Chopping The Log #2 Toradora part 1 premium edition


After the last set that I reviewed, I was glad to see that next on the list was a title I knew I was going to enjoy.  This release of Toradora memorable and special for a couple reasons.  First off, this was NIS America’s very first title that they released back in July of 2010 (yes, I’m just now getting to it, so now you know how bad my backlog is!).  July of 2010 is also the first time that site founder Arleigh and I attended Anime Expo together (but not the first time we met in person, that would be Anime Boston 2008).  It was my third Expo, but I believe it was his first.  NISA decided to really go all out and in order to promote this title the brought over two of the stars of the show, Yui Horie (Minori Kushieda) and Eri Kitamura (Ami Kawashima).  Getting to meet Yui Horie was a dream come true, so I’ll always remember this particular convention fondly.  And of course, they had their booth set up in the dealer’s room where they were selling this set, so when I saw it, the collector in me demanded that I pick it up.  These NISA sets are made with the collector in mind.  The giant artboxes definitely draw the eye to them, and although they’ll likely need special display space, it’s fully worth it if you are the collector type.

Toradora was a great choice for a newcomer in the market too.  From a star studded cast to nice visuals and an engaging story, there was no reason to expect anything but success from this.  I’ve seen sites list it as a comedy, and while that’s not wrong, it’s not entirely right either.  People that have watched a lot of anime might be familiar with the term “romcom” which is shorthand for romantic comedy.  That’s getting closer to the mark, but mixed in with the romance and the comedy is a good helping of drama too, so I dare say the proper term for this show is “draromcom”! 

In this first of two sets, we get the first 13 episodes of the show, plus two bonus shorts.  This set is largely setting things up with comedy and light drama for the more involved romance and heavier drama to come in later episodes.  So, we have our main protagonist, Ryuji, who is always mistaken for a delinquent because of his looks, and our other protagonist, Taiga (played to perfection by the legendary Rie Kugimiya), who looks like an adorable little doll but is actually short tempered and vicious, to the point that her nickname is the Palmtop Tiger, referring to her small stature and vicious nature.  Through a series of misunderstandings and other events, they come to find out that Ryuji has a crush on Taiga’s friend Minori, and Taiga has a crush on Ryuji’s friend Yusaku.  They decide to team up to help each other confess to their crushes, but while neither of them wants to admit to it, over the course of these 13 episodes it becomes apparent that they are falling for each other.  It’s pretty standard fare, but the execution of it is done extrememly well so it doesn’t feel old and tired like it very well could have.  Having a character like Ami come along to play an antagonistic role helps get the story moving, and provides a good bit of the comedy in this set.  And while this is lighter on the drama than future episodes, the last few start to build it up with Taiga’s deadbeat dad making an appearance. 

From a story and character standpoint, I think this show is in the upper tier, but this set does suffer from a few production problems.  This was NISA’s very first release as I mentioned before, and they definitely had some growing pains.  Once in awhile there are some spots where the video transfer was a little rough, resulting in some jagged images or blurred lines.  This seems to be most noticeable when the camera pans across a room where there is a lot going on.  I’m not a big technophile, so I don’t go through it frame by frame trying to find any sort of imperfection, but from those that do (seriously, how is that even enjoyable?) it’s said that there are several instances where it seemed like frames were overlapped on each other, hence the blur.  For those of us who are just watching on regular HDTVs without big fancy blu ray players beyond a PS3, while you will probably notice a couple janky areas, but nothing that will ruin the enjoyment of the set.

All in all, this is a show that I could easily have written an Anime You Should Be Watching column on, and only didn’t because I’m generally lazy.  If you can find this set, and you’re a collector, I say snap it up.  NISA has released a standard set, that doesn’t come in the fancy box with the nice hardbound episode guide, and this premium set is sold out at the distribution level, so it may not be possible to find it at a sane price anymore.

Also, I wanted to add, don’t let the fact that I’ve written 2 colums in 3 days fool you.  I don’t intend to be nearly as prolific as Lisa Marie is, and it’s completely dependent upon me finishing something from my backlog.  I have plenty of material to choose from, but some sets might take me a few days to finish, or I might take a break from watching anything for awhile.  But with my beloved New England Patriots out of the playoffs now, and me having very little interest in other sports, I should find myself with a lot more free time so who knows?  Maybe I can put a dent in this backlog after all.  Current backlog count: 847 discs.

“Empire Of The Dead” : George Romero Brings His Newest Zombie Epic To The Printed Page


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Normally I’m not one for hype, but Marvel’s advertising tagline describing their new series from the father of the modern zombie genre, George A. Romero, as a “comics event” actually strikes me as being a fairly accurate one. I mean, when the guy who gave us Night Of The Living DeadDawn Of The Dead, and Day Of The Dead eschews the silver screen to tell his newest “living dead” story in the comic book format, that’s big news, right?

