Case Study 72: Zoids: Chaotic Century, Episode 10–“The Mountain of Dreams”

Original Airdate: June 11th, 1999 on Tokyo Broadcasting System

It’s been almost a month! I took a break for the holidays, but I’ll tell you upfront that Zoids was terrible and the sooner I never have to think about it again the happier I’ll be. Nevertheless, I’ve been avoiding writing about it. You’ll soon understand why. The only fun thing about Zoids is saying the word “zoids.” I’ll now take a few questions from the audience.

Q: Wait, what? What is a zoid? Or zoids? I don’t even know whether or not I should be using the singular here.

A: Zoids got their start as model-kits that allow you to build plastic models of fearsome robots. They generally take the shape of quadruped animals.

Q: And this is a show of some kind?

A: Boy, is it ever! In fact, Chaotic Century is only the first installment. There are THREE OTHER SHOWS!

Q: So this is yet another media empire solely designed to give the appearance of depth to shiny toys, in the vein of Transformers, G.I. Joe, Lego Star Wars, or Max Steel?

A: Yes, but don’t hold that against Zoids, because there’s plenty of other reasons to hate it. Great things can come from questionable source material, and there’s at least one good movie based on a toy license.

Q: Didn’t you already talk about some show that had giant fighting robots?

A: Yes, but giant robots are all over the anime world, and they’re clearly not all created equal. They’re part of a genre known as “mecha,” and while sci-fi and manga about giant robots has been around basically forever, they made their first big impact on televised anime in the seventies on a show called Mazinger Z. Since then, it’s been a trope of anime in a deeply-rooted way that you don’t see much of in Western sci-fi.

Q: Why is this a thing, though?

A: This is something you might need an expert on Japanese culture to understand, because mecha-love isn’t exactly confined to the pulp margin, judging by the prevalence of giant robot statues as public art. And while thrilling robot-on-robot action in cartoons leaves me feeling pretty neutral, giant robot statues are awesome in the way only monumental architecture can be.

Q: Will you please pedantically acknowledge the distinction between robots and mecha?

A: Yeah, robots are autonomous machines but mecha have limbs and are controlled by human pilots from within. Can I start complaining now?

Strengths

You know, I was starting to think I’d never write a 0/10 review again, but we’re in luck today, folks.

Weaknesses

    • Bizarre, hideous Zoid animation. For the most part the animation here is bland and unremarkable, but whenever a Zoid does something—which happens kinda often—it calls attention to the fact that for some reason they made a decision to render them in this hideous quasi-3D style that has aged terribly and is more 90s than Smashmouth. See also: Steel, Max.
    • Terrible dubbing. Why do people do this!? It’s much easier to accept the character’s mouth movements not being in time with the dialogue than having to listen to terrible voice acting! I suppose I’m being charitable in assuming that dubbing is the problem here and that the actors are just rushing to fit the line in the three seconds that the characters’ mouths are open. It’s entirely possible they just hired wretched voice actors. See also: Mysterious Cities of Gold.
    • Not enough world-building, too much asinine, nakedly expository dialogue. There’s always a fine line to walk when it comes to making sure you’re on the same page as your audience. If people are disoriented because they don’t know what’s supposed to be happening, it means they can’t react in any kind of useful way. You can’t make a positive impression on a viewer if they can’t clear the entry barrier. You also don’t want to insult your viewer’s intelligence and ruin subtle moments by stating the obvious. No attempt is made to explain the nature of Zoids, or the fact that the show is set in a distant galaxy, or what happened in a recent war. The show isn’t particularly inclined to elaborate on its unusual setting, which is weird, because it’s doing all the work of establishing a new setting. The model-kits didn’t come with any kind of narrative, so it’s more or less a blank, mech-filled slate, and yet the setting makes zero impression because it gets no love from the writers. Instead we get moments like when our hero Van (Matthew Erickson, Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch) encounters a mad scientist named Dr. D (Dave Pettitt, Highway Thru Hell). D is frozen inside a giant person-sized ice crystal. Van announces, “He’s frozen!” Yep. He sure is. So glad we spent a line of dialogue establishing the infuriatingly obvious instead of doing or saying anything remotely interesting.
    • Missed opportunities for interesting action scenes. Presumably the only reason you’d watch this is because you want to watch exciting robot battles. For an action show about Zoids, this episode’s Zoid exposure level proves surprisingly scanty. The highlight is a set piece where Dr. D lures Van and charismatic bad boy Irvine (Mark Gatha, Mobile Fighter G Gundam) into a minefield full of a dormant scorpion army dedicated to protecting what was once a military supply post. This could be a great scene: our heroes are outnumbered and surrounded by medium-size enemies that could press their advantage by coming in fast and hard. Van and Irvine’s Zoids are powerful, but bulky and with no short-range protections. How would this fight go? We’ll never know, because it’s quickly set aside so we can hear more about the wacky old scientist. Normally I’d prefer prioritizing story over exciting robot battle action, but this is a particularly dumb story.
    • Forced sentimentality. Dr. D’s grand quest is to use mad science to make it snow in the otherwise warm climate where we lay our scene. He’s determined to recreate a treasured childhood memory. After some initial friction, everyone starts working together to help the weird old man control the weather. It looks like that’s impossible and kind of stupid, but WAIT! It snows after all! But here comes the surprise twist—D’s technology wasn’t responsible. The power of belief, or love, or community, or some other nonsense like that, is REALLY what made it snow. Sickeningly sweet and totally vacant. Zoids is absolutely brazen about the fact that this meaningless little interlude has nothing at all to do with the overarching plot—Van and Irvine think that D has information about the MacGuffin, but he only pretended to because he’s a manipulative dick. Hooray!
    • The premise of this show makes no sense. The emotional heart of the show is Van’s relationship with Zeke. Zeke is a very special kind of zoid called an “organoid.” Zeke looks like a person-sized T-Rex and acts more like a Pokemon than the other robots. Look, gluing giant robots to collectible monsters doesn’t actually constitute a new idea, much like duct-taping a dildo to a banana isn’t something you can patent. The most distinctive thing about the zoids is that they’re shaped like large mammals. Why? Who knows. Does this have any practical implications? Not really. So why watch Zoids instead of the millions of other mecha shows? Well…

Final Judgment: 0/10. What a colossal waste of time. If anything, it’s more evidence that animation tends to extremes: it encompasses some of the best shows on television and more than its fair share of the worst.

