Wonder Egg Priority + Special (Wandā Eggu Puraioriti)

Wonder Egg Priority (Wandā Eggu Puraioriti) 2021

I wrote some of this review not long after the end of episode 12 and it really feels like so much depends on the OVA…

Wonder Egg Priority should feel familiar but also new and exciting at the same time. Everything is intense too, whether it’s the colours, action sequences or storylines, all with that familiar CloverWorks feel.

And while there are a certain amount of ‘power of friendship’ moments the themes are overall dark and at times, maybe handled bluntly – but I wonder how I’d feel, if I were young right now and struggling with tough issues, to see an anime like this that showed kids fighting back, how cathartic and hopeful it might be.

If you decide to watch Wonder Egg here’s a bit of what to expect as per the plot adapted from Wikipedia:

Ai Ohto, a junior high school student, is temporarily not attending school following the suicide of her close friend Koito Nagase. During a late-night walk, Ai finds a gachapon machine that dispenses a “Wonder Egg”. That night, Ai gets drawn into a dream world where the Wonder Egg cracks open to reveal a girl, whom Ai must protect from a horde of monsters called ‘Seeno Evils’.

Ai is an engaging lead and the bonds she forms with her friends are the highlights, even over some fantastic fight sequences and unanswered questions that pull you along. I wanted things to work out for her and the team by the end of the series, a sure sign that things were working as far as I was concerned.

But certainly the show hasn’t satisfied everyone.

A few months ago (at the time of writing this review) there was a bit of online dribble re: ‘casuals’ and the magical girl genre. For me, if you use the word ‘casual’ to disparage someone, I know I never have to take your opinion seriously, because who cares how someone is introduced to an anime or a genre?

Or a game, or an album, or whatever.

… and so I’ll just move right along.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about Wonder Egg Priority was the roster of villains. [Spoilers below]

For me, there are three to choose from in Wonder Egg Priority; a pair and two individuals.

I’ve probably quoted the adage that ‘a hero is only as good as the villain’ in a review before, and Acca and Ura-Acca are indeed bad news; a pair of sock-puppets skillfully manipulating vulnerable kids who enter their desperate circle of selfish madness.

But you are given a chance to understand why they are villains at least, just like the glimpse we get of the ‘role models’ for poor Rika – someone who demonstrates the sad truth that people who are abused can become abusers themselves.

Frill is the villain with the least amount of screen time, and while her role in the present of the anime remains unclear, her flashback episode is certainly memorable. In fact, that single episode is as confronting as any other in the series can be, and remains one of my favourites, both visually and in terms of having a self-contained storyline.

I believe I might purchase Wonder Egg one day, because I liked enough of it to do so, and I don’t want to reduce this show to its flaws because, it’s a lot more than that.

However, I can’t finish the review without mentioning the special.

… and I don’t want to pile on here, but boy, after a 25+ minute recap at the beginning, my expectations did plummet pretty swiftly.

The final episode (delayed during the original run of the show) definitely achieves a label of ‘unforgettable’ for me.

It disappointed a lot of folks of course, and I found it hard to separate my negative feelings in general, from what the story was actually showing me in episode thirteen.

The special does offer an ending and follows through on some of the earlier foreshadowing, but also raises new plot points perhaps a little too late. I will address one criticism I’ve read about the special, which is that Rika abandons Neiru too quickly, when she learns that her friend is AI.

To me, that behaviour is 100% consistent with a character that called an overweight fan a ‘wallet’.

Thinking back, I don’t think I actually enjoyed the episode very much but I’m glad there is an ending.

Because like so many viewers, I grew to wonder just how much abuse were staff members being put through by the industry (and us as fans?), both via criminal working conditions and unrealistic expectations?

And now I think to myself, should I even keep consuming media that is so obviously burning out artists left, right and centre? I have no answer and being powerless to change things is not an enjoyable feeling. And it’s in so many industries too, certainly not just anime.

Until things change, I should do more to support artists directly – just have to figure out how.

Wonder Egg Priority might end up being remembered more for its heroines, or for the special, or maybe as a show that highlights awful, awful working conditions in the animation industry and for me, I definitely end up associating it with all three when I think of it now.

It feels like over the next few decades (and now of course), it could be regarded as more than the sum of its flaws.

BEM (2019)

Remakes of classic shows feel risky, since time can divest modern audiences of context, and of course tastes around art styles and technological advancements change the visual landscape so quickly.

And here we have BEM, a remake created as part of a 50 year anniversary, and so the characters have been around a little while 🙂

Doubly so, that risk I’ve been thinking about seems to stand true for an international audience unfamiliar with the original (which was definitely me) but I took a chance on BEM because I like the supernatural and science-fiction genres.

And while I haven’t seen the 1968 nor the 2006 versions of BEM, I’m quite curious to do so now.

At the core of the series is a struggle for identity and belonging, combined with the Pinocchio quest – a favourite plot in anime for decades.

Here’s a quote adapted from wiki on the premise:

Even though Bem, Bela and Belo (three yokai) are often abused and discriminated against by other human beings due to their appearance, they still strive to protect the human populace of their city from other monsters, one day hoping to become human beings in return for their good actions.

