Shelf Life
Angels and Demons

by Bamboo Dong,

Halloween feels like the last barrier to the winter holidays, in that everything from here until December 31 can be all pine cones, roast fowl, and silver bells. It's the tacky outlier in a season full of feel-good decorations, and I always look forward to the abrupt transition from plastic witches to sparkly ornaments.

Did anyone cosplay for Halloween this year? If so, what was your costume?

Speaking of Halloween, I wanted to watch something vaguely spooky last week, so I ended up popping in the last two episodes of Hellsing Ultimate. This started me off on a whole week of action-packed titles, and I had a pretty good time of it, though nothing really rocked my world.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

After what seems like years (eight years, to be exact), the last two episodes of Hellsing Ultimate have finally reached American shores, having been passed from hand to hand, both on the production side (from Satelight to Madhouse to finally Graphinica and Kelmadick), and on the distribution side, from Geneon to Funimation. After this much time, the last two episodes seem less like a grand finale, and more like a resigned fulfillment of a promise made long ago.

If the lapse of time has made viewers confused by the proceedings happening in episodes IX and X, it's not entirely one-sided—the creators have largely forgotten what they originally set out to do, as well. Characters can't seem to make up their minds about who they are, what they want, or why they're bothering with anything, which is curious considering they spend at least 40% of the show trying to explain these very things. Motivations flip-flop with the wind, and bad guys come and go and come back again like seasonal specials. Considering the project has been tossed around like a sack of potatoes, it's possible that what used to be a coherent, strong idea has just been diluted and morphed through endless games of Telephone.

It's not to say that IX and X aren't capable of entertaining—those who find themselves enthralled by rivers of blood will have plenty to gawk at. In fact, rivers of blood comprise a large majority of the fight scenes, writhing and twisting like agitated snakes. It detracts from the fact that there's not much else going on in the fights, and there are only so many ways you can shoot or slice someone who can't be killed. In the absence of hand-to-hand combat, these slithering blood-vines take center stage, filling time and distracting viewers with their sliminess. If anything, it's a good choice for a limited budget. It creates a sense of chaos and grandness without having to really expend much imagination and manpower.

Like the previous episodes, the Major gets a lot of time to angrily spew his monologues, which does the dual task of killing time in between the blood-snakes, and giving us a chance to chuckle at Gildart Jackson's over-the-top, but delightful, German accent. While the speeches never come quite close to the absurdity of his epic Volume 1 speech (which was so amazing, Funimation included a karaoke version of his speech as an extra), it's kind of a pleasant change of pace from the inconsistent British accents, some of which are obviously provided by Brits, while the rest are a good-hearted facsimile (Seras). The actual content of the Major's speeches may be pure nonsense, but the delivery is at least entertaining.

It's a bit of a shame, though—for all the grandiose speeches in IX and X, none of the monologues really match up quality-wise to the writing in the first few episodes. The dialogue was simply just better in the first half of the series, with trashy one-liners (Jan Valentine is sorely missed) and spirited repartee to carry the action. In comparison, IX and X are boring and much more difficult to focus on. When the series does wheeze to an end, it's an exhausted surrender, happy to be free of the Hellsing Ultimate contractual shackle.

For completeness sake, it's worth watching the last two episodes, but expectations should be kept low. Alucard is cool as usual, and Walter gets some good scenes, but neat factor aside, it's just not what it started out to be, and it certainly isn't the flashy, life-changing finale we were all secretly hoping it would be.[TOP]

In going with my theme of watching action-packed titles this week, I popped in Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, the anime movie adaptation of the video game franchise.

I wouldn't say that Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is a "good movie," per se, but it is a good companion film to the video game franchise. And for fans who already love the video games, the movie will not disappoint them.

Produced by Gonzo and directed by Fuminori Kizaki, the movie has plenty of style. It is, after all, helmed by the same guy who did Afro Samurai. That flair for boisterous characters and theatricality translates well to Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, which relies heavily on the sultriness of its title character to carry the film. She's helped by game character Jeanne, and together, they fight their way through the movie's 90-minute run time, alternately shooting at angels and each other, culminating in a final showdown with the ultra-creepy Balder that involves demonic screaming, slamming private parts on pointy edges, and a whole lot of hair.

The movie focuses on Bayonetta's struggles to remember her past, and manages to do so without wallowing too much in extraneous exposition. Along the way, she meets a young girl named Cereza who insists on calling her "Mummy," a journalist who wants revenge against her for killing his father, and the aforementioned Jeanne, who helps her unlock her memories. While the storyline will entertain fans of the video games, like many video game adaptations, the threads don't necessarily tie together for newcomers to the franchise. It's not an insurmountable barrier, but it is fairly obvious that the movie was made for pre-existing fans, and not so much to lure new fans into the franchise. Even the way that the movie incorporates Rodin into the story makes sense only to game fans, who will appreciate his subtle role as weapons upgrader and omni-present barkeep.

