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My average Ranking: 6.80

Director Pantheon: Koichi Mashimo Rating
Ai City (movie) Decent

1986 series that tells a confusing tale of a revolt by human DNA against its human hosts. The various rivals, using combat psionics, fight for possession of Ai, a girl who holds the key to the future. The non-stop action will surprise people who think Mashimo is leaden in his pacing while the colour palette is lurid compared with his later, pastel schemes. There’s lots of 1980s attitude, music and character designs. Curiously, it is strongly reminiscent of Akira, which was released two years later. I doubt the superior Akira was influenced by Ai City. It is more likely the other way round, as the Akira manga began serialisation six months before its Ai City counterpart. My response to the film in general is best illustrated by my reaction to the final scene: after all the dust settles, the main characters are plucked out of the scene and deposited right back in the first scene of the movie. So, we’re right back to where we started? Then why did I bother watching it?
Blade of the Immortal (TV) Decent

One of the best things about this particular DVD package is the series of interviews conducted by the original mangaka, Hiroaki Samura, with various members of the anime production team. Although he had earlier given the anime his imprimatur, at the very end of the last interview, Samura says:

"I’m sorry to say to those who bought the original series but where the anime ends is very off. If we’re able to continue this, please do so is all I can say."

Yes, Blade of the Immortal ends after just thirteen episodes in the middle of a story arc. Nevertheless, there is still much to enjoy about it. Like the best Kouichi Mashimo anime, it's the interactions between the major characters (in this case, between Rin and Manji) that provide the greatest rewards for the viewer, not the short bursts of violent action, not the impressive artwork and not the appropriately intense soundtrack from Kou Otani. Putting two mismatched characters together is a common technique in any dramatic art form, but something more is happening here. The two are drawn to each other for reasons they can't comprehend. She wonders about the possibities that would be afforded to her if she were immortal; he wonders where she gets her motivation from. Thanks to the other each finds a direction in their life.

Like the more recent Hyouge Mono (and Mashimo's work in general) the artwork can be breathtaking at times (TV Tropes rates him second only to Makoto Shinkai for scenery porn) while any expensive animation is kept to a minimum by having the, usually violent, action scenes short and sharp. The blood and gore can be graphic but, being animated, is never off-putting. Unlike his restraint in Hyouge Mono, Kou Otani's soundtrack is intrusive and, at times, jarring with its jazzy disonances. I think it's entirely appropriate.

From the moment Makie Otono-Tachibana appears in episode 9 the series takes off. For 4½ episodes there is a terrific discourse on revenge and mercy, immortality and death, presented in a series of compelling vignettes. However, an uncertain start, some altogether too-shounen villains and an abrupt ending reduce Blade of the Immortal to mediocrity.

Extended review (scroll down)

Dirty Pair: Project Eden (movie) Good

This Koichi Mashimo film follows the well-worn formulae of the franchise, except that it is faster paced, better animated and funnier than the original TV series. It is probably worth watching just for one hilarious slapstick scene where the heroines find themselves dangling precariously above the main villain, Kei trying to grip a pistol between her toes and Yuri suspended by knickers that are coming apart.
Dominion Tank Police (OAV) Decent

Eat-Man (TV) Good

El Cazador de la Bruja (TV) Decent

Genial, meandering series that never reaches the levels of Bee Train's two previous "Girls With Guns" series, Noir (in particular) and Madlax. Nadie is likeable and has a great character design, Ricardo is an unusual and memorable character for anime, and Blue Eyes has her moments (and, yes, her eyes are an extraordinary colour). Everyone else, including Nadie's buddie, Ellis, are, at best, dull and, at worst (LA and Rosenberg) representative of the most disappointing kind of drivel that anime is capable of serving up. In this laid back tale of a couple of mates, the story arc isn't complicated and the mysteries are neither deep nor compelling. The relationship between Nadie and Ellis is sentimental but it never comes anywhere near that between Noir's Mireille and Kirika whose friendship is forged and proven under the most dire circumstances. One thing, though: it has yet another great Yuki Kajiura soundtrack.
.hack//Intermezzo (OAV) Not really good

