Star Driver


StarAs I’ve said before on this blog, there was a time when the idea of Studio BONES producing a mecha series was a guarantee formula for success. A long forgotten age when fan waited on bated breath for the announcement of BONES doing a show featuring giant robots. Today’s anime is one which came during the time when the studio could do no wrong and despite its eccentric nature was still a series worthy of the attention of mecha fans everywhere.

A boy named Takuto has transferred to Southern Cross Island in hopes of finding his lost father. While there he becomes entangled in the plot of the Glittering Crux Brigade, who wish to use the mysterious giants known as Cybodies to take over the world. Luckily, the seal of the four maidens prevents the Cybodies from being used anywhere except another dimension known as Zero Time. To prevent the Brigade from breaking the seals and using the Cybodies as they see fit, Takuto pilots his own Cybody named Tauburn to fight and protect his new friends from the dangers surrounding the island.

star-driver-02This show is over the top in a great way. From the main character having the nickname of “The Galactic Pretty Boy” to the villains of the “Glittering Crux Brigade” this show pushes the envelope of what is acceptable but you find yourself enjoying every minute of it. The show manages to reach levels of ridiculousness but at the same time retain a level of drama where you find yourself worried for the characters and their circumstances. Each character has a properly flushed out backstory and realistic motivations. Also, almost every one of them has a special power because of being connected to their Cybodies which resulted in a lot of hi-jinks.

The robotic designs take a bit to get used to. After all Tauburn looks like a musketeer and he’s suppose to be the robot we root for. Still, the designs eventually grow on you and some of the different “robot of the week” forms which are pulled out are definitely interesting to look at.

stardriver06-05The show does suffer from a “Monster of the week” format but this is kind of to its advantage. The monster of the week format allows each of the different members of the Glittering Crux Brigade to get a bit of screen time to so they can have their own time the spotlight before Takuto kicks the crap out of their own distinct Cybody.

The show does have a few other problems with it. The main being that the series ends far too quickly and doesn’t really have a good epilogue. Frankly, I would have hoped the movie for it would add some new content but I’ve since hear this is not the case. Instead, the show just ends after the final battle without any type of conclusion to how the characters are going to react to what has happened. There wasn’t enough of a need for a second season but a few additional scenes even on the DVD release would have been all the show needed. Is a simple Omake too much to ask?

Star Driver was another example of the winning combination of having Studio BONES do a giant robot series. One of these days I’ll have to get around to watching the shows which seemed to break this winning combination. Of course I kind of did one of them already with Captain Earth but I’m beginning to think I gave that one far too much praise then it deserved.

RATING: B

Avatar

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Today’s film is a conundrum for any fan of giant robots. It presents a world where space marines pilot them but insists we shouldn’t root for them. Instead we root for a group of blue furred aliens. Crazy isn’t it?

Jake Sully is a disabled soldier looking for a purpose. He is approached by the navy who want him to take his brother’s place on the planet Pandora and use an Avatar body to become a Navi to act as security. After being separated from his group he is saved by Naheeri, daughter of the chief of the home tree. He is allowed to stay and learn the ways of the Navi. Soon Jake finds himself getting so deep into the culture he begins to questions his loyalty and his feelings for Naheeri.

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Avatar’s appeal was reflected in its box offer return. For a film which didn’t have any type of previous materiel it did surprisingly well. Though the haters were quick to label it “Dances with Smurfs” because of its similarities to the film Dances with Wolves and the fact the aliens have blue skin. It is suggested you don’t pay attention to these critics as the film has a lot to offer.

The insane attention to detail presented with the visuals used to showcase the alien world of Pandora makes the movie mandatory viewing. The experience of watching the film in 3D is an incredible and immersive. Some think this is the only proper way to watch the movie. James Cameron really knew what he was doing when he took the time to craft the immensely engaging world.

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The mecha of the film falls into the “military issued hardware” category. They are the basic bipedal, human armed robots and they wield enlarged versions of human weapons. This means there is no customized suits or real way of distinguishing them apart. Luckily, there are few moments where so many of these machines are on the screen at the same time where it becomes hard to tell who is piloting which suit.

Despite the very conclusive ending the film posses, many sequels have been planned. This really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone considering how much money the first movie made. I personally am willing to give James Cameron the time he needs to get more of these films produced. Even if it does mean it will take him even longer to get around to a proper adaptation of Battle Angel Alita. Still, even if the sequels go too far or shatter the look of the characters we still have this movie and the joy it gave to us. Avatar is essential film for any fan of giant robots, science fiction, and aliens. Even if you are rooting for the robots to lose.

RATING: A

PODCAST: Rodan Roundtable

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Monster Kid Radio had me back again. This time it was to talk about Rodan on his 60th anniversary. The Podcast’s host Derek M. Koch invited me, author Stephen D. Sullivan and Illustrator Mark Maddox (who drew the above picture) on to talk about how much we loved the movie. Check it out and see what it scarred the crap out of me when I was a kid.

