Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Tim Burton’s latest attempt to get back into critical favour – after slipping considerably in the past few years – is a self-homage to a time of homages. Burton has gone back to his 1984 short live-action film Frankenweenie – his second-ever live-action work – and his early propensity to pastiche schlocky old films. I do understand this – his best films had an excuse to revel in his love for B-movies, Ed Wood in particular – and aside from the dodgy last few minutes, Frankenweenie actually was one of his best and most heartfelt bits of filmmaking. But going back to it now, as well as gathering a whole lot of cast members from his previous works, smacks just slightly of cynicism and artifice – a little like when a rich, middle-aged band try to recapture the sound of when they were young and hungry and it all sounds a bit false…I’m looking at you, KoRn.

But Burton having fun and paying tribute to the things he loves is the best Burton – and this is definitely a good film. I recommend it and I definitely enjoyed it. It just wasn’t quite what I had hoped it would be, and I think part of the problem was that I have seen the original and was therefore aware of the bits that were added – and whether or not the additional material fit in. And while much of the transition to the big screen made a lot of sense – I loved the fleshing-out of the heavily-accented Vincent Price-like teacher, for example, and his brilliant scene at the PTA meeting – others were just awkwardly tagged-on.

The overall structure is the same in this stop-motion remake. Lonely young Victor likes making monster flicks with his dog Sparky as the star. When Sparky is in a traffic accident, Victor is inspired by a science lesson showing a frog’s legs twitching when electricity is supplied to re-animate Sparky’s corpse. His experiment is a success, but he has to keep Sparky hidden, because people won’t understand.

This is where there’s a bit of a divergence, one of the more awkward ones. In the original, Sparky gets out of the house and runs amok in the neighbourhood. There are some amusing scenes were he’s mistaken for something hideous. This is in the animated version, but goes nowhere and oddly gets dropped, ultimately seeming a bit random. Instead, Victor’s schoolmates learn his secret and emulate his successes – only they do not act out of love, meaning what they raise is more terrible. The end result of it is the same, though – Sparky is mistaken for a monster and a mob chases him with flaming torches.

In the original, the climactic action amusingly takes place in the windmill of a crazy golf course. Here, that’s replaced by the large windmill symbolic of ‘New Holland’s Dutch heritage, which is amusing mostly because I know it’s an alternative to the golf course. There is more action in this version, but the ending is largely the same, and thankfully with animation, you don’t have the problem of trying to pretend an almost weightless puppet is Bastion from The NeverEnding Story.

My problems here are the way things just seem to have been tacked on to the bare bones of the old story. Winona Ryder’s character is the most obvious one – she just seems totally extraneous and barely interacts with the other characters. Her father is good for plot impetus, but there’s nothing to him. Burton – or his scriptwriters – made the decision to change the parents from the slightly unsettling, kooky normal people they were in the original (thanks largely to Shelly Duvall’s peculiar performance) into generally rather normal people, and instead has the very normal kids in Victor’s class become a series of nods to horror tropes. There’s the boy who looks like Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster and has a great scene or two resurrecting ‘Colossus’, but little else. Then there’s the boy in the Igor role, who is quite adorable. There’s the wide-eyed, staring, creepy girl with a psychic cat who I was a little sad didn’t get closure to her story, especially since she lost her constant companion. There was the fat boy who brings sea monkeys to life, which seem to be a Gremlins tribute. Then there’s the somewhat offensively-stereotyped Japanese boy, who the makers have clearly attempted to distance from tokenism by making him talented in a variety of fields, but really only has that thick accent so that there can later be a Godzilla/Gamera parody. It makes sense, given the fleshed-out story, but somehow the slightly unsettling home life set against a very ordinary school life gave just the right atmosphere of weird-twee-suburbia that Edward Scissorhands gets so right, but this now lacks.

Also, strangely, the visuals just aren’t as striking. The film nails shadows on walls – there’s no doubt about that. The Corpse Bride-like designs for the puppets work, but are often a little stiff, and the more grotesque characters have distractingly brilliant mouth movements. But somehow, the angle of that shot with pet graves on a hill doesn’t ring as true, and the cuts with the angry mobs and the fire don’t quite seem to evoke the old Hammer films. It’s all almost perfect, but not quite there.

