Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lost in Translation?: Shock Waves (Part 2)

Surprise- I've got another one!

Shock Waves is an interesting Film and it deserves an interesting Poster.  I'm still not sure why it had to be marketed as a Bermuda Triangle Film though.

Let's spice things up with an action shot now...

If I didn't know what the Film was (and spoke Italian), I'd totally want to see this!  What is that creature?

The Poster is a bit of a cheat, but, you know, Movie Posters.

Here's the original...
Hey, if Color Correction is good enough for every Film made today, why not me too?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Veteran Reviews: Ace Attorney (2012)

Hey, folks. Bob here, and Al asked me to weigh in on the Ace Attorney movie as well, as I'm a pretty big fan of the game series. Just a note that I will be using the English names for characters here, as those are the ones I'm more familiar with.

Al hit the basics, but to review: Phoenix Wright is a young defense attorney who is just getting started in his career. After defending a friend, Larry Butz, on a charge of murder, he finds himself getting pulled into other cases that strike close to home - involving both his old friends and the family of his mentor, Mia Fey. He's aided in his efforts by Maya Fey, spirit channeler and little sister of Mia. The film revolves around his desperate attempts to get his friends through the cases safely, repair his friendship with an old friend, Miles Edgeworth, and find the truth about not only present cases, but an old case from years long past.

And make no mistake, Phoenix is desperate. One of the best elements of the film here is the portrayal of Phoenix by Narimiya Hiroki. He does an exceptional job capturing Phoenix's general demeanor. Phoenix in the games is particularly lovable hero, with an admirable attitude towards truth and justice balanced by an ever-present palpable sense of panic. He seemingly exists in a near-constant state of tension, and if you go more than a few minutes in a game without seeing him break into a cold sweat or bury his head in his hands after something turns his case on its head, you...probably set the game down and went to get lunch or something. Narimiya's portrayal is perfect - I really got the sense of all of Phoenix's characteristics coming from him, and it always seemed to fit the tone of the film. He's determined when he needs to be, desperate when he needs to be, and manages some wonderful befuddled, confused, and outright panicking moments that could easily have been goofy but actually come off really well.

(Unfortunately - and maybe this is part of why there's not been another film - I understand Narimiya's since retired as an actor for reasons I won't get into here.)

Others are quite strong as well: Ishibashi Ryō's Von Karma, in particular, is portrayed very well and comes off as an intimidating presence on the screen. He seems to be in command of every last detail and just feels powerful. And Dan Rei doesn't get much screen time as Mia Fey, but for the time she's there, she feels like a capable attorney who has things quite a bit more together than Phoenix - you can tell why he looks up to her and why her brief hints throughout the film are enough to help him get back on his feet.

Others don't fare quite as well, through honestly no fault of the actors and actresses. I don't think the film gives Mia's younger sister Maya Fey enough room to work, really, owing to a factor I'll get to later, and Edgeworth suffers a bit for similar reasons. We just don't get to spend enough time with those characters outside of The Most Dramatic Moments of Their Lives to really understand who exactly they are, and for me, it hurt the film a little. I wanted to like Maya - she's probably my single favorite character from the games - but she felt really underutilized and just didn't seem to have her complete personality here. The Maya of the games is full of funny quips and little asides, and those are pretty much absent from this Maya. And Edgeworth...he just doesn't get an arc that's quite fully developed. He gets the start and the finish of it, but the middle felt lacking to me. Maybe, again, it's because I've seen the game's version, but I think Al actually got into the film's version more than I did...I felt like it didn't get enough time. More on that in a bit.

Otherwise...Gumshoe was nice enough but again isn't much in the film (and I really felt like they should've got a taller guy to play him - maybe it's just me, but I always got the feeling Gumshoe would be physically imposing except that he slouches a lot. I guess looking at wiki information he's not supposed to be that much taller than Phoenix, but still...just didn't give me the same "big" feeling he does in the games). I didn't get to see much of the lovable, somewhat oafish detective as I would've hoped. Larry Butz was as weird and generally hopeless as expected, and while his hair looks particularly ridiculous in real life even compared to the odd hairstyles of Phoenix and Edgeworth, I felt like his use in the film was pretty great - I really got a sense of "oh no, what now" any time he opened his mouth, and that's Larry in a nutshell. The Judge...the Judge just kind of made me sad. In the games, he's a huge part of the humor as a wonderfully befuddled old man who somehow still ends up coming to the right conclusions (eventually), and here it just felt like...well, he was a judge. He's not a character, really, just a prop they have to have there because it's a courtroom.

I know, I'm talking a lot about how the film was compared to the games, but I'm pretty sure that's why Al asked me to watch along, after all!

So, to continue on that...here's what I really missed as part of the film: the third case from the first Ace Attorney game.

I'll explain.

