footage – despite looking like pages from Takumi’s source material, they’re original content meant to fill in the narrative gaps between episodes.

It’s worth noting that whenever an episode has a “unique” OP/ED sequence that features the show playing as credits scroll over it, FUNimation left the original kanji as-is, and only adds English credits at the end of the episode. FUNimation was fussing with end credits a lot in the last year or two, so it’s great that they’ve finally figured out how to leave well enough alone. It’s truly appreciated, FUNimation, and gives me more confidence for pre-ordering your products. I admit I’d prefer all anime releases keep their JP credits, but I’ll take that crusade one problem at a time.

The subtitles are tiny, white, and have an extremely thin black border. I’ve never had an issue with FUNi’s subs before this release, but that first episode has so many layers of text that the subs become nearly unreadable! A thicker outline or brighter color was really needed for that first episode, and I’m horrified to think that someone in QC actually watched it and didn’t immediately demand they fix them somehow. (The TV commercials have the same exact problem; thin white subtitles on top of thin white Japanese text… argh!!) Adding insult to injury is the fact that the black-and-white “Intermissions” have yellow subtitles to “pop” against the white backgrounds, yet they didn’t extend the same courtesy to the show itself. FUNimation, seriously… have someone WATCH the disc before you mass-produce it. Small, white, thin-bordered subtitles are absolutely fine 99% of the time, but this show is one of those very real one percentiles.

As for the show itself… well, the biggest narrative problems – Akira’s inexplicable amnesia, the shoehorned in side-character, the sudden ending that lacks any remote sense of closure, all that stuff – are still kicking around. Thankfully, most (if not quite all) of the especially poor moments of animation, such as countless shots when it would cut to a single colored screen on the TV broadcast version have since been fixed, to the point where several episodes are really quite stunning.  Make no mistake, the animation is still rife with odd still shots, bizarre lighting effects and a bleeding, hazy look under a thin layer of grain… but anyone who expected Shinbou to abandon his after-effects driven distortions and experimental cut styles must be dreaming to start with. Even Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica – the least “Shinbou Styled” show I’ve seen from him yet – has more than its fair share of familiar camera tricks and ornate color coding, and his presence is obvious in every frame. If you like the Gothic styling of Le Portrait de Petite Cossette and the trippy cinematic experimentalism of Casshern Sins, this sits somewhere between the two. It’s always been a “neat” looking show, but I can’t stress enough how nice it is to re-watch episode 7 and not wince every two minutes at how hard they were trying to hide the non-animation.

Subtitles aside, FUNimation has done a fantastic job releasing this controversial and unusual horror series. It’s completely unedited, the credits are intact, there’s a stack of decent extras, and the packaging – if oversized – is quite attractive in its own right. I’d love to say the show was a masterpiece, but it’s a hell of a mixed bag; if you can forgive the lapses in storytelling finesse, the character relationships beneath them are still worth watching, and as with all Shinbou anime it’s a unique and inventive visual treat. It’s recommended, but only to people who dig dangerously unconventional horror animation.

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