Monday, 15 May 2017

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 24

I swear, the plan was to fill this post with works of unadulterated genius to make up for some of the nonsense I've been posting about in recent weeks.  I really did try, and I'm still not sure what went wrong.  But we have do two utter classics - that being one more than I was expecting beforehand - and that's not too bad, right?  And I haven't given up on my ambition of getting another post out where everything is genuinely good; if I can just keep resisting the siren lure of M. D. Geist 2 then maybe we can manage that for next time.  Then again, there's the slender possibility of a Urusei Yatsura movie special, since an unfortunate E-bay-related accident left me with the entire series on Region 1 DVD...

But what's the use in worrying about the future?  Especially when we have quite enough vintage anime to worry about right now?  This time: Shamanic Princess, Digital Devil, Virgin Fleet and Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer.

Shamanic Princess, 1996, dir's: Mitsuru Hongo, Hiroyuki Nishimura

Perhaps it's the conditioning of Disney movies, but I didn't expect great things from a series with princess right there in the title, let alone when said princess is called Tiara.  The cover didn't help; nor did the association with the all-female Manga artists' collective known as Clamp, whose work I'd at some point decided I'm not a fan of.  Maybe it's because I've come to hold them responsible - not unfairly, I don't think - for that whole 'giant eyes, pointy chin' look that everyone who doesn't know anything about anime thinks is just how anime characters look.  Really, I'm not sure why I picked up Shamanic Princess at all, with so much weighing against it.

Damn but I'm glad I did.  Shamanic Princess is a stunner, and just the kind of buried treasure I'm always in search of.  Who's even heard of the show these days?  Yet it gets so much right that its flaws are trivial to the point of being barely flaws at all.  Other than a somewhat languid pace, the only one of significant note is that it tells its tale in an odd fashion indeed.  For the first episode, in fact, this seems like rather a huge hurdle: characters are introduced, and some of them evidently have a history, though they're careful not to clue us in on what that history might involve, and we learn that Tiara - who's considerably more of an ill-tempered hard-ass than her name might lead us to suppose - is hunting something called the Throne of Yord, though she seems more interested in bickering with the talking ferret who serves as her familiar.

It never bothered me much that I had little idea what was going on, though I've seen other reviews that found the early obtuseness borderline intolerable.  Maybe it was just my writer brain noting how cleverly exposition was being doled out; by the end of the first episode I was comfortable that all would eventually become clear.  And in that I was both right and wrong: in an even stranger storytelling twist, the main plot wraps up after the fourth of six episodes, and the last two serve as a prologue that's really sort-of an epilogue.  Now, I've puzzled over whether it would have mattered if episodes five and six had followed chronological order and been episodes one and two, and whether there's any good reason they weren't.  My conclusions were that a) there would have been advantages and disadvantages either way and b) I don't much care.  Shake it however you like, it's a great story that Shamanic Princess tells, a deliciously weird dark fantasy set in a world that feels more complex than the slivers we see and is peopled by standout characters, not least Tiara herself, who's charmingly bitchy and headstrong and only grows more interesting the more we learn about her.

Add to that the fact that the show looks fantastic.  Had you told me it came out ten years after it did then I'd have believed you, and even by 2006 standards Shamanic Princess would represent more than solid work.  The animation is reliably fluid and unusually without flaws; the backgrounds, mostly bucolic countryside scenes and a lovingly rendered Mitteleuropean town, are lovely; the character designs, particularly Tiara herself, are among the best I've seen.  And the score, by Yoshikazu Suo, is downright splendid too, a constantly surprising mix of medieval instrumentation, J-pop and electronica that, again, feels a good decade ahead of its time.

Really, I can't think of a good reason not to recommend this one.  It's an unexpected treat, with some genuinely interesting ideas up its sleeve and superlative production values.  Sure, you might be a bit confused for the first hour and sure the plot never exactly rockets along, but all Shamanic Princess asks from you is a little patience, and it has a whole lot to offer in return.

Digital Devil, 1987, dir: Mizuho Nishikubo

Were I lazier than I am, I could more or less get away with inserting my review of Tokyo Revelation here and calling it a day.  I had to check a few times, in fact, to make certain I wasn't about to watch the same thing over again, especially since nothing about Tokyo Revelation really called for a re-watch.  Based on the blurb, the concepts were all but identical, and could there really be two different OVAs about a high-school kid summoning a demon with his computer?

Of course there could, this is the endlessly derivative world of budget pre-twentieth century anime we're talking about here!  But in fairness, there's actually a good reason for the similarities.  Both titles turn out to be part of the same franchise, which - if my two minutes of research haven't failed me - began as a series of novels before moving into video games and then films.  (The Persona series, brought to life in some so-far disappointing movies over the last couple of years, is apparently another outcropping.)

With all of that said, Digital Devil really isn't as good as Tokyo Revelation, which was only okay in the first place.  But, plot aside, the similarities remain: some more than solid animation and direction manages to elevate material that would otherwise be awfully silly and tacky.  This time our protagonist is one Akemi Nakajima, who reacts to being bullied and misused by manipulating his school's computer mainframe into summoning the demon Loki - which Kiseki Films subtitle, with a remarkable lack of cultural sensitivity, as Rocky, because that's about how the name sounds with a Japanese accent.  Come for the demon-summoning, stay for the casual racism!  Though since Loki looks like a generic (and purple) demon rather than a Norse trickster-god, I suppose it's not like the makers are exactly going out of their way to achieve cultural harmony either.  Anyway, Loki / Rocky goes on a rampage with pink gloop that comes out of his hands and makes people explode and there's a heroine, Yumiko, who's actually a reincarnated goddess or something and needs to be reincarnated yet again, but Akemi keeps having nightmares about her turning into an old woman-monster and attacking him and then they end up in a fantasy world somehow and they're only saved by Akemi's cyborg dog and holy crap but Digital Devil is all sorts of random.  Remember, all this is taking place across the span of forty-five minutes!

Then again, that randomness is definitely what saves Digital Devil from utter mediocrity: it's rather fun, really, trying to keep up and gasping at each new preposterous wonder it pulls out of its hat.  Oh, now the demon is robbing a bank via their computer screens?  But this scene will never be referred to again?  That's just fine, Digital Devil, I gave up trying to make sense of you a good ten minutes ago anyway.  Of course, one more slender saving grace is that you're only ever likely to come across the show because it was released on a disk with the supposedly much superior The Cockpit, which was why I bought it in the first place.  Viewed as a bonus for purchasing a much better film, I suppose you can't altogether complain.