.hack//SIGN (TV) Good

.hack//Unison (OAV) Not really good

Hyouge Mono (TV) Masterpiece

A fanciful telling of the final years of the Warring States period, Hyouge Mono deserves to be seen by a wide audience, which is not necessarily the normal anime demographic. Although it takes considerable liberties with the historical record (each episodes bears the warning, “The following tale is a work of pure fiction”), all the characters are based on actual historical figures - even the lowly Governor, Sasuke Furuta, through whose eyes we see the tale unfold and whose exaggerated facial expressions highlight the many absurdities around him.

Absurdity is the flip side of tragedy and Hyouge Mono revels in that contrast. The contrast is played out through the military and political ambitions of the generals and the aesthetics of the tea ceremony (particularly the visual appeal of the various implements used). This play creates a sense of fatalism, that the machinations of these men are ultimately pointless. All the characters are absurd, no matter how grandiose or dignified or cunning they try to be. The writers and director subtly allow the viewer to see how pointless, how ridiculous and how dangerous it all is, highlighted by enthralling dialogues between the main characters, with all their undercurrents of threat, treachery, double-meanings and incitements. The series oozes irony, like no other anime I've ever seen. This isn't a show for adolescents (or adults who are adolescent at heart) who want their hormones excited. This is a witty and pitiless examination of the barely disguised brutality of the men competing for power in one of the most violent times in Japan's past. History tends to glorify the exploits of these men. Hyouge Mono gives them the merciless lampooning they arguably deserve even more.

At its core, Hyouge Mono is high tragedy in the classical Japanese or Greek or Shakespearean sense. At the centre of the tragedy is Sen no Rikyu, the classical tragic hero, whose flaw - hubris - leads him to destruction. The point of view character, Furuta, is a variation on the theme. While he isn't destroyed by his flaws, the death sentence given to Rikyu, whom he idolises as his hero, is his moment of crisis. Much of the power and poignancy of these crises for the two main characters comes because they are preceded by moments of clarity where Rikyu and Furuta reach new levels of self-awareness that give them a degree of contentment hitherto eluding them.

Yet, Hyouge Mono is also funny, although it isn't comedy for its own sake; the jokes aren't just there for the laughs. The style of comedy is absurdity and it is working largely in the service of tragedy. It's not inserted just to soften the tragedy (which it does) nor is it simply there for ironic effect (though it is highly ironic) but it represents the fatalistic side of tragedy: that all our effort is ultimately in vain. By presenting the political manouvering through the filter of the aesthetics of the tea ceremony we get a commentary on both - we see how pretentious and ultimately pointless they both are. If the absurdity here is in the service of tragedy then both are in the service of satire. And, behind the satire, is a yearning for peace amidst violence.

Hyouge Mono has the perfect director in Koichi Mashimo. It is as if he were born to direct this series. Not since The Irresponsible Captain Tylor in the early 90s has his penchant for absurdity been given such free rein. He has the ability to be simultaneously po-faced, over the top, and yet profound. Sure, there are the expected Mashimo lapses of judgement and times where I feel I'm just not getting the point but I never get the feeling he's just going through the motions so evident in El Cazador de la Bruja or the latter parts of Phantom ~ Requiem for the Phantom. For the first time since Noir it feels as if he is fully committed to the project. Like Noir and Phantom there is a powerful redemptive element to Hyouge Mono for, despite the terrible climax, the series ends on a hopeful note. The long night of horror gives way to a new dawn as Osen, his wife, watches two birds of prey circling above. One bird is caught silhouetted by the sun and the anime transforms the image into a beautiful enso painted on pottery in the Oribe-yaki style. Furuta Oribe has found his true voice. Two of the episodes of Mashimo's Blade of the Immortal contain similar stories about artists trying to find their voice. In Hyouge Mono Mashimo has found his.

