The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Madhouse (dir by Jim Clark)

In this 1974 film, Vincent Price plays Paul Toombes, a talented actor who, despite his formal training and his distinguished background, is best-known for giving hammy performances in low-budget horror films.

Hmmm …. do you think Vincent Price possibly could have related to this character?  I mean, one thing that people often forget is that Vincent Price did not start his career in horror movies.  Price started his career as a romantic lead and then he eventually moved into character parts.  He was tested and apparently quite seriously considered for the role of Ashely Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.  Price was also considered for the role of Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life and rumor has it that he would have gotten the role of Addison DeWitt if George Sanders had turned down All About Eve.  Before he became an icon of horror, Price had roles in big-budget Oscar nominees like The Song of Bernadette and Wilson.  He even appeared in the classic film noir, Laura.

It wasn’t until the 50s that Price started to regularly appear in horror films and soon, that was what he was best known for.  Price’s naturally theatrical style made him a perfect fit for the genre and it won him a legion of adoring fans.  The same can be said of Paul Toombes.

Paul Toombes is best-known for playing the role of Dr. Death.  He appeared in five Dr. Death films, the majority of which were written by his friend, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing).  Unfortunately, the murder of his fiancée put a temporary end to Toombes’s acting career.  Even though Toombes was acquitted of the crime, everyone seems to assume that he did it.  Apparently, having a nickname like Dr. Death doesn’t do much to convince people of your benevolence.

However, Toombes finally has a chance to rebuild his career!  The BBC wants to produce a Dr. Death TV series and they want Toombes to once again play his most famous role.  The only problem?  People involved with the production are getting murdered, one-by-one.  Is Dr. Death responsible or is he being set up?

Madhouse is kind of an early slasher film, though, with its gloved killer and its whodunit plot, it has more in common with an Italian giallo than an installment of Friday the 13th.  The deaths are bloody but not too bloody.  In fact, for a film that’s full of murder and betrayal, Madhouse is surprisingly good natured.  The main appeal of the film, of course, is to see Vincent Price and Peter Cushing acting opposite of each other.  Though they were both known for appearing in horror films, Price and Cushing were two very different actors and each brought his own individual approach to Madhouse.  Price is his usual flamboyant self while Cushing is considerably more reserved and the contrast of their styles actually creates an interesting dynamic between Toombes and Flay.

Madhouse is also full of footage from previous films that Vincent Price had made for AIP.  (Of course, these movies are presented as being Dr. Death films.)  Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff both appear in archival footage, acting opposite Price.  It’s nice to see them, even if neither one of them was actually alive when Madhouse was filmed.  Paul Toombes actually gets a scene where he praises Bail Rathbone’s performance and one gets the feeling that the sentiments were being expresses as much by Price as by the character he was playing.

Madhouse is okay.  The plot’s not particularly challenging and the tone tends to go all over the place, as if the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror movie or a Hollywood satire.  However, the film works whenever Vincent Price is on-screen, which is often.  Price is just fun to watch, especially when he’s teamed up with an old pro like Peter Cushing.  For fans of Price and Cushing, Madhouse is an entertaining chance to watch two icons of horror go at it.


Anime You Should Be Watching: Redline


Anime has always skewed towards the hyperkinetic imagery that most Western animation rarely, if ever, put on the screen. Where Western animation has a much more flowing style that tries to mimic realism in the artform with anime we get intense action in the animation no matter what genre.

One recent anime that pretty much takes this hyperkinetic style to a new level was 2009’s OVA (original video animation) title from renowned anime studio Madhouse simply called Redline. It’s a wall-to-wall scifi action film that combines futuristic setting and world-building with the speed freak action of the racing genre.

