Shelf Life Rah Rah Rahmen
by Erin Finnegan, Mar 1st 2010
None this week
Detective Conan: The Phantom of Baker Street
None this week
Neko Rahmen ep 1-13
Black Jack: The Four Miracles of Life, Black Jack (2004) ep 1-5
I have just come from seeing Summer Wars, the most excellent new film directed by Mamoru Hosoda, of the Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The film opened the New York International Children's Film Festival. Hosoda himself gave a Q&A session after the film. Tomorrow night I'm seeing Mai Mai Miracle in the same festival.
Summer Wars was at once an action film, a family film, a summer blockbuster, and extremely charming in an indie film way. Half rocking CG sequences like Takashi Murakami's Superflat Monogram and half Hayao Miyazaki/Isao Takahata classic 2D animation, Summer Wars even had a brief Sailor Moon homage and a really classy Yu-Gi-Oh!-like sequence. I hope it gets a DVD release soon and plays at every anime convention in the U.S. this year.
I sincerely hope that Summer Wars represents the bright future of anime, because Neko Rahmen is anime's dark future.
Flushable: Neko Rahmen, episodes 1-13
Instead, these unfunny two and a half minute episodes may be the horrible future of anime. It's short, cheap to produce, streaming free online, and small enough to watch on a mobile device. The opening and ending credits take up 30 seconds of the run time.
Each episode is animated using a different CG technique and art style, but it might be more accurate to say that each episode is animated using a different crappy CG technique. Imagine a really low-budget, domestically-produced Adult Swim show. Then halve that budget, cut the running time by two thirds, and you've got Neko Rahmen.
As the title implies, Neko Rahmen is the story of a cat who runs a ramen shop. He is a real cat, and many of the jokes hinge on his feline nature. It's the unfortunate polar opposite of Pixar's Ratatouille in terms of production quality and storytelling. Ratatouille, after all, had a huge budget and featured an animal chef with talent.
The only other major character is Tanaka, a businessman who wanders into the shop at lunchtime and then returns every day, presumably out of pity. There are no other customers. The ramen tastes terrible. I assume Tanaka's fealty as a customer is unfathomable either because I'm Occidental or because it's a stab at surrealist humor that I don't get.
In one episode, the cat (Taishou) hires a senior citizen to help out in the shop. Suddenly the place is flooded with other seniors from the Senior Center who have come to see their friend at work. The cat is dismayed when his new customers demand low-salt ramen and other dietary requests. The episode ends on this gag, which annoyed me. Taishou's ramen is really crappy! This was his one chance to corner the market and sell a specialty dish to a new customer base!
Only one episode made me laugh out loud. Taishou reveals to Tanaka that he actually wanted to be a sushi chef. Taishou's cat-hair covered sushi and his uncontrollable urge to eat fish got him kicked out of the shop. Somehow, the cat hair-covered sushi struck me as hilarious. I also think the opening theme song is pretty funny, but the joke gets old after twelve episodes.
A live action version of Neko Rahmen featuring a stuffed animal version of Taishou came out on DVD last year, but I have no interest in watching it. I'd rather watch movies about delicious ramen, like Tampopo.[TOP]
I would also prefer to watch anime about really good doctors, but Black Jack fell short.
This anime series, produced 14 years after Tezuka's death, is an unfortunate adaptation. Tezuka's 1970's manga has been updated slightly. For example, Black Jack's assistant Pinoko has a Nintendo DS and likes snowboarding. The core of each story remains the same.
For the unfamiliar, Black Jack is an unlicensed doctor who demands exorbitant fees from his patients. As a genius surgeon, he almost never loses a patient. His lack of a license is due to his (and by extension, Tezuka's) disgust with the Japanese Medical Association. America's current healthcare crisis makes Black Jack particularly poignant and timely to me as a reader.
Black Jack is assisted in surgery and around the house by the horrifying and befuddling Pinoko. Pinoko grew for 18 years as a partially formed conjoined twin before Black Jack built her a fake Pinocchio-like body and adopted her. Pinoko claims to be 18 and often asserts that she is Black Jack's wife, but in truth she has the mind of a six-year-old. I think Pinoko's presence is at best distracting and at worst disturbing. I'm only willing to overlook her shenanigans because Black Jack is so cool.