In the game, you've got five cases - four in the original release, and one more added on when it got remade for DS (and we first got it over here). The four original cases together make a good story - you get Phoenix's beginning and the establishment of his friendship with Larry, the murder of Mia and the establishment of Phoenix and Maya's partnership and their rivalry with Edgeworth, the development of that rivalry and the hints that perhaps Edgeworth isn't lost forever, and then the biggest threat to Edgeworth and Phoenix getting the chance to step up as a friend and try to save his old friend's life and soul.

That third act - the development of the rivalry and the hints that Edgeworth might not be fully gone - feels like it is either underdeveloped or in fact completely absent here. We go from game case 2 to game case 4, skipping game case 3 (except we use a clip of it, sans Phoenix's involvement, in the intro sequence establishing Edgeworth at all, and reference the Steel Samurai show involved in that case numerous times in the film). For me, this really cut out a valuable part of Edgeworth's arc - it's in case 3 that we really saw that he still cared about the truth and wasn't just out to judge criminals guilty at any cost like we thought. It doesn't fully remove our worries about him, but it gives us some hope.

In this film, on the other hand, we see Edgeworth solidly as Phoenix's nemesis...and then right away as Phoenix's next client. There's no transition, and it feels jarring. Maybe that's just because I've seen the slower-paced version, but I felt like there was a big chunk missing from the middle that made it a lot smoother.

So...how do you solve that in one movie? I honestly don't think you can. If they were intent on doing just one Ace Attorney film, then I think they went about it the right way. But ideally...I would've done two films. The first would do cases 1, 2, and 3, and the second would do case 4. Keep Cases 1 and 2 about how they're done here - they're simplified vs. the games, but it feels fine. Then do case 3, finish it up well, and give us a little spark of hope for Edgeworth. Then end the film on him being accused of murder - big old cliffhanger. Not as big as another movie I may have watched recently that ripped my heart out and refuses to let me put it in until sometime next year, perhaps, but still, a nice big cliffhanger. Then, the next film would be case 4, with plenty of room to breathe.

This would also give Maya time to transition - in case 2, she's understandably quiet, having just lost someone important to her and being accused of murder, to boot, and in case 4's movie version, things need to be reaching their most dramatic so there's not as much time for her to be her energetic self. Case 3 in the game gives her a valuable period of time to be established anew as her real, lively personality, and without that as a transition period for her, it doesn't feel like she ever makes the leap...she kind of remains more quiet and almost shy through a lot of the film, and while she gets some moments speaking out, there just aren't that many times we get to see Maya Fey rather than Phoenix's quiet assistant who dresses kinda funny.

I don't want it to sound like I disliked every difference from the games, though! For one thing, I thought the truth of the DL-6 case was far superior in the film's version - no need for extraneous earthquakes and elevators, the reason for the fight was better and more understandable, Yanni Yogi comes off much more sympathetic, and it makes perfect sense why everyone involved is in the same place. The game's version makes several elements of the crime more happenstance, and while it still comes off well, the film's version just makes some more sense. (It does also cut out the explanation for Miles Edgeworth having claustrophobia, but that only matters if they do some of the later cases and could probably be written around.)

Similarly, while cases have been streamlined, they've generally been streamlined pretty well. A lot of the added detail to the game cases is there because...well...they're from a game, and there have to be things there to challenge the players. Some details or misdirections aren't as necessary in film format and would just add to runtime or slow the story down. I do feel like things maybe move a little too quickly at times - thus why I'd rather this be two films, or, say, an anime series that I'll probably review in a bit - but it is easy to understand the choice and most of the time - "why is Phoenix interviewing a bird on the witness stand" aside - we don't lose the most important details.

I love that moment, by the way, and it comes off hilariously in the film (before leading into one of the more powerful emotional moments in the film, wonderfully enough) - I just feel like he has a clearer reason for doing it in the game.

I'm a little more torn on the change in how the Fey family's Kurain channeling technique operates, but again, that doesn't matter to this film. I just worry about it because it would quickly matter if they had decided to make a sequel, as the most important cases revolve around the technique. In the games, to make this clear, a Kurain channeler actually physically transforms into the appearance of the spirit they summon. In the film, it varies a bit, but it seems clear that's not happening - Maya's mother is shown in a much more standard sort of medium ritual early in the film, and though Phoenix sees Maya overlaid by the spirit she's summoning a couple times, it seems likely that's just him - and it is pretty obviously a spirit, glowing and all, which would preclude it being used like it is in other cases in the game series even if everyone saw her that way.

One more comment, and this is something I kind of wish they weren't as faithful to the game on: costumes and appearances. Ace Attorney is very faithful to the game's character designs...often, to a fault. While it's fun to see the costumes and weird hair replicated in live action, it makes it a bit harder to take the story seriously sometimes. What looks good in animated form often looks weird in real life. Larry's hair is nuts, Lotta Hart's hair is insane, and Edgeworth's looks like he got far too enthusiastic in a visit to Colonial Williamsburg or something. Phoenix's is weird too, but I got used to it pretty fast since he's pretty much always on camera. Particularly hilarious was the flashback scene to Phoenix's youth with Edgeworth and Larry, and those poor kids having to wear those bizarre haircuts...oh, man, I about died. In any case, it's hardly bad and it's an attempt to be nice and faithful, but I think the film might have been better off hitting the important points (Phoenix's blue suit, Gumshoe's shabby coat, Edgeworth's cravat) and not trying to get the appearances one-hundred percent perfect.

