Monday, March 29, 2010

Defenders of Space

You guys remember this entry? Yeah, I wish I didn't. Still, I made a promise, and thus I sat down and watched one of these Korean animated movies recently. My choice was DEFENDERS OF SPACE, which was the first of them I ever picked up.


I'm going to attempt to do this thing justice, but truly, it is beyond the pale of badness. Imagine the worst movie you've ever seen, double it, and you're close. The sad thing is, this is still better than some of the other animated features Digiview released. Consider yourself warned.

Believe it or not, I took notes during this movie. What can I say? It kept me paying attention for the duration. This reminds me, the case lists an incorrect running time of 75 minutes. Even if you count the preview at the beginning (more on this shortly), the whole deal only clocks in at 67 minutes. You will find this to be merciful if you choose to watch.

We open rather inexplicably with a preview for the film we are about to see. Why? Damned if I know! It's a rather standard, monotone-narrated IFD trailer, but it does offer the first clue that this is going to be some of the most boring dubbing imaginable. Seriously, this is downright sleep-inducing, and I speak as a FAN of Hong Kong-produced English dubbing. It doesn't even sound as if IFD brought in their top people, and considering their catalog, that's impressive in entirely the wrong way. The trailer also includes some familiar sentai series music - I think it's "Never Stop! Changeman" from the CHANGEMAN series. Who we can thank for all of the pirated music on the soundtrack is something I'll just not worry too much about, but all signs point to it being the original filmmakers. You'll understand why, I bet.

Now, after much ado, we start talking about the movie itself. Why has it taken so long? Because it, my friends, is a mess. A fleet of evil blue people are invading, under the auspices of Emperor Nick. Look, that's his name. His chief bumblers, I mean generals, are two blue guys named Mike and something I didn't write down. Saga, maybe? These clowns are the guys in the trenches with the men, and they basically take turns insulting one another, looking smug, and screwing up royally. You can imagine where this leads them. Also among the blue people is an evil woman who is oddly not blue, but rather a pale redhead. Not passing judgment, mind you. We are led to believe she is Nick's daughter, which fine, whatever.

The blue people are launching on all-out invasion on....Earth, right? Wrong! Well, they are, but they don't make it there. Their super duper assault, which includes two strangely familiar giant robots, is on something called "Aurora". I am fuzzy on what Aurora precisely is. It is referred to as a city, but we're also given the impression it is a planet. I am assume it is an Earth colony, but I can't tell you where it's supposed to be located.

One thing is certain - Aurora is not on Mars. Because the scene then shifts to Mars, where kids have gone to play baseball. Don't ask me why Mars for baseball - it's not like anything else in this cartoon makes a lick of sense. There the movie plays the "oh, this will make a lovely pendant" card with a found object, and ahahaha, I'm sure you can guess where that will go in the plot.

Those kids return to Aurora, and wow, those bad guys didn't waste any time. The place is practically deserted and looks like one of those "many years later" establishing shots in post-WWIII movies. There is some of the obligatory weepy stuff, confrontations with blue guys, and then the scientist shows up to say they need the Phoenix King and I'm awfully confused. How does he know about the Phoenix King? He just starts talking about it with no buildup whatsoever.

The hero and heroine depart for Earth via spaceship to seek out the Phoenix King, leaving behind the useless characters. This was how I referred to them in my notes, and it's not inaccurate. The scientist provides exposition and that's about it. There is a comedy relief robot who does, ummmm, nothing, and only two of the other kids are even shown as far as I could see. There is also a guerrilla leader who appears to try to act cool. He doesn't do much, and his men do even less. Never mind then.

We get back to our hero, who manages to shoot down a missile in space by opening a hatch and shooting it with a gun. OK! I think this is where he earns his kiss from the heroine, which is just as pointless and embarrassing as everything else in the movie. When they arrive on Earth, they find...nuthin'! Seriously. Either the planet has been abandoned for some reason or they just go someplace where it's deserted.

The Phoenix King is awakened, and though represented up to this point by a very-Tezuka-like Phoenix, it ends up being a giant robot. Specifically, it ends up being a straight-up copy of the toy robot who would become Inferno of the Transformers franchise. Phoenix King flies back to Aurora with his new friends and puts a hurting on the enemy fleet. Giant robots are destroyed, and lots of blue people (and one red-headed evil chick) are killed. All the useless characters are saved, and in the climactic moment, our hero robot changes into a firetruck and puts out a fire. The universe is safe for bad animated ripoff movies again! Yay?

