The New English Beat feat: Ranking Roger: Bounce

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Not too long after I finally got to see the US version of the English Beat Live, I found out that the other iteration of the band had a new album out. It’s been a bit since I bought this, but I was finally able to give it a solid listen today. For those unaware of why I mentioned two versions of the band up there, there are currently two different English Beats with both former singers heading their own version. From what I can gather, there wasn’t any sort of bad break-up or anything (Between Dave and Roger, the band did basically implode in the 80’s with the other members) as Dave Wakeling moved to California in the early 90’s and the rest didn’t want to follow. Both artists tried to do tours with their own names, only to have everyone always call them “The Beat” so they embraced it. Here’s a more detailed answer from an interview with A.V. Club, where the question was asked to Wakeling as to why there was two bands:

Oh, that was quite simple. Whilst we were trying to get five out of the seven members for a reunion show in England, Roger was coming up against the same thing as me; he was being called The Beat over there regardless of what he tried to call himself. The same thing had happened with me. I’d just given up in the end; fine, English Beat, I liked the name anyway, I thought of it, so fine, I’ll be the English Beat.

And so I said, “If you want to use the name in England, that’s fine by me; just don’t screw the legacy, make sure that the shows are always great quality and the fans go home happy and it makes them like the records more rather than less.” And so that was quite an easy thing to sort out. It’s kind of cute, I think, that you can hear “Mirror in the Bathroom” sung live by one of the lead singers on two continents!

 

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Ranking Roger at his personal recording studio

With that in mind, it’s kind of funny to find out that Ranking Roger’s The New English Beat released an album at the very tail end of 2016, with Wakeling planning his own new album sometime this year! But your question may be: How’s Roger’s Beat stack up? is it like the old stuff? well yes and no, but not in a bad way. In all honesty Bounce (the album in question) is basically what I would have expected the band to do in the 90’s if they had stayed together. It’s more polished than the previous albums, seems like it was made on a higher budget, and seems altogether “shinier”. You can feel the vibes from Both English Beat and General Public as well as a slightly more somber tone.

For those that know me, “shininess” is not always a good thing for my musical tastes as I sometimes feel that a lot of modern music, especially pop music, is empty and overproduced. While Bounce doesn’t completely stray down this path, there are a few hints of Coldplay-like guitars and such found in a few songs that really didn’t do a whole lot for me. what I did like was that some of the more mellow songs seemed to be a lot more politically charged than most Beat songs ever where. Take a track like “Walking on the Wrong Side” for instance.

What this means, is that some of the energy found in some of my favorite beat songs like “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Ranking Full Stop” is curiously absent from this record. What we do get are a few lighthearted sentimental tracks to even out the politics, which is a trademark of the sound most bands fall into when they get older. Thankfully this wan’t a total deviation into sappy ballads or anything so that’s a plus.

All in all, this was a solid listen, and a great re-introduction to a band that has basically been doing touring for the past few decades. I’ve personally been hankering for a fourth wave ska movement to pop up, so hearing only a few hints of the rudeboy sound in this record made me a bit disappointed overall. The good news is, that the music stands on it’s own and I plan to include it in my current iPod rotation. I also need to hunt down some of the music Roger did between the original English Beat and this album to see how his sound has progressed. If you enjoy ska, reggae, or The English Beat – do yourself a favor and check this out – despite a few quibbles I have it’s a solid album.

 

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Concert Review: English Beat w/ Deco Auto 3/24/17

I used to have a long commute to work every day, so my chief companion quickly became my car stereo. It took about a year, but I ended up rage-quitting local radio stations completely once I realized that my local “hard rock” station was garbage and that my local “alternative” station was basically folk music garnished by seemingly mandatory Pearl Jam songs. I bought Sirius XM to alleviate all my radio woes, and immediately fell in love with a channel on there called 1st wave.

