TV Review: Attack On Titan (2013- )

Original Run: April 7th, 2013 – current
Created by: Hajime Isayama
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Attack On Titan manga by Hajime Isayama
Music by: Hiroyuki Sawano

Wit Studio, Production I.G., Dentsu, 37 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

I’m not what you would call a big anime fan. Well, at least not since I was a kid and a teenager in what I now consider to be the golden age of anime, which was the mid 80s through the 90s. As a kid I was captivated by Robotech and Akira. As a teenager, it was Ninja Scroll and Ghost In The Shell and really just about anything I could get my hands on before anime went really mainstream in the United States.

Once it became a big thing, I sort of checked out. At that point, the quality of what was successful paled in comparison to the earlier stuff that I loved. The fanboys who raved about how good everything was, even the shit, just irritated me and I had the attitude of, “Fuck you, I was here when all you knew was Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles.”

Anyway, Attack On Titan is the first anime series that I have seen in years that not only kept my interest but also had me applauding its writing, its characters, its philosophy and its artistic execution. Other than Hellsing, I cannot think of another anime series in the last decade that had me so engaged from beginning to end. In fact, I am assuming that it is resonating with many others and sort of anticipate some English-speaking live-action crappy remake in the next few years – hopefully not starring Sam Worthington.

The premise of this tale is pretty compelling and is what initially hooked me. Essentially, it has been a hundred years since humanity has been decimated by a race of giants called “Titans”. In that time, they have built a wall around themselves in an effort to keep the Titans out. As the story starts, the Titans bring down the wall and our main hero sees his mother eaten by one of them – spurring his rage and his quest for vengeance.

What follows, one would assume would be pretty predictable: kid wants revenge for dead mother, kid becomes badass, kid kills evil, revenge accomplished. What you get however, is a story that is anything but predictable and in fact, takes several crazy turns throughout the series, always giving you something fresh and new. Roadblocks seemingly come from everywhere and no one ever feels like they’re safe.

Yes, it is a dark and intense show. While that seems to be a trend in entertainment lately, Attack On Titan doesn’t just use it in a generic typical way, they use it to motivate the characters and the plot in a pretty dynamic way. The characters constantly find themselves at odds with the awful cruel world that they live in and even though they must fight to survive in it, at the core, they strive for something better and refuse to accept their doomed apocalypse of a life.

The show presents a lot of questions and by the time you get to the end, many of those questions are left unanswered. This leaves me thinking that there is more to come. The show is over, at least this initial series but there are companion films being released and I anticipate a proper conclusion to the main protagonists story at some point.

Again, this is an amazing series and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting something different and refreshing to watch. I binged watched it in two sessions of about five-to-six hours each, so you can get through it fairly quickly. Check it out on Netflix. Also, it is not dubbed, it is subtitled. I really enjoyed being able to hear the traditional Japanese dialogue.

Film Review: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Also known as: Kaijū Sōshingeki (Japan), All Monsters Attack (alternate), Monster Attack March (alternate), Operation Monsterland (UK alternate)
Release Date: August 1st, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 88 Minutes

Review:

This was the Shōwa era Godzilla film that literally had it all. It was jam packed full of kaiju, had aliens and a ton of kaiju action and really good action sequences that didn’t even involve monsters. It isn’t the best Godzilla film of its era but it is probably the film that is the most fun. And when I am introducing friends to the Shōwa era and old school kaiju pictures, this is usually the one I pop on just for the non-stop action and overabundance of giant monsters.

Usually these sort of films get convoluted by trying to wedge in too much. Look at the modern Avengers movies versus the solo Marvel films. Destroy All Monsters throws a dozen kaiju at you but they all mostly get to shine without stepping on anyone’s toes or complicating the plot. Granted, a few were used minimally but that was due to their rubber suits being in bad condition due to age and the effects of previous films.

While the story here is decent for a kaiju picture, it really doesn’t matter. This is the Royal Rumble of Godzilla movies and all these fantastic creatures come together. Initially, they are controlled by evil aliens and attack different parts of the world. Godzilla even takes out the United Nations building in New York City. Eventually, the monsters are free from alien control, which brings in King Ghidorah because every sinister alien group seems to have a Batphone to King Ghidorah’s study in his stately manor.

The highlight of the film is when all the good monsters gang up on Ghidorah and just kick the living shit out of him. I love Ghidorah but the mud hole stomping finale is friggin’ glorious! Then the film is capped off by our Earth heroes in a cool ship fighting a phoenix. I mean, really? How cool is this movie?