But this is a harsh review, mostly because I had high hopes. It remains a very enjoyable and well-made film. It just wasn’t quite all I hoped it would be. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

黒執事/ Kuroshitsuji: OVAs

 I have to say, I didn’t think that I’d be writing any more impressions about Kuroshitsuji, but as it turned out the franchise has been proving enduringly popular with its target demographic (ie young Japanese women), so there have been a stream of vocal albums, a lengthy ‘Red Valentine’ event for the voice actors and these, an extensive list of OVAs. Had there been two or three bits of extra animation, I probably wouldn’t bother to write anything – I never wrote thoughts on Rozen Maiden Ouvertüre, and I loved that – but this was quite a lot of animation. There was a single OVA for the first season – a godawful mess where the cast butchered Hamlet and the writers had a very odd idea of how audiences will react to dramatics – but the second season had no less than six episodes. That’s more animation than there is in quite a lot of the things I review.
They are a very mixed bag, all trying different things, and none of them simply being episodes that could be slipped into the main series, which is quite a nice idea. Unfortunately, the ideas generally aren’t very good ones, probably the best amongst them being ‘The Tale of Will the Shinigami’, which is a flashback featuring William T. Spears and Grell in their early days, becoming qualified in their jobs as shinigami and learning to be heartless. Unlike, say, the absurd caricature in that Hamlet OVA, Grell is written a little better here, flamboyant but still proud and formidable rather than a mere joke. Other than the absence of the main cast, it could have been one of the stronger episodes in the weak second series.
The rest are on the very odd side. The most prominent, perhaps, are the two ‘Ciel in Wonderland’ OVAs, a lazy concept that is also some of the worst crap associated with the much-reviled series. Clearly an excuse to put Ciel in another dress, there is very little to it – over the course of the two episodes, Ciel meets various cast members based on the characters of Alice in Wonderland, and much is made of him growing and shrinking. In the end, nothing much happens other than that Ciel is shown to be greatly dependent on Sebastian, which seems to be rather the titillating thrill for the series’ audience. The only part I found curious and interesting was the way Ran-Mao was presented – here in a daft skin-tight toadstool outfit, her role as a sort of plaything for Lau becomes warped into a figure of overt female sexuality. She goes for cross-dressing Ciel with her large breasts and her shapely bottom, and it is presented as absurd and repulsive. This is an interesting social phenomenon, for me – here is a very homoerotic anime based on a suggestive pederastic relationship, primarily celebrating the pretty men and boys who are attracted to one another. Left to their own devices and delivering OVAs that are very much based on fanservice, the anime makers present being a provocative woman as rather horrific.

But this is not to say that the female is inherently repulsive, as seen in the odd ‘Welcome to the Phantomhive’s’ episode, which hints that a woman is likely to have a wonderful, slightly thrillingly dangerous time in the company of the cast – as long as she is stately and decorous, in-keeping with the idealised version of Victorian England. The episode makes a direct attempt to place the viewer in the role of a woman visiting the Phantomhive house, which is one of the oddest things I’ve seen attempted. The entire episode takes place from a first-person perspective, in the manner of a visual novel. She is introduced to the various loveable but mysterious characters, and is later shown as having a sinister ulterior motive for being there, though is easily thwarted – yet still treated gently. It’s a peculiar and fascinating piece of wish-fulfilment, as blatant as could be, on the face of it high camp but also a glimpse into giving an audience exactly what it wants.
The other two episodes are a little more straightforward, though one is far stranger than the other. One is just another snippet of life with Alois, who I found intensely annoying so didn’t care very much for, damaged goods or no. The triplets getting to speak their minds was quite amusing, but the butterfly element was painfully trite. The other episode, ‘The Making of Kuroshitsuji II’ was peculiar indeed. I’ve seen mini-episodes before where the premise is that the characters of the series are real but act as themselves to make the show – Naruto has done it more than once in post-episode skits – but never quite on this scale, and never quite so self-congratulatory. The episode takes the tongue-in-cheek viewpoint that Kuroshitsuji was an international smash-hit, and that its characters are huge celebrities now. Quite amusing though the exaggeration was, the more subtle effect is of course that the viewer feels part of something grand and inclusive, which is bound to be encouraging.
These episodes are at once horribly bad and quite cleverly-done. They’re only for fans – but that’s rather the point. They know what they’re making is going to look stupid or even reprehensible to the outsider, but that’s no different from what you get in the OVAs for moé series, or in visual novels. But in terms of going to the extreme, being extremely upfront about pleasing fans and casting out all semblance of subtlety, this is a very interesting little set of animations.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