Whenever I tell folks that I’m into 80’s new wave music, I think a lot of folks assume I love bands like Hall and Oates or something, but honestly I’m only really into that late 70’s – early 80’s scene that sprang up (mostly) in the UK – great news, that’s what they play! I think one of the first times I was listening to 1st Wave Dave Wakeling (of the English Beat and General Public) was on a talk show segment hosted by Richard Blade and I immediately realized just how much I loved the band, and my love for ska was re-energized.

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Readers may recall a while back I was talking about “trying to see more bands on my ‘musical bucket list'”, so when The English Beat popped up on my Jambase page I had to immediately snag some tickets. I’ve always been a fan of ska music, so getting to hear one of the pioneers of the 80’s second wave of ska/two-tone/reggae was definitely something I’ve wanted to do. Some of these bands rarely come over to the United States anymore, but the good news is that Dave Wakeling happens to live in California, so he tours here all the time.

Before I get into the show itself, I wanted to talk about the venue the show was held in, Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, MO. This was my first time at this venue, and I was really impressed. I’m not a big blues aficionado, which is the style of music most featured at this venue, but I’d love to come here again –  I’ll have to keep an eye out on acts coming in from time to time. This is a promotional ad, but shows off the Place better than I could attempt to describe it.

The compound is made up of a number of venues, with our concert taking place in “The Garage”. This was a roomy music hall with standing room at the front and back, a bar, and some tables – since we arrived early we were able to score some choice table seats.

The supporting act for this show was a local band called Deco Auto which is a power pop band in the vein of a lot of those early 90’s alternative bands that used to get tons of radio play like Weezer and Superchunk. While their music isn’t really my standard listening, they were pretty good even though they had a few technical difficulties during their set. For a few of their songs, one of the vocalists was sadly muted lower than she should have been so we really couldn’t hear the full impact of their music. The highlight of their set was a cover of the Blondie Song “Hanging on the Telephone”, which is always fun to listen to.

Their Bandcamp page

Oh wait, you thought you had seen all of my crappy concert pictures in previous posts, think again – this is a snap of Deco Auto doing their thing.

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Next up was the main event – finally getting to see The English Beat live! Honestly the band shows absolutely no signs of loosing any steps – the music sounds every bit as good as the original albums from 30+ years ago. The set-list was the following:

Rough Rider, The Tears of a Clown, Hands Off…She’s Mine, Twist & Crawl, Rude Boy Skank, I’ll Take You There, Save It for Later, Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret, Too Nice to Talk To, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Sole Salvation, Tenderness, Ranking Full Stop, Mirror in the Bathroom

There was a LOT of music from their first album which coincidentally is my favorite album of theirs due to the heavy ska and reggae influence. later albums somewhat shifted to arena rock, which is good, but the older stuff is my preference. conspicuously absent was the song “I confess”, perhaps one of their biggest hits, but I’ll gladly trade it for “Tenderness” from General Public.

This iteration of the band is Dave Wakeling on vocals, Nucci Cantrell on drums, Matt Morrish on sax, Kevin Lum and Minh Quan on keyboards, King Schascha on vocals and MC duty, and Brad Engstrom on bass guitar. For those unaware, there are actually two touring versions of the band going around – one helmed by Wakeling and another helmed by Ranking Roger, former bandmate of Wakeling’s in The English Beat and General Public. It seems as though there is no bad blood between the two, as the band originally broke up because the rest of the band wanted to stay in the UK and joined the Fine Young Cannibals, Wakeling moved to the US at some point and it was simply too hard to be a band at that point. Both Roger and Wakeling wanted to tour as themselves, but were always labeled as “The English Beat” so they embraced it.

The cool thing is that both singers bring a bit of a different flavor to the music, so having new albums coming out from both bands this year is a blessing for fans. I recently picked up Bounce, the new album from the UK version of the band – hope to review it on here at some point.

