Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE, pt. 1 & 2 (2012)

"If you ever feel like dying to help the universe, just let me know. I'll be waiting."

When I accepted my friends' offer to go see Madoka Magica at the theater with them this past weekend, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that it was really popular, and that it was supposed to be pretty dark. What I wasn't prepared for was exactly how dark it would become. Don't let any of the cutesy imagery fool you for a second, as this is one of the cruelest, most brutal works of art I've ever had the pleasure to take in.

The story starts out innocently enough, showcasing the start of a typical day at school for our main character, middle schooler Madoka Kaname, and her best friend, Sayaka Miki. After their homeroom teacher finishes projecting her relationship troubles on her students, she introduces the class to a new transfer student, named Homura. It seems like Homura wants nothing to do with anybody else, until she leads Madoka away from the classroom, and suddenly warns her against giving up the life that she has. Madoka and Sayaka spend some time after school pondering what her warning could mean, until Madoka suddenly hears a voice in her head, begging her for help.

The two of them follow it until they come across a very strange-looking cat with serious wounds, being gunned down by Homura. She tells them to get out of her away, until an unnamed blonde girl shows up and tells Homura to leave. After Homura agrees, the three girls are then transported into a strange world that looks like it was animated entirely by Terry Gilliam, and come face-to-face with a giant monster, called a Witch. The blonde girl is able to save Madoka and Sayaka by magically summoning a wall of flintlock rifles and blowing the monster into dust. When they are all in the clear, the cat starts talking to them telepathically. He says that his name is Kyubey, and that he will grant the two of them any wish they desire, as long as they agree to become Magical Girls, and hunt down the Witches that have been wreaking havoc on society. From this point, our heroines delve deeper into this mysterious world of magic and monsters, discovering the grave consequences of those who choose to become Magical Girls, and what Kyubey's real intentions are.

Even after the scene where it appears as though Kyubey is about to meet his maker, Madoka Magica really didn't seem as dark as it had been made out to be by my friends, and every single review of it I had read. It wasn't until a little later when it happened. A moment so shocking and out of left field, that I had to cover my mouth to keep from screaming, "HOLY SHIT!" right in the middle of the theater. It was at that moment that I realized that I actually cared about these characters, and the thought of what cruel fate may await them had me in complete suspense. I knew that the emotional pull was only going to get more intense as the saga continued, and I was completely right. What's especially amazing was how the movie was able to pull this off without feeling gratuitous or exploitative in any way.

A lot of this movie's success owes itself to its very moody, emotional atmosphere. When it needs to be, the animation can either be deceptively bright and cheerful, or just downright frightening. The scenes that take place in the Labyrinths, the Witches' dimensions, especially, look like the kind of imagery you would see in an actual nightmare. The music really helps set the mood, as well. Except for a couple strangely out-of-place pop songs, the score consists mostly of haunting classical fare, frequently accompanied by chanting.

What really makes Madoka Magica work for me, though, is that it had characters who I had learned to sympathize with as the story progressed, it had a great ending that surprisingly managed to answer every question I had, and that despite the fact that it presents the audience with an enemy that really feels dangerous on a cosmic scale, it never forgets where its true focus lies. It's a story about people learning to live with the decisions they've made, and how to overcome them in the face of a great tragedy, and it does a fantastic job of it.

It's not enough for me to recommend this to just anime or sci-fi fans. I strongly believe that if you're a fan of FICTION, you owe it to yourself to check out Madoka Magica. I'm not one to just toss around the word, "masterpiece", but I feel like this movie really earns that distinction. Just some fair warning: it is absolutely not for the faint of heart.

Madoka Magica: The Movie, pt. 1 & 2 was made using compiled footage from the award-winning 2011 TV series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. A sequel is due out sometime next year.

Friday, November 30, 2012

OHH YEAH! The V.O. Career of Randy Savage

Earlier this month, "Macho Man" Randy Savage would have turned 60, had he not tragically lost his life to heart disease early last year.

One of the most famous wrestlers who ever lived, Randy Savage had enjoyed multiple decades worth of glory, countless championship victories, and many other careers outside of the ring. Among them was a long stint as the Slim Jim spokesperson, a short-lived music career, and a job as a cartoon cameo legend.

To celebrate the life of one of the most unique entertainers in television history, here are a few of my favorite moments of Macho Madness to have ever been captured in celluloid:

Duck Dodgers - Master Sergeant Emily Dickinson Jones (Back to the Academy)

In a show that was already overflowing with brilliant celebrity cameos, Randy Savage still managed to stand out as the eponymous hero's worst nightmare. In this episode, Dodgers, played by Daffy Duck, is told that he needs to pass a series of tests if he wants to keep his job as a space captain, and the only thing standing between him and continued employment is a sadistic drill sergeant with a hilarious name. You'd never think it based on my description, but Jones may have actually been the most subdued character that Savage ever played, not that that's saying much at all. He was a total hardass with a nasty temper, but he didn't come off as psychotic in any way, like many of Savage's characters do.

