IR DVD Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS – Part I [Warner Home Video]

Approaching and trying to compare Frank Miller’s late 1980s dystopian opus “The Dark Knight Returns” to the new animated perception of it requires a degree of separation. Miller’s perception of a darker view of the older, worn-down exploits of Gotham’s crime fighter can be reflected at times in “The Dark Knight Rises”. In adapting this noir progression, the director and animators do an effective job of respecting the source material and the dark color schemes. “TDKR” was always a difficult property to adapt because of the age of its lead character but also the general myopic view of the state of society. Most of the graphic novel works from the access of how the news media sees how these ideals in the world function. Oddly enough, what Frank Miller envisioned in 1986 is much more prevalent today than it ever was because of the internet and cable television. While The Mutants (including their grandly fat leader — who has more than a passing mixture of DeVito’s Penguin and Tom Hardy’s Bane), there is something less human and more lethal about them especially with his physical form (like the Clown from “IT”). The story has a built-in cliffhanger which probably intersperses itself from the books. This is the crux of the waking of Joker out of a coma in Arkham Asylum which is nicely played within the final moments without overarching what it means. The intermittance of a new female Robin actually plays more into the texture of today even more so than in the 80s when it was written. The use of incessant incantations of blood also in a more realistic setting does set the progression aside because it feels more grounded. The small featurette on the disc points to the next installment with a little bit of animation as well as concept drawings which seem to keep it in texture. The inclusion of a promo for a dark Batman/Superman animated film where they are hunted down like villains keeps in the track of the general tones of the DVD. The presentation of “The Dark Knight Returns – Part I” is bare bones but understands necessity and the point of the track without overdoing it.

B

IR DVD Review: KING OF THORN [Funimation]

The intention of another plague like the one in the Middle Ages seems like a given at some point in modern life. The key is how does one fight against this kind of knowledge versus what we are able to control. “King Of Thorn” attacks this idea with an old world resonance, using mythology against us. The “Medousa” virus is born out of that legend of the woman/lizard who turned men to stone with a glance. The same element rules here with an incubation period of 60 days which is 100% fatal. Creating a Noah’s Ark type scenario, a scientist brings together a way to stop the virus until a cure can be found. The set up is wonderfully clever despite many holes along the way. The director interview on the extras would have one believe that everything is tied in together (which might be true) but the reality is that there is a lack of clarity on first viewing. The visuals and labyrinth approach in terms of structure are quite interesting but, not unlike the new “Dredd”, it suffers as well from the “just-get-out” problem. The reality is that the timeline and the basis of two twins becoming the catalyst for dreams (or video games) coming to life just doesn’t connect. The back story which involves the lead scientist and CEO finding an alien that was created by a little girl in Siberia by her mind tries to recount “Hellboy” but again without a truly specific through line. Even the intrigue behind the scenes with both the planted engineer as well as the soldier/spy sent in to protect the “experiment” seem a little far fetched. The influences from “Resident Evil” and beyond are apparent. The narrative is a bit clearer in the English dub but only based on the precedent of differences in accents and backgrounds in the character which for English speaking audiences cannot ascertain in the original Japanese dialogue. The eventual revelation of the two sisters as well as the connection to the computer/spirit of Alice has possibility but is not truly flushed out. The Q&A in the extras as well as the director interview tries to explain some of this but the visuals seem to take an overall higher road. The pilot film hints at something much more religious and intensive in the process and shows why the director got the job because there is scope. The overall film itself carries this but, towards the end, it forgets about context. The Japanese trailers do play to the strengths but the initial overseas trailer does the best job outside the pilot film. The US trailer uses different music which works but takes the idea in a different direction. In terms of other previews on the disc, “Stein’s Gate”, with its notions of time travel, has interesting possibilities until the microwave scenario cuts in. “Gai-Rei-Zero” in terms of its tone provides the most energy and darkness with a sense of knowing. “King Of Thorn” is ambitious in many ways and succeeds in some of them. However, despite its good ideas, there is a lack of overall clarity, some of which might be cleared up in consequent viewings, but nonetheless creates confusion on first impression.

C

IR DVD Review: FRACTALE [Funimation]

“Fractale” is a story of world consumed in technology and yet primarily rustic in its appearance. The series does bring up a texture of life experience versus life downloaded but the overall instinct lends itself with a bit of irony.

