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Archive for August 2008

The Vision Of Escaflowne (TV) Anime Review

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The Vision Of Escaflowne (TV Series)

Genre: Shoujo Mecha Fantasy Action
Director: Kazuki Akane
Distributor: Bandai Entertainment
Duration: 25 minutes approx per episode with 26 episodes total
Production Creation: 1996

Plot Synopsis

Hitomi Kanzaki, is your regular girl next door. She goes to college, she’s a member of the college track running team but she also has an odd hobby of giving tarot card readings to her friends. One fateful night, when running her college track to impress a boy she has a crush on, a knight mysteriously appears in front of her and engages in a brutal fight with a dragon that emerges soon after! Once the dragon is slain, Hitomi finds herself caught in a ray of light and is soon transported to place she neither knows nor recognises, yet the knight she saw is stood right beside her.

What is the purpose of Hitomi’s teleportation to this world known as Gaia, and more importantly, just what is Escaflowne?

The Review

When watching anime, you usually get a handful of productions that really stand out and make you think you’re watching something exceptional. In that echelon of the anime elite such as Cowboy Bebop, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Neon Genesis Evangelion, each of those productions are awesome pieces of work, nay, labours of love. Each of them is an anime so good, that you just simply have to finish the series the day you received it, or re-watch the movie so many times that you can near enough mesmerise the script. The Vision Of Escaflowne is such an anime, an anime where everything just clicks, the feeling you get that everything is just *right*.

As you can no doubt tell from the genre description, The Vision Of Escaflowne augments and melds together a fair few genres. Rather than being just a mish mash of romance, fantasy, mecha combat and other genres, the strength of this series lies in how seamlessly it combines elements of practically every genre. Never do you feel that the creators have segregated the various elements of different genres into separate sections, like ‘Well that’s the romance done with, now let’s have some mecha!’. You never get the feeling that you watching ‘just’ a mecha battle or ‘just’ a romantic scene as each of the genres are intertwined. And as such The Vision Of Escaflowne stands by itself as an anime production that can have elements of many genres, running seamlessly and concurrently throughout it’s duration, which aren’t at all detrimental to it’s overall quality.

The real strength of The Vision Of Escaflowne however, lies not in it’s consummate combination of genres, but instead in it’s tremendous depth of characterisation. Never in an anime, save for Neon Genesis Evangelion (which is practically a character study itself), have I seen such well developed and multi-faceted characters. Not one charcater can be described as truly good or truly evil as they each have hidden pasts and multi-dimensional personalities. Practically everybody from the valiant knight Allen Shezar, to the murderous, bloodthirsty psychopath Dilandau all have ‘exceptions’ in their personalities that, at times, juxtapose with their chosen ‘vocation’ or alignment. Even Hitomi, the most down-to-earth character, continually questions herself and her actions and as such is desperate to find herself in the confusion that surrounds her. In doing so, she makes many mistakes and misconceptions, but that’s what so refreshing – Hitomi could conceivably be that girl walking across the street from you, since she is so utterly believable as a human being.

Plot wise too, The Vision Of Escaflowne does not disappoint. Whilst not as the deep as the characters contained therein, the plot is able to enthrall and manages to provide enough twists, turns and revelations to keep anybody hooked. Sometimes the plot may seem predictable, and at times it does, but you still keep watching because you’re thinking to yourself ‘I can’t wait to see how Dilandau reacts to his or how Van reacts to that’, and again it’s that superb level of characterisation that really puts Escaflowne in a class of it’s own.

In regards to the art and animation, I must be honest and say that when I first began watching The Vision Of Escaflowne, it didn’t quite strike me with the same impact or have the same ‘wow’ factor of say, Cowboy Bebop or other such stylised anime productions. That feeling left me soon after the first episode when I began to appreciate just how detailed the art and animation really was. The art, whilst not immediately striking, does make you appreciate the somewhat attractive characters as well as the huge amount of time and effort that has gone into creating the otherworldly locales that featured so prominently in The Vision Of Escaflowne.

