Naika Reviews “Darkstalkers: OVA Collection”


With Halloween around the corner, it’s time once again to chat about something spooky, and this time we’re going to go the Anime route.  Discotek’s release of the Darkstalkers OVA Collection has been bugging me for a month or so and I’ve finally snatched it.  Now back in the day, I was only able to see episodes 1 & 2, but the circle is now complete.  I finally viewed episodes 3 & 4 and I have to say that I’m surprised.  Now, when I say ‘surprised’, I can mean a LOT of things.  The word is generally used in a fairly positive connotation, but once again, I’m dancing around a bit.  The last time I viewed this OVA was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, so I’m a bit older now but not that much wiser.  Therefore, when I say ‘surprised’, I mean that despite the lovely direction, animation, colors and backgrounds, Darkstalkers has surprising amounts of existential angst that make me a bit disappointed.  First however, let’s talk about the positives.

The animation is gorgeous here for Darkstalkers.  The colors pop out vibrantly and Discotek’s work in remastering all four episodes is amazing.  Felicia’s hair is as blue as can be and Morrigan???  Oh mah gawd!  Furthermore, the animation does not suffer as much as I thought it would aside from a few combat scenes featuring Phobos.  The first OVA shows off its animation studs the most since there’s a great deal of fighting and lurid movement from our characters, in particular Morrigan, Phobos, Felicia and Demitri.  There’s also amazing effects used for flashes, projectiles and explosions, making the fight scenes arcade SFX extravaganzas.  This awesome emphasis in movement slowly dissipates however, and it’s most obvious in episode 3.  Shuko Murase’s character designs are extremely fitting for this OVA, where simple faces and muscular structure is highly emphasized.  Moreover, the side and background characters are drawn with great care and realism.  Lastly, the overall art direction for these OVA episodes illustrate a very  interesting world where steam engines, medieval European villages, dynastic cities and televisions all exist in the same time.  All in all, Darkstalkers is visual OVA gold.

Where this set suffers from is a case of imbalance when it comes to its plot.  If we focus on the OVA’s Japanese name (Vampire Hunter: The Animated Series), we can probably assume that Donovan is the main character, but the very first episode doesn’t do a great job in establishing that.  Episode 1’s job is to paint the world that our Darkstalkers inhabit via three main plot threads:  1) Demitri and Morrigan’s ancestral feud over dominion of the Demon World. 2) Lei Lei and Lin Lin’s quest to save their mother’s soul and 3) Donovan’s journey with Anita while he comes to grips with his half -demon heritage.  Sprinkled in between are bits and pieces with Felicia and other characters like Zabel and Garron.  Lei Lei’s quest gets massive emphasis in episode 3, and while interesting, it derails the original thrust of the first 2 episodes and demonstrates that our heroes have feelings, but nobody cares about that for a gaming anime.  Furthermore, Donovan’s characterization is rocked by sudden emo spasms which he did NOT exhibit AT ALL in episode 1.  Donovan is introduced as the strong / stoic type who shows off his badassitude in episode 1. Although he does share his vulnerabilities to Bishamon in episode 2, he doesn’t allow his self-hatred to cripple him in the way it does in episode 4.

Donovan’s angst to me is what really brings Darkstalkers down.  It’s not that he shouldn’t have any, but it would have been better to present this early on in episode 1 so that he can overcome his issues throughout the series rather than having it be front-and-center for the very last episode.  Him overcoming this with a very tragic memory of his past is moving, but it just seems to make things inconsistent and unravels the conviction and self-awareness he portrayed in episode 1.  If story elements were reshuffled a bit with better balance between numerous characters, I’m sure Darkstalkers would’ve been a knockout.  Part of me feels as though 6 episodes would’ve worked better, but who knows what the budget for this was.