Macross Frontier

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If my previous reviews haven’t made it clear I do enjoy the Macross series a lot. Jets transforming into robots and pop songs helping to unite the universe, what’s not to love? Today though we look at a TV series with a lot of new material which takes us far into the future of the Macross universe.

The Macross class ship, the Frontier, has come under attack by the Vajira, a race of alien insects. As the young pilot cadet Alto Saotome works to join the private military group, S.M.S. (Strategic Military Services) he attracts the attention of seasoned idol singer Sheryl Nome and the up and coming talent Ranka Lee. The trio find themselves frequently attacked by the Vajira and discover they are much more than simple killing machines. As the truth comes out, it will tie directly into one of their pasts.

MacrossThe series has a lot of good points to it. It succeeds in making sure to advance the universe building aspect of the franchise while making references back to the older shows. References include the Nyan-Nyan restaurant become a franchise, the previous idol songs being played in the background, and even an episode where the characters are cast in a movie based on the events from Macross Zero. This attention to detail really helped to make it feel like it was a proper continuation of the Macross franchise.

The characters are very entertaining, each with their own deep background about them. Alto comes from a family of Kabuki dancers but became a pilot to fight this upbringing. Sheryl is an idol who is on top of the charts but finds its very lonely up there. Ranka wants nothing more than to sing but has a steep hill in front of her. These three by themselves make the show worth watching but there is still supporting characters like Michel, Klan, and Captain Lee to mention.

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This show isn’t without its problems. One of the most glaring ones is the episode entitled “Legend of Zero” with the previously mentioned movie filming episode. In it there is a particular action scene which goes so under budget with its animation and it looks absolutely absurd. We are talking Naruto vs. Pain bad but at least its only for like a five minute sequence. Still, you are better than this Macross! Don’t cut the corners, especially when this franchise only gets like two entries every decade.

The mecha in this series are the best part. Taking into account what needed to be upgraded, the Valkyries look fantastic especially in CG. Also, they included a close weapon feature which I think all Mecha should have as a back up just in case the enemy gets close. The VJ-25s have some very impressive technology, each with there own special function to combat against the Vajira menace. If you can’t tell they did a great job over all. 

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This is another show which sadly hasn’t made its way to American shores. Again, much like Macross: Do You Remember Love, I strongly plead with anyone who has the power to make it possible for these shows to someday be made available here to do something about it. I’m looking forward to the release of Macross Delta this year but know there is a good chance it won’t stateside anytime soon. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong though and someone will pick it up to stream.

RATING: A-

Daimajin

daimajin10 Today’s movie tells of a monster which doesn’t get a lot of respect in the kaiju community. Sure those who know his name know how important he is and how good these movies are. For those who don’t pull up a seat as I tell you the tale of the mountain god known as Daimajin.

The peace of a town is thrown into turmoil when Samanosuke the chamberlain to the Feudal Lord decides to overthrow his master and take control. The Lord’s two children Prince Tadafumi and Princess Kozasa manage to escape with the help of a samurai named Kogenta. He takes the children to a cave near where the mountain god statute, Daimajin sits. Ten years pass as the children grow up in isolation from the rest of the world and Samonosuke has enslaved the people for his own ambition. When her brother and Kogenta are taken hostage, Kozasa is left with no option but to pray to the ancient statue and hope for a miracle. Luckily, her wish is answered as the statue comes to life and sets forth on a path of divine justice.

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One of the most noticeable aspects of the film is it being a period piece. It takes place in ancient Japan where the country is still ruled by Feudal Lords who have samurai to enforce the laws. This also means the ways to stop Daimajin when he comes to bring his wrath are limited to what the people had in such a time. Ropes, hammers, and a few rifles are all they have at their disposal to fight against the magically possessed statue. It’s very interesting to see especially compared to other films where after a giant monster appears the audience finds themselves waiting for the army to show up to try and fight against the creature.

The scenes with Daimajin are the most striking and memorable parts of the movie. Moments like when the villains try to break his stone sleeping form to when he awakens to punish the wicked are very impressive bits of special effects which really help to make the movie distinct. Also, Daimajin has powers which he uses to extinguish flames and even travel great distances by turning into a comet. These more practical effects still retain their impressiveness even today.
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The one glaring problem with this film is its ending. It wraps up far too quickly. A little bit more of an ending showing how the people are able to recover after their time being under the harsh treatment of the bad guys would have been nice to see. Also, Daimajin waits a very long time before finally awakening to offer aid, a trend he will carry throughout the entire trilogy. The people need saving buddy, wake up a bit sooner.

The Daimajin trilogy is a very good series which all fans of giant monsters need to check out. I’ll work on getting through the rest of the films later in the year. For now, just wait and if things get bad, ask some large stone samurai statues for help.