Extended review of episodes 1-14

Extended review of episodes 15-25

Extended review of episodes 26-39

(The) Irresponsible Captain Tylor (TV) Excellent

With an unusually fast pace for director Koichi Mashimo, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is easily the most thoroughly entertaining thing I’ve seen from him yet. Credit for its success is due in part to the excellent script from regular collaborators Kenichi Kanemaki and Hiroyuki Kawasaki. Coincidentally, Kawasaki was also a scriptwriter for subsequent Martian Successor Nadesico, which shares many thematic and stylistic qualities with The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.

Like Martian Successor Nadesico, it is much more than a simple parody of space opera. What it has, in spades, is emotional clout, thanks to its marvellous characters. You can add to that a heart of gold, thanks to its unceasing optimism and relentless ridiculing of all things military.

Everything revolves around Justy Ueki Tylor, the captain of a United Planets Space Force destroyer in the war against the Holy Raalgon Empire. Even though he is a slacker in the finest anime tradition, I’ve never, ever encountered a character quite like him. Initially, he comes across as a complete dill. Everybody in the series has the same first impression accept, notably, two important Raalgons – the empress Azalyn and her loyal military prodigy Ru Baraba Dom. His own admirals don’t know what to make of him so they give him command of an old rustbucket, crewed by incompetents and misfits. They are sent to the most dangerous sector of the galaxy in the hope they are killed. Things aren’t helped when his own crew, to a man and woman, share the common view that he is an idiot. Tylor proceeds to win improbable battles, gain the loyalty of his crew, and steal the heart of the young Raalgon Empress. It climaxes when he is given command of the UPSF fleet and faces off against Ru Baraba Dom in one last epic confrontation. The outcome of the battle is unexpected, gripping, and utterly in keeping with the spirit of the anime. Is Tylor really the idiot we have been led to believe?

Other Koichi Mashimo trademarks include a colour palette and composition that varies from the pedestrian to the sublime, neon city designs and character designs typical of the 90s. It scrubs up pretty well given it was first aired in 1993. Sometimes with Mashimo I get the sense he is not fully engaged with his art, that he is merely going through the motions. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor has a freshness and enthusiasm that is infectious – as if everyone involved enjoyed themselves immensely.

Madlax (TV) Decent

Madlax is structurally more complex and ambitious than its Bee-Train predeccesor Noir. For a start, the production standards are higher and there's a much larger cast that includes several significant male roles. Having more players allows for some interesting relationships, especially that between Madlax and Vanessa Rene. Not only does Mashimo push the yuri elements much further but they really make a good pairing. Alongside that is the adversarial relationship between the two killers, Madlax and Limelda - it's a corker. Add to those a creepy set of encounters between the big bad's off-sider Carrosea Doon and Madlax's co-protagonist Margaret Burton, and you have the elements that could make a good series.

Catch is, none of the relationships come near the central Mireille Bouquet / Yumura Kirika pairing in Noir. The Nearest parallel to them in Madlax is the Madlax and Margaret Burton relationship. As with Mireille and Kirika in Noir, their relationship is at the core of the story, but they don't even meet until the series is mostly over and, even then, they don't interact a great deal.

Therein lies the main problem with Madlax. For the first ten episodes the tales of Madlax and Margaret Burton are running in parallel, with only the vaguest hints at any connection. First time around there is very little to guide the viewer that there is an over-arching story arc connecting the protagonists. Furthermore, the Margaret Burton episodes are trite. Things don't start falling into place until episode 11, around the time Madlax and Vanessa first meet.

The villain, Friday Monday (yes, that's his name), is ridiculous - an anime cliche who wants to rule the world. Thankfully, he doesn't get a lot of air time. His lieutenant, Carrosea Doon, is much more ambiguous and interesting. The supernatural basis to the tale is unconvincing, only managing to spoil my appreciation of the series. Once you know the true nature of Madlax, her action scenes lose much of their tension, even if they retain their aesthetic appeal.

Re-watching Madlax is rewarding in its way. Koichi Mashimo has a very po-faced sense of humour. In those first ten episodes you realise that he had been dropping hints all along about what was really going on. It's kinda like re-watching The Sixth Sense. Look out especially for the parallel behaviours of Madlax and Margaret Burton.

