Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alien Defender Geo Armor Kishin Corps review

This review originally appeared on Anime Jump in 2003.

Let's clarify a few things. The original Japanese title of this OVA series is Kishin Heidan, which roughly translates to Armored God Corps. It's based on a series of early 1990s light novels by Masaki Yamada. The Geneon-produced anime was first released in Japan in 1993, and was released in North America on VHS as Kishin Corps in 1995. To further confuse the consumer, the 2001 DVD release is titled Alien Defender Geo Armor Kishin Corps, and when the title of each episode is shown, it has the kanji for Kishin Corps, and beneath that, in English, "Kishin Corps - Active Defense Force". Confused? So am I.

Kishin Corps is an alternate-history World War Two story of Nazi Germany's pact with evil alien invaders, the secret army raised by Japan, Russia, the US, and Britain to defeat them, and how your requisite stalwart young Japanese boy is caught in the middle. Once again Japan's semiautonomous Kwantung Army is trotted out as power-mad imperialists (okay, but only because it's true); Geo Armor Kishin Corps labels them the Kanto Army, and as our story opens they're after a powerful secret module. Our hero Taishi is on board a Manchurian train with his mom and his pop, who is, as you have already guessed, a top scientist. The train is halted by Col. Shinkai and his Kanto Army, but their hijacking is interrupted by the arrival of space aliens, goopy amorphous humanoids who have mastered laser beams and space travel but prefer to use Russian PpSh submachine guns. This three-sided struggle is again interrupted by a mysterious giant robot from the Kishin Corps because this is, after all, their video.

 Two months later Taishi, still holding onto the secret Macguffin Module, is leading a gang of orphans in Shanghai, staying one step ahead of the authorities and the Kanto Army. He helps a mysterious lady escape from Shinkai. This mysterious lady has a twin sister who is working with the Kanto Army to develop their own giant robots. Mysterious Twin swipes the Module from the kid gang, Taishi pursues, and again is saved by the intervention of the Kishin Corps. Taishi gets inducted into the Alien Defender Whatever Kishin Corps and gets to help out as their three giant robots - one land, one sea, one air - battle both the Kanto Army and our alien pals.

 You see, a few years back, mysterious modules fell to Earth. These modules enabled whichever nation that found them to build giant fighting robots. Coincidentally these were distributed amongst the Major Powers of the prewar Earth, which was lucky for us since we had a world war brewing. It would have been interesting to see what kind of giant robot France or Brazil would have come up with, but we'd have to wait for G Gundam to see THAT.

The Japanese version of Kishin Corps made the rounds of fansubs and fanclubs for a few years before its legit release. To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with it at the time; mostly because Part One is weighed down with a lot of exposition and infested with charming kids and their charming kid-gang antics. Once Taishi gets hooked up with the Kishin Crew and is blasting aliens, things pick up considerably. The best part of Geo Armor Kishin Active Defense Whatever Corps is the detail given to the titular robots: these are gigantic, heavy, riveted-steel behemoths. They have spark plugs and fan belts and vacuum tubes and hydraulics and all that stuff that your car has under the hood, and they all move with a ponderous weight that the animators do a terrific job portraying. In fact, there may be a little too much attention to detail. Kishin Thunder has to be transported to the battle via train: luckily, the bad guys have cooperated by locating their evil deeds or evil bases on train tracks. It's enough to make one think of Homer Simpson's favorite show "Nightboat", where there's always a river, or a canal, or a fjord.

Kishin Corps' main ingredient is characters rushing from one place to another: our heroes jump from moving cars to giant blimps to airplanes to trains and back again, always chug-chug-chugging towards another battle with the foe, rattling off great gobs of exposition every chance they get. And yet, with all this "action", nothing much happens. This is a 7-part OAV that easily could have been a 4-parter, or even a 3-parter without too much trouble. Even the fight scenes are padded like a junior high school girl's bra; while the explosions and gunfire conveniently halt, characters will stare at each other, stare at their opponents, stare at the new arrival zooming in from a few miles out. In a film with a stronger visual sense and a knowledge of how to use the quiet moments for effect - think Oshii's Patlabor - these time-outs heighten the sense of drama and contrast the action. Unfortunately Geo Armor Alien Kishin Defender Corps isn't one of those films.

