Shelf Life
Road to El Cazador

by Erin Finnegan, Jan 11th 2010

In high school I took French, but I should have taken Spanish. Those were the only two foreign language classes my school offered. I opted for French because the French Club took a trip to France every three years. I did get to go to France, but the tour turned out to be crazy; five countries in nine days. I'm glad I got to see all those places, but the one time I asked a French person a question, they didn't understand me. Plus the Louvre was on strike the one day I could've gone.

Living in New York City, I feel like a tool for not knowing any Spanish (beyond what Sesame Street teaches). Sure, I could take Spanish now, but I'm taking Japanese. El Cazador de la Bruja is like a reminder that I should have learned Spanish and that I need to do my Japanese homework.

Remember Noir (or Madlax)? El Cazador de la Bruja is studio Bee Train's new Noir-like adventure. It is the Bee Train equivalent of Michiko to Hatchin. That is to say, it's about two women on the run in a Latin American country. Actually, it's more like a less artsy-fartsy Michiko to Hatchin aimed at a teenage audience with supernatural elements.

Nadie is a sexy bounty hunter with hotpants and a cape-like poncho. Ellis is her amnesiac bounty with strange powers. Instead of turning Ellis in, Nadie takes her on the run from other bounty hunters. It's not quite Thelma and Louis; rather, Nadie is financially backed by her mysterious employers and Ellis is driven by an instinctual feeling that she must go south. For what, we're not sure.

A few episodes fall into the formula of the 1970's Incredible Hulk TV series. The girls pull into a new town, meet some characters with problems, help solve those problems, and are ultimately forced to move on before the bad guys catch up with them. These are weak episodes, but there are fewer of them as the show goes on.

Cool, fast music by Yuki Kajiura, Noir's composer, plays over the dramatic climax of each episode. Although Kajiura's music is great, it can't really cover up the relatively slow pace of the action on screen.

El Cazador has a narrator to fill us in on plot details, which is a little weird, because it's a weak method of revealing plot points. Bizarrely, by the time Nadie discovers Ellis's back story, we already know about it, so Nadie's shock loses impact.

Nadie and Ellis have a charming relationship that is the highlight of the show. Nadie is a solid character with a lot of life to her. Ellis, by contrast, is pale, cold and out-of-touch. Ellis's catchphrase becomes "Yessir!" which reminds me of Marcy and Peppermint Patty. I value plot more than characters, so this fine relationship wasn't enough to totally win me over.

So far, I like El Cazador more than Noir. I think the details are more fun; in one episode Ellis befriends a lizard, and later the girls are hunted down by flamboyantly gay assassins.

Trina Nishimura does a really great job capturing Nadie in the dub. There are several very endearing moments where Nishimura says things like, "Yeah… no." The dub script is a liberal adaptation, with common Spanish words like "chica" and "gracias" tossed in. A voice actor commentary is included for episode one.

El Cazador is an obvious win for Bee Train fans, between the quality dub and the two-part set. For me, it's a solid rental. I couldn't care less about the supernatural elements of the show. Unless Ellis ends up going to the Mexican version of Hogwarts, I'm not interested.[TOP]

Regardless, I'm watching the second half next week. On with the girls-with-guns double feature.

This is a really useless two-episode OVA that adds almost nothing to the plot of the Gunslinger Girl series.

I have nothing against Gunslinger Girl as a series, from what I've seen, which is admittedly only the first few episodes. In fact, I like the idea of elementary school girls carrying large automatic weapons. I like the sci-fi elements. The Italian music and the lush settings add a really classy, unique touch. I appreciate the complicated relationships the girls have with their handlers, who are at once coworkers, older brothers and father figures.

What I often enjoy about watching an anime series is the overall plot arc of the season or series. When it comes to after-the-fact OVAs, stand alone episodes don't really do much for me. So although the Gunslinger Girl OVA contains all of the positive qualities above, I didn't enjoy it as much as I might like the series, given the chance.

In the first episode, Jean and Rico assassinate a guy in Vienna. It's not terribly memorable or interesting. The second episode is a glorified beach episode.

Normally, I might give something like this a Rental Shelf rating, but I had two big problems.

First, I have a problem with the very long interview between two of the Japanese voice actors. Shot for Japanese television, the interview is littered with on-screen text in a huge pink font. Occasionally it's really hard to read the English subs over the pink Japanese letters. I also want to read the Japanese text, so I wish the subtitles were moved to the top of the screen. Additionally, the English subtitles are timed badly, which is surprisingly amateurish for Funimation.