Redline was directed by Takeshi Koike and it took him and his crew of animators from Madhouse a total of seven years and millions of dollars to finish the project. This was a project that pushed the animation to it’s limits with the film using over 100,000 hand-drawn pages of animations that at times looked like it was something that looked more computer-generated. It’s a film that showed many of Koike-san’s artistic influences from his mentor Yoshiaki Kawajiri (well-known for classic anime titles as Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll) right up to the thick lines and heavy blacks of Frank Miller.

The plot for Redline is really not that complex and for some it’s too simple that it became a flaw. It’s a story about the a futuristic race that uses the greatest groundcar racers in the galaxy (instead of the current hovercar this world has turned to using) to tell a story about the underdog fighting against adversity to win not just the ultimate prize but the love of a girl who also happens to be one of his main rivals in the film. The story revolves around the main characters of Sweet JP, with his ludicrous pompadour (the subject of many jokes in the film) and 50’s-style Greaser leather jacket, and his main rival and love interest in Sonoshee.


Redline barely brings the main leads past being cardboard cutouts as characters, but the story gives the two enough backstory to make them easy to relate to. Yet, it’s not the story that will hook and pull in anime fans both veterans and newbies. It’s all about the action and animation that makes this film one of those anime that people really should be watching. There’s so much action going on in the film that one could easily lose themselves in all that kinetic energy to forgive it’s story’s basic simplicity.

Some have called Redline as the anime version of the latest Fast and Furious films (mainly the last two), but I disagree with that assessment. The latest Fast and Furious films are attempts to make a live-action version of Redline. The two share similar traits and follow that racing creed that the Vin Diesel franchise has popularized: “Ride or Die”.

Redline might not the be the greatest story ever told in anime, but for pure-adrenaline action from beginning to end there’s none better. One can watch it on Youtube on their streaming service, yet I recommend that people who have a huge HDTV (especially the latest 4K screens) watch it on that to see hand-drawn animation at it’s best.


Anime You Should Be Watching (Horror Edition): Perfect Blue


I can’t let the month of October without an anime that people should be watching. This one sticks to the horror-theme we’ve been exploring all month. The anime in question is the first full-length animated feature film from one of Japan’s brightest filmmakers.

Satoshi Kon’s 1998 psychological-thriller, Perfect Blue, works just as well in the classic traditions of the Italian gialli thrillers of the 70’s and 80’s. The film is about a J-Pop idol, Mina Kirigoe, who has decided to retire from the J-Pop group “CHAM!” to pursue a career in acting. This decision of Mina’s is not taken lightly by some of her fans who sees it as a betrayal of everything they’ve come to love and worship in Mina’s J-Pop idol persona.

Before I continue, I need to point out that the idol concept in Japan and Asia is quite similar to the heavily-produced singing groups and solo singers like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and a host of cookie-cutter acts. These J-Pop idols have money invested in making sure every movement they make, every song they sing and every appearance in pubic create a persona that will appeal to the largest target audience possible. It’s no wonder that a small subset of fans of these idols lose track of what;s real and what’s been fabricated for entertainment.

So, with that in mind Mina’s decision to leave her idol status to become an actress brings out the extreme reactions from some fans. As the film moves forward we also see a gradual decline in how Mina perceives the reality around her. She begins to suspect that she’s being followed and stalked. Even her first big break as an actress — a controversial gang rape scene in a strip club — just adds to her failing grip on reality.

The horror part of Perfect Blue could easily be attributed to the psychological breakdown of a young woman whose past fame and celebrity status has become the very thing which haunts and hounds her. Yet, the film brings in a mysterious slasher element to the narrative that could easily be paying homage to Argento’s gialli from the 80’s like Suspiria. It shares similar themes of a young ingenue put into a situation where reality and fantasy begin to blur not just for her but those who obsess over her. At times, the film almost brings in a dream-like quality to the story which is something Argento has become famous for in many of his work during the late 70’s and early 80’s.