Not much attention is given to making this period drama look like a period drama. There's an attempt to make the Nazis into bishonen-style prettyboys with long hair and dreamy eyes; the Kanto Army's leader Shinkai looks like a pumped-up Count Dracula, and there are enough giant, pointed shoulder pads to make Joan Crawford run for cover. The good guys are all pretty standard anime-character good guys, with the big hair and pointy chins and giant ears. These are, hands down, the largest ears for standard characters seen in anime since Tobidase! Batsuchiri. All told, Geo Kishin Armor Corps sports a really jarring look for a period anime, and one that begs the question, if you're not going to be obsessive about period detail, why do a period anime in the first place?

Characters all have standard issue anime-character crazy multicolored hair, defying gravity as if they were ignorant of the Hair Treatment Technology that was widely used in those turbulent times. If these characters happen to be dressed in period costume, it's because fashions haven't changed that much - and some characters aren't anywhere near the 40s, unless the Miami Vice look began in 1943.

The dubbing is well-acted, but clumsily written. There are plenty of awkward pauses and sentences that sort of make sense. Here's my tip; if the anime involves Japanese military, go with the subtitles. The DVD extras are: mechanical designs and character designs. There's a point-by-point explanation of the various systems of the various robots, which is where I learned that Kishin Dragon's Anchor Guns are powered by "gunpowder force". There is also a hilarious live-action segment, a round-table discussion starring non-acting gaijin playing high-level Nazis discussing the aliens, the modules, and the Kishin Corps in bad German. Available on the original video release, it's now professionally subtitled for everybody to enjoy. It is an interesting clamshell two-DVD set; instead of the standard black plastic Pioneer has given Geo Armor Kishin Corps a nifty copper-colored case that really stands out.

To be sure, there's some entertainment in Kishin Corps. The battle scenes are entertaining, if overused, and the concept of Japan at war with its own imperialist faction makes for a nice what-if. But the WWII setting is woefully underused and the aliens remain unexplained creatures from the planet Plot Device, while the character designs seem to be lifted wholesale from a completely different show. Plus, there are lots of annoying children. In short, Geo Armor Kishin Corps has some interesting parts, but they don't add up to an interesting whole.

-Dave Merrill

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

advice to the young fan event

Recently, a first-time convention organizer asked me for advice. I wound up writing more than I originally intended, and it seems as if this sort of thing might help others in the same position, so I figured I'd generalize it a little and throw it out in public for the benefit of anyone interested. Here goes! 

I helped start an anime convention (AWA) in Atlanta in 1995, before Japanese cartoons were really any sort of pop culture thing, and it's still going, so I guess we did something right.  I also helped organize a UFO/conspiracy culture/hacker show in 1991-1992 that kind of fizzled out, so I have a little experience in what NOT to do, as well. I now live in Toronto, and in both cities I've staffed fan conventions and seen shows rise and fall for various reasons.

You want to start with a small, manageable show. When I say "manageable" I mean a show you can manage physically, in that you can personally make sure all the advertising is distributed, all the guests show up, all the events happen on time, the dealers have what they need, the attendees get their badges, and registration gets their money. I also mean a show you can manage financially, in that you can pay for it without a second mortgage or having to hope an extra 500 people show up on Sunday. 



When we started AWA, we budgeted assuming we'd get 200 people. We figured there were 200 people in the fandom community of our city that could be counted on to show up to just about any fan convention. We spent as little money as possible on our first year. Our program books were black and white copies assembled by hand fanzine-style, and our guests were industry folks, comic artists we knew, and local fans, all whom would show up without asking for speaking fees.  We booked a very cheap facility and only booked the exhibit space we needed and we didn't have T-shirts or a con suite or any of the catering events that hotels love to throw at conventions.  When the convention started on Friday afternoon, before the first walk-in bought the first walk-in badge, we'd already paid for the entire show via advance registration and vendor table fees. 

It's vital to honestly estimate how many people will come to your show. You can base this on how well other first year shows do in your market, and other metrics like population, other fan events in the area, nearby colleges, etc. You'll want to lowball that estimate and spend money based on your lowest figure.  It's much better to have booked a slightly too-small function space and be crowded and busy; the event seems more fun, more exciting, and it makes your show look attractive and successful, instead of a few fans wandering around inside a cavernous, empty convention center that got booked because the organizers fooled themselves. 

