The Grindhouse – Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals – A Recap of episode 1

The Grindhouse is a new feature kicking off here on Arcadia Pod. This article is NOT a movie review, but a detailed recap of a film set up in such a way that you really don’t have to watch it. I will watch questionable movies so you don’t have to. As this goes on, expect me to go over dollar bin anime, bad cartoons, and even the occasional TV series! Without further ado, here is the first edition, where will be looking at Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals episode 1. The next 4 of these will be about this train wreck of a show.

When I first got into anime, it wasn’t at all like it was today. It wasn’t the wide selection of movies and other merchandise currently available. I can fondly remember going to our crappy little video store in town way back in 1998 and rummaging through tapes looking for something cool to watch. This was before DVD players got really big and the anime market seemed to be old VHS tapes locked away near the “adults only” section. All the titles that this dingy, poorly-lit store had were of the exploitative nature, mainly focusing on nude girls and bloody disembowelments – a real treat for any self-respecting sixteen year old kid.

Aside from classics such as Vampire Hunter D and Akira, my friends and I would ALWAYS rent one movie in particular: Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals. In hindsight, I have no idea why we actually rented this movie, as we pretty much mocked the whole thing. It was basically something that we would make jokes about due to some poor choices that the movie seemed to take at almost every turn. That didn’t keep us from watching it over and over again, meaning that some of the horrendous plot and bad writing were hidden directly behind a big old layer of charm.

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The main problem that occurs right from the get-go is that this OVA (direct to video basically) series has very little to do with Final Fantasy despite it purportedly existing as some sort of sequel to Final Fantasy V. It’s almost like some guy that played the games was telling an uninterested writer about the plot over the phone; the writer, while starring at a Ralph Bakshi poster, cranked out what he could, but ended up with this. The tone is all wrong, the music is wrong, and it just really doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy movie.

The beginning of the film brings a false sense of security for anyone expecting this to be decent, as the main theme from Final Fantasy V, Tour de Japon, plays for a bit here. When I first watched this, I of course had not played Final Fantasy V, but as an older gamer, that was a nice touch. This leads directly into the first scene showing a man sitting on a Cliffside looking at a brewing storm. At this point I’m quite worried as to how this movie is going to be written because this character basically starts repeating every line he says one additional time. In this way we learn that “A storm is coming” not once but twice. I know he’s talking metaphorically about an upcoming battle that this movie will no doubt present, but the storm in the background makes it look like he’s some sort of lonely man that talks to himself all day.

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We learn that this sad old man is in fact the grandfather of the movie’s heroine Linaly, a girl who is supposedly a descendant of Bartz, the Final Fantasy V’s protagonist. Since this takes place hundreds of years after the events in the game, we will sadly not get to see any of those characters, save one that we meet later on. Grandfather announces that it is basically up to him to stop the upcoming storm, one which he can sense because of the “evil winds” and starts rushing out the door. If my grandfather started saying crap like that, it would result in a one way ticket straight to the home. Linaly won’t have that and insists that she needs to go instead or at least tag along with her Grandfather as if to humor him in his senile dementia. It was hard to pay attention to this as my eyes were drawn to Linaly’s ridiculously short miniskirt that seems to be defying some sort of natural law. I wasn’t looking in any sort of sexual way, but looking simply in a sense of sheer wonder.

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Pretty soon we finally get to meet the actual “main character” of this whole ordeal – Prettz. Unlike the usual modern Final Fantasy hero, Prettz is not a douche-bag emo guy covered in zippers and belts that talks in ellipses, but a goofy loud-mouth who won’t mind his own business. When he sees Linaly and grand—you know I’m tired of typing “Grandfather”, from now on his game is Gomez. So anyway Gomez and Linaly are in a boat traveling to one of the temples to see what is going on, and here comes Prettz chasing them around, yelling that “old people and girls should not be alone!”. Since I never had the illusion that this planet was populated by incestuous pedophiles, one can only assume that Prettz is a jerk. When declined as the pair’s bodyguard, he gets mad and insists on going anyway. In fact, he throws such a big tantrum that he collapses a bridge in a “super-comical way”. Aw sweet! Jar Jar Binks is the main character!

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It’s at this point that I want to point out that Prettz has the most true-to-date 90’s attire on that anyone possibly could. Note his shaved-under rat-tail hairstyle, sleeveless T-shirt, and comfy pants. While those aren’t exactly the class of Zubaz pants, they still take me back to a much simpler time; a time when our fantasy heroes did not dress like Lady Gaga when they fight monsters. Seriously, all Prettz needs is a fanny pack and a gym membership and I’d imagine he was an off-duty WWF wrestler.

