Eat-Man / Eat-Man ’98

How’s this for a fun premise? Strong-silent-type mercenary who can recreate anything he eats wanders around a cyberpunk/dystopian/fantastic world taking on all kinds of jobs!

Well, both adaptations of Eat-Man are indeed that – but I’ve been having trouble deciding precisely how I responded to them. They were only made a year apart and both completed by Studio Deen, so there are plenty of similarities in terms of art style and other production aspects.

The biggest differences are story, character and tone.

In some ways, Eat-Man is less satisfying than Eat-Man ’98 due to those differences… or at least, so I thought at first.

Usually, I try to complete an entire post for each anime when I do these comparison-style write-ups, but I’ll combine these two series into one post today, I think because it’s going to be a fair bit shorter than usual.

Here’s a comparative overview:

Eat-Man

  • Our hero ‘Bolt’ is generally very quiet and seems unhappy
  • Narrative is episodic with Bond ‘girl of the week’ feel
  • A whole heap of unexplained stuff
  • Art style has a little more detail in some aspects
  • Quite a moody, even mystical tone

Eat-Man ‘98

  • Our hero ‘Bolt’ is extremely taciturn and seems cold
  • Narrative has no overarching storyline but more connected episodes
  • Less unexplained stuff
  • Art style more polished overall, maybe more variety in direction
  • More of an action/adventure tone

Eat-Man (1997)

In this version of the adaptation, Bolt seems to wander in an attempt to find meaning, and his characterisation seems a little more enjoyable to me overall. The anime steps away from the manga but remains similarly episodic, yet throughout it sneaks in foreshadowing: there’s a floating wreckage of what appears to be a space ship.

In many episodes it’s just hanging there in the background and other times it’s framed with Bolt appearing to look at it – it’s a nice narrative hook that maybe didn’t pay off for me, considering that it’s rushed into focus at the end.

But probably the most fascinating things to me were the fantasy elements that were almost… occult-like, and added a whole lot of mystery but also deep confusion, even if it did at times make for some striking imagery.

In this first series too, there’s a minor difference – which is the colour of Bolt’s glasses, here they put me in the mind of Vash more than they did in the second series. (And to quickly play chronology, the Eat-Man anime predates the Trigun anime by a year, and the Trigun manga pre-dates the Eat-Man manga by a year.)

One clear mark against this version for me were the filler-moments, or the stretching out of certain scenes beyond what was needed, something that I didn’t notice anywhere near as much in the 1998 show.


Eat-Man ’98 (1998)

Here, the mystical elements are stripped away a fair bit, and a little more cyberpunk pushes through. More of the episodes present little arcs or multi-part storylines here, in stark contrast to the 1997 season. This mostly removes the ‘girl of the week’ feel though the series is still ultimately episodic.

Bolt is a little colder, seemingly more unyielding – but the storylines like to play with the idea that he’s cold, yet there is usually a reason for his manner. It’s also in this re-do that we get a few more tantalising hints about who or what Bolt really is, though I imagine more seasons would always have been needed to get any more answers.

One welcome change here is that there are actually a few characters that return, or have an impact on Bolt and so it feels like there is a bit more at stake. I probably slightly prefer the direction in this version of Eat-Man, something that jumped out to me during the highlight of the Bye Bye Aimie episodes.

And now to quickly sum up!

In the end, I think that the 1998 Eat-Man is essentially a better adaptation (not precisely because it’s more faithful to the source either) and I preferred its OST, but despite the faults of the 1997 iteration, somehow I enjoyed it a little more. It’s less conventional within an already unconventional setting/premise and I preferred the art-style.

Eat-Man 97, 3 Stars

East-Man 98, 3 Stars

Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki)

Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki) 1989

Post Akira fame, I suspect studios felt that there was definitely room for more futuristic dystopian stories with cool bikes and teen rebellion on the big screen.

Maybe that helped Venus Wars get the green light back in the late 1980s but setting that aside, I think the manga must have been strong too because I think its detail and characterisation remains visible in the anime, even with a lot of focus on animating exciting chases and battles.