NEXT TIME: Another important lesson: I’ll never run out of weird cartoons. I review the cutesy South Korean animation hit Pucca!

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Case Study 72: Zoids: Chaotic Century, Episode 10–“The Mountain of Dreams”

Case Study 65: Pokemon–“The Mastermind of Mirage Pokemon”

Original Airdate: April 29th, 2006 on The WB

This special was made to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the staggeringly popular Pokemon franchise, which means that this year was the 20th anniversary of Pokemon and that I am therefore as old as the stars and the seas. If you don’t know what Pokemon is, I’m guessing there are no children with you underneath your rock, because Pikachu and company have been delighting kids across a smorgasbord of media platforms for two decades now. It all started with a handheld video game that’s gone on to enjoy six direct sequels. There’s also the TV show. Did you know you can watch 930 episodes of the TV show? It’s been running continuously since 1997 and Ash is still going through puberty. There are also 19 movies, and I’m talking feature films, not the “very special episode” crap we have the misfortune of examining tonight. The trading card game you might remember from elementary school? Still totally a thing. There’s enough tie-in merchandise to make a robust and healthy garbage island. And if you’ve been watching your hysterical and reactionary local news, you’ve probably heard about how a certain mobile game is leading us all to fiery doom at the hands of pedophiles and vandals. Most adults are probably exclusively familiar with the video game and haven’t watched the TV show since 5th grade. How has it held up? Well…

Strengths

  • Great concept. There’s a reason the Pokemon franchise is such a big hit. It’s intrinsically interesting to imagine a world crawling with hundreds of unique semi-intelligent life forms with magical fighting powers. Sure, here in the real world we just found out that there are four species of giraffe that we hadn’t realized existed, and that’s legitimately thrilling, but what if there was a giraffe that had a separate brain in its ass, complete with a mouth full of teeth ready to bite your damn hand off? And what if you could capture that giraffe and make it fight your enemies with searing blasts of psychic energy? Personally, I love it when fantasy is closely wedded to the real world, and while the world of Pokemon seems to have armies of clone nurses and a robust and nonsensical economy, the world inhabited by trainer Ash Ketchum (Kayzie Rogers) and his retinue of hangers-on is modern, technologically sophisticated and ostensibly realistic, allowing fantasies and projection to take root faster than a hungry Tangela.
  • Strong choice of medium. And really, in some ways, Pokemon makes a lot more sense on TV than in a video game. The fundamentally magical premise becomes hidebound by stats, type effectiveness, movesets and endless grinding when it takes the form of a game, but the creators of the show cheerfully fly in the face of established rules about type or how strong/useful any given move is when it makes for good spectacle. This might infuriate the turbonerds out there, but this kind of poetic license can go a long way in making a fight that would otherwise be a foregone conclusion fascinating.
  • Cute. They might keep you in your seat with flights of fancy about riding a flaming horse into the sunset, but chances are they lured you in with a button-eyed talking mouse, or a kitty, or a puppy, or a…balloon, I guess? Hell, these people even managed to make a literal pile of toxic sludge cute. Also, a bag of garbage. Those people at Nintendo know what they’re doing when it comes to luring you in with candy-coated adorability.
  • Sci-fi horror premise. Okay, now that we’ve gotten generalities out of the way, let’s stick those brass tacks into our eyes. At first it seems like we might be in for something cool: Ash and all his friends are lured to the compound of one Dr. Yung (Bill Timoney, Mission to Mars,) who has used only the most cutting-edge developments in pokemon mad science to create “mirage” pokemon, which he replicates instead of catching in the wild. They’re strong against things that would normally knock them out and eventually he harnesses the power to let them use any move they want. They’re super-powerful and they can’t be stopped. Professor Oak (Jimmy Zoppi) is quickly captured and everyone else is left to fend for themselves. The show does take on themes of science vs. nature with all the subtlety of Joe Eszterhas and Misty (Michele Knotz) nearly plummets to her death, but all of the cool pulpy things they could do with this premise quickly fall by the wayside as we descend into the worst episode of Pokemon I’ve had the displeasure of seeing, and it’s not like it was Masterpiece Theatre to begin with.

Weaknesses

  • Jarring change in voice actors. This special is most infamous for the fact that the production company somehow decided they weren’t making enough money on this hugely popular series and sacked all the principal voice actors. Which is a shame, because the original cast was very strong. Comedic stylings centered around Team Rocket’s high school drama club antics and Brock (Bill Rogers) being a pussy hound have always been weak sauce, but at least the original cast could sell it. The backlash against the voice acting was so intense that the dialogue was re-recorded for the DVD release and Kayzie Rogers was straight-up replaced, which makes sense, because while Ash was always voiced by a middle-aged woman impersonating a gravelly voiced preteen boy, Kayzie Rogers’ voice is slightly higher-pitched, which makes it seem like Ash has Benjamin Button disease. It probably didn’t help that Rogers is also the voice of Max, an eight-year-old.
  • Team Rocket. Speaking of Team Rocket, why the fuck are they even here? It’s great evidence of the show’s tendency to cling to its formula even when it doesn’t make any sense. Plenty of previous episodes that didn’t need a conflict with dastardly villains had Team Rocket inserted sideways on the theory that an antagonist is always essential, but there’s already a clear and obvious antagonist here: the mad scientist with the super-powerful, weaponized monsters. The Rockets ultimately end up just bearing witness to the proceedings while offering witlessly snide commentary and the occasional interjection from Wobbuffet. Don’t worry, Wobbuffet’s voice actor didn’t change. (It had always been Kayzie Rogers.)
  • Filling time. Here we have another case study in a 22-minute children’s program airing a “special” where proceedings are dragged out to an hour. With a plot this cliched, the last thing the writers need is more run-time to fill, but still we endure an interlude where Yung captures Ash’s Pikachu and tortures it in order to get information. Aghast, Professor Oak agrees to reveal the information peacefully. Why not just skip a step and torture Professor Oak? Oh, that’s too far? But it’s okay to torture animals in a cartoon for kids? I mean, they’re essentially cockfighting in the first place, so I guess we’ve already lost our innocence in that regard.
  • Predictable. Believe it or not, they go through this whole pretense where Dr. Yung has also been kidnapped by the nefarious Mirage Master, but it turns out he was REALLY DR. YUNG ALL ALONG! Of course he was. What would be the point of having two mirage experts, one of which only exists to wear a turtleneck badly and get captured? How else would he have been able to master the complicated mirage technology instantly? Why else would the compound have been equipped with mirage generating missiles, allowing the mirage pokemon to pursue our heroes outside of the compound? God, I can feel myself getting less cool with each word I write. But this whole charade also reveals a critical plot hole: after the dramatic revelation of the Mirage Master’s double identity, Oak blusters that it all makes perfect sense, given the fact that Yung was pushed out of the Pokemon Institute for unethical research practices. Oh, you didn’t think to mention that fun fact back when he invited you and a bunch of children to his mysterious lab facility?
  • Maudlin & hamfisted. The worst thing of all about this episode is that the thing that finally defeats Yung’s mirage pokemon is an intervention from floating cat fetus Mew, whose power is hastily explained as coming from the fact that he represents a merger between data and a “true soul.” You see, he didn’t meet Yung’s exacting requirements as a research subject and was left to dejectedly hang around the facility and suffer the occasional torrent of verbal abuse. Of course, the true-hearted Professor Oak recognized Mew’s inherent worth, and Ash nobly forced himself through a barrier of pure energy to save it from imprisonment, and the initially helpless and pathetic-seeming pokemon was really a big hero in the end. The exertion of fighting Yung’s powerful Mewtwo caused Mew to disintegrate, but we’ll “see him again someday.” None of this makes any goddamned sense at all, but it appeals to that same part of your brain that made you coo over Pikachu in the first place, assuming that cat fetuses are your thing.