ラゴンボール神龍の伝説 / Dragonball: Shenron no Densetsu / Legend of Shen Long / Dragonball: Curse of the Blood Rubies

This, the first of Toei’s many theatrical releases based on Dragonball, is a fun curio in several ways. Firstly, it was the basis for the amusing Taiwanese Dragonball rip-off The Magic Begins. Secondly, it was the first Dragonball ever to appear in English, though it didn’t take off – which is probably a good thing, because otherwise we might have had Son Goku renamed Zero and Bulma being Lena in the long-term. Thirdly, it has been dubbed into English no less than four times – though those are four different versions I have no interest in watching.

Like many Toei movies, including those for Digimon, Ojamajo Doremi and the first handful of those for One Piece, this was screened as part of a Toei event alongside two other Toei properties (in this case, Kinnikuman and Gegege no Kitarou), so its running time is not the 80+ minutes one might expect from an animated feature, but only around 50. Despite this brevity, the film does a very good job of truncating the entire first arc of Dragonball into a neat little package with only small alterations. Yes, rather than providing an original story, this first film went back to the beginning, to Goku being a strange, lonely monkey boy who had never seen another human being until Bulma showed up, to Yamcha being equal to Goku and scowling like a bad guy, to Kame-sennin being the strongest fighter in the world. Most of the major events bringing together the initial cast get repeated in a satisfactory and unrushed manner, with only the side-trip to the kame house seeming a bit extraneous when separated from the need to see a fan-favourite character.

To neaten things up, instead of Pilaf and his silly sidekicks, there is a new antagonist – a gourmet overlord who wants the dragonballs to give him food that will finally satisfy his tastes. Instead of Shu and Mai, we get Pasta and Vongo, who actually do pose a threat to the gang, plus a little girl called Panji who sets the action in motion by going to find someone to help rid her land of the gourmet monster. Handily, the overlord has already gathered most of the Dragonballs, so that with Goku’s and Muten Roshi’s, it doesn’t take long until Shen Long makes his appearance. The brilliant, iconic first wish made by Oolong is replaced here by a heartfelt one for a happy ending rather than bathos, but that’s a decision that makes sense for a film.

Brisk, simple and well-adapted, this early release really adds nothing to Dragonball, but is still entertaining to watch – and offers a chance to reminisce for those who haven’t seen the early episodes in a very long time. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

とらドラ! / Toradora!

