Shelf Life Stairway to Heaven
by Erin Finnegan, Feb 1st 2010
Case Closed: Countdown to Heaven
Baccano! complete series
Linebarrels of Iron part 1
"The End of Time" was the exact opposite of the excellent writing found in the fifth Case Closed movie, Countdown to Heaven.
In this adventure, Conan and his humongous entourage of teens, kids, and adults embroil themselves in a series of murders surrounding the construction of a pair of twin towers in West Tama City. These movies do a great job of quickly spitting out background details to the audience; we're briskly told of Conan's previous activities in Tama City stopping some gangsters. I've never seen another movie based on a TV show that gives background information so fluidly.
In the first act, Professor Agasa takes Conan and the Junior Detective League camping. On the long car trip, they play an incredibly boring game where each child closes his or her eyes and counts 30 seconds, then checks their time against a stopwatch. This seems like a great way to get kids to shut up on a car trip, but I had a hard time believing any kid would think this game was fun. It was like the episode of Daria where she suggests the children play "mushroom," claiming that the rules are "Whoever makes a noise or drops a spore loses." I may have laughed at the stopwatch game, but it came up several times later in the film and turned out to be integral to the plot.
The twin towers in question are connected by a couple of catwalks, and the film makes maximum use of the towers and these bridges as the action builds. Of course one building catches on fire, and our team of characters must escape the towering inferno while simultaneously solving the case. The smoke and fire were are well-drawn, like some kind of effects porn for 2-D animators.
A lot of the story focuses on Ai (Anita in the dub), a gloomy little girl who was poisoned by the same stuff that made Conan shrink. I don't remember her from what little I've seen of the TV series, so it was nice to see a movie focusing on her.
Above all, this is a well-written film. The characters are all well-rounded. The action sequences are believable and satisfyingly suspenseful. I found the plot much more viable than the Faberge Egg/phantom thief movie, The Last Wizard of the Century, which I reviewed last week.
I have a few minor complaints about this DVD release. First, the DVD artwork on the front of the case looks blown-out. Something is either wrong with the colors or the printer. It's so bad it looks a little like a bootleg. Second, whenever there is a caption in the movie—and there are a lot of captions—a gray box blocks out the kanji and overlays the English text. The gray boxes have no drop shadow and look really inelegant and amateurish. Also, the opening title is displayed in the worst font ever (OK, it's not Comic Sans, but it's pretty bad). Everything else is copacetic.[TOP]
There are no panty flashes or nosebleeds in Countdown to Heaven. For that, you'll have to look to Linebarrels of Iron.
I'm not a fan of mech anime, but like most non-mech fans, I have a special place in my heart for The Big O, Evangelion, and Giant Robo. I even watched the first season of Code Geass, but really, that's clearly a show intended more for girls (as in me) than for mech fans. Linebarrels of Iron struck me as a Code Geass for boys.
Protagonist Kouichi is a huge wimp, getting beaten up by bullies every day while dreaming of fighting for justice. His prayers are answered when a giant robot and a naked girl fall on him. Amnesiac Emi gives Kouichi the power to pilot a mech named "Linebarrel" and the story is up and running. If your stomach turned a little at the words "naked" and "amnesiac," well, so did mine. I'm so sick of amnesiacs in anime, and mysterious naked girls who fall on you are a dime a dozen.
Kouichi goes on to use his mech in incredibly irresponsible ways. Being near his robot lends Kouichi super strength, which he uses to beat up the bullies at school. It's quickly apparent that for someone who talks about "justice" all the time, Kouichi has no idea what true justice is. To his credit, he is only in junior high, so he probably hasn't taken any basic philosophy or logic courses. This is the most interesting part of the show. It's great to see a mech piloted by someone who isn't a perfect hero or who isn't necessarily good. The bad guys attempt to recruit Kouichi at one point, but unfortunately he turns them down.
The rest of the show is a lot of fanservice. Boobs bounce abundantly and Kouichi's nasal passages flow freely with blood. Kouichi's boss at the JUDA organization, Director Moritsugu, has a secret passage to the girl's locker room where he can spy on the female staff and then disappear, leaving Kouichi behind to take the requisite beatings. I can't count how many times I rolled my eyes over these 12 episodes.
Linebarrels isn't completely without merit. From what I've seen of Goro Taniguchi's work, (Code Geass and Infinite Ryvius) Taniguchi likes putting way too many chatty characters into too short a series with quite a few meaty moral quandaries to chew on. I like his style, but it isn't executed well here.
Gonzo shows some restraint holding the swimsuit episode back to number 12 instead of busting it out earlier on. This is the ultimate swimsuit episode, with all the cliché watermelon smashing you could ask for plus a giant girl-crazy squid who looks an awful lot like Space Amoeba, a.k.a. Yog, Monster from Space.
