Tower of Duraga vs Strike Witches

Caught two series a few weeks back, but, being lazy, and now no longer forced to post stuff on a weekly basis, I put off a review. However, I have summer classes coming up…well, tomorrow, so I figured, before shit gets crazy (and yes, this is no longer a school project, so I can say shit now) I thought I’d post something.

I had caught  Tower of Duraga on Hulu. The first episode was hilarious, and, being a fan of RPG’s, I was hooked. Based on a dungeon-crawler video game, the series centers around a loser, Jil, who lives in a village located entirely inside a large tower. The upper levels are inhabited by monsters of all shapes and sizes, with the top dominated by the evil god Duraga. Hoping to one day become a hero like King Gilgamesh (who, prior to being king, was the hero of the original 1984 game), and in spite of his resentful brother, Neeba, Jil manages to acquire a group of heroes and set off to defeat Duraga once again. The series manages to both parody and play straight many of the tropes commonly associated with RPG’s, and makes more than a few nods to the original game. Highly recommended to gamers in general and D and D enthusiasts in particular.

Not so recommended is Strike Witches, a series whose American release, quite frankly, should have been accompanied by an AMBER Alert. Remember the trailer I posted several weeks back?  The show seemed to have some comedy potential (if a little uncomfortable fanservice), however, what results is a mix of slightly amusing cliches and dramatic fluff mixed with a lot of really uncomfortable fanservice. The plot takes place in an alternate timeline, circa 1942, where, instead of Nazis, the earth is attacked by strange aliens called the neuroi. Female magic users, known as witches, are brought together by the military and used to combat the invading menace using special mechanized boots, called brooms, that allow the young women to fly. The girls in question, although each based on real life  WW2 fighter pilots (their “brooms” based on actual planes), are pretty much moe stereotypes. The story, though sounding intriguing at first, is just convoluted (it does make me wonder how someone like Edward O’Hare or Pierre Clostermann would feel about being personified as an overly sexualized 14-year old Japanese girl with magic powers and propeller boots) and too dramatic to be funny, or even mildly amusing. Overall, unless you have a serious witch fetish, and/or are a pedophile, it’s not worth your time.

The Winner: Tower of Duraga

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Shin Chan

There’s a  lot about Shin Chan that would make people nervous.

To begin with, most people in the west would  assume that a show about a five year-old would be targeted to that age group, which make the show’s surprisingly off color jokes about vibrators, spousal abuse and AIDS all the more shocking. Next, our squeamish attitude towards nudity, especially concerning minors, tend to make frequent appearances by “mister elephant” and Shin’s bare ass embarassing at best and downright disturbing at worst. And, of course, we tend to take a certain quality  in animation style for granted, especially where  anime is concerned. Shin Chan, by contrast, makes Ren and Stimpy  look like fine art.

Admittedly, when I first saw Shin Chan when it premired on Adult Swim a few years back, the grotesque animation put me off. However, after about five minutes of watching, I was laughing too hard to care.

Following the adventures five-year old Shin Nohara, his cute but ever mischevious baby sister Hima, his long-suffering father Hiro, his flat-chested mother Mitzi, and the cast of characters surrounding the Happy-Fun-Time American school he attends, Shin Chan is basically dead baby comedy at its finest. Watch  at your own risk.

Lolicon

First off, I want to make it clear that I do not abide censorship in any form whatsoever. This country is overly puritanical and driven to fits of hysterics over the slightest hint of sexuality, whereas acts of morbid violence are shown regularly without the slightest concern (not that government or self-appointed moral guardians should have any right to tell right-minded, consenting adults that they can’t watch either). Art and knowledge should be available to the masses in exactly the form they are intended to take.

But…then there’s lolicon.

A simplification of the term “Lolita complex,” lolicon refers to a genre of Japanese media that depicts young girls (or childlike women) in erotic situations. Seen mostly in anime and manga (where its much easier to depict an underage character in this manner without alerting authorities), the genre has long been the subject of controversy due to its obvious implications of pedophilia. Granted, there’s no concrete evidence that lolicon contributes to the exploitation of children, and some camps argue that removing non-exploititive materials may contribute to such crimes. However, to those outside of Japan, that doesnt keep it from being any less…creepy, and many countries, including Canada, have lumped it in with child pornography and banned it outright.