I didn’t think I was going to bother with Toradora! Another moé anime with loli ovretones, I thought, about a mismatched pair of teenagers who end up in an odd couple relationship but will inevitably realize their feelings for one another after a while. But hey, it’s in a format that I can put on my PS Vita to try out its improved movie player, and I have plenty of space on my memory card. I might as well slip them over.
And then after two or three episodes I got hooked. The truth is, the series is more or less everything I expected to be – it centres on the cuteness of a diminutive high school girl who looks much younger than she is called Aisaka Taiga. She has such a fierce reputation she has been nicknamed ‘Tenori Taiga’, or ‘Palm-top Tiger’, but has a very Shana-like soft side, putting her squarely into the ‘tsundere’ character mould. She is neighbours with Takasu Ryuuji, a gentle boy who loves cleaning but, like Sawamura Seiji in Midori no Hibi, is constantly judged for looking like a violent delinquent, though unlike Seiji has never earned this reputation by getting in fights. Each has a crush on a classmate who is friends with the other, and Taiga needs someone to look after her in her chaotic home life, so they become allies. Throw in a successful model who has a rough and judgemental personality beneath her sickly sweet façade and you get end up with a compelling love hexagon.
 Most of the series follows the usual high school romance clichés – we get a beach episode, a Christmas episode, a school trip episode and all the rest – but somehow, by centring its emotional heart on the theme of people being unable to express their true feelings and putting up a front, tied in with those old Japanese cultural nuggets of honne and tatemae, it manages to resonate beyond JC Staff’s usual fanservice and cuteness.
Ultimately Toradora! isn't what I would call special in any way – it’s all been done before, some episodes are very dull and the humour is often strained slapstick – but it is worth a watch. Because Taiga’s vulnerability, Ryuuji’s believable indecisiveness, Ami’s just-perceptible loneliness, Minori’s selflessness and Kitamura’s likeable but impenetrable ways of distancing those around him seem to cut that bit deeper than most anime characterizations, possibly reflecting the series’ roots in light novels rather than manga. I also like the little deft touches like the explanation for Ryuuji’s face – it comes from his bad-boy, absent father – and the theming of tigers (‘Tora’) and dragons (‘dora(gon)’) for the two main characters. Once or twice there seemed to be a gentle pushing of the envelope, with jokes based on sex and the Japanese word for ‘penis’, as well as presenting the possibility of lesbianism without it being absurd, disgusting or a one-sided played-for-laughs crush.

The last few episodes pushed forward all of Toradora!’s strengths with a surfeit of melodrama, with many tearful pursuits, grand gestures, unkind words that pushed relationship and family dramas to a head and secondary characters left waving off their friends with smiles that faded as soon as they were left alone, and I have to say that it all just worked. It’s a very strong example of its kind, and what holds it back isn’t the writing, the characterisation, the acting or the art – all of which were very high-standard – but merely the fact that I’ve seen all this done before too many times and at its core, it remains a moé tsundere fanservice series with a loli element: witness the cuteness of Taiga on tiptoes!

 After the main series, a few more bits and pieces have followed, including silly chibi SOS gag shorts (wherein silly parakeet Inko-chan got his own mini-segment) and a throwaway OVA where Ryuuji gets obsessed over making the best bento box for lunch – the latter of which actually had the biggest laugh of the series for me, when Ryuuji brought in a rice cooker and tried so ardently to pretend it wasn’t his. I’m not desperate for more Toradora!...but if more arrives, I will most probably watch.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

バジリスク〜甲賀忍法帖〜 / Bajirisuku ~Kōga Ninpō Chō~ / Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls

It’s been a long while now since I stared Basilisk, which was back when it started. I watched three new anime that day, and of them, Basilisk was my favourite: ‘the only one I’m particularly interested in following is Basilisk, a beautifully drawn (if rather 80s in character design) new series about a war between two ninja clans. Like Naruto taking itself seriously, this pseudo-historical drama has lots of blood, testosterone and refreshingly ugly characters, which I’m not a particular fan of but can accept if there’s good reason. The thing is, I’m not sure if it might take itself TOO seriously, and thus become a bit farcical and charmless. Still, I’m interested enough to find out the answer to this question, so I’ll keep watching.’

That was back on 6 May 2005, over seven years ago. I have indeed kept watching, but fantastically slowly. The more I watched Basilisk, the more I realised there was nothing bringing me back to it.

Basilisk is a historical fantasy based on the real-life Kouga and Iga ninja clans, who established much of the lore in Japanese culture regarding ninjutsu and played a significant role in the much-romanticised shougunate period. In a crisis of succession for the shouguns, it is decided that the two ninja clans will each represent one heir, breaking their uneasy truce to have their ten strongest fighters battle to the death in order to decide who will be the next shougun. Added to this is the Romeo and Juliet story of the two young ninja who are to be their future clan leaders – engaged in a romance that was meant to bring peace after generations of battle, but now doomed to fight.