Disc 1 The presentation of a story of almost reverse technology tends to idealize the notion of simplicity over the ideas of “progress”. Religion, as with all things, takes its approach in the process but requires a sensibility to frame it in context. Here, the Fractale system can be seen as both a calming force or a means of control, as long as it is used for that specific reason. The key in telling the story is, of course, self-reverential. The character of Clain does find himself between two worlds in his ability to access the technology but has a love for analog things which, more often than not, opens new possibilities for him where none might necessarily arise. A young woman, a priestess of sorts, falls literally into his life and he is smitten. Now granted he has not seen many girls before so this becomes a structure of irony anyway. What she brings, which is a continued mystery in the world, is a doppel. In this world, people function towards the idea of being in every place at once which allows them to do many simultaneous things (which they do through artificial constructs). Clain heads out to help the priestess but finds a sort of civil war progressing where certain people want to be unplugged. The land itself is not wasted but it is barren compared to say the fields that were tilled before because nobody needs to do to exist. Now work apparently gets done through the doppels but its execution is vague. Like “Waterworld”, these “unplugged” people are in search for an oasis but they are not quite sure where. The Japanese language and subtitles are more straightforward while the English dub progresses more playfully though only for the first couple episodes. The commentary explores the balance of technology and the Celtic influence but not with any real depth.

Disc 2 Continuing on within the structure of a trinity of friends that will not leave each other, the series continues its religious connotations in effectively pursuing the assimilation of one whole. The participants are struggling against their respective destinies thinking that something different should befall them. After getting a taste of the Fractale universe through the city of Xanadu, Clain realizes that the basis of what people are fighting for is not all it is cracked up to be. Entering into the temple (another religious connotation) as a heightened doppel (think the Holy Spirit in the Catholic religion) becomes more and more brazen in her rescue attempts, the trio finally acquiesces to their fate. The interesting progression is that nothing really changes. The balance effectively moves in the idea that Clain himself is on a crusade to save both these women, who hold different emotions for him (whether they be real or not). Happening upon a cloning structure of a girl fashioned to be “god” is a little heavy and doesn’t quite connect the dots. Save for some slang, the translation is similar on both sides of the coin. The promos both regular and Blu Ray speak to the two lead characters but hold out on the spiritual bridge between them which is the core of the series. The inclusion of an orchestral performance of a suite from the score highlights the almost John Williams-breathe of its sound., The textless songs as usual provide a depth filled backdrop while the trailer for “Tales Of Vesperia” stands out among the coming soon trailers.

“Fractale” is a retro-implication of technology gone awry that circles back around to notions of religion simply as a matter of course. These philosophies work well within the narrative bent of the show though at times, the notion of what the creators are exploring seems to get away from the texture of what the show is truly about: fate

B-

IR DVD Review: .HACK//QUANTUM [Funimation]

The balance between the real world and the virtual world continues to meld in many ways as the aspect of what is crucial and not seems to disappear into the void. The aspect that has always been true with “.hack” in terms of the storyteling process is projections and what people consider real and false in terms of identity in their own life.

Like the concurrent novels, the anime adaptation “.hack/Quantum” takes the structure of quantum computers to create a notion of lost souls able to live on without a physical structure to keep them present in the real world. The narrative motivation here reflects on the increasing amount of plugged-in personalities who start to diverge from the real world since the texture of inhibitions and notions of self take a back seat and become a type of metaphorical idea of what an alternate world would be.

This specific interlay follows three gamers who meet up and travel in “The World”. When the structure of the gameplay seems to deconstruct because of “server maintenance” causing players to actually “hurt”, the balance between administrators and consumers seems to shift, both online and in the outside world. The element of having modern thinking and placed characters existing in an almost sword-and-sorcery world where dragons and monolithic statues of doom seem real creates an interesting dynamic. The statue of doom is particularly impressive because of the sense of scale interrelated with the use of clouds. This anime in its current form shows the balance of 3D and 2D concepts working well together.

The most sensitive of the girls meets up with a young boy/cat named Hermit who seems to have a hacking app inside the world all his own, though his motivations turn out to be more dastardly in an overall form leading to the injury of people on the outside world. The questions that “.hack” continues to ask have distinctifying presence in today’s youth society where people can text but not talk.

In terms of technical, the transfusion between Japanese and English language in terms of structure is negligible except for a bit of hankering around Tokyo. The extras seem to play a little more Eastern than usual. The “Chim Chim” animated interstitials are a bit of world play but simply fail to translate in an overt sense. The short subject of Yuo Oguaa including a quiz and cooking school are overly indulgent though a visit to the animation studio has some fun bits despite a lack of converted information. The promotional videos and trailers for “Quantum” interrelate the growing intent that this idea of connected worlds is different from virtual reality. Of the additional trailers, three that stand out are “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” (simply for its furturistic intensity), “Chrome Shelled Regios (because of its uber “1984” paranoia) and “”Requiem For The Phantom” (just for its pure gothic viciousness).

