Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DVD Look: Nightwalker

I've always been a huge fan of Gothic Horror. Dark, creepy, and bloody shows have been things that have always interested me. I also love a good vampire story. Now add to that the fact that I enjoy a good mystery or crime drama, and the reason I decided to review this next show should be a no brainer. As the back cover proudly exclaims this "combines urban crime drama and horror motifs". Ah, it's like a show made specifically for my tastes. But I also think this is the type of show that could have a much wider appeal. I ran into this title at my local Blockbuster probally about a year ago now. It was so out of place among the more popular titles avaible for rent there, that I just had to check it out. They only had the second volume, which covers the second half of the 12 episode series, but I didn't mind. This series was easy to get into midway through. I was instantly hooked because episode 7, the first one I saw, is such a strong episode. Since then I've of course bought both volumes, and watched the show a few times through.

The anime series is based off of a PC game by the same name, created by TomBoy. The anime series was produced by AIC, and ran on TV from July to September in 1998. Shido is a vampire, and a private detective living in Japan. He's devoted himself to saving humans, not killing them or turning them to vampires, as the other vampires do. He rocks cool pink hair, and an interesting style of clothing, and hunts "nightbreeds". Nightbreeds are the name for lesser demons in the series, who need to feed on, or control human beings in order to survive. One of Shido's "powers" as a vampire, is he is able to turn his blood into a weapon that can kill or harm nightbreeds. Yayoi is a member of a secret organization designed to investigate cases involving nightbreeds, hunt them down, and destroy them and she often works with Shido to do this. Since he is a vampire, he is very powerful, and can use his many skills to accomplish their goals, and solve the many cases. And Riho Yamazaki is the high school girl who just so happens to work part time as a secretary at Shido's detective agency. At first Riho is blissfully unaware of the dark secrets that are hiding just beneath the surface at this particular detective agency. You see in their world, humans are unaware that vampires and demons exist for the most part. And the reason she ended up working for Shido has to do with him investigating her parents mysterious deaths. Riho starts to develop a bit of crush on Shido, and wishes to help him with his many cases. And although Shido does not want her to get involved in the nightbreed cases, she eventually does many times, and predictably enough she does learns the dark secrets of Shido in due time. And circumstances develop in which a powerful enemy fatally wounds Riho and she must be turned into a vampire, or left to die (I won't spoil how this happens). Of course she chooses the former. The rest of the series follows those three attempting to solve the many crimes involving nightbreeds within the city. Now there's a crap load of demons here for them to find, so we're ganna have to just assume their city has a gateway to hell in it or something, but whatever. I'll buy it. During each case these three (and of course their gremlin little mascot, Guni) must figure out who exactly is the nightbreed (nightbreeds can take control of human beings), or where the nightbreed is, or even if a nightbreed truly is the cause of the problems in the first place (nightbreeds are also sometimes just called "breeds" for short by the way). And this is where the mystery element comes in, as we don't know who or what is the nightbreed, and are guessing along with our friends here. Sure some episodes are not set up like this, and are instead pretty straight forward, in that there is a nightbreed, they know where it is, and must fight or chase after it. And these episodes are very good as well. There is also an overall story that develops involving Cain, the vampire who turned Shido into a vampire in the first place, and is the only one who knows Shido's true past. And Cain becomes the main "bad guy" of the series so to speak. He doesn't care about human beings, and kills many people to satisfy his thirst. Shido and Riho on the other hand drink blood donated by Yayoi, so no one has to die for their survival. And also the series deals with Riho struggling to come to terms with the recent loss of her humanity, her new thirst for blood and dislike for the sun, and the fact that she will outlive all of her friends, classmates at school, and everyone else she knows.