Final Judgment: 1/10. Look, despite how it may seem, I don’t hate the Pokemon TV series. This was just an unusually bad episode, but it’s not really surprising that after ten years, everything starts to look a little threadbare, considering that the show was never high art to begin with. 

NEXT TIME: I was going to review The Bachelor, but I thought I’d go for something a bit more intellectually stimulating, so Scooby-Doo it is.

Case Study 65: Pokemon–“The Mastermind of Mirage Pokemon”

Case Study 64: Michiko & Hatchin, Episode 17–“Buckets of Blood! Opera that Stirs the Heart”

Original Airdate: February 11th, 2009 on Fuji TV

Hey, it’s been a long time since I’ve covered any anime on this blog. It’s not due to lack of interest—there’s tons of weird anime out there that would be perfect to immortalize alongside the likes of Manimal and Shnookums & Meat, but deep-cut anime is hard to find and is presumably of limited interest to an English-speaking audience. (Whereas every God-fearing man, woman and child is deeply invested in Manimal.) The good news is that every year the nice folks at Adult Swim dig up dubious truffles in the form of anime series that may or may not be suitable for children, including recent installments of the previously discussed Dragon Ball Z and Gundam franchises.

Strengths

  • Strong, compelling protagonists. Michiko (Monica Rial, Dragon Ball Z Kai) and Hatchin (Jad Saxton, Wolf Children) are a mother-daughter duo on the run from the law. Michiko has the street smart acumen of a hardened hustler combined with the tenacity, bravado, strength and sheer good luck of an action movie star. Minutes into the first episode, she escapes from prison and peppers a chopper with machine gun bullets before luring it into the path of a wind turbine. But the picaresque journey she embarks on over the course of 22 episodes is driven by sentimentality: after rescuing Hatchin from her luckless life in foster care, she’s determined to reunite with Hatchin’s father Hiroshi (Christopher Bevins, Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound*) despite pesky rumors of his demise. She’d be a worthwhile heroine on her own, but when paired with the innocent and timid Hatchin, she’s dynamite. You could call this a coming-of-age story for Hatchin, but this usually implies a transition away from the innocent idylls of youth, and while Hatchin may be innocent, her youth was far from idyllic. Her foster family was in fact cartoonishly evil. Despite her hopeless situation, she was beginning to show signs of rebellion when Michiko literally crashed through the wall on her bad-ass motor scooter. (You can tell Michiko is cool because she makes a motor scooter look bad-ass.) By joining forces with Michiko, Hatchin is forced to reinvent herself all over again as Michiko’s sidekick. In fact, Hatchin isn’t even her real name—it’s a nickname Michiko gives her. Hatchin restrains Michiko to a certain extent, and Michiko draws Hatchin out. Together, they make an excellent pair, and protecting one another’s welfare consistently gives them a powerful motivation, especially in installments like this episode, where they’re temporarily separated. The upshot is that any given episode of this show builds on a very strong foundation.
  • Gender trouble at the Chinese opera. For no real reason other than to delight me, this episode hinges on one Nei Feng-Yi (John Burgmeier, Blue Gender), a Chinese opera star known for playing divas on the stage. (Chinese opera has a long tradition of cross-dressing.) Nei takes on the role of Good Samaritan when he intervenes on Michiko’s behalf after she runs afoul of the Heike Syndicate. Nei leaves Hatchin in the care of his son Bebel (Alexis Tipton, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.) Bebel wants to follow in Nei’s footsteps, which is the closest thing we get to an explanation for the fact that he dresses in girl’s clothing. He still identifies as male, and indignantly exposes himself to Hatchin when she thinks otherwise. Naturally, he’s preoccupied with the performance of femininity, and proceeds to beat Hatchin with a reed due to her mannish haircut and unladylike posture. So I guess I didn’t need to worry about whether this anime would be weird enough. I love how this show sits comfortably with the ambiguity and that no one is really bothered by Bebel, especially after Hatchin asserts herself in light of the reed-whipping. They could have chosen any type of character to rescue our heroines, and they chose to tell a deliciously queer story in that incidental space.
  • Thrilling action sequences. Of course, in the end Michiko ends up rescuing Nei. When Nei pleads for Michiko’s release with the Heike goon Edward (Chris Smith, Lego Batman: The Movie), Edward agrees to let Michiko go if she wins a game of chance. At first, they try a rock-paper-scissors deathmatch, but Michiko spoils that idea in a predictably violent fashion. The next idea is more insane by several degrees of magnitude: a game of chicken involving running as fast as you can on a steel beam welded to the roof of a building stretching out over the empty air. Nei bravely offers to do this in Michiko’s stead, and Edward agrees, but there’s a catch—Michiko is bound to him by rope as a counterweight. If Nei goes over the edge, they’ll both die. And he does go over the edge—but Michiko avoids going over by clinging to the girder with her assuredly rock-hard thighs. The rope snaps and Nei starts to fall—and Michiko catches the rope in her fucking teeth. The medium lends itself well to this kind of bravura. No stunt double has to put her life at risk and it costs just as much to animate as a sedate conversation in a quiet cafe. The great thing is that every episode has something equally outlandish, and it makes for exceptionally fun viewing.