It’s quite an achievement for a first feature-length film that would help catapult Satoshi Kon to be mentioned in the same breath as other Japanese anime filmmakers as Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, with each new film by Kon he became the near-consensus to bear the standard of Japan’s premiere anime filmmaker once Miyazaki finally retires. It’s unfortunate that Satoshi Kon wouldn’t see that day as his untimely passing from cancer at the young age of 46 robbed the film community of one of it’s best and brightest.

Perfect Blue is a perfect example of anime that’s both mature and entertaining without resorting to the so-called “hentai pornography” some outside the community seem to think mature anime tend to be. This psychological thriller could easily be told in live-action and still come out quite good, but in animated form under the talented, guiding hands of Satoshi Kon, it has become one of the best of it’s kind in the anime scene.

So, Perfect Blue is another “Anime You Should Be Watching” and should satisfy one’s need to see a well-made anime with horror roots.

P.S.: You Should Be Watching Every Satoshi Kon anime…Perfect Blue also had a strong influence on Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Anime You Should Be Watching: Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

In late summer of 2010 the anime and film community lost one of its brightest stars with the passing of Satoshi Kon. With Miyazaki getting up there in age there was now a clamor to see who would take on the mantle that Kon had left behind with his passing. It didn’t take long for many fans of anime to finally look at Mamori Hosoda as the heir apparent. While Hosoda’s body of work as a feature-length animation film director hasn’t been as extensive as Kon’s or Miyazaki’s what he has done has garnered a near universal acclaim for their excellent storytelling, fully-conceived characters and lush, humanistic animation style.

In 2009’s most people were finally made aware of Hosoda’s skill as a director with the worldwide success of Summer Wars and this success made people look forward to what his next film would be. It took three years, but in 2012 Hosoda and anime fans were finally given his next film with the animated film Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki). It would be a departure from the scifi themes which has been Hosoda’s go to themes for his first two films.

Wolf Children explores the themes of the unconventional family unit of a single mother of two children born of her love and relationship with an Okami (a sort of spirit-animal who can turn from human to wolf). It’s these two young children, Ame and Yuki (who have inherited their father’s gift for turning into wolves themselves), who become the focus of the film. The two children must navigate their childhood and teenage years knowing that they’re different from the rest of the kids in school and both must make the life-altering decisions to follow their own paths whether it be as a human or as a wolf.


To say that the film skews more towards the naturalistic and humanistic themes of the Hayao Miyazaki films would be an understatement. Hosoda doesn’t steal from the master, but instead takes what made the Miyazaki films such timeless and global classics to spin his own tale on the role of a mother’s love for her children even after suffering through a terrible loss and right up to the exploration of nature. So much of the wonder in this film comes from the two children exploring the wild nature around them. It’s a joy to see and at times will even bring tears to some.

It’s no wonder that Hosoda has become the latest name to be seen as Miyazaki’s next heir apparent. While it’s unfair to put so much on Hosoda to accomplish he seems to be more than willing to take on the task and have done so with surprising success.

Wolf Children Ame and Yuki might be a slight departure from Hosoda’s two previous works, but it just goes to show that he’s a director who is willing to branch out thematically and stylistically. This latest film might not be on the same level as his two previous, but it’s definitely one that should help build his reputation as one of the best director’s in the anime and film community.

And now…6 More Trailers

Hi, everyone!  Sorry for the delay in getting out this latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  What can I say?  The holidays are a crazy, crazy time.  If you promise to keep reading and watching then I promise to not be late again in the future.  Deal?  Deal.

And now, without further delay, here’s 6 more trailers!

1) Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out (1989)

This film was directed by Monte Hellman, who directed some of the best films of the 60s and 70s.  So, in case you were wondering what you get for directing a work of art like Two-Lane Blacktop, well, here you go.

2) Black Christmas (1974)

Continuing the holiday theme, here is the trailer for the original Black Christmas.  This film was directed by the late Bob Clark, who later went on to direct a totally different Christmas movie called A Christmas Story.