The over-the-top witness breakdowns were something I could do without in live action, too...they're great in animated form, but a guy suddenly whipping out a megaphone in a live action film takes me out of things a bit. I don't know - I guess I want my animation animated and my live action, uh...boring. Not really, but you get what I mean. Sometimes what works really well for a game or anime is just kind of weird in a movie.

I also appreciate a number of little nods they made to the game series, though they're moments you'll only get if you actually played the game - like brief appearances by the Blue Badger mascot (though one was a little out there), the confetti that falls down at the end of trials (particularly the underwhelming first representation of that), and several glimpses of characters from other cases not covered by the movie. Less thrilling was the brief nod to the investigation segments in the late film, with Phoenix just kind of holding up weird items and making faces rather than engaging in any witty banter like you'd get in the games. Again. Maya. Criminally underused.

Overall, though...Ace Attorney is pretty great. I was a little down on it after watching it initially, but that was because - as my review above makes it seem like I'm still doing - I was really heavily comparing it to the game. I know it doesn't sound like it above, but with a little time past it and after hearing Al's view on it, where he - despite not having played the game - was able to "get it" for the most part and enjoy the film...I'm pretty happy with it. There's things I would have had them do differently, and make no mistake, there will be moments where you will have to reaaaaaaally suspend disbelief about everything from basic court proceedings to where the heck someone just pulled a large object from in a court of law, but Ace Attorney ends up quite a respectable little courtroom story that tells a good, personal tale mixed in with a nice and surprisingly deep mystery with a lot of twists and turns. It was definitely fun to watch, and while I'll prefer the game's version of the story, the movie version is perfectly acceptable and makes for a good watch.

It may play fast and loose with the rules of a court of law, and I dearly hope no one ever actually designs a legal system that works the way the courts do in the film or game series (wait, you can just declare a verdict whenever the prosecutor says, "hey, judge, you wanna get on that verdict thing?" unless the defense attorney is all, "uh, no, wait, please"), but Ace Attorney is a fun ride that mixes some genuine mystery and drama with a quirky atmosphere and some good comedy. It's well worth your time.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Neophyte Reviews: Ace Attorney (2012)

I hope you have no Objection to me doing this.  So that was the easy one out of the way.  Today's Film is Ace Attorney, the 2012 Film Adaptation of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (just the first Game).  It is a long-running Series from Japan that has a cult status here in America.  It is the game where you yell 'Objection!' and that guy in the suit from Marvel vs. Capcom Games.  A few years back, it got a Film Adaptation in Japan, but there seems to be no rush to follow up on it.  I don't know if it underperformed, if Capcom wasn't happy or if there is a third reason for it.  Here's the important thing: I've never played a Phoenix Wright Game.  I know about it by reputation and by Bob talking about it.  I know that it is a quirky Court Room Game, but that's about it.  So does the Film make any sense for me?  You'll later see how Bob felt about it- as someone who has played all of the Games.  The basic Story- Phoenix is a young, up-and-coming Attorney.  A couple of interconnected Cases strike close to him for him and he has to solve them all!  This was Directed by Takashi Miike, a man who makes more Films than most of us make balanced Breakfasts.  When does he sleep?!?!?  So does this work as a simple, stand-alone Film or do I need to play at least one Game to get it?  To find out, read on...
Phoenix (often called Nick- which was distracting) is a young, rising Attorney in a Japan that is so overrun with crime that all cases are Bench Trials and usually only last a day or two.
Miles Edgeworth is a strong, reliable Prosecutor who will run into conflict with our Hero.
When a friend/co-worker is killed, Phoenix faces off with Edgeworth to defend the client- her Sister!
The Film is full of strange, quirky people and this guy is no exception.  Who dressed Werner Herzog up like Joey Ramone?!?
Things take a big turn later when Edgeworth is accused of murder and won't defend himself!
As we see, the pair- plus their friend Larry- have known each other for a long time.  Will this help or hurt the case?
Phoenix has to both try the case and also look for evidence in this expedited process of Law.  Can he find the clues he needs?
How does this all connect back to a Spirit Medium we see at the beginning pointing out an accused man 15 years earlier?
To save the day (and his client), Phoenix will do anything.  Will it be enough?