Tezuka's character designs are "cute" by an old-fashioned standard, and Tezuka Productions has doggedly adapted the designs. Somehow, this series adheres to a super-cute Kimba the White Lion aesthetic, which looks odd for a medically jaded story from the 1970's. A 1996 Black Jack film released in the U.S. by Manga Entertainment featured a grittier, more realistic Black Jack character design, but I think they took things too far in the opposite direction.
The four specials that precede the regular TV series in Crunchyroll's library suffer from a low budget. The TV series, on the other hand, features a pricey-looking 360 degree rotation around a 3D model of Black Jack's house on its seaside cliff. Was that really necessary? Seeing the cliff rendered in CG doesn't make it any more cool.
In the Black Jack manga, each chapter is a stand-alone story. The anime likewise consists of stand-alone stories without a series arc. In an attempt to make things more contiguous, Pinoko has a reoccurring friend in the neighborhood. A dog that appears in one of the manga chapters appears is several of the episodes I watched.
Between the stand-alone stories and the high-brow morality about the cost of human life, this series is a bit much to choke down. Pinoko's voice is even higher pitched than I thought possible, with cutesy "ch" sounds replacing "sh" sounds. Marathon-ing several episodes proved to be a bad idea. I tend to read the Black Jack manga one chapter per sitting, because reading an entire volume at once can just be weird and laughable. Insert your own joke here about taking Black Jack in small doses.[TOP]
This is a hard show to take seriously. You're better off reading the manga. I wonder if the same thing goes for Detective Conan.
A genius computer programmer commits suicide after copying his consciousness into an AI and turning it loose. The AI takes over a hyper-realistic virtual reality game set to debut in Tokyo. Conan and friends finagle their way into playing the demo, where they choose the 1880's London adventure.
You know who else I'm sick of? Jack the Ripper. There's one really choice, bottom-ten-bad episode of the original Star Trek series featuring the ghost of Jack the Ripper that really soured me on that plotline forever ("Wolf in the Fold"). Even as a little kid watching syndicated Star Trek reruns, I found that particular conceit ridiculous. The Phantom of Baker Street doesn't feature the ghost of Jack the Ripper (thank god!), but it certainly comes close.
Jack the Ripper's gruesome crimes are not described in detail since this is a children's film. I don't think they mention that he's killing prostitutes. Without the gory details, Jack just seems like an ordinary killer. They also change his story considerably.
"Perishable!" my husband bellowed during the big reveal and over the end credits, "This is totally Perishable!" I disagreed. I mean, yes, it's bad. The final reveals are totally unbelievable. Some of the leaps in logic are extreme even for Conan. But 1880s London was drawn with love. The character designs, with an eye for detail, were happily reminiscent of Emma.
I am charmed enough by 1880s London that I actually liked the movie Steamboy. I just think Steamboy needed a new script, with different characters. Technically, it's a wonderful piece of animation. At least Steamboy spared us from the eternal reign of Sherlock Holmes and the (apparently timeless) scourge of Jack the Ripper.
That said,1880s London is an enchanting setting. Let's set aside the fact that Conan and friends could have chosen a Viking adventure, a Gladiator adventure, or an Allan Quatermain treasure hunting adventure at the outset of the immersive video game. The plot established that 40 children would die in real life if all of them got a "Game Over", so I think it's reasonable that Holmes-fanboy Conan would choose a more-safe London adventure.
The dub was adequate, as in the other Conan movies. Unfortunately some of the subtitles were badly done. Usually in this series of movies character name captions appear over hideous gray boxes. In this film the gray box also appears under some subtitles in the first 20 minutes. It's a bit jarring.
This was not a great week, by any means, but I got a whole shipment of new screeners in the mail with some good stuff.
By the way, I completed tagging my reviews on delicious.com, so you can see at a glance all of my Shelf Worthy titles as well as the other ratings:
This week's shelves are from Douglas, who hails from Gilbert, AZ.
"I have been an anime fan and collecting anime related materials (VHS, DVDs, BlueRay, CDs, Illustration Books, Cells, Manga, etc.) since 1994.
The first anime I ever saw was Devil Hunter Yohko and have been hooked ever since.
Over the last 16 years I have had an Anime allowance of 5% of my income, that I have used to amass the large collection I have today, while keeping my spending in check."
Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!
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