3) Madhouse (1974)

I love this trailer for the melodramatic opening.  I love the way the old grindhouse and exploitation movies would literally dare filmgoers to stay away.  That takes confidence!

4) The Freakmaker (1974)

With a title like The Freakmaker, it has to be good.

5) The Creatures The World Forgot (1971)

The World, I am sure, had its reasons for forgetting.

6) Prehistoric Women (1967)

This film is also known as Slave Girls and I’m sure there’s probably prints out there entitled Slave Women and Prehistoric Girls as well. 

Anime You Should Be Watching: Record of Lodoss War (Rōdosu-tō Senki)

The last couple months has been all about HBO’s Game of Thrones fantasy series adapted from the novel of the same name. With that series’ first season now in the books and the fifth book on it’s way to it’s inevitable release on July 12, 2011 I had to find something to fill the void until the new season rolls around next spring. One fantasy series which I loved when I first saw it almost 20 years ago and still do to this day is the fantasy anime 13-episode series Record of Lodoss War (Rōdosu-tō Senki).

This fantasy series was adapted from a series of novels and role-playing games by Mizuno Ryo which borrowed heavily on the core rules and role-classes from the classic Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper role-playing games. In fact, the first time I saw the anime (through the VHS set which cost quite a penny when it was released by Central Park Media in the US in the early 1990’s) my first thoughts were that Record of Lodoss War was almost like Dungeons & Dragons.

The series lasted 13 episodes and were produced by acclaimed Japanese animation studio Madhouse (Highschool of the Dead, Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Gunslinger Girl) and even 20 years since the series first premiered the animation still holds up. The story of Record of Lodoss War was your typical high fantasy epic tale of a young man’s journey into becoming a hero, a complex antagonist whose agenda never becomes fully known until the end, a world on the brink of war and chaos plus a diverse group of characters who band together to save the world. Anyone who has ever played a Dungeons & Dragons game and/or read the countless fantasy novels of the past 40 years would be right at home with Mizuno Ryo’s Record of Lodoss War.

I really would recommend this anime series, old as it is compared to the latest ones, to those needing to find a way to fill the void before season 2 of Game of Thrones begins. While the story might seem to be right out of typical high fantasy the characters in the anime were actually more developed that your usual fantasy characters. It’s hard not to watch the dark knight Ashram through the 13-episode run and not have him become a favorite character. Record of Lodoss War has something for everyone and someone doesn’t even have to be a huge anime fan to fully appreciate just how entertaining the series turns out to be.

Review: Highschool of the Dead (Gakuen Mokushiroku) Blu-Ray

Highschool of the Dead (Gakuen Mokushiroku in Japan) is the horror-ecchi 12-episode anime series which had a simultaneous premiere and series airing in both Japan and the United States in the summer of 2010 has finally been released as a DVD/Blu-Ray set. I was able enough to watch the series as it aired during it’s initial summer 2010 run. I was able to watch 11 of the 12 eisodes aired and wrote up “first impressions” of each episode right after they aired. With the 12th episode still unwatched I held off doing a proper review of the whole series. Now that the series has been released on home video that has changed.

The anime was adapted from the original manga (still ongoing though on hiatus at the moment) from Sato Daisuke and Sato Shouji who wrote and drew the series for Monthly Dragon Age. This was a manga that gained popularity outside Japan through fan scanlations of the original Japanese issues. So, it was with great anticipation when Sentai Filmworks and Yen Press announced at anime conventions of 2010 that the series will be making its way to the US in its manga and anime format.