Ok I'll admit there's a lot going on in this series. It even manages to touch on Shido and Riho's relationship (being more then friends, and maybe lovers?) a bit. It's difficult to explain all the different aspects of the show very well. But the series handles each part with expertise, and it's not nearly as complex as it sounds. Each and every episode is different enough as to not get repetitive, and main plot does move along at a great pace. The idea of Shido having to deal with his past with Cain (as his homosexual lover I may add), and also trying to cope with not knowing who he was before he was bitten is quite interesting. And this takes a toll on him, and you can notice this. It's also another stroke of genius to have the only person who has any idea who he was before he became a vampire be Cain himself. The transition of Riho from human to vampire, and her dealing with this is handled very well. It's not angsty or anything, because her one wish is to live forever with Shido, and it seems she can now do that, but it's not exactly "yeah I'm a vampire!! I'm so happy!!" either, and this middle of the road feeling makes a lot of sense. On the one hand she didn't really want to die, and she does want to live with Shido for all time. At yet she doesn't really want to be a vampire, and she misses being able to do many human things. This struggle with her loss of humanity and being a vampire is handled very well and is never forgetten about. She is of course aided by Shido, who tries to help her and guide her when he can. This of course parallels Shido's former relationship with Cain, only he felt humans were nothing but cattle to be used for vampires, while Shido thinks vampires should help humans. Cain made Shido a vampire, and was his mentor, and now Shido has made Riho a vampire, and became her mentor. This is a very interesting way for AIC to handle the series, and I really liked this aspect of the show. And character development for all the major characters, even the little mascot goblin guy, is really well done. They flesh out each and every one of the major characters, and somehow find the time to reveal each of their back stories, and show who Cain really is, all while hunting down nightbreeds or solving cases involving nightbreeds. Kinda amazing they fit all that in there. And many of the mysteries have great twists you won't see coming. (***small spoiler*** ) Hell they manage to reveal the entire back story of one character, and part of another WITHOUT you even noticing this until the very end the episode!! That was a great twist! (***end spoilers***) Even some of the minor characters who manage to stick around a little get some development, which I really liked. However the series probably did try and do a little too much. As some of the "nightbreeds of the week" have very little screen time, so they do seem a little generic. Few of them are really fleshed out. But this is a small problem. A bigger problem is that by the end of the series, the main plot is not really tied up. The series doesn't end with a cliffhanger or anything, but it feels like there's more to tell. It's not bad, but not very satisfying if you want real the main plot to actually come to an end. However I am not bothered much by this, mostly because the last episode is incredibly dramatic, suspenseful, and just very powerful. I know a few people will be bothered by what they do here, but I really loved the way the last episode was handled. Sure they never get to finishing up the main plot, but I'll be alright with that if that means we get an amazing episode like this. And it is a good episode to end the show on. Oh and I probably should mention the first four episode are very odd. Anime News Network notes that the series started as a 4 episode OVA, and then continued as a TV series were the OVA left off. I'm also willing to bet there was a big change in staff between these episodes as well. As the overall tone, style, and content of the show changes significantly (and for the better I may add). While, sadly, the TV series toned down the blood, gore, and violence, the writing really moved up a few notches. The first 4 episodes were very uneven in terms of writing. One would be all right, the next would be kinda bad, and then another episode pretty good. And then we also have the completely uncalled for nudity in one of the episodes. Look I'm not against nudity or anything, but in a series like this, and the way it's done, well it kind felt unneeded and stupid. Also I really liked the change in character design between the first 4 episodes and the rest. Perhaps it's because I started the series at episode 7, so that is what I was used to, but I really like the different character designs much more.

As far as production values go, this is about average for 1998. The animation is pretty good. The artwork is detailed, although very reminiscent of early 90's or even 80's anime. I'm pretty sure this was intentional, as it really goes with the music style which I'll get to in a bit. I really like the style though, and the second character designs are really nice looking. The original character designs manage to make Riho really ugly looking, and I don't like Yayoi's hair at all. But when it was an OVA it seemed to have the budget to really pay attention to what all the minor characters looked like, and so all of the earlier minor characters look a bit better. So it evens its self out I guess, although I'd rather my main characters look good and not worry much about the minor cast. As for the music, it's exceptional. They went with a great jazz inspired background theme, and it really works. If you closed your eyes you'd think you were watching some old crime drama from the 1970's or 1980's, and it's very fitting. The opening theme is distinctive, and the ending theme is very good too. But I really love the background themes! Some themes don't sound like that however, and instead sound like they are straight out of a 80's horror flick. So with the 80's inspired music, I think it's fitting why the art style looks a little 80's inspired. And it's not bad artwork either.