To find out, watch the Film.
A fun, but bizarre experience.  To be fair, that's my default response to *most* Takashi Miike Films.  Izo was an exception, of course, and Yakuza Apocalypse tended to skew more towards the bizarre than the fun.  For all of the silliness involved, I could follow Terra Formars.  It was a weird Film about Mutant Super Cockroaches on Mars- granted.  In this case (pun not intended), he keeps the balance just right.  The Story is *mostly* grounded, but features some supernatural elements that are never quite explored enough.  All of the Characters manage to both look ridiculous and still feel like Characters.  Everything tied together nicely and the whole thing mostly worked for me.  There is definitely some random stuff that I didn't get- like The Blue Badger-, but thankfully it was more of a minor distraction than anything else.  All of the Acting was good and the Film was engaging.  If they worked out the mix of straight-forward Film and fan service, I think that it could make for some other interesting Films.  I'm not sure if knowing the Series hurts or helps the experience here.  I guess that is for the combined opinion of an expert and a neophyte to decide.  Before you get the former, let me just point out how what this Film inexplicably reminded me of...
Next time, I resume my normal insanity.  As always, its a crapshoot what I'll do next.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Immediate Response: Rifftrax Live!- Space Mutiny

A Classic Episode of MST3K is finally a brand-new Riff to enjoy.  Will it match up to Manos or Time Chasers?  Let's see...
The Good
* The Intro Short is weird, freaky and hilarious.  Did H.G. Wells really write something like this?!?
* The Film is just as hilarious as it was before.  It still has the greatest Continuity Error of all-time.
* The jokes are quite new, as the references and some of the footage.  Well, the last bit isn't new to the Film- it just wasn't in the MST3K Version (mostly for time).
* Kevin Murphy in a Space Mumu.

The Bad
* It's still Space Mutiny.  So, you know, it's not a good Film.
* A guy near me was clearly on *something* as he laughed WAY too much at every random joke.  He was slightly less manic than the famous guy from Reefer Madness when he played the Piano.

A fun, fun Show.  I sadly missed the fake Movie Facts, so hopefully they post them online and/or put them with the Digital Copy.

It replays next Tuesday.  Go see it!

Lost in Translation: Shock Waves

A Film can be rare and/or obscure for many reasons.  Sometimes it is just not what people expect.

That's the case with Shock Waves, a surprisingly-arty and subdued Film...about Nazi Super-Soldiers created by Peter Cushing.

Let's see if Italy can add a little spice to the Marketing by tying it more to a popular Trend of the time...
Giant Nazi Dark Man came from Heaven to cause a Storm.

That's in Leviticus, right?

All joking aside, I love this Poster!

Let's see how it originally looked...
It's all about Color and Contrast.  Look how much more I made that baby pop!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

TV on the Internet: Ash vs. Evil Dead- 'Judgement Day'

As the end approaches, will I accept the reality of it all or will I keep fighting?  For the second-to-last Episode ever, let's see...
Mostly-reunited, the group makes plan to deal with Ruby once and for all.

It was nice of the Characters to joke about how often Ash has promised to do this too.  Lamp Shade that cliché, guys!
As the final battle approaches, a little milestone is finally reached.
A brand new evil- which has been hinted at all Season- emerges and things change in just a matter of moments.
Will Ash and company overcome all of this new and freaky Evil...
...or will the final test of Man be too much for them?

To find out, watch the (second-to-last) Episode...
It all must end...soon.  Before that happens (for me), I might as well enjoy it.  This Episode continues to not disappoint and keep me happy.  Let's go through the personal Checklist, shall we?  We get a freaky Deadite in the form of the evil Phone creature.  We get a little bit of Bruce in a slapstick Action Scene as he battles Ruby, although it is played more seriously.  Lastly, we get some good progression of the Plot.  In this case, we get a few big, dramatic leaps though!  There are two possible explanations for this.  One- they just wanted it to be surprising to speed through the events.  Two- they just didn't pace things well and had to rush things.  I tend to lean towards the first possibility, given that this Season is the same number of Episodes as the last 2.  Unless they somehow were given, you know, 12 Episodes and then had them taken away.  I kind of don't believe that, but who knows for sure?  Not me- that's for sure.  This Episode was nice and dramatic, while also having a little fun.  It tended to lean more towards the former though, so it may not be as great for those here just for the Comedy.  I still liked it, which is going to make the next Review feel like, well, this...
Next time, the last Episode ever of the Show.  Does it go out in grand fashion or disappoint?  See you then...

Monday, June 11, 2018

Animondo: Detective Conan (Case Closed)

Welcome back to Animondo. After a couple reviews of shows that used detectives and mysteries as framing devices but turned out to be very different shows, I thought I'd take a look at one of anime's more mystery-focused detective shows, Detective Conan (known in the United States as Case Closed).

Detective Conan has an odd setup. High school detective Kudo Shinichi, famed around Japan for the help he regularly provides to the police solving difficult crimes, gets in over his head when he investigates a couple suspicious characters he ran into at a fair (while investigating another crime, natch) and is knocked out and poisoned for his troubles. Rather than killing him, the experimental poison turns out to rejuvenate him, taking him physically from high schooler to first grader, but leaving his mind intact.