On that note, the theme of ‘becoming human’ is one I craved a little more of in the anime* but it’s definitely present, as the three leads each face doubts about their desire to change.

While they explore the dream, there is a ‘monster of the week’ episodic feel to the early half of the anime, giving us time to get to know the yokai, and I probably enjoyed these episodes better in part because when the ‘big bad’ was at last revealed and brought in to the narrative, it was maybe a little late. She had less impact for me.

On the other hand, the designs were memorable and the action was fun and the themes of discrimination were welcome (depressing as they could be) as it added another aspect to the anime. In this, I imagine there’s a clear link back to the original, surely.

But getting back to the idea of risk, another thing I noticed were the 1960s kinda character designs that remained.

I reckon the artists would have wanted to update things without destroying the original designs.

To me it worked overall for sure, but two things struck me – the most obvious being Bela’s change from adult to teen, and the second being the occasional character like the bowling ball bad guy, who felt kinda goofy.


Those issues aside, I finished the short anime interested in more and enjoyed it enough to seek out the film BEM: Become Human, which luckily enough at the time, AnimeLab had on hand.

3 Stars

*The movie definitely does explore this theme in more depth and the animation budget seemed a bigger too.

(Also, I enjoyed the OST from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, the themes most of all I think).

Trese

Netflix feels reasonably hit and miss when it comes to anime and related forms but I’m glad someone at the corporation is putting money into projects I might never have had the chance to see otherwise.

Trese (2021)

Terese is one of those shows, and one I enjoyed a lot, finishing it keen to see more of her story.

Here’s a hint of the plot from Netflix: In Manila, where dark supernatural forces pervade the criminal underworld, it’s up to Alexandra Trese to keep the peace — but there’s a storm brewing.

Now, going in, I was curious about the ‘horror’ label too, because some animated horror doesn’t hit as hard as live-action, but there’s blood and gore (rather than a lot of suspense or jump scares etc), and plenty of creatures and dark magic.

Having said that ‘supernatural’ is probably more useful in terms of genre if you’re after a single word for the show’s focus, which meant I was on board pretty much right away. I guess you could argue that there’s a slight Buffy feel to Terese, but there are very clear differences – for one, there’s no teen drama.

Another difference was my favourite element of Trese: which was experiencing aspects of Filipino culture, folkore and mythology. To me, Terese feels like a series made by a Filipino team for Filipino audiences, as they rarely broke the narrative or pacing to stop for exposition, which was great.

If you are on the fence about the show I think you’ll know if you’re going to like it after viewing episode one. For me, Terese’s role as peacekeeper between humanity and various creatures made sure there was variety but if you hesitate re: ‘monster of the week’ hints there are interconnected narratives where events from the past slowly bleed into the present.

As a stand out for me, I’ll mention (but not spoil) episode 3 – creepy indeed. (I should also note how much I enjoyed the settings, some of those establishing shots especially).

While not every action sequence dazzled in the way that some legacy studios might have produced, I was never pulled out of the moment. Some extra focus on Trese as a character beyond her role as protector might have been nice but aside from those two aspects I didn’t have much in the way of complaints.

I saw a fair few big names in the English cast, which seems like one measure of international support it had during production, and I so hope that there was enough interest in the show that more episodes are produced one day! 

4 Stars

Perfect Blue (Pāfekuto Burū) 1997

Perfect Blue (Pāfekuto Burū) 1997

Not for kids, obviously.

As a side note, I found it surprising that here in Australia my DVD release (the uncut version) is rated MA rather than R, which would be more in line with the rest of the world.

Which I guess is meant to be a segue into a point about content – Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller featuring early internet culture and horror elements, a fair amount of gore and sexualised violence. There are other films out there that are more full-on but this is still a confronting adaptation*.

It’s also compelling on every level; from the intertwined elements of narrative, character, and sound to the visuals and the script and acting – I feel like it’s hyperbolic of me to say, but it’s probably a masterpiece.

I know that’s a loaded word but I can’t give everything I review here a rating of 3 or 4 stars, can I? 😀

So, preamble aside – I should mention the premise finally:

The film follows Mima Kirigoe, a member of a Japanese idol group, who retires from music to pursue an acting career. As she becomes a victim of stalking, gruesome murders begin to occur, and Mima starts to lose her grip on reality.

And that blurring of reality and fantasy when I first saw the film was so immersive, and I love it now too, even though I know what’s going on when it comes to those subsequent viewings.

I was definitely wrong in my prediction about who was responsible for the murders when I was younger. But if you’re quicker than me, you won’t need any second or third screenings to see all the clues, because they’re nice and clear and so the truth doesn’t seem like it comes from out of no-where. There’s no cheap, empty twist.

Lot

But I hope if you have never seen Perfect Blue that you still experience a bit of surprise at the ending.

And if you were inclined to watch this film more than once, I hope you also get a chance to focus on the mechanics. I won’t go deep into the production and story elements but I want to use just two classic examples, editing and camera/point of view, to discuss how effortlessly Perfect Blue establishes that feeling of unreality and positions the camera as an unreliable narrator.

