Devilman G: Grimoire Vol 1 (2012)

While Netflix audiences were shocked in 2018 to find a brand-new, shiny Devilman Reboot on their TV, it’s far from the first time that the nearly 50 year old franchise has been repackaged. Today, we will be looking at the first volume of a manga series called Devilman G: Grimoire to see where it stands.

“IT TAKES A DEVIL TO KILL A DEVIL!

When Miki attempts to summon a demon on the roof of her high school, things don’t go quite as planned. Not only does she instigate a vicious massacre, but her friend Akira gets possessed by the legendary demon Amon the Uneater, who annihilates his own kind. As Tokyo’s streets grow bloodier by the day–thanks to invaders from Hell–a demonic demon slayer might be the city’s only hope for salvation.

A modern, ultra-violent spin on the devilish classic by Go Nagai!”

One thing that immediately jumps out at you is that this manga is not a faithful translation of previous versions of the story. For all intents and purposes, this is a sort of an alternative universe using some of the same characters – sort of like the Marvel Ultimate Universe from around a decade ago. In many ways this is refreshing, as it doesn’t seem as dated as something as old as Devilman is can seem, although it also falls victim to a lot of the tropes of manga from 2012 that I was not a fan of – namely the juxtaposition of seemingly juvenile dialog and characters in a manga full f intense gore that was definitely NOT meant for kids.

But before I get into that, I wanted to talk about some stuff I did like. I absolutely loved the idea that the whole concept of the show has origins with the Demon wrangling of Good old King Solomon who is said to have built an enormous temple by enslaving hundreds of demons using a relic called the Ring of Solomon (emblazoned with the seal of Solomon of course). I have yet to read the original manga (yet, as it just got released in English), so I assume this is a new addition. It’s cool to see something like this reference The Ars Goetia as it seems like the concept would go hand-in-hand with something like this, much like how it does when referenced by Shin Megaami Tensei games.

Another thing is that the other characters have been far more fleshed out. Miki, for instance, has been given a lot more to her character than simply being a love interest that eventually gets killed in order to move the story along. She might still end up getting killed for all I know, but I hope that after a complete overhaul, this manga avoids the “fridging” trope that characters like this and Gwen Staacy can never seem to escape. Although, by having Miki 100% tied to the creation of Devilman instead of being somewhat unaware of his connection to Akira – the relationship between the characters has been altered.

By doing this, the series sort of removes the “Doctor Jekyll / Mr. Hyde” secret identity thing from the story-line and instead goes towards a vibe that reminded me of shows like Cardcaptor Sakura or even Parasyte – where a super being is directed by somebody else to fight stuff – this time a novice magic user of sorts.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t a fan of some of the dialog in this comic, and a lot of that is because the tone of the writing seems to completely be at odds with the content of the comic. Some of the characters, especially MIki, have this anime trope “DO YOUR BEST!” mentality that I suppose exists in Japan, but comes across really fake and like something you would see in Sailor Moon. Right after this, somebody would get disemboweled in grave detail in such a way that you are both shocked and repulsed. Rui Takato seems particularly obsessed with showing intestines falling out of corpses and female nudity, so be ready for that.

Had this been either a straight superhero comic or a straight horror comic, I think the two sides would have fit better, but there are more volumes ahead so hopefully it falls into place eventually. In saying this, I do like shows like Kill la KIll from Studio Trigger that are vaguely similar in nature to this, so perhaps seeing this in motion would have sharpened the whole thing up for me. Otherwise, who knows, the translation could be wonky to meet demands of comics from that time period.

All-in-all this is a competent comic, but it’s not great….yet. I can see myself warming up to this as it goes, and assume that if I wasn’t already familiar with the franchise, I would enjoy it more. I enjoyed the world building and nods to the classic comics and shows, but wasn’t a huge fan of the dialogue and “tropey” way in which the comic moves.

One thing I forgot to mention is that I absolutely LOVE the retro art-style. While it’s not exactly a 1970’s style, and is different than Go Nagai, it still feels nostalgic and “old school” which is the style I prefer.

Stay tuned for more Devilman goodies this month as it DEVILMAN MONTH on Arcadia Pod!

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DEVILMAN Crybaby (2018)

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Almost out of nowhere, Netflix has started to become my go-to location for watching new anime – even over Crunchyroll. This is largely because instead of simply streaming properties that were made in Japan, Netflix has been funding original content and taking huge chances in an industry that has been going through various stages of stagnation for a number of years. After last year’s Castlevania, a witty, dark adaptation of an old NES game, the company has set to dip into the more brutal side of anime yet again with DEVILMAN Crybaby.

DEVILMAN Crybaby is based on the legendary manga and anime by Go Nagai – author of other popular series such as Cutie Honey and Mazinger Z. The property had an odd, almost simultaneous release as a  39-episode anime series which was developed by Toei Animation in 1972, and as a manga in Kodansha’s Weekly Shōnen Magazine barely a month before the anime series started. The series has since spawned numerous OVAs, manga, novels, and films. Today we will be talking about a BRAND-NEW remake of the franchise in DEVILMAN Crybaby, the surprise hit of the year in the anime world.

