Stephen reviews: New Dominion: Tank Police (1993/1994)

New Dominion: Tank Police [特捜戦車隊ドミニオン Tokusō Sensha-tai Dominion] (1993/1994)
AKA Crusher Police Dominion

Starring Rei Sakuma, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Aya Hisakawa, Niina Kumagaya, Shigeru Chiba, Yūsaku Yara, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Kousei Tomita, Ayako Udagawa, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Rihoko Yoshida

Directed by Noboru Furuse


I suppose this six-episode miniseries is a sequel to the first Dominion anime series, but it’s impossible to say for sure that it isn’t just a different adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga set further down the timeline. The style and artwork for this newer series is so different from the first one that it’s hard to consider them related. No one important remains on staff from the original series save for Yoichiro Yoshikawa, who was in charge of the music in both series. Not even the actors remain, which seems odd considering the mere six-year gap between the two series; you would think they could get at least one person to reprise their role. New Dominion never refers to or builds off of the earlier series either, so there’s not much connecting the two.

This newer series does expect you to be familiar with the characters, though, or at least the concept, as it does nothing to introduce the audience to the situation. It starts off with Leona and her custom-built tank already installed in the police force and jumps right into the story. Each episode has a new criminal to hunt down, each one with mysterious goals and resources. Eventually all the pieces get put together revealing a central criminal scheme behind it all that Leona must stop in the final episode.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: New Dominion: Tank Police (1993/1994) →

Stephen reviews: Space Travelers: The Animation (2000)

spacetravelers_1Space Travelers: the Animation [スペーストラベラーズ The Animation] (2000)

Starring Shinichiro Miki, Banjou Ginga, Hideki Ogihara, Kotono Mitsuishi, Shigeru Chiba, Takaco Kato, Yutaka Aoyama, Hisayoshi Izaki, Mahito Tsujimura

Directed by Takeshi Ui


Space Travelers was a live-action film that had nothing to do with space travel. It involved a group of loser bank robbers who tried to make themselves seem less like losers by pretending to be anime characters. Methinks there was a rather large flaw in that logic. In any case, the filmmakers decided to capitalize on the idea by also making the anime that the live-action characters were imitating, hence we got Space Travelers: The Animation.

The film is really a satire of the genre and so it is something of a deliberate B-movie. Not knowing any of this before diving in, I expected nothing more than a cheap bit of generic crap. I wasn’t disappointed either. It’s a pretty generic space adventure story that gathers a bunch of very shallow characters together for a bunch of vaguely coherent action scenes. That’s kind of selling the film short, though. It’s actually rather fun, and its sheer exuberance makes up for any of its shortcomings.

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever (1986)

uruseiyatsura4_1Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever [うる星やつら4 ラム・ザ・フォーエバー] (1986)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Kazuko Sugiyama, Shigeru Chiba

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


Well, it’s official. My mind has been blown. I don’t think I’ve been as confused by a movie since Utena. But that’s OK; I got over it. It did take me quite a long time to think things through, but I’ve come to terms with the film. The problem is that nothing in the film happens for a reason, or at least not one that’s included in the film. It makes for a jumble of nonsensical events that just sort of happen. They string together as if there ought to be some significant plot line that explains everything, but by the end of the film, I was just as lost as ever.

The characters are making an independent horror film which goes awry when the props turn out to be haunted, Lum gradually starts losing her powers, a mountain pops up in the middle of the city, people start forgetting Lum even exists, and Mendou believes that starting a war with his cousin will somehow solve everything. Supposedly all of this is connected to some strange concept of the dreams of the city, but if there is any coherence to this at all, it was lost on me. Even Netflix’s summary blurb for the film ends on an almost apologetic note: “Just keep in mind that these plot points are really just jumping off points for amazing surreal imagery and situations.”

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever (1986) →

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)

beautifuldreamer_1Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer [うる星やつら2 ビューティフル・ドリーマー] (1984)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Saeko Shimazu, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Takuya Fujioka

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was well prepared for this film to be different from the first Urusei Yatsura film, as well as the franchise in general. I had heard this was when Mamoru Oshii’s style really came to the fore, and in that regard it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is full of the stylistic flourishes that populate his other films. This had me rather worried, though. Urusei Yatsura is a zany comedy. I couldn’t see how Oshii’s slow dramatic buildups would work for such a concept, but surprisingly it does. I was geared up for a boring slog and instead found myself in one of the best Oshii films I’ve yet seen.