The dub for this was produced at Bang Zoom, in late 1999 and early 2000. And it is a pretty good dub. While not amazing, and it does show it's age a bit, I really found myself enjoying it. The star of the dub is easily Richard Cansino, who plays Shido quite well. He gives that character a distinct feeling, and really understands where he is going with the dub. I should probably also mention that at times Shido narrates the story, filling us in on a few things here and there. And Cansino's narration gives the anime a film noir feeling that's definitely called for and adds to the overall atmosphere. Yayoi is played by Jane Alan. At times Alan does not seem like she's giving it her all; it's a little disappointing. She just didn't seem enthusiastic enough at certain times, and at others like she wasn't sure what she should be doing or how she should be saying it. Luckily for most of the anime she's not like this, and does a wonderful job. She fit her character very well. I probably shouldn't be so harsh on her. Riho is played by Dorothy Elias-Fahn who does a really good job. She gives her character just enough spunk, youthfulness, and playfulness to fit Riho. And she knows when to tone down the happy-go-lucky side of herself when needed. Also I MUST apploud her for her work in the final episode (don't worry no spoilers). As I already alluded to it's quite a dramatic episode, and I thought she handled it perfectly. She did a truly great job. Now why couldn't she be this good in Vampire Princess Miyu?? Cain is played by Lex Lang, and he's not bad. But I really thought he could have been better. Sandy Fox plays Guni, and I'm assuming they pitched her voice up a bit here. I thought the way they made her sound fit Guni well, and that she was quite good as well. I liked how the main cast here was filled with lesser known actors, and on the whole I liked how different this dub sounded then many other LA dubs of the time. Many of the episidic characters are voiced by better known actors however, like Michelle Ruff, Mona Marshall, and Wendee Lee. And they of course do a good. job. But again many of the other minor characters are played by lesser-known actors, and they too go a good job. So in short, this is a dub worth checking out. Although it's not really too impressive or anything. It is however a rare LA dub from CPM, since they usually stuck to New York City, so I do find that interesting.

This anime is very well done. It has a great fleshed out main cast, an interesting story, and decent dub. The production values are good, and it's an interesting mix of genres. If you plan on buying this on DVD, watch out for the dub-only release Central Park Media released (if you don't want that version that is). I own the 2 volume release from 2004, and it has both an English and Japanese track, along with one extra. The extra feature is a comparison of the storyboard to the finished product and it's on both DVDs. This was a nice little extra, that they really didn't need to add on. However I do wish there was something more, like a behind the scenes look at the dub, or a commentary or something. But hey I'll take whatever extra they throw at me. The small problems with the show, make me subtract a half a star from my rating, but I still highly recommend this title. It's an under watched gem that could really catch on in my opinion.

Prede's Raiting
3.5/4 Stars

Monday, December 14, 2009

DVD Look: Cyber City

Yoshiaki Kawajiri has directed a number of titles, but I think perhaps this is my favorite so far. Kawajiri is famouse for directing Ninja Scroll, the Highlander anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and a number of other titles over the years. Once apon a time he had quite the fan following the US, but now he is barely mentioned. Perhaps someone will talk about Ninja Scroll and mention his name in passing but that's about it. Anyway Kawajiri is (was?) known for ultraviolent, dark, and edgy series. And this is not a diversion from such titles. Kawajiri tends to focus in on the action, and likes to deal with very flawed characters sometimes. Again he sticks to his roots here.