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When I started watching this, I was immediately enthralled by the opening theme song and video which is a bizarre, simplistic electronic dance song that basically just has the lyrics “MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN HUMAN MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN HUMAN HUMAN!” playing against a trippy background reminiscent of watercolor inkblot tests. I’m not sure why, but this song, perhaps in it’s simplicity, is a total earworm and gets stuck in your head immediately. Whenever Netflix would try to skip the intro I was like “OH HELL NO!” in the same way that I always must watch both the Doctor Who and Game of Thrones intros to completion.

In DEVILMAN Crybaby Demons invade humanity after being frozen in ice for millions of years. Akira, a timid boy, is tasked by his friend Ryo to merge with one of these demons in order to be able to fight back against them for the sake of humanity. Akira has been chosen because, as the title would suggest, he is very very emotional – sobbing uncontrollably at the drop of a hat. It’s this susceptibility to extreme empathy that makes him the perfect candidate to become a demon as he can control the impulses that usually turn people into inhuman creatures of pure impulse.

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Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, a man that is perhaps my favorite surrealist anime director considering I LOVE his films Cat Soup and Kick Heart, which the latter was reviewed here from back before I merged my blogs together. He is one of those guys that usually makes short films rather than long-form pieces such as a full-on TV series, but I’m glad he is branching out and trying things like this. I’m not sure how much Netflix has to say about funding decisions such as this, but I feel Japan would have likely skipped on something like this on their own since it won’t sell body pillows.

I think I was sold on DEVILMAN Crybaby towards the end of the very first episode where Masaaki Yuasa finally steps forward and unleashes his signature weirdness that I was wanting to see. Not since Gantz, an anime that I was able to watch the premiere of at an anime convention and stayed glued to the seat due to how messed up it was, have I been able to not stop watching something as if it’s a crazy car crash.

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At one point our titular hero, just minus his devil powers, finds himself being forced to go to a full-on rave / orgy full of drug-addled women of various states of undress waving all sorts of body parts around. Suddenly Akira’s friend Ryo starts attacking strangers (which should be a hell of a red flag) to add the smell of blood to all of the other debauchery and summon demons to the club. Suddenly, people are ripped into pieces or transformed into other demons themselves, including our boy Akira.

I’m not being facetious when I say – this is perhaps the most violent, gory, and raunchy anime Netflix has and perhaps we can extend that to the rest of the anime world in the last five years outside of actual pornography. But the weird thing is, it never feels wholly gratuitous; it somehow stays artistic rather than going down the road of juvenile T&A shows like Prison School or Queen’s Blade. Its use of grandiose sexual and violent imagery are a tool used to peer into the overindulgent, sometimes disgusting nature of being human. Because, in the world of DEVILMAN Crybaby becoming a demon is basically taking your most base animalistic tendencies and amplifying it to the point of absurdity.

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In most versions of Devilman, a relatively minor villain named Jinmen encapsulates this very well. He has fully fallen into being a demon and shows no human side whatsoever. Even other long-time antagonists such as Sirene show some sort of humanity poking though as small as the sliver is. Jinmen is arguably one of the most depraved, repulsive and perverse villains in all of Devilman.

He is a complete sadist, who revels in the suffering of human beings and enjoys tormenting them psychologically, as evidenced by his macabre habit of keeping their still-living faces on the back of his shell after eating them. Jinmen would compare the faces growing off of his back to the tattoos which human beings paint on their bodies and happily flaunts them in front of his adversaries. This was part of Jinmen’s scare tactic; by having his enemy cower in fear at the sight of his kills, or in the case of Akira Fudo cause reluctance in fighting Jinmen out of concern towards the several humans attached to the demon turtles body.

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As you can see from the pictures on here and my descriptions, the art style in this show is extremely trippy – not at all the “norm” for modern anime in 2018. Everything is exaggerated in just about every manner causing an almost unsettling juxtaposition between scenes of light-hearted banter, sex, and grim violence. A lot of the art reminds me a lot of French comics books, the sort of stuff that would eventually end up in Heavy Metal magazine in both their loose grasp of human anatomy and their use of trippy colors and shapes.

This is a hallmark of Masaaki Yuasa’s many works of art and shows up in most of his films. I have come to expect this from him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Earlier on, I stated that DEVILMAN Crybaby was a surprise hit for me. I honestly assumed this show would go seemingly unnoticed outside of anime fans such as myself (pretentious snob guys LOL) and might a few honorable mention lists at the end of the year. Instead it has become a force of nature in social media and just about every major anime podcast, magazine, and website. We all know that Netflix rarely releases data on how much their shows get watched, but judging solely by the amount of buzz it generated, I’m almost certain it is considered a big success. I have also seen reviews that mention random facts like the soundtrack completely selling out in Japan which is unheard of for anime OSTs. I’ve even seen this get mentioned on lists of things to watch on Netflix that basically say “you need to watch this even if you don’t like anime” implying that it has crossed into the mainstream film community.

Yeah, the show can be seen as over-hyped and I bet there are tons of “I hate stuff because it’s popular” guys out there whining about how they don’t understand the love for the show, but screw them honestly. DEVILMAN Crybaby has the markings of a modern classic like FLCL and Cowboy Bebop by getting non-fans watching anime – and that’s never a bad thing gatekeepers be damned.