Virgin Fleet, 1991, dir: Masahiro Hosoda

You probably don't need the cover blurb to tell you that Virgin Fleet is from one of the creators of the Sakura Wars franchise: the fact that it's set in early twentieth century Japan, with an almost entirely female cast of rather one-note characters who defend their homeland using a combination of innate magical ability and technical savvy is something of a giveaway.  Really, the only major differences are the swapping out of adorable steampunk mechs for seaplanes and the fact that the magic this time around is - um - virginity.

Yes, you read that right!  The plot revolves around virgin energy, which does largely what you'd expect it to - assuming your expectations involved women gaining nebulous superpowers through the virtues of not having any sex, anyway.  Yet, mad as the whole notion seems, you quickly realize that Sakura Wars was coming from a not dissimilar place - see the kerfuffle over the notion of Sakura's potential marriage that ends the second OVA - and then that Virgin Wars is just making explicit an obvious subtext in much female protagonist-led anime.  Here the subtext is text, and says "Women are a whole lot better off without men getting in the way" - or at least, without men who aren't willing to treat them as equals.  Given that the men in question are all pretty awful, it's a moral that's tough to pick holes in.

That the result doesn't play as overtly feminist is a bit weird in retrospect - perhaps it's simply that too much time gets devoted to the obnoxious male characters and their viewpoints - but nevertheless it's a level upon with Virgin Fleet functions quite well.  At any rate, the question of whether protagonist Shiokaze is willing to chuck in her burgeoning career as a defender of Japan to get hitched provides what narrative spine there is.  And it's desperately needed: with a nebulous back story and vague villains, and with a cast of too many characters for the slender ninety minute run-time, this feels very much like the setup for a series that never arrived.  (Though there was apparently a videogame sequel on the original PlayStation.)

Perhaps the attempt at franchising-building would have been more successful had the animation been a bit less rubbish; it's really rather cheap-looking and jerky, with only the likable character designs and to a lesser extent the cool planes going far to redeem it.  The result exists somewhere between a pleasant waste of time and merely tolerable, depending on where the wildly varying tone happens to land in any particular scene.  I really wanted to like Virgin Fleet - because, come on, virginity-fueled superpowers and seaplanes! - but a great deal of unnecessary shonkiness made the effort harder than it needed to be.  Also, at no point do the titular virgins have anything even approaching a fleet, and if there's one thing I'll draw the line at it's misleading titles.  For shame!

Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer, 1984, Mamoru Oshii

You don't need to know much about the Urusei Yatsura franchise, the career of director Mamoru Oshii or indeed anime in general to notice the difference in ambition between the first and second Urusei Yatsura movies.  Only You was as unusually well directed and tolerably well animated franchise movie with just enough plot to feel like something more than an extended episode.  Beautiful Dreamer is...

Well, it's a proper Oshii movie, for a start.  Though it begins in what I take to be a fairly routine place for the franchise, with the characters preparing for a school festival by butting heads and preparing, of all things, a Nazi-themed bar, complete with tank, it soon because apparent that something's very wrong indeed.  (I mean, beyond the fact that someone thinks a Nazi-themed bar is a good idea for a school festival.)  What follows moves by turns through surrealism, mild horror, fantasy and the sort of goofy comedy you might expect, though with a definitive emphasis towards the first three.  There are scenes that are genuinely unsettling and images that will send a shiver down your spine; what there is especially, and for perhaps the first time, is the mastery of tone that would so come to define Oshii's work.  Music, sound and imagery combine in specific, unique ways to create a mood, of disassociation or unease or sometimes just of place.  And all of that, crucially, plays into the film's narrative and themes, which essentially boil down to two equally weighty questions: if you could live in an illusion that was in every way better than reality then would you, and why do people always feel the need to screw up nice things?

To say this is heavy stuff for - and I can't stress this enough! - a light-hearted comedy sci-fi anime from 1984 is a hopeless understatement.  I'd be pushed to think of any other TV adaptation that remained basically faithful to its core property while at the same time bending it to such radical ends.  And while we've had a fair number of these "is reality real" stories in the three and a bit decades since, they weren't half so common back when Beautiful Dreamer premiered; were anime a little between known in the West, it would be easy to find the wellspring of a great many concepts here.  There are scenes, for example, that would recur in near-identical form four years later in the marvelous Dark City, and the gap is just long enough to imagine a direct line of influence.

Add to that the fact that the animation is hugely ambitious - again, an incalculable leap from Only You, but really, up there with anything the eighties produced - and it's no surprise the film has earned itself an enduring reputation.  So it pains me to say that, while I liked it a great deal, I didn't quite love Beautiful Dreamer.  Even as I was fascinated and entertained, I was also a little exhausted; without going into detail, the movie resets its status quo at least three times, each time pushing off in a new direction, and that's a lot to take in on a first viewing.  My thoughts kept turning to Angel's Egg, which would be Oshii's next feature and which felt similarly bludgeoning in places.  One suspects that Oshii wasn't in a terribly happy place when he made these two films; though Beautiful Dreamer is legitimately funny in places, its essence is challenging and bleak.  It's in many ways an existentialist horror movie - again, like Angel's Egg - and that's something of a tough prospect.

Nevertheless, I look forward to watching it again.  I think maybe the love will come in time, and I can't stress how much you should try and see Beautiful Dreamer if you haven't already: it's a bold, beautiful work that uses a silly comedy franchise to get inside your head and kick around the furniture, and I can think of few more worthy accomplishments than that.

-oOo-

It feels good, at any rate, to be making a couple of genuine and unqualified recommendations: unless you actively hate animation, Shamanic Princess is worth a look, and if you have even the faintest interest in anime then you should be on the lookout for Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, which really is a remarkable highpoint for the medium, even if that's not quite the same thing as being a flawless masterpiece.

Next time: Masterpieces!  Or the wretched horror that is no doubt M. D. Geist 2!  Or lots more Urusei Yatsura movies!



[Other posts in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22, Part 23]

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Short Story News, May 2017

Not for the first time, I've been lax in keeping up with my short story news, and not for the first time that means I now have a couple of posts' worth that I'm going to have to cram into just the one.  And as usual, the reason was that I felt as though not a lot was happening until I suddenly realized that it had been and I'd just been distracted!