It’s worth noting that a large majority of females in anime are depicted as overly cute and innocent even without being underage, in the typical kawaii style, and many of those that are aren’t necessarily sexualized. That said, many anime/manga series, created in a country where schoolgirl fetishes are common, will have lolicon themes inserted into an otherwise unrelated plot. For anime purists, who demand that shows be presented complete and unedited,  this creates a  serious dichotomy between censorship and public safety.

Marzgurl (of ThatGuywiththeGlasses.com) recently posted a video on this issue, commenting on Funimation‘s controversial decision to release Dance in the Vampire Bund in an edit-only format, due to the millenia old (and heavily sexualized) vampire protagonist inhabiting  the body of a nine year old girl. Because of the company’s long held tradition of releasing unedited versions of its liscensed material (unlike some other companies, which shall remain nameless), this decision is seen as a major slap in the face to fans, who have threatened to boycott.

On the other hand, most of what’s been cut is animated nudity of a NINE YEAR OLD GIRL. Make of that what you will.

Coming Soon…

Due to a misunderstanding, the review I  had planned will not take place as scheduled. In the meantime, here’s a preview for something I plan on reviewing in the future (be warned that, as I have not yet reviewed it, the following does not yet have my seal of approval):

Sgt Frog

The world is under attack. From a galaxy far, far away, a new threat has come to conquer and destroy the planet. A small threat, a green threat…and one that does chores. And croaks.

The threat is none other than Sgt. Keroro, an amphibious alien whose attempt to invade Japan fails miserably, leaving him in the clutches of the Hinata household. Fuyuki Hinata, an occult fanatic, is fascinated by the invader.  His elder sister, Natsumi, despises and  distrusts the  slippery alien menace and quickly becomes his biggest threat. Their mother, Aki, is a manga editor and decides Keroro is the perfect inspiration for her latest work. He’s permitted  to stay…under the condition that he does all the household chores. However, the frog has more nefarious interests…like eating junk food. And building Gundam models. And taking over the world.

Adapted from the manga of Mine Yoshizaki, this anime series is one of the craziest and funniest things ever to come out of the land of the rising sun. I had waited a long time for ADV (RIP) to release the dub (or at the very least, a decent sub) and feared the worst when that company went belly up. However, Funimation saved the day, rescuing the frog (and several other franchises), even providing a test episode to get viewer feedback. The resulting dub replaces the japanese pop references with American ones, lampooning everything from 24 to Star Trek, although keeping most of the gags that well-trained otaku would recognize. Making things even better is that the dub has been released in DVD half-season sets (meaning paying $30 for 13 episodes, as opposed to 4). Or watch it on Hulu.

Fun Fact: Keroro actually made his first American appearance on TV on the show Heroes. The character Hiro keeps a statue of Sgt. Frog on his desk.

Spider Man…Otaku-Style

Check out the 1970’s Super-Sentai version of Spider Man, now available to watch on Marvel’s site:

http://marvel.com/animation/japanese_spiderman

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

Ah, the Power Rangers. As a kid there was no better finale to the after school lineup than seeing Jason, Billy, Kimberly, Zack, Trini and Tommy take down another of Rita Repulsa’s evil minions. Sure  it was cheesy, sure the villain/action sequences had the appearance of a badly dubbed Japanese b-movie, sure plenty of people didn’t get it at all and despised the hype it generated. So what?

After several seasons of Americanizing the various Tokusatsu Super Sentai cycles, the Disney Company (who bought the rights to the series in 2001) have decided to replay the original series on ABC Kids, albeit repackaged. Unfortunately, the comic book style wipes and sound effect bubbles don’t work, and feel more as if Disney is intentionally trying to play up the cheese. Looking back, I can see why the original version was so easy to criticize – the wooden dialogue, the overly simplistic plots, the overuse of stock footage, etc.

But, then, thinking it over, there was nothing quite like it on American TV before. Besides following in a late 80’s/early 90’s tradition of interest in asian culture (already fed by The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, movies like Big Trouble in Little China and video games like Street Fighter 2), the show managed to take many of the fantasy/sci-fi/action elements of saturday morning cartoons, and, for better or worse, present them in live action.

Now lets keep our fingers crossed and hope that Disney finally decides to release the originals on DVD…