*Sadly, this is not a Bojack Horseman cross-over.

Final Judgment: 8/10. You might be wondering how something with no weaknesses could have failed to achieve a perfect score. I usually watch a couple of episodes of any given show under review, and the thing is that Episode 16 was even better. I’d give that one a 10/10. So what’s missing? It’s really just that there was potential for more. There are no real thematics on this show and the stories are simplistic. This episode also spent a few minutes on a scene developing a larger story arc, and while that can pay off in dividends down the road, it can short-change an individual installment. Regardless, I wholeheartedly recommend Michiko.

NEXT TIME: I continue analyzing anime by taking on yet another super-franchise: Pokemon. Before you ask, this is not a several-weeks-too-late attempt to cash in on the Pokemon Go craze. I just do what the computer tells me, baby.

Case Study 64: Michiko & Hatchin, Episode 17–“Buckets of Blood! Opera that Stirs the Heart”

Case Study 47: The Mysterious Cities Of Gold [1982], Episode 18–“Maiden Flight Of The Great Condor”

Original Airdate: August 28th, 1982 on NHK

The Mysterious Cities of Gold is a French-Japanese co-production, and unlike many of the kids’ shows I’ve reviewed so far, it’s serialized as opposed to episodic—that is to say, it tells a long continuous story. There are risks to doing this—a 10 year old isn’t going to binge-watch a Saturday morning cartoon the same way you’d swallow up an entire season of House of Cards in a weekend—but Cities does a good job of bringing the viewer up to date on what exactly is going on in the story before any given episode, which makes sense. Much like Powerhouse, it half-heartedly attempts to be educational by way of a documentary featurette appended to the end of each episode that is superficially related to the plot, addressing subjects such as the natural geography of South America or the fauna of the Galapagos Islands. There’s also a 2012 sequel of the same name.

Strengths

  • Original premise. You don’t see a lot of historical fiction pitched at kids, especially not in serialized cartoon form. Cities tells the story of a small group of travellers on a grand adventure, searching for the eponymous cities. It pertains to a particularly bloody moment in Spanish history, but it doesn’t whitewash things too aggressively—Zia (Janice Chaikelson) is a kidnapped Inca princess and Tao (Adrian Knight) is the last living descendant of an extinct tribe. But the show doesn’t lean too heavily on historical elements and instead looks for material in the fantastic. In this episode, the explorers are menaced by a tribe of hill-dwelling giants and make their escape in a giant solar-powered bird-shaped aircraft. And about that…
  • A giant solar-powered bird-shaped aircraft. I guess you might call this sort of innovation in 16th-century historical fiction “sunpunk.” Either way, it’s unexpectedly awesome to watch what at first appears to be a gigantic golden statue spread its wings and take flight when exposed to the sun as the temple around it dramatically crumbles to the ground. If a jaded adult can experience a few moments of surprised joy at this spectacle, I can only imagine how a kid would feel. It’s even better when Esteban (Shiraz Adam) discovers that a magical trinket makes it stow its landing gear and submit to passenger control. You may have seen the recent stories in the news about how a 15-year-old discovered a heretofore forgotten Mayan city using the help of satellite photography and deductions about astronomy. If there are still jungles today that are so thick and impenetrable that they contain unknown secrets, imagine what it must have felt like to be an explorer 450 years before Google Maps. Barring major technological innovation like deep space travel, only fiction can offer the thrill of exploration in the 21st century.

Weaknesses

  • Aurally displeasing. First of all, there’s the music, which sounds like a reject from Eurovision 1977. Wikipedia discloses that one of the directors of the show vetoed the original Japanese theme music because it was too “understated.” They may have overcorrected. The other audio issue here is the dubbing. I understand that dubbing comes with the territory in anime, especially if it’s pitched at kids and/or rebroadcast in the US, as was Cities. Still, it’s egregiously terrible here, and the issue is that the creators didn’t even try and rewrite the lines so they fit the amount of animation time they had. I wouldn’t care if the faces didn’t sync up with the dialogue, but once again, they overcorrected–the faces sync up fine, but every other line of dialogue is so rushed that it sounds like you’re watching Gilmore Girls on 2x. A couple of rewritten lines and the show would have been that much more immersive.
  • Padded. I watched four episodes of Cities to get background and they all felt like there was 10 minutes of content in a 20 minute show. Often the padding takes the form of dreadful interludes of “comic” “relief” featuring the bumbling sailors Sancho (Terrence Labrosse) and Pedro (Michael Rudder, Blindside.) Mercifully, they’re only in the background here, but instead we get a pointless excursion to an underground volcano viewing platform and some stupidly careless death-defiance when Esteban and Tao try and climb to the top of the enormous bird statue/airplane. The best kind of suspense is transparently manufactured suspense designed to kill time!

Motivation: There’s a couple things going on here. Any story of exploration is to some extent driven by knowledge, but Esteban is seeking to be reunited with his lost family, and his Spanish guardian is of course looking for money in the form of that sweet, sweet municipal gold.

Final Judgment: 4/10. Definitely nothing too special, and I can’t imagine why anyone who isn’t a nostalgia junkie would want to seek this out.

NEXT TIME: Another review of an extremely short subject as I analyze Disney’s new Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Case Study 47: The Mysterious Cities Of Gold [1982], Episode 18–“Maiden Flight Of The Great Condor”

Case Study 32: Dragon Ball Z–“Broly–Second Coming”

Original Airdate: March 12th, 1994 on Fuji TV

Dragon Ball Z, along with Sailor Moon, might be one of those shows that the average uninitiated Westerner calls to mind when the subject of anime is brought up. It also fuels a lot of prejudice about the overall low quality of anime. This is a shame, because there’s a good deal of excellent anime out there—but it would seem Dragon’s reputation is well deserved.

Like Lupin the Third or Gundam it’s also part of a massive, decade-spanning ultra-franchise. It’s the second of four series about the collection and curation of dragon balls, and under review tonight we have the 10th of 15 “films” centered around Dragon Ball Z alone. I put that in quotation marks because like the so-called “films” of Danny Phantom, Angelina Ballerina and Teen Titans, it’s simply an hour-long version of a cartoon that is normally half an hour long.