Anyway, let's go for the new stories first.  Casualty of Peace marks my third collaboration with award-winning editor Eric Guignard; Eric got in touch to let me know he was resuscitating the long-running Horror Library anthology series, and did I have anything that might be a good fit?  The story we settled on is something of a companion to the last one Eric bought from me, Prisoner of Peace, and came out of the World War One research that occupied so much of my first year of full-time writing.  The question I found myself asking was, what must it have been like for those wives and mothers on the home front in the latter years of the war, who'd seen so many men return mentally or physically damaged beyond all repair?  Did they hope that their menfolk would be somehow exempted?  Or did they begin to secretly dread their return?  The result, like Prisoner of Peace, is a ghost story of sorts, an extended metaphor and a puzzle with no real answer, except perhaps that war spares no-one.  You can find it in Horror Library volume six.

I feel like I've mentioned my golem sex story quite a few times here, but perhaps that's just because I like typing the phrase "golem sex story."  And perhaps I'm not doing Feet of Clay, Mind of Coal justice by focusing on one particular, brief scene in what's actually an (admittedly rather weird) love story with a background in the folklore research I drifted into for my MA dissertation.  At any rate, of everything here, the third in Pantheon Magazine's Gaia anthology series is the only book I've actually found time to read, and it was just as good as volume two, which I enjoyed a great deal.  You can grab a copy here.

My second sale to the impossibly long-running Space and Time was another older story.  I can't even remember exactly how long ago I wrote Children of Deadways, except that it came towards the end of a period when I produced a lot of work I'm particularly happy with.  I was experimenting with the possibilities of going all-in on world building, and this is maybe the culmination of that trend, an elaborately Gothic dark fantasy with a setting I could probably have squeezed a whole novel out of.  You can grab a copy of issue 128 from the Space and Time website, and it comes highly recommended; there are reasons this magazine has managed to stick around for half a century.


Lastly for the new stuff, my most recent sale turned out also to be the most recent thing to come out: Now That All the Heroes are Dead was picked up by Read Short Fiction not even a month ago and, as of the start of May, it's up to read on the site.  I wrote this one for an open anthology call asking for Lovecraftian heroic fantasy fiction and, between you and me and in my greatly biased opinion, I still think they were dumbasses not to take it!  I had great fun distilling all my favourite weird fiction into one twisted little tale, and there's even a bit of subtext in there, thanks again to all that World War One reading.  It's pretty short, too, so why not give it a read?

On the reprints side, the most exciting news is perhaps that the editors at Pseudopod got in touch to ask if they could anthologize my story Stockholm Syndrome as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations.  Obviously I said yes, but I also took the opportunity to polish up a story that, frankly, has long since stopped owing me any favours; between Pseudopod itself and the hugely successful The Living Dead anthology, this has to be the most widely read (and listened to) short story I've written.  You can find the improved new version in the For Mortal Things Unsung anthology - which, given that it was primarily an incentive for a Kickstarter campaign, isn't that widely available, but can be grabbed from Smashwords, among other places.

Meanwhile, it will surprise no-one that I've had a couple more stories out with Digital Fiction Publishing.  As well as appearing in their own adorable individual e-books, Passive Resistance can be found in the Operative Sequence science-fiction collection and Rindelstein's Monsters appears in the Digital Fantasy Fiction book Casual Conjurings - which, by slightly awkward coincidence, I also did some of the slush-reading for.  Fortunately Rindelstein's Monsters got picked up well before I started, so at least I can't be accused of being one of tham thar nepotists, and the plus side is that, even having not seen a copy yet, I can confirm that there's some cracking fiction inside.

Last up - since I can't talk yet about the highly exciting reprint sale I snagged a few weeks ago! - I have a couple more pieces in Great Jones Street, namely my two stories following master assassin Otranto Osario through the mean streets of Cold Harbour, Ill-Met at Midnight and A Killer of Dead Men.  If you're at interested in short fiction then you really need to be paying attention to Great Jones Street, their app is free to download and is absolutely stuffed with great work from some of the biggest names in the industry (and, er, me.)

Anyway, that'll do for the moment.  As I vaguely remember predicting, the sales have slowed down this year - in fact, until April they'd dried up altogether - so I don't actually have that much left to come out.  But what there is is pretty exciting, so hopefully I'll have enough material to justify another one of these posts before too long.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 23

I seem to have got into the unfortunate habit of reviewing mostly rubbish here again.  And I'd say that it's not deliberate, but I suspect that, in a way, it sort of is; not because I want to watch bad anime but because I'm worried that the good stuff on the shelf (some of which I paid more for than I sensibly should have to lay my hands on!) will turn out to not be quite as good as I'm hoping.  In fact, now that I really think, the uniting factor with everything here is that I managed to pick it up pretty damn cheap.

Clearly, this state of affairs can't go on - if only because I'm running out of shelf space.  But for the moment, I suppose we have to work with what we've got!  Which means that this time around we'll be looking at Black Magic M-66, Yurusei Yatsura Movie 1: Only YouProject A-Ko: Uncivil Wars and the deservedly infamous M.D. Geist...

Black Magic M-66, 1987, dir's: Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Masamune Shirow

Masamune Shirow would go on to become something of a legend, and adaptions of his works have already cropped up a couple of times here, in the shape of Appleseed and Dominion Tank PoliceGhost in the Shell has also had its fair share of mentions, like the one just above.  But Shirow would only turn his hand to directing - or rather, co-directing - the once, and that was with a loose adaptation of a single part of one of his lesser known works.

The result is an OVA of about 48 minutes, which tells the story of a couple of murderous androids that inadvertently get lost by a futuristic military and set about carrying out the test directive that's been mistakenly programmed into them: to kill their creator's teenage daughter.  Perhaps in acknowledgement that the movie he was most obviously ripping off benefited greatly from a strong female lead, Shirow offers us the same here, in the form of Sybel, the freelance reporter who just can't keep her nose out of the military's business, even when that means fleeing from killer robots.

It's hard to say how much difference Shirow's presence makes to anything - and of course he was only co-directing, though his involvement ran deeply elsewhere.  The direction is certainly beyond competent, in a manner that goes a long way towards elevating the material; the animation is far from great, with some shockingly low frame rates in places, but then every minute or two there'll be a shot of unusual ambition, like a fight scene in an elevator where the camera's constantly circling.  And it certainly seems likely that Shirow influenced the distinctive tone.  There's something rather adult about Black Magic M-66's approach that goes beyond the copious bloodshed and the fact that we meet our protagonist as she's stepping out of the shower.  In fact, that latter is a good illustration of the point; the nudity ends up working instead as a character beat, just as the violence is rather ghastly and never exciting for its own sake.  As much as the military are to some extent the villains of the piece, they're portrayed as professionals getting on with a lousy job, and we're encouraged to view them with a measure of respect that makes their deaths that bit more troubling.