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All-in-all, I had a blast at this show, and hope to get to see the band again next year as they release their new album Here We Go Love. I was also glad to see that despite the age of the band there were fans at the show from pretty much every living generation in attendance. I keep thinking that we’re long overdue for a fourth wave of ska music to get big in the US, seeing so many people supporting a band like this makes me hope that’s true.

In case you’ve never seen this band:


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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 12

Episode 11 of The Tripods was an action-heavy chapter that dealt with the boys resorting to theft to get food while traveling to the White Mountains. The aftermath of said choice was basically the resulting punishment they received. Not only did they have to escape a tribe of murderous “Vagrants” living outside the town, but were apprehended by some Blackguards and put on trial for theft.

They apparently have a semblance of a fair trial, but it seems that the trial itself is more of a ritual than an actual legal proceeding. It seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that they will get capped once a Tripod arrives, and that is even if they are somehow found innocent. Boys of their age simply do not walk around uncapped, it’s uncivilized and terrifying! Our buddy Danielle, the French Blackguard that has been stalking the boys ever since they left the vineyard, shows up and punches holes in their defense. Danielle basically ruins everyone’s day by stating that he knows they are up to no good. he’s no Duc Du Sarlat on the scale of jerkitude, but he’s got to be pretty close.

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They are caged, and Danielle volunteers to take him back to his precinct for processing. Suddenly the boys are in a moral dilemma – Henry feels bad that they have to hurt Danielle in order to escape seeing that he is part of the family that took care of them. It comes down to the fact that “it’s either him or us” and the boys attack.

Danielle isn’t killed or anything, but bound, gagged, and stranded in the middle of nowhere locked inside of the cage he trapped the boys in. I liked this scene a lot because Henry had to come to terms with the fact that he probably wasn’t going back to that vineyard, and that Danielle was not their friend and family member.

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The rest of this episode is full of some very important information including our very first glimpse at what the true nature of The Tripods is. This kicks off when the boys are traversing an eerie ruined city and stumble onto a Tripod that is guarding it. Somehow they have gone completely undetected, or as beanpole puts it “just like how a fat man cannot see his own feet”.

Pretty soon a plan is concocted to attempt to destroy this Tripod. Henry climbs up a rock face and places a hammer under the foot of the hulking enormity of the machine’s foot. Beanpole then hoists one of the grenades that were plucked from the shopping mall way back in the beginning of the show, and pulls the pin with a rope. The resulting explosion knocks the beast over and a hatch opens on the front face of the Tripod.

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Until this very moment we were not exactly sure if the Tripods themselves were sentient robots or if somebody was inside of it piloting. With the hatch opening, the boys get a glimpse of an off-screen face that proves the latter is most likely the case. This is, of course, right before another grenade is hurled into the cockpit rendering the occupant inside nothing more than a thick green slime oozing out of the door.We are not only one step closer to knowing the true nature of the villainous Tripods, but we now know that they can also be killed.

As the episode closes, we see The White Mountains off in the distance, signaling that the first part of the boys’ quest is nearly complete. They aren’t sure what to expect other than the fact that there are probably more like-minded individuals there, and none of them should be capped. Here’s hoping that crazy old coot Ozymandias was right and this whole ordeal wasn’t a wild goose chase.

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Last week I discussed how much I loved the location shooting in this show, and this is yet another episode full of great shots. The ruins that the boys walk through were especially eerie, seemingly plucked from a medieval village that was destroyed. I did a bit of research, and it appears that this was actually an old Welsh slate quarry called Diffwys Quarry, that had been abandoned since the 1950’s. I’m not sure how something so recent fell into such disrepair so quickly, but it definitely gave this episode the terrifying post-apocalyptic vibe that it had lost a bit of in all of the pastoral episodes.

Also of note, were the awesome model shots and practical effects especially in the Tripod battle at the end. I’ve seen far more recent films have less realistic scenes of large creatures or machines walking around, and it really goes to show that sometimes models and puppets work better than computer generated effects for some things. My hat goes off to the director, Christopher Barry, and his entire crew.

