Bargain Bin Review: Peacemaker (TV)

So take one spunky kid, who wants to join the Shinsengumi, add in a dash of drama, a pinch of comedy and GONZO before its animation started to blow and you have Peace Maker.

The story follows Tetsunosuke Ichimura as he joins the Shinsengumi up to the attack on the Ikedaya Inn (the point where the Shinsengumi’s popularity reached its peak). Primarily, the story is about how far Tetsu is willing to go to get his revenge on the Choshu, who killed his parents.

Now the whole of the series is steeped in history. We get appearances from all of the major players, Hijikata, Yaname, Okita, Shinpachi and Saito. Now whether or not these characters are really true to history, well… I doubt it. But they do form the core cast around Tetsu. Honestly, I get the feeling that if I knew more about the era, I’d get a better sense of what’s going on. Because I thought the Shinsengumi were exclusionists too, but on the other hand I don’t know if that was later on or not.

But where this series really shines is showing the dualities of each of these characters. If they would stop saying stuff like, “Would you be willing to become a demon.” That would be great, but on the other hand it does provide some great amount of tension in the first part of the series. It’s also backed up by some great artwork on GONZO’s part. These characters express a lot through their faces, and when they go into killer mode, their face changes subtely and drastically depending on the scene.

And when the story focuses on Tetsu, it’s a pretty decent story. The side characters make it shine, like Suzu, Tetsu’s rival/friend who happens to want to kill the Shinsengumi or Saya, the geisha girl in training. Even the child-like Okita helps the that central story a lot, showing a possible future for Tetsu.

But that said, the story suffers from a plague of subplots. This is really where I think knowing some Japanese history would really help. Unfortunantly, I don’t know enough to fill in the holes that the series left out. In fact, it just seemed like they were leaving openings for a possible second season, but never got around to making it. The problem is that they either rush through them far too fast, or they simply never get resolved.

Which makes the entire second half of the series stumble along like a guy on the three-day drunk. And to make it worse that entire duality question that was asked at the beginning never really comes to a satisfying conclusion. Instead it’s just brushed aside during a bunch of action and high drama.

The voice acting was really top notch in this one, with really standout performances by Braden Hunt who did Okita. Seriously, this guy can go from happy-go-lucky to creepy in two seconds in this show. The dubs do have the Americanized representations of the accents, but not to the point where it really upset me. And somehow they all seemed to fit the characters.

Most the music isn’t really worth noting except for the opening and closing songs both of which are really catchy. I’ve found myself humming “Hey Jimmy” at work while I was watching this show.

On the other hand, the visuals are worth noting. While there are the usual shortcuts, the artwork is really pretty stunning. I had forgotten why I used to love GONZOs stuff. This show reminded me. The characters faces manage to express emotion without saying anything, which is actually a pretty rare thing in anime. There is a certain amount of SD that goes on, but mostly the basic style stays the same.

The extras are worth noting. There were about four commentary tracks with the VAs, and they were fun. Also there are two character intros on each disk, which are interesting, but not all that illuminating.

Reccomendation: Overall, it’s hard to reccomend buying this show, even on the cheap. As a character study, it’s really good. But it’s also slow and occasionally confusing. So I reccomend taking it out on Netflix first. But otherwise, I wouldn’t spend more than $40 on the whole thing. (It looks liked gohastings was selling it for that on the Amazon.com marketplace. Although I can’t reccomend using them, but they were the least expensive.)

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Bargain Bin Review: Misaki Chronicles

If I had to sum up Misaki Chronicles with two concepts it would be: quantum physics and big boobs.

Seriously.

The show takes up where Divergence Eve left off. Watcher’s Nest has disappeared. The Earth is surrounded by a temporal vortex. Kiri and Lt. Commander Lyar are all that’s left of Seraphim. And Misaki has disappeared. (Well sort of, the series reveals that she’s on Earth pretty quickly).

Characterwise, the show is still fairly strong. Lyar is still one of the strongest characters in the series, and since most of the series does revolve around her, it’s a good thing. The rest of the characters stay pretty stable from the first series. They all tend to be a bit stereotypical, but not so much that they really detract from the series.

The plot really does move. It twists, turns, dodges and goes up the wall and then through the sewers. All of those questions that the first series laid out do actually get answers, although some of them are a little disappointing. There’s only a couple moments that get dragged out to increase the emotional impact, but end up getting dragged out so much that they’re actually more funny then depressing. But beyond that the series starts in high gear after episode two and doesn’t leave it until the denouement.