Eiji Tsuburaya handled the special effects, Ishirō Honda returned as director and Akira Ifukube returned to score the film. Honda and Ifukube took a hiatus from the series, after being instrumental in giving it life and longevity. The reason for their return, is that this was initially planned to be the final picture for Godzilla. However, Toho didn’t even make it a year before they were working on All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge, a universally panned sequel but probably gets a worse rap than it deserves.

This film is set in the future, at least at the time of its release, so the chronology is a bit confusing after this movie but I’ve always seen this as the real final chapter and the Shōwa films that came out after this one as events that happened before this picture. So when King Ghidorah dies here, he really dies and his return later in the series in Godzilla vs. Gigan was set before Destroy All Monsters.

I love Destroy All Monsters. It is not my favorite Godzilla picture but it is exciting for old school kaiju fans.

Film Review: Godzilla 2000 (1999)

Also known as: Gojira Nisen: Mireniamu (Japan), Godzilla 2000: Millennium (alternate)
Release Date: December 11th, 1999
Directed by: Takao Okawara
Written by: Hiroshi Kashiwabara, Wataru Mimura
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Takehiro Murata, Hiroshi Abe, Naomi Nishida, Mayu Suzuki, Shiro Sano

Toho, 107 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla 2000 was the start of the Millennium era of Godzilla films. It was the second attempt at a reboot and was Japan’s big middle finger to the atrocious 1998 American Godzilla adaptation. While this is the weakest reboot out of the Japanese Godzilla movies, it was much better than the American crap that came out a year earlier.

Also, this started a trend, where every film in the Millennium series of pictures were all self contained stories and essentially their own reboots. That is, except for Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., which was a direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla.

This is one of my least favorite films in the Godzilla franchise. It wasn’t well done and even though it beats out the first American film, it got the Millennium series off to a bad start.

Godzilla’s threat in this film is Orga, which starts off as a poorly created CGI UFO that looks similar to the ship from Flight of the Navigator. This film is thirteen years older, however, and the effects are atrocious compared to Navigator. While the UFO is similar, this one looks dull and amateurish, almost like it is from a CGI test reel.

Orga then turns into a jellyfish looking UFO for about a minute or so and then becomes an actual beast for Godzilla to fight. The suit is hokey and although it is very detailed, it feels like a one-off kaiju from an Ultraman episode. It doesn’t quite have an iconic look or come off as something that should be featured on the big screen.

The coolest thing about this movie, though, is how Orga dies. Godzilla allows himself to be swallowed by the beast, down passed his torso. Once most of his body is inside, he unleashes a violent burst of his radioactive breath, which incinerates Orga. This was awesome to the point that it almost made up for the poor 90 minutes that lead up to it.

Godzilla 2000 is just a fairly boring movie but at least the Japanese version of the King of Monsters returned. Although, I didn’t like his new look.

Book Review: ‘A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power’ by Paul Fischer

When I first heard the story about how the North Korean kaiju picture Pulgasari was made, I had to see if anyone had actually written a book on it. Well, someone did and I am really glad that I picked it up.

In fact, this is my favorite showbiz book since reading Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist. Like that book, it goes into the behind the scenes happenings of this picture but it also serves as a biography for the main players involved. Kim Jong-Il and his bizarreness makes for an entertaining read on par with the first time I read about the infamous and awesome Tommy Wiseau.

Hell, maybe James Franco should adapt this into a film too; he’s got experience with showbiz biopics and films that piss off North Korea. Truthfully, this story would make an amazing motion picture.

For those who don’t know the story. Kim Jong-Il ordered the kidnapping of the most famous film director in South Korea. He also kidnapped the director’s wife, even though they were separated, as she was one of South Korea’s premier actresses. The director and his wife were held in a North Korean prison for years until they finally caved and decided to help Kim Jong-Il make better propaganda pictures. This is how Pulgasari happened.

This book is well written and thorough and while it seems to take some liberties in fleshing out the character that is Kim Jong-Il, everything just works and this is a really fun read that I enjoyed.

I love kaiju movies and strange stories. I have also been fascinated with the enigmatic North Korea. A Kim Jong-Il Production hits on all those things and is quite fantastic.

Film Review: Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Also known as: Gojira no gyakushû, lit. Counterattack of Godzilla (Japan), Gigantis the Fire Monster (US – original title)
Release Date: April 24th, 1955 (Japan)
Directed by: Motoyoshi Oda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla Raids Again was a quickly pushed out sequel to the original Gojira. And like its predecessor, the film was shot in black and white, making it the only film in the franchise, apart from the original, that wasn’t released in color.

In the United States, despite the success of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the American re-edit of Gojira, this film didn’t take the Godzilla name and was initially release as Gigantis the Fire Monster. In fact, English dubbed versions of the film still make reference to the monster being called “Gigantis”.