Not knowing just what he's gotten himself into, Shinichi decides the best course of action is to disappear - as Shinichi, anyway - and thereby prevent the people who transformed him from coming after his friends and family. With the aid of his friend Professor Agasa, an inventor, he fabricates an identity for his newly youthful form - Edogawa Conan, a name taken from two of famous mystery writers (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Ranpo). Allowing his other friends to believe Shinichi has gone away to investigate a big case out of the country, he starts investigating to try figure out who it was that attacked him, and what they were trying to accomplish.

Of course, he looks like a six-year-old now, and without blowing his cover there's no real way he can investigate anything on his own...which is where Mōri Kogoro comes in. Kogoro is a less-than-competent detective who tends to miss the small details that can turn a difficult case around. All the same, he's useful - he can get work solving cases, and Conan hopes that eventually he might run into a case that gives him a clue to his attackers' identities. With Conan accompanying him and providing subtle hints, Kogoro can become a much better detective.

Making Kogoro a worthwhile detective...and a good person...is a bit of an uphill battle, though.
Together with Kogoro and his daughter Ran - Shinichi's love interest when he was older, though obviously that's on pause for the moment - Conan investigates crime after crime, seeking a connection to his own case.

It's an odd setup...but it works. Famously, Aoyama Gosho, creator of Detective Conan, believed he'd be working on the series for 3 months. It has gone on for, thus far, twenty-two years, consisting of twenty-seven seasons, and is nearing a thousand episodes (around nine hundred standard at this time, more with specials and films mixed in). There are also anime movies, video games, audio CDs, live action films, and crossover specials with other anime. At time of writing, it is the sixteenth longest-running anime series by episode count. To put it in perspective, there are more episodes of Detective Conan than there are episodes of the entire widely recognized Dragon Ball franchise - and that's including Kai - the redone Dragon Ball Z - along with the original Z.

So as you can imagine, there's no way to review the entire show in detail - instead, I'm covering the overall facts about Detective Conan.

It's worth noting as well at this point that Detective Conan is not really a show you need to watch in sequence, or watch completely, to enjoy. While there's a bit of a running plotline that sometimes gets highlighted (I'll get to that later), you can largely enjoy most episodes independently. It's an easy show to get into wherever you decide to step into it (which is good, because quite a bit of the show doesn't appear to actually be available dubbed or subtitled).

I'm getting to it, man! It takes time to cover a show this long!
Detective Conan is a strong show, no question - you kind of have to have a strong show to go as long as it has. The cases are a particular strength. I reviewed a couple shows previously - Trickster and Fantastic Detective Labyrinth - that both focused on the detective adventure rather than the detective mystery. Detective Conan definitely goes the other way. Almost every episode of the show features Conan and company delving into a case, solving a crime...and those crimes can be complex. Most cases use a classic mystery show setup - a mysterious crime, sometimes one that at first seems impossible, with a number of suspects who all have a motive and who are all only too happy to point out the motives the others have. The murder plots are creative, often utilizing strange tricks to disguise evidence, establish alibis, or hide motives, and solving the cases is never straightforward.

Each episode, Conan searches the scene for evidence, tries to figure out the flaws in witness accounts, and finds his way to the truth behind the lies. He's usually alongside Kogoro, but sometimes with others like Agasa, or a group of schoolkids that befriend Conan who call themselves the Detective Boys (in a reference to Edogawa Ranpo's stories that served as inspiration for Trickster). The focus of each episode is the case itself - the evidence, the witnesses, the facts that lead to the truth. There are some episodes of the show that go another way, with a suspense plot or a chase forming the focus, but by and large, it's about solving crimes, not preventing or avenging them.

The show is frequently - not always, but frequently - fair, too...an important thing in mystery shows and something that's quite hard to get right. You have a fair shot in many episodes of figuring out who committed the crime. I don't think it hits this right every time, and there are times that it does feel like Conan gets to see a piece of evidence the viewer doesn't, but by and large, on rewatching an episode, I've found the points where what I missed was either directly shown or at least significantly hinted towards. It feels like the show truly does its best to lay out the facts for you while its telling its story, and while it doesn't always succeed at both, it makes a good effort.

Though Conan is definitely portrayed as the smartest person in the room in this show, and tends to be more than capable of figuring out the cases by himself, his friends still provide an important support network for him and frequently give him the inspiration he needs to have a realization critical to the case. There's more of a Holmes and Watson relation here than with, say, Fantastic Detective Labyrinth, though - Conan is unquestionably the great detective, and the other characters are his sounding boards and occasional sources of unknowing inspiration.

The relationship between Conan and the other characters, though, is still a massive positive for the show. Ran and Kogoro in particular are a lot of fun, and together, Conan, Ran, and Kogoro provide a lot of the show's comedy as an odd investigative team of sorts. Ran serves as the long-suffering daughter of something of a deadbeat detective and long-suffering female friend of a high school genius who can be clueless about things outside of mystery-solving, and she's frequently the person to put things in perspective and bring order to things when they start getting too out of control. Kogoro, for his part, tends to antagonize and be antagonized by Conan, and his self-absorbed and careless nature serves as a contrast to Conan's brilliance...but at the same time, the show gradually lets him be more than he originally was, and showcase genuine bravery and the ability to, given a few prods in the right direction, truly be the detective he wants to be.