Highschool of the Dead has quite a simple story. It’s pretty much a survival horror tale of a small group of Japanese high school students trying to survive the sudden arrival of a zombie apocalypse. The zombies themselves don’t get too much of an explanation as to how they came to be only that one day the outbreak began all over the world. We see this through brief scenes when the core group of characters stop to try and get some news of the crisis at hand. It’s during the first two episodes that we meet the members of this group. There’s the group’s reluctant leader in highschool student Komuro Takashi who also happens to be in love with another group member, Miyamoto Rei, and best friends since kindergarten with another, Takagi Saya. Into this mix comes in the highly confident and supremely calm Busujima Saeko whose mysterious nature soon becomes clear later on in the series as a certain darkness in her nature becomes known which adds a layer of complexity to the character. It is no wonder that the Saeko role has become such a major favorite of the male fans of the series, but also of women fans. One cannot go into any anime convention in 2011 and not see dozens of females cosplaying as Busujima Saeko.

The group is rounded out by the military-obsessed otaku, Hirano Kohta, who seems to worship Saya despite her belittling attitude towards him. Also, rounding out the group is the only adult along with the teenagers, Marikawa Shizuka who was the school nurse at the school the group escapes from when the zombie outbreak reaches it’s height. Along the way the group picks up young Marisato Arisu, the 7-year old whose father gets killed in an attempt to save her young daughter from the zombies. The series even has a cute puppy in the form of Zeke who becomes quite attached to young Arisu and becomes the de facto mascot of the group who senses the arrival of zombies and barks out his warnings to the group.

To say that Highschool of the Dead is not your typical zombie apocalypse tale would be too simplistic. There’s enough of the usual zombie story conventions to make the series familiar to fans of the genre, but enough tweaks were added to the story that at times it does feel fresh to American eyes. For one thing with the series being set in Japan there’s certain Japanese cultural themes which may sound out of left-field to it’s Western audiences. There’s the concept of a land where violent crime is so low that it’s police force don’t come equipped with the necessary force to deal with the zombie outbreak which in turn just helps fan it hotter to the point that things quickly spiral out of their control and chaos becomes the norm in a society steeped in order. There’s also the use of fanservice in the series which may surprise new fans of the anime format who have been introduced to it by way of this series.

Highschool of the Dead has an inordinate amount of fanservice and this means most of the females in the series were drawn to be quite busty and beautiful. It also means that there’s huge amounts of scenes where the animators go out of their way to include panty, stocking and bra shots into a scene even when at times it boggles one’s mind why it was there in the first place. Some anime fans have complained about this and how it has ruined the series for them, but as a fan of the original manga I knew going in what the series will include so the fanservice didn’t bother me. The fact that the original creators of the series having done hentai-manga before this series should’ve given the more knowledgable anime fans a clue as to what they’d be seeing in the series. One such scene of the series’ use of fanservice which has become quite infamous (or famous depending on one’s thoughts about the subject matter) would be dubbed the “Matrix Boobs” by fans.

The series does explore some serious themes about human nature and their moral codes in the face of the zombie apocalypse and the possible extinction of one’s race. Like most good zombie stories the series tackles the concept of the human’s themselves becoming the bigger danger to each other than the encroaching zombie horde knocking on their door. We seen through the series how the teenage group of survivors have adjusted better to the apocalyptic event better than the very adults who are suppose to protect them. In fact, it’s some of those adults who seem to hide their heads in the sand or take advantage of the situation for their own benefit. I found it ironic that the only adults who actually fare well would be the right-wing extremist and his retainers who impose the necessary rules to keep everyone safe, but also try to rescue as much people as possible when the government (both local and national) have failed to do what’s needed and right to restore order.

As I mentioned earlier the manga is still ongoing with 27 chapters (or Acts as they’re called in the manga and in the anime), but with the series only at 12-episodes there’s much about Highschool of the Dead which get left up in the air once the 12th episode airs. The series also leapfrogs certain chapters from the manga to keep the series moving forward instead of being bogged down. The anime also borrows certain scenes later on in the manga and uses them instead to help create backstory for some of the characters in the show. No one knows is this 12-episode will be it for Highschool of the Dead or will a second season be in the future depending on sales of the DVD and Blu-Ray sets. I’m hoping for the latter since the manga definitely gets real serious about the story and tones down some of the fanservice in later chapters. It’d be a shame if Highschool of the Dead ends with just these 12-episodes.