Everything is negotiable; hotel rates, convention center rates, guest speaking fees, everything. Hotels will give you better rates on meeting space if you can promise (and sell!) a certain number of room nights. Convention centers aren't as flexible and will generally cost more. Convention centers may require you to engage further contractors to handle table setup, AV equipment, etc. Get quotes and do research while working out your costs.



I should mention the ridiculous turnover rate in the hospitality industry. It's nuts. People cycle through hotel positions with astounding rapidity. Speaking to the same person more than twice in a row is rare. If you do establish a good relationship with somebody at a convention center or hotel, hang onto it.

And of course get everything in writing. Make sure you have a printed copy of the contract in hand from the very beginning of setup to the very end of take-down, and that includes maps and diagrams of how every room is to be set up, table and chair layouts, power drops, everything. Count on it - there WILL be problems with the facility where everybody isn't on the same page, and having that page in your hand is a tremendous asset. 

Plenty of people - potential guests, vendors, fan groups, local celebrities, you name it - will approach your show with what they think are great ideas for events or appearances. Generally they will want you to do most of the actual work while they reap the benefits, so be wary. Filling panel slots with fan-run events is a great way to round out your schedule and involve the community; just make sure to be very clear on what your organization is providing and what they will need to provide themselves. Most conventions have some sort of panel event form that panelists submit, and this is a great idea to keep everyone on the same page. 

Again, you'll have countless people coming up to you with great ideas that you should implement. Well, "you" are busy with other things. Keep focused on YOUR goals. There's always next year for these people and their extraneous events.  Of course sometimes these volunteers wind up producing terrific events and becoming valuable members of your team. Gambles sometimes pay off.  Have a back-up plan for when they don't. 

Like the saying goes -  never buy what you can rent, never rent what you can borrow, never borrow what you can steal. You don't need a state of the art HD surround sound video room, you don't need to buy 10 TVs and 30 video game systems, you don't need to cater meals for 300 people all weekend long (these are all things people will ask you to do for them. "No" works great as an alternative). If you buy AV equipment, consoles, speakers, or anything else, guess what? They're yours now, and they have to be somewhere the 51 other weekends a year you aren't running a convention. Unless you own a warehouse, that costs $$$. There are many fine event equipment rental outfits in every large city - some of them probably provide services to your favorite conventions. Do your research.



In my opinion, one of the most successful shows I've seen is TCAF in Toronto; it's a free-to-the-public event held over 2 days in the main branch of the library downtown. TCAF works with the city and receives support from the library and other municipal organizations. The vendors and exhibitors are curated heavily and they do a ton of business, and the general public can wander through and enjoy themselves without having to stand in line for badges. Not every city can handle a TCAF but their model is worth emulating, I think.  If you can work with the city and put together a package that appeals to the community at large, that's a win for everybody. Don't be afraid to think outside the box and move beyond the typical comic-con cliche. 

What about guests? Here's the big secret about guests: they don't really matter that much. Sure, they look great on your advertising, but with few exceptions that's their only benefit to you. It's a great deal for THEM - they get a free airline trip, a hotel room and meals, events where they can pretend to be big stars, and a table they can sell autographs and merchandise from. For you, it might be nothing but headaches and babysitting. You need to do strict cost-benefit analysis on every single one of your guests and be blunt about how much they're going to cost you and how much your show will benefit from their appearance.  Do you want to shell out travel and lodging for a guest whose big Q&A panel only attracts flies? Certainly, there are guests who are worth the time and money, and part of running a convention is knowing who those people are and how much trouble they're going to be to get. Pay attention when visiting other conventions and see who clicks with the crowd and who doesn't. If you honestly have no idea of how big a draw a particular guest is going to be, perhaps running a fan convention isn't for you.

The truth is, fans will attend a fun event no matter who the guests are. You aren't selling a guest or a book or a physical object, you're selling an intangible - an experience, the experience of shopping in a dealer's room, of seeing people in costumes, of participating in discussions with fellow fans about favorite movies or TV shows or comics, of playing games with friends and strangers.  Guests are only a small part of that package. 



