Stephen reviews: Dominion: Tank Police (1988)

Dominion: Tank Police [ドミニオン, Dominion] (1988)

Starring Hiromi Tsuru, Masaaki Ohkura, Ichirō Nagai, Jouji Yanami, Michie Tonizawa, Yuko Mita, Yūsaku Yara, Daisuke Gouri

Directed by Kōichi Masahimo & Takaaki Ishiyama


“Cyberpunk comedy” is not a genre that you see very often, yet that’s what I’ve got for you today. The original manga of Dominion was penned by Masamune Shirow, best known for Ghost in the Shell. If you’ve never read any of his manga, it may come as a surprise to find that Shirow has a thriving sense of humor, but most of his works are suffused with an absurdity that doesn’t often carry into their adaptations. Nevertheless, Dominion is probably his most comedic story, and this four-episode miniseries revels in that silliness as much as it revels in its degraded technological future.

The series plays a bizarre homage to the comedy routines of yesteryear, dredging up stock sound effects that seem more appropriate to vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoons or Three Stooges episodes than anime. Dominion is relentlessly goofy, and handles pretty much all of its violence with a lack of gravitas that seems at odds with its dystopian setting. The Tank Police themselves are equally laid back and unconcerned with following the rules. An early scene has them interrogating a suspect by playing croquet with assault rifles and hand grenades while the poor criminal stands precariously with a noose around his neck and a grenade stuffed in his mouth. The squad’s chaplain tells him it’s better to rat out his friends and join them in jail than to abandon them and go to heaven alone. Things go downhill from there.

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling (1991)

20140426172258113Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling [うる星やつら いつだって・マイ・ダーリン Urusei Yatsura: Itsudatte My Darling] (1991)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshi Furukawa, Naoko Matsui, Shinnosuke Furumoto, Akira Kamiya, Ichiro Nagai, Machiko Washio, Yuko Mita, Noriko Ohara, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu

Directed by Katsuhisa Yamada


What, did you think that just because the previous movie was called The Final Chapter it meant that the series was over? In fact, The Final Chapter spawned an entire 12-episode series as a sequel, of which this film in turn is a sequel. But don’t worry; this is my last review of the series (unless I go insane and decide to somehow write a coherent review of a series spanning over 200 episodes). This one really is the last Urusei Yatsura film, and it’s actually a 10th anniversary special that was meant as more of a fond nostalgia trip than a continuation of the story. By this point Rumiko Takahashi’s latest romantic comedy series Ranma 1/2, which is every bit as absurd as Urusei Yatsura, was in full swing, and two concurrent Rumiko Takahashi series was apparently too much weird even for Japan to handle.

While I would love to say that the series goes out with a bang, I’m afraid it goes out with more of a “meh” instead. Sure, I laughed enough times to justify watching it, but not enough to call it a great piece of comedy. In this tale Ataru is kidnapped by an alien princess because he is the only one in the galaxy who can navigate Indiana Jones style through an ancient temple to find a fabled love potion. Now if you’ve seen any story revolving around a love potion, you can probably predict the vast majority of the plot. Hell, even if you haven’t seen a love potion story you can probably piece much of it together.

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988)

uruseiyatsura5_1Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter [うる星やつら 完結編 Urusei Yatsura – Kanketsuhen] (1988)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Kaneto Shiozawa, You Inoue, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Yuko Mita, Kazue Komiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Ichirō Nagai

Directed by Satoshi Dezaki


Once Rumiko Takahashi finished the manga of Urusei Yatsura, it of course had to be animated. So The Final Chapter is a perfectly accurate name for the fifth film in the series as it retells that final manga story arc. And finally, after all these films, Urusei Yatsura 5 actually feels like an episode from the series. It does everything that made the series so much fun, and yet it feels like something is missing. I think it’s just that after all these films I’ve come to expect something unique from them. I wasn’t expecting it to suddenly start doing what it was supposed to be doing this whole time. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. This film is a perfect rendition of what the series was always about, and that makes it different from all the other films.

What also works against it a bit is that I came to it with the expectation of seeing something major going down. This was supposed to be the conclusion of the series, so I felt like it was going to have a much bigger sense of closure than it does. Compared to the previous films which kept trying to inject drama into the story, this film feels much less momentous. It does work in a great sense of coming full circle, with Ataru and Lum once again playing a game of tag with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance, just like the first episode of the series. Compared to the TV series, this is a great way to wrap things up, and it does a great job in that respect. Compared to the other films, though, it has less emotional strength, and coming right off of watching those, it felt a little weak.

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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.

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Stephen reviews: A Wind Named Amnesia (1990)

A Wind Named Amnesia [風の名はアムネジア Kaze no Na wa Amunejia] (1990)

Starring Kazuki Yao, Keiko Toda, Masaharu Satou, Kappei Yamaguchi, Daisuke Gori, Yuko Mita, Noriko Hidaka, Osamu Saka

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


Today I’m reviewing the only remaining Hideyuki Kikuchi novel adaptation, at least that I am aware of. Like Darkside Blues, it is not a horror film. And also like Darkside Blues, it is quite a bit more bland than the other adaptations of his works. I can’t claim Kikuchi as a better horror writer than a sci-fi writer since I haven’t read the novels, but his horror stories have definitely gotten the better film versions.

A Wind Named Amnesia has a more philosophical nature than Darkside. Not that Darkside didn’t have philosophical themes; it’s just that it mostly ignored them. Amnesia, though, aims straight for its principle themes, and as such is a more coherent work. While this does makes it a better film, the moments of fun action are weaker, which cranks the boredom factor up a bit, too. So which film you would prefer will probably have a lot to do with what you are hoping for.

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