Some Short Words on Netflix’s “Castlevania”

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So yes, Castlevania on Netflix is neat!  It’s already great to see a legendary game franchise finally getting the animated treatment, but even better, it’s amazing to see said franchise get a WELL WRITTEN adaptation in this format.  My first sight of the trailer made it appear as though Castelvania 3: Dracula’s Curse would be the focus and right we were.  We got Trevor Belmont, Alucard, Sypha and lots and LOTS of exposition into Symphony of the Night territory with both Lisa Tepes and Count Dracula.  All in all, Castlevania is worth a watch and below are my quick thoughts on what’s good, bad and ugly about this new show.

The Good – The Look, Story & Sound:  First off, let’s start with the best thing about the show, and that’s the script.  Utilizing Castlevania 3 and Symphony of the Night as starting points, Warren Ellis and the gang do an excellent job of fleshing out the backstory of Vlad Tepes, his time in Wallachia and yes, how he meets Lisa.  Furthermore, the show goes to great lengths in depicting how HORRIBLE the Church is to EVERYONE, and that maybe, just maybe, Dracula’s bloody reign across the land is ample punishment against an institution that’s as evil (or more) than him.  Lastly, I think a good word needs to be said about how well thought out the characters of Trevor, Sypha and Alucard are.  Sypha especially gets the Golden Treatment here as a benevolent ass-kicker with magical know-how.  Trevor is great as the drunk exile who’s seeking a purpose in life amidst the madness ravaging the land and Alucard….well, we don’t know that much about him, but here’s hoping that Season 2 will do more in that regard.

Speaking of our three heroes, we need to give Sam Deats and his team a round of applause with the Ayami Kojima-inspired character designs.  Everyone not only looks great, but they’re damn true to form for an animated video game adaptation, especially in regards to Trevor and Sypha.  However, we can’t applaud this show without talking about the action.  Let me be clear and say that the action can be sparse at times, but when it shows up, it’s awesome.  This is best exemplified in the well-animated battle between Trevor and Alucard, which has a languid fluidity that’s got the trappings of Spike Spiegel’s first fight scene in Cowboy Bebop’s Asteroid Blues.  And finally, let’s not forget that Castlevania has some top-notch voice acting.  When it comes to Bishops, drunks and even Count Dracula himself, rest assured that we’ve got some damn fine storytelling behind the mic.  So all in all, when it comes to the Look, Feel & Sound of Castlevania, I think we’re all golden.

The Bad – No Grant, Sparse Combat and Power-Ups:  Mad props to Warren Ellis for his work on this show and all, but one gripe I have with him is that we’re without the presence of the climbing pirate known as Grant, where he feels that he didn’t fit with the overall timeline of the show (and that his name was ‘stupid’).  Not the end of the world mind you, but it’s pretty damn unfortunate because if we were able to see Ellis do some nice work in fleshing out the Speakers and the Belmonts, then I’m sure we could’ve repackaged Grant as a thief or bandit with a heart of gold.  Also, the man vs. monster action was SPARSE! (I think I said that already)  For a show that’s adapting one of the most illustrious chapters of the Castlevania franchise, I was hoping for more vampire whipping and less choir-boy busting, but that’s just me being picky.   Lastly, I really didn’t see enough of the fun elements that made the games so enjoyable, i.e. the POWER-UPS.  Now we DID see holy water being used during that great fight between the townsfolk and the monsters (led by our inebriated Vampire Slayer), but what about the axe and the boomerang?  Hell, what about using the whip to even greater effect?  You know, the mainstay weapon of the franchise?  These criticisms aren’t deal-breakers mind you, but we’re making Castlevania folks, so let’s remember that adding the words ‘camp’ and ‘video game’ aren’t entirely ‘bad’ things here.

The Ugly – The Blah Blah Blah:  If there’s any element about Netflix’s Castlevania that deserves to be in the ‘ugly’ category, then it’s the pacing.  You know why?  Because it’s ALL OVER THE PLACE!  Scenes where drunks make gossip may seem necessary for exposition but they inadvertently drag episodes, which make the long stretches of the show a slog instead of a series of eye-catching reveals.  Even Dracula’s ‘walk’ to his burnt home before he goes AWOL is paced so poorly that it makes him look awkward and STUPID which, for that instance at least, undermines how much of a villain he’s supposed to be.  Seriously, how is Dracula and the word ‘inaction’ even in the same damn sentence!?

I think we all understand that animation is an expensive endeavor, and although it’s not uncommon to create still scenes with heavy voice work as filler, the Castlevania team could’ve used their resources to visually convey these expositions without having to slowly pan across landscapes while yapping our brains to mush.  Aside from the ‘sleeping soldier’ tale, Castlevania not only needs to work on how it paces itself via exposition, it simply needs to inject more mythos into its myths.  It needs more mystery.  It needs more spooky.  It needs more creepy that’s paced RIGHT!