[From here, I think it’s possible to see and/or infer spoilers, so tread with caution]

Editing first.

Onscreen, we are shown Mima as the following over the course of the story:

  • Idol turned actress/centrefold
  • A character on drama Double Bind
  • Blogger from ‘Mima’s Room’
  • Murderer

However, the intercutting between scenes, locations and roles is often done without viewer cues for time or space.

This is one way that Perfect Blue visually represents that blurring between real and unreal. And when the cutting-rhythm between picks up its pace to show Mima’s state of fear and disorientation, the same effect is cast onto the viewer too.

Here, I’m thinking especially of a long sequence in Mima’s room where she’s waking up over and over when the frequency of cut becomes fast as 2 to 3 seconds compared to maybe an average of 5 or 6 seconds elsewhere. Obviously, it’s not a strobe effect (not yet) but the audience doesn’t get a lot of time to interrogate what they see. Instead, you’re dragged along, just as unsure as Mima is about exactly what’s real.

On to camera!

Camera (and its role in creating point of view) when it comes to storytelling is clearly a very versatile tool.

But I want to focus on when it presents as ‘objective’ and ‘omniscient’ by nature of its ability to see and show things beyond what a main/point of view character perceives.

Again, as with the editing** what I’m always thrilled to notice here is how unreliably the camera operates in the film.

Kon takes advantage of our assumptions. Firstly, if we are shown something on screen that Mimi is not aware of then it is true. This is definitely a feint but it’s aided by the storyline and the idea that the camera is objective – the idea that it shows us, the audience, truth.

We see what Mima cannot see/remember, even if Mima is not involved in events because we need that extra information to think that we’re ‘ahead’ of Mima, that we might know who the killer is and why they kill.

Secondly, we assume that we’re generally riding along in Mima’s point of view during the film. This is another natural assumption. It’s her story, her struggle, and we spend the most amount of time watching her, invested in her life. When the narration moves beyond Mima and her immediate surrounds, it’s almost always to show how other folks are interested in Mima.

These assumptions help the camera to operate in that sly way of the unreliable narrator.

In a movie asking us ‘what is real?’, the scenes it chooses to show us are often clothed in Mima.

When we witness Mima murdering the sleazy photographer and right after see her inability to recall how bloody clothes appeared in her wardrobe, we accept that what we’ve seen is truth. After all, Mima has been having trouble keeping track of reality and we know she deeply resented filming the rape scene at the club. Of course Mima is somehow involved in the murder! And yet… just because the camera showed us something from ‘her point of view’, doesn’t mean we must accept any of that at face value.

I hope I was able to explain what I saw in those elements, as it stands that’s probably giving a bit much away re: spoilers, if you’ve never watched the film. If you have seen Perfect Blue, then you doubtless know what I’m talking about there.

Okay, so moving on from production and story elements now, I want to write about one of the major themes, and also quote Kon’s related remarks.

The exploitation of pop idols is one theme that runs through the movie but perhaps not in a didactic way – at least, not via dialogue. Perfect Blue is still a psychological thriller rather than being a drama or documentary, but the entertainment industry and related obsessions are key to everything that happens.

I suppose you could argue that putting a naive singer through such horrors is in and of itself a heavy-handed comment on the industry but it doesn’t strike me as a lie either. Pop idols (world-wide, not just in Japan) are certainly regularly exploited. (Here’s a much better article on the film and topic).

And Horror can not only function to illuminate the evil that humans are responsible for, but become cautionary too. For me, the story of Perfect Blue has that effect.

Getting back to my opening comment, I want to repeat the idea that this film isn’t for kids. Sexual violence is a significant part of the plot. It’s used as a weapon by the entertainment industry, almost as a way to tarnish Mima’s reputation and inflict self-loathing and doubt (and thus, presumably, later make her much easier for the industry to control).

In fact, the writing of the rape scene into Double Bind isn’t really considered a decision worth involving Mima in, the scriptwriter and director are more worried about her agency’s reaction.

The same violence is also both a threat (and action) from a certain character and shot in such a way that definitely evokes terror. (And so if you know that’s something you don’t want to see then skip Perfect Blue.

Satoshi Kon himself seems to be of two minds about the club scene from Double Bind especially. The special features on my disc include interviews and lectures and in one part, he is looking back on the film from years later, which I found very interesting:

“At the time, it was supposed to be an OVA. We didn’t know it was to be released in theaters. So we thought we had to make it stand out as much as possible. OVAs don’t get a lot of publicity. So I thought we should have a graphic scene, but I went too far.”

and

“But this scene was too graphic. When I saw this blown up on a threater-size screen, I ended up looking down.”

These quotes make me wonder exactly how much pressure the industry and OVA-era forms put on creators, as well as performers? Is Kon suggesting that he might have made a different version of the same story if he directed it during a different time, after becoming so well-known?

Impossible to know, of course.

Now, I can’t miss an opportunity to mention Darren Aronofsky.

