Shelf Life
The Abyss Stares Back

by Erin Finnegan,

I spent the 4th of July at a BBQ where we could not see the fireworks, and so, failing that, we played with sparklers for a few minutes out on the patio (reenacting a scene from the Honey and Clover live action movie… or not). In that brief time spent outdoors on a terrace I acquired eight or nine mosquito bites. How were they that fast?! I haven't had this many bites since I was a kid! This is itchy for me, and I'm sure endlessly fascinating for you, so on with the show.

Also on the 4th I watched the final two volumes of Tales of the Abyss with friends who'd played the game.

Unfortunately the series never gets back to the glory days of episode 13. Instead, Tales of the Abyss returns to its volume one habit of blundering exhaustively through all the scenes from the game, apparently even very obscure, hard-to-unlock-without-a-FAQ scenes. Maybe it's rewarding if you're a fan of the games.

Worse still, some of the magic of episode 13 is undone in Part 3 as Princess Natalia returns to her father's kingdom-- that would be the same father who tried to kill her -- to ask him to accept her back into the family. It's anti-climactic and more than a little ridiculous.

The best part of these two sets is a long arc about clones, who aren't called clones but “replicants” (did George Lucas copyright the word “clone”?). A large group of replicants decide to do something heroic that I won't spoil here… that is to say, it leads to a cool plot point. Too bad the plot doesn't make any sense. The arc is either riddled with plot holes, or I totally missed something. If the entire fate of Planet Symphonia (or whatever it's called) is written in the Score, aren't the replicants also included in the Score? The replicants don't seem to think so. My friends and I had at least two dozen other un-answered questions about the plot, (akin to the all-spoiler Red Letter Media review of Prometheus).

Apparently in the game Luke fon Fabre is continually down on himself about being a replicant, but in the anime he's less upset, at least until the end of Part 4. I would have liked to see an ending where Luke accepts himself as “human” even if he wasn't born in the natural way. Instead the show went in another direction.

Annoyingly, about one fourth of every episode is spent with the characters standing in a circle talking about the ever-more-complicated plot. I'm grateful not to have had to click through such endless dialog in a game, but even seeing these meetings on TV is a bit tiring. At least they aren't drinking tea while they do it.

Nevertheless, this isn't Perishable, largely because of the production values. The decently designed characters traverse relatively rich environments with fairly solid animation. Sure, the plot made me roll my eyes, but I never wound up yelling at the screen or flipping a table.[TOP]

Tales of Abyss is certainly no Towanoquon, but you could do worse.

Remember S-CRY-ed? It's been a while… Towanoquon at first blush is a lot like S-CRY-ed. A group of young people in the future each have a unique power, somewhat like a mutation, that puts them in a good position to make up a team of essentially super heroes.

In Towanoquon, the kids with powers (which the dub refers to as “abilities” while the subs early on say “imperfections”) are hunted by the a secret quasi-governmental organization called Custos who's bent on killing them. Fortunately, the kids have worked out an ideal hiding place inside of an enclosed botanical gardens/theme park-like building called Fantasia Gardens. The garden's enclosure shields the kids from Custos's scanners. This seemed to me amusingly like teen X-Men hiding out as circus performers.

Our hero is Quon, an idealistic young man with Wolverine-like healing capabilities who wants to save as many young people as he can from Custos. In the second episode/movie, we learn Quon isn't always successful, and he feels super-guilty about his 50/50 or so salvation record. I thought that added a nice dramatic weight to the series.

Like Broken Blade, Towanoquon unfolds in six 50 minute “movies,” but I think the pacing is handled a lot better than Broken Blade. There's enough time to establish a well-rounded story for each episode without it feeling cheap. Across each episode/movie, I felt I got to know the characters fairly well.