Everything from castles and forests, to mines and great cities are illustrated with due aplomb and great detail. The animation thankfully, is also afforded the same level of care and attention. Besides the movement of the characters being technically decent, the real showcase of Escaflowne’s animation, lies with it’s stunning mecha battles. Designed by Shoji Kawamori (Mechanical Designer for Macross, Gundam 0080 and a whole heap of other anime) the mecha of The Vision Of Escaflowne, or the ‘Gimelith’s’ as they are referred to, exude a grace and an almost knightly posture when they engage in their epic clashes. The almost medieval design of these Gimeliths, makes a refreshing change from the more conventional, and some might say ulitiarian mecha seen in other anime such as Garasaki and Orguss.

Even the music of Escaflowne is superb. So it should be considering it’s composed by Yoko Kanno of Macross Plus and Arjuna fame. Every song, suits the situation that it accompanies. Whether it’s a tense battle melody, a playful light hearted tune or a more somber tune, Escaflowne has it all. Of particular note though, is the Arabic influences that the Yoko Kanno has worked into certain sections of the soundtrack. Whilst such influences may seem at odds with other sections of the soundtrack, I feel that they lend a certain quality of individuality to the Escaflowne soundtrack that further distances it from whatever peers it may have.

Ultimately though, it almost seems like that as accomplished as the many technical aspects of Escaflowne are, such as it’s art, animation, and music, they can appear to be almost superfluous when compared to the tremendous depth of characterisation that The Vision Of Escaflowne possesses. I know I keep going on about the characters and how much depth they have, but really, the great characterisation on show here does really put Escaflowne in a class all of it’s own.

It will be a long time before another anime arrives that combines so many genres and has such a strong and well developed storyline and cast of characters.

Truly exceptional and certainly unmissable.

Ratings Summary

Animation: B+
Art: A
Music: A
Content: A+

Overall: A

Review by: John-Paul Jones

Suitability for children

While there is no profanity, nudity or other adult situations to be found in Escaflowne, there is however a generous smattering of blood that would mean that Escaflowne is only suitable viewing for those who are aged 12+.

If you liked this why not try…

Record of Lodoss War – Central Park Media
Fushigi Yuugi – Pioneer Entertainment

Written by bitsnark

August 25, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Ahh tears of nostalgic joy! The Duke IS back on XBLA as previously reported

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This little quote comes courtsey of 3D Realms themselves:

‘We’re very pleased to announce that “Duke Nukem 3D for Xbox LIVE Arcade” will be coming to your Xbox 360 console soon!

As has been reported around the net today, we can confirm that the game has indeed passed final certification with Microsoft on Friday the 15th of August (on our first try, no less). That means the game is done – it is now in the hands of Microsoft. At this time we cannot give you details on release date or points cost, as we do not have that information. There’s plenty of really cool stuff in this new update to a classic title.’

Awesome. Hopefully, we can all start betting on Duke sooner rather than later.

Written by bitsnark

August 19, 2008 at 6:52 am

Anime Review: Blackjack The Movie

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Blackjack The Movie

Genre: Conspiracy Drama
Director: Osamu Dezaki
Distributor: Manga Entertainment UK
Duration: One movie – 90 minutes approx.
Production Creation: 1996

Plot Synopsis

Mankind isn’t the creature that it once was. Now a new breed of humans known as ‘superhumans’ headline the news with seemingly impossible achievements in sport, art, business and all aspects of human society. They can push themselves harder, faster and stronger than the rest of mankind.

But when many of them are struck down by a mysterious disease, it falls to the mysterious super-surgeon known as Blackjack to discover the cure and save what is now termed as ‘supermankind’. All is not as it seems however as there is a conspiracy at work determined to ensure that the secret behind the disease is never discovered and the truth never revealed…

The Review

Whenever I can, I try to avoid any kind of medical drama that I see on TV. Whether it’s E.R or some other similarly themed show, I generally tend to shy away from the genre as a whole, because it doesn’t really interest me and the medical jargon is mostly lost on me. Not to mention the fact that those shows usually bore the high-heaven out of me with the. Fortunately, Blackjack on the other hand is an entirely different creature altogether. With a story by the legendary Osamu Tezuka (Astroboy, Metropolis) and direction by the masterful Osamu Dezaki (Golgo 13), Blackjack stands as a technically accomplished production that expertly blends in elements of a conspiracy thriller into the context of a medical drama.