Though there are still images that are beautiful, some impressive action and poetic stillness, and though the intro theme is one of the better ones Gonzo have used, the fact is that Basilisk is dull. It manages to avoid having a stereotypical shounen tournament in the MÄR vein, with one ninja clan getting a distinct advantage and making the most of it from the shadows rather than having fair fights, but that is only a slim veneer of complexity, and it soon becomes very tired stuff. The ninja are all basically given superpowers, but some of them are incredibly silly, like the big fat man made of rubber, a woman who has the natural ability to emit poisonous gas when close to orgasm and one whose super-strength is in his hair. There are cooler powers – slipping into walls, controlling minds with the eyes, the big bad having some sort of parasite that brings him back to life – but it’s all still very puerile and goofy.

And the 80s aesthetic brings with it other qualities, so that like Hundred Stories, I found it to represent some of the worst clichés of anime in the Western mind, which largely came from 80s fetishised titles marketed in the Occident as ‘adult’. There’s blood and gore by the bucketload, and whole episodes dedicated to quasi-erotic torture. There are hypersexualised women and rape scenes. And the story ends up irritatingly predictable, with a deathly slow pace that made me wish the season had only been 13 episodes. Sure, the series is based on an old novel from the 50s, but I bet the more juvenile themes are either added or exaggerated here.

Stylish and memorable, certainly, but in execution dull and turgid. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

ケモノヅメ/ Kemonozume /Beast Claws

With its highly idiosyncratic art style, insipid opening and closing episodes and rather impersonal and alienating first episodes, Kemonozume isn’t an easy anime to get into, and I have to say the only reason I got into it was my great admiration for Yuasa Masaaki and the two works that he made on either side of this production – 2004’s Mind Game and 2008’s sublime Kaiba. Honestly, without that factor, I likely wouldn’t have bothered giving a chance to this funny-looking, apparently very serious anime about flesh-eating monsters masquerading as people and the modern-day samurai/gangster types who fight them – and what happens when Romeo and Juliet-style, a couple is formed from one from each side.

And I’m glad I watched. I’m not going to say ‘Where else can you see the bad guy’s head sprouting legs and running along while a comedy monkey deeply kisses a part of the baddie’s flesh that is in the form of a lady monkey?’ because, well, in the big scheme of quirky anime, I’m sure I’ll see things at least as strange again. But though I started watching a pretty long time ago, this hardly took up very much of my time and it was a lot of fun to watch once it got going. There’s one episode about paralysis and a mysterious 20-foot-tall mobster (who becomes a regular character) that is one of the funniest I’ve seen. As with Mind Game, the surrealism, mature themes and seriousness predominate, but once the spotlight is on something funny, Yuasa really comes into his own.

There’s a reason he’s one of the big names of anime direction, and the studios let him do this crazy stuff. There’s a reason that Ankama went to him to give their Nox episode such a distinctive aesthetic. And there’s a real skill to how he juggles his different themes. This is my least favourite of his works – Mind Game was more heartfelt and also crazier, while Kaiba was much more conventional but also wonderfully strange in its peculiar cuteness – but it was still definitely enjoyable.

Next is The Tatami Galaxy. I’m looking forward to it – it certainly seems to be Yuasa’s work that has made the most impact, even if I seriously doubt I’m going to like it nearly as much as I liked Kaiba

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Thundercats (2011) - season 1 part 2

 As it turns out, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t well-reported – indeed, you can still find a lot of sites online that announce this second half of the first season as ‘season 2’ – but Thundercats did what quite a few US TV shows do, and split a single season into two halves of the year. So everything I said in my impressions of the first 13 episodes of season 1, including ‘was that it?’ ought to be taken with a proviso: it seemed at the time it was, but in fact, there was more to come – the same number of episodes and a cute little comedy short featuring Snarf and baby Lion-o.

On the other hand, that might now be it, sad to say. The show’s toys haven’t sold very well (I picked up my Wilykat figure cut to a pittance) and currently the show is in limbo as Cartoon Network have not renewed it. They’d rather air such wonders as Annoying Orange, which presumably has the advantage of costing next to nothing, while I doubt Studio 4˚C come cheap. There’s a thin line between ‘not renewed’ and ‘cancelled’, so that may well be curtains for new Thundercats.