You might know his films, two of which are Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. In the same interview/lectures I mention above, Kon mentions that Aronofsky wanted to remake Perfect Blue and you can see here a famous homage(?) from Requiem for a Dream and if you are familiar with the premise and tone of Perfect Blue then you’ll be right at home with Black Swan.

I’m not as well-read on this issue as others out there but Kon didn’t seem to be too impressed himself.

And finally now, I should mention that nostalgia plays a roll in how much I enjoy Perfect Blue. Both for a time when the internet was young and for something I first saw long ago. (In terms of the technology aging, I think it’d be fun to update things with today’s technology if this film were ever remade).

To my eye, pretty much everything looks top notch from Madhouse in terms of the animation and backgrounds etc but if you’ve been raised on modern, bright anime then the colours here may feel a little dull (which adds to the realism of course).

I don’t want to forget mentioning Masahiro Ikumi’s disturbing score, which will probably echo in your head for a while after watching the film – especially Virtual Mima. Some parts evoke a real clash of analogue and digital and it’s all drenched in tension 😀

This has turned into one of the longer reviews I’ve written for quite a while and so I think it’s time to wrap things up, otherwise it’ll never end.

I think this might be Kon’s best film although my favourite of his is probably still Paprika, but if you’re seeking something equal parts confronting and compelling, then Perfect Blue is probably worth seeing at least once.

5 Stars

*Pāfekuto Burū: Kanzen Hentai as written by Yoshikazu Takeuchi.

**Costume plays a really big role here too.

There are

WordPress is (for whatever reason) not letting me add captions to the images but I want to note a couple of things – the ‘anime billboard/poster’ is funny and I noticed that like in many other films from Satoshi Kon, film-making itself is once again referenced in the story.

The recurring reflection motif is sometimes very ‘upfront’ like in the first image, and other times a little more subtle like in the image two above.

The amount of clutter in a lot of the rooms really adds to the sense of claustrophobia that develops in some scenes.

I also eventually noticed just how often the camera shows us Mima from behind, hiding her face and expression, maybe obscuring her relationship to the Mimi who torments her?

Thanks again to everyone who voted for this one back here 🙂

Pet Shop of Horrors

Pet Shop of Horrors (1999)

I definitely would have watched more of these.

Pet Shop of Horrors is a great example of ‘episodic’ storytelling, with its sombre tales contained neatly within each episode. There are two links between stories – Count D and his LA pet shop, and detective Leon, who is trying to uncover the truth about the place.

Aside from the cautious friendship between the two characters, the mysteries here focus on Count D’s customers and their folly.

Perhaps in time, maybe Madhouse could have built successive OVAs into a series – but that was probably never the plan. I guess also, this show isn’t ‘horror’ enough for folks who want gore and shock? And sometimes when a show doesn’t easily fit into one genre, it’s hard to sell. I dunno, I should research its reception!

But my point is (finally!) that this Pet Shop of Horrors is more like supernatural mystery more than full-on horror, and even at times, tragedy.

And while there’s a clear structure to the episodes – meet a customer to see what dangerous creature D sells them, then watch that customer struggle with their choices, there’s enough variety with mermaids, rats, serpents and kirin, and the characters, that I enjoyed each tale.

It was also fun to see what felt like a nod to Gremlins (but may not have been, of course) re: Count D’s rules about his caring for his pets.

Finally, the question of whether and/or how the customers invariably broke those rules was where most of the horror came into play, and depending on whether they were meant to be sympathetic characters, so too, the tragedy.

This feels like a somewhat forgotten OVA from the late 1990s now, but I liked it a lot.

4 Stars

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando)

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) 2019

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind being a year or two behind the pace when it comes to new shows because I tend to miss both the hype and the reactionaries.

However, I did catch on that a lot of folks enjoyed this when it came out, and I can now add myself to the ranks.

The Promised Neverland is edge-of-your-seat stuff, with memorable characters and formidable villans indeed, with a largely dormitory setting that manages to have enough variety to keep things interesting visually, but also, retain a heavy sense of claustrophobia, I reckon.

While it’d definitely be safe to say that this is a horror anime, and that it has a few other genres mixed in, I think psychological thriller/suspense is probably the one that jumps out at me. Very few characters have clear motives and it seems like everyone is, at one time or another, keeping secrets.

It was nice not to know exactly how something would play out, as well as be surprised a couple of times too. I can see how ‘Mom’ was voted as a fav villain and while I was hoping for a different resolution to her storyline, I remain excited for the delayed second season early next year.

I don’t want to write too much more, in fear of spoilers or hints, in case anyone is planning on watching The Promised Neverland but I will add that if you’re not keen on seeing kids suffer – a lot – then maybe give this a miss. Having said that, it’s not relentlessly grim… but it’s no walk in the park, that’s for sure. Cool opening theme too!

5 Stars

(Mamoru Kanbe also directed ‘The Perfect Insider which could be said to be in the same ballpark re secrets, mystery and suspense).

Note: I should have mention before, but Sister Krone’s design is not great. She’s an actually character with a mini arc but design-wise, yeah, too evocative of minstrel shows.

