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Shelf Life
Deadman Walking

by Bamboo Dong,

Inadvertently, I ended up packing my entire week with Halloween-appropriate titles. I don't usually go out of my way to make my To Watch lists season-appropriate, but as it turned out, everything I watched this week was filled with blood, guts, and lots of gore. Lots of limb-tearing too. I always imagined that it'd be relatively hard to physically tear someone's limb off, what with connective tissue and what not, but I guess people just really need to put their heart into it.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

When the Hellsing TV series came out, I remember thinking it was one of the coolest things in the world. I'm not a big vampire aficionado, but I certainly loved the idea of Alucard—this bad-ass demon freak of a vampire killer who was virtually indestructible. But, I felt the series fizzled halfway through, and my love for it eventually dampened.

It was with a lot of excitement, then, that I greeted the announcement of Hellsing Ultimate. To me, that was a chance to relive a property that I loved, without any of the bad taste that was left from the series. And in fact, Hellsing Ultimate is pretty incredible. For those who loved the TV series, it has a lot of the same superficially cool attributes—Alucard is just as much of a bad-ass (perhaps even more so), Integra is just as cucumber cool, and the villains are just as crazy. Hell, they're even crazier. Hellsing Ultimate feels like the excessive version of Hellsing—everything is bloodier and crazier, from the art style to the action scenes to the characterization. It also helps that since the six years that this OVA was made, it's now becoming common to release series on Blu-Ray. This show definitely benefits from that extra crispness.

We're introduced to Integra and Alucard through a scene from Integra's childhood. She's running away from her murderous uncle, and in searching for her family's “secret weapon,” meets Alucard. Bred to withstand just about any punishment that one could dish, he is an absolute menace. He's essentially impervious to death, be it from a rain of bullets, to fire, to beheadings. Blow him to smithereens and he's simply regenerated with a flourish of bats, shadows, and one too many scenes of creepy crawly millipedes. I'm already not a fan of anything with more than four legs, but those scenes of millipedes climbing over each other had me physically recoiling from the TV, wishing I wasn't watching the show on Blu-Ray. Through Alucard's employ with the Hellsing organization, we're reintroduced to some familiar faces—protagonists like the police girl Seras Victoria and the Angel of Death Walter, as well as bad guys like Anderson. This time around, Millennium gets more screen time as the evil Nazi masterminds, and we get some sweet puppet villains like Rip van Winkle and the Valentine brothers.

As awesome as Alucard and Walter are, the villains in Hellsing Ultimate are a thrill. They're brash and outrageous, and each has their own very distinct personalities/neurosis. Rip van Winkle sports a grin that reminds one of the Chesire Cat or a Jack o'Lantern, while Jan Valentine had me rolling with his trash-mouthed one-liners. The best one, by far, was the mouthful, “I just want to torture you, kill you, maybe skullf* your corpse a couple times, then burn down your house and go home and masturbate.” But the weirdest bad guy of all has to be the Major, the head of Millennium. Sure, he doesn't quite have the visual oomph of the other antagonists, but from his frothy speeches, you can tell he's absolutely nuts. His speech to his men was so ridiculous, that the DVD and Blu-Rays include a karaoke version of his speech. Yeah, that's right. You can bust out your best fake German accent and speak-along to his rant about sickly soft children and kriegs.

That having been said, I don't love the dub, which older fans may still have memories of. At the time, fans were psyched that some of the British characters were recorded using British voice actors (Victoria Harwood as Integra, for instance), but that wasn't done across the board. American K.T. Gray plays Seras Victoria, and her delivery just doesn't carry the same linguistic nuances. There were some directorial decisions that I think enhanced the series for the better, though—casting Gildart Jackson as the Major chances the vibe of the character into a slightly more deranged villain, which makes that “karaoke version” all the better.

Overall, I'm very happy to see that Hellsing Ultimate is being made available again. I'm finding that I'm enjoying it much more than the original TV series, and I'm happy for the chance to finally watch it. There was once a period of time in which every dude tried to cosplay Alucard, but the Hellsing candle has since diminished. Hopefully the release of Hellsing Ultimate will stoke that fire again.[TOP]

Also on deck this week was the absolutely insane Deadman Wonderland, which I have to laud for its completely original “super powers.” I've seen my fair share of People With Crazy Powers shows, but never before have I seen characters whose secret weapons are physical manifestations of their blood. One of the characters in Deadman Wonderland can fashion his blood into blades, while others can use theirs as shields or bullets. Not only is this inventive, but it also looks totally cool.

The series opens as a red-clad figure massacres an entire classroom of middle-schoolers except a boy named Ganta. He is soon indicted as the murderer and sent to Deadman Wonderland, a privatized prison where the inmates work at the attached amusement park. We quickly learn that the “real” Deadman Wonderland is in a hidden cell block where everyone has these mysterious blood-weapon powers. In the dubious name of research, they're made to fight each other in an arena, with the loser losing body parts as punishment. If you wanted to hang onto your lunch, you might want to step away from the scene where one of the inmates gets his eyeball scooped out with a melon baller. There is still some semblance of hope, though—there is a rebel contingent that wants to expose the prison's inhumane practices, and they need Ganta's help to fight.