I’ll support the show when the complete series is released on DVD over here. But I’m not sure there’re any plans for that.

It’s a real shame, because this second half of the season was a big improvement – big enough that I wish it had aired at the same time, or had some of its better episodes in that lull during the first season where the cats were sort of drifting about without an aim. It’s unfortunate that it came too late for many viewers – even I put off continuing watching until months after the airing dates – and that the show has been so poorly marketed. I would love it to continue.

The new episodes brought with them many elements reminiscent of a second season. Lion-O is given trials by the other cats in a nod back to the original series, their efforts are focused on a collection quest (power stones for the Sword of Omens and/or the Sword of Plundarr, as well as the latter weapon itself), characters go off on their own tangents (the kittens getting episodes of their own, for example) and one of the new Thundercats from the original is introduced – Pumyra.

Pumyra was in some ways given the shaft in the original series, never really developing much of a character or distinct skills, and not even appearing in the last handful of episodes. She is more interesting here, shown as highly resentful of the other Thundercats at first, feeling she was abandoned by them. It seems for a while she was brought in earlier than Bengali or Lynx-O purely for the expedience of having a new romantic interest for Lion-O in order to avoid the love triangle between him, Cheetara and Tygra dragging on, but in the end we see a side of her that’s definitely a departure from the original.

Everything here has improved, really. The stories are a little more complex and rooted in questions of leadership and social structures as well as fights. The art stays more consistent and less often looks slapdash. The pacing is much better, with the story leading to its climax (featuring the update’s Vultureman!) after a neat build-up, and even if the collection quest is generic, it still focuses our allies and makes it feel less like they’re aimlessly wandering. Mumm-ra actually becomes a threat, too, and the flashbacks featuring him, which at first felt very contrived, actually became interesting.

If I had a problem, it was with the new character designs getting more and more babyish. They in particular get in the way of the kittens’ side-story – the original’s aesthetic worked because the designs ranged from the Thundercats – essentially humans with cat-pupils and marks on their faces – to the mutants, some of whom were basically animal heads on exaggerated human bodies. The new series has cartoony animals like the frog and squirrel the kittens meet who with their huge eyes and basically animal anatomy look like they’re from Sonic the Hedgehog, and it just doesn’t work. Which is a shame, because the kittens – always my favourites – really come into their own here. Despite some very silly magical powers (‘kleptovoyance’) and artefacts, their side-story sees them grow; they have a sad flashback (albeit not so sad as Tygra’s), and they save the day at the end – something they never did in the original. The last lines of the show are even reserved for Wilykit. They’re absolutely adorable characters, but they’re also useful here – which is a relief.

I definitely want to see more Thundercats – and I’d be happy with more of this version. I want to know what happens next, and how Lion-O would rule now, post-revolution. I want more of Wilykit and Wilykat, who are much too cute. I want Mandora and Hammerhand and Cap’n Cracker. And I especially want the Lunataks – as they were when first introduced, formidable enough to individually be a challenge to any Thundercat. And I want a DVD release so I can support the show.

But when has Cartoon Network ever given me what I wanted? 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

ドラゴンボール/ Dragonball

So then, here is one of the big ones. In any way you can think of – impact, influence, commercial success – Dragonball is one of the biggest manga and anime there have ever been. Animated by Toei between 1986 and 1989, the title has had a direct influence on about every shounen action series that has followed, especially in Jump.

My personal connection to it, however, was minimal. Unlike many of my friends and peers, even those with little interest in anime, I never watched it as a child. I never had satellite TV, and it was not on terrestrial channels, so as with Sailor Moon, I was loosely aware of the phenomenon but not involved in it. Until I decided to start watching from the beginning, my only exposure to Dragonball had been watching one random episode of Z (about Kid Buu), playing some SNES fighting game circa 1995 a friend had imported/pirated and reading the crossover chapter of the One Piece manga. To this day, I have no idea who Vegeta or Trunks are beyond their appearances and basic relationships with the other characters, and know of the likes of Great Saiyaman and Frieza only through seeing pictures, cosplays and the like. Also, having only seen the original Japanese version, I am liable to blink in confusion if I hear Yajirobe sounding like a big barrel-chested guy instead of a brat or Karin called Korin. But I have actually watched all 153 episodes of the original series (plus the two cute animated safety announcements that were made) and consider myself well-versed in Dragonball lore now – if not Z or GT.