Overall, Netflix’s Castlevania is worth the watch.  Despite it’s brief run time and strange, groggy pacing, the show does wonders in adding new nuances to the Castlevania 3 storyline.  Furthermore, it’s got great character designs, well-animated fights (when they DO show up), a slick script and a boat-load of voice talent to back it all up.  So yeah, check the show out and cross your fingers for a much-improved Season 2.

Naika Reviews “Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie” on Blu-Ray

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The arcades were a thing of beauty.  Every weekend trip with either my Mom or my Dad to one was filled with awe as we geared up to play a plethora of pixelated punchfests.  I remember how amazing it was to see Samurai Showdown for the first time on a big red Neo Geo MVS cabinet at Dennis, The Place for Games in Chicago.  I remember my Dad taking me to a suburban arcade after his basketball meetups in Addison, Illinois to mash bad guys on Konami’s X-Men or The Simpsons.  I’ll never forget my Friday trips to Fun Zone by Lane Tech High School, where all I really did there was play the shit out of King of Fighters ’96.  However, the allure of Street Fighter 2 was one of a kind, and you’d be a fool to walk by that awesome cabinet without dropping in a quarter to play.  Street Fighter 2 mania was real folks and it was fantastic.  I can attest to this, because I was there.  I experienced it.  I read it.  I lived it.  I breathed it.  It was a worldwide phenomenon and when it got animated, it was a dream come true.

Street Fighter 2 has obviously gone through multiple iterations, but Super Street Fighter 2 – The New Challengers was glorious to me on so many fronts.  First off, we got four new characters with four amazing stages.  Secondly, new moves were also added to the old roster with even better animations.  This followed with more color schemes for characters and we even had a kick-ass home version for the SNES.  However, the glory exploded into full-on awesome sauce when the world was finally given an anime film based on the Street Fighter 2 story.  None of us could believe it, but we flipped out and had to have it on VHS.  Some of us were obviously disappointed with the Van Damme SF2 film (which, in hindsight, wasn’t all that bad), and this, to my eyes at least, was going to be the film that would get the real story right.   We all knew that this would not only look awesome, but that it would have that feel of Street Fighter while bringing us back to the story of Ryu and Ken.  However, is this anime film worth your time?

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Naika Reviews “Darkstalkers: OVA Collection”

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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.

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Naika Reviews “Urban Square: Kouhaku no Tsuigeki”

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“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.

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Naika Reviews “Black Jack OVA” (1992-2000)

 

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Osamu Tezuka’s macabre medical man gets a well-deserved OVA series thanks to the greatness of his former protege Osamu Dezaki (God rest his soul), a masterful director with a knack for grit, noir and dramatic freeze frames.  Space Cobra, Rose of Versailles and Ashita no Joe are only but a sampling of what Dezaki has helmed, so it’s no surprise that he would be the right man to bring to life the dark and strange world that would surround our titular hero, the unlicensed surgical genius known as Black Jack.

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The 5 Things You Gotta LOVE about Yoshiaki Kawajiri

lensman_hKawajiri-san was, and is, many things.  He was (and continues to be) a storyboard artist and a damn fine animator to say the least.  He apparently likes hard-boiled science fiction.  He seems to like the color blue in lots of his earlier work.  He digs gory violence.  He also digs a nice dose of boobage.  Overall, there’s a whole lot to love about Yoshiaki Kawajiri and his contributions to anime at large, from his founding of Madhouse with other Mushi Pro veterans like Rintaro to the creation of acclaimed anime hits like the ubiquitous Ninja Scroll and Lensman.  As this blogger gathers y’all around his comical campfire, let’s sit down and, more importantly, break it down about why we all love Yoshiaki Kawajiri!

936full-wicked-city-screenshot1)  Madhouse’s Visual Appeal:  Kawajiri’s work with Madhouse is nothing short of fantastic.  The question however is in what way?  Does Kawajiri’s body of work exude a subtle critique of life and society in his storytelling?  Does he ooze oodles and oodles of character development for us to swallow up?  Is his selected soundtrack akin to Joe Hisaishi’s work with Studio Ghibli?  Well, to answer all of that:  No, no and HELL NO!!  Kawajiri’s not about any of that stuff AT ALL (at least to me).  He’s not here to tug at your heart strings nor is he here to stir your mind’s eye about the platitudes of life.  In many ways, it’s all visual to us, and Kawajiri does that in the best way, thanks to all the hard working folks at his preferred studio, Madhouse.  His direction and knack for fluid animation showcases that he’s here to please with lots of action, but trust us, it’s not the choppy Toei kind of action you find on TV.  With his body of work in OVAs and films, Kawajiri is out to give you eye-sex in the best possible way.  Look how fluid Taki’s movement is in Wicked City, or how well the camera pans in and out in Demon City Shinjuku.  What about his liberal use of blue to illustrate for us the ruins of Shinjuku, or the nightscapes of a futuristic Tokyo overrun with cybernetic criminals?  Have you seen how massive and menacing Genma is in Ninja Scroll, or the ferocity of the demons you’d find in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust?  If you have, then it’s easy to see why many of the Kawajiri faithful flock to his work like crackheads to…err, crack.  Fluid, fast, full-bodied and sumptuous, Kawajiri’s visual appeal is at the heart of what makes him and Madhouse a beast to reckon with.