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Mystery Science Theater 3000: 11×01

 

It’s less than a week from the premiere of the eleventh season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so if you’re like me you’re pretty excited to see what happens. Thankfully, Kickstarter backers past a certain level got to see an advance screening of the pilot episode over the weekend, and since I was unable to wait another week to watch it, I caved and booted it up. I’ll try to keep a ton of major spoilers out of this review, since this is technically a pre-screening, but be warned – there will be a few in here. You may have a number of questions now – Did Joel an co. recapture the Magic? Is Jonah a good host? Are the bots more than a shadow of their former selves? are the riffs pretty good? are there celebrity cameos? If you’d like me to answer yes to all the above – you’re in luck!

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On the host front, you couldn’t find a better fit than Jonah Ray as Jonah Heston. I’ve been a fan of his for a number of years largely due to his many podcast adventures on the Nerdist Podcast alongside Chris Hardwick and Matt Mira. While real life Jonah be be sort of curmudgeonly and grumpy, Jonah Heston is very cheerful and peppy – much like both of his predecessors. Considering that the entire point of the show is a group of mad scientists basically trying to drive a guy crazy, having the host be happy makes it that much more fun. The bots are also back in full force, with all of the voice actors doing a great job. The one jarring difference is that Gypsy, the sole female member of the Satellite of Love now has an actual female voice, rather than a husky voice provided by a guy for comic relief.

We do see a bit of the circumstances that lead to Jonah being on board the Satellite of Love (which is now tethered to a moon-base on the dark side of the moon), but they don’t dwell on it. there is no mention as to how any of the bots came back, or what happened to Mike Nelson, the previous host. Honestly, this is a show that doesn’t need to be bogged down with exposition, so I wouldn’t care too much if we never find out – keep in mind “Just repeat to yourself “It’s just a show, I should really just relax”.

What we do know is that Jonah Heston is an employee of Gizmonics institute, and is in charge of delivering a cargo of asteroids harvested from deep space. Co-workers apparently talk him up to be one of, if not THE best at what he does, with his only downfall being a rebellious streak. He is minding his own business when a distress call rings through the airwaves. Our new “mads” headed up by Kinga Forester (daughter of Clayton Forester and Granddaughter of Pearl Forester) have concocted a plan to shanghai a good Samaritan, just like himself, and force him to be the new test subject for a new iteration of the Mystery Science Theater experiments.

The first experiment – a bad monster flick called Reptilicus.

mst3k reptilicus

Repticilus is a 1961 “kaiju” movie in the same mold as Godzilla made by Danish filmmakers that really had no business trying to make such a film. In many ways, its like a lot of the early Hammer science fiction and Monster films, notably Quatermass and X: The Unknown, in that the main characters are scientists and they are fighting a monster that they do not understand. These films from nearly a decade prior had great acting for this sort of film, and cutting edge special effects – this one – Not so much. Honestly the entire films down down around the shoddy special effects and film quality of the monster itself – a creature that has been realized as a bad puppet with perhaps a single string making it’s head writhe around.

These scenes are notably inferior to other scenes to where it almost looks like an entirely different movie has been spliced in. One of the funnier riffs involves this disparity where someone exclaims that “it’s raining tar” due to the large amount of film imperfections on that given scene. Reptilicus becomes unintentionally hilarious when he starts eating people, an effect realized through a terrible mat overlay as far as I could tell, and his acidic green slime attacks. Sometimes less is more with films like this – a lesson learned from 1954’s Gojira (Godzilla) in spades. that film barely shows the titular monster so you’re never left to face the fact that he’s a dude in a suit – Reptilicus however overstays his welcome.

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I am left VERY happy with this new season so far. I think my only quibbles with this new version of MST3K is that some of the riffs are slightly too rapid fire – some scenes go from riff to riff without any real time to breathe. The good news is that the writing is pretty solid, so one never really gets too tired of the jokes. Also, this first episode is also pretty sparse on interaction between the SOL crew and the “Mads” – we see some some good interactions at the beginning, involving an invention exchange, and some pretty solid banter, but they disappear soon after.

I’m really looking forward to more MST3K, it really feels weird having new episodes considering I think I was in high school when it was still on in the past. Much like the revival of Doctor Who, there are some changes – some that won’t please everyone, but this is in every way classic MST3K. Welcome back, hope you stay a while!

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The MST3K Netflix Trailer is Here!

“I am re-opening my family’s most legendary experiment, Mystery Science Theater 3000”

Just a few days ago I posted one of the long awaited promotional images from the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which will be airing on Netflix in a few weeks. I assumed we were just going to get a few odds and ends prior to the premiere, only to discover a brand new shiny trailer waiting on the internet after I got home from work! I’m not going to do a full breakdown or anything, but we can at least grasp the gist of the plot of this new season a bit.