I left out a lot of things in this review, but believe me, you don't wanna know. This is the kind of DVD that should only be watched by masochists like me, so it may be mocked mercilessly. I realize this won't win any prizes for the most coherent review I've ever penned, but that feels oddly appropriate under the circumstances.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The DC Comics Presents Showcase

I usually like to give the proper titles of books in my subject headers, but DC has been sorely testing my resolve by putting out books I want coupled with some of the clumsiest titles imaginable. Our subject today is the super-unwieldy Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents : The Superman Team-Ups. Your eyes do not deceive you - "presents" makes it into the title TWICE. Oh, the joys of unforeseen consequences!

I don't bring up this book to make fun of it (much). Rather, I picked up this book because it was one that held more nostalgia for me than most of these B&W tomes. I was a regular buyer of DC Comics Presents during its run from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Point of fact, I at one time owned many of the issues reprinted in this book. A few of them are still kicking around my longboxes to this day. So DCP is a book that is completely of MY childhood, rather than something that begins in the days before I was even a gleam in my daddy's eye.

How do the stories hold up? Hmmm, pretty good, I'd say. They can't all be winners, and some of them are definitely better than others. Among the tales are a couple of Steve Englehart's last "mainstream" (i.e., DC or Marvel) stories for several years. They have some clever twists in them. I'd probably give the nod for the most interesting issues to Marty Pasko's contributions. As for my least favorites, I'll just leave those to your imagination. There are a few that could have used a little more work in the plotting department, but I'd chalk to that up to the limitations of so few pages.

The art in the book gets off to a smashing start with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, simply one of the best artists to emerge in the comic book industry in the 1970s. All you need as proof is that his promotional art done for DC years ago is still considered current enough for contemporary merchandising. Alas, Garcia-Lopez didn't get to draw DCP for too many issues, but many of the others are handled by such pros as Joe Staton and Dick Dillin. Overall, I really have no complaints in the art department.

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents : The Superman Team-Ups is a nice little time capsule of DC's books in the era when I was just getting seriously into comics. As such, it holds a special appeal to me. It has aged about as well as possible given the formula these stories had to follow and the fact that over 30 years have passed since they were new. A fun trip down memory lane, this book costs less than twenty bucks for over five hundred pages of Superman goodness. A bargain!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More, More, More

I love the song "More, More, More" by Andrea True Connection. Not familiar with it? It's this :

Get the cameras rollin', get the action goin'

Quite the video performance, no? It's even more amazing when you realize that True had been an adult film star for a few years by this point. I'd have thought she could have delivered a better "fake" performance from that practice, but guess not.

Actually, I'm not going to make fun of Andrea True. Not only do I like the corny, risque lyrics she's singing (alluding to her acting career, cough cough), but I really like her voice, too. In fact, I liked it so much that I dared to do something that few people would dare to do.

I bought an Andrea True CD.

Now, granted More, More, More - The Best Of The Andrea True Connection is less than ten bucks. But honestly? That's money most people would not spend. It's not really the same song ten times, but seriously, that's how most folks would perceive it. "More, More, More" is the only thing on the CD that the average person would know.

Well, I did a little research, and here's what I learned. Amazingly, Andrea True was responsible for three albums. The compilation gathers most of the songs from the first two, albeit in their single edits where available. Alas, Andrea's foray into a more punk rock sound (really) appears lost in the vinyl wilderness. One supposes that project is well beyond whatever commercial appeal True's music still possesses.

What about the nine other songs on the CD? Well, to my astonishment, I rather enjoyed them. I would not hold this up as something I'd recommend to people, but it was fun. Besides the familiar song, a #4 Pop hit, two others charted in Top 40s : "NY, You Got Me Dancing" (#27 on the U.S. chart) and "What's Your Name, What's Your Number" (#34 on the U.K. chart). The former is very similar to "More, More, More", but with an intriguing arrangement, while the latter is infectiously silly. It is one of the tunes where I detected the Tennessee-born True slipping into her natural Southern accent.

There are other surprises to be had, too. For example, it seems that "Sally Can't Dance" was penned by Lou Reed(!), which is one of the last names I'd expected to see associated with this. But most shocking of all was the revelation that even only covering two albums, not all of the tunes were disco. This is compounded by the majesty that is "White Witch".

"White Witch", I should point out, is also the title of True's second album. And yet? Nobody warned me that this song would be a reggae number that True performs with a fake Jamaican accent. Truly, a thing of beauty.

I doubt very strongly Andrea True commands the kind of fandom that some musicians garner, but I had a lot of fun with this CD. Granted, I listened to it late at night, and was quite possibly delirious at the time, but it didn't bore me to sleep. That's saying something.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Super Robot Red Baron

I had zero expectations when I received the gift of the complete series of SUPER ROBOT RED BARON on DVD. It's not that I had heard anything negative about the show itself; it's just that I have a certain antipathy towards most giant hero shows, compared to other types of Japanese do-gooders. This owes more to personal preferences in storytelling methods than it does to relative merits of different sub-genres. That's a complicated way of saying that usually even high quality Japanese giant hero shows leave me cold.

