Comcast’s Anime Selects on Demand – Part 2
Descendants of Darkness is another show that aired on Anime Selects that I took a liking too. It was a show that depicted the afterlife not as paradise or ever-lasting suffering, but a bureaucracy! Much like the brilliant Beetlejuice, what comes next for the dearly departed is lots of rules, guidelines, and more red tape then the DMV! I find this take on the afterlife both interesting and humorous. The anime follows a group of shinigamis or Gods of Death, who deal with problems related to recently deceased human beings. The problems range from vampires, to mysterious murders, to issues in the main characters past. There is a overarching story, with a great main villain, but it’s slowly developed, even though this is a relatively short anime. With only 13 episodes, it still takes its time with the main plot. An approach I liked, but could discourage many. Instead of delving too deeply into taking on the “main villain” instead each episode was more about a specific mystery or problem that the shinigamis had to deal with, and was sort of episodic. (One of my favorite episodes deals with a patient who needs heart transplant badly.) Of course the main villain usually is in the episode, sometimes being personally involved with the problems at hand. Additionally the back story and cause of death for the two main leads is slowly teased out over the 13 episodes. The series is a combination of police procedural and gothic horror, two of my favorite genres. Not surprisingly there are some dark issues dealt with, but the show manages to bring in humor and make you laugh once in awhile, although clearly not a comedy. The style of humor in dealing with death and the darkness is comparable to another show about grim reapers, Dead Like Me.
The main leads in Descendants of Darknes are the laid back and goofy Mr. Tsuzuki and the angsty teen, Hisoka Kurosaki. But the real star of the anime is the main villain, Dr. Muraki . He is charismatic, yet creepy. Powerful yet has a weakness. Interesting, yet you’re scared to learn more about him! The story takes place in Nagasaki, which I found refreshing, much better then Tokyo for the 500th time. When I started this anime I didn’t know anything about it besides what Anime Selects little blurb wrote. And it was like that for practically everything I watched on Anime Selects, as again a lot of this stuff was weird, lesser known, or just old. It turns out this is a yaoi title, and they don’t let you know this until part way through the series (or maybe I was just in denial). As a straight male that sort of stuff doesn’t appeal to me. If you like it then fine do enjoy, but most of it grosses me out (no offense). Two girls making out though? I’m game! However I was not repulsed at all throughout the entire show. In fact I though the slight yaoi tendencies added to the series. It did not feel like it was pandering to the fangirls, but in fact just part of the show. I still feel like they slipped yaoi into this anime without me noticing it half the time, and the other half of the time thinking it made the show more interesting, yet a little unsettling. I mean what’s worse then a villain who wants to kill you? How about a guy who wants to kill you, but first have sex with you? That would scare me to death! Yes Dr. Muraki wants to bang the hell out of Mr. Tsuzuki. The good doctor is a complete sociopath, willing to kill or torture people to get what he wants. In fact he takes pleasure in torturing people if it may lead to him getting closer to Mr. Tsuzuki.
The dub is worth mentioning, done by Mercury Productions who didn’t dub much, but most of their work is brilliant. Their dub on Animation Runner Kuromi is one of the best dubs ever made, period. Mercury Productions was located in New York City and used plenty of well known New York City actors. Dan Green plays Mr. Tsuzuki and does a wonderful job, definitely a performance worth checking out. Liam O’Brien outdoes himself playing a role that couldn’t have been easy (although he does do the same sort of thing for Gaara later on). There are some problems with this dub however. One character speaks with a faux British accent (Eric Stuart who played Brock and James in Pokemon, who is a great actor by the way) which sounds stupid and makes the character very annoying. There’s also two little fairy things that help the shinigamis but the voices used are very cartoony and really takes you out of the show. The dub still shines despite these bad calls. This series is available to watch legally and free on youtube by Manga Entertainment, who managed to get the TV/internet rights before Central Park Media declared bankruptcy. It might be helpful to look at the episode titles and their number on wikipedia to make sure you watch the show in order.