It appears that Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) is some sort of space miner, or rock transporter or something, just minding his own business when a distress call rings through the airwaves. Our new “mads” headed up by Kinga Forester (daughter of Clayton Forester and Granddaughter of Pearl Forester) have concocted a plan to shanghai a good Samaritan, just like himself, and force him to be the new test subject for a new iteration of the Mystery Science Theater experiments. The Mads appear to be on a moonbase called Moon 13 which has all sorts of minions about aside from Kinga and Frank Jr. On closer look – does Kinga have a sister that looks like Pearl?

We see a small taste of some of the films to be shown this season including:

Reptilicus (1961) – “A portion of the tail of a prehistoric reptile is discovered in Denmark. It regenerates into the entire reptile, which proceeds to destroy buildings and property and generally make a nuisance of itself. It can fly, swim, and walk, and has impenetrable scales, which makes it difficult to kill.”

Star Crash (1978) – “Outlaw smugglers Stella Star and Akton manage to pick up a castaway while running from the authorities, who turns out to be the only survivor from a secret mission to destroy a mysterious superweapon designed by the evil Count Zarth Arn. The smugglers are soon recruited by the Emperor of the Galaxy to complete the mission, as well as to rescue the Emperor’s son, who has gone missing.”

The Time Traveleres (1964) – “In 1964, a team of scientists are trying to develop a view screen into the future. What they in fact get is a portal and they soon find themselves on the other side, 127 years into the future when the portal collapses. The Earth of the future is barren and they are soon attacked by mutated humans but rescued by a group of scientists who are building a spaceship to take them to a new planet.”

–text from imdb

Check out the trailer below!


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Picture of the new MST3K “Mads” in Full Costume Revealed!

With just around a month away, the VERY tight-lipped staff over at Netflix and The Satellite of Love have finally started to trickle a tiny sliver of what’s to come with the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Funded in part by a largely successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2015, this will be the first season of new episodes to grace the airwaves for nearly twenty years. Felicia Day posted the following image to Twitter today, finally showing off Kinga Forester and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank in full mad scientist garb!

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Some Takeaways / thoughts –

  • Patton Oswalt is my favorite stand-up comedian, so I was pumped from day one when he was announced for this role. he definitely has the grimace of an evil scientist down.
  • Wonder how much like Pearl Kinga is?
  • The set looks like the Deep 13 set, love the heart shaped gate.
  • The new “mads” logo seems to be a “bonehead”…awesome!
  • Love the black overcoats – almost a season 1 feel, or perhaps they aren’t scientists are pure torturers!?
  • I can’t wait for next month!

 

Oh and if you didn’t see this, here’s an older promo image showing the “mads” in white, as well as the majority of the new cast:

mst3k-on-netflix


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Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice (2017)

For me, one of the most overlooked and underappreciated anime / manga franchises out there (at least in America) is the venerable Cyborg 009 series by the late Shotaro Ishinomori. Created in 1963, Cyborg 009 could be considered Japan’s first superhero property, and one of, if not, the first fully racially integrated superhero team stories out there. There have been countless comics, movies and TV shows made for the franchise, this being the most recent. It should be no surprise to my readers that I really like older anime and things that have interesting art styles, and I find Ishinomori’s versions of the classic 60’s manga style to be at least up there with Tezuka.

Sadly, I recall the art style of the 2001-2 show (that aired on Cartoon Network) to be a dividing force in anime fandom at the time, with some of the more “mainstream” fans disliking it “because it looked old”. Thankfully 2017 is an entirely different beast, and while this show has had a modern facelift, anime fans seem to be more willing to try different things today which is great! Don’t be surprised if I do more Cyborg 009 reviews soon, as the 50th anniversary has brought a handful of new shows, films, and comics to enjoy.

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The main story of Cyborg 009 involves a shady militarized weapons manufacturer and terrorist organization called Black Ghost, and their newest project – cyborg super soldiers. Nine people from around the world are kidnapped and forced to undergo experiments which turn them into cyborgs with superhuman powers. Realizing that they have been wronged, and that Black Ghost is a threat to humanity itself, the cyborgs band together in order to stop Black Ghost in its’ goal of starting the next world war.

This story picks up years after Black Ghost has been eliminated, and the Cyborgs are trying to live as close to normal lives as they can, only to have that ripped away from a new threat – Metahumans with abilities like their own that have seemingly been ordered to kill the Cyborgs. Called “The Blessed” these guys are all sorts of zany bad guys such as a Cowboy that can control the weather, and a man that can alter gravity at will.

Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice is a “Netflix original” that was originally released as three films in Japan. It was produced by Production I.G and OLM Digital and distributed by Toho with Kenji Kamiyama (he directed  Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex ) as executive producer and chief of the project, and Kokai Kakimoto (Psycho-Pass movie unit director) as director of the films themselves. Netflix basically took this footage and edited it into a twelve episode series that premiered last month (Feb 2017).

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I mentioned earlier that there was a “facelift” of sorts for the animation and character designs, and for once this is a modernization that isn’t terrible. The Cyborgs in Cyborg 009 have always had iconic red costumes adorned with yellow buttons and long yellow scarves. This motif is intact, but the suits have been “upgraded” to armored protective suits with yellow vent ports in the place of buttons. oh yeah, the yellow scarves are there! It’s subtle, but it’s a welcome upgrade for the long running series. Another change is that the character designs have been tweaked a bit, even from the 2012 film 009 Re:Cyborg, also from production I.G.