Oh yeah, and this series actually has a denouement (that section of the story where they wrap up the loose ends) which usually is my big complaint about anime. I did think they did a slap dash job on it, and hurt the tragedy that could have been there. But it definitely has it and it is good enough.

The series biggest problem is the fanservice. Good lord. It isn’t as distracting as it was in Divergence Eve, but there are at least a couple times where I found myself asking, “How can they walk around with those things.” At least their weren’t any shower scenes, or guys trying to stare down the female characters shirts. In fact, everyone was so completely blaise about the fact that no woman was below a G-cup that I could almost buy into it. But it just seemed really incongruous for a series that deals with such heavy sci-fi stuff to have such blatant fanservice.

And that was the problem with it. Much like the bubblegum pop opener and the sad dramatic closer, the series suffered from a uneven tone. It was like someone playing Britney Spears to get people to come to a performance of Hamlet.

Overall, the technical aspects of the show were fine. The CG was still a bit heavy on the space scenes (because evidently it’s impossible to DRAW a space station anymore). The CG wasn’t distracting though and fits pretty well into the combination scenes. It wasn’t seemless by any means, but it didn’t hurt the series either.

The sountrack, again, wasn’t anything to write home about. But it did help on the dramatic moments and definitely didn’t hurt the series.

In the end, Misaki Chronicles is a bit of harmless fun that tries to be something more, but doesn’t quite make it there.

Reccomendation: To be fair, I reccomend you rent Divergence Eve first. I wouldn’t pay more than $20 for that part of the series. And I picked up Misaki Chronicles for $20. And it was worth it, just to know what happened.

Bargain Bin Reviews – Starship Operators (TV)

Sometimes there are just shows that pass beneath my radar, or rather I get so caught up in the other stuff that I’m collecting that they get put on the backburner. Starship Operators is one of those shows.

The story follows the 73rd class of cadets from the planet Kibi’s military academy. After finishing a run on the space battleship Amaterasu (pronounced Ah-mah-ter-ahs), they find their home planet is taken over by the Kingdom (the exact political structure is a bit shaky, but more on that later). They make the decision to buy the Amaterasu, and declare war on the Kingdom. But to do it they need money, so they do what any saavy group should do – they sell their story to the media.

When I first heard about this title, I was skeptical. As I mentioned before, most fiction either treats the news media as the heroes or the villians, but never really delves into the interplay between the media, the government and public opinion in a way that’s really meaningful.

Also, the whole thing had another strike against it. The original idea came from Ryo Mizuno, the person responsible for the horror that is Record of Lodoss War. So, I didn’t really expect much.

Boy was I surprised. The overall handling of the relationships between the government officials, the crew, the media and the public were so well done, I almost fell out of my seat. All of the sides scheme for the support of the public, and use the media and in turn the media uses them to get their show. But the media isn’t portrayed as consistently money hungry, no, they’re also shown as noble and compassionate at times. Those relationships were so well done, I just wish every show about the media was that intelligent.

It’s too bad they didn’t spend as much time developing out the characters. The story mostly follows the vice captain (and military genius), Sinon, and does an adaquate job filling out her as a character who starts off as reserved and standoffish, but becomes fully committed to winning by the end of the series. But most of the side characters get little to no development. Rather they end up being plot devices. While that in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, it makes several moments in the series that should be heart-rending simply fall flat. Trust me there is a pattern for any character that gets developed later in the series. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll see what I mean.

Second, much like Crest of Stars, Starship Operators avoids any exposition like it’s the plague. Which is great, since we don’t get lines like, “As you know, this ship is equipped with a plasma cannon.” And horrible because I still don’t understand the political structure of the world. And in a series that is so much about politics, that could have been really helpful.

However even with the character and plot problems, the animation and character designs were still solid. There is almost no fan service, and even with the obligatory moe design, I didn’t feel put off by the artwork. The CG effects were blended well into the animation and did enchance the space battles.

The score was pretty standard fare, with the orchestral going to war sound to it. But the opener and closer were both throw-aways that really can be skipped.

All in all, Starship Operators suffers the fate of most thirteen episode series. It tries to do too much with too little space and never really accomplishes everything it should. But what it does accomplish is interesting enough that it’s worth picking up.

Recommendation: I picked up the series off of Amazon Marketplace for about $20. I would say it’s a reasonable price for the series. I wouldn’t spend more than $30 on it.

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