This film introduced the beloved kaiju Anguirus, who fought Godzilla in this picture but would go on to be a top ally for decades. And this is actually the film that gave birth to kaiju battles, as the previous Godzilla picture only featured the title monster.

Compared to the original, which was an exceptional motion picture, this is a very poor sequel to it. While it was successful, maybe Toho wasn’t keen on its quality, as Godzilla was shelved for seven years until he was brought back to battle King Kong in one of the best kaiju epics of all-time.

There are several reasons why this film is lacking compared to the two chapters that sandwich it.

To start, while tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya did handle the special effects, some mistakes were made during the production. The frame rate of the camera was not set correctly and the big kaiju battles are fast paced to the point that the monsters move around at impossible speeds and it almost plays like a slapstick comedy segment every time that Godzilla and Anguirus tie-up. It just looks hokey and doesn’t match up with the action of any other Toho kaiju picture. Plus, it is missing audio effects and the battles just sort of happen to music, looking like a goofy spastic dance.

Another reason why the film suffers is that Godzilla mastermind Ishirō Honda was not behind the camera. Additionally, the script was written by people that weren’t mainstays in the franchise in the same way that Shinichi Sekizawa and Takeshi Kimura were.

The film is still enjoyable for Godzilla fans and it does have its positives.

Toho regulars Hiroshi Koizumi and Takashi Shimura star in the picture and give good performances.

Also, the overall visual look of the film is fairly solid. The scene where Godzilla comes to shore and the military fills the sky with flares looks really cool and holds up well. Also, the scene where Godzilla is walking through the snow covered valley, surrounded by icy mountains, is a beautiful sight where the contrast between the monster and his environment is enhanced by the black and white presentation.

In the long history of Godzilla films, this one is mostly forgettable other than the debut of Anguirus and the kaiju versus kaiju concept that would become the standard in just about every kaiju movie made after this one.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

TV Review: Kamen Rider Black RX (1988)

Also known as: Masked Rider Black RX
Original Run: October 23rd, 1988 – September 24th, 1989 (Japan)
Created by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Tetsuo Kurata, Jun Koyamaki, Rikiya Koyama

Ishimori Pro, Toei Company, 47 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Kamen Rider Black RX is only the third Kamen Rider series that I have seen in its entirety, after Kamen Rider V3 and Kamen Rider Black. This series is a direct sequel to Kamen Rider Black and features the same hero, although he is defeated early only to be reborn as RX.

This series is very consistent with its predecessor, which was fantastic. However, it actually ups the ante towards the end, as in the last few episodes, all the previous versions of Kamen Rider show up to offer their assistance. It was the first Kamen Rider story to feature all the Riders since the 1984 TV film Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!!

Having defeated Gorgom in the previous series, our hero Kohtaro is now a helicopter pilot and lives with the family who owns that business. The new villain group are aliens that call themselves the Crisis Empire. They plan to take over Earth, killing all the humans because humans don’t respect the Earth. It is a simple story line that has been used in tokusatsu (and sci-fi, in general) since the beginning of the genre.

Kohtaro doesn’t just become RX, he also takes on the guise of a few other Riders with specific powers. Bio-Rider, for instance, can shrink down in a similar fashion to Marvel’s Ant-Man. Also, he has his talking motorcycle and a sweet car that looks an awful lot like Frankenstein’s car from Death Race 2000.

The action is solid, the stories are good and this series has some pretty neat looking monsters. Nine television series into this franchise and the minds behind Kamen Rider still prove that they are creative and have some fresh ideas.

The version of the show I have is a bit tough to watch, at times. This was never released commercially in the United States with proper subtitles or dubbing. That is kind of unfortunate, as the show was re-edited into a U.S. show called Masked Rider. This was done in the same way that Super Sentai shows were being re-edited into the Power Rangers franchise. In fact, this show was made to be a spin off of Power Rangers in the U.S.

The reason the version I have is tough to watch is because the DVD set is from Malaysia. Just imagine a Japanese show translated into English by Malaysians. Yeah, a lot of things get lost in translation or are very confusing. Also, character names are not consistent. In fact, RX was called “Superman Black RX” and Rider Man from Kamen Rider V3 was “Black Superman”. The subtitles also constantly warned of Earth being taken over by “queer devildom”, whatever the shit that means. Also, some of the characters had Chinese names instead of Japanese names. But this is what happens when you get DVDs of shows you like from Malaysian sellers on eBay.

Malaysian weirdness aside, it really didn’t ruin the show. Its quality shined through and Kamen Rider Black RX was pretty close to perfect for a tokusatsu show.