Happy 4th of July! DBZ, Sky Crawlers, Dragon Drive, Clover

Hey, I'm actually getting in an update on time!! Another reason to celebrate! In any case, I hope you all have a fun and safe Independence Day. It'll be a good break from all that anime, right? So let's get started with one of the most loved anime epics in the world.

Dragon Ball Z (291 Episodes)
Animation: ***
Story: ***
Music: ***
Overall: ***

It's taken me two summers to pull it off, but I finally watched all 291 episodes of Dragon Ball Z. I remembered watching it on Toonami and being bitter at how long it was taking, even at five episodes a week (freaking Cell), but the thought occurred to be that I hadn't really watched it from beginning to end. It's been considered an anime classic, something that I'll get to a little bit later.

Dragon Ball Z (for those of you who have been living under a rock on Mars) is about Goku, a martial artist with incredible powers and potential, suddenly realizing that after all this time (roughly 150+ episodes that constitute Dragon Ball) he's actually a space alien sent to Earth to destroy it. However, he konked his head shortly after arriving, turning into the pure-hearted hero everyone knows and loves. This information spirals the story into an epic that results in saving the universe as a whole.

Trying to summarize the plot of Dragon Ball Z in a short paragraph is hard to do, considering all that happens. Not to say that the story's great, though, it just takes a long time to tell, which is why the new Dragon Ball Kai version is going to be so interesting.

For the music, I decided to listen to the Japanese Soundtrack, which, while orchestral, is simple and doesn't distract from the action. I wonder if the American Soundtrack wouldn't have been better, but I don't want to watch the whole series again just for that! The animation slowly improves over time, natural for a long-running show like this, but never really reaches jaw-dropping levels compared to television today. It may have been great back then, but now it seems standard, perhaps because it set the standard for all shows to follow.

Actually, that's the major reason I watched this series in the first place. Dragon Ball Z's legacy is huge, and now that I've seen the whole series again from this retrospective viewpoint, I'm cemented my opinion that Dragon Ball Z pioneered the modern Shonen/Action/Adventure style of story telling that we now see in the likes of Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece. To be fair, they're all from Shonen Jump, but even so, I think DBZ laid the groundwork for most of everything to follow, including it immediate successor YuYu Hakusho and even series like Rurouni Kenshin, Rave Master, Negima, Zatch Bell, and the three I mentioned before. They generally all do the same thing: set up a massive premise to be lead by appealing characters that will take a ridiculously long time to tell so that, when they reach the climax, the viewers will have put in so much emotional investment on what's going on they will have everyone on the edge of the their seats whether they like it not. All the tropes we know and love started with Dragon Ball Z.

Again, to be fair, there probably were other titles that did similar things before Dragon Ball Z began in 1984. I have already admitted how much I'm loving Fist of the North Star, but it's not be rehashed like DBZ is with the newer titles I previously mentioned.

Dragon Ball Z's impact is huge, and that's what makes it a classic. It may not be very watchable now (though I had to check out it from my library with only a week for each season box set which at such a rapid pace made things a little better; I didn't much else those weeks though), but it does deserve respect for trail-blazing that it has done for later series.

I'll probably watch Dragon Ball GT, despite how little it is generally liked, next summer. I have a tendency to want to like things people normally don't like, perhaps as a way to be more open-minded about my expectations. For example, I don't think St. Anger is Metallica's worst album. They've certainly done better, but it isn't horrible.

Why am I talking about music, let's get back to anime.

Sky Crawlers (Movie)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ***

Sky Crawlers is a movie directed by Mamoru Oshii based on a book series about a fictional world war that never seems to end. The plot revolves around a small crew of fighter pilots for one particular side of the war and their philosophical dilemmas about dealing with the endless fighting. Some clearly take it better than others. Add in the concept that the soldiers seem to be clones of some sort, being replaced with frightening similar replicas whenever they die in battle. Of course, the movie doesn't tell you that out right.

The story is good, relying on a sense of philosophical science-fiction that, in the end, poses some pretty interesting questions. However, that sense if very subtle, giving the movie a very slow pace. The trailers give you a sense of action with all the dog fights in the sky, but don't be fooled. They're sporadic throughout the movie, though, to their credit, they don't take away from pacing that the show establishes right from the get go. Don't expect an action flick; it's far too introspective for that. You've been warned.

To be honest, I can't remember the music, and if that's the case, then it probably wasn't much. If it was bad, I would've remembered.