Let's not overegg it, though, eh?  We're still looking at a less than fifty minute long movie made on a clearly restrictive budget that, once it gets its character introductions and setup out of the way, is basically one long action sequence.  And frankly, even in 1987, killer robot stories were hardly an innovative notion, which makes it all the more strange that Shirow's barely tries to differentiate itself; there are robots, they try to kill people, those people in turn attempt with varying degrees of success not to be killed and that's our lot.  That the first big chunk of action is pretty good and the culminating set piece battle leans towards the flat-out great certainly helps, and was enough to make sure that I enjoyed Black Magic M-66 while I was watching it.  It's certainly worth a look, let's put it that way - and good enough to make you wonder what Shirow might have accomplished had he continued to split his time between manga and anime.

Yurusei Yatsura Movie 1: Only You, 1983, dir: Mamoru Oshii

Another absolutely gigantic franchise, on a par with the likes of Ranma 1/2 and Ah! My Goddess, Yurusei Yatsura ran into 34 collected manga volumes and an extraordinary 195 anime episodes, not to mention OVAs and six whole movies.  Oh, and there was even a pretty good Scottish rock group that named themselves after the show (and were previously my only encounter with it.)  Since the films and OVA both theoretically fall outside the purview of these articles - Only You was released all the way back in 1983, midway through the show's run - I was ready to ignore them.  Then I discovered that the director of fully half the show's episodes and the first two films was none over that Mamoru "Ghost in the Shell" Oshii, and that his work on the second movie was considered something of an early masterpiece.

Only You is not that second movie, as I discovered only after I bought it* - and to call it a masterpiece, early or otherwise, would be an exaggeration.  Still, Oshii's fingerprints are easily spotted if you choose to look.  The whole business has an air of gravitas that seems ill-fitted to the material - Oshii, bless him, can't tell a joke to save his life - but the result is weirdly deadpan and somehow more amusing that it has a right to be.  In fact, by not treating its subject matter too lightly, Only You circumvents the shrillness that humorous anime from this period had a habit of slipping into.  And though there's no pretending that you're watching anything but an over-thirty-year-old animated movie made on a TV show budget, there's plenty to catch the eye: the colour scheme is surreal and lovely, there are no end of needlessly complicated shots, and the design work, particularly in the back half, is genuinely rich and special.

It helps that the story is basically good fun, and solid enough to stand up to Oshii's high-minded approach.  Yurusei Yatsura the series revolves around alien princess Lum who, for reasons too contrived to get into, has devoted herself to worthless philander Ataru Moroboshi; here it turns out that, as a child, Moroboshi also inadvertently pledged himself to marry another alien princess, a discovery that Lum is none too pleased with, especially when his reaction to the news is one of wholehearted enthusiasm.  There's nothing revolutionary there, to say the least, but Oshii's other significant achievement is to appreciate that he's making a film rather than a really long TV episode: there's less of the "and this happened then that happened" sense of, say, the Ranma 1/2 movies, and more of a clear three act structure, with proper development and even actual themes; in particular, things wrap up in surprisingly ingenious fashion.

All of which is to say that, as a way into one of anime's great mega-franchises, Yurusei Yatsura: Only You isn't a bad place to start; Fortunately, the peripheral characters are easily grasped, since they can be boiled down to those who are aliens and those who hate Moroboshi for being an undeserving lech, with considerable overlap between the two camps.  Possibly it's a stretch of auteur theory to suggest that Oshii's presence is what elevates the material from fine to genuinely good, but whatever; the fact is, the result is genuinely good, and genuinely well-made, and a thoroughly satisfying slice of comedy sci-fi anime.

Project A-Ko: Uncivil Wars, 1990, Katsuhiko Nishijima

The first thing you notice about Project-A-Ko: Uncivil Wars (or Project A-Ko Versus, to give it its inexplicably changed Japanese name) is that it appears to have not a damn thing to do with the original Project A-Ko or its previous sequels.  Now A-Ko and B-Ko are friends, of all things, and not only that but they're bounty hunters on an alien planet, and C-Ko is a kidnapped space princess, and really, how any of this relates to a show about three schoolgirls in modern day Japan is anyone's guess, though the cynical might suggest, "not a whole lot."

Now I actually found the notion of plucking out the heart of Project A-Ko and jamming it into a completely unrelated body quite an interesting one, but it's clear that it could go one of two ways: either the result will be an incisive examination of how much you can boil a franchise down to its essence and still keep that essence intact, or it's going to be a totally unrelated project where someone had the bright idea of doing a cut and paste on the script to produce a hasty sequel no-one was much asking for.  Guess which one we get in Project A-Ko: Uncivil Wars?

A trick question!  The answer is both, though certainly more of the latter than the former.  And in the first of two forty-five minute episodes, that balance is weighed furthest in the wrong direction: the only real points of reference are that C-Ko is a whiny, hyperactive brat, B-Ko is kind of bitchy and A-Ko is good at punching - though, devoid of her iconic sailor suit, she barely even looks like the character we know and feel some measure of affection for.  It helps not at all that the first part is dire, with no real plot to speak of, inert direction, questionable voice acting and lots of shrieking humour buoyed up with comically exaggerated animation that isn't very comical at all.  Where Project A-Ko had a broad enough joke at its core to be basically funny even when it wasn't doing a great deal, it's hard to say what this first episode is parodying, if anything.  Bad sci-fi anime, maybe?  By being bad sci-fi anime?

Fortunately, episode two is decidedly better in every way: even the animation improves noticeably, with at least the occasional really lovely shot.  It helps some that the story finally bothers to begin tying into the existing Project A-Ko universe, and helps a great deal more that events start being eventful and characters start being characterful.  Also, the whole thing briefly turns into a Moorcockian battle across realities, which is kind of great, and goes a long way to justify the sequel-that's-not-a-sequel approach.

But did my moderate enjoyment of episode two balance out my frequent boredom at episode one?  Not entirely, no, though I suppose it helped.  In the end, however, Project A-Ko: Uncivil Wars didn't do much except confirm my growing opinion that some things are better off left un-sequelled.

M.D. Geist, 1986, dir's:  Hayato Ikeda, Kôichi Ôhata

Among those with more than a cursory knowledge of pre-twenty-first century anime, M.D. Geist is legendary - though not for a single one of the right reasons.  It tops many people's worst-ever lists, and, perhaps more damningly, takes many more people's second worst slot; which is to say, it's not even considered interestingly terrible.  All of which makes giving an opinion on M.D. Geist here a more than usually futile task - especially when a practically definitive review exists, with plenty of juicy (and hilarious!) gossip about the forces that brought the fifty minute OVA to the West and helped establish its temporary popularity and abiding notoriety.

