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Anne Freaks Volume 4 (v. 4)
Anne Freaks Volume 4 (v. 4)
by Yua Kotegawa
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from $2.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling, nasty, elegant, and an insoluble riddle, May 10, 2007
Chilling, nasty, elegant, and an insoluble riddle.

A manga with deeper roots in Japan than in the West, "Anne Freaks" tells the story of several children who have escaped (barely) from a religious cult and have sworn vengeance against the cult killers who slaughtered off their parents. The cult itself resembles Aum Shinrikyo, which launched the Sarin gas attack on Tokyo in 1995, and will mean more if one remembers what Aum Shinrikyo was like. The heroine, Anne Todo, is now 16 and is one of the children whose parents were killed. Anne has made contact with several of the other surviving children, and they together all launch a murderous series of attacks on the cult, opposed not only by the cult itself, but also by the police.

The quite chilling story centers on three women, each representing a different face of society and of femaleness. One is Anne herself, beautiful and dedicated solely to revenge; another is Inspector Nishikama, the woman police officer dedicated to eradicating the cult including Anne and her friends; and the third, Sergeant Shono, who believes that the children of the cult are victims who need to be saved by society. The three visions - and obsessions - are completely incompatible.

Therein lies the insoluble riddle: who is right? And why? What is justice? Is it Anne's personal desire, understandable indeed, for revenge? Does justice live in the forces of society itself, personified by Inspector Nishikama, who will do anything to obliterate an anti-social cult and its children? Or is justice embodied in Sergeant Shono's hope that these children can be saved and thereby be returned to society as normal members of a good world? When Yuri, a young man and another survivor of the cult, falls in love with Anne, where do his loyalties reside? Where *should* they reside?

The chillingly nasty story-telling is impeccable. I certainly won't tell you how it ends, except to say that perhaps
it's the only ending possible. The result is that "Anne Freaks" is a first-rate exploration of obsession and justice. Highly recommended.

Ergo Proxy, Volume 1: Awakening (Limited Edition)
Ergo Proxy, Volume 1: Awakening (Limited Edition)
DVD ~ Taliesin Jaffe
4 used & new from $226.39

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A techno-noir cyberpunk masterpiece, January 26, 2007
"Ergo Proxy" is one of the most beautiful anime ever made. It's also very complex, filled with allusions mysterious and even more mysterious, obscure, opaque, a story about the search for self and meaning in a bleak post-apocalyptic world of domed cities, androids ("autoraves"), warfare, and death. The heroine, Real Mayar (also Re-l Mayer), is stunningly beautiful as she undertakes to unravel the mysteries of a killer freak as she befriends an oddly lonely immigrant named Vincent Law.

But, a warning: if you want cartoons that spell out all the details a la "Hamtaro" or "Cinderella", you will be bored witless and irritated by "Ergo Proxy." The premise is that the *viewer* also participates in Ergo Proxy's search for self and meaning. It is distinctly intellectual, in the sense of thoughtful: the viewer is *expected* to ponder over meaning, especially the meanings of identity and memory. Entire scenes exist solely to create analogies between what Real and Vincent do and the viewer's consensus (although false) beliefs about reality. "Ergo Proxy" operates in the interstices of such realities, in sepia, gray, and icy blue images of radical incompleteness.

Visually, Ergo Proxy has only rarely been equaled in animation. It has a hard-to-describe kind of lyrical bleakness offset by Real's beauty - which is just one of the contradictions that suffuse the story. If you want everything telegraphed by the middle of episode 1, watch something else. But for a depiction of what used to be called "existential" search, "Ergo Proxy" is superb - vivid, gorgeous, lots of action scenes, all in a world that we recognize as our own.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2007 12:35 PM PST

Panda-Z (Vol. 1)
Panda-Z (Vol. 1)
DVD ~ Panda-Z
Offered by Down South Treasures
Price: $12.99
17 used & new from $0.01

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minimalist, Clever, Very Dry, February 25, 2006
This review is from: Panda-Z (Vol. 1) (DVD)
"Panda-Z" is a clever parody of "Mazinger Z," one of the classic Japanese Giant Robot anime. If pandas made giant robots, well, they'd look like pandas, right? And so they do, and have Pantaron Panda wearing a dashing red bandana controlling his giant fighting device from the open cockpit in Panda_Z's head.