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That’s it for this week, join me again in seven days as discuss the final chapter of season one – Episode 13, The White Mountains! Remember, if you missed any entries for this series and want to read more, go to the front page and click the “Tripods” button.

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The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 10

I believe that John F. Kennedy said it best when he once wrote: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” I chose this quote in particular because it best illustrates the central dilemma of this episode of BBC’s Tripods.

In case you’re following along at home, the previous episode of Tripods showed our intrepid trio “laying low” for a while in a French vineyard. They were seeking shelter so that Will could recover from a Tripod abduction and the resulting amateur surgery required to remove a tracking device crudely clamped onto his torso. Much like the time spent at the Chateau earlier in the year, the gang is finding it hard to leave the relative comfort of the vineyard, even though Tripods seem to be everywhere. We see the gratuitous long tacking shot of Tripods walking around in the distance, and considering the way the boys evaded them in the last episode, they are probably close by because they are looking for them.

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One thing became clear in this episode, and it is that teenagers are really stupid when they get hormones pumping through their systems like a rush of Nitrous through the engine of a sports car. It’s hard to not want to punch both Henry and Beanpole at the beginning of this episode. They are having fun and chatting up cute girls and constantly telling Will to “lighten up!”. This is a complete 180 degree reversal from the chateau where Will was “livin’ it up” and the boys wanted a one way ticket out of Dodge. Winter is soon to be there, and Will understands that they need to make it to the mountains ASAP.

Luckily we don’t see too much bickering between the boys, but the animosity is there. Will is jealous about what happened last episode regarding the “love of his life” Eloise. He took part in a village Olympics sort of festival, and lost to a cheating ball of jealousy that chose his love interest as the town tribute to the Tripods. She now gets to live in the Tripod city far away from Will, because if the Duke couldn’t have her nobody could. Will now sees everyone else having googlie-eyes at girls and feels like crap about it.

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The mother of the house, Madame Vichot, pulls the boys aside to show them a collection of art and other wonders from the past that they may have never seen. This sort of stuff is mostly lost to time and frowned upon by the Tripods and those that support them. We find out that she is showing them this a trade of sorts, she is suspicious why a french boy (Jean Paul aka Bean Pole) is traveling with two boys that are obviously from somewhere in England. They let it spill that they are on their way to the White Mountains, a place we discover is somewhere in the French or Swiss Alps. If this wasn’t red flag number one that they are too comfortable, our buddy the Blackguard-in-law Danielle starts nosing around to figure out who these “travelers” are, and it’s just a matter of time before his superiors want answers as well.

The reason that Madame Vichot is so worldly and interesting is that she is some sort of “Vagrant”, whose capping was not fully completed or failed. If you recall a “capping” is the process by which the Tripods place a mind-control device on every person of a certain age, and vagrants are those that cannot be capped or are rendered insane by the process. While she isn’t crazy, the Vineyard mistress is very distraught by the fact that she has ambition, hopes, and can still dream – all things that other capped adults simply cannot do.

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She talks to Will about his guilt about what happened to Eloise, and the fact that he seems to be redirecting all of his angst towards Henry an Beanpole. This seems to level Will’s head a bit, and by the end of the episode he seems mostly angst-free for the most part.

The boys get a new set of traveling clothes, maps, and travel documents to aid them on their journey, and eventually set off. Unfortunately, it seems that Danielle was basically trying to trap them with the documents, as he is seen stalking the boys at the end of the episode.

If you’ve missed any reviews in this series, please feel free to click the “Tripods” banner on the main page – It’s all there! Tune in next week for my review of episode 11!

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

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(AKA Season 1, Episode 7)

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for Tripods, hasn’t it? In fact, I feel like it’s been far too long, something I’m fixing right now. My plan for this “Doctor Who drought” that we are about to enter is to try to clear up a few shows I never completely finished up, and Tripods is right at the top!