“hack//Quantum: cointinues to show the intentions in a world split between connectivity and disconnection which is of dire prevalence in our current state.

B

IR DVD Review: FAIRY TAIL Vol. 4 [Funimation]

“Fairy Tail” is a story of a young guild of wizards, more cyberpunk than Hogwarts, that believes in the power of connection above anything even when dissent threaten their very livelihood. The tendency of characterization balances between stakes that create intense emotional consequences and intensity that is simply created for the good of the game.

Disc 1 The aspect of the personalities that make up a Guild define exactly how the stories tend to be structured. The element of the family here makes their basis around Elza who, in the beginning is the most isolated of all. Three of the teams take out different opponents of a Tiger group though the realities of what is truly at stake seem less than diabolical. It is only through the possible loss of Elza’s friends who have come to mean everything to her that forces the inevitability to take a stand. The ideals are based in notions of identity and what it takes in terms of redemption to realize them. The two sided (literally) personality of the lead villain brings this more into full focus in the battle around the R System. There are some exceptional cinematic pieces aside from the normal battle sequences in this multi-arched structure. A supposed death sequence after an emotional sacrifice is well played offering some great emotional notes. The structure of this journey quest in allowing the members to find their own core self gives the anime a bit more depth than it might have normally. However when it returns to the Guild home at Fairy Tail, it becomes more conventional and Natsu starts to bear more than a passing resemblance to another hotheaded anime hero who tends to not know when he is beaten. The commentary shows a dexterity of how to modulate but skirts the issue regarding serious dramatic points instead aiming forĀ  an angle of fan fun.

Disc 2 The aspect of family tries to play darker on the second disc but undeniably has a softer impact because of the lack of a more epic background. The bulk of the story in these episodes revolves around returning to the Guild proper and reintegrating with the other wizards instead of being on a one-off mission in search of the “truth”. The conflict here is between The Master of the Guild and his grandson Laxus who believes the congregation has gone soft and needs to be re-imagined. As a result, the over-reaching student sets up a high stakes battle that, while not killing the wizards involved, forces them against each other to prove who is willing to go the distance to protect the core. The main problem is that Laxus as a character is overplayed as a over-hyped, power hungry, high-on-his-own-supply beefhead who doesn’t necessitate sympathy even when he comes crawling back in shame. His underside simply comes off as a pathetic. While this makes the other characters, even Natsu, seems positively chivalrous by comparison, it tends to play more overwrought than necessary. The one fight where a quiet girl transforms into a She-Devil motivated by the almost death of her brother is the main angle of the disc that gives the progression weight. Granted some of the fights including the two-on-one Dragonslayer duel have their moments but they tend to pale in contrast to the stakes on Disc 1. The commentary on this disc, especially featuring the voice of Mira/She Devil who is also a writer on the translation, shows the interplay of creativity as well as frugality that allows the folks at Funimation to bring this kind of material to the States. In terms of trailers, “Chrome Shelled Regios” takes the cake with its near future textures mixed with an element of “Riddick” revolution.

While the first disc definitely shows the true potential of character connection, the second disc tends to rely on formula-bent structures of family discord despite some interesting fights, especially in the cathedral. “Fairy Tail” distinctly offers more than the name describes but its success is dependent on the level on the intensity of the game being played and the resounding stakes that must be fallen.

B-

TRIGUN: BADLANDS RUMBLE – DVD Review

The aspect of a technology-based Western has always held a degree of fascination but, as “Cowboys & Aliens” shows, there is a fine line to making it work since there needs to be an element of tongue-in-cheek progression but also a slick presentation. “Wild Wild West” failed on this principle as well. It also might be the dexterity of capturing it live action.

That makes it a balance of why “Trigun”, even as a feature film anime, works.

Disc 1 Granted the film itself is not punctuated by undeniable cinematic flourishes but the way it presents the darkness of the world balanced by the lead clown/vigilante Vash gives it a definite cadence and visual style. The background of this story revolves around a young lady seeking revenge on a legendary bank robber called Gasback who is responsible for the death of her mother. The opening scene paints a picture of a robbery gone wrong 20 years earlier when the non-aging Vash dispelled an earlier crime. While this age discrepancy is never explained, it does not take away from the enjoyment of the film which would have been a problem in live action. What transpires is a little like “Mad Max” with a bit more brevity. The character including a would-be bodyguard are distinctly interesting especially when every bounty hunter converges on the town in question to gather the reward for Gasback which is a couple hundred thousand devil dollars, whatever that is. The character of Vash can be annoying for sure but his progression plays to a point which gives an uneven balance that nonetheless works especially during a heightened bar brawl as well as a desert chase sequence. The difference between the Japanese and English versions obviously differs on the texture of slang with the actual English version being more cohesive due to the genre. In terms of trailers, the stand out for this disc is “Evangelion” which actually plays better than the movie though the promo for “Soul Eater” has more energy. The arcade-homage “Funimation” promo also shows a balance of the company’s intention between older and young viewers.

Disc 2 This disc of extras include firstly discussions with the cast and crew from Japan the day after the recording. Most have a perspective of returning and finding that same voice after 12 years between the TV series and the movie. The voice of Gasback understands the intonations of why this man does what he does while the original author Nightow, despite being simply a consultant, knows the importance of creating diametric characters to further the experience which is balanced by Yoshimatsu, the head animator, who found it necessary in a more widescreen structure to show the wasteland. Director Nishimura highlights the element of the crowd scenes which give distinct character as being something specific to the movie which gives it more depth. The movie premiere shows the reflection of anime in Japan with the large amount of applause. The “Post Recording” seems a little staged but the reflection of working off of drawings shows the interconnect in making the reactions a little more life-like. Some of the features like Anime Expo 2009, the brief Yoshimatsu story and the raffle drawing seem too extraneous. The special talk show though gives some good insight though too much time is spent on theoreticals and not the progression of the story. In terms of overall impact, the web promotion clip optimized by hard rock does the best job while some of the other commercials save for the latter original Japanese one don’t communicate the intensity.

“Trigun” is a great amalgamation of two worlds colliding which can only be relaied in most presumptions in an anime setting. Both the visual and the narrative structures work well in congruence. The extras are extensive but some are extraneous despite some effective cast and crew interviews and an interesting talk forum post-premiere.

B

IR DVD Review: RIDEBACK [Funimation]

“Rideback” is a story of a girl finding solace in the beauty of a machine which might be metaphor for other elements of life but, in finding the structure with her friends in tow and some specifics of international government, the progression, at times, while effective becomes over-indulgent.

Disc 1 The structure of which a ballerina becomes a robot cycle rider seems a stretch in certain ideals but the key is giving the lead character a means of connecting with humanity and herself. Otherwise it just becomes “girls and machines” motif. While the inset of the story seems to paint a completion trajectory because Rin, the former ballerina in question, wants to find a way to express herself after injuring herself beyond ever dancing professionally again, her follow-through shows her confusion. When she jumps aboard the Fuego, which gives faster than human reflexes but specially uses AI to fuse with its rider, reactions become more complicated. Halfway through the disc, civil unrest enters into the picture. The military is trying to develop these “ridebacks” into an extension of the soldier not understanding the physical prowess at times needed to make jumps and turns as Rin does. In a daring run, Rin ventures into a terrorist attack scene to save her friend and, through her acrobatics, evades a surface-to-air missile. After this intention, intrigue seems to follow her. Despite a news blackout she is eventually found out by the military and the press. When her brother tries to be cool and hangs with a motorcycle gang he is almost killed while Rin takes out the police contingent on her rideback. Rin as a character is interesting because she has moments of adrenalin followed by shame. She wants to be one with the bike because it gives her something she is missing yet every time she uses it she loses control. The balance between English and Japanese translation is a little more pronounced with the use of American slang being more prevalent. The commentary on episode 4 mixes the director and two of the female leads discussing the balance of silence and action as well as the gender traits of Fuego in question though the Shoko voice actor really has a thing for military guys.

Disc 2 Integrating the dark elements into the second disc, the tone takes on a specific downward trajectory. The first disc addressed the love that Rin has for the Fuego in that it completes her. At the end of the that progression, she uses her burgeoning powers to help save her brother. Afterwards as the GGP (the governing military organization) tries to keep her in custody to prevent her from becoming a martyr of the anti-governing protestors, the narrative takes on a more decisive tendency. The story becomes not one of riding, which the first disc plays to, but more to intrigue and a sense of identity. The intentions of specifically one supporting character being a beacon of light is cast out in a very brutal killing that takes places off screen which becomes a catalyst for the final battle of the show. However, the anti-climactic element of the final scene comes off a bit empty since the battle in terms of the larger picture is already won. It relegates a sense of full closure for the lead character and her need to be whole which plays a little bit too indulgent. The commentary plays too in deference to the catalyst scenario which the participants tend to get too emotional about. The textless opening music visuals are quite beautiful for sure. In terms of preview trailers, there is a balance between the old school coolness of “Trigun” and the futuristic 3D element of “TO”.

“Rideback” definitely creates a separate mindset from the norm especially within its more methodical second disc which reveals a more dark underbely. While the progression has its strengths, especially in the death of one of the members, the eventual resolution comes off as a bit too indulgent.

C