2. The Kick-ass Musical Vibe:  For the many otaku that will moan about Kawajiri’s lack of music choices, I would probably tell you to stuff it.  That 80s-90s vibe that seems to never go away from OVAs yet still seems to help paint an even livelier picture on your screen is all green for me!  Cyber City OEDO seems to be the easy candidate for me to name since it features all kinds of synth like sounds that seem straight out of the 80s, but works damn well in a 90s OVA.  Wicked City’s soundtrack paints eerie images all around us as we see agents from the Black World wreck havoc in ours, while Ninja Scroll takes a predictable yet commendable approach to jidai-geki horn scores as the Devils of Kimon roam across the rain towards Shimoda village.  It’s not Hisaishi, and it certainly doesn’t have to be.  Kawajiri’s music is fitting, if not appealing, for the kind of animation he cranks out time and time again.

goku midnight eye3. Action Action Action!!!:  It’s not hard for us to say that us guys like our meat and potatoes, but when Kawajiri dishes ’em out, he does so with four gallons of bullets and thirty buckets of blood!  Action has always been the name of his game, and he deals them in spades here folks.  You either see laser guns blazing, missiles flying, swords or other weapons being hurled around to tear humans apart, and it all works!  His knack for capturing anything that moves fast with a flesh rendering impact at the end of it is simply spellbinding.  Maybe he’s watched one too many American action movies, but whatever the hell he was watching, him and Madhouse got all that action down PAT .  In addition, he toys with different themes of action too!  Demon City Shinjuku and Ninja Scroll root themselves in Japanese style sword-swinging action, with the latter being much more fast paced.  Wicked City, Midnight Eye Goku and Cyber City OEDO gives us gritty, brooding, silver-plated cyber mayhem (all of his cybernetic implements are very shiny and awesome).  Lensman is just, well, the sci-fi stuff but with a LOT more gunwork and running.  LOTS of RUNNING!!  Overall, whether it’s sci-fi gunfights or a swordsman ripping through Toyotomi ninjas, Kawajiri is simply a MAN of ACTION, and it shows!

demon-city-shinjuku-26984. Everything has a “tinge” of the Supernatural:  In Kawajiri’s world, nothing is really what it seems.  From a towering ninja with stone skin to a lingerie-clad beauty with shark’s teeth in her vagina, Kawajiri never EVER settles for the ordinary  Maybe it’s all the Hideyuki Kikuchi books he’s been reading all the time on the toilet, or maybe he got his butt reamed by a Buichi Terasawa-esque woman who resembles a motorcycle, but whatever he gets off on, it somehow splatters onto your screen in such an outlandish way that you’re BOUND to remember it.  The sheer fantasy and ferocity of his villains, like the Eight Devils of Kimon, or the various creatures that populate Wicked City and Demon City Shinjuku are evidence of this as well, which helps to draw out inevitable yet epic encounters with our would-be heroes towards the end.  Nothing is ever ordinary with Kawajiri’s work, and that’s even a given for his seemingly standard looking heroes, but if it was, would it still be just as cool?  I think NOT!

ninja scroll poster5. It’s for “MATURE AUDIENCES”:  It’s probably the one thing that sticks out about his work that few of us would ever openly claim, but it’s very VERY clear that Kawajiri-san has meant his work to be of a mature nature.  His depiction of violence and the ferocity of it may be one thing, but the nudity and the sex?  Oh yeah, it ain’t for your average 5 year old.  Wicked City depicts sex unabashedly, either as a weapon or as a way for our protagonists to communicate their love to each other.  Ninja Scroll illustrates Kagero’s despair as a woman, and her subtle liberation in Jubei’s arms.  Midnight Eye Goku has got naked babes with motorcycle parts on them or peacock tails glued to their asses.  Even Kawajri’s latest romp Highlander: The Search for Vengeance has a wee bit of it.  It ain’t gonna be kids anime from Kawajiri-san and for all of us involved, that’s why we come by.  It’s adults only.  Kiddie otaku fans need not apply.

So there you have it, the 5 Reason why we ALL LOVE Yoshiaki Kawajiri.  He’s got a nice body of work that’s not only action-packed and visually appealing, but it’s a body of work full of superhuman muscle flexing, ferocious violence and horror, kicking music and an ‘adults only’ flavor that only the meat-eating, scum-loving anime faithful like myself would ever dig.  Now stop reading this and go watch some of his stuff today!!

Naika’s Back to Da VIDEOOOOOOOS!!!

It’s been close to six friggin’ months since I made an AMV (Anime Music Video to some of y’all), and, although it’s not the best I’ve made, I think it’s a nice addition to the Naika channel thusfar.  No, it’s nothing related to City Hunter, but it is Gundam related, Char’s Counterattack to be precise.  So, to all of you who are new to the YouTube channel or haven’t seen it yet, please check out the new AMV from yours truly.  As always, please watch, comment, like, share, and most of all, ENJOY!!