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This whole plotline gets pretty tiring at this point, and Prettz has only been on screen for a short while. While watching I was basically worried that the movie would consist of Prettz chasing around Linaly and whining the whole time. Prettz gets a huge motorcycle and silly armor to help in his chase, much to the chagrin of Gomez. More slapstick ensues, until we finally get some worthwhile dialog where Gomez relates to Linaly what the “evil wind” is all about. It looks like the wind crystal must be in danger and he could sense the trouble. This is cut short as Gomez comically trips for no reason whatsoever and tumbles a ridiculous distance down a hill, way to take this movie seriously guys. So far the overall tone of this movie is somewhere around a morning children’s show, not the caliber of the games in my opinion.

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Suddenly and literally for no reason at all, a huge demon-like creature with eight eyes leaps from the ground and makes Linaly decide to cast a spell. Since Linaly is speaking as if she is going to summon a creature, I’m at this point wondering what sort of awesome creature will come out. Could it be Ifrit? Shiva? Bahamut? Sadly no, we get this:

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That’s right folks, a stupid looking naked……chicken thing? Please God tell me that isn’t supposed to be a Chocobo!

Gomez apparently shares my opinion of the matters and begins to slam the beast left and right, saying things like “couldn’t you do better?”. Linaly is sad that a half-assed Chocobo is the only thing that her mighty summoning powers can muster, and I can see why, did you see how stupid that thing looked!

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Finally Prettz shows some A-game and rushes the monster on his motorcycle with a huge katana, this not only kills the creature stone dead, but makes Gomez look like a tool for raising such a fuss about him tagging along. After they escape to what appears to be an inn, Gomez lays in bed worried that he is too old to carry on this adventure, this leads Prettz to basically heckle him for being old. Gomez yells at him and tells him to go home. Linaly sets out on her own, only to have Prettz follow her out and along the way. We get a few minutes of glorious dialog where Prettz says he wants to go, and Linaly rejects him. As this pattern has been the majority of the actual spoken dialog of the show so far, my initial worries of the plot of the show may not seem to unfounded. I mean seriously this is basically the movies script up to this point:

Gomez: “A storm is coming”
Gomez: “A storm is coming”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
(Repeat infinitely)

Just as with the monster, mere minutes ago, something suddenly leaps out of the ground towards the party, possibly a subtle hint at the random nature of battles in the old games. But this thing isn’t a monster – it’s a huge garishly pink spaceship of some sort. Once it fully lifts out of the ground, we’re told by Prettz that these are in fact sky pirates trying to kill them. A door opens on the ship and what appears to be a dominatrix and her two husky female sex slaves rise from within. Her name is Rouge, and she wants Prettz’s motorcycle apparently. I would too if I had to fly around in a ship as ostentatious as that pirate ship she has. Prettz makes short work of the pirates using some bombs that he apparently carries around at all times, but I doubt that’s the last that we’ve seen of these guys.

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They finally make it to the Wind temple, the first of four that I’m sure we are to encounter in this series, and just as soon as they get there Prettz runs out for no explicable reason leaving Linaly to solve the puzzle of how to enter the temple on her own. We soon find that Prettz has seemingly commandeered the pirate ship we just saw and is holding it hostage with his bandoleer of goofy bombs. By goofy, I don’t mean in a general way, like “oh hey look at those goofy bombs”. These stupid incendiaries actually have smiley faces on them and open up to show the face before they explode. We know this because Prettz insists on clapping them together like a set of garish castanets in order to intimidate the bondage ship’s crew. No doubt Prettz shops at the same weapons shop as the Joker. This of course happens for no reason at all, because Linaly has actually managed to solve the puzzle of how to gain access to the temple all on her own without her jackass buddy.

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Next thing you know Prettz drives the airship through a narrow crack in the surrounding cave and crashes it into the temple. This draws the attention of another person with an equally goofy looking airship by the name of Valkus. Valkus always struck me as the “Cid” character of this show, as not only was he in command of an airship, but he is basically a badass.

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As our heroes walk into the room containing the wind crystal, the scene cuts to someone talking in a robotic gibberish voice, talking about how “the other three crystals are in our hands”. This voice seems to be from a female subordinate of some guy sitting on a huge brain in the middle of the room. That’s right I said brain, as in part of our human anatomy, except this time super-sized. He of course spots a few almost sexual sounding villain catchphrases like “my body aches with excitement”, these are all off-putting.

