Neo Ranga

Neo RangaShimabara sisters with tribal elders on Barou island

I was reminded about Neo Ranga when it showed up on Catalan TV (TVCi). It was released in 1998, got a US R1 release and has slipped from attention since.

Three pretty Japanese sisters inherit from their missing brother both the throne of an Indonesian island and a god/robot: Neo Ranga.
Unimpressed and suspecting it’s all a con, they return to Japan. However the huge god/robot follows them there; which makes for some interesting juxtapositions of everyday township life; shoot-em-up action; and the activities of the media. The three sisters are very poor; the eldest, Minami, is obsessed with making money, the middle sister, Ushio, is an idealist, while the youngest, Yuuhi, is excited by the power that command of Neo Ranga gives her.

The detailed attempt to capture the effect of weird circumstances on the three girls, and on everyday life – right down to house prices and the trade in local shops – makes “Neo Ranga” worth watching. Various subsidiary characters, such as shopkeepers, an ambitious TV journalist, a police officer keen to pilot law enforcement robots, and the local yakuza, all feature in the action. The activities of the police and armed forces are portrayed in a rather satirical way.

As befits a series made in 15-minute episodes, the action is fast-moving. There are some great images in the opening and closing credits, however in the actual story the sisters keep their kit on.

Michael Butterworth – Publisher

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Maria-sama ga Miteru 3rd series, OVA 3

Yumi and Kanoko Yumi and Kanoko

The series is set in a posh all-girl school in Japan. This latest episode is another delightful comedy of manners, in which Yumi has to deal with Kanoko-san, an over-intense admirer from the first year. The dialogue, as ever, is sparkling.

However the other half of the plot is a bit contrived. Once again, it concerns Sachiko’s neuroses, and her reactions at another inter-school festival. (That poor girl is beginning to look like she needs serious help). There’s a photographer character who doesn’t seem to realise that negatives can be cropped, and a bit of uniform cross-dressing that seems written in solely so that Yumi can be mistaken for her brother (despite having a higher-pitch voice, seemingly).

Still, there is some very pretty artwork, notably in the opening and closing credit sequences.

Anime round-up

Some anime I’ve watched recently:

Angel Heart – adapted from a manga by the same writer who gave us City Hunter. This is a City Hunter spin-off. A girl assassin who has been trained as an assassin from a very early age has had enough of killing after her 50th job and commits suicide. The syndicate steal a transplant heart after, apparently,  killing its owner, and transplant it into the assassin (actually, since she has just jumped off a high building, one might wonder if this is sufficient).

The assassin, unconscious for a year, has strange dreams in which the former owner of the transplanted heart urges her to live. The dead owner of the transplanted heart is Kaori and her grieving husband is Ryo.

Not great, but the character designs look good.

Kemonozume – an odd anime, already starting to slip from my mind since this morning. Human-eating demons live among the human population, and a clan of demon fighters is dedicated to getting rid of them. However they are short of experienced fighters. The clan leader is ageing, and one of his sons wants to continue with traditional methods (swords) while the other advocates modern hi-tech methods (robot suits). There are a couple of women involved, one a nice clan menber, the other a rather demonic hot sexy blonde. It has a rather spiky modern animation style

Negima?! – Actually I gleaned much more about this series by looking it up on the Web than I did by watching the first episode. Ten-year old apprentice wizard Negi is sent from Wales to act as a supply teacher in a Japanese middle school, as part of his training. (This would be a tough assignment for an adult, let alone a wimpy ten-year old boy). So, he arrives and has to handle about thirty cute fourteen-year old girls. There are two Negima TV series and this, the second one, is a “retelling” – in other words both have exactly the same synopsis. It bears more than a little resemblance to “Love Hina” in which a limp boy had to contend with a dorm full of feisty girls - in fact the Negima girls’ characters map those in Love Hina.

If you ask me, it would be better to just get “Love Hina” and watch it again. 

Red Garden – set entirely in New York. A spate of deaths sets off an investigation. Young clubbers are unable to remember what they were doing the night before, but it seems it was something nasty. And IIRC they have also become undead.