‘Determination’ expression close-up time here

However, Venus Wars was not well-received at home and it took a few years for the film to be released and then gain traction overseas too. I wish I could learn a little more about that reception specifically, as I’m only able to find a few quotes on retailer websites. In the same places you’ll probably come across this from author and director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko:

“Thirty years ago, I was a loser. Because of the humiliation and the irritation to myself, I decided to seal this film…Now I want to apologize to the film and everyone, and I sincerely hope you watch this film pulled from the time capsule with the eyes of the contemporary age.”

which struck me as really sad, because when I watch Venus Wars now I don’t see the work of a loser at all.

Obviously, the movie is not without flaws (perhaps the pacing at times for me) but it’s really impressive. The world-building shows a grimy, oppressive Venus; the detail on the bikes and tanks, the ships and the buildings, it’s all great. The action sequences are fluid and usually filled with tension – and perhaps most of all, the characters are believable and engaging even with a reasonably large cast and a short (compared to a series or manga) running time.

Things that deserve emotional impact are rarely rushed through and the tension grows beyond the war itself, as our battle bike heroes find rebellion has a cost – and at the same time, the viewers are reminded that the people who suffer in a war are rarely those at the top. Aside from those smaller moments re: the politics, Venus Wars devotes a bit of time to romance too, and in that respect its ability to bring the conventions of many genres together makes it feel a bit like a Hollywood blockbuster.

Switching to the visuals a moment, I really liked the use of reds, greens and shadows within Venus Wars. The palette really sells both the ‘other planet’ setting and the war itself, also feeding into the grimy look and giving even the buildings an unhealthy pallor. And if the character designs at times bring to mind Mobile Suit Gundam then that might be because Yasuhiko was responsible for both works 😀

I do have a few quibbles with the movie, one being story-based and another perhaps more of a note about the visuals, I guess – but first, I wanted to quickly mention the ‘Earth reporter’ Sue. At first, I read her as unsympathetic, despite her bravery and drive.

Chekhov, right?

Established as a reporter who is kinda hungry for war (because it would give her a scoop of course) I was ready to write her off but she does have something of a redemption arc, though it’s not presented that way because I don’t think the film sees her goals as questionable. Still, she’s important and gets more screen time than say Miranda, which is a shame because she’s far cooler 😀

Aside from perhaps a bit too much time spent at the race track early on, the other pacing issue seems to be the inclusion of a few scenes with the gay soldier (Chris) – he must have had a meaningful role in the manga, but in the film his scenes are just there to operate as jokes or something? So that’s a mark against Venus Wars for me.

Gary has a mentor role so he ended up as one of my favourites 😀

Elsewhere there are some heavily filtered ‘live action’ moments that are used to represent Sue’s camera footage – a choice I really like intellectually but seeing it, despite being integrated fairly well, I didn’t actually enjoy that much.

Overall, I think Venus Wars is definitely worth seeing for science-fiction anime fans, especially if you’re interested in fairly big budget, high quality ‘old-school’ animation or works that owe a little something to Akira.

4 Stars

I also went a little overboard on the screen caps here:

The framing here and below are a couple of examples of the camera really placing you right ‘in’ the scene
‘Venus Wars’ has a bit of fan service but doesn’t go overboard
Safety first

Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago)

Mamoru Oshii is quoted as saying that Angel’s Egg “kept [me] from getting work for years” and that makes me kinda sad to read even now, years after his career skyrocketed.

Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago) 1985

I do see why it freaked out the studio suits – but it’s a beautiful film that deserved to be made, I reckon. And in an utterly non-controversial way, I reject the idea that something is only good if it is wildly popular and makes a lot of money – but that’s an aside, I guess, let’s get back to the movie.  

Angel’s Egg is fascinating to me and I found it deeply immersive; there’s so much atmosphere built in to every moment, from the dissonant opening to the way the rest of the movie builds and reveals detail about the dystopian-like setting and its lonely characters.

If you’ve read much about the film you’ll know it’s not praised for its narrative but that isn’t to say that Angel’s Egg is without story or events; there’s a lot going on but so much rests in subtext, leaving us to infer things like motivation, consequence and purpose. In a way, the film is almost a study in animating water, light, shadow, in visual storytelling.