Still, fear of being pointless has never before checked my hand, and at least M.D. Geist is pretty easily found, particularly in the Director's Cut version that was funded by Western distributor CPM as an attempt to polish off some of the original version's rougher edges.  Which is a startling thing to be aware of as you're watching, because there are still more downright dysfunctional shots here than I've seen in any anime I can think of.  My favourite is probably a zoom where the animators have transparently just moved the camera lens towards a still image, but there are no end of other examples; whenever an object has cause to move across or into shot you can guarantee that something will go unpleasantly wrong.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  It's difficult to appreciate M.D. Geist's proper awfulness without having some idea of the plot - a fact that the special edition tacitly admits by refusing to translate the introductory text.  A little research tells us that it's the far-flung future, and the planet of Jerra has been torn by a war that we see a bit of in some new (and notably more competent) footage at the start, and which has pretty much burned itself out by the time the actual story begins.  This is at least in part due to the Most Dangerous Soldier program, which unwisely let a bunch of uncontrollable psychopaths loose and expected them to play nice.  One such was the titular Geist, who proved so unpopular with his paymasters that he was imprisoned in an orbital satellite, an idiotically un-foolproof plan that goes wrong when the satellite falls out of orbit and Geist somehow survives.

A summary of the story from there is especially futile, not because there's much to it - assume that Geist kills most everyone he sees in particularly bloody ways and you've grasped the essentials - but because it unfolds all but entirely at random.  There are at least three false starts; I'm tempted to go as far as five, if we count the additional director's cut footage.  There's almost no logical thread between the beginning, middle and end, though the creators sort of try and impose one with - well, I was going to say a love interest, but Geist transparently despises the female lead Vaiya, to a comical degree.  Ironically, Vaiya turns out to be the nearest thing we get to a protagonist, since Geist himself is basically a murderous plank.  But that's not really an argument in her favour, given how shrill and dim-witted and patently out of her depth she is.

Anyway, you've probably grasped that, with terrible animation shackled to a risible story, this isn't going to end with me being the lone voice in M.D. Geist's defence.  I'll say this, though, because I like to look for the good in things: there are some nice mecha designs, especially towards the end, and one in particular that's rather splendid.  The show wastes them utterly - the fights, which it seems to consider a big deal, are all but incomprehensible and hopelessly anticlimactic - but at least they're proof that someone had at least some idea of what they were doing.  And I'll go further to admit that I didn't actually hate M.D. Geist.  Its only really objectionable content is some lurid gore, but it's hard to be too shocked by a badly animated exploding head, even when the animators are obviously trying to be shocking.  And that's M.D. Geist all over, really: it's like an ugly, stupid, incontinent, over-excited puppy that you know you should probably kick out a window but can't because it just refuses to grasp how unlovable it is.  Or, put it this way: if you're going to watch one legendarily bad vintage anime, this is probably the least obnoxious one to go for.

-oOo-

I'll say this much: twenty-three posts in and with both Legend of the Overfiend and M.D. Geist behind me, I feel like the only way on from here is upward!**  Not that this round was a total washout - Black Magic was a small pleasure, and the Urusei Yatsura movie I actually liked quite a lot - but still, I've promised myself to stop ignoring the good stuff on the shelf for a while.  And thanks to some judicious abuse of E-bay, there's actually a fair bit of (hopefully!) good stuff there to be watched.  Fingers crossed, then, for entry number twenty-four, and the unearthing of some of those buried treasures I used to be so hopeful for back in the halcyon days of a few months ago.



[Other posts in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21, Part 22, Part 24]



* That would be Beautiful Dreamer.
** Of course, this would be even truer if there wasn't an M.D. Geist 2, and on the same damn disk no less.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

We Want Your Dragons

Wait, you wanted dragon STORIES?
We're about halfway through the submissions period for Hic Sunt Dracones, the Digital Fiction Publishing dragon-themed anthology that I'm slush-reading for, and we've had a more than solid response so far, one that's included some pretty terrific stories.  But we don't have near the material for a full book yet, so I thought now might be a good time to spread the word a little.

Hic Sunt Dracones is reprint-only, with payment being one cent a word and enrollment into the Digital Fiction Publishing League, which would take way too much explaining here but basically means that there's a realistic chance you might see some royalties at some point; you can find the full details and the submissions form here.

And here's what editor Michael Wills has to say about what he's after:
Dragons - bad-ass dragons. Dragons that destroy things and eat people, and the people/robots/aliens/time lords that fight them or out-smart them - or get eaten by them. No story book dragons that live in forests helping orphans or peddling psychedelics. My dragons eat orphans for breakfast. Timeline and setting is wide open. Your dragons aren't necessarily getting stabbed by swords - but swords are welcome too. I want dragons - awe inspiring fear provoking monsters. They can be mechanical, mystical, steam-powered, alien, aquatic, from another dimension, or from outer space - but they must be terrifying beasts of destruction. Here be dragons.
For my part, I'd add that I could live with a dragon that wasn't wholly bad-ass, so long as it was contained in a story that was really splendid.  I mean, I think that in a pinch we might be flexible on that one; so don't let the fact that your dragon is only quite terrifying or destructive be too much of a decider.  For me, what we haven't seen enough of yet are those other kinds of dragon: the mechanical, mystical, steam-powered, alien, aquatic, from another dimension, or from outer space ones.  Lots of trad fantasy, absolutely; lots of comic fantasy, too, though not all of it terribly comic.  But I'm itching for some really good dragon sci-fi, or dragon horror for that matter.  It feels to me that there's more scope here than we've yet seen.  (And it's worth noting that those stories that have bucked the trends have frequently been among the best; or maybe that's just my tastes talking.)

Anyway.  The point is, we want your dragon stories.  And despite what I've said, they can be traditional as all get-out so long as they're good; believe me, I've put forward stories as old-school as anything, where they were genuinely excellent.  So give us your fantasy dragons.  Give us your science-fiction dragons.  Give us your tired dragons, your poor dragons, your huddled masses of dragons yearning to breathe fire freely.  Based on what we've seen already, this promises to be one hell of an anthology; wouldn't you like to be part of it?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Black Rivers, White Thornes, and Other Novel News

I sure do seem to have a lot of works-in-progress!  But, at least until we get towards the back end of the year, 2017 is very much about just two of the however-many books I have at one stage or another, and about getting that pair finished and out the door.