The upside is that even if certain things about the story aren't immediately clear (the character relationships are the most vague, as well as Bayonetta's sentient hair), there's still a fair amount that can be enjoyed by non-fans. Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is hardly Shakespeare to begin with, and the Left Eye/Right Eye story involving Balder is pretty easy to pick up. And, it looks cool. Bayonetta is her bad-ass, gun-toting self, and the angels look pretty rad (bonus points for the car angel). Kizaki also does a reasonable job of delegating where the meager budget should be used.

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate does not have a large coffer to pull funds from, and it's fairly obvious. The characters spend a lot of time standing around, and with the exception of close-ups and key actions (sword-slashing and trigger-pulling), the fight scenes have almost no animation. Fight choreography is kept to a bare minimum, and the film is rife with slow body pans accompanied with lip flaps. Even the latter is avoided when possible, framing characters in such a way where even their lips don't have to be on-screen. The final showdown is largely still frames and the occasional shot of a ball of light being hurled at an object. Still, it's obvious what's going on, again pointing to the talent of pros like Kizaki, who's spent enough time as a key animator to know what needs to be done in these situations.

Those worried that the Bayonetta they're accustomed to in the video game doesn't translate properly into anime have nothing to worry about. She oozes sex and confidence, and gives viewers plenty of fanservice. Some of the scenes are a little ridiculous (Who puts a half-eaten lollipop in their cleavage? Think of how sticky it is.), especially when her "outfit" consists of pumps and a post-bath hair-thong, but it is true to her character, for better or worse. Voice actresses Helena Taylor and Atsuko Tanaka reprise their roles as Bayonetta, which is nice, and it does a great deal for ensuring that the properties are cohesive.

All this having been said, though, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is still just a video game adaptation, and that's the context for which it ultimately has to be judged. It's amusing enough as a standalone property, but I would be hesitant to recommend it to someone who hasn't played at least the first game. It's not even just that the story isn't really written for newcomers, but with the limited budget and animation shortcuts, it's not even really worth it to watch for the artistic merits alone.

On the other hand, fans of the games will probably have a good time. As far as adaptations go, this movie is on the better half of the spectrum (with the caveat that being a fan of the games should be a prerequisite), and will make a good complement to a Bayonetta fan's library.[TOP]

Rounding out this week's fight-heavy titles is Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods.

For a movie called "Battle of Gods," it's actually not more battle-heavy than usual, or more godly. But for being the franchise's first Akira Toriyama-created, canonical movie, it is exactly as advertised, at least on that front. By which I mean it's very "Toriyama." Those who have dutifully kept up with his many manga series over the years (Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball, to name the obvious blockbusters) will recognize his trademark quirky sense of humor, from bad puns to goofy slapstick. If anything, Battle of Gods feels a little more Dragon Ball than Dragon Ball Z, and that's not a bad thing.

The movie, which is the 18th in the incredibly long-lived line-up of DBZ movies, features mostly old characters, but introduces two boozy bad guys, Beerus and Whis. As most DBZ villains do, they defeat Goku, which sets the stage for our hero to rebound with the help of his friends, and come back to win. This time, though, it's more than just training montages and extended fight scenes. Bulma is throwing a birthday bash, and when Beerus and Whis crash the party, they find themselves enamored with all of the food options. Silliness ensues, but we eventually get back to the actual conflict, with all its power-leveling and punching.

Like many Dragon Ball Z movies, Battle of Gods will largely appeal to pre-existing fans of the Dragon Ball franchise, especially Z. It plays out a lot like an extended episode, and relies heavily on fans already knowing who each of the characters are, and their backstories. Considering how many characters show up in this movie, there really isn't any time to explain who anyone is. Then again, if you're new to DBZ and you're starting with Movie #18, you're doing something wrong.

As far as DBZ movies go, though, Battle of Gods is one of the more entertaining ones, for the reasons listed in the first paragraph. While an entire generation of fans grew up watching DBZ fight scenes, it's Toriyama's humor that really makes the characters who they are, and that light-hearted touch is appreciated here. It does a good job of setting this movie apart from the tedium of some of the previous ones, which is vital for a franchise as long-running as this one. I wouldn't consider it indispensable viewing for DBZ fans, but those who do check it out will have a good time.[TOP]

Next week, I'll check out the anticipated first volume of Sailor Moon, and sneak in some Ghost in the Shell.

This week's shelves are from Gregory:

Definitely digging that manga collection!

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

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