Strengths

  • The empowerment of children. This is a pretty common trait for kids’ entertainment. In the real world, kids are constantly at the mercy of adults and have little control of the major aspects of their lives. This is even more true today than when this episode aired thanks to modern trends of helicopter parenting and nosy neighbors calling the cops if they see a ten-year-old at the park on her own. In the world of Dragon, though, tiny children can fly and fight gigantic supervillains. For reasons too dumb to explain, our normal Dragon-tagonist Goku (Sean Schemmel) is dead at this point in the series and the main characters in this outing are his son Goten (Kara Edwards) and Goten’s pal Trunks (Takeshi Kusao.) They’re ultimately outclassed in the climactic brawl against demigod Broly (Vic Mignogna, Fullmetal Alchemist) but not before they single-handedly win a fight against a gigantic fucking dinosaur. This doesn’t hold true for every episode of Dragon, but “Second Coming” offers kids the pleasure of a) seeing themselves as the protagonists and b) seeing those protagonists kick ass and keep the big bad on his toes.

Weaknesses

  • Witless, childish banter. This is the downside of having kids as protagonists–at least when your show is badly written sludge. Accompanying the kids is the teenager Videl (Yuko Minaguchi) and the little kids constantly bicker with her. At one point Goten demands to eat some of the bait in the trap they’ve set for the dinosaur by screaming and crying like a shitty-diaper baby for what seems like an eternity (which, by the way, is what wakes Broly up in the first place, so thanks, Goten.) Later, he tells the dinosaur that it needs a manicure. By defeating the dinosaur they win a dragon ball that a local charlatan (Robert McCollum, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings) wears as a necklace; Trunks quips that if they had a second monster he could win the guy’s jacket, too. High-larious.
  • Bathroom humor. Again, maybe this is supposed to seem charming because the protagonists are little kids, but it really ain’t. When Broly shows up, Trunks urges Goten to summon the aid of the dragon with their newly complete set of dragon balls—but first Goten has to take a leak. Later, Trunks manages to wriggle out of Broly’s clutches by covering him in some manner of liquid bodily waste, and based on the color it looks like it’s the less savory of the two options. And nothing can help me unsee Trunks taunting Broly with his bare ass.
  • Endless, pointless battles. Look, I realize these are a central part of the Dragon brand. That doesn’t make them any more watchable. It’s all the more frustrating because at first it looks like this episode is actually going to be about something. You see, that charlatan I mentioned has convinced his village to sacrifice children to the gods in order to protect the villagers from the dinosaur. Videl challenges them on the ignorant barbarism of this practice and our heroes set off to prove the charlatan wrong. But they do this really quickly and it’s all over and done in the first 20 minutes, complete with a feast of glistening red dinosaur meat. The rest of the show is spent in an interminable fight with Broly. Instead of wanting to achieve power by preying on people’s fears and forming violent religious practices to bolster that power and create psychological barriers to rebellion, Broly’s just your garden variety evil asshole. The only thing worse than a show wasting your time with inane action sequences is the show teasing you with an actual story before burying you under inane action sequences.
  • Videl/Yuko Minaguchi. Minaguchi’s voice acting is just awful. She struggles with line readings as simple as “No thanks! I can’t wait to see what you screw up next.” She gets the cadences wrong. She emphasizes the wrong words. She runs it all together into what sounds like one word. She can’t even make “My name is Videl” sound natural. The show’s writing doesn’t do Videl any favors, either. She’s the only female character here and she’s constantly shat on. Goten and Trunks treat her like a nagging mom. She’s got superpowers of her own, but apparently they’re not as strong as those of the kiddies, because Broly almost instantly throws her into the water and leaves her to drown, taking her out of the action for the entire second half of the show. At the end of the episode, Goku’s other son and Videl’s love interest Gohan (Kyle Hebert) shows up to help fight Broly. The comic denouement has Videl henpecking him and chasing him around for leaving her to die—which is an entirely legitimate grievance, but the show acts like she might as well have curlers and a rolling pin. Yuck.

Motivation: Survival. After Broly mistakes Goten for Goku, who had defeated him in a previous hour-length episode, it’s all that Goten can do to hold his own. Only the intervention of a dragon ex machina saves the day.

Final Episode Judgment: 1/10. This was real bad, folks. Hopefully your kids never find out about it, because I could feel my brain cells dying the entire time.

NEXT TIME: It’ll be a gear-grinding transition from this to Masterpiece Theatre as I review The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Case Study 32: Dragon Ball Z–“Broly–Second Coming”

Case Study 15: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED C.E. 73: Stargazer, Episode 3–“Stage 03”

Original “Airdate:” September 29th, 2006 on Bandai Channel

In the last installment of my sporadic coverage of the world of anime, I discussed Lupin The Third, a sprawling multimedia franchise that first appeared on TV in the 1970s and which subsequently grew like kudzu. The Gundam franchise makes Lupin look like a deep cut. Gundam also arose out of humble circumstances in the 1970s and basically took over the damn world. TVTropes calls Gundam “the Japanese equivalent of Star Trek.Trek is probably the closest comparison possible, but it still doesn’t do Gundam justice, since Gundam is about twenty times more successful. Looking at TV alone, the Gundam-verse has spawned 19 series. That count doesn’t even include today’s offering, because Stargazer is a companion web series to Gundam’s 11th TV reincarnation, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny. In addition to TV, Gundam has spawned feature films, direct-to-dvd offerings, manga, video games, model kits and a garbage barge full of toys and other merchandise. Tokyo even plays host to a Gundam theme park. With 19 different shows, I somehow doubt this will be the last you’ll hear from me on this franchise.

It’s also worth noting the fact that this is a web-series. With Netflix, Hulu and Amazon offering critically acclaimed programming, it’s impossible to ignore web platforms in my quest for great TV, but I will have to apply some holistic metrics to determine whether or not any given web series is worth a review. There are a few factors working in Stargazer’s favor–it’s intimately connected to a traditional TV offering while standing on its own as a discrete story, it’s high-profile enough to merit coverage, it was distributed through an established, non-YouTube platform and the entire show gets in and out in less than an hour. It’s three 15-minute “episodes” long, and for the purposes of this review I watched all three. It also helps that it turned out to be really damn good–and sadly topical.