It starts with a very typical situation for the series. The students are preparing for a festival day, which is a rather common high school activity in anime. The usual hijinks between Ataru, Lum, and Shinobu are in full swing, and everything feels normal. Actually normal is a bit of an oxymoron in Urusei Yatsura. The students are preparing a Nazi themed café, complete with an actual tank in the middle of the shop. (Maid cafés are the stereotypical themed cafés in most anime.) Things wind up turning far more mysterious, however, when one of the teachers finds his apartment overrun by mold. He then proposes that they are all trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again, similar to the situation in Groundhog Day.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984) →

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura: Only You (1983)

Urusei_Yatsura_Movie_1_Only_You-255847611-largeUrusei Yatsura: Only You [うる星やつら オンリー・ユー] (1983)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Saeko Shimazu, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Ichirō Nagai, Shigeru Chiba, Yuko Mita, Yoshiko Sakakibara

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


This was manga artist Rumiko Takahashi’s breakout hit. Although these days she is better known for Inu-Yasha, it was Urusei Yatsura that would cement her reputation as the best romantic comedy writer in the industry. One of her biggest strengths lies with her puns, and that is something horribly difficult to translate. The title alone is a pun, taking the Japanese word urusai (“obnoxious,” or “shut up!” when used as an exclamation) and splicing it with the word for planet to give it an alien flavor. (Yatsura, if you care to know, means something along the lines of “bastard” or “asshole.”) Thus the title was officially translated into English as Those Obnoxious Aliens. It’s a series that lives up to its title admirably, with story after story about some alien invader or supernatural monster popping up and causing misery for everyone, usually leaving the main character, Ataru, the most miserable of them all.

Way back when I was in high school Urusei Yatsura was unquestionably one of my favorite anime, but I only ever saw the TV series and a little bit of the manga. I actually had no idea the films even existed. But time went by, the series went out of print, and I haven’t paid much attention to it in years. One of the fun things about writing these reviews is revisiting old favorites, and I had a lot of great nostalgia moments watching this film. Every time a character popped up on screen I shouted out their name and laughed, as if meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. And this is where the film can cause something of a problem. It dumps a lot of characters together without much explanation. The movie is basically one over-sized episode of the TV series, and unless you already know the major players you’ll be pretty lost in this film.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura: Only You (1983) →

Stephen reviews: Talking Head (1992)

talkinghead_1Talking Head [トーキング・ヘッド] (1992)

Starring Shigeru Chiba, Fumihiko Tachiki, Masaya Kato, Mayumi Tanaka, Natsumi Sasaki, Shinichi Ishihara, Takashi Matsuyama, Yoshikatsu Fujiki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


A place where one can speak accurately about a movie, if such a place exists, is probably only inside the theater when the movie is actually in progress.

And I thought last week’s review was hard to classify. The above quote buried in the second half of Talking Head sums up the entire premise of the film. If I were going to follow that advice, I would end this review right here. But that wouldn’t make for much of a review, now would it? That takes me to the hard part. Just how do I describe this movie?

It’s not a documentary. It’s not a drama. It’s not action or romance. It’s subtly sprinkled with Mamoru Oshii’s inexplicable humor, but it’s not a comedy either. It pretends to be a murder mystery, but it’s really not. There is no killer really, unless it is Oshii himself who kills the characters for the purpose of advancing the conversation, not the plot. A conversation. That, perhaps, is the best description of Talking Head. A conversation about film, done in the only place one can speak accurately on the subject: during the movie itself.

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Stephen reviews: Patlabor: the Movie (1988)

patlabor1Patlabor: the Movie [機動警察パトレイバー 劇場版] (1988)
AKA Patlabor 1

Starring Miina Tominaga, Daisuke Gouri, Issei Futamata, Kouji Tsujitani, Michihiro Ikemizu,  Osamu Saka, Ryunosuke Ohbayashi, Shigeru Chiba

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


This film takes place back in 1999 when the police used giant robots called labors, hence the abbreviation of “patrol labor” into patlabor. What, you don’t remember getting pulled over by a giant robot? Man, if you were that drunk, then you really did deserve that ticket.

The film is a sequel to the TV series of the same name, but it stands on its own very well. I could tell that the characters and their roles had already been established, but I never felt too far out of the loop to understand the plot. The story itself is the primary focus of the film, and while the characters definitely have their personalities, it never focuses on any one person for very long. Instead it focuses on an investigation that the entire team is working on, with all the characters performing different duties.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Patlabor: the Movie (1988) →

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