The only problem is that Panda-Z is utterly useless and all the Pandas and their robots are hopeless incompetents. In each 5-minute episode, things never work out right, not for the Pandas or their even dumber enemies... In one episode, Panda-Z launches a one-two "ROCKET PUNCH!" against the enemy, and his two arms fly off like missiles, effectively putting the enemy out of commission. Then Panda-Z walks over to his two hands lying on the ground, but now he can't pick them up. Slowly the sun sets and the shadows get longer, and Panda-Z just stands looking at his hands on the ground as the episode ends.

All the episodes are like that. They open with a bizarre premise treated as completely normal, and then things run totally out of control. Satire? Well, yes, of course - though it'll help if you're familiar with the cliches of Giant Robot and Mecha anime. The animation is very simple, and Panda-Z proves that one can do some very clever things with minimalist animation techniques.

Kids will probably love Panda-Z, but serious-minded grown-ups might grumble about it being so silly. But that's the whole point: real life is also pretty silly. So it gets five stars because it does what it's supposed to do perfectly.

Petite Cossette
Petite Cossette
DVD ~ Akiyuki Shinbo
8 used & new from $2.42

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous, Moody, Psychedelic, and not American, February 24, 2006
This review is from: Petite Cossette (DVD)
"Petite Cossette" is a Japanese ghost story. It's about a young woman, the Petite Cossette of the title, who was murdered some 250 years ago by her evil fiance. Right now, she dwells in a beautiful wine glass, waiting... The young artist Eiri falls in love with her, but she has an agenda, and so do a number of quite unpleasant other ghosts. Revenge.

Not too many Americans are familiar with Japanese female ghost revenge stories. They are horrifying in their murderous gore and blood. We're used to our own Eurocentric traditions where murdered maidens weep and bemoan their fate on the ramparts of castles, but do not take matters into their own hands. Cossette assuredly does, since Eiri is her murderer/fiance reincarnated. So she in part still wants his love and in part wants him dead, the other ghosts want blood, and Eiri is in for a very bad time of it.

Why did the original murderer kill her? SPOILER ALERT. He too was an artist but was entranced by her as a model and a girl only when she was immature. He kills her because she has grown up and has become a mature young woman. So, whereas *he* was a pedophile, the reincarnated Eiri is not -- which is the only reason he can finally realize that is *not* her long-dead murderer.

It's a very complex plot and requires watching with considerable attention. You won't like it if you want everything spelled out for you, but you'll love it if you like gorgeous animation, a morally subtle plot that offers no solace to pedophiles, and if you appreciate Japanese female ghost stories. But be warned: the genre is NOT Western and is based on Shinto, Buddhism, and a *very* different tradition of what female ghosts do when they wait for and then hunt down their killers. For that glimpse into a different culture, "Petite Cossette" is well worth the money -- and it's a chillingly good story.

Bambi and Her Pink Gun Vol. 1
Bambi and Her Pink Gun Vol. 1
by Atsushi Kaneko
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from $0.60