Strengths

  • Giant flying robots. Well, I don’t care about these so much, but I suspect that if you’re sniffing around the perimeter of Gundam you’ve got a vested interest in seeing super-cool giant flying robots, and here they are. It’s actually a pretty canny innovation on Gundam’s part. You want to create a space opera with a focus on war and internecine political conflict, but how do you set yourself apart from the pack? The answer turned out to be 86ing spacecraft-based combat and inserting giant flying robots piloted by vulnerable fleshy humans. Seems like it worked!
  • Probing, elegant, multi-faceted exploration of war. Now, to Gundam fans Stargazer might be old hat. The series has long focused on war and conflict, since its titular draw is in fact war machines. It’s possible the franchise’s writers have been running out of fresh insights on the topic, since they’ve been covering that beat for 36 years. But to someone with absolutely no prior experience with Gundam, this was an unexpectedly insightful tour de force. The main theme here is the potential costs of the military-industrial complex’s encroachment on supposedly neutral scientific endeavor, but the show manages to touch on many evils in what amounts to a scathing indictment of warmongering. In this iteration of the Gundamverse, we’re presented with a scenario where genetically engineered superhumans known as Coordinators have established themselves on extraplanetary colonies, while Earth remains the domain of non-engineered humans, known as Naturals. Stargazer takes place in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of a second brutal war between Earth and the colonies. The overarching story of this war is told in Destiny, while Stargazer focuses on the experience of two new characters during the conflict. Selene McGriff (Sayaka Ohara, XXXHOLiC) is a hotshot scientist at DSSD, a politically neutral space agency hoping to survey and develop areas beyond Mars. She’s working on a cutting-edge Gundam called Stargazer. It’s designed to explore space unaccompanied by humans thanks to advanced AI technology. The first 20 minutes of Stargazer chronicle the immediate aftermath of a cataclysmic attack from the colonial military that destroys, among other things, Beijing. Selene narrowly manages to get to an Earth-based DSSD launch-site to escort Stargazer to a DSSD space station. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Sven Cal Bayang (Daisuke Ono, K), a soldier in an elite unit of the Earth military which is rapidly being mobilized. Ultimately, Sven leads an operation to claim Stargazer for the Earth army. It’s horrifying to see earnest, geeky, apolitical scientists get gunned down in cold blood, but we only reach this climax after running a gauntlet of similar horrors. During the opening attack, Selene is accompanied by her mentor/implicit lover, Edmond Du Clos (Jouji Nakata, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works.) Just as we’re starting to get a feel for who he is and the groove of his relationship with Selene, he dies horribly in a fight with an attacking Gundam so that Selene has enough cover to get to the launch site. When that Gundam finally gets brought down, it turns out it was being piloted by…child soldiers. In a video message, the children announce that their parents were all killed in the war by Naturals, and with dead eyes they swear vengeance. Seeing this, Sven’s colleague Mudie Holcroft (Rina Satou, Negima!?) parrots what she’s been taught: “The only good Coordinator is a dead Coordinator.” Before long, we’re seeing her terrified screams when she dies horribly. The child soldiers also mirror Sven’s history—he was once a happy and enthusiastic child with a fascination for astronomy and all things space related, but then his parents died in a terrorist attack and he became a ward of the state. After some A Clockwork Orange style brainwashing and reeducation, he’s turned into a dead-eyed soldier with no qualms about murdering the astronomers he didn’t get to become. When Sven’s normally gung-ho colleague Shams Couza (Hiroshi Kamiya, Angel Beats!) tells Sven of the plans to seize Stargazer, regardless of how many civilian personnel have to be killed, Sven’s only response is “I see.” A frustrated Shams bitterly replies, “You’re always like that…making that ‘It has nothing to do with me’ expression.” Indeed, earlier in the episode we saw Sven unblinkingly raze a refugee camp packed with civilians. He mildly asks his commanding officer if he’s to restrict himself to just killing terrorists. His CO replies, “Can you tell the terrorists apart from the refugees?” Sven replies that he can’t. “Well, that’s how it is.” And where does this all lead? The climactic battle ends with Selene and Sven improbably confined together in Stargazer, which is slowly heading back to Earth. It’s not entirely clear, but at the end of the episode it’s strongly implied they didn’t survive the trip home. This is the nature of war: a vicious cycle of humanity’s worst instincts cutting a swath of destruction through everything in its path. Regardless of the politics—regardless even of the outcome—nobody wins. All of the people we’re given any understanding of in this hour are destroyed. Humans get turned into cruel fighting machines, even when humans are trying to turn cruel fighting machines into benign space exploration tools. Stargazer may be the only “character” that really walks away from the fray, but what has it learned? Selene tries to teach it what she learned from Edmond—don’t look to the side to enviously compare and compete with those around you. Don’t look down for the purposes of self-aggrandizement. Look up. Look for the better nature. Look for hope. Look towards the stars. What else did the humans teach Stargazer?

Weaknesses

  • Opaque battle sequences. I’ve never been a fan of the action genre and especially not the war genre. It’s not necessarily because of any particular aversion to the content or the stories—though I’m not exactly a fan of the good old ultraviolence. A big factor, however, is that I hate not knowing what’s going on in a story. I don’t mean because of artsy surrealism or obfuscation. I get the sense that in the final battle scene here, I’m supposed to know exactly what’s going on. But I haven’t memorized which ships are on each side, because I’m not a hardcore Gundam nerd. I don’t know who’s speaking when their faces are mostly obscured by battle helmets, because I haven’t memorized the sounds of everyone’s voices. I understand what the outcome is when the hurlyburly’s done, but they might as well not show me the battle itself because it’s just a big chaotic mess. And from what I understand, that can be true of the fog of war as well—yelling and screaming and bullets ripping by and complete and utter disorientation. I gather that this is a feature and not a bug for some folks, but it actively gets in the way of my enjoyment because I can’t tell what the fuck is happening. Why not just skip the battle altogether if it’s only going to make sense after close study of the Gundam wiki, which for the record is perhaps the geekiest document on the planet?

Motivation: Survival. Unfortunately, everyone loses.

Final Series Judgment: 9/10. This was searingly on point and also had giant flying robots. What’s not to love? I’m not sure how it measures up to the rest of Gundam-–after 11 preceding TV shows, this might be well-covered ground—but as a newcomer, I was blown away. They really accomplish quite a bit in less than an hour.

NEXT TIME: I’ll struggle to turn in a review of Community that isn’t covered with biased fanboy slobber.