This in particular is something that really develops as the show goes on. While at the beginning, Conan is clearly the singular star of the show, later episodes let other characters - Kogoro in particular - start to pull their own weight in solving cases. It's still Conan who brings them to a close, but it's gratifying that the show is happy to let Kogoro figure out increasing amounts of a case. After experiencing a load of cases, he definitely should be getting better as a detective, so it's good the show does let him improve. In the beginning, he's written as just plain missing most things. Later on, he tends more to be written as just too quick to come to conclusions and too certain of himself - while he's still a big source of comedy and still plays second fiddle to Conan, the show treats Kogoro with much more respect later on in its run.

The actual art and animation are more variable...in part because, again, this show has been going for more than twenty years. The art style in the early episodes isn't great (in particular, Conan himself frequently doesn't seem to have a neck), and the color choices are far too dark - setting a mysterious tone, sure, but it can be hard to see at all at times. The animation feels basic in those early episodes, too, and there's a lot that just makes the show feel low-budget (in particular, the title sequences are sure a lot less polished than they end up being). But as the show goes on, the production improves a great deal. Current episodes are as polished as most other anime you'll find. The art style now is fitting and a developed form of what the show started with, and is nicely visually distinct from other anime - you can immediately recognize Detective Conan characters as opposed to those from other shows, and it really helps give the show its own identity. Similarly, the show's soundtrack improves over the years - in early episodes, the music cues can be jarring or intrusive, but later on, they blend into the episode perfectly well, and the whole package just starts to work together better.

One of the more awesome things about the show is its respect for its history. For instance, various versions of this "opening heavy doors" animation have been used to transition from the opening credits to the episode, and to and from commercial breaks, since the very beginning of the show. It's the little things.
Detective Conan is strong, but not without flaws. One of the big ones for me is gadgets...for complex reasons.

The gadgets in Detective Conan are whimsical and fun, true. A rocket-powered skateboard, a shoe that enhances kicking power, glasses with lenses that can display a map and link to tracking bugs, a bowtie that changes your voice, a watch that shoots tranquilizer darts, a belt that produces and inflates a soccer ball (because those are definitely the best thing to use to take down criminals)...all of these, and more, are used by the show...and they're all fun ideas. The problem isn't really the gadgets, the problem is what the gadgets mean.

One of Conan's few flaws, considering his brilliance as a detective, is the simple fact that he's physically six years old. He's small, weak, not taken seriously, can't get to faraway places by himself, and generally isn't a physical threat to any criminals he might encounter. To be frank, if you're going to do a plot where your main character gets turned into a kid or some other disadvantageous form, that's...kind of the reason to do it. To give a character disadvantages.

The problem is that the gadgets allow Conan to get around those disadvantages on a regular basis. With the dartgun watch, kick shoes, and soccer ball belt, he can stand up to criminals and knock them out. With the rocket-powered skateboard and the tracking glasses, he can get from place to place with ease and give chase to criminals. With the dartgun watch and the voice changing bowtie, he can appropriate Kogoro and use his voice to explain the case and get people to take him seriously.

Some of those uses are frequent, others not so much...but all do weaken the show. They take limits away from Conan and make it easier for him to solve crimes - for instance, he doesn't have to get Kogoro to actually solve the case most of the time. Conan just has to work with Kogoro until Conan has the case solved...then he can put him to sleep and speak with his voice to reveal the truth. Similarly, Conan doesn't have to find a criminal and then run and get Ran or Kogoro to help - he just inflates a soccer ball and kicks it into the guy's head hard enough that I'm not sure he should still be alive.

It's variable how bad this is. The Kogoro voice impersonation thing starts off irritating, but it actually turns into a decent part of the show in its own right - spawning the "Sleeping Kogoro" legendary detective that the show uses to great humor over its run. It takes a bit of getting used to, but honestly, once you've watched the show for a bit, you end up okay with it. It'd be nice if the show more regularly used the episodes where Conan lets Kogoro solve the case himself...but at the same time, using those less frequently makes them more special when they come up, I guess. Overall, I think I'd rather the show not use the knockout darts on Kogoro, and let him be tricked into solving cases - in part because the parts where Conan tricks him into finding a clue tend to be some of the most fun moments in the show - but I can deal with it for the sake of a good mystery show and some fun humor.

It's harder to deal with the ways the show lets Conan be a physical threat...in part because it removes a notable weakness from Conan, but in part because it is absolutely, totally unnecessary.

Conan is surrounded by martial arts experts. Ran is a karate master. Kogoro knows judo and is (variably) a good shot. Later addition Heiji, a rival high school detective, is good at kendo. And once the organization plot kicks into high gear and more people related to that get involved, there are folks from the FBI and CIA and their relatives who variously are good with weapons or martial arts. There's even some that use Jeet Kune Do. When you have multiple people on your show that use Bruce Lee's style of martial arts, they should be the focus of your fight scenes!

