#210 : Take the X Train

If ever an anime made me scratch my head and go what in the world did I just watch, then Take the X Train is perhaps near the top of the list. Just exactly what genre is this OVA? It’s like a comedy and a suspense thriller and perhaps a horror flick(?) and I may be stretching it… a mecha production. Not so much piloting a robot, or cybernetics, but consider this concept… the combining of man and machine on a metaphysical as well as a physical level. Take the X Train is a ride you will never forget. ALL ABOARD!!

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100“This work is dedicated to the Jazz great, Duke Ellington,” proclaims the opening credits. A send up to one of his well known hits, Take the A Train, Take the X Train is not so much like the Duke in terms of style. Maybe more like Miles Davis in his more experimental works, or even better, Ornette Colemen, or Cecil Taylor. Why I say the later two is because while the plot is comprehensible, this anime is a free form piece of art, more like Free Jazz than the Duke’s sophisticated Big Band style. Do I love Jazz by the way? Oh yeah, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk I wear on my sleeve. Jazz is even used as the background music, bur only occasionally… hmm?

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Visually this is a very tasteful movie in the style of the already mentioned Jazz in pictures. The editing, design, everything seems to be to be like an art house film, not at all pristine and mainstream. This is not in the same vain as say Angel’s Egg, but maybe more like California Crisis: Gun Salvo (my opinion). Then a familiar name appears… actually make that two. First was the studio, Madhouse, who always makes anime with a little bit of edge and artsy flavor no matter the genre, or the director. The second is the director, a favorite of mine due to his visual narrative approach mixed with a little avant-garde attitude, Rintaro. His work is definitely an acquired taste; examples include: Space Pirate Captain Harlock, the Galaxy Express 999 films (GE999 and Adieu), Bride of Deimos, Dagger of Kamui, Harmeggeddon, and the Labyrinth section from Neo Tokyo.

XTrain_3Trains of course are at the focus of this OVA, as well as our main protagonist, Tour Ishihara. An average guy, though a bit goofy and kind of eccentric, Toru works for a company that is planning to revitalize and market a more retro attitude for the train market. One train is at the focus of this committee, which goes by EF 5861, a train that Toru thinks is a junk heap. Watch what you say my friend, as this train has a certain destiny that coincides with yours. In other news, one night after a fun time with his girlfriend (this was the most awkward love scene I have ever seen), Toru waits for the next train in a crowd when all of a sudden the lights go dark and sparks fly all over the atmosphere and in particular the tracks. Then passes a mysterious locomotive… could it be a ghost train…is this all for real? May I introduce our other main character, the X Train.

XTrain_4With no expectations coming in I was amazed I found another interesting gem of an OVA buried in the garden of lost anime titles. While a little bizarre, the artsy nature of Rintaro brought out a certain charm in Take the X Train, which is by the way based on a novel by Koichi Yamano (I give credit to fansub ending credits for this bit of info). The only thing I won’t miss are Toru’s twitching pulse and occasional nose bleeds; every time it always gives me the creeps. Now for a send off, check out Duke Ellington’s recording of Take the ‘A’ Train. It swings!

#195 : Bride of Deimos

Shojo + horror, or occult subject matter = yes indeed in my book. Be it CLAMP’s early work like Tokyo Babylon, or X, or 80s titles that range from the comedic, Tokimeki Tonight, or the dramatic, Vampire Princess Miyu, I enjoyed them all. Add to that the skills of Studio Madhouse and the director Rintaro with his use of color and imagery and I become even more tempted. Lastly, discovering a previously unknown one off OVA is always welcome. Three strikes and I am not far from out, but totality in… or perhaps I should say win. Let me introduce you to The Bride of Deimos.

BoD_1The underworld… a beautiful woman hangs while she slowly rots away tied to what appears to be a binding of thorns. Reminds me of the opening of The Rose of Versailles where Oscar was bound up just the same, though not in the manner of being crucified. Calling out to her lover Deimos, Venus desperately requires a new body to sustain her immortality. The ever androgynous bishonen figure of Deimos knows all to well this process as he has been through this many times before. And like any hunter, he works on his next prey, a high school girl named Minako Ifu, who is the physical reincarnation of Venus. Minako meanwhile has a friend who is currently into botany and both have an interest in the orchids at a local convention. Her friend soon visits one of the contestants homes who bloomed a very beautiful blue orchid to find out how they grow such beautiful flowers. Ever worried, Minako treks towards this home to find out what secrets are being kept all to the chagrin of Deimos.

BoD_2Reminiscent of the myth of Persephone where a young maiden is dragged down by the prince of darkness and the underworld, Hades, Bride of Deimos is filled with Greco-Roman re-interpreted myth. Deimos himself was the god of dread, a brother of Phobos, fear. Sounds very uplifting? This relationship of tempting the innocent girl to go down the darker path is often seen in many cultures, but Persephone‘s is the most familiar from my experience. Outwitting the Devil, temptation, or even death is very much true in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, where a knight is in constant struggle to stay one step ahead of Death himself by playing against the black angel in a game of chess. Minako is always outwitting Deimos, refusing his charms and even advice when he means well to keep her safe. Much like a guardian angel, Deimos is always on watch towards Minako and will save her every time she is in danger.

BoD_3Rintaros work always seems to bring controversy. He often puts so much effort into the visual storytelling that the plot often gets lost. In the bold colors, drastic lighting and occasional psychedelic madness that he is known for, Rintaro creates a mood that is often times closer to fine art than entertainment. His style is an acquired taste and works well with my palette, but I know others often mock his work. Something looked just right the moment I started Bride of Deimos and finding his name along with Studio Madhouse definitely rung out many ah-ha moments. Of course this was why this was an attractive anime for me! Added to the darker occult subject matter made this an even more tempting found prize. So many wonders and interesting material from the shojo end of the spectrum exist in plenty that I never knew before.

Even though many times we fear the dark, or the darker aspects of life, it is from those moments we start anew. Like a new moon in the middle of the night, light will return again for both the moons phase and the sky. Deimos may symbolize dread, but there is always a flip side to the so called negative we often label on quick judgement. Take a walk on the wild side if you will because every one deep down loves a bad boy who has a good heart. Could you be the next Bride of Deimos?

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.