Cyber City, also known as Cyber City Oedo 808 is a action/science fiction OVA series with 3 episodes. The animation was done by Madhouse Studios in 1990, it was written by Akinori Endo , and Central Park Media released it stateside on VHS and later DVD. Manga Entertainment released the VHS in the UK. Anyway it is about a couple of criminals who are given a chance to get out of prison. Of course it's not a get out of jail free card, it's never that easy is it? They must work for it, and work hard they shall. They must perform a number of missions for the government, and for each mission they accomplish a few years are taken off their insanely long sentences (one of the characters has a whoping 375 years left to serve at the start of the series). You see these aren't any old convicts, they are terrible terrible human beings, who commited more crimes then they can remember. Murder, theft, Assault, Jaywalking it's all there...wait. The city government needs more police, so hey why not take the worst scum, and make them work for good for a change right? And hey since they are criminals themselves perhaps they can deal with cracking down on crime just from experience. And maybe they will have an advantage to dealing with criminals since they'll know all their tricks and can use them against them. These specific guys are chosen because of how tough they are, and how good they are at what they do. So yeah your dealing with MANLY men here (ok well not really with Benten...but he's a true enigma). The story takes place in year 2808, where there are super skycrapers, space elevators, and more of sci-fi gadgets to play around with then your local Radio Shack. These convicts must join up with the "cyber police" the police force of this futuristic city, and fight criminals, track down bad guys, or do whatever else they are ordered to do. And to make sure these criminals don't just run off the first chance they get, they are all forced to wear a collars around there necks, that could blow up at one push of a button. If this setup sounds familiar to you, that's probally because it's basically lifted straight out of John Carpenter's Escape from New York. But hey it's a great concept, so sometimes you just gata screw originality.

And although the series focuses on action, it's not afriad to get a little psychological at times. Yes this somehow manages to be a character study. A rather interesting one too I may add. The three main convicts are; Sengoku Syunsuk, arguably the main character and the token smart ass who's good with a gun, Gabimaru "Gogul" Rikiya the big tough looking hacker, who's best weapon is his own mind, and finally Benten Yanagawa, a rather eccentric character I still can't put my finger on. As the series progresses it becomes apparent one episode will be devoted to each character, and I rather liked this format. A major point of the series is dealing with who these criminals are and how they interact with others. And although we never learn too much, it does give us great insight into who these people are, why they are criminals, and why they are so screwed up. This is perhaps Cyber City's deepest aspects. And I found it very interesting. Although this does get brushed aside many times for more focus on the great action scenes. And the action scenes were some great stuff too I may add. But on the large this is a shallow, yet fun action series. But I did enjoy the fact that some deeper issues are at least dealt with a little bit. The action scenes are very crazy, and very well done. They are very violent, bloody and well choreographed. The action scenes have a style to them only Kawajiri can really pull off, and they are very fun! Also they are really, really over the top. And another strong point of the series is the interactions between the three main characters, and between their boss Hasagawa. Many a time Hasagawa will order them to do something, the characters will say that it is clearly impossible, and Hasagawa just won't give a damn. He demands it to be done, and so he sets their collars to blow up in only an hour's time! "Get to it boys!" He'll say. He's never interested in what these guys have to say, and they always try and get back at him with little smart remarks when they can. The way the three main convicts play off each other is also interesting. Benten is usually the butt of Sengoku's very funny jokes, and the way Benten re-acts is usually very funny. A great example of this is when Benten must slowly try and get down a hallway that's riged with a top of the line secruity system. He has to slowly make his way down the hallway, and avoid triping any of the sensor lasers and activating the system. He also has to avoid being killed by the lasers because when they kill whoever they hit. Sengoku is told to try and find away around the system, and when he does, he is told to go ahead and try and complete the mission without Benten. When he manages to do everything on his own and come out, he see's Benten and yells "That's as close as you GOT? Well nevermind..." Cleary he's screwing with Benton here. The way this all happened made me fall off my seat. It was really hilarious. Gogul is usally the more reasonable one of the three, and tells one of them not to run off and do something because it may get them killed, so of course the ignore him and go do it anyway! Hah these three sure understand the basics of teamwork don't they? It's a miracle they don't all die. The many missions these characters go on for the city are never as straight forward as Snake Plissken's quest to retreave the President in Escape from New York. They are very unqiue however, and pushed to their limits. For example the first episodes mission requires Sengoku to save 50,000 people held hostage in a super-skyscraper. Yeah they don't screw around. Not 500, not 5,000, but 50,000 people are at risk here. And that's really how big the building is too. This is perhaps the strongest epsiode in the series, although each episode has it's own little charm. And all the missions are very over the top in style. Again this is probally intentional, and they're never really campy. The series is very dark, gloomy, and a little depressing at times. This is of course countered with a very great sense of humor, that relies on dark comedy, and never failed to get me to laugh.