Case Study 15: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED C.E. 73: Stargazer, Episode 3–“Stage 03”

Case Study 5: Lupin The Third Part I, Episode 18– “Keep An Eye On The Beauty Contest”

Original Airdate: February 20th, 1972 on Yomiuri TV

This is not only the first episode of an anime series that I’m covering here but also the first time I’m covering a program for which I have next to no points of reference, which is admittedly most if not all anime. But I’m determined to learn! Until I sat down to do research for this installment, the only reason I knew the name “Lupin III” at all was due to a rap lyric. But this franchise is a pop culture juggernaut in Japan. It got its start in a manga story created in 1967 by the artist Kazuhiko Kato, and in “Beauty Contest” he is credited by his famous pen name: Monkey Punch. Kato was struggling to gain a foothold in the world of professional manga and was diligently cranking out indie projects when he was approached by the editor of a newly-minted magazine by the name of Weekly Manga Action. The editor hired Kato, and the journeyman artist’s first project was to create a manga with adult themes for the slightly more mature audience the publication was seeking to court. The project was meant to be a three-month engagement, and the editor also asked that Kato use the pseudonym Monkey Punch. Kato despised the name but was in no position to refuse.

Flash-forward to 2015. Manga Action is still in print and Lupin III is the face of a sprawling media empire still very much in the public eye–as we speak the fifth TV series in the franchise is broadcasting new episodes in Japan and Italy, where Lupin III is also an astronomical hit and a household name. In fact, it would appear that Italy is the driving force behind the newest installments, since Japan’s NTV is airing them a month after they premiere on Italia 1. Irritatingly, this new series is called Lupin the 3rd–it can be hard to tell these shows apart based on their names. A popular shorthand among fans is to refer to the series based on what color Lupin’s jacket is when he’s in his normal outfit. This makes the first series “green jacket,” the second “red jacket,” the third “pink jacket” and this newest one “blue jacket.” If Stockholm syndrome has kicked in, you might be saying “But wait! That’s not enough jackets!” Indeed not. The fourth series was a spinoff centered on the adventures of another central Lupin III character, Fujiko Mine. Wikipedia describes this series as “more sexually oriented” and I am fine to go on without overturning that particular rock this evening.

The manga with hundreds of chapters and the five TV shows are really just the tip of the iceberg, though. The franchise has enjoyed seven theatrically released animated films, including one continuing the spun-off adventures of Fujiko. Live-action adaptations of Lupin III are not uncommon, with two theatrical releases in Japan, as well as two stage adaptations and a short-lived Filipino television drama. Every year from 1989 to 2013 saw a new 90-minute TV special appear on NTV, with 2014’s installment presumably set aside for work on the new series. So the one brief episode of Lupin the Third Part 1 under review is just a drop in an enormous ocean of Lupin-ness and may not be representative of the franchise as a whole in any way, shape or form. From here on out when I refer to Lupin I am talking about Lupin the Third Part I, with the green jacket on Lupin.

It’s interesting that this review is back to back with Dead Like Me, because Lupin also got off to a very rough start when the creative director Masaaki Osumi left the show in a hurry because of conflicts with the network over content. This was the first adaptation of the manga and was a watershed moment for anime–it was one of if not the first anime series aimed squarely at adults, with a decidedly dark tone and liberal amounts of sex and violence. It created controversy at a time that counterculture was ascendant in Japan, much as it was in the US and Europe, and Osumi wasn’t willing to tone it down. On the one hand, this makes sense–he’s doing an adaptation of work meant for (semi-)mature audiences and it wouldn’t really be Lupin III if it didn’t honor these elements of the original, but on the other hand, I still believe it’s not a good sign if a director can’t find a workable compromise.

In the case of Lupin, a workable compromise is exactly what ended up happening–the show kept some racier elements, cut back on the violence a bit and continued to target an adult audience while adopting a light-hearted, silly tone that made the show less intense and more fun to watch. In other words, the new directors made Lupin marketable and still kept it edgy and original. The new directors were Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, and in 13 years they’d go on to found Studio Ghibli, the internationally acclaimed and hugely successful animation studio behind a murderer’s row of stone-cold classic films. Studio Ghibli is a really big deal, even to an anime noob like me. Think the Pixar of anime. If you want recommendations on where to start with Ghibli, try Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies or The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Miyazaki’s finest moments as a director include Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. I’m a bit stunned that this project managed to serve up what turns out to be Miyazaki’s first direction credit, though he had worked on other things in various capacities before this. It turns out Miyazaki’s first direction credit on a film was also a bit of a surprise: 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, which just so happens to be the second Lupin III animated film. Whatever else you may say about this light-hearted but puzzling show, it played a critical role in film history worldwide.

Strengths

  • Fresh storytelling. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Lupin, already on its last legs and with increasingly pitiful ratings, gets a half-assed treatment from writer Soji Yoshikawa along the lines of what happened with So Little Time. Instead, this episode’s story is as modern and engaging as any similar project you’d care to name in 2015. Of course, part of the reason this is possible is because there aren’t really any similar projects. Lupin (Yasuo Yamada) is meant to be a descendent of Arsene Lupin, an archetypal lovable rogue and gentleman thief whose adventures in French crime fiction have loomed large ever since they originally appeared in the first few decades of the 20th century. Since our chaotic neutral hero is always on the lookout for his next big score, crime stories are a natural fit. But Lupin’s not solving a mystery here, nor is he plotting a crime per se. Here’s the (quite unique!) plot in a nutshell: A group of promoters have set up a beauty contest in Japan meant to rival or at least emulate Miss World/Universe competitions. Lupin instantly identifies the aged and disguised lead promoter, Smith (Kazuo Arai) as an internationally wanted art thief. He deduces quickly that Smith plans to use the pageant as a hidden-in-plain-sight venue for selling art on the black market to Europeans in the 1% who are ostensibly acting as the pageant’s judges. Lupin’s challenge becomes turning his insights and observations into some kind of personal profit. He needs to insert himself into the proceedings, take all the marbles and dance away from the cops and Smith’s thugs. This is a great example of how to use a lovable rogue. Often this character serves a role in an ensemble, but when they get center stage the writer is faced with the unique problem of telling a story about a crime or a scheme where our hero is neither a detective trying to create order or someone too villainous and powerful to be sympathetic. We want our lovable rogues to be underdogs that have the skills and talent to give the heavyweights a run for their money, and Lupin absolutely nails this.
  • Light and fun without being stupid or empty. This is also hard to pull off, but this show’s seemingly incongruous mix of elements throws the strengths of each aspect into high relief. By maintaining a light-hearted tone and being unafraid to embrace the cartoonishness of its medium, Lupin creates a world where we’re able to believe in an over-the-top police inspector like Koichi Zenigata (Goro Naya, Space Battleship Yamato.)  Zenigata’s mission is to pursue Lupin to the ends of the earth in a dogged and futile quest to bring him to justice, but he doesn’t recognize a very lightly disguised Lupin when he’s standing right in front of him. Zenigata’s not a typical blundering cop, though Lupin seems to bring out the worst in him. When Lupin leads him by the nose into the back room deal where the paintings are being exchanged for cash, Zenigata puts it together right away and makes arrests. Zenigata is generally good at what he does, but Lupin presents an eternal challenge and vexation, leading to comical rage and tunnel vision from Zenigata. Of course, the angrier and more single-minded he gets the worse his chance of outfoxing Lupin. This solid characterization allows for endless plot variations and a frequent source of amusement without being cheap. Zenigata’s no cliche, and the show more than earns the laughs it gets from his hijinks. More importantly, he’s a case study in how the show mostly manages to merge its dissonant components into something successful and interesting.

