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Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - Prequels & Sequels

by Allen Divers,

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, a solid franchise just loves to reinvent itself. For most franchises, after a series ends, another series picks up simply continuing the story of the franchise cast, or sometimes taking that cast and placing them in all new adventures. While it's always fun to see a familiar cast, occasionally the creators just run out of stories. While sometimes it seems that a series falls into a routine, other times it's a simple matter of having told the entire story. This is where a couple of tools of the trade come in to play: Spin offs and prequels. Writers and creators have often relied on these tools to help rejuvenate a beloved series. Often, it allows them to break new ground, while retaining a loyal audience. For whatever reason they are used, spin-offs and prequels can usually garner a lot of attention, especially those that derive from highly successful series.

Unlike pure sequels, spin-offs and prequels face quite a few challenges. Spin-offs take a familiar setting, place new characters into the mix and see what happens. Some spin-offs take a few background or secondary characters and place them in the starring role. Other times, a spin-off may try to re-use a storyline that worked well before, placing new characters with different personas and see what happens from there. Fans can get fickle, and a spin-off can die quickly if it comes across as a rip-off of the original. Of course, there has been a few times where the spin-off actually becomes more popular than the original, causing the original to lose a bit of its luster.

A prequel is something different, by simply being a shift in the timeline of a story. This is quite often the story of how the fans' favorite characters ended up where they are at the beginning of the original series. The challenge here is to take what is often just background information and turn it into a very entertaining story. The creators have to tread a thin line as they balance what is needed for an entertaining story with what they had established in the original story. Since the fate of the characters is well established, it is often difficult to produce sufficient suspense or drama. Often, that task falls on secondary characters that, for one reason or another, don't exist in the original story. Occasionally a story is well thought out, so these secondary characters have had some mention in the previous stories, but more often than not, they have to find a comfortable place in the canon that exists.

This week, I take a look at two spin-offs and a prequel. All are banking on the success of their predecessors, and all sport familiar looks to please the loyal fans.

.hack//Tasogare no Udewa Densetsu (.hack//legend of the Twilight Bracelet)

A spin-off in the truest sense, Legend of the Twilight Bracelet features the futuristic computer game of the previous TV series and OVAs. This time around, no one has managed to get "sucked" into the game, trapped and unable to log off. The story revolves around a brother and sister, who, thanks to their parents divorce, live separately. They use the setting of "The World" to remain in contact. Rena, the sister, entered and won a contest to receive the limited edition legendary characters, Kite and Black Rose, both of whom played a major role in the "twilight" incident. .hack//Infection and .hack//Liminality, the game and OVA respectively set the groundwork for the series that is later picked up in .hack//SIGN.

Shugo and Rena begin to play "The World" using the limited edition characters. During their first major foray, a creature appears and attacks the pair. Being beginners, they are outclassed by the creature. While trying to protect his sister, Shugo is pulled away and encounters a strange girl dressed in white. She gives him the Twilight Bracelet which is capable of performing a data drain, one of the most powerful attacks in "The World." Soon, other players are attracted to the pair, thanks to their limited edition characters as well as Shugo's ability to use the Twilight Bracelet.

.hack//legend of the Twilight Bracelet shares common ground with its immediate predecessor, .hack//SIGN. The animation, character designs and music are all pretty standard for a Bee Train release, having bright visuals and strong music to accentuate the action. Legend of the Twilight Bracelet does move in a different direction from .hack//SIGN by being a more upbeat show with a ton of cute characters. Where .hack//SIGN had the dark tone of the trapped Tsukasa, Legend of the Twilight Bracelet's characters are chibi-style with quite a few comic moments. The successor to .hack//SIGN does have a strong undertone with the mystery of the monsters appearing where their not supposed to, but for the most part, the show plays for fun in the early episodes.

So far, I'm enjoying Legend of the Twilight Bracelet more than .hack//SIGN. Its story is moving a bit faster than its predecessor, and it doesn't carry the same depressing tone. There's a bit more humor and the character motivations come across a lot clearer. I expect to see Bandai carrying this one over as quickly as possible, especially with .hack//SIGN already showing on Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network is fond of series with a good set of episodes, so Legend of the Twilight Bracelet will more than likely see air in North America.