As for the artwork in this series, it's VERY well detailed for a 1990 production. This was perhaps top of the line animation and artwork of this era. So there's very little to complain about. This is probally as good as it gets for early 90's anime, so do enjoy. The art style is done in a gloomy, depressing style. In fact the color palete chosen is very dark and gloomy. Perhaps too gloomy for its own good. It get's very overbearing at times. It does look a little dull at times. But these are small problems that do not subtract from the show in my opinion. Backgrounds are very well detailed and show off the futuristic skylines very well. I really liked the style of the character desings here. They are very flashy, futuristic, and yet still look like real human beings. The 4 main characters each look VERY distinct. You would never confuse these guys for any other anime characters out there, and instantly know what show they are from when you see them. All the minor characters are well done too, and a lot of thought went into each and every one. The characters are never cluttered, but still drawn in great detail. Some of the female characters do look a bit boring when compared to your regular hot anime chick, but they do have realistic bodies and faces, so you really can't complain. The the animation is fluid, never choppy, and always moving. As I said high quality production here. The fight scenes really show off what Madhouse can do, and they look amazing.

As for the music, this has a very futuristic-rock type of music thing going on. And I really liked the distinct style of music used. From the hard rock opener, to the more techno inspired background themes everything seems to work quite well. While not something you'll really want to listen to outside of the show, it is some really good music. Each theme helps to complement each scene and I liked how different the music in this sounded then in most anime. While not a favorite soundtrack of mine or anything, it's still very good. I should probally also mention that for the UK release Manga UK produced their own original soundtrack. While I have not watched the show with this soundtrack on (sadly it's not included in the CPM DVDs, they only have the original soundtrack), I have heard clips of it. And it is also a great soundtrack. I really liked the different tone they gave the music as well, although I do think the original Japanese soundtrack is probally a little better. Still this has a very nice 80's pop/techno style that's fitting for this type of show, although it does kind of age the show more then the original soundtrack. As far as the dub goes, well it's incredbly good. This was dubbed in the mid 90's so for that time period, to get this good of a dub is really something else. It blows my mind that this dub came out so long ago, because it could hold up well against dubs coming out today. Sure it's not perfect, there are some problems of course. But the style and way in which it was done feels very much like a post 2000 dub. Ok so it may not be the best dub you ever heard, but for this time period I dare you to find something better. This was really an all around good dub.Michael Bakewell directed this for Manga UK, so it's really no surprise when you think about it. He also directed the dubs on A Wind Named Amnesia ( a past review), and Dominion Tank Police which were both also quite good. The dub for this is filled with so much profanity that it makes the dub on Black Lagoon seem tame. The F-word is used in between as many words as possible, and somehow this all works. I mean they are all criminals after all. I don't want to listen to them talk like preschoolers or preists. And all the other curse words you love are there, and probally a few you've never even heard of. And this just works perfectly. It's very similar to the dub on Gantz, for example and I must say it does help give this show the edge it needs. I don't know if I'd enjoy this show this much if not for the epic dub. The amount of cursing, and the funny way they all curse really helps make this dub a winner in my eyes.

