Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD 4 - Kyoto Burns
When a possible artificial intelligence is implicated in an arson/murder case in Kyoto, Chief Otsuka and Professor Shikishima head for the Japanese capitol of long ago to investigate. Shotaro tags along, only to discover a deadly plot to—of course—burn Kyoto, and that the Professor is in fact... a polygamist? Then, after a mysterious man dies in his arms, leaving only a cryptic message, Shotaro is embroiled in a vast conspiracy that threatens to strip him of everything: friends, family, colleagues, and even Tetsujin. Without a giant robot, what can a young boy do against the powers aligned against him?
Much remains constant from volume three to volume four of Tetsujin. Tetsujin still looks like the love child of John Candy and the Tin Man, Miss Takamizawa still has all the charm of a reunion between a chalkboard and some very long fingernails, the cartoonish characters still don't integrate with the backgrounds, and the writing is still fairly transparent. But one thing does change. By the time the disc ends, damned if you don't want to just keep on going.
This is most likely due to the length of the stories this time around. Instead of a series of disposable one-shots, this disc includes one two-parter and the first two episodes of what promises to be a more lengthy story arc. Like the stand-alone episodes preceding it, the two part Kyoto story is written around a common experience for easy audience identification, in this case a rather twisted mother-son relationship. The gorgeous Kyoto setting provides multiple opportunities for memorable images, a chance that director Yasuhiro Imagawa fully exploits. Once again the compositions are firmly rooted in the storytelling, from a field of very creepy and very symbolic Buddha statues, to a door that opens behind a touching reunion to reveal a riot of out-of-season cherry blossoms. This time the story revolves around recurring characters, freeing the narrative from the need to establish new characters, and lending the proceedings a little more depth and resonance. The last two episodes begin to construct a complicated and initially confusing arc that appears far from over by the end of the volume. Unfortunately, after leaving Kyoto behind, the visual interest goes down a notch, but it makes up for it with a slew of new (and old) antagonists, and (finally) a plot that can't be unraveled within the first few minutes. It also benefits from being willing to put all of its characters through the wringer; one can only respect a show that's willing to change the positions of its characters to this extreme, even if such changes might not be permanent. The show still suffers, however, from a preponderance of hoary mystery-movie clichés. Utterly transparent villains (complete with pencil mustaches) abound, and you can bet that any person who says "I know who the killer is!" will be dead soon after.
It might just be the increased level of interest overall, but the technical merits of Tetsujin seem to have taken a step up in this volume. The backgrounds are superb this time around, detailed, realistic, and in the Kyoto story, simply beautiful. I have a hard time imagining a better advertisement for tourism in Kyoto—it makes you want to hop on a plane and go. Unfortunately the backgrounds also give rise to Testujin's biggest technical weakness: the rounded, simple character designs simply do not integrate well with the backgrounds. With their solid outlines and slight flatness, they look like Tex Avery animations floating through a Van Gogh; not like characters interacting with the world around them. Other aspects of the animation are all on the positive side of average, but the giant robot battles are still of a slightly higher quality, and Imagawa's ability to twist imagery to his own narrative ends makes the animation appear better than it actually is. The atmospheric effects in the Kyoto arc are utilized particularly well; the drifting snow, falling rain, roaming leaves and flurries of cherry petals do wonders for enhancing the beauty of the setting (and the mood of the scene); a couple of times they even make the walking tin can look good. Regardless, the less said about Tetsujin and his mechanical ilk, the better.
The music is of similar quality to volumes past. It's not an eclectic mix by any stretch of the imagination, as it consists largely of classical and orchestral work, but it is used well, if sparingly. The Kyoto story is highlighted by more traditionally Japanese-sounding music as well as a recurring operatic piece. The other episodes use variations on the music used elsewhere. It's all dark and slightly gloomy; a perfect match for the content. The opening remains unchanged, but the ending is replaced in the two Kyoto episodes with a melancholy instrumental that perfectly caps off each episode.
While it is quality work, and a good match overall for the tone of the original, the dub does slip up enough to effect the enjoyment of the show. Some of the acting is stiff (particularly Shotaro), and the faithfulness with which the actors match the movements of their characters mouths results in some awkward phrasing and pauses that interrupt the flow of the dialogue. This is also partially because the dub script cleaves so closely to the Japanese script, leaving little leeway for adjustments that might have improved the flow. There's still enough variation in the dub script to annoy purists, even though it never changes the meaning or feel of a scene.
After a mid-series slump, Tetsujin is in the groove again. It's not top-quality giant robot anime, nor even top-quality Yasuhiro Imagawa, but it's still a dark, diverting little trip. Now if only they'd get rid of Takamizawa...
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Kyoto story is a feast for the eyes, no more disposable one-shots.
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