Some time in 2007 Bang Zoom Entertainment decided they liked to watch money burn, so they created a TV show(-turn webcast) designed to review new anime releases. I imagine Eric P. Sherman considered pulling a joker, but decided this would be more fun. And hey can’t complain, I wish we had more professionally produced stuff like this about anime. They managed to convince some suits at Comcast to play the show on their Anime Selects channel, and before anyone probably realized what they had Anime TV was born. The show had panel of “anime fans” lead by none other than Johnny Young Bosch, who would give their opinion on an anime and recommend it or not. Johnny Young Bosch does an admirable job leading the panel, and the people on the panel are relatable if a little goofy. Additionally the panel would talk about something “japanese related” they were doing/watching/reading in their spare time, oftentimes either watching an older anime, reading some manga, or playing some cool new video game. They’d give their opinion on this piece of media as well and its randomness (due to the person’s tastes) was a real strength of the show. The TV show is totally and utterly obnoxious, very annoying, and tries way too hard to be cool while also pandering to geeks. It also has a few really corny running gags going on (many of which seem to have been edited out if you watch the uploaded episodes on their site). Yet despite being loud and IN YOUR FACE (akin to a Brondo commercial) it manages to be a great watch, because of the interesting reviews and recommendations by the panel. Even though they rarely have anything innovate to say. However they always give good reasons for their opinion and manage to do a great job selling you on a show (or making you pass). They don’t just scratch the surface but delve deep into the show they’re reviewing and give it a fair shot. These are quite in depth reviews and are entirely welcomed. Additionally they do a wonderful job explaining what the anime is all about, while showing clips from it. The show rarely feels scripted, and when the panel is giving their opinion I’m fairly certain they’re just speaking off the cuff. This leads to a freshness and honesty that makes the show fun to watch. But does having a voice actor who played in the anime you’re reviewing cause a conflict of interest?
The first episode reviewed the original Haruhi Suzumiya, which I had already finished watching on DVD by the time I got to watching it on Anime Selects, but still managed to be entertaining and fun, even though I already knew everything about the show they were trying to review. They make good points and critique it very well. In fact I was surprised at how negative they can get in certain shows, they’re always honest and if they don’t like something they say it. The opening theme is catchy in a commercial jingle kind of way. You can watch some new episodes here (yes apparently they’re still making this show for some reason. And yes I’m gonna watch it now[this new episode is great]), and their site has all of the episodes, including the early ones that actually aired on Anime Selects. These are the ones I remember, and want you to see. Also the show is the first time I heard of Cristina Valenzuela, who comes on as a pretty unknown fan during episode one. Of course she’s gone on to bigger things (including co-hosting Anime TV in later episodes), but I’ll always remember her as a lucky girl who got a 20 second video played on Anime Selects. Episodes of Anime TV lasted from 15-30 minutes, but were always entertaining. The tv series manages to be funny, helpful, and interesting, if very annoying and cheesy. The panel seem convinced “anime is the new big thing” despite the US Market swirling down the toilet at the time the early episodes were produced. I think maybe they were just trying to be optimistic.
I’ve discussed Patlabor before, in my review of the second movie. But the TV series was my first exposure to the franchise. The TV series is unlike the Movies though. Simply put it is a sitcom-esque show about a police unit from the near future who use robots (called labors) in missions where they can come in handy. Patlabors (police+labors) are the mecha the police have, and are used to deal with anything from labors (industry mecha) gone haywire, to drunk mecha drivers, to just situations where a mecha would come in handy. The mecha are not alive, they don’t fight space battles, they’re not about to transform at any minute, nor do they have a soul, and they certainly don’t fly on surfboards in the sky. They might as well be just be police cars or hammers. They’re just tools of the trade, and treated as such. The series is mostly episodic, and more a comedy then a serious drama or action series, although drama and action comes up. But the show is more about how these oddball cops dealing with each other, and trying to do the complicated missions that always get tossed onto them. However there are some serious episodes, like the one where their unit has to save some politicians from a mega skyscraper that’s on fire. Another excellent episode deals with the group trying to stop an out of control military labor before it endagers the nearby city. But even these episodes have some comedy in them, and they make you laugh. The sillier episodes I tend to dislike, as they go a little overboard. The comedy in this series is usually based on the characters saying things to each other and dealing with the other oddballs in some way or another. The best character is their Captain, Goto (who I disucess in my review of the second movie). But he’s not the star, the stars are arguably the new recruit Noa (who’s an energetic tomboy who loves her mecha a little too much), and her partner Asuma. Asuma is the son of the CEO of Shinohara Heavy Industries, the company that creates the labors for the police and other industries. He claims he was “tricked” into civil service instead of following the path of his father. He has a bit of a crush on Noa by the way. There’s a ton of other characters and some come and go as the series goes on. It’s quite a long TV series, so there’s plenty of time for character development along the way. The best humor of the series deals with all the red tape, bureaucracy, and political maneuverings that take place a little beyond the police officers reach. I can really relate to this, having worked in the government myself (although not in such glamorous of a position). I have to admit I still haven’t come close to finishing this series, although I do own almost all the franchise and highly recommend it. I didn’t get to follow the show from episode one on Anime Selects, instead catching it about halfway through the TV run, but enjoyed what I saw. Not to mention I missed a few episodes over the years and skipped around a bit. I think I got plenty of different tastes of the show from episodes all over the place, but clearly have to finish the thing from episode 1 until the end to make sure I get the full picture of it all. At any rate the quality of the episodes vary greatly, but some are just excellent.