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transnationalism Run Amok and an Anti-Heroine, August 13, 2005
If you like girls with large eyes in pastel colors or cute animals, you'll hate "Bambi." If you like/understand Japanese social criticism, you'll love it. "Bambi and her Pink Gun" is not a nice story - pink-haired punk Bambi has to get this kidnapped idiot child to the Old Men while avoiding bounty hunters who want the 500,000,000 yen reward on her head and while simultaneously offing an amazing collection of genuinely evil folk. I've read commentators who say that "Bambi" is like a Tarantino film for sheer violence and is mindless - but not so. A lot lurks below the surface of "Bambi." --- The story is set in a Japan that has almost totally been destroyed culturally by transnationalist American uglification. Air polluting factories, gas guzzling cars, nearly toxic junk food, a villainous rock star built like an aged and perverted Elvis, hideous signs in English - traditional Japan is gone. The driver's seat isn't even on the right anymore - instead, cars and roads have become Americanized. The kindly elementary school teacher is a serial killer by night. Into this depressing mess comes Bambi - pure and serene, and a killer, though perhaps "assassin" is a better word. --- She manages to slaughter off an impressive array of gangsters, perverts, and thugs, all of whom are out to kill her for the 500,000,000 Yen reward. One warty-faced yakuza gangster has an ashtray with an almost naked girl inside, so you can grind out your cigarette on her body if your perversions run to such things; Bambi kills him by managing to get some assassins in an RV to run into a steel stanchion holding a giant Americanized grinning child, which gets knocked over and bashes the yakuza's brains and warts into mush. She mows down a diner full of thugs emoting happily over a televised boxing match where the loser is visibly having his head beaten into bloody pulp. She and the kid - whom she names "Pampi" - watch a televised kiddie show that stars an overstuffed teddy bear who eats hallucinogenic mushrooms. At least the bear is minimally cute - he's all that remains of Japanese kawaii art. The rest has been swamped by globalization run amok. --- As the story proceeds, "Bambi" mobilizes the reader's hatred against the enemies Bambi slaughters off. One can claim, as one commentator did, that it's all mindless, but it isn't: "Bambi and her Pink Gun" is fury directed at the dehumanizing uglies that globalization has brought to Japan. If "Bambi" were an American comic, its political and social premises would be blindingly obvious, but, because it's Japanese, it can be harder to see the criticisms Atsushi Kaneko levels against modern Japan and, by extension, against all soul-destroying modernization, particularly that associated with a corrupt and decadent America. In the last episode of Volume 1, an old woman guns down a man using a heavy automatic rifle. Then she gives Bambi a new gun plus ammunition and tells Bambi to find her own pathway. --- Don't buy "Bambi" if you want cute girls and baby deer and adorable little animals. But if you want a sense of the targets of social criticism in Japan, indeed, in the world, then "Bambi and her Pink Gun" is superb. Take that, McTokyo.

Gunslinger Girl, Vol. 1
Gunslinger Girl, Vol. 1
by Yu Aida
Edition: Comic
66 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir, Bitter, Hopeful, March 5, 2005
This review is from: Gunslinger Girl, Vol. 1 (Comic)
Orphaned, sick, or physically deeply damaged, the 10-12 year old girls of "Gunslinger Girl" are rescued by the Social Welfare Agency and turned into chemically and emotionally brainwashed, cyborg political assassins. They bond deeply with their older male handlers, and obey these men implicitly. And love them too - and therein lies the tense inner workings of these bitterly noir, nearly surreal stories. --- If you expect a shoot-`em-up with cute sexy little Lolita nymphets, forget it. The style is Italian film noir realism (the story is set in Italy) and everything centers on the *relationships* among the girls and between them and their handlers - quiet, withdrawn Henrietta and the genuinely loving Giuseppe, or Elsa de Sica, whose handler does *not* love her, as we find out in a grim two-part story. --- How do people fall in love? If we are all killers (one of the undertexts of "Gunslinger Girl"), then why do we even think that love is possible? These girls live in a Gulag created by nameless adults. Against the brainwashing, conditioning, chemicals, and loss of memory, how can anyone act with even a shred of humanity, let alone personality or rebellion? Against the radical and totalizing power of drugs, manipulations, and emotional pain, the girls simply don't give up. They're very proud of their abilities to assassinate terrorists and of the police services they provide. Dubious means; desirable end: and they become human, in poignant and very moving stories of endurance, resilience, and revenge. And if you say that *their* Gulag is not so different from *our* consensus reality, well, then you've got the point.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Volume 01 (Episodes 1-4)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Volume 01 (Episodes 1-4)
DVD ~ Shirô Saitô
Offered by SpReAdLoVe
Price: $12.57
48 used & new from $0.01