Initially, Blackjack appears to play out like an episode of X-Files, with the whole ‘trust no-one’ mantra in full effect as far as the characters go and all the double-dealing and conspiratorial backstabbing that goes along with it. Prior to watching Blackjack, my biggest apprehension was just how well, boring it would be, considering it’s strong medical themes and what I thought to be, it’s mundane plot. And so while the movie appears to start off rather slowly, it thankfully does pick up pace rather quickly as motives are uncovered and intentions are revealed. The plot primarily revolves the whole superhuman phenomenon, the mysterious disease that is slowly killing these gifted individuals off and the conspiracy that lies behind it.

Herein lies Blackjack’s real lure. Being not a cookie-cutter ‘whodunnit?’ mystery, but rather a well written and directed conspiracy thriller, you are drawn into it all and are always eager to see where the rollercoaster plotline will take you next. Sure there are elements of the plot that are predictable as there are in most shows of this ilk, but on the whole you will be captivated and compelled to continue watching.

Given the show’s subject matter, as you can imagine a fair amount of screen time is dedicated to the medical and surgical procedures that occur throughout the duration of movie. However, you don’t really mind because they are executed with such precision (not to mention with gorgeous animation), that you get the feeling the guys who produced this, really researched their stuff and knew what they were showing. I won’t deny however that some of the medical jargon did seem a little overbearing at times and some of it flew over my head, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy going as I expected it to be.

Blackjack as a character is an interesting one. While he is a mercenary doctor who will do anything to save his patient, yet only works for extravagantly high amounts of money (he tells his clients to leave how much they can afford on a message on his answering machine), he does have a sense of morality that although initially hidden, is exposed the further the mystery of the superhuman deaths draw on, and the more he finds himself drawn into it all. The good level of character depth also extends to the other characters within the show, such as the enigmatic Dr. Jo Carol Brane, whose motives are driven by an extremely harsh past and a cast iron will to succeed.

Besides the great attention to plot and characters, some big money has gone into this production and it’s easy to see where since technically, Blackjack is an absolute marvel, there’s no two ways about it. The quality of animation on display here is simply astounding, and despite being nearly seven years old, is still much more fluid and smooth than many ‘movie’ quality productions that we see today. Part of this impressive animation can be credited to the CG that has been seamlessly incorporated, but in any event all of the characters move with a believable grace and never really dispel that illusion with the kind of choppy animation or reused frames that you might see in a lesser production.

The impressiveness of the animation is further compounded by the excellent art and character designs. Normally, there would be a compromise in the quality of the art during the animation in a lesser production, but such compromise does not exist as everything looks just as detailed in movement as it does in still shots. Notably, there is also a penchant by the creators to use sketchy hand-drawn freeze frames at times, and these really bring a starkness to certain moments throughout the movie. The character designs themselves tend to follow a more realistic look and are impressively detailed. One thing I did notice though is that Blackjack’s helper, Pinoko, is drawn in a different manner than the rest of the characters in Blackjack. As a homage of sorts to Osamu Tezuka, she appears to be drawn in the classic Tezuka Astroboy style, which although at odds with everything else design-wise, still looks classy and adds that little extra Tezuka flavour to the whole movie.

Despite the visual aspects of the movie being excellent, the music tends to be mostly forgettable with the exception of the opening song ‘Invisible Love’, the soundtrack seems mostly errie and did remind me of X-Files-esque background music. Not great, but not unbearable either.

Overall, Blackjack is a tremendously accomplished thriller that excels both technically and in terms of it’s story and watchable characters. Ostensibly it does still have elements of a medical drama, but while those elements do not intrude as much as you would think, Blackjack doesn’t start in the ‘fast lane’ and takes a little while to get going. But forgive it’s initially slow pace and you’ll be rewarded with a superb thriller that will keep you watching with your eyes wide open until it’s excellent finale.

Ratings Summary

Animation: A
Art: A+
Music: C+
Content: A-

Overall: A

Review by: John-Paul Jones

Suitability for children

While the technical nature of some of the medical scenes make it perhaps uninteresting for younger audiences, the blood and graphic scenes during some of the patient surgery, certainly make it suitable only for those aged 12+.

If you liked this why not try…

Blackjack OVA – Central Park Media

Written by bitsnark

August 10, 2008 at 9:10 am

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