Of course, it’s more than those things but Angel’s Egg is also so much like traditional visual art. The composition and framing of so many shots as the Girl moves through the seemingly empty city with her egg, is relentlessly striking. It’s also exceptionally minimalist (dialogue-wise especially) in terms of palette – covered in blues, greys, blacks and whites for the most part. It’s ghostly, moving.

The sound design is equal parts haunting and dissonant – from metallic sound effects to softer rain, to the unearthly choirs, there’s a darkness there too. In fact, shadow is probably the key element to Angel’s Egg, how it moves, conceals or contrasts is constantly explored by Yoshitaka Amano and Mamoru Oshii. The closest comparison I can make to the style is probably the way German Expressionist film can be said to focus on the following:

  • Mise-en-scene and heavy atmosphere
  • Long shadow effects
  • Details of sets used to evoke emotion or provoke thought
  • Camera set in unexpected angles
  • Mystery, hallucinations
  • A slower pace than other movies

Expressionism does explore other things in different ways too but I think that Angel’s Egg is what you’d get if Anime met Expressionism, and it had me enthralled – glued to the couch, as it were. And while it all sounds bleak perhaps, I think the movie does explore hope (and maybe offers some too), though that can be a bit buried – at times the darkness and even the surrealist touches take charge; there’s even echoes of the Venice seen in 1973’s horror classic Don’t Look Now.

Related to above, there’s an aspect that I don’t want to spoil and which somewhat sums up the idea of surrealism in the film – it’s both moving and kinda sad, purgatory-like in a way – but again, I won’t mention specifics in case those of you reading have never seen the movie. In a similar way, I won’t ruin the final, chilling shots but I will circle back to my word choice of ‘purgatory’ because Angel’s Egg does have a strong focus on Christian symbolism, even if it’s not a film anyone would call ‘preachy’. Lots of room for the viewer to decide what they felt about the movie and the characters here.

Once more, I’ll repeat that I don’t think everyone will enjoy Angel’s Egg (which is normal and valid of course) but I think it’s worth watching at least once for the visual elements alone, and for how very non-typical the film was for the anime world.

A classic but not everyone’s classic 😀

5 Stars

Expelled from Paradise (Rakuen Tsuihō)

Expelled from Paradise (Rakuen Tsuihō) 2014

More science-fiction!

So, if you haven’t seen Expelled from Paradise I’d say this film strikes a balance between overpowered robots, cyber investigation, fan-service and good old fashioned post-apocalyptic stuff – yet it’s not precisely part of the mecha-sub genre. It also spends a bit of time exploring personhood, which is always welcome in my books.

There are some pretty fun battles throughout – I’d watch it again for those sequences and the sleek designs of the ships and robots too, but I reckon studio pressure shoe-horned fan-service into the film.

Now, I don’t have a handle on the production context or reception it got at the time of release, but it’s probable that main character Angela’s g-string costume (and the action) was meant to sell the audience on the film so the writers could later sneak in some philosophical aspects as the movie progressed? I mean, she’s not a one-dimension character but she is clearly typical in that she’s been costumed to be eye-candy for the male gaze.

In other aspects, Expelled from Paradise treats her as an actual character. She realistically struggles with having to use a body once again (after essentially living as a virtual presence for part of the story) and she does become less conceited, so there’s some character development. And look, it’s not all bad and I’d say the film is probably still worth watching for the animation alone.

Actually, maybe for the mysterious (and cute) Frontier Setter too, along with the other lead character who remains my fav, Dingo. He’s probably my favourite because he has the whole ‘Spike’ bounty-hunter thing going on, though Dingo is more open – and interestingly enough, in the English dub he’s actually voiced by Steve Blum (and Wendee Lee voices Angela :D).

This movie had a big budget and some big names behind it – Seiji Mizushima (FMA) Gen Urobuchi (Pyscho Pass) as director and writer, but Expelled from Paradise didn’t end up being brilliant or un-missable for me and I don’t see it listed as a classic on anyone’s list… but once more, having said that, it was still pretty good in spite of the things I felt were shortcomings.