And from the word “go,” issue #1 of Empire Of The Dead (okay, fair enough, its complete title, according to the copyright indicia,  is George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act One, Number 1) has a suitably “big” feel to it, and even though artist Alex Maleev approaches his work in a sketchy, rough, “stripped-down” style — which is flat-out gorgeous, by the way — the overall tone here is much more, if you’ll forgive the term, “epic,” than certainly Romero’s last two (very much under-appreciated) film efforts, Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead, were.

The setting is New York City, five years after the dead began to walk, and things are, as you’d expect, a mess. Corrupt Mayor Chandrake and his creepy nephew hold the city in their thrall by providing Roman Gladiator-style “Zombie Fights” in Yankee stadium that serve to distract a weary populace from the fact that all the resources — well, all the resources that remain, at any rate — are flowing right to the top. A moneyed elite lives in luxury while the populace starves. Sound familiar?

Our two main points of audience identification in the midst of this neo-feudalistic dystopia are Columbia University research scientist Dr. Penny Jones, who’s looking for a zombie with the potential to be, if not educated, at least domesticated, and her guide through the undead part of town, a privateer of sorts who captures zombies for use in the arena named Paul Barnum, whose main claim to fame is having “discovered” current champion fighter Zanzibar.

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Obviously, even at this early stage (Act One is slated to run five issues, with further mini-series to follow) parallels to previous Romero works abound. Penny shares the same research obsessions as Richard Liberty’s Dr. Logan character from Day Of The Dead, while Barnum is essentially a stand-in for Simon Baker’s Riley Denbo from Land Of The Dead. There’s a flashback sequence that intimates strongly that this story takes place in the same fictional “universe” as Night Of The Living Dead, and the economic set-up is, again, essentially the same 1%-vs.-99% scenario that the more-seemingly-prescient-by-the-day Land offered up, with Mayor Chandrake filling the role of Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman. Meanwhile  Zanzibar, for his part, seems to be being groomed for a role not too dissimilar from that of Bub in Day.

Don’t think it’s all re-hash, though — for one thing, moving things from Pittsburgh and its immediate environs to the Big Apple ups the scale quite a bit, the text blocks Romero employs to flesh out how the zombies “think” provide intriguing new insight into the workings of their rudimentary “consciousness,” the martial-law-type scenario that pervades on the streets adds a new , thematically-relevant wrinkle, and the surprising climax to issue one shows — and I sincerely hope that I’m not giving too much away here — that zombies aren’t the only ghouls in town.

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So, yeah — there’s enough “newness” here to imbue the proceedings with a reasonably fresh take on things, but for those of us who are old-school Romero die-hards, the story is chock-full of enough familiar themes and tropes to keep us both smiling and anxious for more. The set-up is inherently and immediately topical and politically charged (Occupy The Living Dead, anyone?), and, like all of the maestro’s best work, Empire promises to use its zombies as a stand-in for ourselves, and to utilize its post- apocalyptic sworld to shine some welcome light on uncomfortable, but essential, truths about our own current socio-economic predicament.

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For my part, I’m all in on this one, despite having numerous ethical qualms about spending so much as a single dollar (not to mention a hefty $3.99 per issue) on any Marvel product. I think we’re looking at another Romero classic-in-the-making here, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

 

 

 

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #98: Lizzie Borden Took An Axe (dir by Nick Gomez)


(This post contains spoilers.)

Last night, I watched the brilliant Lifetime film, Lizzie Borden Took An Axe.

Why Was I Watching It?

First off, as everyone who reads this site should know by now, I love Lifetime movies.  Add to that, I also happen to like true crime films.  (It’s not for nothing that my twitter bio reads, “Just a sweet little thing with morbid thoughts.”)  So, it’s really not so much a question of why I was watching it as how could I not watch it?

What Was It About?

On a hot summer day in 1892, both Andrew Borden and his wife are hacked to death.  Suspicion is immediately cast upon their daughter Lizzie (Christina Ricci), a free-spirited Sunday School teacher who is also known for being a compulsive shop lifter.  Is Lizzie guilty or was the crime committed by her older sister Emma (Clea Duvall) or the maid or a mysterious stranger who was seen around town on the day of crime?  Though the case itself remains officially unsolved, this film makes a pretty convincing argument that Lizzie was guilty and was only acquitted because nobody, in 19th century America, could bring themselves to believe that a woman was capable of such a violent crime.

What Worked?

It all worked.  Lizzie Borden was one of the greatest Lifetime movies that I’ve ever seen.  It took all of the elements that we expect from a good Lifetime movie — scandal, sex, and girls literally getting away with murder — and pushed them to such an extreme that the end result was absolutely brilliant.  Christina Ricci and Clea Duvall both gave great performances and Nick Gomez directed with an eye towards the surreal, the morbid, and the darkly humorous.

The scene towards the end where Lizzie whispered her confession to Emma was one of the best in the history of Lifetime.

What Did Not Work?

As I said above, it all worked.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I related to the Borden family maid, Bridget Sullivan, because she was Irish and hated having to wash windows.

Lessons Learned

Lizzie Borden was guilty….maybe.