Blood: The Last Vampire

Blood: The Last Vampire (2001)

Vampire fiction often brings an erotic sub-text along with the horror but Blood: The Last Vampire focuses on the dread. Not only because here, our vampire is a fury-filled avenger, but because the creatures she hunts are more like demons, perhaps. And not handsome ones, either.

Still, whichever name these bat-like fiends have, they’re to be hunted, and it’s up to Saya to do so. She’s sent into an air base and the nearby school for her hunt, posing as a student in part for maximum costume effect, I think. (Not in a fan-service way, but more to contrast between the look of a typical victim and hunter).

(In a different vampire story, Saya would probably be a first victim and then a villain – but this is more of a Buffy approach).

Anyway, getting back to this story; I loved every minute and was disappointed that the following ‘Blood’ movies and shows are not particularly related.

But if you like the genre and you find this OVA somewhere, then I reckon what you’ll be watching is bit of a seminal work.

For me it is, anyway.

Or maybe that’s just my tendency to lift up something that I probably first saw in high school as a paragon (as can be all too easy to do)… but either way, Blood: The Last Vampire seems like a masterclass in lighting alone.

The whole thing is quite cinematic, really. The CGI too, is incredible, especially considering the release date of 2000. Now, lately I’ve been taking shots at older CGI left, right and centre, and sure, you’ll see a few moments here and there that don’t seem perfect, but the team must have worked so, so hard on those visual elements.

Like other examples of the genre, this short film is very much set in ‘night’ and the shadows reflect that, but it’s not an inky mess of low-key lighting that will have you squinting for detail; there’s plenty to see and heaps of variety in colour too, including a great, sickly green at times.

What also had me transfixed, aside from tantalising hints about Saya’s past, was the setting, both the time period and the location. I can’t say I’ve seen many anime films or series set in a US air base on Japanese soil, on the eve of the Vietnam War in 1966. During Halloween, no less!

In terms of the plot, there was at least one little twist that I didn’t see coming, and I thought it was pretty perfect. Aside from the visuals, what I remember most at this moment, is how sullen, angry and cold Saya is. And yeah, that’s a pun that I could have avoided 😀

But I bring her disposition up because I was interested to see whether (or to what extent) she’d warm to poor Amino, the school nurse who is, to some extent, as much a main character as Saya herself.

Connected to their reasonably brief time together is the realisation that Blood: The Last Vampire is definitely a prologue. It was envisioned as the first in a three-part tale, but perhaps because Sony was involved with Production I.G for the funding and production, the rest of the story is made up of sequel video games (and a manga too).

Having said that, this is a self-contained OVA with a resolution, but it very clearly sets up expectations and interesting hints, and functions as an excellent first bite of a longer story. And yeah, again – I couldn’t help myself with the silly pun!

5 Stars

(With an eye to please international audiences, this film has a lot of English audio and not a whole host of subtitles, also allowing some of the cast to show skills in both languages 😀 )

A-Z Challenge: “L” is for Lily C.A.T

Lily C.A.T (1987)

I definitely enjoyed Lily C.A.T but I think if you want terror in space, then you will invariably be more satisfied by the film it owes the most to, which is of course Alien.

However, that doesn’t mean this longish OVA is not worth checking out if you’re interested in the genre. Or that it doesn’t have moments of tension. And for me, there were also parts that definitely ‘explored the human condition’, to borrow a phrase from literary fiction circles.

And as a bonus, I actually wanted some of the characters to survive!

As an aside that is actually a couple of paragraphs long, when I use the ‘Toys in the Attic’ episode of Cowboy Bebop in my classes, we talk a lot about the influence of Alien on the ep (and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others) but I think Lily C.A.T should get a mention too.

It feels like part of that famous homage episode (especially the blob itself and the blowtorch) are close enough to what you’ll see here, to warrant a mention at least. Certainly, my obsession with connecting texts to one another is something I might one day cut back on, but it’s out of my system for the rest of this review at least!

There’s plenty about the film that uses the typical ‘crew dies one by one’ structure, but the menace itself is something a little different. And when you do catch glimpses of a certain thing, you might recognise creature design by Yoshitaka Amano, with a Vampire Hunter D style, if a little more muted perhaps.

Actually… it turns out that I lied about the intertexual references, as I do have one more that I’ll get to in a moment:

So, there’s a nice layering of mystery in Lily C.A.T that I also enjoyed.

Generally, the crew is trying to figure out what went wrong to interrupt their ‘hypersleep’ flight. However, at the same time they learn of imposters aboard, and so while folks are trying to determine who they can trust amongst the humans, they’re also having to deal with increasing threats from the non-human.

It does add an extra dimension to the suspense, which I really enjoyed but if you’re looking for a really slick, vividly animated film then you might find Lily C.A.T a bit dated. However, that’s not to say it’s bad – for instance, the hanger door sequence was ace.

But back to the reference I mentioned – parts of that sub-plot seemed to echo They Were Eleven (an earlier space flight themed manga/anime) though obviously the idea of false identity is not new.