Visually, Darkstalkers is excellent.  However, it’s not consistent enough to deliver the excitement throughout 4 OVA episodes.  Furthermore, I expected a lot more combat animation from an arcade fighting game adaptation, but instead I got lots of emotional and existential moping.  To put it another way, too much focus was placed on well animated speech than on well animated action.  The last crisis / battle with Pyron saves things a bit, but even then we are not spared because once Donovan sheds his emo moment, he destroys Pyron with only ONE MOVE!  ONE MOVE!  HOW??????  Sure, the action that DOES happen in Darkstalkers is excellent stuff, but for a last battle like that, it was a total letdown.  I once said in my review of Urban Square that the OVA era of the 80s and 90s was great because it was no nonsense when it came to crazy action over long periods of time.  Maybe the source material made it a challenge, but for an awesome fighting game I was expecting a whole lot more.   In many ways, you have to think of the Darkstalkers OVA Collection like trick-or-treat candy.  The fun of it all is finally getting those goodies in your bag, but by the time you’ve finished eating you’re left with an upset stomach, aching teeth and adolescent, self-hating angst as you ask yourself “Why the hell did I eat so much?”



I kid you not. This is a gym around where I used to work in Tampa. Can you guess what kind of gym it is?

When you watch a film like Zack Snyder’s 300, there’s so much in it that appeals to us in a primitive sense.  There’s this sense that you, the hero (or in this case, Sparta) and his or her way of life is threatened by foreign hordes.  There’s also this inherent love of muscle and military might that borders on the fanatical.  Lastly, there’s this inherent feeling of righteousness in smiting the ‘other’, which is exemplified in the film’s last words from Dillios:

The enemy outnumber us a paltry three to one, good odds for any Greek. This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.

I remember how twisted my feelings got when I heard those last words in the theater.  Sure I had fun, but I seriously never knew that in the years to come, that “world [of] mysticism and tyranny” meant me…meant us.

That was 2006.  10 years ago.  It’s 2016 now, and those ideas and feelings from something as inconsequential as a Zack Snyder film are all around us in plain view.  I won’t assume that these ideas are anything new, but to have them put in front of me in such an appalling manner is terrifying.  It’s as if the subtle white identity politics that were skimming around the surface of 300’s pot have now come to boil, ravaging everything out of fear.  This is especially so for women, African-Americans, and immigrants.  No one embodies this kind of ‘Sparta’ bravado more than the Trump.  This year alone, I cannot tell you how strange it feels to wake up every morning to hear a new controversy from Donald Trump’s mouth.  How in the fuck he rose up this high continues to anger me, but I’m sure as hell convinced that whatever chances he did take to get this far, he grabbed them hard by the p*ssy.  Literally.

I’m not trying to make myself a saint, a stalwart of liberal values or even a righteous person because I’m not.  I personally think myself to be a bad human being who reminds himself every day that I am bad or awful in order to help other human beings get through their day.  However, there are many human beings that won’t see things that way.  Many will see their irredeemable qualities as values for success, and for me, that fuels these folks to do hideous and heinous things (right Wells Fargo?).  Trump’s humdinger musings to kiss and fuck anything with two legs is only but an example of this.  Yes I know, it’s talk that you have with other guy friends and all, but seriously Donald, keep that horrible shit to yourself.  Is it any wonder why women hate the misogyny of men?  Is it any wonder why women decry the boys club antics that we all exhibit in any sort of industry or institution?

And if women are to be strewn around as objects, OUR objects, then we obviously don’t give a damn about who we can the OTHERS.  America’s issues with the reckless endangerment, killing and mass incarceration of African-Americans have been too easy to ignore 30 some years ago.  The nation is obviously too scared to admit it’s insecurities about these issues, but if we seriously want to show that we give a damn about the kinds of Americans that have helped defined our way of life without any of the praise or applause that white folks of the same talent or credentials seem to get, then we seriously SERIOUSLY need to stop saying stupid shit like ‘all lives matter.’  How the fuck can Black people STILL be considered the ‘other’ when they’ve done so much for this country?

Black men unfortunately get the worst of these retaliatory ills that plague the U.S.  Although the rest of us ‘OTHERS’ do not experience these consequences to these degrees, many of us in immigrant enclaves experience something else that’s a bit more subtle and all too familiar.


Racist piece of chickenshit Jesse Watters doing stuff for racist chickenshit Bill O’Reilly.

The Watters segment on Bill O’Reilly earlier this month is an utter piece of shit that reminds us how deplorable the news business can be when it wants to be.  I’m still trying to get over my anger over the reviews related to Birth of the Dragon and now this shit rolls it’s ugly ass face over me.  Seriously man.  What. The. Fuck.  The backlash from the segment was massive, with many calling it a mocking, anti-Asian slap in the face that Jenn Fang from ReAppropriate considers to be “among the most flamboyantly unapologetic anti-Asian segments I’ve seen to receive cable news airtime in the last several years.”  So when Ronny Chieng of the Daily Show heard about this, he made sure he had something to fucking say about it.

