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Shelf Life
Golgo Apparatus

by Erin Finnegan,

I disagree with Wikipedia's definition of a “high concept” film (at the time of this writing): "High concept is an ironic term used to refer to an artistic work that can be easily described by a succinctly stated premise." I don't think it's an ironic term, and besides, all narrative films can be described in a succinct premise. I always thought high Concept Films had big ideas, big budgets, lots of action, and big stars, like Die Hard or The Expendables.

I bring this up because I think everything I'm reviewing this week is “high concept”. All three of these titles have great budgets (by anime standards), big premises, and lots of action. All three are Shelf Worthy. I happen to think high Concept Films are the people's films.

What if an elite mercenary soldier enrolled at a Japanese high school to protect a beautiful girl with a dangerous secret?

For years I've insisted that the only Full Metal Panic! series worth owning is Fumoffu, but this set made me think twice. Back when I first started this column, I gave Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid on Blu-ray a “Rental Shelf”. The forum took it as a “pan” and got upset. I stand by my Second Raid review, Second Raid felt like a weaker re-hash of the same story from the first season.

I watched most of FMP on The Anime Network on demand back in 2004. Years later I read the first book to review it. Watching FMP again after reading the book is a totally different experience! The first arc of the show is a very respectable adaptation of the first novel. I think watching it without reading the book first meant most of the backstory was lost on me. All of the finer points about the Arm Slaves just seemed like some sci-fi mech nonsense that I didn't care about. The background information from the books changed my attitude towards the mechs, which are sort of dull and ugly compared to Gundams. Now I think of the FMP Arms Slaves as cool future-past machines.

Global politics have changed since I saw FMP for the first time. Protagonist Sousuke grew up in Afghanistan, and now I know a lot more about Afghanistan than I did in 2004. MITHRIL as a para-military organization/world police seems much more relevant in light of Blackwater (now called Xe).

The one thing that seems off about FMP and its military setting is the battle over advanced technology. The Cold War was all about an arms race and high technology with bigger and better armor, but in today's fourth generation wars the trick to winning is to take off your sunglasses and go in unarmed (in other words, low-tech). In FMP's dated future the Soviets stuck around longer – which is interesting as an alternate history.

I still have a major problem suspending my disbelief for parts of FMP. In one early episode, Kaname gets off a train one stop early so Sousuke will stop following her, and he dives out a window of the moving train and rolls on the platform. At that moment, any sane person would be totally freaked out by Sousuke and probably never speak to him again (and maybe file for a restraining order). Instead, they chat on a bench and Kaname decides to accept Sousuke. That totally shot my suspension of disbelief.

More than anything else, FMP respects its source material. There are a lot of shiny CG effects labored over with love, character designs by a well-known artist (Osamu Horiuchi) who probably wasn't cheap to hire, and some very nice animation. As budgets drop in Japan, shows like FMP have become a thing of the past. I totally took it for granted in 2004.[TOP]

A love of the source material, as well as a love of action movies pours out of every frame of FMP. The Golgo 13 TV series is also drawn with respect for the original property, admittedly with a much lower budget.

I'm probably biased towards Golgo. I mean, you're talking to someone who owns the infamous figure of Golgo in his underwear. I loved the first movie, and I love Golgo as a character, although I've never seen Queen Bee or read the manga (despite owning half of the English volumes).

What? You've never heard of Golgo 13?! Duke Togo, nicknamed “Golgo 13” is a super-assassin similar to James Bond; but where Bond is gentleman, Golgo is a manly killing machine. He's more stoic and silent than Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name. Built like Brock Sampson of The Venture Brothers, Golgo can kill anyone with one sniper bullet under any circumstance, like the sharpshooter equivalent of Black Jack.¹ Every episode of the show ends with the catchphrase “Don't stand behind him if you value your life.”

Every episode of this anime series stands alone, just like the stories in the 42 year-old ongoing manga series. They can be watched completely out of order and don't tie into any continuity with the movies (or the 1988 videogame). Even though I'm generally in favor of series arcs and continuity, I find it refreshing to watch this format. There is never (well, rarely) any danger of being spoiled for Golgo episodes. Unlike with Naruto I don't feel any internet or social pressure to keep up with a long-running soap opera.

You'd think there wouldn't be much drama, knowing that Golgo always hits his target, but somehow the show manages to be compelling. How will Golgo assassinate a politician at a rally in a stadium filled with metal detectors? Can Golgo shoot a single string on a violin? Sometimes the dramatic question hangs when we don't know who Golgo's target is. Will it be the mafia boss or the corrupt businessman?