3 Stars

I felt like there was also a little nod to Ergo Proxy here when we meet Angela’s masters, though of course, not everything is a reference to something else – but I like to seek out the possibilities anyway 😀

Revisions (Rivijonzu)

Revisions (Rivijonzu) 2019

Sometimes I find myself being a little harder on recent shows if they don’t break a whole lot of new ground. It’s something I don’t like doing actually, I feel like I have to fight that impulse both as a viewer and when reviewing a series, because I don’t think that Originality is the most important metric available.

Instead, I’m more interested in whether I was drawn into the world, whether I responded to the characters and whether existing tropes and conventions are refreshed or handled in an interesting manner, whether the art style, design or settings chosen make me stop and recognise just how beautiful or impressive they really are.

And so having said all that, I still found myself in two minds about Revisions.

It definitely echoes Neon Genesis and other classics specifically in some ways but on a smaller scale. Elsewhere it’s more ‘generally familiar’, from character design (that Voltron-esque colour scheme of the body suits) to other common mecha tropes, but the time travel aspect added a nice complication to the plot. Having the main character Daisuke both suffer a hero complex and be ridiculed for it allowed extra conflict between the young heroes, though that aspect of the storyline kinda swung a little violently from polar opposites in the short span. Maybe the manga spreads that aspect out more smoothly?

Still, the pacing was brisk and the animation itself kept me watching; especially the designs of the Civilians and the suits/the String Puppets themselves all felt both ‘on brand’ for the genre but also distinctive enough. I did find the occasional close up here and there to reveal that cel-shaded look to the CGI that I’m not a huge fan of, but it was nothing glaring.

Great music throughout, especially the ending theme and with a few satisfying twists in the story, not too many instances of ‘out of place’ fan service (I guess) and overall I did enjoy it. The writing was pretty effective at showing the unsurprising cowardice contrasted with the welcome heroism of humanity in a largely dystopian setting. It also pulled back away from the kids and their struggles to spend a bit of time on managing a city on limited resources, which I found interesting, though would hardly be everyone’s key memory of the series 😀

3.5 Stars

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Jū Ō Sei)

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Jū Ō Sei) 2006

I felt like I could always see where the storyline to Jyu-Oh-Sei/Planet of the Beast King had been compressed for the purpose of the adaptation, which is a real shame because it missed out on being ‘great’ instead of ‘good’ for me, due to that. Now, I know I’ve said this before (so it’s doubtless getting a little boring!) but if this had been a 20-something-episode series I think it would have been pretty compelling.

Despite this, I didn’t give up on the show because there’s definitely still enjoyable things – there’s a futuristic/primitive new world with an interesting society (one that has been forced into its current shape due to the harsh realities of the planet), there’s a range of nice action sequences too and the series does feature characters with both noble and unclear motives to keep you guessing, along with enough twists and meaningful character development that you’ll probably end up caring about at least some of the heroes.

However, in regards to the main character Thor… too many of the most vital and plot/life-changing decisions he makes are just thrust upon him with no or little lead-up or even foreshadowing. Due to this, such events and actions come across as quite clumsy onscreen – I’m sure the long-running manga didn’t have that problem since it benefitted from the luxury of time. One of the early decisions really gave Thor a psychotic edge which I don’t believe was the intention – it was meant to be something he struggled with.

And without spoiling some of the big reveals at the end, I see where you might argue why his actions actually made clear sense but during the opening stages of a series, show the character struggle so we can empathise, rather than glossing over the tough moments.

Just a final note, the series has a shojo target audience and maybe that feeds into the character designs but I don’t think Jyu-Oh-Sei precludes any one audience (except the quite young of course).

3 Stars

Wolf’s Rain (Urufuzu Rein)

Wolf’s Rain (Urufuzu Rein) 2004

With so much of the Cowboy Bebop team involved here I felt exactly zero seconds of doubt in terms of whether I’d enjoy Wolf’s Rain.