If the Spartans are pointing their gladius’ at the hordes of gooks, beaners, curry-eaters and coons ready to take their livelihoods, they should look around them and realize that no one is trying to change their way of life.  We are not forcing you to acknowledge tyranny, sharia and occult mysticism over individuality.  We are not the savage huns, the fearsome ‘dark continent’ that you Kipling buffs seeks to ‘civilize’ or the raping hordes of Imperial Japan.  We just want you to acknowledge your faults so that we can all work on fixing them.  We are simply people who are here and we want to make things better for everyone, including the folks that hate us.

And why not?

It was my idea that being a conservative means that you want to conserve your way of life.  However, as history has always taught us, it means doing so at a heavy cost.  In many cases, that cost is the dignity, love, monogamy and lives of ‘others’.  At this point in time, being a conservative seems to be about being a dick to everyone without any reprieve or remorse about it.  If you disagree, then please tell me.  Tell me again if the free market will fix short term thinking.  Tell me again how much you want Chinese money while saying so much awful shit about them (including Chinese Americans).  Tell me again how you’ll keep refugees out to preserve the sanctity of our nation without shedding a fucking tear for little kids covered in blood.  Oh and while you’re at it, tell me again about how ‘all lives matter,’ because it’s 2016, and for the 32 years that I’ve spent living in this country, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.

And to that, I say ‘Fuck Sparta!’

Arsenal vs. Chelsea: EPL (9/24/2016)

Arsenal v Chelsea - Premier League

The last time I saw Arsenal whoop Chelsea was in 2011 during the RVP days.  The last few times, it’s been Diego Costa getting away with being a complete jerk without any penalty.  The last few times, it’s been too many goals against us and not enough against them.  The last few times, it was Mourinho being a dick wad.  Specialist in failure anyone?

So believe me, I was ecstatic when I saw LoLo bully Costa to the ground with the 40 year old caveman whining to the ref.  I was thrilled to see Hector go ballistic to beat Pedro’s counterattack.  And our midfield?  With Ozil, Iwobi and the rest of the gang in full sync, everything was smooth as silk.  Iwobi in particular was getting into great positions, laying out passes, linking up play and penetrating Chel$ki’s defence.  But the cream of the crop?  Those three beautiful goals.  How good was that to see?

20 years ago, Wenger became manager of Arsenal and continues to steady ship despite getting abuse from commentators and asshole Gooners.  The Gooners that do love him will not only enjoy this win, but will love how timely it is.  Let’s hope we can churn out more of these performances in the near future, especially against the smaller teams.  It’s only just one game, but let’s savor it now and look forward to the next one.

Naika Reviews “Five Element Ninjas”


Thanks to Netflix I’ve been indulging in a slew of Shaw Brothers films, including Chang Cheh’s legendary 1982 film Five Element Ninjas. Full of blood, guts and kung-fu shapes glory, this Venoms mob classic has it all. Many a Shaw Brothers fan can attest that this may be the best from the gang that dominated fight choreography in the famed studio’s heyday, and honest to God, it might be the truth.

The premise of the film is pretty simple, but gets much more complicated (or convoluted) once the ninja baddies are introduced. It all starts when two associations duke it out, mano a mano, to see who’s the best in Wulin.  Our heroes, the laid back Tian Hao and the righteous Zhi Sheng (played by the amazing Lo Meng), belong to the white robed Martial Arts Alliance led by Sifu Yuan Zeng. Over on the other corner, the treacherous Chief Hong commands the rival association. One by one, Yuan Zeng’s pupils beat the tar out of Hong’s men in fair play…that is, until he brings in a Japanese swordsman. The ronin is the best out of Hong’s bunch and even dupes one of Yuan Zeng’s pupils into Seppuku. Distressed, Zhi Sheng decides to take him on bare-handed in a marvelous fight scene and wins. Tian Hao taunts the ronin into Seppuku and he duly obliges, but not before warning Yuan Zeng about the ninja who will avenge him in due time.