No, my biggest problem was actually with the character design. Don't get me wrong, the animation was slick, but everybody looked like they belonged in the Naruto universe, and that was distracting. I noticed that both anime titles have the same character designer, Tetsuya Nishio, but in reading a lot of the recent Naruto graphic novels, it seems like this guy and Masashi Kishimoto have been swapping sketchbooks. As I watched Sky Crawlers, I kept subconsciously expecting a bunch of ninjas to crash through, not that there was any logical reason for it, but because the character designs reminded me so much of Naruto that I wouldn't have been surprised if it did happen. Hopefully, it's just me.

In the end, it wasn't a bad movie, just a really slow one. It offers some sci-fi pontification and slick visuals, but I don't see myself watching it again.

Dragon Drive (14 Volumes)
Rating: ***

And we move back into dragons. Dragon Drive is the story about a video game that actually isn't a video game, but actually a portal into another world. Villains are trying to use the powers of this other world for their own benefits and it's up to the overly energetic heroes to stop them.

It's pretty standard, as far as story goes. The heroes struggle, find friends, and rely on their virtues to resolve the crisis. Setting that aside, I can't deny that Kenichi Sakura did a really good job getting an incredible amount energy across. It's expected that the hero will be spunky, but I've never seen heroes whose energy is so contagious. You get two of them, one for each major story arc, though the first one steps back in halfway through the second arc. They have various reasons for getting in the game, which is very Pokemon/Digimon; The player gets a monster and orders it to do battle with the other players' monsters. Naturally, the heroes get some weak monster that turns into something incredible later on, due to their bravery and perseverance. And yet, with all of these clich├ęs, you get a story that relies heavily on its own logic and world setting, making it a very believable experience. I was surprised that it wasn't a game first (though I'm sure games came later; I know an anime series did).

Recommendable for being an easy-to-read yet enjoyable adventure, Dragon Drive moves quickly and has few flaws, if any.

Clover (4 Volumes, recollected in one Onmibus)
Rating: ****

A handful of years ago, I was getting into manga just before it boomed big and began controlling massive sections of bookstores and libraries. A friend of mine let me borrow the first box set of Magic Knight Rayearth (my first foray into unflipped manga) and instantly became a fan of CLAMP. I hunted down every series my library had at the time, first finishing off MKR, then finding and loving Cardcaptor Sakura, Wish, and Angelic Layer (I hadn't discovered Chobits yet). X/1999 was rather weird and hard to follow, but enjoyable. Then I happened up Clover. Sitting on the same shelves as their other titles, these volumes definitely stood out with their special dust covers. I grabbed them, read them, and was entirely blown away at what CLAMP could do. Unfortunately, those library copies ended up going missing and I hadn't read the series for a while. Thankfually, Dark Horse picked up the rights and published it as one big brick, with extra promotional artwork in the back. While I haven't had the money to buy one yet, I happened to find a copy at my library this past week and couldn't not pick it up.

Clover is the story that results from a study that the government did to find people with psychic or supernatural powers and ranked them from one to four, four being the most powerful. The problem was that anyone labeled with a four was equal in power to the five wizards that ran the government. They found one of these fours, named Sue, and she volunteered to be locked away for everyone's sake. However, the story begins several years after that, with Kazuhiko, a mercenary for hire that used to be part of the military, is given the job of discreetly taking Sue to a location that only Sue knows. Kazuhiko quickly learns just how far over his head he is, but is intent on taking Sue anyway.

This series is clearly CLAMP's most ambitious (Tsubasa is, too, but no where near as much as Clover). The art style and panel layout offers all sorts of cinematic scenes and story-telling, bearing a resemblance to more independent comics, like Hellboy. The characters and their relationships may seem shojo enough but are presented in such an usual way that they become instantly unforgettable.

As much as I love this series, I can't give it a full five star rating. My main problem is that the story concerning Sue takes place in the first two novels. The third and the fourth go further and further back in time, explaining the circumstances of some of the other characters leading up to Kazuhiko and Sue's story. They're still in there, but I've always felt those two were the central figures. Three and four aren't bad; they carry the same intense art style and help to really establish the world setting, but I've always felt they were rather extra and somewhat unnecessary. Maybe if they re-wrote it in chronological order, I would feel quite so put off.

In any case, Clover is incredible material and highly recommendable to any who reads and enjoys comics. It's CLAMP at their best once again. I still wish someone would do a full length movie of volumes one and two; a nine minute music video just doesn't cut it for me. I wouldn't mind if bits of three and four were slid in along the way, as opposed to tacked on at the end like they are in the collection.

I don't know what I'll review next week; I know I'm close to the end of The Tower of Druaga and I've been loving it. Other than that, I don't know if I'm close to finishing anything else, so I may have to dive deep into my memory and talk about older titles that I've completed, such as all of the Astro Boy manga. We'll just have to see. I'm sure I'll find something to talk about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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