I don't like James Bond because it's nearly the same story every time. Somehow, I love Golgo despite the cookie-cutter stories. Or maybe I love it because of the repetition. There's something comforting about rituals.

In almost every episode, Golgo sleeps with a different chick before a job. He's always totally expressionless while his partner is obviously having the best sex of her entire life. The first episode of the series is a great example of this scenario. The woman offers to cancel her other appointments to stay with him, but then some dudes bust in trying to kill Golgo. Golgo saves the chick, shoots the dudes, and goes to work.

Although the scenarios are repetitive, the settings span the globe, which creates an interesting challenge for the dub cast. The only returning characters are Golgo and the gunsmith he commissions every few episodes to mod out his weapons. The other speaking parts in every episode are comprised of a new ensemble cast of Mafioso, corrupt politicians, terrorists, and criminals with unique regional accents. Part one, therefore, is a patchwork of Goodfellas impressions, cheesy Irish brogue, and whatever else the cast could pull together in a short amount of time. David Wald as Golgo does a good job (although his voice could be even deeper). Everyone else in the dub is passable in part one, but they go off the rails in part two, which I'll review in two weeks.[TOP]

I'm very excited that Golgo 13 is available stateside, since I don't feel like he has a huge following in America. Unlike Fullmetal Alchemist's large and very vocal fan base...

I reviewed the Blu-ray version of this release a few weeks ago. In short, you should totally watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, whether you've seen the original or not. Watching the DVD wasn't too different from watching the blu-ray version, except the DVD menus' red backgrounds were blowing out the menu text on my crappy TV. I had to adjust the color settings to compensate. (It's probably just me, I have a problem with the color red on my TV, which is a 22" Apex hooked to a Mac Mini.)

There was one thing I didn't get around to talking about in my previous review. No spoilers, but the last few episodes of this set take place (for some of the characters) in a freaky pocket dimension of horror. It reminded me of one Dungeons and Dragons session when our Dungeon Master suddenly took down his DM screen and put up a Ravenloft screen instead. Essentially part of this set takes place in the horrible world of Ravenloft. But there's also an adorable pygmy panda. The cute and horror balance out, you see.

Re-watching it I noticed how much love went into animating this show. Every drawing seems to have a little bit of extra effort like everyone involved cared deeply about the project. And I have first hand information on this; when I went to Tokyo Anime Fair in 2009, I ran across a large group of women wearing State Alchemist coats at the Brotherhood booth (on a professionals-only day) who didn't look hired like booth babes. My friend talked to them in Japanese and found out that they were staff who worked on the show. No one paid them to cosplay; instead, everyone in the office loved the show and wanted to dress up. I think that love pours out of every digital cell, especially the fight scenes, which have a great flourish to them.

There are commentary tracks for two episodes, 13 and 14, featuring Chris Patton, Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial, Trina Nishimura, and ADR Director Mike McFarland. Is it just me, or is Funimation getting more professionally focused with their commentaries? I've listened to some tracks where the voice actors goof around and talk about their candy wishlists (Soul Eater), but the last few commentaries I've heard have been more businesslike (like on that last One Piece release). In these tracks, the actors talk about what it's like to create a character in the booth. Chris Patton in particular goes into detail about Greed, and the differences between Greed's character in the two versions of FMA.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't buy Fullmetal Alchemist when it first started coming out on DVD in America. I was disappointed with the episode count on each DVD. But times have changed, the series has been released in its entirety a few times, and I'm thinking I ought to go back and buy all of it. Brotherhood's first release has a fine episode count per disc, and it's worth buying as it comes out. One of my standards of Shelf Worthiness is that I want the series I purchase to be something I'd either like to re-watch or load to friends. Fullmetal Alchemist, be it Brotherhood or the original flavor, fits both requirements.[TOP]

¹ I once polled my friends about the following situation: What if Golgo was hired to assassinate Lupin the 3rd, but Black Jack was hired to save him?

This week's shelves are from David:

"These are my shelves. I started collecting about three years ago and have deep sentiment for all of them, especially my figures. The K-on girls and Holland's Terminus 909, along with the x105-Strike would have to be my favorites. I figured I'd send these in because of my departure from the States due to circumstances. It'll be quite awhile before I see these shelves again. I'm going to miss them."

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