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What follows is basically the most awkward thing in this entire series, and a scene that would live in infamy for my friends and me. Linaly grasps the crystal only to have it enter her body through the chest.

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She tumbles to the ground looking ill and the camera quickly cuts to her hind-quarters which are now glowing.

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Both turn around and stare at her butt as it radiates a warm golden light.

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Maybe this is why her dress is so unreasonably short, that way we can see her butt glowing whenever she eats too much Mexican food. This is quite possibly the lamest excuse to have fan-service EVER in an anime, and to make it a plot device!

That’s it for episode one, join me again soon as we gaze into the warm golden light that is episode two…


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Black Magic M-66 (1987) OVA

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

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.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

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.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

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.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

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.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

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.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

 

Nineteen19 (1990) OVA

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One genre of anime that was definitely done better in the past was the romance genre. Today, a lot of productions that could be considered “romance” often have little drive or story to move the plot along. Often times “harem anime” and ”moe anime” dominate the market, and pander to a very select crowd of fans. While there are definitely “diamonds in the rough” many of these shows are soulless commercial money grabs, created to fill time on a TV schedule. We will be discussing a romance show of a different color in today’s review, considering this genre is nearly extinct from anime today – The shounen romance. That’s right folks, today we will be looking at a romantic comedy / drama from the perspective of an eligible bachelor looking for love.

Nineteen19 is an obscure studio Madhouse production directed by Koichi Chigira (Venus Wars, Kimagure Orange Road, Tokyo Babylon etc.) Based on a manga by Sho Kitagawa (Blue Butterfly Fish) that was published in Weekly Young Jump. The story follows a young restaurant worker named Kobuta, who despite having all the opportunities any man would dream of, has never really been in a serious relationship with a girl.

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And sticking to the major trope that all teen dramas and comedies are based, everyone is concerned that he is still a virgin at age 19. Women are basically throwing themselves at him due to the way his friends tell everyone at every turn about his plight, and he will have none of it. That is until he meets the love of his life, an old junior high school friend named Masana that moved to Tokyo and became a successful model. It seems she has recently become available, and Kobuta sees this as his chance to make the move that he never had the guts for before.

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The main thing I like about Nineteen19 is that it’s told from the point of view of Kobuta, but doesn’t devolve into the over-the-top machismo and borderline misogyny that one could expect from a modern male centered romance story. He’s a stoic dude and somewhat emotional – thus more realistic than what one sees in Hollywood films. While his fling with Masana is somewhat ephemeral, one feels really happy for the guy when everything starts clicking into place. Although I will warn that this anime has a bittersweet ending, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all lollipops and unicorns for 45 minutes.

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Aside from Kobuta and Masana, the cast is not very fleshed out. We get to see both of their respective groups of friends, Masana’s ex-boyfriend, and Kobuta’s boss, but only briefly. Kobuta’s boss is especially strange for his penchant for groping everyone’s hindquarters in a creepy, and yet somehow innocent way. A little bit of explanation for that would have been nice! That’s the problem with older anime OVAs, the short duration (this clocks in at around 45 mins) means that only the most important things get fleshed out. We get to see the romance between the two main characters and that’s all that matters.

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One thing that makes this anime significant is the use of music, and more specifically the interesting music video cutaways inter-spliced into the film. This was made in 1990, so you can expect early 90’s club music and contemporary pop of the era. The music was created by Toshiki Kadomatsu, a popular R&B singer and songwriter that has released quite a few albums, and is still releasing music today. Here is a sample of one of the videos:

Nineteen19 is pretty hard to come by. It’s an old, unlicensed, OVA from over twenty years ago, so a domestic DVD release is laughably implausible. The film gained prominence in the early 90’s through anime clubs and tape traders, and is essentially kept alive by them today. I found a fan-sub on YouTube that I have posted below so you can also enjoy the film. It has a few spelling mistakes here and there,but it gets the job done. YouTube has really become the place to find obscure anime such as this, finding this even five years ago would have resulted in hours on torrent sites and other irritations.

Nineteen19 is a slice of life anime that brings a strange sense of nostalgia over me. I was too young to be able to identify with Kobuta at the time, but I think it really brings out what a real relationship can be like. Our culture has left tons of would-be romantics assuming that they should be attempting to re-create scenes from popular Hollywood films to win affections from the other half, a feat that usually will get the person into trouble in real life. This aspirational brainwashing has made people forget what a real romance can be like: false starts, awkwardness, and misunderstandings. If you want to see something different, and enjoy slice of life anime, watch Nineteen19, I think you’ll dig it.