Dexter's Laboratory - Rasslor (Rasslor)

Who better to play a wrestler than an actual wrestler? In one of Dexter's Lab's more memorable Dial M for Monkey segments, a masked warrior of intergalactic influence and power, who calls himself Rasslor, comes to Earth to announce that he has yet to find an opponent worthy of his amazing strength, and that if the Earth can't produce a formidable challenger, then he will obliterate our home planet. Macho Man's voice and personality lend themselves very well to this charismatic, intimidating character, which is what really makes him believable as a galactic overlord.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast - Leonard "The Gray Ghost" Ghostal (Piledriver)

Unlike almost every other celebrity featured on SGC2C, Randy Savage wasn't on set to be interviewed by Space Ghost and crew. Instead, he played SG's grandfather: a retired former champion wrestler who can't stop living in his glory days. He constantly interrupts his grandson during his interviews, and keeps picking fights with guests Rob Zombie and Raven-Symoné. This is one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows, and it's all because of how well Savage is able to portray a goofy, aged version of himself. In fact, his performance is so convincing that I strongly believe that, if he were still alive ten years from now, he would look like Space Ghost with a pasted-on beard.

I was devastated when I had found out that Randy Savage had passed away, especially since he was in the early stages of making a comeback. His death was a huge loss for the entertainment industry, but this is why we all need to remember what about him made us like him in the first place. Whether he was crushing his opponents under the weight of his mighty elbow in the ring, or ordering a talking duck to do fifty push-ups, he was always able to hold my attention.

R.I.P. "Macho Man" Randy Savage

"The tower of power, too sweet to be sour, funky like a monkey, OHH YEAH!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Me and the Devilman Blues: A Personal Retrospective, pt. 2


It would be another couple of years before I encountered Devilman again, at the dealers' room of a smaller anime convention that was just a short drive from my house. Halloween was fast approaching, and I was really caught up in the ghoulish spirit, so I was looking around for any scary anime or manga. I was beginning to lose hope until I found six individual DVDs, all colored blood-red with pictures of grotesque demons on the side covers, bound together by a single rubber band. The first, and only visible, cover showed me that it was a TV series called, "Go Nagai's The Devil Lady". After reading that, it didn't take me long to realize the visual similarities between the feral-looking demon on the cover and the original image of Devilman that I remembered from when I was little. At that point, there was no way I could resist buying it.

I watched all twenty-six episodes of The Devil Lady over the course of a few weeks, and I came to the conclusion that while the writing wasn't exactly great, it had everything that I expected from my original image of Devilman: lots of violence, tons of gore, terrifying creatures of the night, and a demonic hero that fights for humanity. Unfortunately, the plot was so forgettable that it didn't really leave any lasting impact on me, or my overall impression of Devilman. At this point, it seemed as though nothing would.

Another couple of years pass, and I'm in my second year of college. One of my big obsessions at the time was the Getter Robo series, which was written by Ken Ishikawa, one of Go Nagai's assistants at his company, Dynamic Productions. Originally, I was reading English-translated scans of the comics off of a website, but one day, I just decided to download them so I could access them more easily on my computer. I went to the translators' website, where they had a list of other Dynamic Pro series' they had finished working on posted on the side. My eyes instantly widened when I saw that one of the comics they had finished translating was the original Devilman. Suddenly entranced, I downloaded all five books and started reading them.

I was immediately hooked upon finishing the first volume, which managed to do a very good job building its world, introducing its main characters, and delivering a surprisingly suspenseful origin story for our hero. These were all things that I wish The Devil Lady had been able to do when I was watching it. The second volume introduced its first named villains, who managed to provide the protagonist with an actual challenge, and with it, a very solid story. I really liked how everything was shaping up.

The final three volumes, though, were the ones that cemented the story's status as a masterpiece, to me. I don't want to give anything away, but the story arc contained in these last volumes not only really tugs at the heartstrings (one friend told me she couldn't stop crying while reading the last volume), but also provides some very interesting commentary on human nature, showing how on some level, we're all inherently prone to fear and violence.

If you haven't yet read this amazing work of pop art, make some time to do it. At only five volumes, I guarantee that you won't regret a single second of it. Just to give you an idea, the impact that it had when it debuted in Japan was very similar to the impact Watchmen had on the English-speaking comic world. It was violent, emotional, and rife with social commentary, which is why it has continued to garner seemingly endless amounts of reprints, remakes, and sequels over the last forty years. It's a hell of a good time!