Second, I had moral problems with the second episode. Two of the girls, Henrietta and Rico, spend time with their handlers, Jose and Jean, on vacation, going to the beach and eating a nice dinner out. Jose makes Henrietta dress in clothes formerly owned by his dead sister in order to mess with his brother, Jean. It's all pretty dicey wank-material if you ask me. The plot point about the dead sister is an excuse to dress Henrietta in a cute new outfit a la Princess Maker. Going to the beach is just an excuse to see the pre-pubescent girls in bikinis, so you have canon beach outfits to work from when you draw your doujinshi. Sure, beach episodes are standard to every anime series (possibly for the same wank-material reasons), but this one was particularly icky in my humble opinion. The entire episode feels like a gross double date between 20-something men and 10-year-old girls.

I found this episode of Gunslinger Girls offensive. I didn't think the rest of Gunslinger Girl was upsetting, just this one episode.

Clearly, if you are collecting Gunslinger Girl you'll want to buy this to be a completist and to see the interview. [TOP]

Likewise, Clannad completists will obviously need to buy After Story.

I previously reviewed Clannad ~After Story~ part 1 here.

Now it's clear to me that the first half of After Story is not the strongest part of the Clannad series. Based on episode 24, the recap episode, I think I may have liked the first season more than After Story. I am far more interested in Nagisa's conflict during the play than the tragedies of the After Story. (It's really hard not to spoil what happens, but I'll try my best) At the core of this final Clannad chapter is a very universal tale of Tomoyo's marriage and Nagisa's pregnancy. Their tragic story is a very human one that works across cultural boundaries. If you really, really like this, you should watch the classic Thornton Wilder play "Our Town" and the 1959 film The World of Apu, (the latter not only has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but is also on many critical lists of the greatest films of all time).

Personally, I'm not into tragic tear-jerkers. This was not my cup of tea at all. Plus I haven't been married a whole year yet, so this was extra torturous for me. If I wanted to watch something tragic, I'd watch the unrelenting Nobody's Boy Remi.

Clannad can't stick to its super-tragic ending for long. Little details about parallel worlds are worked into the show so it's slightly more believable when the series resets to have a different, happy ending. It kind of works, but I don't know what I would think if I didn't know this was based on a visual novel game. Without the reset, Clannad would be an old fashioned melodrama, akin to "The Little Match Girl".

Particularly in this DVD set, Nagisa is a weak character who I cannot identify with in the slightest. Tomoyo asks her if there is anything in the world she would like, and her only response is "a baby". That's all. Nagisa's only interest is the Big Dango Family, her only goal is to graduate high school, and her only dream is to have a baby. I really wish Nagisa had more personality, like the wife in The World of Apu. Nagisa is often sick and so physically weak that she's like an old-school tuberculosis-laden tragic love interest. Granted, I bet she was more compelling in the drama club arc. I didn't think it was possible to be more milquetoast than Belldandy, but Nagisa makes Belldandy seem like Xena the Warrior Princess. Give me Major Kusanagi, Battle Angel Alita, or Anne of Green Gables¹ any day of the week.

My favorite episode in this set was "Another World: Kyou Chapter," an alternate timeline OVA, because I found it more realistic. Alternate love interest Kyou has a personality. Tomoyo and Kyou act very mope-y and angst-y like real high school students, and no mysterious MacGuffin illness keeps them apart.

¹ Anne as a kid. And no, I haven't seen the new anime series.[TOP]

This was a rough week for me. I have to review everything, even things I don't like. I would be doing you a disservice as a reviewer if I lied and said I liked something more than I did.

This week's shelves are from EPenguin, who had this to write:

"So the wife and I just moved into a house where I can display my hobby more prominently. It's pretty standard in the order, top to bottom, left to right, alphabetically. Manga and anime CD's are in the last section- along with my Newtype USA collection. The real pride of my shelves is the Ashitaka figure riding atop Yakkul, which I picked up in Paris on our Honeymoon. Partially filled boxsets are turned with the opening facing out, so I know what I need to buy to finish them, and once filled they are turned spine out (unless they have some cool art on the face instead). Samurai 7 is on the floor aside the shelves because of the over-sized boxes. Still need to get another shelf for my games, too."

That Ashitaka's pretty nice.

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