While this may be the farthest departure from the classic art style by Shotaro Ishinomori, the character  designs are good, in honestly my only quibble is that every iteration seems to make Jet Link (Cyborg 002) look less and less stylized that his original design. Jet used to have crazy spike hair and a huge hooked nose, now he just has a big nose and shaggy blond hair as if played by a young Owen Wilson. This isn’t a deal breaker, but I wish classic character designs wouldn’t be hidden sometimes – this was also an issue for me with the recent Harlock CGI film. The flipside to that sentiment is that thankfully, Cyborg 008 – an African man named Pyunma, has been toned down as to not look like any sort of blackface character as he previously was depicted. Granted, this hasn’t been an issue since the 70’s or so, but seeing the original 1960’s version of this shows Aquaman is pretty uncomfortable at times.

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You may have noticed that this show uses 3D CGI graphics to render characters rather than a traditional style that mimics old-school cel art. Japan has caught a lot of flack for years in the way that they handle this sort of animation as it seems somehow “cheaper” than American and even European counterparts. This sadly isn’t an actual technical limitation, but a misguided stylistic choice. The following is an excerpt from an Anime News Network column on the issue that may shed some light:

Part of the problem is that not only are CG artists trying to imitate the look of 2D animation, but they’re trying to imitate an aesthetic that was born out of cost-cutting. If anime had always been lavishly funded, it might have consistently been animated on 1’s or 2’s (that is, 24 or 12 frames per second, or a cel every 1 or 2 film frames). But it’s usually far less. To try and match that, CG artists have started rendering at lower frame rates — 6 or even 4 frames per second.

This style is jarring to western fans used to things like CGI animated films from Disney, Dreamworks, or Pixar. Hell there are even crappy children’s shows that look infinitely better than a lot of CGI anime – a recent whipping boy for this is 2016’s Berserk TV series – check out the bloodbath that unfolded after that show premiered to see how passionate fans are about this issue.

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So where does Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice fall into this picture? Well, thankfully it looks pretty good – it’s by no means the best I’ve seen, but the animators made some cool choices that show a lot of depth and show off action very well. There are a few janky scenes here or there, but for the most part the animation seemed on par with shows like Cartoon Network’s recent Green Lantern series or Disney’s Tron show. It seems that Japan is finally drifting away from the fake low framerate effect on their shows, now they just have to work out stiffness a bit more, and we’ll really start to see the style come into it’s own.

I did forget to mention earlier, but I watched this anime in English on Netflix, so we have an anime dub in play. This one was produced by California-based Bang Zoom! Entertainment who used to always do dubs for Manga Entertainment releases. They are usually a solid studio with this production being no exception. I haven’t followed a lot of today’s voice actors very much, but everyone involved seemed to do a great job, and there wasn’t anyone in the cast that grated on my nerves.

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All-in-all I really enjoyed this show, and hope more people check it out. Thankfully, it exists as an entry point into the franchise and really doesn’t require any knowledge of a 50+ year old back-story, but it also doesn’t alienate long-term fans. Perhaps the plot is a bit “too safe” to be anything immediately classic, but it’s a fitting chapter in a long story. If you think this looks cool, or want to see what is basically “Japanese X-Men” I’d give this show a shot!


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How To Watch British Television in America

An easy guide on how to watch all this stuff I keep yammering on about!

We live in a very interesting time for entertainment consumers. Gone are the days of only having a small selection of television channels to watch on any given day. First, the home video and DVD markets opened the floodgates on older and far more obscure programming to watch. This was followed by internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and those dreaded Peer to Peer and bittorrent clients. No longer is the consumer shackled to the whims of a TV executive or commercial entity. For the most part, barriers are falling and e can watch what we want, when we want,how we want.

This blog covers one particular type of media – UK science fiction and other “genre” programming. A lot of the stuff I cover is readily available to Americans on pay services or home video releases, but what I want to do is give a general overview on how I watch all this stuff. Don’t fret if you are a reader that doesn’t live in the U.S., most of these tips can help you out as well no matter what country you live in.

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Look for one of these on the back of your DVDs

Region Codes, and how to bypass them.

As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from UK companies such as Doctor Who cost about twice or even three times more than most U.S. television shows. This can be particularly bad if you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank. Yes, a few of these shows are available on Netflix (e.g.Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Day of the Triffids) but some shows that I plan on eventually getting such as the Tripods or Blakes 7 will probably never come out here or be released on a streaming device. You can obviously download things and burn them, or watch programs on your computer, but if you are like me, this choice is never as good as watching a good quality image whilst sitting in a comfy chair. This is where region-free DVD players some in.

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this is what happens when you try to play a disk on the wrong player (Photo credit: williac)

So what are DVD regions? They are an archaic policy adopted by home media companies decades ago to promote policies such as price discrimination, disallow reverse importation, and control costs with staggered release dates. For example, in America a company can get away with selling a seven year old season of Doctor Who for around $79.99 due to the niche market and limited exposure. In the United Kingdom this would be ludicrous, and as such, it is much cheaper. Anyone in their right mind, when confronted with such a price difference, would just order these DVDs from England. This is what they are trying to stop. America is called “region 1” and the UK is “region 2” so neither can easily watch each others home media very easily. If you pop a foreign DVD into your personal DVD player it will have an error message, this is the same with personal computers,game systems and just about everything else that would make you happy. Here are maps of the DVD regions and Blu-Ray regions. 