The artwork is beautiful in an early 90’s sort of way. Done by Sunrise, but with character designs by Akemi Takada and based on Masami Yuki’s original designs. The animation is quite good, but never too impressive since the anime needed to stretch it’s budget and it was a TV series after all. The music is lovely, composed by Kenji Kawai. I particularly like the second ending theme. If these names seem familiar to you, that’s because they’re all a part of the artist group Headgear. The dub on the other hand is problematic. The dub was recorded at Matlin Recording in New York City, with Allan Gus directing. They (the same team) did an admirable job on Maze, but many of their dubs are so-so or worse. This one can be categorized as “worse”. While it’s not laughably bad, and it is listenable; it features most of the cast in very wooden and unenthusiastic performances. Dan Green plays Asuma, and he does a great job. He’s the best actor in the anime and it shows, as he puts the rest to shame. He makes Asuma sound like a youth with a lot of energy and will power, but also sarcastic at times. Elisa Wain, who has a voice that will haunt you in your dreams due to how high pitched it is, clearly needed more direction; she ends up saying many of her lines with a higher pitch at the end of them, as if to ask the director “is this really what I’m supposed to s-AY?”. Many of her lines come off sounding like she’s asking a question, even when she’s not. That being said she gets better as the show goes along and I felt she was wonderfully cast as Noa because Noa should have a voice like that. Michael Schwartz, who was excellent as Astor in Maze, is sadly not as good here. While far from terrible, he just sounds bored all the time. I much preferred Peter Marinker as Goto in the movies (the Manga Video UK dubs). THAT is Goto. Michael Schwartz has the right voice quality for Goto but all the subtlety (that Marinker displayed) is gone. Matlin Recording’s script sticks slavishly to the subs, to its detriment. Manga Video UK wisely adapted their scripts for the movies and sound much more natural. However it is Bandai Visual’s Los Angeles dubs that have the worst scripts. Not only are they unnatural, weird and don’t flow well, they make the movies unnecessarily confusing /complicated and wordy. Not to mention Michael Bakewell (at Manga UK) is a much better director then Allan Gus ever will be. Some of the minor cast for the Matlin Recording/TV Series dub are horrible actors, and they bring the quality of the dub down a tad or two. Luckily those characters don’t talk too often. The TV show’s dub is far from one of Kip Kaplan’s disasters, but this is not something you show to sub fans to go “hey dubs can be good”. But hey I watch it.
Patlabor TV was released on DVD by Central Park Media, first in singles and then in DVD “season” box sets. I own all the box sets myself. Patlabor was never a big seller for CPM, but over the years and after the release of the movies by Manga Entertainment, Geneon and Bandai Visual the series has gained some fans. Recently Maiden Japan has license rescued the OVA series, and will release it on blu-ray no less (which takes place in a different continuity then the TV series and was made first). I haven’t seen the OVA series but I hear good things about it and plan to buy it. There is some hope that Maiden Japan or Sentai will (or already has) rescue(d) the TV series and rest of the franchise if the OVA series sells well, so do give it support. But just incase the show bombs again, Central Park Media’s DVD’s are still available. Trying to hunt down all the singles (11 in total) may be a complicated task but the box sets bundled together are being sold on amazon for good deals (1 , 2) despite being long out of print. But shop around and see what the other sites have too.