To find more detailed recaps and reviews of the first 11-episodes they could be read here: Episode One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven

The Blu-Ray set for Highschool of the Dead has been released in the US through Sentai Filmworks which acquired the licensing rights for US home video distribution in 2010 (US manga distributer Yen Press releases the manga volumes). Like most anime Blu-Ray releases, Highschool of the Dead is pretty much barebones when it comes to supplemental content. The set comes in a two-disc set with all 12 episodes split between two discs. Disc 1 contains episodes 1 thru 8 while Disc two has episodes 9 thru 12 and the cleaned up versions of the show’s intro and end credit sequence.

There’s not much to the disc in terms of language content. Sentai Filmworks really keeps things basic as it just includes two languages to the series set. There’s the original Japanese language cast which (to my disappointment) has been mixed in just regular Stereo 2.0 while the English Dub option has been given the much more heftier 5.1 surround sound mix. I understand the reasoning for this as the original Japanese distributor of the series wishes to keep the Japanese surround sound mix in the more expensive Japanese region Blu-Ray. It’s just one of the more assbackwards business reasonings between the Japanese distributors and it’s American distributing partner that frustrates anime fans in the US.

Despite these flaws in the Blu-Ray set there’s no denying that the series has made a near-perfect visual remastering. The series looks great in 1080p HD with little to no digital noise in the playback. Madhouse’s visual artwork comes in very clean and clear with even some of the more CGI-element in the animation blending in well with the more traditional handmade animation of the series. While the animation is not the best Madhouse has done in the past for a series that’s a weird mash of horror and ecchi themes the look of the series should please fans of both (though I will admit that the series really leans a lot more towards to fanservice side of things than outright horror).

In the end, Highschool of the Dead is a series that’s tailor-built for people whose experience with anime is very little to non-existent. The two themes of zombie horror and softcore, fanservice of ecchi should be the sort of things in an anime that should reel in those wondering what it is about this show that has so many people raving about it. It’s almost like a gateway drug of anime. It’s not the greatest anime or even the best one of the past year, but it definitely panders (which in this case is a good thing) to the grindhouse and exploitation denominator that’s in everyone whether they like to admit it or not. If there was ever a grindhouse anime series then Highschool of the Dead is it.

PS: The titles of each Act (chapters) is quite grindhouse.

Episode 01: Spring of the Dead

Episode 02: Escape from the Dead

Episode 03: Democracy Under the Dead

Episode 04: Running in the Dead

Episode 05: Streets of the Dead

Episode 06: In the Dead of the Night

Episode 07: Dead Night and the Dead Ruck

Episode 08: The Dead Way Home

Episode 09: The Sword and Dead

Episode 10: The Dead’s House Rules

Episode 11: Dead Storm Rising

Episode 12: All Deads Attack

Review: Summer Wars (dir. by Hosada Mamoru)

Anime films have been the type to make a major crossover from Japan to the United States when it comes to the US mainstream audience. While anime series typically still remain the realm of the hardcore fans of the genre the stand-alone films get much more love from mainstream critics and audiences in addition to the hardcore. One such film which looks to have made a successful mainstream crossover to the United States was the anime film Summer Wars which was originally released in Japan in August 1, 2009. The film saw it’s American debut at film festivals around the country in 2010, but since I saw it in late May 2011 I consider it a 2011 release for me thus qualifying it as one of the best films of 2011.

Summer Wars was the project of director Hosada Mamoru whose previous stand-alone anime film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, was well-received by fans and critics alike. Working from a screenplay by Okudera Satoko (adapted from a story written by Hosada himself), Summer Wars was a nice blend of science-fiction, romance and Japanese slice-of-life. The story begins with the introduction and explanation of the OZ on-line community which becomes a major focal point to the film’s story and the many characters in it. OZ was explained as an on-line, social networking community which has become so ingrained in the world community that everything anyone does was done through it’s portals. Think of OZ was an amalgamation of Facebook, Second Life, iTunes, Netflix and every other social networking site all working under one umbrella. It’s a virtual world where people just don’t socially interact through games and chat lobbies, but also a place where every real-world store has a portal where people could purchase things online. It’s also become a palce where governments from local cities to whole countries have set-up their own areas that would control their cities and countries’ infrastructures. It’s Facebook on steroids.