Before I get into my review of episode seven, I’d like to touch on something that gives me hope for this franchise in modern times. With the success of The Hunger Games and other youth-oriented dystopian films, I’m hoping that film execs will realize the potential they have with this story. Many may not realize it, but Disney has owned the rights for a film adaptation of the series for upwards of a decade and a half, and have been sitting on them. Considering how long it took before we got a second Tron film, I’m not too optimistic in many ways. My hope is that, much like with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games craze will ignite a new slew of movies that are vaguely similar, not copycat films, but in the same vein.

There was a script floating around, said to be helmed by Alex Proyas (Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot), that made huge changes to the plot, such as changing genders and creating love triangles between characters that has seemed to died off thankfully. I mean, take this nugget from a Digital Spy interview in 2009:

“Well, we’ve erm, I’m giving you all my secrets, but we’ve actually changed Beanpole to a girl. That was a pretty significant change, because I really just didn’t get the notion that there’d be these three boys traveling around the countryside and they just really wanted to have a girl in the mix.”

…..Yeesh!

Now for the review!

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We’re getting closer to the end of what I like to call “The Chateau Arc” for the most part here, and while I’ve enjoyed it immensely, I’ll be glad for the story to move along a bit. There is only so much wandering around an old castle drinking wine, and being aristocratic I can handle! When we last left “Will and the gang” a plea had been made to Will’s love interest, Eloise, for her to come along with him on his planned escape. When she refused, he was in utter shock and soon realized the worst – she was already capped with the Tripods mind control device, a fate worse than death itself for Will. With only days remaining until a sporting tournament on the grounds of the Chateau, and a wedding looming, Will has some tough decisions coming up.

Beanpole and Henry have left already, and are worried about the implications of their split party. Henry is worried that Will’s capping will mean the Tripods will not only know of their plan, the network by which they have been traveling, and where they are going, but that could intercept them. Thankfully, despite his little whiny displays last episode, Henry is not only thinking about himself. He is worried about Will and wishes him happiness, but feels like he has abandoned him in some way. Will is about to watch a series of games that vaguely resemble the type of competitions one might witness at a “Renaissance faire”. The winner of these games is our old buddy Duc du Sarlat, the eternal “Joffrey” of this universe. Not only did he cheat to win, but “The Duke” basically goes around wounding everyone he comes across, all in the name of sportsmanship.

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Throughout the last few episodes It’s been left fairly vague as to what winning this competition actually means in the grand scheme of things, and Will only finds out at the end of the tournament. In order to “get back” at Will and ruin his future with Eloise, Sarlat names Eloise as his “Queen of the Tournament”, an honor that means Eloise is to be taken away from the Chateau and hauled off to the Tripod “City of Gold”. All of the girls in the village run out and lead her to an awaiting Tripod, and it’s all over. Will never has to make the tough decision because his fiance is ripped from his side, and is presumed to never be seen again.

One sad note about this episode is that the girl who portrayed Eloise, Charlotte Long, died shortly after filming the first series of the show. This episode is essentially the last to feature Eloise, minus a dream sequence in series two, but it’s sad to think that she died so young. According to IMDB” She died three days after sustaining injuries in an accident on the M4 motorway, when a truck crashed into her parked car after it had broken down. Her passenger survived with only minor injuries. The resulting inquest heard that the truck driver had sneezed, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and violently rear-end her car while it was parked on the side of the road.”

There really isn’t anything new to be said about this episode, as all of the “Chateau arc” episodes really go together. It can be said that this episode has picked up in tension and drama, something that lacked in the last few “comfortable” episodes. I’m excited to see what Will does now that there is no reason to stay in France, and whether he tries to get even with Sarlat. So here’s to episode eight, where Will goes on the run once again.