What about competition? In terms of another organizer putting on a show in your territory, your best response is to make YOUR show the BEST show you can possibly make it. Let the other guy go his own way. If you must mention other shows, make every public statement polite and professional. If you're going to promote your convention at his event, then be friendly and polite and smile and wish him all the best, and  in return, make sure his experience at your show is a positive one.  Maybe you can turn a potential competitor into an ally. Fan conventions need each other for networking and advertising, for staff, for vendors; conventions don't exist in a vacuum.

Let's face it; running a convention is a pain in the ass. Your phone rings all the time with idiots asking stupid questions, every teeny tiny detail will need your attention, every decision you make will be second-guessed and debated by pedantic fanboys and fangirls and fanwomen and fanmen, and if you happen to make any money at all out of the convention, it will need to be plowed right back into next year's show. The week leading up to the show you'll be a nervous wreck, when the actual show happens you'll be in a state of low-grade, out-of-body-experience panic, and when it's over you'll be totally destroyed, and then the grind starts all over again.  If your competition wants to take that on himself, then he's welcome to it. It's a big world and there is room for conventions all over the calendar and all over the map and you can't waste any time worrying about anybody else's convention, you have your own thing to worry about. 

So, to sum up: 
1. start small and manageable
2. work with the city & community
3. don't be afraid to say no
4. get it in writing
5. cost-benefit analysis on everything
6. worry about your own show, not anybody else's
7. good luck.

-Dave Merrill

Friday, June 19, 2015

Element Of Surprise comics Kickstarter




PRESS RELEASE

“The Element of Surprise” Webcomic Launches Kickstarter Campaign

Toronto artist Shain Minuk, co creator of the comics and pop culture website Mister Kitty and Friends (http://misterkitty.org/), has launched the website’s first Kickstarter campaign this week with the target of funding a deluxe, 268 page collection of her webcomic, The Element of Surprise.  Described by the comic’s creator as “similar to Starsky and Hutch, only a little less gay”, The Element of Surprise details the relationship between two men, Mark and Ben, in a nameless but crime-ridden city somewhere in America’s “rust belt”.

The Kickstarter campaign, located here, has a variety of rewards for pledges that range from $1 to $200. Readers of the webcomic, which updates weekly at http://www.misterkitty.org/comics/element/elementintro.html , have been hoping for a print version for quite some time, and Mister Kitty and Friends have finally responded.

With the help of crowd funding by Kickstarter, Minuk intends to publish the first two story arcs of The Element of Surprise, while a third arc is currently running in weekly updates on the Mister Kitty website. The collected volume of the webcomic will detail the two men in the early stages of their relationship, struggling with their own internal conflicts while facing up against corrupt politicians and various violent miscreants, in a story providing plenty of action and romance.

The Element of Surprise Kickstarter campaign is on until July 17th 2015.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mister Kitty's Etsy Shop

If you're a fan of mid-century kitsch - and who isn't? - then you owe it to yourself to visit Mister Kitty's Etsy Shop, the Etsy shop where the people behind the popular "Mister Kitty" site pass along their pop-culture artifacts to lucky consumers.  Here's just a few of the items available:

"Calling All Girls" from 1965 starring Patty Duke

A selection of Intellivision game guides, overlays, and catalogs

An autographed 8x10 of Larry Storch

a Woody Woodpecker puzzle!

All these items - and more!- are available at bargain prices for select consumers, so don't delay, help us clean out our closets today!

Friday, March 13, 2015

anime I hated: Melty Lancer

(this review originally appeared on the website Anime Jump.)

Melty Lancer: A Half-Baked Recipe For Disaster

This recipe will, if properly prepared, result in a bland, uninteresting casserole of characters and concepts previously used elsewhere to better effect. While fulfilling all necessary recommendations for Anime Video Cliché, it must be noted that this production is likely to be a complete waste of your time.

Ingredients:

  • One (1) team of Beautiful Female Police People, including one Brainy Mature Woman, one Alpha-Female Team Leader, one Demure Traditionalist, one Tough Chick With Battle Armor, one Shape-Changing Magical Girl, and one Cat-Girl With Big Ears. Must have unpronounceable or improbable D&D-character names like "Sylvia Nimrod" or "Nany Nataresionn Neinhalten". One character must have Pet of Indeterminate Species.
  • One Whiny, Impotent, Crybaby Male. Glasses optional.
  • One Rough, Tough, Mature Male. Roy Fokker from MACROSS is a good example here. In fact, one might say this DVD adheres to the Roy Fokker template a little too closely. Smoking, drinking, and gigantic sideburns are a must. Character is actually competent and therefore must be featured as little as possible.
  • One mixed pair of Funny Criminals who Screw Up. See: Time BokanNadiaPokemon.
  • One set of Real Criminals who are working for the Mysterious Big Boss. Even though their plans are smart and well-executed, they will never win. 
  • Assorted cheap-looking CG spaceships, planets, computer readouts, crowd scenes, placards, and camera tricks. Use liberally and without shame. Here's a tip: crowd scenes are easily created by simply using a field of little moving dots.