Taiyou no Mokushiroku – comes in two parts, each near feature length. A series of devastating earthquakes, accompanied by tsunami and eruptions, devastates Japan. The influential Ryo family suffers loss as the son and his wife are killed, and the grandson appears as a plucky survivor before vanishing. The damage is so severe that Japan literally splits in two and has to accept the “help” of the Americans and Chinese for rescue and reconstruction.

Part 1 fast-forwards 15 years to a scene in Taiwan, where Japanese refugees are still stuck in camps unable to return home, and there is bad feeling between them and the locals. The grandson, Genshiro, is in Taiwan, living as a Taiwanese. Remembering his roots, he gets into trouble by sticking up for the Japanese refugees.

Particularly towards the end of Pt.1, I found this lengthy epic rather simplistic, with the characters falling into types e.g. Good-hearted Gangster, rather than having any depth. It also irritatingly shows the Japanese in their “look how insecure and helpless we are” mode. If you swallow any of this bullshit, and I don’t mean this unkindly, just remember that three generations ago the Japanese were invading Asia and trashing China, and that now they have one of the largest armed forces in the region, and we’re all buying their cars and electronic gizmos.

Venus Versus Virus – a traditional theme with a secret clan battling people-eating demons. Despite the title, it’s not much to do with viruses of either the cybernetic or medical varieties – they just call the demons “viruses”. That cute schoolgirl is recruited to the team and does her best. Actually it’s not bad.

Strike Witches – Witches with rocket boosters attached to their legs act as an airborne defence force. Quite the most stupid anime I have seen in years, and also one of the funniest.

Kino’s Journey

Kino in tentKino and Hermes

I recently bought the compact box-set of Kino’s Journey. The website already has a long review of it (by Dave Baranyi), but I’d like to draw attention to it and add my own impressions.

A youth rides a motorcycle through a desert. We soon learn that it’s a talking motorcycle, so this clearly is not quite the world as we know it. Nor are the rather allegorical countries Kino visits every three days quite part of the world as we know it. The producers of the anime have sought to give it a rather literary feel, in deference to the original books. In short this is a rather unusual anime, thoughtful, and well-crafted.

To give a flavour of it, in an early episode Kino learns that the inhabitants of one country are living in isolation from each other, because somebody had the bright idea of altering the people so that they could read each other’s thoughts, a circumstance which they soon found utterly intolerable. In another, Kino is under-impressed by a local custom, which she later learns that the inhabitants had just invented and tried out on her in an effort to develop some traditions because they didn’t have any. Kino remarks that they do have a custom, but only so long as they don’t realise it.

And some of the episodes are quite shocking. Not in the worst way, but shocking enough. Overall, though good, “Kino’s Journey” is rather downbeat and after watching a few episodes you might develop a yearning for something funny with cute magical girls in it.

MySql & OpenOffice Base

At first sight this may seem to have nothing to do with Japanese animation, but read on…

The OpenOffice suite is an alternative to Microsoft Office, and has the advantage of being free. OpenOffice 2.1 now includes a database, Base, which can potentially be used instead of MS Access.

MS Access isn’t included in the entry level versions of MS Office because, to be frank, unlike Excel it’s a “developer” rather than a “user” program. The same applies to OO.org Base. I’ve tried to start a database development using Base and found that:

1) it does work.

2) It’s more clunky and awkward to use than Access and even when it can do things it can take some work to find out how. And I was not impressed by the Reports.

The interesting thing, however, about Base is that it was inconspicuously included in the early OpenOffice packages before OpenOffice had its own database engine. So how did that work??

To cut a long story short, Base can be used as a front end for any database engine, i.e. MS Access, MySQL, and lots of others, by linking to them as “data sources” with the aid of a suitable driver.

If you are running a MySql database on your local computer or network, you could download Open Office here,

read the instructions here,
install the JDBC connector/j driver downloaded from here
and (if you have also installed the Java Runtime Environment), fire up Base and link to your named database.

Once you have got this far, you can soon knock up a handy form that will let you inspect and add data to your MySql tables. And why is this useful to anime enthusiasts? You might have a MySql database on your website, and a mirror of it stored on your local computer.