Worth it if you’re interested in ‘retro’ anime, I reckon.

3 Stars

[This is the first entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].

Tokyo Babylon (1992-94) Collaboration Review

By Ashley Capes & Curtis Monroe

Tokyo Babylon (Tokyo Babylon: A Save Tokyo City Story) 1992-1994

Hello! Today I’m hosting a collaboration with Curtis from Iridium Eye Reviews – our second, actually! We first reviewed Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers and today we’re going into the supernatural and the occult with CLAMP’s Tokyo Babylon, which can be seen as a bit of a prequel to X but still stands alone.

Thanks again to Curtis for watching this with me and also for jumping around from topic to topic in the write up, as I seem to do 😀


Ashley: Curtis, I wanted to start perhaps in an odd place, with genre or even tone – and see where you thought the OVA landed? I found this note on wiki (wish I could get to the source actually): 

Producer Yumiko Masujima remembers how difficult it was to recreate the manga’s atmosphere in the OVAs.

And I thought the episodes were highly atmospheric, strikingly so, but part of me feels that the comedic moments didn’t quite fit with the occult/supernatural, darker tone of the rest of each story. Of course, I’m not a fan of any single tone or mood being ‘unending’ in a work, I love variety, but I don’t know if the sillier moments brought levity or actually undercut the mood.

I should have used the other cat ears moment here 😀


Curtis: I would’ve never guessed that about the Tokyo Babylon OVA. While I haven’t read the manga, I do think the mysterious atmosphere does show up quite frequently. You even have the darker color palettes going on with the character outfits and the backgrounds. Certainly lots of black and red coloration on so many things. The mix of Gothic and occultic aspects did work more often than not in the visual presentation.

I thought the sillier moments in the first episode seemed out of place like the random jokes, brief comedic facial expressions, or the scene where Seishiro tells Hokuto to go on a diet just seemed off to me. That was a tonal clash with the murders here. They do dial it back in the second episode, but there were also some random moments like Hokuto dressing up in a pink cat girl outfit and briefly meowing. I don’t need to see some prototype Tokyo Mew Mew stuff in Tokyo Babylon, please.

A: Yep, I haven’t read the manga either but I’m certainly curious. Especially to try to learn more about that tonal imbalance. I thought that Hokuto was meant to be a fashion designer, and maybe that helps explain the distinctive outfits for her and her brother, and given the production period I can see a lot of Michael Jackson in Subaru’s first episode outfit. In fact, the costuming really stood out for me – that distinctive CLAMP look with the huge, square shoulders etc


C: Of course. Not to get too ahead of myself, I can see why this particular OVA would be an attempt to get some readership for that CLAMP work. I wonder if those same readers stuck around for X when it came out later.

Okay, I can see that making sense with Hokuto. I didn’t even think about Michael Jackson with Subaru’s outfit in the first episode. Wow, I can’t un-see that. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Thriller” popped on if he was walking around. How appropriate since he does deal with the supernatural. Haha!

Those are typical of some of CLAMP’s darker works from what I’ve noticed such as xxxHolic, the aforementioned X, or some of their manga series such as Legal Drug to name a few.

A: Me too! And I don’t really remember seeing Subaru in X but I’ll have to rewatch it now 🙂

What struck you as a highlight or a strength across the episodes?


C: The atmosphere was certainly a strength. The second episode felt more consistent with the more serious tone. Since it’s Madhouse, they certainly deliver in the animation department. Sure, it’s not as impressive as a lot of their later works and has aged some, but it holds up as far as some of their early 90s projects are concerned. There were some creative elements in the fight scenes such as those bird spells, the dog spirit in the first episode, or Hokuto creating a magic circle on the ground with only using lipstick.

I thought a lot of the voice acting was good in the Japanese version. I was surprised to find out that Subaru was voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi of all people whom I didn’t recognize. He’s known for playing far more energetic characters such as Usopp from One Piece, Inu-Yasha, or Monta from Eyeshield 21 to name a few. The delivery of him being timid and overly polite to a fault was certainly against type compared to Yamaguchi’s other characters. Okay, there is a bit of a hilarious in hindsight aspect when you consider Subaru isn’t the only detective to be voiced by him with Shinichi “Jimmy” Kudo from Cased Closed/Detective Conan as well as L from Death Note. Most of the other characters had voices that worked for them even though I found Hokuto to be a bit shrill for my liking even if it made sense for her having comic relief moments. One of my favorite voice actors Takehito Koyasu shows up as Seishiro. Granted, he talked in a bit of a higher register than most characters he typically plays, but he had the right mix of having a deadpan sense of humor, being very calm, but also a sense of creepiness about him (the flashback at the beginning of the 2nd episode being a major example).