One of the film’s main characters happens to work as a part-time moderator for OZ. Koiso Keiji also happens to be a 17-year old math whiz who would become instrumental in the story to come. The bulk of the story has Keiji being invited by a high school friend in Shinohara Natsuki (explained to him as a job she needs for him to do) to come with her to her family estate where he ends up meeting the rest of Natsuki’s very extended family and also it’s soon-to-be 90-year old matriarch in Jinnouich Sakae. This part of the film makes up the romance and it’s comedic aspect as Keiji gets introduced by Natsuki to her great grandmother Sakae as her boyfriend and future fiance much to Keiji’s surprise. As Keiji tries to awkwardly play along with Natsuki’s plan the second part of the film’s story kick’s in as he inadvertently assist someone or something into hacking into OZ and begin a sequence of events which threatens every account in OZ, but later on even threaten the world.

This part of the story actually worked quite well due to the recent major hacking of Sony’s Playstation and Qriocity networks which gave hackers access to tens of millions of account users’ info. It was hard not to think about this real-life event as something similar (albeit much more massive and danegrous in scope) occurred in Summer Wars. The fact that the film was completed in 2009 and the Sony hack happened just a month ago was real life copying fiction instead of the other way around. It’s this part of the story’s plot which added to the thrilling aspect of the film as Keiji and others (mostly the extended Jinnouichi Clan he meets) try to take on the cause of the OZ hack (which we quickly learn wasn’t a person but an advanced A.I. program released by the U.S. Army into OZ to test it’s capabilities not knowing it would become self-aware and hard to control).

Weaving in and around this science-fiction are some of what makes some Japanese anime so easily accessible to those outside of Japan. We see a slice-of-life that, at first looks to be typical Japanese daily life, but as the story moves along becomes something that everyone would recognize and have some sort of kinship with no matter their race or culture. It’s the theme of family togetherness even through adversity and the occassional disagreements between family members. It’s here we see Natsuki’s great grandmother Sakae show the need for the family to always find time to sit down and eat dinner together no matter what problems each and everyone may be having. It’s these very serene, at times quite hilarious, scenes of family life with the Jinnouichi Clan that Summer Wars will tug at audiences’ heartstrings and cause more than just a few to tear up. Some have said these scenes were too maudlin and corny, but I look at that complaint as people trying to project their own cynical nature on what was really an honest look at family life and how keeping a family together through adversity (both big and small) becomes a reward unto itself.

The Japanese voice cast did quite a good job bringing their animated characters to life from the main leads in Keiji, Natsuki and Sakae right up to the little children who added some levity to the situation. While I try to always watch anime with the Japanese language on with English subtitles for Summer Wars I also watched it with the English-voice dubbing. I was surprised to hear that the English-dubbed version was not as bad as most anime dubs and was actually quite good. Summer Wars looks to boast a who’s-who of English dub voice actors which probably lent itself to a quality dubbing in the end.

Summer Wars was produced by one of Japan’s major animation studios with Madhouse and the look of the film bears this out. The virtual world which made up OZ looked beautiful and made great use of CGI-animation. The avatars used by OZ account members were inventive and a menagerie of characters that all looked to be very distinct each and everytime a new one came on the screen. The animation for the real-world aspect of the film used traditional hand-drawn animation. While it didn’t have the sheen and flash of most anime series the flat-look and natural color scheme used for scenes when outside OZ lent a sense of realism and the natural that made it easier to get into the film. These two contrasting animation styles really helped in pointing out just how different OZ was to everything else.