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, Sophisticated, and Motoko is Gorgeous, October 15, 2004
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"Stand Alone Complex" (SAC) is a set of loosely connected episodes of the recently televised saga of "Ghost in the Shell" and focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi, her boss Section Chief Aramaki, and her team of cybercops - Batoh, Tegusa, Ichikawa, and a burbly, bright blue set of Tachikoma robots, all of Section 9. Most episodes stand by themselves and tell a probably mysterious, certainly moody story about things that aren't real, but happened anyway somewhere in cyberspace, or maybe the whole thing is a parallel universe to our own. The sometimes quite sexy stories move fast, the plotting is intricate, and the animation first-rate. --- Yes, there's lots of action. Motoko bounds around looking gorgeous (especially in the opening credits); an older, tougher but deeply emotional Batoh befriends the Tachikoma robots; an idealistic hacker named The Laughing Man comes and goes whenever he wants; Tegusa, as hard-working and sincere as ever, infiltrates a facility for rehabilitating cyberchildren (who have plans of their own); Aramaki pulls off Byzantine intelligence coups against Section 9's old military, governmental, and big business enemies. It's all mixed together with moody music about being on lithium, songs in Russian, and - oh, yes, I almost forgot - a young Canadian who is love with his out-of-date android. But, in common with many Production IG films, like the Patlabor films or "Blood, the Last Vampire," the plots always exist in a world of corrupt politicians, very nasty army officers, and assorted other crazies who inhabit not only the world of SAC but also our own. This mix of sophisticated realism, poignancy, and high-tech animated cyberthingies can be surprisingly moving. --- SAC doesn't center on deep philosophical questions, as the first and especially second "Ghost in the Shell" film did. Instead, those questions simply bubble around the edges of the daily business of being a cybercop with Section 9. If "Innocence," the second film, made a point of philosophy, in SAC the Section 9 folks have too many strange crises to deal with to worry very much about philosophy. For example, when Batoh provides his favorite Tachikoma robot with high-grade natural oil, it promptly takes an unauthorized vacation and befriends a little girl who is looking for her lost dog. Somebody suggests that it reconstructed its AI operating system from information in the oil... as good a guess as anyone's. --- So we see the already very strange world of Section 9 in the forefront, with enough action to entertain anyone. But in the background is a far far stranger universe. Things are never what they seem. It's an endless and fascinating game of What Does That Mean? As a result, if you let yourself merge with the stories, "Stand Alone Complex" is riveting. And Motoko really is gorgeous.

Patlabor WXIII - The Movie (Ultimate Edition 3-Disc Set)
Patlabor WXIII - The Movie (Ultimate Edition 3-Disc Set)
DVD ~ Katsuhiko Watabiki
17 used & new from $14.98

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Tragic (Spoiler Alert), September 16, 2004
No, WXIII doesn't have much to do with Patlabor Section 2. Captain Goto and his team make only a short appearance at the end. But that's OK - it's a fascinating movie anyway. If you can't figure out what is going on by the third scene, where detective Hata meets the young woman with her aluminum suitcase, you need your movie watching license revoked. Of course she has something to do with the monster in Tokyo Bay who's eating people -- that's OBVIOUS. But the question isn't What? - it's Why? --- The action is quite slow, and in a real sense WXIII is a police procedural, not a horror flick at all. We follow the two detectives as they slowly close in on a genuinely rotten set of military-industrial types who are making biological weapons with the Americans (the film has a strong political point of view) and simultaneously close in on the monster itself. It comes down to seeing who will reach the creature first - the military who want it dead, or the detectives plus Captain Goto's team, who want to capture it and prevent the suicide of the young mother who used her daughter's DNA to create it. Be forewarned: the film is a tragedy. The detectives and Goto's team fail. --- By focusing the film on the young woman and the detective who is going out with her (her husband is dead), WXIII avoids being a Grade B horror flick, and becomes a tragedy with a distinct moral point of view. "They" -- meaning officialdom -- could have captured the creature, but that isn't the way people who make biological weapons work. People like THAT are killers, and they win in this film. --- So why watch a movie that doesn't have a happy ending? Partly because it's superbly made and partly because sometimes life itself does not have a happy ending. It's worth remembering that.

Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics
Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics
by Paul Gravett
Edition: Paperback
44 used & new from $5.77

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sumptuous Artwork, Thoughtful Analysis, August 27, 2004
"Manga" is a first-rate introduction and analysis of one of the world's most significant new forms of art - Japanese comics. The book not only has beautiful artwork, much of it in full color, but also glossy pages in an oversize format. Gravett covers the visual history of manga from Osamu Tezuka to modern European comics that have been influenced by manga. There are chapters devoted to boys' (shonen) and girls' (shojo) manga, gekiga ("drama pictures" - a kind of gritty realism), sexually explicit manga for adult men and women, and a fascinating discussion of less mainstream manga done by idiosyncratic artists and editors. The illustrations are clear, well-printed, and very well selected - Gravett has a first-rate eye for some of the most gorgeous manga artwork, ranging from Riyoko Ikeda's "Rose of Versailles" through Masamune Shirow's "Ghost in the Shell, part 2" and the horror manga of Hideshi Hino. Mechas, swordfights, pretty girls, stalwart heroes, nymphomaniac Tinkerbells, beautiful men, Princess Sapphire, Akira, Dragonball - a wide and representative range of manga styles and genres are all included. The hardest part of doing the book was probably choosing what not to include in a finite number of pages! Together with the artwork - which is worth the price of the book - Gravett has written thoughtful, historically and culturally accurate discussions of the social, aesthetic, and political background of manga. These essays are also worth the price of the book. Until now, the only two substantive books about manga as a medium were Frederik L. Schodt's 1983 "Manga! Manga!" and his 1996 "Dreamland Japan." Gravett's book is a worthy successor to Schodt's, and is essential for any fan of manga, anime or cartooning - or anyone interested in popular culture in a globalizing, transnational world. And for anyone else - well, the art is just so beautiful and the writing so well done that you too should get it.

Alien Nine
Alien Nine
DVD ~ Artist Not Provided
Offered by MediaCloseout
Price: $9.59
18 used & new from $1.66

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, Powerful, and Unfinished, June 17, 2004
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Alien Nine (DVD)
A group of girls saving the world from aliens and other yucksome thingies -- wonderful stuff, such stories: Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, Shadow Lady. And aliens, some of them distinctly yucksome, abound in Alien Nine, together with three 6th grade heroines named Kumi, Kusumi, and Yuri. Rollerblading around the school with lacrosse rackets and wearing their borg helmets - a type of symbiotic alien who protects them with what look like long, thin, and very dangerous wriggly drill bits - the girls catch aliens who otherwise would do yucksome things to everybody. The only tiniest problem is that Yuri is scared, just plain terrified. --- In Alien Nine, we see beneath the cheerful superheroine antics of chasing aliens. Kusumi is a lonely overachiever, Kumi a lonely leader of her schoolmates, and Yuri is just lonely. Depressed and sad, Yuri wants nothing to do with deadly aliens nor the lunatic boys who use their own borgs to attack her nor crazed teachers who seem to have set up these alien-chasing games as an arcane test of things unsaid and unstated. --- And so we encounter not yucksome alien thingies from spaceships, but the alienness of what is within, the fear of growing up into a (sexual) adult, the terror of losing oneself in the all-engulfing needs of another person, the lethal dread of being abandoned. --- So why watch Alien Nine? Because Yuri hasn't given up yet. Lonely, terrified, she rollerblades onward, crying, having nightmares, unable to aim her dart gun, and, in one genuinely stunning scene that's worth the price of the whole DVD, turning and killing her attackers. --- Alien Nine is not about aliens, yucksome or otherwise. It's a superb exploration of what alienation truly means: of being a child and having to grow up because your body is changing out from under you. The aliens - and this holds for the manga as well - are a metaphor for becoming someone else. Not everyone makes it, either. Unfortunately, the DVD is unfinished, and we do not find out what happens at the end. Maybe that's part of the message: we don't know, not really, how life will turn out. But (in the meantime) Alien Nine is well worth watching: haunting, grim, powerful, and ultimately completely convincing.

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