First up, and the obvious one, there's the sequel to last year's The Black River Chronicles: Level One.  And the good news is, the first draft was basically a delight: I doubt there's ever going to come a point where writing a novel in under two months is less than a challenge, but this was as close as I expect to get, and a pleasure to boot.  There were so, so many things I wanted to accomplish with this book, and so many ideas that Mike and I kicked about, and I'm stunned to find that I feel like all of them are at least within reach: maybe not entirely there on the page just yet, but definitely waiting to be uncovered.

Sequels, I'm finding, are easier than beginnings, but that's not to say they're easy.  In this case, I had a whole laundry list of ways in which I wanted to move the groundwork of Level One forward: fresh arcs for Durren, Arein, Tia and Hule, and challenges that would really push them beyond their comfort zones; a new setting, complete with new characters; a greater sense of the Black River Chronicles world; more depth as to how magic works; and, of course, a ton of D&D jokes, because I can't imagine a day when D&D jokes aren't the lifeblood of this series.  The result is, I hope, a book that will follow on in exciting ways for anyone who's read the first but works just fine on its own - which, again, isn't exactly all that easy to pull off.  Anyway, there are a couple of drafts to go yet, and who knows what will change in the process?  Still, there's a great deal to be said for a successful first draft, given how, with the smallest of mistakes, they can go so horribly wrong; getting things more or less right on the first try always feels to me a little like avoiding a twenty car pile-up by the skin of my teeth.

White Thorne, my (in retrospect, stupidly overambitious) medieval, magical realist crime thriller, has been an altogether different prospect - but the news, somehow, is still rosy.  The first draft was soul-crushing and heartbreaking, as I tried to juggle too many balls and had to watch helplessly as half of them went flying about the room, smashing valuable ornaments and causing a few nasty concussions.  But, you know, one of the brilliant things about writing under your own steam is that you can keep at your work until you get it right.  In this case, that meant a long break, advice from some wise and trusted friends and then digging away over a six month period: really, digging is the absolutely best word.  That first draft felt like I'd managed to bury the intriguing plot and distinctive characters and months of historical research in my head beneath an inordinate amount of crud.  And the second became an exercise in aggressive archaeology, sometimes with a trowel but frequently with an excavator; by the end, I'd cut an entire novella's worth of wordage.

Over the summer I'll be returning for a third and (I hope) final draft, in which I'll mostly be trying to restore the polish to a book that's no doubt pretty raw and beaten-up from the brutality of our last go around.  And then, I guess, I'll have to starting thinking about trying to sell the thing.  Which, fortunately, isn't a worry with The Black River Chronicles: Mysterious Secret Title That I Can't Announce Yet But That Definitely Isn't Level Two, which I guess is yet another advantage of sequels.  You can expect that one before the end of the year - by which time I'm hopeful that all the stuff that's good right now will be really, really good.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Writing Ramble: Making the Most of a Second Draft

Since I happen (for reasons best not discussed!) to have an unused article lying about, and since it's a while since I posted anything on the actual business of writing, I figured I might as well share this here.  It's on a subject I hopefully know a bit about: after a dozen or so novels and novellas and a hundred and some short stories, I've seen my share of second drafts - and picked up a thing or two about what you can and can't expect to achieve with them.

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For most writers, the first draft is the most fun: that's where the ideas come out, where the characters are born, where the wild sentences are spun.  The first draft is the raw joy of creation; everything after that can feel like nitpicking.  But, as you dig deeper into the craft, you may find that - for all the giddy thrills of a first draft - it's the second that turns work you're excited but a little embarrassed by into fiction you're eager to show off.  For every writer that gets a story mostly right on the first attempt, there are a hundred who need to come back after time away before they can really draw out its virtues.

So here are a few areas where you might find your perspective is that bit clearer the second time around...

Precision
One of the advantages of writing in a language as gloriously messy as English is that you're never confined to saying something only one way; the flip side is that it's easy to get away with conveying an approximation of what you mean.  More than ever here, you need your reader head on over your writer one, and this is something most people will find difficult without the emotional distance a redraft provides: you've the chance to back off and question whether what you said is what you meant.  That character, that scene, do they come across just as you imagined?  Does that dialogue convey the information you need it to?  Are those descriptive passages full of insightful details or are they flabby and rambling?  If the words you chose are being vague or flavourless then here's the chance to replace them.
Subtlety       
Conversely, you're not always obliged to spell out every small detail; in fiction, less is often more.  And another question better suited to a second draft than a first is whether you've said too much.  Again, bring out that reader head, and ask yourself, have points that only needed to be made once been made half a dozen times?  Do you feel patronized?  Are there aspects of your characters you wanted to imply without necessarily stating outright?  It's often a good idea to be verbose in a first draft, when you're trying to ensure that no vital information gets missed; that doesn't mean you can't roll back some of that exposition now that you have the chance.
Concision
In a first draft, it's all too easy to devote the same attention to every detail, to establish single scene characters with the same loving attention you've devoted to your protagonists or to detail every inch of a room your characters see for all of ten seconds.  The second time around, it's easier to ask: is the level of detail proportionate to the significance of the material?  And is it enriching your story or sucking away momentum?  Ultimately, the question here is whether individual elements - be they words, sentences or whole paragraphs - are adding to rather than subtracting from the story.  Viewed that way, decisions that seem merciless on a first glance can look awfully necessary on a second.
Rhythm
The pace of an action scene shouldn't be the pace of a leisurely conversation between two old friends, which in turn shouldn't be the pace of a description of a country garden.  While rhythm is tough to impose in a first draft, it's easy to identify in a second.  You may find, too, that you spot it (or its lack) more readily by reading from a printout than a screen, or in a reduced font, so that it's easier to judge how those blocks of text are fitting together.  But, ultimately, the question you're asking is the same however you approach it: do all my sentences and paragraphs look the same, or are they adapting to the story they're telling?
Variety          
There are almost always synonyms for any given word of phrase, but when you're in first draft mode, your natural inclination may be to use the same handful of words time and again.  This is hard to avoid, and isn't even easy to spot on a second draft.  One trick is to use your word processor's find function: if in doubt, run a search, and if the word you suspect you might be overusing crops up twice on ever page then you are, indeed, overusing it.  And if that sounds like pointless effort then the way to look at this is that, rather than obeying an arbitrary rule, you're exploiting an opportunity to squeeze in more richness and detail: every time you reintroduce a character or an object and every time you return to an idea, you have a chance to reveal some fresh aspect, and that means taking advantage of fresh words.
Brevity
However to the point you try and be in your first draft, cutting out the waste is infinitely easier in the second: for that matter, few things will teach you as much about the craft as trying to cut ten or twenty or fifty percent of your word count without infringing on the sense.  Which, really, is the crucial point, and why brevity is better sought in a second draft: you can cut a great many things, but the one that has to survive is meaning.  If you can't strip out another word without turning a sentence into nonsense then you've definitely trimmed enough; if you could rewrite a sentence with half the words and it will say precisely the same thing then you're not even close.
Richness
Nevertheless, there are definitely times when your language needs to be lovelier than others.  In a first draft, you often have to be workmanlike just to reach the end; in a second, it can be clearer where letting in a little poetry will serve some actual purpose.  This is one of the trickiest things to spot yourself, and one of the main reasons why giving yourself a good long gap between drafts is crucial.  The time to come back is however long it takes for you to stop being in love with the language itself and to consider what function it's serving: sure, that description of a sunset is lovely, but does it belong in the middle of a helicopter chase?  And, to return to the point, if you can go a couple of pages without any sense of physical space or of what characters look like, or if scenes that should have emotional heft feel flat and lifeless, then those are the points when you can let yourself loose with the pretty words.
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One last thought: it's entirely okay to work through as many drafts as you need to, at whatever speed feels right.  That said, a draft will go better if you have a sense of what you're trying to achieve; you may find, for example, that hunting for typos is a job you need to separate out from spotting continuity errors.  And you may also find that it helps to have a checklist like the above to remind you precisely what you're looking for, or even to treat each point in its own mini-draft.  Perhaps the hardest lesson here is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution to editing. and getting it right requires at least a little understanding of the particular ways in which your unique brain works.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 22