It's an action-packed series, but therein lies the main problem with Deadman Wonderland. There is simply too much going on. All of the premises are cool, but there are just too many. As a result, there are a dozen plot threads that get opened up, and by the time the curtain closes, it doesn't feel like many of them were fully explored. The manga presumably is much more involved and much more thorough, but since the anime only covers the first 21 chapters, we're only given a taste of how deep the Deadman Wonderland rabbit hole goes. We see the violence and the inhumanity, but we don't really see the origin story. Without giving away any big spoilers, we eventually learn the real identity of Ganta's mysterious friend Shiro, but the impact is lessened because we don't get to see enough. We know who she is, but we don't really know the implications, and we certainly don't get to see Ganta's reactions to the revelation. In fact, because only the audience is aware of her identity, it takes away an important part of the equation, which is Ganta's learned knowledge of the situation.

The rebellion, also, feels impotent. Some of the characters have a lot of potential and great backstories, but because of the short run-time of the series, we're not given enough time to empathize with them. What they go through, and what they know, is still horrifying, but when a series is all gore and light substance, it borders on becoming just torture porn. By the time we reach the conclusion, there are still a lot of unanswered questions (namely, “now what?”), and the improvised ending feels a little like a copout.

There are a lot of great ideas in Deadman Wonderland that make it worth watching. But I'm left wanting more. I loved the social critique behind the very presence of this prison-cum-amusement park, and I almost wish the series had more time to dwell on it. In comparison, the Red Hole / blood weapon supernatural element doesn't seem as interesting, although it is the more flashy route. Still, for a twelve episode series, Deadman Wonderland is a solid way to spend a weekend. I just wish it was longer and a little more complete. [TOP]

Even for all my gripes with Deadman Wonderland, though, they don't hold a candle to my gripes with King of Thorn, which made me progressively angrier as the movie wore on.

The King of Thorn has editing problems. I don't mean film editing—I mean that it has too many ideas, and not enough people around to say, “no.” It is the film equivalent of a run-on sentence.

In the future, humanity is plagued with the Medousa Virus, where people turn to stone and die. As is the case with most such films and television programs, it's hinted that this is part of some conspiracy/research accident/unscrupulous deed perpetuated by a pharmaceutical company. With humanity on the brink of collapse, and in a move that makes virtually no sense, this company has decided to hold a lottery for a select number of people to enter cryo sleep until scientists have found a cure. Not only would this not fly in any scenario, this is also a terrible idea. In a slipshod attempt to convince viewers that this isn't a terrible idea, the movie has a little press conference where characters get to ask questions like, “What happens if the staff dies?” and “What happens if there's no cure?” Basically, the answer is, “Yeah! Sure! Technology! Don't worry about it!”

Anyway, one of the characters is a girl with an identical twin sister. Shortly after she gets whisked away into the sleep chambers, we know there's some kind of kerfuffle involving the other twin, because that's why twins exist in anime. In the next scene, the girl awakes. The facility has somehow been overrun with giant thorny vines and man-eating monsters. Has it really been 100 years, or has it only been two days??? And if the latter, how could this be?????

From that point onward, the story descends into madness. It is basically pure gibberish. There's a story about aliens, some chatter about human testing, and some vague technobabble about being able to turn dreams into physical manifestations. All of the thorn things and monsters are borne from people's dreams, because of some weird bullshit that the writers threw in. And because of an alien. And because the alien… was a girl… who… then, was emotionally perturbed… and then… Medousa Virus? Oh, right, the Medousa Virus, which the movie introduces at the beginning because it's supposed to be cool, but then halfway through has to retroactively explain out of a hole. I imagine the original manga makes more sense, because it's not trying to cram six volumes into a 110 minute film.

In one scene, the entire test facility literally turns into a giant thorn vine dragon. Perhaps that dragon is the King of Thorn. But mostly, there's a dragon because the entire movie is also supposed to be an homage to Sleeping Beauty, which we know because the characters never stop talking about it.

Also, the twist at the end will blow your mind as to the identity of the lead protagonist. Or rather, it would have blown your mind if the movie wasn't cobbled together so haphazardly with various story bits that one has to sleuth their way through the twists and turns. Even when the twist is revealed, somehow the film doesn't end there, which leads one to wonder how the last scene (and subsequent hypothetical continuation) is even physically possible.

I want to say that King of Thorn is a potentially good idea, but I wouldn't even know where to begin to describe which “idea” I'm referring to. There are a zillion ideas in King of Thorn, all half-formed. Maybe as a TV series, all of these ideas would have been realized. But as a feature film, it's an absolute mess and one that isn't worth spending any of your time on.[TOP]

I seem to have tapped my Halloween-appropriate review stack a week too early. Maybe this means it's panty-a-thon time. Strike Witches, anyone?

This week's "shelves" are from "Kevin aka Kyo" who wrote this about his collection:

"Huge anime fan for years, favorite anime has to be Macross, Love Hina and Oh My Goddess!......I have an addiction that needs to be organized.... thats about 80% of my collection and hopefully by the end of the year I'll have everything organized with more shelves :)"

Impressive collection! Even though I guess it's technically more of stacks than shelves, but hey, I applaud your dedication! Plus you can play some sweet Love Hina Jenga.

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!

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