The usage of magic seemed to be grounded. The mix of Japanese paranormal elements was certainly fascinating as it’s infused with more Western magic. There were creative usages with the spirits, scrying, and the concept of post-cognition was quite unique. I did like a bit of the symbolism with the Sumeragi twins. Both of them are named after stars with Subaru being a reference to the star cluster of Pleiades (Notice how the car company of the same name has stars in their logo?). The symbolism of that part of the universe comes from a dual meaning in Greek words for sailing as well as a flock of doves. That’s brilliant because he uses white birds in some of his attacks and one can argue that he tries to sail through paranormal seas to make sense of anything when not many can. Hokuto’s name is the Japanese term for the North Star. Despite how wacky she can be, she is able to help encourage her twin brother and navigate him towards the right direction if he feels down or too hard on himself. That was a brilliant correlation with the twin siblings’ interactions with one another.

A: Agree on all of this, yeah – I really liked that detail with the lipstick too, it gave her a bit of extra dimension too, beyond shrill comic relief.

There was also some really dramatic (and effective) direction during the confrontation at the end of the first episode – and this big kinda ‘hero shot’ of Seishirō that I loved. In fact, reading up a little about his role in the manga/having now seen a key scene in episode two as well, it seems a touch menacing just as much as it suggests ‘avenging’ too.

I guess it all feeds into that atmosphere we’ve talked about – all those reds and black, and those stills in the opening to episode two seemed to be composed so well. And I missed the naming and mythology, awesome – love the idea of ‘guiding’ and with the twins’ relationship it seems spot on.

Related perhaps, the Tokyo Tower/Babylon and folly of the villain in episode one made me wonder about the production time, right around an economy burst in Japan, and so it seems fitting then to have a developer as the bad guy. And maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when that sort of thing repeats in modern times, both in fiction and real life.

C: Nice! I was worried that she would be just some filler character that’s just there to take space, but it was great seeing her actually do something to aid others. Although to be fair, this is CLAMP being an all-female manga group, so I know they would never make Hokuto some useless character and they have a good track record with a lot of their heroines.

Definitely. Seishiro certainly had his big hero moments in both episodes. He certainly seems to be the most capable of the trio while also being the most dangerous which he lampshades when he fights against these criminals. I looked up a little bit about the character in the manga and in X, and it really gives another dynamic of why he does things as there are some ulterior motives.

No problem. It was something I wondered. I thought about the Subaru logo when seeing his name even though he’s not the only anime character with that name I’ve seen before (.Hack//Sign, anyone?). I heard of the name Hokuto because of Street Fighter EX, but I also realized afterwards that the anime Fist of the North Star’s Japanese name is “Hokuto no Ken”, so that made some sense with the star imagery with both twins.


That’s right. Several Asian countries did face a recession in the 90s, so that was fridge brilliance on the creators’ part. Given the current global economic situation, this makes the undertones even more resonating in hindsight especially since in America, the unemployment rate is equivalent to the Great Depression.

A: It’s like being hit from all sides right now, huh?

Anime can feel… maybe a touch frivolous at times, but on the other hand – I’ve really needed the distraction (maybe like most folks) over the last few months.

I’ll try to clumsily segue back toward where we’ve touched on the villain(s) of the OVA, which actually leads me to Seishiro again. I know we’ve already chatted about the flashback scene where he appears to be kinda grooming or at least starting off a pattern of manipulation with Subaru, but given the two episodes only reveal hints of this, I’m left feeling like I won’t get much of a resolution there. Obviously, I think you can still enjoy this OVA without taking the funnel into the manga, but that unfinished thread makes me wish more episodes were produced.

It’s a bit unfair of me perhaps to call that a ‘fault’, but I thought I’d ask what flaws or issues you found with Tokyo Babylon?


C: Yeah. History can really re-contextualize so many things in numerous arts. I’ve certainly noted how this happens in my other reviews with some things being better, different, or worse in hindsight.

I can definitely see that point. While I haven’t watched as much anime as I have recently, I did need to have some kind of escapism in between work and trying to stay informed of the current state of this world (COVID-19, the racial climate, US politics being an election year, etc.). Trust me, I really needed something like that lest I become irritable or paranoid. Okay, moving on…

That is certainly an issue with Seishiro since he has all of these subtle dynamics. Without getting any more context from the manga and/or X, I would have no idea why he has those kinds of interactions with Subaru. The unfinished aspect of the anime would be the biggest flaw and I’ve certainly noticed it with other OVAs of the 90s and 00s that felt like glorified trailers for the manga series they’re based on (Fight!! Spirit of the Sword, Angel Densetsu, and even the Battle Angel anime come to mind). Going back to Seishiro, I thought he had a habit of Tuxedo Masking the situation if that makes sense. Actually, it might be even more excessive than Mamoru’s/Darien’s alter-ego because he makes the final attack while Subaru is licking his wounds. This undercuts the main character and he should have at least made that coup de grace in at least one of the episodes. That was such bizarre characterization that did the medium no favors.


Besides the unfinished nature of the OVA or how Seishiro was portrayed, I had some issues with some of the audio and certain characters. I was not a fan of that insert song that was also the ending theme in episode one. It sounded like a really cheesy visual kei ballad that went nowhere and was chock-full of random English lyrics even by anime standards. I couldn’t take the schmaltzy nature of that song. While the main trio certainly have their own clearly-defined personalities, I had some trouble getting into some of the supporting characters. The detective felt generic to me even if he did have purpose in the plot. The villain in the second episode was way too shallow. Murdering people over a seat on a subway? That is one of the most petty things I’ve ever seen a villain do and it just made him way more cartoonish even if he was threatening.

There was also an unintentionally funny scene where he tells Mirei to run as he gives her a ten count before he chases her. Really? You’re going to rip off Shere Khan from The Jungle Book (yes, the Disney version)? The only thing that would’ve made this even more egregious would be if he told her that she’s “trying his patience” in the middle of said countdown. In addition to those things, this OVA felt like a case-of-the-week format, but never follows through because of the two episodes. Looks like I’ll have to watch the live-action sequel, read the manga, and watch X TV to find out everything that happens in that part of CLAMP’s universe.

A: Yes, great point about the villain from episode two – it felt incredibly flat, or at least a lapse in the characterization maybe, because the seat motivation spoke of zero rationality, like they were going for supremely ‘out of control’, but otherwise, there was time taken to show that he was quite functional.

To pivot back to something I really liked – Satoru Miyatake, who collected and catalogued stone and the attached memories, from building sites was fascinating. I really liked that idea and wished it could have been expanded somehow. It really fired my imagination though he was really just kinda plonked down into the storyline there in a way!


C: Thanks, Ashley. That episode’s villain felt like some generic and shallow “evil for evil’s sake” caricature. Killing people over a seat has to be one of the most superficial villain motivations I’ve ever seen. As much as the Joker can be chaotic (the severity of such depending on which iteration being shown), even some of his reasons go beyond “because he’s evil and/or insane”. Come to think of it, he did seem functional albeit extremely violent which hurts the narrative even more.

That was a great idea and I definitely agree with Satoru Miyatake. It gave a new dynamic that I’ve never seen before with the concept of scrying which really works in an occult detective context. That’s a superpower you don’t see too often even in a psychic or supernatural context. This could’ve been explored much more like finding out a character’s personality or past by what they own or that power being used to solve more crimes. 

A: I love to see more of that too – actually, I’m re-watching The Vision of Escaflowne at the moment and the Tarot stuff gives me a slightly similar vibe. I miss that sort of thing in supernatural storytelling too!

So, I feel like I’m going to end up ‘shooting for the middle’ here with my rating – and say that I think 3 out of 5 stars suits how I feel about it. Worth a look but not essential for me, despite how much I enjoyed it for the most part.

C: Nice. It’s such a unique power and it would’ve been so perfect for Tokyo Babylon. Escaflowne is definitely one series I would like to see again. I still think it’s crazy how this got played on Fox Kids briefly alongside Digimon, Power Rangers, and X-Men reruns back in the day.

Using your rating system, I would give Tokyo Babylon a 2.5 stars. There were some good things in that anime which I don’t deny, but I thought it was average as a whole. I could see CLAMP fans digging this more than me especially if they know things about the manga, X, and/or Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. Thank you so much for collaborating with me on another anime review!

Demon City Shinjuku (Makai Toshi: Shinjuku)

Demon City Shinjuku (Makai Toshi: Shinjuku) 1988

I swing back and forth on how much I enjoy the works of Yoshiaki Kawajiri (and Hideyuki Kikuchi) due to their tendency to drift into territory I’ll describe as crass at best.

Other times, the team-up creates things which are sinister and stylish from start to finish – with plenty of action to go along with the horror elements. Demon City Shinjuku mostly fits under this description for me.

And if you like the supernatural genre or films with great action sequences or with low-level lighting, stylised reds, pinks and blues for the palette of a city in endless night, and a city filled with mysterious characters and seemingly insurmountable odds for the hero(es) to tackle, then you’re in luck with Demon City Shinjuku.

To contrast, I’m certainly aware that some of the criticisms aimed at this film (and which can also be applied to many films and genres, especially fighting shonen) are certainly valid. Character development is not missing precisely, but the storyline is mostly built around getting the hero from one battle to another. And those battles tend to be exciting or surprising and are clearly so well directed, and thus the trade-off is definitely worthwhile for me.

On the other hand, Sayaka Rama doesn’t have much of a role beyond damsel (but she’s pretty brave, forging ahead in her high-vis pink dress) and so that issue with the characterisation being a little thin plays out elsewhere too. Again, I think there is a trade-off – which is the mystery behind a lot of figures (and the setting itself) especially for someone like Mephisto.

I also found it interesting to see the shinai from Kendo being the hero’s weapon of choice, which is something I think modern martial arts anime has maybe moved away from a little. As tends to be the case with me, I really enjoy Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s character designs – and even though his role is mostly confined to the prologue, the character of Genichirou strikes me as a cool mix between Clint Eastwood and Jet Black, or maybe he just has a 1970s vibe in general.

In terms of audience, I’ll mention that Demon City Shinjuku has far less sexualised violence compared to say, Wicked City or even Ninja Scroll, and the violence is somewhat more restrained too. I wonder if at this point in his career (right after Wicked City) there was an urge to make something (potentially) more commercial and suitable for distribution in the US, as Bloodlust perhaps was.

4 Stars