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DVD Regions
Blu-Ray Regions
Blu-Ray Regions

My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:

Region-Free DVD Players
Region-Free DVD Players are big business in some countries(Photo credit: Hikosaemon)

1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese-made DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locks installed via software within the factory. In the past I used to get DVD players from Digix or Coby for around 20-30 dollars. These players were pretty crappy for the most part, and honestly aren’t worth it unless you can’t swing what I will post on option 2. I remember having this one particular model of Coby DVD player that would work fine until around the six month mark, *boom* – broken. The trick to using one of these is to do a little research. Websites like DVD Help have listings of DVD players and whether they can be region hacked or not. Most of these are simple to hack, as a numerical code on the DVD remote usually does the trick.

2) Best Method – depending on how much one wants to spend, visiting a site like Region Free DVD is the best option. Tired of dealing with cheap players, I plunked down 100 dollars for a Toshiba regionless HDMI up-scaling DVD player, and will never look back. Not only is the picture better in just about every way, but the player itself is tailored for wide screen TVs and widescreen media, like most UK TV.

The reason I recommend getting one of these players is pretty self explanatory with the numbers. Here are the prices and availability of one show Life on Mars, and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes.

Amazon.com

LOM Season 1: $49.99-$79.00

LOM Season 2: $49.99-$79.00

A2A S1: Not released

A2A S2: Not released

A2A S3:Nor released

Total $100.00+ for 2 seasons, Ashes to Ashes not even announced for release as far as I know.

Ashes to Ashes (TV series)
Ashes to Ashes (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amazon.co.uk

(as of today’s exchange rates)

LOM Season 1: $15.00

LOM Season 2: $15.00

A2A S1: $15.00

A2A S2: $15.00

A2A S3: $20.00

Total $80.00 for 5 seasons, all episodes complete, there are also combo packs of all three Ashes to Ashes seasons, and both Life on Mars seasons that could bring the price down even more. 

And now you can see why I do this, and shipping isn’t bad either – maybe 8 bucks for most DVD orders to reach the U.S. If you don’t care to get a new DVD or Blu-Ray player, there are also computer programs that disable region codes on PCs. Technically you can watch foreign DVDs on there as it does allow for a VERY limited amount of region swaps, but be careful. If you keep switching regions, it will eventually permanently lock into one. Most computers can be toggled around six times before this happens. 

But lets say you don’t care about actually owning these shows, is there a way to watch these on TV or on your computer? Why yes there is!

Cable TV Alternatives

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

There are three major streaming services in the U.S.: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. These three companies have become my lifeline lately, as I decided to “cut the cord” a few years back, and drop my cable subscription. Needless extra channels and ever-increasing prices were getting to be a headache,and I’m glad there was an alternative to cable and satellite. While there is a bit of cross-over, all three companies have their strengths and weaknesses in price and availability. In a general sense, Netflix is better for movies, Hulu is better for TV, and Amazon Prime is like a weird cousin of both – having VERY popular TV shows and movies, but less of them.

Hulu
Hulu (Photo credit: Evan Hamilton)

Netflix gets big props for having licenses for some of the bigger shows like Doctor Who and Top gear. With the latter, they even have all of the 20+ seasons (minus the first) all ready to marathon. Hulu has been bringing quite a few UK comedies and dramas over as “Hulu Exclusives” such as Rev. and Whites as of late. Other shows like Moone Boy, Misfits, and Pramface have been getting quite a bit of traction on there as well, bringing what could be considered “more obscure” shows to a new audience. Amazon Prime is the oddity here. They have some huge shows like Downton Abbey and things like Sarah Jane Adventures as well as next day purchase options for the NEW episodes of big shows. This year, I spent 2 bucks a pop for Doctor Who series 7, something that I could have pirated, but chose not to.

amazon-prime

Considering that my monthly cable bill used to run some $120, these companies are awesome. Hulu is $7.99 per month, as is Netflix, and Amazon Prime is $79.99 yearly. There are other perks for the Amazon subscription including free two day shipping on everything, so if you are a heavy Amazon user, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use this service.

Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kickin’ it Oldschool

For our penultimate section I decided to bring up regular old TV, whether it be network, cable, or satellite. This is not my preferred method of watching UK TV, but it will definitely do in a pinch. For years, the Public Broadcasting Service has helped many an Anglophile get their fix. I grew up watching comedies like Keeping Up Appearances, Mr. Bean, and Monty Python just to name a few. My local PBS station still runs a Saturday block of UK TV all sponsored by some very passionate fans. Some of the videotapes they use look pretty bad now, but if you haven’t seen the show digitally remastered you will be none-the-wiser. Some PBS stations even run shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, so keep an eye on the schedule. Outside of that, cable providers have a decent amount of UK TV, especially if you have BBC America on your cable plan. The problem with “regular TV” is that most US TV execs love to remake everything that is popular rather than airing the original.

bittorrent

“By other means”

I won’t lie, I sometimes obtain TV episodes from the internet. Whether it be a bit-torrent client or YouTube,if one is internet savvy enough pretty much anything is obtainable online. For older shows that are out of print on DVD and impossible to legally obtain over here, I have ventured onto torrent sites quite often. be warned, this is NOT legal at worst and kind of a  gray area at best, and could land you in trouble. I would never download a Hollywood film or adult film using these sorts of programs, as shady litigation “honey pots” are out there to tempt people into breaking the law. Another option is using proxy servers or streaming sites to access UK-only TV providers. I haven’t really dabbled with this, and have no real opinion on the use of these programs or the results.

So there you go fellow anglophiles, I hope this helps you navigate the wondrous world of British television much easier, and gives you some new stuff to watch. If you have any questions on show availability, or tips on how to watch something, please feel free to ask, as I may be able to help.

Day of the Triffids (1981) – Episode 2

Egads! It has it been a while since I looked at this series, and I know that I should do more seeing that it brings the most traffic to my blog than any other topic! I had previously stated how thrilled I was that Netflix was carrying the show, and that they had a big selection of such material. I guess the people who make sure we don’t have any fun saw my glowing praise and the show was gone immediately from their digital service. All kidding aside, I had wondered if I should go ahead and just buy the film from Amazon, which was until I noticed that it was on Amazon Prime for free. It seems that in the wake of “Flixtergate”, the debacle wherein Netflix announced that they were splitting into two companies and raised prices – killing their reputation, many of these great UK shows have moved to both Hulu Plus and Amazon prime. Most of these aren’t science fiction shows, but I know that I’ll be getting some new material for this blog from this none-the-less. Now I hope that this very article will not trigger another calamity such as the show being lost forever, but I think I can take the chance, if only to share with you all this great drama.

When we last left Bill Mason, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking back at the series of events that ultimately led to him being there. His blindness seemingly gone, Mason yanked his bandages off only to find everything in disarray. As far as he can tell not many people have the ability to see anymore, and even worse – the world has gone to hell. Dead bodies lay everywhere, Triffids are crawling all over the place, and human society has ultimately crumbled. Some of the post-apocalyptic scenes we are presented with are truly disturbing; one of the earliest shots in this episode sees a man committing suicide nearby a field full of people wandering around without the use of their eyes. It’s always a cheap tactic to use endangered kids against the viewer to illicit certain emotions, but hearing small children yell “Mummy where are you?!” was a shock.

Josella-Payton-emma-relph-triffids

We are also introduced to another main character of this program, Josella Payton as played by Emma Relph, the eventual love interest of Mason. Being another person that hasn’t gone blind, Jo finds out first hand that the world isn’t such a nice place anymore as she is assaulted by a haggard looking man with a beard. Desperate people want to take advantage of anyone that still has their vision, and this man is the worst kind of accident survivor there is. Jo isn’t in danger long, and eventually meets up with Bill when he saves her from this creep. Her interest in Bill seems sort of forced, as if she is only tagging along because she feels helpless by herself, but it’s cool for such a nerdy guy to get with such an attractive lady. Then again this was a time of the “weak female assistant” as seen in Doctor Who and other shows; all they do is get in trouble and act emotional as the strong man character does all the work.

I think I really like this show based on the simple fact that Bill Mason, as portrayed by John Duttine, doesn’t look or act like your typical action hero. He’s a normal looking guy with a beard and a tweed jacket, not a square-jawed badass that you would normally see in Hollywood action shows. Bill feels the need to help people in the situation, but feels bad that his size and ability gives him no upper-hand in altercations with bands of marauding football hooligans. If there is one thing he’s awesome at, it’s killing triffids – we see him destroy one with a pitchfork towards the end of this episode in a manner that would make Neptune himself blush with envy.

Bill-Mason-john-duttine-triffids

My last review of episode one was pretty sparse, as it was like the third entry for this blog, so hopefully I’ve improved here. Episode 2 of Day of the Triffids was awesome, and keeps me coming back for more. Slowly but surely through this and the 2009 miniseries, I am becoming a big fan of the property, and plan to seek out more if I can.  Since I can definitely watch this on Amazon prime, I will try to get through this fairly quickly so that I could possibly read the books as well. Onward we go to episode three, where Mason is hopefully on his way to get some firepower in order to battle the triffids.

Red Dwarf: Series 1, Episode 1 “The End” (1988)

This fall is going to be a great time for fans of UK-based science fiction. Not only are we going to have six episodes of Doctor Who just after the Olympics, but there is a new Season of Red Dwarf on the way as well! Since there still is a ton of time left, I figured that I could easily pass it by looking back at some older episodes of Red Dwarf, sort of like a countdown to the new ones. So, without further ado, my review of the pilot episode from the far off time of 1988 – “The End”

When I first watched Red Dwarf, I immediately fell in love with it. My (now) wife had actually seen it on a PBS affiliate, and at the time I was oblivious to it aside from a passing mention. I wasn’t really into my full “anglo-phile” mindset at the time, and didn’t really seek out older shows yet. That all changed in 2004 when I got Netflix and started renting old Doctor Who episodes and Red Dwarf. I loved the idea of a science fiction sitcom, although very few of these cross-genre mergers were any good. Shows like Homeboys from Outer Space and Small Wonder put a bad taste in my mouth, but I was willing to try something new. I was immediately sucked in by this incredibly powerful and somewhat intense introduction:

I actually wish they’d bring a version of this introduction back. I like the more jazzed up one and all, but this is a nice palette cleanser for the hilarity about to ensue. I know some would say that “it doesn’t fit the show”, but I still love it, and that’s all that matters to me.