By part twenty-two and my eighty-fifth to eighty-eighth reviews here, it's fair to say that I'm starting to see a few trends.  It's easy to glorify pre-twentieth century anime and to remember only the high points, but the truth is that the bulk of this stuff was commercialized and derivative.  I suppose in part, then, the appeal becomes the fact that even the least releases have a degree of charm that you couldn't hope to find in, say, similarly cash-grabby low budget American movies of the period.  It's one of the definite virtues of hand drawn animation; a degree of energy and genuine artistry always seems to sneak through the cracks.

All of which is a long-winded way of admitting that it's a bit of a crap selection this time around, and even the relative high points are both sequels to arguably better works.  So let's not expect too much from Sakura Wars: The Radiant Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms, The E.Y.E.S of Mars, Legend of Lemnear and Project A-Ko: Love and Rockets...

Sakura Wars: The Radiant Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms, 1999, dir: Susumu Kudo

It's safe to say that if you were a devotee of the games they were based on, these Sakura Wars OVAs would be about the best thing ever.  They're clearly made with a great deal of affection, and this time around, there's a particular effort made to give each character time in the limelight: in fact, the first four episodes are character-centric vignettes and the last two, which shift to nominal protagonist Sakura herself, are the only ones with much in the way of continuity.

For the non-fan, on the face of things, that makes this a  less appealing prospect: certainly it's hard to see what pleasure anyone who came to this second OVA with no foreknowledge would derive.  It makes zero attempt to reintroduce its cast or its concept, or to do most any of the things you'd expect a show about women piloting clunky robot armour to battle demons while posing as musical theatre actresses would do.

No, I tell a lie: there's a fair bit of the musical theatre side of things on offer.  However, we see more of the adorable, steam-powered mechs that the characters supposedly pilot in the opening credits sequence than we do in the entirety of the six episodes combined.  This may sound like I'm exaggerating, but I'm not: at no point do our heroines armour up.  And this is truly baffling; I spent three full hours waiting for a battle sequence that never arrived.  In fact, the whole thing is pretty action-light; as with the first OVA, but even more so, the onus is very much on comedy and drama.

What we have, then, is a show made for fans who want to hang out more with these very likable characters - and that's actually okay.  None of the episodes are actively bad, and at least half are pretty damn good for what they are.  Elsewhere, the changes in animation are a fascinating example of what the passage of two years did for anime at the end of the twentieth century, for better and worse: it's slick and there's some well-used CG, but the colours incline towards the garish and the characters have a tendency to wander off model, particularly in the somewhat cheaper-looking middle episodes.  At least the music continues to be great, and my love for the Sakura Wars theme is undying.

Having said little that's terribly positive, I should probably conclude by pointing out that I really like the Sakura Wars franchise.  Two decades on, these almost entirely female-led franchises still feel a little revolutionary in the West, in a way that's really depressing if you think about it too much - and this second OVA doubles down on that thematically, as Sakura wonders whether she mightn't prefer a normal life to hanging about with her kooky girlfriends and battling to defend Tokyo, and comes to the only sensible conclusion.  To that I'd add that about the only way to buy this OVA is in the box set that includes the first one, making for a combined five hours of Sakura Wars goodness.  That's five imperfect hours, for sure, but there are good reasons this franchise picked up such a devoted following: it's pleasant and funny and charming, and that combination is rarer than it should be.

The E.Y.E.S of Mars, 1993, Iku Suzuki

For some reason (and in retrospect, I have no idea why) I was quite hopeful for The E.Y.E.S of Mars.  In fact, it's probably indicative of the mindset behind this entire series of posts that I noted the fact that it's never been considered worthy of a DVD release and the only version you can find is a rip of the dubbed US VHS version and took that to mean "lost classic" rather than "sensibly buried rubbish."

Needless to say, I was wrong as wrong can be.  Yet E.Y.E.S of Mars begins - well, at least not terribly.  There are some vaguely exciting scenes of a space battle (which will seem less exciting when we watch them all over again later), and then we cut to a boy being chased through sewers by a man who appears to be a futuristic cop riding a giant eight-ball.  Somehow, the boy finds himself in a vast, presumably underground forest, before we cut to what appears to be an entirely unrelated narrative about a girl, Eve, whose education at a school for psychic children is being disrupted by the fact that she keeps having horrifying nightmares of conflagration and death.  At this point, the elements are at least interesting enough that you can fool yourself into ignoring the fact that nothing terribly interesting is being done with them.

Eventually, those two plot lines will converge, though not before we've had time to get thoroughly bored of the lifeless Eve and have largely forgotten about the boy, who we discover is called Dew, because presumably Adam was deemed too on the nose.  But really, would that dull characters with dull designs were the biggest problem here; would, even, that the largely mediocre animation or the muddled, lethargic storytelling were the worst of E.Y.E.S of Mars's sins.  It certainly seems those are the more prominent issues for about the first two thirds or so - and, up until then, it's watchable, if not what you could honestly call engaging.