Not everything I saw on Anime Selects was from Central Park Media, this little anime was from Rightstuf. Piano is slow moving, slice of life anime about a teenage girl (Miu) who’s interesting in playing the piano. That’s really all there is too it, the story is incredibly straight forward and simple. We follow Miu’s day-to-day life, we learn she has a crush on an upperclassman, she has a tomboyish best friend, and her Piano teacher is kind of a jerk (in a cool way, promise). Before I saw this show I thought for something to be considered a form of entertainment it had to have some sort of obstical for the character(s) to overcome. But there is NOTHING for anyone here to overcome. There is no drama, no conflict, no romance, and no action. There’s humor but it’s lighthearted and very down to earth, the sort of humor teenage girls would face in their daily lives, nothing like the wild style of Azumanga Daioh. In fact everything in this anime is so down to earth and realistic it’s all sort of boring. Nothing exciting ever happens, we just follow Miu around to her classes, chatting with her friends, dealing with her parents, practicing the piano, and getting lessons from her strict piano teacher. That’s not to say it’s a horrible show, because it’s not. It was something I enjoyed. It’s a nice, no hassle, no drama show to just relax to, but it’s not terribly interesting. The best parts of the series deals with Miu and her Piano instructor who is the most absorbing character in the show. In fact it is the interesting characters who make the show worth watching. Miu’s friend, Yuuki is very athletic and always cheery. Takahashi (the guy Miu has a crush on) is intriguing and mysterious, and I loved Miu’s parent’s. Miu on the other hand is just pretty boring. While I love the way she looks, she just not a very interesting person, although she is quite likable. She’s sweet, quiet, cute, and just kinda there. She doesn’t seem to do anything fascinating though. Besides the fact she enjoys the piano she’s probably the most uninteresting person in her school, Rebecca Miyamoto would call her the “boring girl” and I could imagine her going off to cry with the bunny or something. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about this girl, but I guess that makes it realistic or something. But it also makes it incredibly mundane. I have a very clear image of myself watching this show, where Miu is just sitting in her room not doing anything at all and I’m like “what the hell do something!”. A lot of episodes are like this. That being said it’s a watchable show (after all it’s only 10 episodes long), you just have to be in the mood for it. And it’s not something I’d ever had seen unless it was on this channel. The whole slice of life genre has been done better, but I liked this series take on having a girl as the main lead as opposed to a boy, and putting a very normal set of characters in it. Although I think they went with too normal.
For a show about a girl playing the piano there’s less classical music in this then you would think, but when it shows up it’s quite good. The opening and ending themes are very unique and likable, but like the anime very subdued. The dub too is pretty laid back, a signature of ADR director Michael Sinterniklaas. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, and I’d recommend it to even sub fans. It’s a New York City dub, very professional and freshly cast. Sinterniklaas cast himself as Miu’s crush, although he doesn’t get many lines if I remember correctly. Rebecca Soler plays Miu, and I’m unaware of any of her other roles, although apparently she’s been in Yu-Gi-Oh and Ikki Tousen. I did like her here though. Marc Diraison plays Miu’s Piano teacher and he does a wonderful job. Someone once famously asked Shawne Kleckner why Rightstuf always licenses shows where “nothing happens”. Well this is the show where the least amount of “nothing happens”, happens. I am absolutely floored in how little happens and how slow it managed to transcend in this show. And while I enjoyed it, I think the people who currently eat up the moe slice of life shows they keep pumping out would like this even more then I did. Although I think they might like World of Narue even more. I’ll have to cover that in a review one day for sure.
Well that’s enough shows to cover for now. But the spaghetti monster in the sky knows that there’s plenty more amazing shows Anime Selects aired that I didn’t bring up. Maybe one day in the future I’ll return to discussing the wonders of this channel, or maybe just review some of the excellent shows that aired there, like Dominion Tank Police (I saw this first years before on VHS and was so happy to see it again), Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kare Kano, Project A-Ko, Shingu, Vampire Princess Miyu TV, and plenty of others. And I’ve already written about the masterpiece that is A Wind Named Amnesia that I first saw there. And I also wrote about Animation Runner Kuromi. By the way did someone count how many times I said the phrase “red tape” in this review? What’s the deal with that anyway?