by Bamboo Dong,
|Tsubasa DVD 1|
|Afro Samurai Director's Cut|
|Highlander: The Search for Vengeance|
Welcome to Shelf Life.
Confession: I've never really called myself a big CLAMP fan. I appreciate their work, and I admire their ability to weave long, complex stories, but personally, I've never been one to religiously follow all of their releases. Needless to say, when I first heard about Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, I was worried that I wouldn't get it. I recognized some of the main characters from other CLAMP-based anime series, but there were many that whizzed by my head. Luckily, it didn't matter at all, as the series is pretty much 100% standalone. And... despite not being a big CLAMP fan, I actually ended up digging this show quite a bit.
Like all good fantasy anime shows, Tsubasa has the ingredients necessary for a multi-season hit. It has strong characters, the possibility of romance, and a quest that could last for as many episodes as it needs to. In this case, the story revolves around four people: an archaeologist named Syaoran, his childhood friend princess Sakura, a wizard named Fai, and a warrior named Kurogane. All of them are thrown together in an alternate dimension, where they learn that they must go on a quest to seek whatever it is they're looking for—in Syaoran's case, it's to look for fragments of Sakura's memories. Along the way, they fill up time by battling with strangers, meeting new folks, and having dreams that reveal key character exposition.
What makes Tsubasa work so well is that it presents itself like a standard fantasy series. It doesn't try to be outrageously creative or novel, it doesn't try to beat viewers over the head with any kind of message—it simply aims to entertain. And entertain, it does. It couples itself with a rousing soundtrack by the renowned Yuki Kajiura, who adds her signature vocals and chanting to the mix. Kajiura music, to me, epitomizes fantasy; add her surreal chants and instrumentals to anything, and you will have something that is out of this world. There's also something beautiful and gentle about the way that CLAMP's characters have matured. Sakura is no longer a frilly-dress-wearing kid, but instead a sweet princess whose smile could stop a bullet. Syaoran is less of a bratty kid than a strong-willed warrior. The show still has comic relief (in the form of a ridiculously cute Mokona), but everything from the music to the visuals has a sense of serenity that's a welcome change from today's wacky hijink-infused anime shows.
Plus, I just know that no matter what happens in the next million seasons of this show, I'll always be able to look forward to three dudes kicking magical ass and chasing feathers.
Sometimes simple is best.
“But Bamboo,” you might ask, “what separates this from other fantastical ilk like Inu Yasha or that smashing masterpiece, Those Who Hunt Elves?”
Dear Reader, the answer is simple: Tsubasa doesn't give a damn about the others—and that's a good thing. It doesn't bother stealing tidbits from other shows. It doesn't bother to send out its scouts to see what worked or didn't worked for all the other shows. Like I said, sometimes simple is best. It doesn't try to be funny, it doesn't try to be preachy, it doesn't try to be enlightening—it just tells the simple story of some guys looking for some damned feathers. And to me, that's pretty neat.[TOP]
Usually, when I decide which DVD to watch next, my thoughts are to reach for the most recent Volume 1s, or for the disc with the prettiest packaging. I am attracted to bright packaging like a rutabaga gravitates towards being part of a delicious stew.
However, this time, I had different reasons for picking the next disc. I had just gotten home from this year's annual KROQ Weenie Roast, and my blood was still pumping from rocking to the mellow sounds of Korn and Linkin Park. If I wasn't living in an apartment, I would've kept the feeling going by blasting angry music, eating a lot of steak, and maybe throwing beer bottles at the wall.
Instead, I had to settle for watching Highlander: The Search for Vengeance.
Ninja Scroll fans—your new Kawajiri sword-swingin' blood bath is here, and I must say, I had a helluva good time.
But first, a bit of a back story. For those not in the know, the Highlander movie is an American production that was animated in Japan by Madhouse. The script was penned by David Abramowitz, who joined the creative staff of the Highlander TV series sometime during the first season. If the movie seems familiar, though, it's because it was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, a man who knows action like the back of his hand. So, right there is two reasons why you could be interested in the movie: you could be a Highlander fan, or you could be a Kawajiri fan. Or… you could go for option three—you just like action movies.
I veer towards that third camp. Having never seen a single episode of Highlander in my entire life, save for the trailers that played on UPN during my Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days, I had zero idea what to expect. Within minutes, I was pleased enough to keep going.
The premise for Highlander: the Search for Vengeance is blisteringly simple. Colin MacCleod, “of the Clan MacCleod!,” is an immortal man who is searching for vengeance against the immortal guy who killed his wife. For two centuries, he's tracked down this guy again and again, trying, and failing, to behead him each time. So now he's trying again!