Now it's time you all payed the devil his due...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Me and the Devilman Blues: A Personal Retrospective, pt. 1

As of this writing, Devilman has been one of my all-time favorite comic book stories for years. The long-lasting impact from its powerful writing and unfaltering heroes has left it with few peers worthy to even share the same book store shelf space it's occupied since the Seventies. For me, it's a gold standard for which I judge other graphic novels against. Judging from what I just typed, though, you may not have guessed that I didn't always feel this way...

My descent into madness began one cold, dark Saturday evening when I was just a little boy. My brother and I were spending the night at our grandparents' house, and my grandma had taken us to her local Blockbuster to pick out a movie to rent. While my brother walked around with my grandma, I rushed right over to the Cartoon section. Scanning the shelves, I saw the usual Disney movies and Nickelodeon TV show episodes on tape, and nothing else that seemed out of the ordinary. However, as soon as my eyes reached the second shelf from the bottom, they stopped, frozen, fixated on one image that stood out from all the rest:

I was paralyzed, struck with a sense of fear that I had never quite known before. Being so young, the most demonic thing I had ever seen in a cartoon at the time was in Sleeping Beauty, watching Maleficent turning into a gigantic black dragon. This, however, was on a completely different level. Just this one picture was able to fill me with not just the greatest terror I had experienced up until then, but also a great curiosity. As much as it frightened me, in those moments, I felt like I wouldn't be able to rest until I knew what secrets lie beyond this horrific image. Was this "Devilman" the hero? How could a devil be a hero? Was this a story about a villain? My mind was filled with so many questions.

Suddenly, I felt a hand pull on my shoulder, sending a jolt of electricity through my entire body that snapped me out of my trance. My grandma then asked me if I had picked out a movie. Since I hadn't yet, I quickly looked back at the shelf, saw one of the Land Before Time sequels, and took it to the guy at the register without thinking. That was the last time I would think of or hear about Devilman for almost a decade.

I had always liked giant robots in some way, since I loved watching local channel reruns of the original Transformers and Voltron growing up, but I became hooked for life during my middle school years when I started watching G Gundam on Cartoon Network's Toonami block. Since then, a lot of my time has been spent seeking out new titles, collecting robot figures and models, and cheering on the good guys as they triumphed over some of the greatest evils our universe will hopefully never know.

At some point when I was in high school, my search led me to a comic book writer named Go Nagai. Reading up on him, I discovered that he was the man responsible for coming up with the concept of giant robots being piloted by humans, which he accomplished through his most famous work, Mazinger Z. Intrigued, I wanted to find out what else he had created, so I went to Wikipedia to look up a list of his other series', hoping to find anything else I may have heard of. While there were a couple of titles that I recognized at the time, only one really popped out at me: Devilman.

Like a flash of lightning, it all came back to me. The intense fear and curiosity that I had felt when I was little had returned. Like then, I knew I wouldn't be at ease until I finally discovered the mysteries behind this link to my past. The first thing I thought to do was search on that new website my friends had shown me: YouTube, a video-streaming site which seemed to have anything I might have wanted to see. I knew that if I was going to be able to find clips of Devilman anywhere, it would be there. This was the first thing that came up:

I just sat there for a few minutes, not knowing what to think. The thought that an old kids' show was what terrified me so much back then left me in total shock. Then, without thinking, I lowered my head and started chuckling to myself. I felt both a little relieved and disappointed. I was really looking forward to something hardcore and violent, but it seemed like that just wasn't the case. Oh well, one of the greatest enigmas of my life had been solved, and nothing had changed as a result.

Little did I know exactly how wrong I was...

Saturday, October 13, 2012


This story takes place in the distant future. When mutants and demons slither through a world of darkness.

Vampire Hunter D was one of many anime movies to be released in America during the late 80s and early 90s that helped challenge mainstream perceptions of animation at the time. It was dark, violent, scary, and even a little sexy. These are just several reasons why it became a cult favorite during its time, and why it's still treasured by English-speaking fans of horror, sci-fi, and animation.

In the year 12,090 AD, vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of other ghouls roam freely, stalking the night and preying on the weak. One night, a young monster hunter named Doris is attacked and bitten by an ancient vampire, who reveals himself to be the legendary Count Magnus Lee, descendant of Count Dracula.
Shortly afterward, Doris comes across a vampire hunter traveling through town, and asks him if he would kill the Count in order to prevent her from turning into a vampire. In exchange for food and a place to stay, the vampire hunter, named D, accepts the job. One of the first things we learn about D is that he is actually a dhampir, a vampire/human half-breed, who isn't very accepting of his vampiric side. Over the course of the story, we learn much more about the stoic vampire hunter, like the code of honor that he binds himself to, as well as his relationship to the House of Lee.