Well, RED BARON is one of those exceptions that proves the rule. Though it is firmly in giant hero territory, it has enough of the trappings of human-sized hero series that it won me over. While I am sure that August Ragone's English subtitles on BCI's release helped immeasurably, I found RED BARON to be a pleasant surprise.

Rather than going through pains of summarizing what the series is all about beyond heroes and giant robot vs. evil people, I'll refer you to a post written by August Ragone himself on the series. Go ahead and check that out before we continue. It's OK; I'll wait.

Back? Excellent. One aspect of the series that I found particularly enjoyable was the FX on display. Now, I am one of those souls who likes the wacky old school Japanese giant monster genre, so I don't think that should come as a surprise. I had a preference for the robots in the first two-thirds of the series as opposed to those that turn up in the last few stories. The crazed "international" theme of things like ESCARGOS (from France, and yes, it is a giant motorized snail) never failed to bring a smile to my face. And the titular robot is memorable without looking like a big toy. Its arm seem a little short to me, but that's just minor nitpicking.

The cast is good - I might even call them great. Lead actor Yosuke Okada didn't strike me as particularly effective at the outset, but either he got better or he grew on me. Maybe both? The rest of the regular cast is unquestionably cool, especially Isao Tamagawa as the wacky comic relief inspector who is quite the badass in his own way. Plus, Rei Maki's turn as Mari Matsubara is enough to make me forget she ever was a Kilaak.

There are a number of really well-done episodes in the thirty-nine of this show. One in particular that stood out for me was a moody journey through the city at night with one of the SSI members. The photography and atmosphere really belied the fact that RED BARON was a kid's show. And of course, the goofy giant robot program ends with a storyline that tugs at the heartstrings and ended up making me cry.

In a lighter vein, SUPER ROBOT RED BARON also features an episode with this guy :

Uncle Iron Arm loves you
Uncle Iron Arm loves you

There's no way you can convince me he isn't awesome.

Hats off to you, RED BARON. You are a fine, entertaining series. I didn't expect much from you, but you more than delivered.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Captain & Shelly - Kabuki Style!

Recently, I commissioned my friend Kabuki Katze to create a piece of artwork depicting my characters Captain Satellite and Shelly Ericson with a touch more skill than I can manage. I have rhapsodized about Kabuki's pure awesomeness in the past, but here we have another example of it.

(Click that image for a much larger version of the pic at deviantArt!)

Isn't that nice? Comic book nerds among my readers may note the authentic-type details like the 12 cent price tag, the modified Comics Code seal, and the ragged edges. 'Twas Kabuki herself who elected to do the picture as a mock comic book cover - I merely pointed her in the right general direction. That direction, by the way, was the layout of DC Comics' covers from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. The Captain's world is actually the 1990s, but that decade as it would have been imagined through the prism of the Fifties and Sixties.

Yes, there are some variations from my original designs. I like to give artists freedom to interpret my basic sketches into something a little more developed. One amusing sidenote is the headband that Shelly wears. This has become a staple of her design, and it all owes to an early misinterpretation of my shaky artwork. It worked out for the best, I'd say.

Thank you, Kabuki, for your amazing work in bringing my characters to life!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March Hiatus

When I decided to pursue this blog, I promised myself that I would always try to put forth at least a token effort in whatever I posted here. Too often in past blogs, it has been easy to just phone in an entry or two. I don't want to do that anymore.

As a consequence of this resolve, I am taking a break from posting to OWARI for a week or three. I don't feel like recent entries have been poor by any means, but it's been a chore at times getting them ready. Plus, there is a very important other project that keeps getting short shrift. I'd like to change that. There's also the pesky matter of "real life", and the demands it sometimes places on time. Who knew, right?

There are some things cooking though. Check it out :

* a look at a collection of DC Comics Presents

* the music of Andrea True

* my finally (?) finishing that piece on SUPER ROBOT RED BARON

* an Amazon screenshot that is intensely confusing

* some fun stuff from special guest stars!

OWARI will be coming back around before you know it. But for now, it rests.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My World : Devil Dynamite

Devil Dynamite

Noted villain Devil Dynamite makes no bones about the fact that he considers Captain Satellite his biggest rival. In fact, he styles himself as the Captain's "evil opposite". His more outlandish claim is that he is actually Captain Satellite's counterpart from a parallel universe. Of course, if that is the case, it does beg the question of why he isn't in his own universe. Or is he just spinning a yarn to hide his true origin?

Devil Dynamite is the Captain Satellite mythos "evil opposite" character, a theme I have used a lot in my time. His name is derived from a completely insane martial arts movie which involves a silver-suited superhero fighting Chinese hopping vampires, among about a dozen or so other elements. Yes, that film is just as wonderful as you might think.