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Black Magic M-66 (1987) OVA

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Science fiction stories, and more specifically cyberpunk stories, are by far my favorite type of anime and manga; and one of the grandmasters of the genre would have to be Masamune Shirow. Not only did he unleash the beast that was the Ghost in the Shell franchise to our defenseless eyes, but also brought a helping of Dominion Tank Police, Gundress and even Appleseed. Rest assured, as this blog continues, I will be posting more of his stuff than you can handle.

So, what makes Shirow’s work stand out so much? Despite his foray into erotic pin-up art for the last decade or so, Shirow’s work was essentially the formula that most 80’sand 90’s cyberpunk anime followed. His productions were characterized by sexy leading ladies, philosophical plots, and a procedural police drama flavor. On top of all of this, Shirow is known for his highly detailed level of world building; this is seen most notably in his vehicles, mecha, firearms, and cybernetics.

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Before Ghost in The Shell or even Apleseed, Shirow penned a science fiction manga simply called Black Magic. Bandai eventually got the rights, and produced a short OVA (original video animation) based loosely on a small portion of the comic. Hiroyuki Kitakubo also co-directed this piece, and later went on to work on such films as Akira, Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, and Roujin Z usually as a key animator or storyboard director. So here we go – let’s look at Black Magic M-66, one of Shirow’s earliest works!

Black Magic M-66 is the story of a hard-as-nails and usually scantily-clad journalist named Sybil out for the scoop of her career. She learns about a crashed military transport and two lethal combat androids on-board. She assumes that the military is going to battle a “violent, armored thing on the road”, but little does she know, it’s worse. Perhaps because of the crash, or a fault in programming, these mechanical murderers get loose and set out to kill the granddaughter of their own creator. Sybil has a choice, if she wants her big payday, she better protect the girl from the bots.

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The plot essentially boils down to a prolonged chase scene that somewhat reminded me of the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator film. M-66 is like the Terminator and has been programmed to kill Ferris (Sarah Conner) who is only safe because she is being protected by Sybil (Kyle). Yeah, it lacks the time travel plot and other aspects, but the similarity is there. I wish that Black Magic M-66 could have been a tad longer, because the plot really gets rolling about 10-15 minutes into the movie, and rushed to the ending from then on. To me, It needs a bit more breathing room.

This video has a lot of what I like to call “the pervy side of Shirow”. I mentioned earlier, that Shirow basically exclusively produces erotic pin up art ever since he completed his manga Ghost in the Shell II: Man Machine Interface. People thinking that this career turn is a new thing, need to go back and watch Black Magic M-66. Not only is Sybil’s very first scene one where she is not wearing any clothes, but other characters seem to be border-line nudists as well. Ferris, The aforementioned granddaughter in question, walks around in what I can best describe as her underwear with shoes on for a good chunk of her early scenes.

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A special nod goes out to the way the android M-66s are designed and their “fighting style”. When they finally are spotted by the military and engaged, the inhuman,near animalistic way in which they move is almost unsettling. The “male” M-66, which meets a grizzly end by way of military might towards the beginning of the feature, is vaguely monkey like and sticks to the ground, whereas the “female” M-66 lumbers around shooting things with laser eyes and retracting knives as fingers. These monstrosities really bring this film into it’s own,and keep the whole thing full of “on the edge of your seat moments”.

Before I sat down to write this, I had never actually seen this anime for some reason. I think this boils down to the scarcity of the older Manga Entertainment DVD when I used to work at a retail store, and my unwillingness to spend large amounts of money on it. I believe the older DVD was released in 2001, and it wasn’t until a few months ago that a new company, Maiden Japan, re-released it minus any English dubbing. If in a pinch, I bet you could find it on any popular video sharing site, but I don’t condone that due to an actual American license, but whatever floats your boat.

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In conclusion, Black Magic M-66 is not as polished as later works from Masamune Shirow, but it still retains a lot of his trademark style. You have the procedural cop drama trope with the military guys, the mecha, the androids, and even the sexy female lead. All it’s missing is the philosophical treatment with the plot. If anything, it’s always fun to see where a director honed his chops.

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