Of course, that shouldn’t be enough by itself – execution matters, right? But Wolf’s Rain definitely works and it’s a great series despite the inclusion of four recap episodes. And while recaps can obviously be useful both from a production standpoint and for the viewers, I was thrilled to be able to skip them 😀 (Supposedly the episodes had to happen due to the production delays re: the SARS scare or perhaps more likely(?), just a temporary budget problem and Bones didn’t want to ‘waste’ the slots they’d already lined up during broadcast).

Well, whatever the reason – you can safely skip the recap episodes and still enjoy a pretty ace show. It covers a lot of ground, dystopian science-fiction, fantasy, action and romance, and looks great, though viewers raised on modern anime might consider the animation dated – though to my eye, it’s pretty much as great as Bebop.

To sum up the story in an incredibly short (and unnuanced) way, Wolf’s Rain follows a small pack of wolves (and the humans who help and hinder them) as they search for a legendary Paradise.

It’s a nice simple premise that allows the ‘quest’ element to shine through, as the wolves slowly come together and learn to trust and work with each other, hounded at times by human hunter Quent, or the menacing all-powerful Nobles, or even their own internal conflicts.

(I especially love this version of the artwork for the physical release)

If you’re familiar with Keiko Nobumoto’s writing style then you can expect a certain amount of sacrifice and tragedy even, so get ready for the heart strings to be manipulated throughout – especially toward the end, though the epilogue should please some viewers at least. You can also probably expect a few surprises about your favourite characters or even the villains, some of which are foreshadowed really nicely too… but I don’t want to spoil any of them here!

Another aspect I really enjoyed was Yoko Kanno’s OST – which is overall really quite lush and orchestral, and one of the recurring themes I especially liked:

Opener Stray shows her ability to once again work with typically western pop sounds, with that 1980s-era Genesis feel to the song, and where the chameleon that is Steve Conte provides another great vocal (with more Tim Jensen lyrics, to reunite the classic Cowboy Bebop musical team).

I know some folks do consider this series ‘slow’ (and even at times dismissive of some its background plot-threads) but I didn’t have that problem myself, nor did I really focus much on the allegorical aspects re: Christianity, they didn’t add to the series nor distract me, as they’re pretty subtle – it’s not like Neon Genesis for example, where it’s very upfront.

With a series like Wolf’s Rain I think the main aspect I really appreciated (aside from the characters and mythology it built, and everything I’ve mentioned above of course) was the fact that it was an original idea (though perhaps that word is a misnomer here) as opposed to being an adaptation, or being set in a school or having only teen leads, which is a nice change compared to a lot of anime.

5 Stars  

(If you’ve never seen this and you do give it a shot, you’ll probably recognise Mamoru Miyano’s vocie (who plays lead wolf Kiba) as ‘Light’ from Death Note or ‘Ling Yao’ in FMA: Brotherhood or maybe where I realised I’d heard him before, as ‘Rintarō Okabe’ in Steins;Gate.)

Green Legend Ran (Gurīn Rejendo Ran)

For me, this OVA series was in no way terrible… but it just seemed like it included a really wide range of ideas that didn’t quite come together by the end, and so missed the mark a little for me.

Green Legend Ran Gurīn Rejendo Ran (1992)

A lot of folks mention the influence of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind here and it’s definitely clear, though Green Legend Ran is both more violent and less assured in its storytelling. There were some haunting moments and some sharp action sequences in the series but even with a reasonably sympathetic hero and heroine, I still wasn’t enthralled.

(not the best example I could find actually, still somewhat illustrative)

I did like the character design from Yoshimitsu Ohashi (who has worked on Millennium Actress and Trigun among others) some of it was really memorable – especially the Bishops, who were both bizarre and creepy, that aspect was pretty great. (In terms of more ‘cross-overs’ from other 1990s series, a minor character is also voiced by Kōichi Yamadera who most probably recognise as the voice of Spike from Cowboy Bebop.)

Still, despite some big themes and some fun connections with other shows, I’d only recommend Green Legend Ran if you had always been curious about the series and perhaps can find it reasonably cheap/can stream it.

3 Stars