The story is well-known – wide-eyed and innocent but immensely strong Son Goku is the guardian of one of the seven dragonballs, which he believes contains his grandfather’s spirit. One day he meets Bulma (‘Bloomer’), a rich, spoiled girl who is nonetheless a genius inventor, and is searching for the seven balls that will grant any wish. And so they set off to find the rest, meeting several friends and adversaries along the way, the first handful of which follow the loose pattern of the companions in Journey to the West until that gets dropped altogether, save for the throwaway final arc of the series inspired by the Princess Iron Fan segment of the story – which gave me an itch to watch the 1940s Chinese animation of it! With help from the wise, perverted and generally awesome Kame-sennin, the group actually manage to complete their quest several times, only for greater and greater threats to face them as Goku and his friends get stronger and stronger, and the need to summon Shen Long with the Dragonballs becomes more and more urgent.

Dragonball’s strength is that like what is arguably its successor, One Piece, it is silly and adorable, but can switch to being serious and moving. Early on, there’s even a meta joke about Dragonball being, after all, a gag manga, and it’s full of jokes about naughty parts, farts, perversion and stupidity. And this suits it very well indeed – to the extent I’m worried about Dragonball Z and its reputation for being over-serious and obsessing over battles with endless charging-up and silly speeches. When I got into anime Dragonball Z was hated for that reason. It will make me sad if the humour and fun is lost, but then again, it makes me sad to know the likes of Yumcha and Tenshinhan – currently on-course to being some of the most powerful warriors ever to have lived – will soon be considered useless weaklings. I like those guys and it’s sad that they will be a joke by the time everyone’s going super-saiyan, especially when in the Dragonball world, a major power-up is as simple as drinking the right magical water. And it would be nice to see Oopa again!

There are numerous arcs in this long series, from initial scuffles with the silly Pilaf to the long, long conflict with the Red Ribbon Army, which I must say outstays its welcome after General Blue’s defeat. There are several tournaments, and the rather pitch-perfect battle with Piccolo Daimaou, which seems like it will drag as it extends into a timeskip, but actually sustains itself though a third iteration of the ‘Tenkaichi’ tournament, especially with the entertainment of seeing Goku grown.

Dragonball is a comedy action series. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and nor should it. It is full of stupid situations and throws in everything it wants to, from invisible men to mecha, from talking turtles to God himself (in unique form, of course). Nowhere else would you find a character like Mr. Popo, who is often cited as a version of a golliwog but is actually one of the best characters in the whole thing, clearly not human, and apparently the second most powerful being in the universe at his introduction – though I’m confused as to why he doesn’t become the next Kami-sama, which was apparently what he was preparing for, but is stuck in a servant role. His dub speaking voice is also not a good decision at all.

There’s not a big leap between Dragonball and Dragonball Z, despite another time-skip – only as much there is between seasons of Ojamajo Doremi, to take another Toei series as an example. Dragonball Z episode 1 aired the week after Dragonball episode 153. But for me, I will take a break from it now, and watch the three Dragonball movies after a while before I start on the mammoth task of getting through Z. I just hope it doesn’t shatter my liking of what is after all a great, silly, uncomplicated and free-wheeling series. I have to say, I’m not optimistic. However, Dragonball surprised me by being great, and actually deserving its immense reputation. So I will have to wait and see.  

Movies: 1 - link
2 - link 
3 - link
4 - link

First impressions, 01.02.08: Watched ep 1 of DragonBall in Japanese. Bulma’s so loathsome. She shoots a little boy in the head wanting to kill him, manipulates him with lies and her sexuality, and the first episode of this monumental landmark series ends with her wetting herself. Nice