RATING: B+

King of Braves: Gaogaigar

Gaogaigar02The Yushu (Brave) series hasn’t really had much exposure in America. After the Transformers went dormant (at least with Vehicles as their basis), the company behind them, Takara worked with Sunrise to create the Brave series and introduced a series of Super Robot Animes to the world. Unfortunately, the mainstream fans were kind of sick of all robots until Neon Genesis Evangelion came along. This is a shame because there is a lot of great shows during this period which don’t get the attention they deserved because of it. A prime example of this is the King of Brave: Gaogaigar.

Mamoru Amami is a young boy who was delivered to Earth by a robotic lion called Galion. Raised as an Earthling, Mamoru’s world is interrupted when an alien presence known as the Zonderians have come to make the inhabitants of Earth their hosts. It is up to Mamoru’s ability to heal those possessed by the Zonders with help from The Cyborg Guy and the organization which supports him, GGG to save the world. When things get out of hand, Guy pilots Galeon and combines with the other the Gao Machines to create the King of Braves: GAOGAIGAR!!!!

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The good guys of this show really are memorable. Cyborg Guy is the definitive hotblooded, justice will prevail type of mecha pilot. The need for the kid aspect of having Mamoru around actually serves a purpose with how  he can heal the humans who were turned into Zonders. The rest of the GGG team lends their own special talents to help save the day and no one character is essential useless because of it. I’d be faulted if I didn’t mention Chairman Taiga, who you look forward to every episode giving the approval for the final fusion which will allow Galion to become Gaogaigar.

The villains on the other hand are weird looking and have odd names. The first group of villains has names like Pizza, Penchinon and Polonise. Think that’s weird? Well the second team has characters named after body parts such as Ear, Eye, and Spleen. Despite their very odd sounding names, they are menacing and formidable. Actually its more their plans and the destruction they intent to cause which is truly menacing. The characters themselves, not so much but they trying to transform all of humanity into hosts for their parasitic forces so they set the endgame bar pretty high.

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The mecha of this series is the real appeal. Gaogaigar itself is an impressive piece of hardware on its own. The base robot Galeon is a mechanical lion who transformers into a robot and has an aura of nobility about him. When combines with the Gao Machines he becomes Gaogaigar, a force which truly dominates the battle field. Gaogaigar is also backed up by some very handy sentient allies. These include the Ninja Volfogg, two sets of twins (HyoRyu, EnRyu, FuRyu, and RaiRyu) and the comical Mic Sounders the 13th. All of these mecha have their own unique skills and abilities and can easily hold their own in a fight.

GaoGaigar is a show no one really gave the chance it deserved when it came to America despite the fact it was successfully released. Probably wasn’t added by the fact the show never got a proper run on any major network. If you are a fan of the combining robot genre then you owe it to yourself to track this gem down and understand just how much fun it to had from hearing the approval for the Final Fusion.

RATING: B+

The Secret World of Arrietty

Arriety01 It’s that time again! The one day a year where I see the error of my ways and look at the value of how small and compact things are exceptional instead of focusing on the need for them to be large and enormous. This year I’m looking at a particularly interesting movie which was made by the legendary studio known for creating breathtaking films, Studio Ghibli. Is it as good as some of the other gems in the studios’ library?

Sho is young boy with a heart condition who is sent to live with his great aunt Sadako in the house where his mother grew up. While he’s there he hears legends of tiny human creatures called borrowers who come to borrow things from humans to use in their own lives. One of these creatures is named Arrierty, a young girl who is curious about Sho but doesn’t know if she can trust him either. She will have to find a way to work with him if she has any hope of her world not being discovered by others.

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Overall this is a good film.The art is top notch and the story is more down played in comparison to other Studio Ghibili movies. This helps to give the film a sense of distinction but at the same time it also gives it a bit of a disadvantage. When going to see a Studio Ghibili movie people are more interested in the ever expanding worlds full of adventure and wonder. Though the whole, smaller scale making the regular human world look vast is fascinating and presented well, its not as wonderous as the worlds of Princess Mononoke or Spirted Away.

The interactions between Sho and Arrietty are very fascinating to watch. They have a great bit of bonding between the two of them and a true friendship is displayed. Unfortunately, they have the classic “From two separate worlds” story line  which doesn’t get settled in a way which allows them to continue to see each other in the end. Its a bit sad but not entirely tragic either.

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I don’t know how accurate this is to other adaptations of the Borrowers as I haven’t really seen any or read the original novel. The closest I have come is watching the cartoon version of The Little’s back in grade school but that’s another series all together. Still, as a movie on its own I believe this is a more faithful and fun adaptation than the Tales of Earthsea was.

The Secret World of Arrietty was good but unfortunately not many people saw it. It was another box office flop and which eventually helped contributed to Studio Ghibili now being in its current state. On standby and not really releasing anything major until founder Hayao Miyazaki decides he wants to do another film.

RATING: B+