Weaknesses

  • One-man show. I’m betting this is only a problem with “Beauty Contest,” but Lupin is really the only character who gets to do anything substantial here. He figures out the players and the plan, he coordinates a response and he improvises next steps and a grand finale more or less by himself. Sure, his friends are there, standing around. Perennial sidekick Diasuke Jigen (Kiyoshi Kobayashi) is only there so that Lupin has someone to have a dialogue with instead of just monologuing his ideas for our benefit. Jigen contributes absolutely nothing of substance and doesn’t even give me a hint of characterization beyond a vague coarseness. Fujiko (Yukiko Nikaido) has even less to do–she only gets one line in the entire show and it’s “Okay, leave it to me.” If all her storylines are this substantial, no wonder she needed a spin-off! Rounding out the main cast is Goemon Ishikawa XIII (Chikao Ohtsuka, Nintama Rantaro.) Like Lupin and Zenigata, he’s meant to be a descendant of an archetypal cultural figure–in this case legendary samurai Ishikawa Goemon. Goemon has been a figure in folklore since the 16th century and is a bit like Robin Hood, if Robin Hood were executed by being boiled alive. Zenigata is meant to be the descendant of Zenigata Heiji, a major figure in mid-century Japanese detective fiction depicting an intrepid policeman in the Edo period. Ishikawa is a samurai like his forefather, and while it does seem strange that this more-or-less realistic crime adventure show would include an expert samurai in the cast it’s all part of the methodical madness of Lupin. However, from what I am given to understand Ishikawa is meant to be a mercurial figure who only sides with Lupin when it’s in his best interests, and here Lupin basically has him functioning as just another pawn in his grand scheme with no agency of his own. Based on what little I’m shown of Zenigata and what I can infer, it seems like this show has a tantalizing bench of characters to work with, but they’re completely squandered here, which is a shame.
  • Widely varying degrees of realism. While Zenigata’s character is an example of the creators taking the time to make what could be a very silly and lazy character three dimensional and an interesting part of the puzzle, it’s also an example of how something goofy can easily fit alongside a relatively straight-faced crime plot. The first act is mostly dry setup and features things like Lupin explaining to Jigen the high-risk, low-profit nature of the black market art world. The final twist to Lupin’s trap also plays on a straightforward read and an adult situation. But along the way we’re treated to some really egregious assaults on any sense of realism. One of the paintings Smith has stolen is none other than the fucking Mona Lisa. When the Mona Lisa got stolen in 1911, it was an international incident and fingers were quickly pointed at major figures like Pablo Picasso and  Guillaume Apollinaire. I mean, they could have gone with any other painting–in fact, they were able to cough up three slightly less prominent examples. Even worse is a scene that comes at the end of the show when Lupin wants to taunt Smith and Zenigata with his victory by demonstrating that he got away with the paintings. This is pretty unnecessary, as Smith is clearly painfully aware of what happened. Anyway, Lupin unveils his last stroke of genius–a giant sail on his getaway ship made of the paintings. Um. Please don’t do that to paintings. Also, the Mona Lisa looks enormous on his sail despite being 2.5 feet by 1.75. If this were just meant to be a thoroughly goofy and campy caper, I could buy this kind of thing, but if you want to talk to me about the black market on stolen art and human trafficking, we don’t need to dial the lulzy meter all the way up to 11.
  • Women as MacGuffins. This is never great, but it’s really on full display here. The pageant contestants are endearingly referred to as “the beauties” by the show, but that’s about the only endearing thing going on here. At first Lupin threatens Smith and Zenigata with the prospect of Lupin “stealing” them, which is somewhat baffling until you realize that these women are nothing more than a plot device comparable with a cache of stolen paintings. If you “steal” a person, that’s called kidnapping. But they aren’t people. Of course, part of the gag here is that what Lupin really intends to steal are those other “beauties:” the paintings. But all the victims of his scam take his threat to kidnap all these women to be entirely credible. This pales in comparison to Lupin’s coup de grace, however. When Zenigata busts in on Smith and company, he immediately gets the boxes opened–and finds the tied-up beauties, who Lupin and his cohort were evidently able to trick, overpower or otherwise subdue into storage containers that formerly held priceless works of art. Zenigata arrests Smith on charges of human trafficking. This is really clever and takes advantage of the show’s ability to edge into adult content, but it all falls apart when you realize that the second someone asks the beauties what actually happened, the truth will come out and Smith won’t have been foiled. But why assume anyone will ask the beauties? After all, they don’t get a single line anywhere in the episode.

Final Episode Judgment: 6/10. I had fun watching this show and the positive things I saw made me curious to come back for more. I do hope, however, that this isn’t an example of the show at its best, despite its place in the original Miyazaki-helmed iteration of this series. The fact that this show is so popular and influential suggests to me that at its best this franchise is capable of building on some of these inherent strengths and achieving great things. The misadventures of the beauties may not be the most salient example.
NEXT TIME: The Wrong Mans! And, what the hell, it’s just 8 episodes. I’ll watch them all. Because I love you.

Case Study 5: Lupin The Third Part I, Episode 18– “Keep An Eye On The Beauty Contest”