These comments may sound negative. Madlax becomes very compelling after about episode 10 (much in the way that Noir also shifts into another gear). It has an epic backdrop and sustains a feeling of dread. So, yes, it is worth watching.

Noir (TV) Masterpiece

Noir has become, for me, a slow burning love affair. Since being introduced three years ago I have returned to it again and again: marathoning it, watching favourite episodes or savouring favourite scenes. A large part of my love for this series is my appreciation of the central character, Mireille Bouquet. Even though she is the archetypal ice queen who is utterly broken over the course of events, she emerges as a liberator for both herself and the brutal, yet hapless, Kirika. Knowing she is way out of her depth does not stop Mireille searching, like a modern day Oedipus Rex, for the truth behind the catastrophe of her life. And like the Greek tragedy, the more she discovers the more the horror of her and Kirika’s roles in that catastrophe are revealed. The pacing and mood of the series are sublime. Each episode is carefully constructed so that the short bursts of violence have maximum impact. Noir is also the greatest achievement of anime’s greatest composer, Yuki Kajiura. Sure, Noir sometimes shows it was made on a limited budget but this is a case of making the most of limited means. The subsequent Madlax, with its much higher production values, is flaccid in comparison.

Extended review

Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ (TV) Good

The OP of yet another Girls with Guns thriller from Koichi Mashimo and Bee Train gives an indication of what's ahead. Karma has this opening line:

Karma. I've fallen into an endless spiral of repetition... (Nandomo onajikotono kurikaeshino nakawo ochiteitteha)

Mashimo is notable for his droll sense of humour, often delivered with only the slightest hint that he's pulling your leg. Thus, I'm sure he is is fully aware that this line portends everything the viewer fears it might. That's not to say this isn't a good series, but it certainly covers some familiar territory. Consider the following: traumatised youngsters are brainwashed and trained to become assassins (Gunslinger Girl, anyone?), sexually preyed upon by their handlers (Kite), and suffer from amnesia (Ein / Eren even looks like Kirika from Noir, although sadly beautiful in a way Kirika never manages). There's a musical fobwatch that becomes a plot device (Noir , again) and the principal girl-with-a-gun rival, the mature Drei / Cal, is a blonde version of Alphard from Phantom's near contemporary, Canaan although, thankfully, Phantom avoids the teenage humour of Canaan.

Having said all that, I do believe that it is a significant improvement over the two previous Bee Train Girls with Guns efforts, Madlax and El Cazador de la Bruja, partly because of the higher production values, but chiefly because it returns to the basics that made Noir so good - memorable characters living in an abyss and desparately trying to redeem themselves. Reiji / Zwei and Eren / Ein get Phantom off to a great start and the series is at its best when it's the two of them battling against Inferno or Guiseppe, the Scythe Master (Giuseppe = Giuse = Jose, get it?). The interactions between Reiji and the young Cal are also strong and memorable, and laced with an innocent sexuality. When Cal hops into bed with Reiji and they lie blissfully back to back, it's a sweet moment, all the more so when considered in the light of subsequent events. Disappointingly, Cal's later transformation into a crazy gun girl is unconvincing. She is but one example of abrupt changes in tone that spoil the flow of the series. Similarly, how many times can characters come back from the seeming dead? It got to the point that I stopped believing that any character was truly dead. Nevertheless sticking to the character driven drama ensures that this latest Bee Train effort is a step forward.

(The) Weathering Continent (movie) Good

A lesser known work from the early 1990s that displays all the familiar Koichi Mashimo touches - the straightforward but striking watercolour backgrounds, the slow pans, the lingering eyeball close-ups, the repeated images, the emphasis on mood over action, an arcane mystery and the prominent role for the music. I'm a total sucker - I love it. And, as a bonus, there's a musclebound hero who always (yes, always!) thinks before he fights. As is so often the case with anime, the villains are ridiculous but that's not a major problem here. If you find Mashimo slow going don't bother with this.