Soon after, Yuan Zeng’s pupils are given a challenge letter from Cheng Yun Mudou (portrayed by Chan Wai Man), leader of the Five Element Ninjas. Realizing that Chief Hong’s challenge was a ruse to bring the Ninjas to China in order to usurp his position, Sifu Yuan urges caution among his students. However, his words prove futile as each group of elements, Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth, dispatches our heroes in an unrelenting storm of bloody mayhem.   As a result, Tian Hao and Zhi Sheng become the only senior pupils left to protect Sifu Yuan from Chief Hong’s machinations.  This culminates in Cheng Yun Mudou sending out Senji, his kunoichi, to pose as a damsel in need of support.  Zhi Sheng falls for the ruse hook, line and sinker as she builds trust with him, while Tian Hao remains ambivalent to her presence.  What our heroes don’t know is that Senji is using her time behind the scenes to map out the Sifu’s lair.  By the time they do realize this, it’s too late and EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL.  Senji betrays Zhi Sheng, ninjas massacre the school, we learn kinky ways to tie people up and find out how hilarious asphyxiation can be.  With all this carnage happening in the middle of the film, how the hell can our heroes get revenge against those dastardly ninjas?


Five Element Ninjas is a jaw-dropping triumph in execution (pun intended).  Chang’s camera work is top notch as he captures the action at a relentless pace, where hits, parries and blocks pepper the screen with long lasting frames and very little cutting.  Furthermore, each fight on display is of the highest quality, featuring Chang Cheh’s love of weapons, blood and sets.   Speaking of sets, the Ninjas’ use of the environment in the film may seem comical at first, but it comes together like nothing else, especially with the Wood Ninjas in the forest.  In terms of stunts, all the actors on display show so much prowess and skill that it’s almost baffling.  During my first view of the film, my jaw was literally hanging out, especially during the relentlessness of the first half.

If there’s any downside to Five Element Ninjas, it’s that the pacing is quite uneven, with Senji’s infiltration being the most obvious example.  When Senji’s not scribbling the layout of the lair to the Ninja horde, she’s out there doing chores or being doe-eyed with Zhi Sheng.  Also, Tian Hao is a gigantic jerk to her.  Now it might seem that he’s justified for acting like this in the second half, but Chang Cheh throws something in that does give you a little food for thought later on (no spoilers).  Overall, Senji’s infiltration is a very slow-moving arc in the film that deflates it somewhat, but I have the feeling that it’s intentional since it helps to make the Ninja invasion all the more jarring and visceral.  It does get a little slow in the beginning of the second half due to lots of training scenes, but it’s a necessary set up for the final epic showdown which does not disappoint.  Filled with dynamic fights, epic bloodshed and enough ninjas to give you seizures, Five Element Ninjas is another Shaw Brothers classic from Chang Cheh that not only lives up to it’s reputation, but does so with gut-trampling panache.

Gennaro Contaldo Rocks!


Labor Day weekend was awesome.  I ate like a pig, almost got stung by a bee and got to stroll thru more of my surroundings here in the D.C. / VA area.  The GF’s idea of making dumplings was rad indeed on Sunday and we’ll  have food for quite a bit now.  One of the other culinary highlights for me was that we teamed up to make a dish that I’ve longed to make: Ragu.  Not your store bought brand of Ragu pasta sauce but the Ragu where you slow cook meat in a tomato-ish wine sauce.  Now who in the world told me it was a good idea to make something that would’ve been fixed by a jar?  I’ll tell you who.  Gennaro Contaldo.

The name might not strike a bell here in the States, but in the UK, he has a bit of a name for himself.  The most famous thing connected to Gennaro that we Americans may know of is his protege Jamie Oliver.  With the Food Network’s waning power on Cable TV, Jamie and his gang of cooks have hit the jackpot in the streaming world via Food Tube (which is conveniently on YouTube), and Gennaro is one of Jamie’s many associates dabbling out his foodcraft on the interwebs.  Sure, it may seem trite that Mr. Contaldo hustles only in pasta, but that would be a lazy generalization.  Thanks to him, my own preconceptions of Italian food have taken a hike.  The GF has already made butternut squash pasta twice and below is my Ragu concoction with tagliatelle.