D, himself, looks and acts like the archetypical Western hero. The character's creator, Hideyuki Kikuchi, has even been cited stating that his original image of D was based on that of Phil Collins during the cowboy segment of the music video for "Don't Lose My Number". Much like the Lone Ranger, or even more recent examples like Kenshiro or Kwai Chang Caine, he wanders from town-to-town across a mostly desolate land, righting any wrongs that he comes across, as per his unwritten code of honor. What sets each of these examples apart, though, is their individual motivation for doing what they do, and while D's motivation isn't made crystal clear, it becomes more implied as the story plays out.

The story remains exciting throughout and maintains a good pace, but still somehow manages to feel a little rough around the edges in a way that I can't quite explain. It feels more like an extended episode of a TV show than a theatrical feature. This is understandable, seeing as how director Toyoo Ashida's only prior directorial credit was for the first season of the Fist of the North Star TV show.

Easily the most interesting aspect of Vampire Hunter D is the setting. The world, itself, has a mixture of classic Western and Gothic elements to it, creating a very retro atmosphere. At the same time, the technology that is used in transportation, housing, and weaponry is very reminiscent of  futuristic '80s sci-fi. This particular blend of landscapes and technology really works well in crafting a distinct environment.

While not perfect, Vampire Hunter D is still a really fun movie that managed to set itself apart from the rest of its peers when it was first released.

Vampire Hunter D is based on the first of an ongoing series of novels of the same name, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano.

Monday, October 1, 2012

CLIP SHOW: "American Witch" by Rob Zombie

Now that it's officially the first Witching Hour of October, the countdown to Halloween has finally begun!

I also wanted to take this time to announce that I'm participating in the October Horror Movie Challenge, and that I have a few animated horror movies in my lineup that I'm planning on reviewing. You've been warned...

When I saw Rob Zombie perform live in 2008, this video was playing on the screen behind him and the rest of the band while they were playing the song, "American Witch".

Friday, September 28, 2012


"Tonight marks the ten-year anniversary of the last sighting of the Batman..."

With the success that DC Comics has had in adapting some of its most famous stories into direct-to-video animated features, this one was only a matter of time.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns gives us a glimpse of what would happen if Gotham City were left to fend for itself, without the aid of its caped crusader. While many of its worst criminals, such as Harvey "Two-Face" Dent and the Joker, have been apprehended, crime has been on the rise with the appearance of a new gang calling itself The Mutants. There's no rhyme or reason to their actions. They just steal, kidnap, and murder as they please, with the only person standing in their way being an older Commissioner Gordon.

Bruce Wayne hasn't worn the cowl since the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, which happened ten years ago. However, he hasn't been taking very kindly to his retirement, engaging in heavy drinking and other self-destructive behavior. One night, after experiencing a series of flashbacks triggered by news reports about Dent's release from Arkham Asylum and The Mutants' crime wave, he decides that he can't hold himself back any longer, and that it's finally time to come out of retirement.

The original story, published in 1986, is not only one of the most famous comic book stories of all time, but it is also responsible for how we have viewed Batman since. The Dark Knight Returns has been one of the biggest influences on the vast majority of Batman media that has come out since then, stretching from comic books to cartoons to movies, and there's very good reason for it. Not only is it a fantastic superhero story, it was also a very interesting piece of social commentary for the time (which, I believe, still holds true to this day).

This movie is an extremely faithful, almost panel-for-shot adaptation of the comic. One of the things that I was initially worried about was whether or not modern animation techniques could successfully recreate the dirty, grimy look of the comic. While it may not succeed at that, it manages to recreate Frank Miller's iconic character designs really well and give Gotham City a very bleak look while still looking very modern and sleek. My only complaint is that the small amount of CGI used during the movie doesn't blend in very well with the traditionally animated backgrounds.

The acting is pitch-perfect, with a cast made up of actors who seem like they were all made for their parts, particularly Peter Weller (RoboCop, Buckaroo Banzai) as Batman. Although he may not have been my first choice to play an aging Batman (it was Michael Ironside), as soon as I heard that he had been cast for the part, it only took seconds for me to realize exactly how brilliant of a match he was, and his performance definitely lived up to my expectations.

Something that fans of the original will pick up on almost immediately is that Batman's and Gordon's inner monologues are completely absent from the movie. Their monologues were one of the driving forces behind the comic, and featured many of its most famous lines, but I honestly think they would have dragged the movie down, being an almost purely visual medium. The more important monologues were added to the dialogue, so it doesn't feel as though anything's missing.

I can't recommend this movie enough. Whether or not you've read Frank Miller's original The Dark Knight Returns (and believe me, you should), if you like Batman, this is something you've been waiting for your entire life.

The Dark Knight Returns, pt. 1 adapts the first two chapters of the graphic novel, with the latter two being covered in a sequel due out in the winter of next year.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

CLIP SHOW: The Dark Knight Returns

As I put the finishing touches on this site, I'm posting this clip as a (not so subtle) teaser for my first review, which should be up within a day or two.

This clip comes from an episode of The New Batman Adventures, entitled, "Legends of the Dark Knight".