Bruce Martin plays Sengoku, who curses the most out out of the three. And many times it's laugh out loud funny the things he says. This is intentional humor, and you gatta love it. Bruce Martin has some great one liners. The way he says certian lines like, "Now then young man, it's far to late for a little man like you to be out on his own. It's way past your bead time Mother F*cker!" always manage to crack me up. Ok so maybe I have the sense of humor of a 13 year old, but really this never gets old for me. Also keep your ears open for his answer to why he can't take some girl out for dinner at the end of the first episode. That's the funniest line in the entire show. And Martin pulls this off perfectly. Bruce Martin has just enough gruff in his voice to make his character sound right, and just enough youthfulness that comes out that really gives his character some flavor. He always knows what feeling to put behind his lines, and doesn't have a bad line in the entire series. He's at top of his game. Sean Barrett, who I'll always remember as Lieutenant Britain from Dominion Tank Police, plays Gogul and he is also quite good. Sure one or two lines are a little awkward, but really he's almost always great. He plays these older, bigger, and more in charge type characters well in my opinion, so he fits right in here. He has a little older sounding voice, that's very gruffy (like he's been smoking and drinking too much), and it really fits the character. His acting is very good most of the time as well. Daniel Flynn plays Benten, and really does a perfect job at this. Benten is just a little eccentric, very sarcastic, and always thinking about something deeply. Flynn could have easily not thoight much about this however, and just given the guy a crazy, weird voice. But no, he's very genuine here and sounds like a real person you'd meet on the stree. He's very good with the dry wit and sarcasm, and has a freshness in his voice that you can't miss. He's a very good actor and also never gives a bad line. Hasegawa is played by Bob Sherman, and he is perhaps the weakest part of this dub. A few of his lines from time to time sound awkward, and some things he says do not have the right feeling behind them at times. But again let me point out he's not terrible, he's not bad, he's not even mediocre. He's very good. It's just he's not always perfect. As I said, the dub was excellent, and nothing he does is really bad or anything like that. He's just not perfect all the time. I did like his firm voice, and some of his lines came off with a bit of style that really fit his character. Anyway, the dub is a very high quality 90's dub, that I think many would enjoy. Just note, there's more curses in this then most anime out there, so if you have a problem with that beware. However it's a mature show so it's very fitting. A few people may actually dislike the dub because of all the added cursing not in the original script. It is a little liberal, but I thought it made perfect sense and fit the series. I wouldn't want these characters to speak politely and cursing really helps to bring out the fact that yes, these are criminals and they just don't give a damn. Sure perhaps they go overboard with it a little, but they seemed to have had a lot of fun here with the dub. And I liked it a lot. Again, having the sense of humor of a 13 year old might help you enjoy this one more. (For a sample clip of the dub, click here. I think this is legal, as it's only a sample clip. Please do buy the DVDs if you like what you hear though.)

To tie this all up let me say I really enjoyed Cyber City. My only real beaf with it is the last two episodes were not as strong as the first. Action series are very hit or miss with me, and this was a big hit. The characters are very interesting, the action scenes are well done, and it's got great animation. Music was great, and the dub was amazing for it's time. However it does feel kinda shallow, even though it deals heavily with its characters. And although its a very fun show, I'm not sure I can give it the full 4 stars just because of that. Still its a solid action/sci-fi series that shouldn't be forgetten. So don't think that 3 stars means it has some big problems, because it really doesn't. Oh and don't let CPM's ugly DVD cases scare you away from this one. Sadly there were not many pictures avaible for such an old show, so they had to use what they had on hand, and it doesn't look good at all. The covers to their box set and DVDs are not CPM's best work. They make the show look cheesey, corny and kinda lame. Which it's not really any of those. Their worst offense is the last DVD in the set which really screams "Chesey vampires of the future and girly cops too!". Ugh...But I do forgive them, because they put a lot of work into this show. And really who else would have touched a show like this? There's only one real extra, but it's very good. It's the director's commentary by Kawajiri himself, and it's very interesting. It's nice to learn that Cyber City was originally going to be a single OVA, but it's instant popularity in Japan made sure they had to make 2 more episodes. Anyway give this old school show a shot, you may find you like it as well!

Prede's Raiting
3/4 Stars

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Anime Network Adds more CPM Titles

The Anime Network has added several more titles from Central Park Media, to their online player. These titles are now streaming, legally on the Anime Network. The titles Anime Network has added includes The Haunted Lantern (live Action), Odin: Starlight Mutiny (anime film), and the two documentaries: Otaku Unite and Ultimate Crop Circles . SX AniMedia reports that two other titles from CPM, Baptism of Blood and Zero Woman are to be added in the near future.

Watch the shows legally here:

Source: SX AniMedia Blog