I wish Linebarrels took itself a tad more seriously. In one scene, a character tells Kouichi to look out the window of his mech as he flies through space. Behind Kouichi is the Earth. "That is what rests on your shoulders!" the other character tells Kouichi. Did they really have to spell it out for us in such a cheesy way?
Linebarrels flips back and forth from silly to serious from episode to episode like Code Geass, although Linebarrels seems to be more comedic as the series goes on. Baccano!, on the other hand, flips back and forth from violence to comedy effortlessly.[TOP]
Baccano! easily clears all of my personal hurdles for a Shelf Worthy title. It is has a lot of re-watch value. I want to loan it to friends. It comes with extras. It's dubbed. Even at SRP the thinpack is cheap, and it contains the entire series. My husband enjoyed this show. I really couldn't ask for more.
I agree with Daryl Surat's position that one should not spoil Baccano! for anyone who hasn't seen it. Unfortunately, the second paragraph of the Wikipedia entry, the back of the DVD box set, and even Anime News Network's encyclopedia entry contain spoilers. Baccano!'s plot unfolds like a beautiful flower, so if you've never read a review of it you ought to avoid reading further reviews, summaries, or descriptions of the series (except this one).
Baccano!'s Night Court-like opening credits introduce us to the 20 or so characters who make up the show. Over the first thirteen episodes, we eventually learn about each character's contribution to the plot. I'm really bad with names, so I was surprised that even I was able to keep up. The large cast includes psychopaths, pyromaniacs, mafia gangsters, criminals, groups of people with mysterious pasts, a mute, and a couple of completely loveable weirdoes named Isaac and Miria.
Most of the show takes place aboard the transcontinental express train the Flying Pussyfoot as it travels at high speed overnight between Chicago and New York in 1931. The rest of the series covers a range of dates and locations all carefully noted in captions.
Fair warning: The first episode stinks. A little girl tries to put together some of the pieces of the story, and it's a slow start to an otherwise intriguing show. Like a steam engine slowly building up speed, Baccano! doesn't really chug along until the third or fourth episode.
The dub cast occasionally goes a bit overboard with old-timey New York accents. If you thought Newsies was charming, I'm sure you'll love this dub. As someone who has lived in New York for the past ten years, I assure you a true New York accent is disappointingly hard to come by nowadays. Regardless, the show features many fine drawings of Grand Central Station.
Baccano! handles violence extraordinarily well. In one of many, many voice actor commentaries, the actors credit this to the use of frightening squishy-squicky sound effects. These sound effects get quite a bit of use over the course of this brutally violent show. I know it's easy to become desensitized, but Baccano! doesn't pull any punches. Every hit is cringe-worthy, but at the same time, stomach-able. Some episodes of Black Lagoon left me unsettled for days, but Baccano! isn't ever deeply disturbing.
Isaac and Miria's lighthearted subplot effectively takes some of the edge off the dark moments, but the show never flip flops from serious to silly like Linebarrels of Iron. It transitions smoothly to humor and back again. J. Michael Tatum and Caitlin Glass do a great job capturing Isaac and Miria for the dub.
By the way, if you were watching this fansubbed, you may have missed the last three episodes, which never aired on Japanese television. I thought episode 13 was a great place to end the show; the last three episodes just feel like some bonus backstory and a brief after-the-fact plot.
In short, you should obviously pick up this Great Depression era show at today's "Great Recession" prices.[TOP]
This might sound a bit out of left field, but Baccano! was set in New York City, and Countdown to Heaven also had an NYC connection; the film was released in April 2001 and features one of two very large twin towers catching on fire. It's an odd coincidence, but not as on-the-nose creepy as the May 2001 pilot of the Lone Gunman TV series.
This week's shelves are from Jonathan, in Quebec.
"I've been into anime for 7 or 8 years now, but I bought my very first anime dvd (and my first manga) less than 2 years ago. So yeah, my collection isn't all that big, but I make an effort to buy all of my favourite series. Even those that aren't available in English or French. That makes my collection very precious to me since most items have a special meaning. The gems of my collection definitely are my Shiki in a kimono figure, some original manga from MORINAGA Milk and the LE dvd set for Tsuukaku Zanryuu, the 3rd Kara no Kyoukai movie. I think some could guess my tastes pretty easily from those pictures.
Now I'm crossing my fingers for an announcement concerning the release of a Blu-ray boxset for the Kara no Kyoukai movies. I'm already saving money for one of those!"
Not bad for a collection that "isn't all that big"! Can't wait to see it in a few years!
Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!
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