What makes the movie fun isn't the meager storyline—it's the action and the solid testosterone. Colin is the most virile man to have ever lived, next to Bruce Willis. He thinks vaccinations are for sissies, only drinks whiskey, and he's got a power rocker mullet to end all mullets. Add several liberal usages of the word “Fuck,” and this man is a walking pair of testicles. This movie is also drenched in bloodshed, which can be good, depending on your tastes. If you like ridiculous amounts of blood and gunfire, and subscribe to the school of thought that the only cool fights are the ones that use swords, then you'll have a ball with this one. If you don't like violence… well, then this movie likely won't appeal to you that much, because violence is essentially all this movie has going for it.
While being able to follow Colin through various time periods is kind of interesting for the viewer, it makes it a bit hard to get to know any of the characters. Each new character is introduced just long enough to serve a quick ‘n’ dirty purpose, whether it's to be another notch on the death tally, or to kick the story forward a few paces. Even the women in his life, like Dahlia, are given an unfortunately short amount of screen time, which makes their departures all the less dramatic.
A few words must be said for the voice acting, though. The Scottish accents are terrible. Or rather, the acting while using Scottish accents was terrible. The actors seemed so concerned with getting their accents right that they would forget about throwing any emotion into their lines. As a result, the best parts of the dub are when the characters are using their natural voices.
In the end, though, Highlander is not a spectacular movie, but it is a fun movie. It's not something I can picture watching again and again, clinging to the edge of my armchair in suspense, but it's one of those movies that would be great for those days when you and your buds are throwing back some beers and one guy says, “DUDE, we should watch some ANIME.”[TOP]
And speaking of badass, we go to the most badassest of anime shows ever made.
Even more badass than Highlander. (which wasn't that badass—just manly. There is a difference.) I'm speaking, of course, of the one and only Afro Samurai.
Ringing in at five episodes, the Director's Cut of Afro Samurai is now available from Funimation. With 15 minutes of extra footage, and extra, “Dayum, muh-f*ckah!”s thrown in, this is the only real way to watch Afro Samurai.
However, it should be said early on in the review that this show is not for everyone. It contains a lot of violence, a lot of swearing, and a good amount of sex, so if you're sensitive about this kind of stuff, then there's a chance you won't be very comfortable with it.
That having been said, Afro Samurai seems to have been made for the sole purpose of being badass. Everything about it exudes cool, and even in its weakest moments, its shortcomings are covered in a layer of animated bling. Samuel Jackson does an amazing job of voicing the stoic Afro, and he lends his charisma just as well to Ninja Ninja, a stereotypic African American who spouts lines like, “Oh SNAP! Sh** son! F***, yo! You should go get ya jimmy whacked!” The animation is eye-poppingly gorgeous, the music is intense, the anachronisms are really neat, and the action is totally off the hook. Unfortunately, for as amazing as everything looks and sounds, Afro Samurai is a lot more style than it is substance.
The show centers around Afro, a skilled swordsman who is looking to avenge his father's murder. His prey is Number One, so-called because he wears a headband that bears the number 1, and also because he's the top fighter in the lands. The only way to take his title is to kill him—something that only Number Two can do. Luckily, Afro has that qualification. Although the series has moments about finding one's inner strength and what not, it's ultimately a revenge flick. And, as all revenge flicks go, there's not too much you can get from it. At times, it's even a bit slow.
Despite its occasional setbacks, Afro Samurai is still worth watching at least once. In fact, it deserves to be watched at least once, simply for the style points. At its very core, it's sleek and snazzy, and to overuse the word one last time, it's totally badass. It's not the greatest thing since sliced bread and rice cookers, but it's got a lot of oomph, and sometimes, that's just what you need.[TOP]
Like I said, short column this time around, but more is on the horizon. Thanks so much for reading; see you next time!
This week's Shelf Obsessed star comes from Andrew Jacobs, who deemed it necessary to address me as "Shelf Life Person." Tears rolled, Andrew.
Some fun facts about Andrew! He has a ferret named Kazuma, which he says is named after the main character from scRYed. (Guess what, Andrew, my laptop is named Zetsuei! True story.) He's also finally finished a personal goal: to have an anime whose English title started with every letter of the alphabet. He claims that he only collects good anime and bad anime, because he can't stand the mediocre stuff.
What say we? And how cute is that ferret? So streeeetchy. Guh.
Got a picture of your collection you want to show off? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!
His anime alphabet highlights:
A - Apocalypse Zero
B - Birdy the Mighty
C - Crimson Wolf
D - Debutante Detective Corps.
E - Ellcia
F - Final Fantasy Advent Children
G - Gestalt
H - Heroic Legend of Arslan
I - Iria
J - Junkers Come Here!
K - Kite
L - Lupin the III, Farewell to Nostradamus
M - Mask of Zeguy
N - Nurse Witch Komugi
O - Outlanders
P - Psychic Wars
Q - Queen Esmeraldas
R - RG Veda
S - Shinesman
T - Tokyo Revelations
U - Urda: The Third Reich
V - Vampire Wars
W - Wild Cardz
X - X
Y - Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie
Z - Z-mind
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