Then the whole mess flies off the rails, and just keeps on going.  This should be quite spectacular, and, if I threw out a few ingredients, might certainly sound like it would be: Incoherent environmental messages!  Interplanetary soul travel!  Atlanteans!  Explosions!  Really, it takes quite the steady hand upon the tiller to keep such a hotchpotch from ever rising to the level of entertainingly silly.  For this alone, I commend Suzuki, who I'm glad to discover is still working today; somehow I feel like he deserved a lengthy career for participating in this nonsense.*

Anyway, as so often happens here, I'm wasting everyone's time, including my own: like I noted at the start, E.Y.E.S of Mars is basically unavailable now.  You can find it on Youtube and elsewhere if you really want to.  But you don't.  It takes a heck of a lot to muck up a pitch like (SPOILER ALERT!) "Psychic children on Mars escape environmental devastation by transmigrating their souls to Earth and kickstarting human evolution", but this film manages it, and then some.

Legend of Lemnear, 1989, dir: Kinji Yoshimoto

While I quite enjoyed Plastic Little, I'd hesitate to consider "from the creator and director of Plastic Little" to be a recommendation.  Yet here with are with Legend of Lemnear, a similarly short OVA release that sees those two talents combining for the first time.  And since the worlds of both manga writing and anime directing frequently involve finding grooves and sticking to them, we shouldn't be surprised to note a few similarities.  If you should happen to remember my review of Plastic Little, or know anything about it, you can probably guess at least one of them.

Yup, Legend of Lemnear features a whole lot of lovingly drawn breasts.

Whereas Plastic Little largely confined that to one scene, however, Legend of Lemnear devotes nearly an entire first act to the subject.  And since it, somehow, only has two acts, that's quite a big chunk of a forty-five minute running time.  In those twenty minutes or so, our nubile heroine Lemnear tracks down one of the folks responsible for murdering her family, only to fall into their clutches, at which point she receives a big chunk of plot exposition, her already scanty clothes fall off and a fair few people get stabbed.

Stabbing is the other thing that Legend of Lemnear is preoccupied with: there's a whole lot of blood spattered about, and the entire second act - that's to say, most of the film - consists of one long action sequence, which mostly involves Lemnear and some guy we briefly met in the opening scene battling the big bad.  At this point, the animation, which has been good enough before now, ratchets up a significant notch: it's clear that, semi-nudity aside, this is where the creators' attention and the bulk of the budget was focused.  And in fairness, it's a damn good action scene, all told, though one that suffers from the fact that we have no reason to care who wins and little understanding of the conflict.

If I had to compare Legend of Lemnear with anything, it would be 1981 animation "classic" Heavy Metal, and in particular the Taarna section, which by coincidence was the only part I didn't altogether hate.  Legend is better that Heavy Metal (most things are) but it has that same unblinking infatuation with sword and sorcery tropes, the same juvenile fixations with bloody violence and women's partially unclothed bodies, and even a similar-feeling soundtrack that fits the material not terribly well.  If you like those things (and I can't honestly claim to not like them, when they're delivered with a measure of artistry) then Legend of Lemnear is worth wasting forty-five minutes on.  And the same goes if you've a fondness for hand drawn animation; the half-the-film-long climax is rather stunning in places.  But to say anything nicer than that would definitely have required a middle act and some actual damn plot, and that we do not have.

Project A-Ko 2: Love & Robots, 1987-1989, dir: Yuji Moriyama

Some things don't need sequels, and some things really don't need sequels, and only now that I've watched the three sequels that were gathered up by Animazing under the subtitle of Love and Rockets do I realise that Project A-Ko was one of them.  I certainly enjoyed it, but I didn't get to the end thinking "Gee, I wonder where these characters and this intricate, fantastical milieu will go from here?"  If only because the characters were deliberately one note gags, and the universe a nonsensical pastiche of anime tropes.

Sadly, it would appear that the creators of Project A-Ko: Love & Robots were just itching to figure out what came next - and, in fairness to them, few sequels are this committed to picking up inconsequential plot threads and seeing just how far they can be taken.  The alien invaders from the first film, for example, are now actual characters, with hopes and dreams and at least the semblance of personalities.  And, hey, did you wonder how B-Ko managed to make all those amazing sci-fi gadgets?  Well, y'see, her father actually runs a weapons manufacturing company, and seems to be basically exploiting his daughter's psychosis for R&D purposes.  Oh, and if you were curious about the school teacher with the incongruously green hair, she gets an episode devoted to her too.

The thing is, Project A-Ko worked for precisely the opposite of the reason that all of this relies on.  Its core concept was simple and silly: A-Ko and C-Ko are friends, B-Ko loves C-Ko and is jealous of A-Ko, therefore they fight a lot, and then aliens invade because why not?  And the real joke at the heart of all that is that C-Ko is so dreadful that she makes you want to claw your face off, so of course it's absurd that anyone should be fighting over her, rather than, say, shoving her into a well.

Of course, the other reason that Project A-Ko worked was because it looked pretty splendid, and it doesn't help matters that none of the three episodes gathered here are on a par; Wikipedia swears blind that they were all theatrical releases, but they look much more like OVAs.  Parts one and three remain solid, despite clear signs of skimping: reused animation, lingering static shots, that sort of thing.  Part two, however, is downright ropy, which is perhaps appropriate given that its subject matter is the most misconceived: do we really need to see A-Ko and B-Ko battling over a guy?  At least he has the hots for C-Ko rather than either of them, which feels right for this twisted universe.

And, having said nothing nice about Project A-Ko: Love & Robots, I have to admit that it's really not that bad.  Unnecessary, yes, and misconceived, but that's not the same thing; other than the somewhat cheaper-looking animation, this is probably about the best anyone could have asked for.  I just wasn't in the mood for the first two parts, and found them more shrill than amusing.  But by the time number three rolled around, I was feeling more congenial; these articles would never have got anywhere near twenty-two entries if I didn't have a soft spot for goofy anime humour, and there's no end of that on offer here.  Hardly indispensable then, and not worth bothering with unless you've seen and enjoyed the original, but probably just about worth wasting time and money on if you have.

-oOo-

That turned out a bit more negative than I intended.  And I even liked Sakura Wars.  Heck, I guess I liked Project A-Ko: Love and Rockets, too, though that apparently didn't translate into having anything nice to say.

And who knows what next time will offer?  I have some stuff on the shelf that promises to be amazing, yet for some reason I keep not watching it.  And I have M.D. Geist, which is so universally despised that I find myself itching to see what all the fuss is about.  Let's hope my better instincts win out for once - he types, knowing they probably won't.



[Other posts in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20, Part 21, Part 23Part 24]


* Oddly, just before this, Suzuki directed the second Ranma 1/2 movie, which, despite its own fair share of faults, I had quite positive feelings about.