Macross Zero

The prequel in the bunch, Macross Zero had a lot to live up to even before it was announced. The Macross franchise has a bit of a sordid history in North America, first seeing the light of day as part of the Robotech series released by Harmony Gold. Creatively rewriting the original version, Harmony Gold did a lot of good in creating much of the foundation of the current Anime scene. The only problem though is, thanks to Harmony Gold's interference, the sequels to the original version of Macross were delayed in coming. In fact, the original version of the series never had an official North American release until the last year, thanks in part to AnimEigo who did a spectacular job restoring it. There's still quite a bit of the series being held up by licensing fees and Harmony Gold's insistence that they own all worldwide rights to Macross.

Macross Zero takes place 8 years after the strange alien artifact has landed on Earth. The world is split into two major factions, one side fighting to unite the world, the other working to keep the nations independent. Shin Kudou, a pilot for the U.N. is shot down by a mysterious fighter that transformed into something he had never seen before. He finds himself saved by a people that worship a group of strange statues, and claim to be descendants of flying people. The forces at war are also drawn to the island by a hidden power that is very similar to the power discovered in the alien artifact. Shin Kudou and the people of that island stand in their way of gaining that power.

Macross Zero ups the ante on its predecessor with its animation, mecha designs and its symbolism. Coming some twenty years after the original series, the animation has changed significantly in all that time. The mecha designs mix traditional animation and CG effects to create very stunning visuals. Amazingly though, they still retain the look and feel from the first series, showing how revolutionary and detailed the original series was. Much like the original, Macross Zero roots its story in the development and morals of its characters. The symbolism is much bigger with aerial gods and native statues taking over the guise of the alien visitors. What little has been exposed so far, shows that Shin will probably undertake a very dramatic spiritual journey before this series is over. Kawamori Shoji, director of the original Macross and the man behind Escaflowne and Arjuna brings much of the spiritual themes he presented in those shows into this series as well.

Unfortunately for us, thanks to the legal wrangling and stubbornness of Harmony Gold, it may be quite a while before this show makes its way to North America. Bandai is a big supporter of this series, so expect them to be involved in the game to bring it over. Hopefully this series can be the one to open the floodgates on the rest of the Macross franchise.

Hand Maid Mai

While it may seem like a typo, this is actually a spin-off series to the Hand Maid May series. The original series managed to gather a loyal fan base thanks to a mix of simple story with a romantic twist, a lot of humor and an ample supply of fan service. This new series starts with changing a familiar plotline (likable nerd manages to attract a bevy of beautiful Cyberdolls and a couple of real girls) then upping the ante on what someone, somewhere thought must have been the original appeal of the show. That's right, boys and girls, its fan service mania. Unfortunately, in its execution, it comes across as near to hentai as one can get without actually crossing the line. There's even a tentacle monster gag for much of the first episode.

Ozu Hideo wants to be a director. He spent much of his youth filming the girl he loved, Kurosawa Mai, hoping to make the ultimate film with her as the star. After school, Hideo ends up as a live-in employee of a b-movie film studio. After 4 years, Mai calls, telling him to bring the master tapes of everything he filmed of her. Thinking this is his opportunity to finish his film, he rushes to see her, only to find out that she wants nothing to do with him and will pay him 10 million yen for the film. Distraught and betrayed he leaves behind the film, and doesn't bother with the check. Going home in a drunken stupor, he accidentally runs into a woman with an order for 3 cyberdolls. He arrives home to find that the 3 cyberdolls are waiting for him. They all remind him of Mai, comedy and perversion ensue.

Unfortunately, what could actually be a very romantic drama with comic overtones turns quickly into a farce as the focus moves quickly from the lost love angle to a set of "what compromising positions can they put the female leads into." Episode 1 leaves a lot to be desired and actually serves as a bit of an insult to the original series. Another 3 episodes are planned, so maybe, this spin-off can be salvaged, or perhaps it will bring further ruin to the franchise. Pioneer brought the original series over, so they might have some interest in this series.

Familiar settings and familiar characters help ease viewers into new series. Creators and producers often hope their new series will attract the same attention the original series invoked. Of course, simply sharing familiar ground doesn't always guarantee success. While .hack//legend of the Twilight Bracelet and Macross Zero are sure to fit well with their franchises existing audience, the same can't be said of Hand Maid Mai. Of course, its always hard to judge a series by just one episode, but the creators of Hand Maid Mai have decided to focus more on the fan service aspect of the series, rather than any of the heart touching moments or the simple storyline that made the first series memorable.

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