If you’re on the fence about Gennaro, believe me, I can relate.  However, his bravado and knowledge is infectious and I would definitely encourage you guys to watch, learn and cook.  He’s also got a TON of catchphrases, including his bombastic “WHY I’M COOKING SO GOOD!!!???”  Gennaro’s videos all happen in 3 general locations, his own kitchen, in Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant  and in his hometown, the Amalfi Coast.  Below are some of my favorites, including his Ragu recipe.  I hope you all will give his show and books a chance.  Now watch, learn, cook and enjoy!

Naika Reviews “Urban Square: Kouhaku no Tsuigeki”

urban square ryou

“Th’ fuck am I doing in this O-V-AAAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!???”

There was a time in the 80s when the OVA (Original Video Animation) was king.  It provided the chance for both animation directors and studios to experiment with whatever the hell they wanted.  Some were one-shots, while others were probably cash-grabs.  Many have gained a cult following, where one in particular has become one of the most beloved of all time, but that’s not the kind of OVA I’m here to talk about today.  The OVA I’m here to discuss is not a high brow masterpiece.  It is not based on a popular manga.  Hell, it’s not even all that original.  Nevertheless, this particular OVA excels in execution, color, action and the kind of fuck-this attitude that illustrates why this decade of anime is so beloved by fandom the world over.  Now sit back, take a deep breath, put on your favorite jazz record and light it up as we shoot the breeze over Akira Nishimori’s Urban Square.

Ryou Matsumoto is just a down-on-his-luck screenwriter.  He’s young, single and not really all that wise in the business.  Nothing he writes gets greenlit, and tonight is just one of those nights all over again. He’s frustrated, so he does what other pissed-off screenwriters do when nothing seems to work: He shacks up in the bar and decides to get smashed.  Fucker doesn’t even finish his whiskey and guess who walks in?  Yep, you guessed it, that piece of ass who he’s going to chase throughout the entire fucking movie.

urban square tamura

“Ooooh mama look at her drive that stick shift. Keep this shit up and she’ll brrrrr-eak it!”

However, that goes by the wayside for a bit because before he knows it, he’s being chased by Roy friggin’ Batty for witnessing a murder.  What Ryou soon realizes is that he becomes embroiled in an antiques smuggling operation that’s willing to off him and whoever else stands in the way.  Add the hard-boiled Detective Mochizuki in the mix and you got yourself a certified red-meat action thriller in OVA format.  Oh, and did I mention that during all this craziness, Ryou still had the fucking temerity to hit some ass?  Oh I did?  Well he does, and she’s an utter badass!

Our female lead is Yuki Tamura and she’s no damsel-in-distress.  Instead, she’s a whip-smart grad student who finds out her grad mentor is in cahoots with the smugglers.  Telling you why her boss is involved is too hard for me to do right now ‘cuz I’m lazy, but let’s just say her troubles, coupled with Ryou’s, helps to bring them together.  However, no one really takes their life-death issues seriously except for the aforementioned Mochizuki since he’s the wise-ass that pisses off EVERYONE on the force.  He knows something’s up and goes through life and limb to help our two lovebirds out.  He carries guns, guns and big guns and all he does is either smoke his cigs or smokes the bad guys.  Nobody fucks with Mochizuki!

urban square mochizuki

“Lemme show you how impractical actual policing really is by blowing your fucking brains out without any due process!!!”

Urban Square is so full of 80s goodness that it hurts.  From the awesome Jazz fusion score by Hidefumi Toki and his band Chicken Shack to the great use of colors which bring us all back to a ‘much simpler time.’  Hell, there’s even a Bruce Lee send off where Ryou has to fight a superbly animated henchman with all the moves from the Little Dragon himself.  Mochizuki is more or less a Dirty Harry send off and Yuki’s awesome car chase scene is a welcome nod to any great stunt set-piece you’ve seen 30+ years ago.  Furthermore, Ryou himself mirrors the kind of spunky protagonist that you’d find in movies like Fright Night or The Monster Squad, where he’s waaaaay in over his head yet refuses to back down, even at the cost of his life.  In this day and age, you’d be hard pressed to find great one-shots like Urban Square, but for any hard-boiled 80s anime geek, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.  OVAs like this are a reminder that anime wasn’t always so thought-provoking, but was likely to be a big, dumb and pulpy enterprise that was ready to flip you the bird without any hesitation.  And you know what?  That’s quite alright.  Now stop reading this shit and go watch it.