There are plenty of people who can take down the bad guys.

There is absolutely no need for Conan to regularly do so himself.

It's not even like these are rare characters. Some only show up once in a while, sure, but Ran and Kogoro are present almost every episode!

See, even the other kids know you should go report to an adult if you find a criminal!
To be fair to the show, this is actually not that frequent of a flaw as the show goes on. Most cases don't involve any kind of physical confrontation, taking place as they do after the crime has been committed. Sometimes one of the physical gadgets will be used to set up a case (like in one where Conan uses the soccer ball belt and kick shoes to redirect a guy's fall), but oftentimes even once that happens it's kind of forgotten afterwards (which simultaneously renders the initial act pointless and prevents it from interfering with the rest of the episode). And frequently, these days, Kogoro or Ran do get to throw or kick somebody for the brief moment of action in the episode.

It's only in the more action-heavy episodes that this rears its ugly head...but those are precisely when the various combat-capable characters should have a chance to shine, and they don't generally get much of a chance because little tiny Conan is kicking people's heads in with soccer balls.

This is most prevalent in what's ironically the show's weakest part...the shadow organization plots. I don't want to make it sound like these are bad, really. The shadow organization stuff is pretty involved and intricate, and there's an honestly interesting mystery there and a lot of good suspense plots mixed in. Some of the confrontations around it have the feel of a chess game, with Conan and his allies trying to box in one of the organization agents or get at a piece of information before they can remove it. And there's some interesting characters mixed up in it, most notably a skilled master of disguise in the organization who seems to understand at least part of Conan's secret but not share it with her allies.

But these segments tend to be where the show gets most off the rails, and goes away from the strong mysteries that it specializes in. They feel the least grounded of all the episodes, and they're the ones in which Conan's actions and abilities feel the least plausible. I don't have a problem with him having an amazing intellect and being able to guide people, necessarily...but Conan's a detective, not a covert operative, and these episodes have him working in that sphere. Again, these episodes would be an excellent chance for someone else to take the lead in planning and such, and just have Conan's insights help them realize a flaw in their plan or find a trick or something. Instead, Conan frequently seems to take the lead entirely, and even directly confront the villains, which not only feels like it's granting him more skills than he'd even have as a genius high school detective but also feels entirely at odds with his plan to work from behind the scenes so his family and friends didn't get hurt.

The Conan identity was one he set up to avoid exposure to the organization...it's kind of a problem when he actually openly talks to organization agents in that identity.

Here, Kogoro shows us the one thing Conan should never actually use to confront the evil organization he's fighting.
So...while the organization plot is the Burn Notice-esque focus of the show, the plot that is always in the background and occasionally comes to the foreground, I feel like it's by far the weakest part of the show. Not because it is actively bad...but because it stretches things far more than the rest of the tales, and that's just always going to bug me even in the midst of some honestly good suspense and intrigue.

It's also worth noting that the show's twenty-plus year run is kind of a negative with respect to this plot. I feel like Conan's progress towards solving the mystery is just far too slow. You keep seeing him get closer, only to find that progress ripped away or find he needs something else, and while it provides an effective driving force for his investigations as a result, you can't help but feel at certain points that the organization case is only still going because if it didn't, too much of the show would change.

Similarly, other things are affected the same way: Conan and Ran's relationship, for instance. Ran has about as much luck figuring out Conan's connection to Shinichi, despite being quite intelligent, as Lois Lane had figuring out Superman's secret identity for a long time. If she does figure it out, the show will drastically change...so she can't. The secret keeps being hidden, time and time again, no matter how close she gets.

Much like a lot of American comics - which I love too - there's not really much change in the story. Things tend to revert to normal after a while if there's any alterations...Steve Rogers comes back to being Captain America, Ran goes back to treating Conan as a smart little kid. Not quite the same thing, but you get the idea. We're clearly using comic book reversion to the mean here.

...and comic book sliding origin times, too, considering that twenty years later he's still six.
Now...I do have faith that both of these things will eventually change (in fact, I understand the manga version of Detective Conan may have finally revealed the boss of the organization, though I'll believe that when it sticks). Detective Conan is ultimately a show about solving mysteries, not perpetuating them. All the same, though, you can't help but feel like both of these plots, among other things, remain ongoing so long just to keep the show's storytelling engine intact - that the show's perhaps afraid of what happens if Ran finds out Conan is Shinichi, or if Conan finds the truth about the organization and takes it down. What happens then?

After twenty-odd years, maybe it's about time to find out. That's all I've got to say on that.

Overall, though, despite its flaws, Detective Conan is one of Japan's longest-enduring shows and a testament to what a strong mystery writer with some good character concepts can do. It does have problems, but it has a lasting appeal and well deserves its place as one of the longest running anime ever. If you are a fan of mystery shows, it is an easy recommendation. Recognize that there are parts of the show you may just have to put up with...but they'll be worth it for the intricate mysteries and the fun character moments that make this show great.