And yet, Towanoquon was a hard sell for me. Because of the character design I was having bad flashbacks to Guyver. I was also immediately disappointed in the nature of the abilities. It's as if most anime series are all pulling from the same set of established powers: Yuriko can run super fast, Kiri can heal people (with her voice), Ryo is a hacker who can manipulate technology, Miu can talk to animals. Alright, so the talking to animals power is kind of unique, but it's only a matter of time before someone has the sharingan eye that lets them copy anyone else's ability (a power so common it's even in Kuroko's Basketball). I was waiting for a kid with the power to cancel out abilities, like in Gakuen Alice, but no one ever showed up with that one. (Now that I think about it, Gakuen Alice also had a Dr. Dolittle.)

Despite some of the retread material, there is some good writing in Towanoquon. Bad things happen to Fantasia Gardens that raise the stakes and hooked me into watching the rest of the series in one big marathon. I also liked the counsel of old mysterious men who rule the world in Towanoquon. We've seen shady old dudes controlling the world in everything from Appleseed to Gasaraki, but Towanoquon's council seems the most believable. They get just enough screen time and have just enough inter-council conflicts to seem authentic. (So much so that I'm starting to assume Japan is actually run by Seele or something like it.)

Perhaps because this had a theatrical release, the production values are fairly high. The Blu-ray looked nice, and I've got no complaints about the CG. The dub is also of a fairly high quality, with not too many script changes and some solid acting across the board.

It's so good that Towanoquon is almost Shelf Worthy. Almost. I almost cared about the characters. I'd almost watch this again. I'd almost recommend it to friends… but not quite. Towanoquon is missing that extra little kick that would make it more interesting or more memorable. It's technically very competent but lacks some heart. The closest comparable show I can think of is Xam'd, but Xam'd had a lot more complex things going on and more thematic resonance. (I gave Xam'd a Shelf Worthy.)[TOP]

So like last week, this week was almost 100% Rental. Then Golgo fought a mech. Sort of.

After I gave the first two collections of Golgo 13 Shelf Worthy, with caveats about the dub, I broke down and gave Collection 3 Rental Shelf. The Golgo stories collected for volume three just weren't up to par. Collection four lived up to my expectations of the outlandish tales of assassination I've come to expect from Mr. Duke Togo.

In “Rockford's Ambition” a super rich man tries to hire Golgo as his full time bodyguard, and then blackmails Golgo when he turns down the offer, even managing to freeze his Swiss bank account. In “1 Second out of 36,000 Seconds” Golgo seeks out an experimental muscle-relaxant so he can sit still for over 11 hours in order to assassinate a man who's already in prison for life. In “The Arms of the Angel, The Arms of the Devil” a bad car accident injures Golgo's shooting arm, and there's a badass surgery scene. Finally, in “Armoured Suit SDR2,” Golgo crash lands on a remote island where the military is testing out the killing powers of an experimental power suit. It is delightfully played-up as Golgo vs. a Gundam (or a pre-Gundam). The episode winds up with a debate with a crazy American general about current world geopolitics. I mean, Golgo doesn't debate with more than a sentence, but his delivery of that sentence is extremely powerful.

The other stories in the set aren't as memorable, but at least Golgo doesn't get on a passenger jet (he does crash land a small plane). Collections one and two had a lot of commercial flight episodes, so this set offers some welcome relief from Airport 1975-type stories. Which is good, because I was starting to feel like the show was just Golgo on one doomed flight after another. (Or causing flights to be doomed…)

Once every few episodes the character designs look like those from episode 36, making me wonder about how the episodes rotated between crews and directors behind the scenes. Overall, this set has fewer strange time-jump character design moments than collection three, which had more characters that left me asking, “this is taking place in the 1970's, right?”

The crazy joke dub voices have been restrained in this volume. Only one or two background characters give sarcastic or joking line reads. One episode set in London features a lot of Cockney slang in the subtitles but strangely straight American accents in the dub. It sounds as if the dub crew has tired of doing any accents other than “New York thug”. (Every other episode is set in New York.) Greg Ayres makes several noticeable appearances in this dub, including a miscast moment as a grizzly old bartender dude. Of course, by now I am totally in love with both Hiroshi Tachi and David Wald as the voices of Golgo.[TOP]

I'll see you guys next week with AnoHana and a couple of streaming shows.

Shelf Obsessed will return next week. See you next time!

discuss this in the forum (24 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Shelf Life homepage / archives