Hosada Mamoru’s direction keeps everything from becoming a jumbled mess as the film juggles not just two major plot threads concurrently but smaller subplots involving certain individual family members of the Jinnouichi Clan. It’s a testament to his handling of the film that we’re never lost as the film’s story unfolds. Whether it’s the fake relationship between Keiji and Natsuki becoming something more real to the prodigal son coming back to the family after a self-imposed exile of ten years right up to a high school baseball tournament involving one of the family’s younger members who also happens to be a star pitcher.

In the end, Summer Wars should be seen as a landmark film that officially heralds the arrival of one of anime’s great filmmakers. With the untimely passing of Satoshi Kon there’s been a scramble within the anime community to find his heir apparent. Hayao Miyazaki will continue to be one of anime’s godfathers and pillar of quality work, but amongst the younger generation there was really no one stepping up the way Satoshi Kon did in so short a time. I think with Summer Wars it wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that Hosada Mamoru has also stepped up to join Miyazaki as one of the creative geniuses in the anime world. It also shows younger anime filmmakers that there is success to be had doing anime outside the usual mecha, mahou shoujo and shonen series which remains the backbone and meal-ticket for animation studios in Japan.

Summer Wars is an anime film that I’d highly recommend to all whether they’re fans of anime or have no idea what an anime was. This anime is that good and one that deserves to be called just film without the anime tag. It will be interesting to see what Hosada Mamoru comes up with next. I, for one, can’t wait to see what it is. Also, I recommend people watch this on Blu-Ray. The difference in how the animation comes across between Blu-Ray and DVD is leagues apart.

Original Japanese Trailer

Anime You Should Be Watching: Black Lagoon (Burakku Ragūn)

As I continue my current binge on all things anime and manga there’s one anime series that I thought deserved to be profiled in the usual “Anime of the Day” segment. This series comes from the action genre and heavily promoted towards the seinen (Males 18-30) demographic. While girls and women love this show as much as their male counterpart it definitely appeals very much to boys and young men. The anime I speak of is Black Lagoon (Burakku Ragūn in its original Japanese title).

Black Lagoon is the brainchild of mangaka Horie Rei. The manga began in the Spring of 2002 and continues a strong showing to this day. Like most manga that gain a large following it was just time before an anime adaptation was made and in 2006 the first season was released by anime studio Madhouse with Katabuchi Sunao handling director duties. To say that the anime became as popular as the original manga source would be an understatement.

The book’s main leads in Revy and Rock became fan favorites. One cannot go into an anime conventions anywhere around the world without seeing at least a dozen young women in Revy cosplay. She’s a character that actually is the most kickass in the group of mercenaries she works with and they’re all men. That just showed how appealing she became not just to the boys and men who followed the manga and anime, but to girls and young women who usually do not see such a powerful and kickass female protagonist who puts her male counterparts to shame.

The animation by Madhouse is its usual excellent self which also one reason why this series has caught on with anime fans worldwide. Black Lagoon has been released in the US by now-defunct Geneon Entertainment. They released the first two seasons (the series is just now into it’s third) and with that companies folding it’s quite difficult to find those two season box sets. It’s the hope of legion if anime fans that FUNimation Entertainment (who took over some of the licenses that Geneon Entertainment used to have) will re-issue those two seasons and give fans a price respite.

Black Lagoon might have been targeted towards the boys and young men demographic, but it’s success and popularity across the board makes it one of the growing lists of titles who break through prescribed genre labelings and why it does continue to grow in popularity. Plus, I think it doesn’t hurt the show that it’s main character in Revy is one kickass example of why some of the strongest fictional female roles are in anime (despite being drawn to be sexy to draw the male audience). This past Spring’s Sucker Punch may not be anime, but it’s kickass female characters definitely owe some of their foundations on characters like Revy.

A sneak peek of Season Three: Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail