009-1 (TV)

009-1 (2006) TV

I’m a little annoyed that I’d never come across 009-1 before last year.

Written by Shotaro Ishinomori as a way to tackle stories beyond the shonen demographic familiar with Cyborg 009 etc, it’s an interesting premise where the cold war had continued well into the future. It gave me some Spy v Spy vibes (but with a bigger cast) and a more serious tone, as the futility of the war is very much front and centre across the series.

Right off the bat I’ll say that I was probably pre-disposed to enjoying this anime.

Not just because Ishinomori was behind the pen, but the 1960s-aesthetic (from OST to costume to architecture and weaponry), I loved it. Even things like the echoes of the space-race that appear across the episodes, right down to having (not only) Mylene’s pupils often shaped like little rockets.

Patterns upon patterns here, loved it

Backgrounds and composition were two other highlights for me – it rarely seemed like a single episode passed where I didn’t enjoy some textured view of land or cityscape, or the choice of shot or framing. (Director Naoyuki Konno probably had some great manga panels to reference but I don’t know how close the series is to the source material).

I was also surprised a few times by the twists and turns here, and between plenty of action-based episodes there were some sad tales and stories that take-on big questions too, like perhaps Holy Night and POP or Exodus.

If you’re more well-versed with spy films and TV than I am, I think some of the moments that caught me off guard will be easier to spot.

Lots of fan-service too, mostly focused on beautiful girls and a lot of it fairly exaggerated, though sex and power (and to a lesser extent agency) are actually themes in 009-1.

But above everything else in this category, I cannot finish the review without mentioning the fembot ‘guns in their jubblies’ stuff, because in a pre Austin Powers world I can see it being a great twist but it ended up being comical to me, having seen Austin Powers before 009-1.

I will say that the opening episode does establish a bit of a false sense that the team of Agents will work together across the series, but the anime is mostly focused on 009-1 herself, and so if you’re expecting an ensemble show, this won’t do the trick.

Otherwise, one of my new favs and maybe a contender for the Top Ten. Maybe. Well, Top Twenty, certainly.

5 Stars

Hard not to spoil this joke, but I guess I have now – at least, if you have never seen 009-1 you’ll be anticipating it. And if you never plan to watch 009-1, then there’s no problems, lol

Casshan: Robot Hunter (OVA)

Compared to the 2008 series (Casshern Sins), in some aspects the Robot Hunter OVA feels like more of a somewhat faithful remake of the 1973 original than a full re-imagining, even with the narrative re-ordering here. (However, that’s not to claim that this version makes zero updates or alterations either).

Casshan: Robot Hunter (Robotto Hantā Kyashān) 1993

In other ways it’s very different.

I won’t do heaps of comparative notes here, as I plan to save that for a future post, but the tone of this OVA had an interesting balance between mournful, hopeful and dystopian, whereas I think of Casshern Sins as almost despairing in a way.

As is often the case with stories people write about the future, technology is a bitterly duel-edged sword, appearing as both a tool of violence, of oppression and liberation.

It’s a fairly dystopian society shown in the OVA but as I mentioned, the resistance plot does offer hope and progress toward the eventual showdown between Casshan and Braiking Boss / Black King.

Elsewhere, the music* stood out for me, at times being more symphonic than I was expecting from a 1990s OVA. (Maybe that’s a little dismissive of me, and I mean to note that I enjoyed it as much as the perhaps more to-be-expected rock).

And on the note of OVAs, this is anime, and so it will of course feature an obligatory shower scene featuring Luna – not unlike a typical film from just about any other medium, for that matter. 

Anyway, one thing I appreciated was that this OVA does tell a full story – just be sure to steer clear of the Harmony Gold, cut-down film-length version. The proper Robot Hunter is four short OVAs and is roughly 20 mins longer all told.

Ideally, I’d spend a bit more time on the differences, but basically if you’ve not heard of Harmony Gold, they’re known for making cuts, changing scripts and generally aiming to change anime to be more kid-friendly.

Getting back to Casshan, if you’ve seen any iteration of these characters and were hoping that the classic acrobatic attacks are still here – they are, and they usually look fairy good, everything does generally speaking, but some of the fire effects do seem a bit old-fashioned.

But hey, this is around 30 years ago now.

I will quickly mention two more comparative things, such as the direct visual quotes that I recognised from the first episode of the 1973 series, (see further below) and the way that Braiking Boss’ name was changed in the subs which was interesting.

But again, I’d like to save more of that for the comparison post!

So, is this OVA worth seeking out?

Maybe for Casshern-completionists or for fans of the era (say, where the OVA schedule offered a bit more time to add extra detail to the frames etc), or if maybe you like the classics. Or at least, updates on classics 🙂

4 Stars

*Michiru Ōshima, also known for (among many other things) FMA.

And here we go – an example of one of the shots that references the original 🙂

Gungrave (Gangureivu) TV

It’s probable that I’ve said this before but I find mafia-style stories a hard sell.

And yet, I’ll usually at least try them out.

Gungrave (Gangureivu) TV 2003

Part of what led me to give Gungrave a look was the connection to Yasuhiro Nightow and the promise of the supernatural that was lain out so convincingly during episode one (though not fulfilled until post episode 17 for me).

And while there are a few echoes of Trigun (Wolfwood’s Punisher etc) this is obviously quite different, not just setting-wise, either.

One example is the themes.

Thematically, the price of loyalty and betrayal are key in the anime – this is as much crime-family drama as anything else, remember? – but I was probably most drawn to the science-fiction elements in the end, and the sort of revenge plot that was eventually abdicated in favour of… well, I won’t spoil the ending, even in my ‘spoiler section’.

I also really enjoyed the designs, there’s a great range of characters here, but above all I probably liked Brandon/Beyond’s costume and the way that even his weapons are linked to the overall aesthetic (which holds a few hints of things common to the Western genre).

Narrative-wise, there are a few time jumps across the series – and since this is somewhat of a prequel to the game of the same name, learning about the key players’ pasts feels like a logical move. Having said that, I’ve never played the PS2 game so I’m not sure how well everything fits together.

In a big cast there were a fair few memorable characters and voices (Bunji!), though for one, I did think that Lee became a bit shrill in later episodes. Another issue I had was that Maria was not given much agency, which was annoying, but at least the story afforded her some more functionality toward the end.

[Spoiler below]

For me, a lot of the mafia stuff dragged.

It became a bit of a slog despite singular stand out episodes here and there or the great direction in them – and so I was most invested after Brandon’s ‘death’, though above all, I still liked the series.

Mika was cruelly under-utilised as a character and while bookies Widge and Gary (and Bear Walken and Dr. Tokioka) were other stand outs I haven’t mentioned yet, once I did start to crave vengeance on behalf of Brandon I think everything seemed to come together for me; themes, mafia and science-fiction aspects too.

The ending was really interesting but part of me also found it fairly unsatisfying – in terms of bloodlust, at least.

To keep harping on a bit about things I didn’t enjoy so much, making Brandon almost mute during his ‘grave’ era was also a disservice.

He was never much of a talker in the previous arcs, but denying him much in the way of speech really diminishes the potential to add extra depth to a lot of his scenes. Obviously, the visuals do plenty of talking but there could have been more facets to his final arc.

Having grumbled about all of the above, I have to say that I still enjoyed Gungrave a lot – and as a quick final, final thought, it was nice to see a bit of time (though not enough) spent critiquing the deep hypocrisy of crime families.

4 Stars

Ryoko’s Case File (Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo)

Supernatural investigations led by the lovely but cruel Superintendent Ryoko.

A quick review this time!

Ryoko’s Case File (Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo) 2008

This was a short and fun series, and I found it interesting to see some politics mixed in with the supernatural too – though it probably takes a bit of a back seat to the intrigue.

There’s also a ‘girls with guns’ feel here too, which was another plus in my books.

In fact, the anime covers a few genres (in addition to the above there’s romance and sci-fi too) and maybe what holds things together most is the relationship between long-suffering Junichirō and Ryoko (who isn’t always cruel, thankfully).

There is a central plot line and an antagonist that probably makes an appearance a bit too late, but I do like episodic stuff for the most part. And in truth, the bad guys have some surprises up their sleeves so they remained engaging for me.

Ryoko’s Case File also has room for a bit of humour, which helped elevate some individual stories above others, and overall I enjoyed this ‘old’ show a lot.

Now, I don’t see it popping up on anyone’s Top Ten lists but if you want something enjoyable and a bit different from some of the genres that dominate modern anime today, maybe try to find this short series.

3 Stars

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse

This film would probably be a real delight for folks who like in-jokes and intertextuality.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse (2018)

It’s also nice – after 60-odd years – to see the character expanding as other folks don the suit and save the world!

Into the Spider Verse might feel like wall-to-wall awesome action sequences but there’s enough time for character development for Miles and even Spider-Gwen, along with a few classic super-hero twists that you’ll probably see coming if you’re fairly familiar with the genre.

Aside from those moments (which I still found effective) there is a new depth, and opportunities for humour, due to the multi-verse structure. I won’t offer spoilers here, in case you’re like me and it takes you a while to see things that make a big splash upon release (I’m roughly 3 years late :D).

Although, there is a fun voice acting choice for a supporting character that I wasn’t expecting – a perfect fit, really. I want to spoil it now but really, that’s no fun at all.

Highly recommended if you like top-notch animation (on many, many levels here) and want to see a different take on Spiderman.

5 Stars

Tokko

If you like breasts and blood, supernatural-action anime Tokko has got you covered.

Okay, flippant opener I know – but I’ll switch to the tone of the series now.

Tokko (2006)

On the special features for my disc I noticed the team mentioned wanting to create something edgy/dark and that since the series would screen on Wowow during a late night slot, they’d be able to come closer to the source material.

I can’t speak to that but there’s a fair share of blood, some supernatural and sci-fi horror, along with plenty of breasts too, when it comes to costuming. (None of the nudity really makes sense of course – it’s not a question of romance or passion, but it’s not R-rated stuff either).

Now, in terms of ‘flaws’ I’ll say the animation quality varies a little, as does the consistency of character models at times, but I’m pretty forgiving of those things when it comes to supernatural stories.

So, what is the story in Tokko?

“When 108 demons free themselves and start killing people, Special Public Safety Task Force, or ‘Tokko’ for short, is formed to stop them.” Covering familiar ground here but the series definitely has a few extra dimensions via the various groups at cross-purposes, along with something I found pretty interesting.

Here, the characters were probably in their early 20s (rather than being either younger or older) meaning that Tokko could fit into the (perhaps fledgling) ‘New Adult’ genre as it’s called in the world of books.

This meant that some of those problems appeared onscreen – the trials of independence, workplace issues, juggling dating and work, those were the welcome, extra things that main character Ranmaru Shindo had to deal with when not slashing up monsters.

On that note, the violence is a touch more than your average shounen/seinen perhaps, and while the supernatural/horror elements did stand out at times (especially the opening and the lab episodes) I think that Tokko could have been ‘good’ to my mind, but when I got to the ending… woah.

And so to finish with a spoiler – do not seek out Tokko expecting a solid ending.

After the climax to the final episode, there’s this odd rush of ending-erasing stuff, as if to somehow reset the story and then kick off on a second season, a season which just never materialised.

3 Stars

(Also, episode one has quite the wtf moment but I won’t spoil it for anyone who might hunt this show down one day).

BEM: Become Human

BEM: Become Human (2020) follows on directly from the series but you could probably pick up the movie and have a different but equally enjoyable experience – how exactly it would differ probably strays into spoiler territory, though.

Immediately, the higher budget (and change to Production IG) for the film was clear, with more detail, bigger battles and overall smoother animation across the board (esp transformations and action) than the short series.

There are also subtle changes in character design and a narrowing of focus when it came to the story too – this is very much Bem’s tale. For me, that was both a strength and a weakness to the film, as Bela is sidelined and Belo only gets a bit of action, but overall the most screen time (and impact) comes from Bem’s struggle.

On the other hand, having the three leads separated does add some dramatic tension.

The main theme of what does it mean to be human? is still front and centre, allowing Bem’s backstory to sneak into his search for truth about himself and the city he seems to be trapped within.

[Spoilers below] 

In regard to the setting, it was perhaps the other stand out for me – I found it fascinating how much it reminded me of the original Westworld, Stepford Wives or the Truman Show perhaps. Since pretty much the whole city is in on the deception, there was a great sense that everyone was a villain or at least, untrustworthy.

I will say that I wished there had been time for the movie to do a little more with the relationship between Bem and his ‘wife’ perhaps, and I’ve already mentioned not enjoying the lack of attention given to the supporting cast (Sonia gets more time than the others) but overall, I’m glad I stumbled across the series and, in turn, the movie.

Definitely for fans of the supernatural or perhaps late 1960s manga.

4 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei)

Gundum is one of the heavyweights of the anime industry that I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet (which surprises me) as I had planned to do the original series and then Gundam Wing, but when I saw that Shukou Murase was directing this one, I thought I’d switch to Hathaway instead.

I should note that this will probably be more of a ‘dot-point’ style review as I don’t have enough knowledge to contextualise the film within the franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei) 2021

Although, I will say that I loved this – the visual aspects from design to colour and movement were all ace and story-wise, the film is a great set-up for what’s to come. I was actually surprised to find that Hathaway feels very much like an old-school spy novel at times, which was cool.

(But there are a few big action scenes + a bit of fan service to go with the intrigue and verbal sparring too).

  • Hathaway feels like triumph in lighting
  • The work done to sell the scale of the robots in this film, like showing feet of the mechs filling the screen and all those low angle POVs, loved it
  • There were a lot of standout scenes but the milkbar & taxi scenes jump out for me
  • Gigi is an interesting character – there’s a lot of ‘mysterious woman/femme fatale’ stuff going on (not that my screen shots show that), which feeds into that espionage feel. I’m left wondering what her role will be in future films.
  • It’s interesting to see Australia mentioned as an important base – I wonder if back in the 1980s (when the books were written), if my homeland was still a bit in vogue for settings to be mentioned but not used.
  • I’m not really up to speed on the (ongoing?) tension between the Evangelion/Gundam camps, but with or without any boasting to (potentially) influence you, I still think that this film was pretty spectacular.

I also wanted to ask myself whether Hathaway could function as a possible entry point into the Gundam franchise… and I’m not actually sure it would be the best one.

The same classic themes around war and loyalty etc are front and centre, and of course, giant robots! but something about Hathaway makes me wonder if it would be right.

I don’t think I have enough knowledge of the franchise to make a recommendation.

But to finish at last, I will say that it’ll be tough to wait for the next two films but I’m keen, very keen.

5 Stars

Kurozuka

Kurozuka is a sometimes jumbled, often compelling adaptation of a novel by Baku Yumemakura and which is on the surface, a vampire story.

Kurozuka (2008)

After finishing the series I think it can be more comfortably described as science fiction/action with incidental vampirism, which is both interesting and – if you are looking for some vampires – disappointing.

Produced by Madhouse and directed by Tetsuro Araki, Kurozuka bears a few hints of aspects which later appear in Attack on Titan but here there’s an epic, centuries-spanning tale squeezed into 13 episodes.

I’m not able to put my finger on what I think made this anime close to being amazing, without getting there.

Fun action, interesting world with a good central mystery to the storyline, even a disjointed narrative structure to keep things from becoming too predictable… but something was missing.  

Two things that I came up with after thinking a bit:

  • the set-up of a potentially doomed romance actually led to something else, a swift separation of the main characters which then denied them much meaningful interaction for nearly the rest of the series, and
  • the sheer volume of off-screen story that did not appear (or was not referenced) in time for the climax to have a big impact.

Did all of my grumbling mean I hated this series?

Not at all, but I guess it’s a very easy 3 Stars for the rating, since I’m glad to have seen it (and am now quite curious about the book), but at the same time, I don’t know if I’ll watch it again.

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō)

Back Arrow is bursting at the seams with exuberance and I enjoyed that a lot.

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) 2021

For me, it’s wildly over the top and dead sincere at the same time, leaping between those two contrasting extremes. In that way I guess you could say that there’s a mix of aspects from shows like TTGL and Gun x Sword, among others.

A while back, Lita and I did a ‘first reactions‘ kinda collab and I’m happy to say my response to the show remained quite favourable indeed.

Now, in other reviews I’ve definitely criticised stuff that hops between extremes (or wildly contrasting tones) but obviously I don’t always have a problem with it. I thought Back Arrow shifted in such a way that I was expecting things to be a bit off-the-wall from the beginning, and so it didn’t bother me.

All the shounen tropes and clichés (and bizarre humour) are out in full force in Back Arrow (the choir! the wine bottles!), declarations shouted with clenched fists, escalating battles and a huge finish.

It was hard to believe in a way, but as the last few episodes unveiled new and more gigantic surprises in terms of that escalation, I was swept up in the sense of fun – all the amps go up to 11 here.

In terms of fav characters, Shu stands out for me, since he forges his own path, though I will say that his key betrayal actually seems poorly handled in respect to another character, considering the supposed importance of a certain flashback. That’s probably pretty vague if you haven’t seen Back Arrow but I was hoping to avoid spoilers.

So I’ve written a few paragraphs now without mentioning the plot but it includes some of the big stakes I’m looking for: save the world and know thyself, along with a big enough cast that a few folks get to live out different aspects of each.

I can see how this show might fail to meet the needs of some audiences – some of the key anime that Back Arrow is channelling across its 24 episodes were now released generations ago.

And to be honest, there is a strangely childish part of me that really enjoys the fact that Back Arrow seems to be almost a cult show already.

That’s actually a bad thing, though – I want Back Arrow to be more popular so that more shows like it get made.

4 Stars