Dubbed or Subbed?: Subbed. It isn't an actively bad dub, but I find the dubbed version of the show kind of irritating. The voice actors work for the most part, but there's some over-exaggerated voices, and not a lot of particularly strong performances. Worse, the show is localized to the extreme, with lots of character names changed all over the place, among lots of other details. I don't mind some localization most of the time, and if there's a good reason, you can even do quite a lot of changes - I mean, one of my favorite game series is Ace Attorney, and that localizes darn near everything...but that's in part due to the fact that 90% of the names are jokes, and need to be changed up to still have humor to an English-speaking audience. But Detective Conan...is there any real reason Shinichi has to go by Jimmy? And Kogoro and Ran have to be Richard and Rachel Moore?

...I might have forgiven you guys for that one if you'd used the same spelling.

It's also noteworthy that there's quite a lot of the show that depends on things like specific character names, Japanese traditions, and a whole host of others stuff that sometimes doesn't work if the show is localized. It feels like the show has to reach to make those moments still function, and honestly, I think that the over-localization may ironically be one of the reasons the show didn't get as much attention over here as it might have.

I'm normally pretty pro-dubbing...I don't mind it at all in most cases, I think the English voice actors in many anime series are fine, and I appreciate that honestly, not everybody can read the subtitles and still get into a show - for a lot of people, that interferes with their enjoyment, and people should be able to watch a show in a way that they're able to enjoy it.

But the Case Closed dub is an exception, and if you're going to watch this show, I highly advise watching it in subtitled Detective Conan form. It's a much stronger show that way.

Lost in Translation: Roller Blade Warriors- Taken By Force

Are you ready for something great?!?

I mean, let's be honest, the Movie won't be...but the Foreign Box Art sure as hell is!
Holy crap!  I love this Poster/Box Art!

Who did this Movie again?  The guy who made the last 2 Frogtown Sequels?  The Zen Filmmaking guy?

Okay, so the Film likely sucks, but kudos to Japan for making me hyped for crap yet again!

As always...
So yeah, I did a lot to color this one up.  You're welcome.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Forgotten TV Flix: Spare Parts (1979)

At this rate, I'll be done with this Movie Set in about 5 years.  Today's Film is Spare Parts, a 1979 TV Movie that is in this Set for some reason.  The Film is most notable for, well, nothing.  Seriously, have you seen anyone talking about this Film?  I've apparently owned for years and I sure haven't.  I basically picked out a handful of Films from the Set that sounded interesting.  The big notable part for me- the Film's Lead is named Wolf Roth.  That's for you, Bob.  To find out what this Film is even about, read on...
A happy Couple is getting married.  If you ever wanted to see what '70s Hipsters looked like, this is it.
They go on their honeymoon and end up in New Mexico.  Sorry, they haven't started making Breaking Bad yet, so you can't see the house.
After a night of consummating the marriage, they run around in a field...until that Ambulance they kept showing appears again.

Two men get out and kidnap the husband, but the wife escapes.
She ends up with a kindly Truck Driver, who is surprisingly amenable to helping her.  They set up a sting operation where they let themselves be captured, only to escape.
The other truckers help him catch the fake EMT Drivers and they learn about the operation involving harvesting people for their organs!
They go undercover as EMT Drivers- since apparently the Hospital doesn't know their Employees- and get close to the operation.
Unfortunately, they get too close and the people behind it catch the Driver.  Our Heroine escapes- again.
Now with the Police, they team up with the Nurse from earlier- who is turning on the operation- and rescue the Husband and the Driver.

Since they are being pursued, the Nurse lets them out and dies protecting them.  Now with evidence, this ring is broken up.  The End.
A decent drama that is probably never going to get much attention.  TV Movies are always a bit tricky, since they are never treated the same way that Films are.  At the same time, they also aren't treated like TV Shows.  As such, Films like Splash Too, Look What Happened to Rosemary's Baby or Cardiac Arrest just kind of exist in a limbo.  One is on YouTube, the other is two (but I actually watched that one) and I got the third on DVD.  Speaking of Arrest, the Film also featured EMT Drivers that were stealing/harvesting organs- weird.  The Movie is actually pretty good, but obviously the 'Grindhouse' print is pretty grimy here.  It's not like every Film is good in 4K Ultra HD, but they are at least more easy to watch for my eyes!  It was nice to see the Story focus on the wife, when it could have easily gone another way (i.e. Breakdown).  She still spends most of the Film crying, running away and in peril, but, you know, baby steps.  All in all, it was surprisingly-good.  The Plot makes some sudden and random jumps, but it still worked for me.  Here's a weird thing to leave you on.  As the Film closes, it suddenly flashes a *different* Title Card (which IMDB lists as the real Title)!  I'm so confused!
Next time, more randomness.  I do have a Film with a similar Title though, so maybe that.  Stay tuned...