From the very beginning of the first episode we learn the dynamic between the two main characters –Lister and Rimmer inside and out. Lister is the lowest ranking guy on the ship, and a total slacker. His main goal is to simply collect a paycheck until he can retire to Fiji and start a farm. He’s all about having fun, and has no interest in his work. To foil this, his direct superior Rimmer (the second lowest ranking guy on the ship) is a self-righteous know-it-all with a severe inferiority complex. He always strives to become an officer on Red Dwarf, but ruins his chances with his manic nature, poor people skills, and sheer arrogance. This “odd couple” motif has been done countless times, but rarely is it done in such a humorous way as we see it here.

The thing that truly stands out with this show is the characters themselves. We might be used to seeing the exploits of all the highest ranking officers on serious shows such as Star Trek, but imagine an entire program consisting of “red shirts”. And not just plain “red shirts” but the ones that aren’t even cool enough to go on away missions and get their faces eaten by aliens. Focusing on characters that are destined to fight, screw around, and do nothing of any real importance whilst trying to get back to Earth basically writes itself. We see other characters in the beginning like Captain Hollister, but they won’t matter for too long, as they all die within minutes of the opening credits.

This is where the show gets fun. Lister gets in trouble for smuggling a pregnant cat named Frankenstein into his sleeping quarters on the ship. This is against regulation, and he is sentenced to stasis – a choice he made rather than giving up his pet. Lister’s job was to work on food replicators, and ironically, one messed up royally while he was unable to fix it. Rimmer tried to fix it, but Rimmer is Rimmer, and he messes it up even more. The entire ship went through a huge dose of nuclear radiation – killing everyone on board except Lister and Frankenstein, who was safe in the cargo bay. Three million years later, Holly (the ship’s computer system) informs Dave of some shocking news:

“They’re Dead, Dave….Everybody is dead, Dave.”

To fill this cast out, Lister is joined by other rejects, we have a holographic version of Rimmer, the person that the ships computer feels was Lister’s closest friend, a human-like creature that evolved from his stow-away cat simply named “The Cat”, and the ship’s computer itself, driven mad for the last few million years. Credits roll, and that’s why we kick off history folks! If you haven’t seen this show, and don’t mind special effects that are 2 decades old, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Currently you can watch it for free on Amazon Instant Video, if you happen to have an Amazon Prime subscription, or you can rent it on Netflix. The episodes used to be available on Netflix streaming, but they let the videos lapse for some reason.

Join me soon, for a look at episode 2!

TV Review – Day of the Triffids (1981) Episode 1

I was perusing Netflix’s streaming tab one day, and noticed a few new shows added to my “you might like this” tab.  One show in question was one that I had heard of, but had never seen called “The Day of the Triffids”.  Since then I have researched it a bit more, and discovered that a 2009 remake was made, and a few theatrical movies exist of the story, all of which was originally a book by John Wyndham.  I hope Netflix keeps this up, as I’d love to see some more stuff that I can review for this site.

The opening credits are creepy

As the episode opens, we see a man named Bill Mason, who is laying in a hospital bed with bandages covering the majority of his face.  We learn, through various flashbacks, that Triffids were some sort of plant, whose oil could be used as a new source of energy.  It appears that some sort of energy crisis is afoot, and the new Triffid oil is the best around.  The problem is that apparently Triffids seem to be either sentient, or at least move around to feed, as Bill knows the best of all.  He was the first to officially be “attacked” by a Triffid as a child, as one was able to sting him pretty badly.  He gained expertise in the subject, and later went to work on a Triffid farm of all places.  His injury, that as of yet was a mystery, seems to come from another Triffid sting, that left him temporarily blind.  As Bill lay in bed, the world bears witness to a beautiful meteor shower, one that will change mankind forever.

A Triffid on the attack

The story in itself is a breath of fresh air for a person like me, who has seen just about any science fiction plotline used umpteen times.  To be honest, I really can’t say that I’ve seen a show about walking killer plants.  The budget for The Day of the Triffids is obviously pretty small, but doesn’t seem to suffer from the budget shortcomings of shows like Doctor Who and Blakes 7, probably having to do with the short duration of the miniseries.  The special effects are pretty good, but sparse, and the only real heavy amount of them you see are the Triffids themselves, which look like a huge Amazonian carnivorous pitcher plant, mixed with some kind of houseplant.

I will definitely keep watching this show, and now plan to check out the other versions of this story, as I love post-apocalyptic stories, which I assume is where this goes, and weird stuff in general.

The intro

My rating: 4 out of 5