A final, but important, tip. The import to Base isn’t perfect, and you may find that the form wizard won’t see some fields, e.g. your Blob text fields. Before you use the form wizard, look at your tables in Base, in the edit mode, and check that the field parameters make sense. e.g. change Image[Blob] to Memo[Mediumtext].

The Little Norse Prince

Wolf attack #2Wolf attack

This is the debut feature of Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko) and is less known than the movies from the Studio Ghibli stable. It first appeared in 1968 (39 years ago!) and has recently been released by Optimum Asia.

I was expecting some rather outdated “classic” and was pleasantly surprised that this movie exceeded my expectations. The dramatic opening sequence, in which the boy Hols fights off a pack of wolves and, losing his axe, makes a final stand atop a rock which turns out to be a slumbering Rock Giant, sets the marker for what is to follow.

Hols, last survivor of a village destroyed by the frost demon Grunwald, takes refuge at a village threatened by Grunwalds’s magic. He befriends Hilda, a lonely girl with a beautiful singing voice, but falls out of favour with the villagers as Hilda is revealed to have a dark secret.

The movie has impressive animation, well realised characters and settings, powerful and touching themes, and some fine music. Particularly pleasing is that the village seems to have a life of it’s own, including fish-drying and a wedding, and is not just a backdrop for the main action.

Overall the movie seems surprisingly modern, and in fact I’d rate it above one or two of the more recent Studio Ghibli output.

Maria-sama OAV

Maria OAVYumi & Sachiko

You’ve probably encountered the popular shoujo TV series “Maria-sama ga Miteru” – if not there has been plenty written about it elsewhere, and there’s a review on my website. Now it has spawned a six-part OAV series, of which the first and second parts have appeared.

OAV1 is a treat, as it opens with the main characters, Yumi and Sachiko having a girly squabble. The dialogue in this scene is a delight, and the faces seem drawn with a peculiar intensity. Yumi gets invited to rich-girl Sachiko’s summer residence, but has to contend with the ill-intentioned machinations of other girls of Sachiko’s circle who are jealous of Yumi because of her closeness to the alpha princess. Yumi’s simple honesty enables her to turn the situation around.
OVA2 was a disappointment for me, for the scenario seemed unconvincing, and the treatment weak. Essentially, the girls on the school council want to arrange some meetings with the council at a nearby boys’ school with whom they hold a joint school festival. They have a problem with Sachiko, who dislikes men so much that she can’t bear to be near a boy.

Some obscure old anime

TickleTickle

I checked last night on a Polish TV website to see what anime was showing on Polonia1 (a satellite channel) in the early-morning slot. Nowadays there is little anime on satellite TV that would interest those who have access to digisubs, or subtitled anime DVDs. However the obscure low-budget channels from countries like Poland are the exception, for that is where the rare old stuff turns up, some dating form the ’60s and ’70s.
Anyone seen “Magic Girl Tickle” (Majokko Tikkuru)? I thought not. It’s interesting to see this, both for the period animation style, and for the cultural values the animators bring to their work. This one has a scene where a disagreement about love-letters ends in a classroom riot where all the boys are trying to grab the girls’ breasts. Not quite what one would expect in an anime for schoolgirls!

Also running, apparently, are “Yattaman” a long-running fantastic comedy, now forgotten, and “General Daimos” (Tosho Daimos) an old, but rather good alien invasion anime, which is full of cool stuff – aliens with angelic wings, inter-racial romance, giant robot battles, a flying city, robotic monsters, ugly aliens, never a dull moment.

To get this material, you need to be in the satellite “footprint” (i.e. it’s above the horizon and in range), and have the right sort of digital satellite receiving gear. There is information in the satellite section of my website.

Rain, the little girl and my letter

Rain-let classroomClassroom scene

A short 6 minute amateur anime by the CG artist calling himself “Imperial Boy”.
Katari, a young girl who dreams of becoming a novelist, writes a love letter to a boy at her school. This is a remarkable anime with a vision of a quite different-looking world. The clip shows a school classroom, with an arched ceiling and a video screen above the blackboard. The dialog is mostly in voice-over. This short anime impressed me for its originality more than many a full-length pro anime. Watch this guy.
Worth checking out Imperial Boy’s website, which contains some remarkable images, as well as his “Rain” page.