Directions:
Gather ingredients in two DVDs of three episodes each. Be careful to adhere slavishly to the clichéd anime formula of the Bizarre And Meaninglessly-Named Team Of Well-Meaning Yet Bumbling Female Police People Who Succeed By Accident.

If possible, ensure that your anime is based on a Playstation game, as this one is.

It is essential to include many scenes that highlight your lack of knowledge of the basics of astronomy or physics - the time-honored Object Entering Solar System Passes Every Planet In Order has been used successfully since the early 1970s, but Melty Lancer is notable for inventing new mistakes, such as Passing Stars While Travelling Between Earth And Saturn. You can also point out your ignorance of basic police tactics by having your policewomen threaten criminals with their guns while standing in each other's line of fire. At all times characters will talk before shooting, giving their targets ample time to escape.

The script must include the following: Shocking Revelation that Our Heroes are only being used as a Diversionary Tactic; the Poignant Tragedy of the Doomed Romance between Heroes and Villians; and the time-honored Expository Scene While Character Lies In Hospital Bed, Suffering From Tragic Chronic Incurable Illness. In order to give this production that extra-stale taste, make certain the plot involves a Sentient Super-Computer Out To Destroy The Galaxy. Do not forget to have characters miraculously rescued by the timely invention of a brand new scientific device. One character must appear to be dead to allow the other characters to mope around for twenty minutes.

Character designs should be ugly and unappealing, with bizarre chipmunk cheeks or the lack thereof the only indicator of a character's age. Hairstyles and clothing should be outlandish and impractical.

Animation must be as cheaply produced as possible. Characters must deliver huge chunks of dialog with their backs to the camera or their hands in front of their mouths, or in extreme long shots. Still frames and digital zooms will be used at all times. Point-of-view scenes must involve the camera pitching and swaying drunkenly. Any scene involving a telescope or gunsight must contain a shot through the telescope or gunsight, in order to get the message across to the dimmer members of the audience that a character is using a telescope or a gunsight.

Direct this series so that no scene lasts longer than thirty seconds. Combat scene, hospital scene, comedy scene - no matter what's going on, when your egg timer says thirty seconds, it's time to cut to another scene. This will give the production a schizophrenic aimlessness that will effectively kill any likely dramatic or humorous effects.

Highlights of this title should include highly-trained combat soldiers who fight by ramming their heads into each other, a counterproductive tactic that brings to mind the Sanrio sheep-from-Hell production Ringing Bell. For extra irritation, dramatic climax must involve all characters being transported into a psychedelic freakout dimension where our heroes first whine like babies and then talk the supercomputer out of destroying the universe. Our crybaby male lead should not be merely uncomfortable around girls, but should literally scream in terror whenever touched by a female.

Melty Lancer Melty Lancer Melty Lancer
These ingredients- lackluster animation, intrusive and clumsy CG, mediocre character designs, obsessive-compulsive editing, confusing character names, and a script that involves people from other dimensions fighting supercomputers who control terrorist organizations who are starting religious cults in order to harvest DNA in an attempt to destroy space itself- don't combine so much as congeal, and result in what can only be described as an unsatisfying mess.

Melty Lancer Melty Lancer
Extras on the DVD release should include a glossary of completely irrevelant backstory information, including identifying the parents of the main characters. Printing of the DVD label should involve metallic inks that render the artwork and text nearly illegible. This release, if properly half-baked, should serve any amount of non-discriminating viewers who are reasonably undemanding in their entertainment choices. It is suggested that this feature be served alone, as it will suffer in comparison with virtually any other production ever made.

Dietician's Notes:
1. After watching Melty Lancer, I no longer fear death.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

my 2015 events

I try to work up one of these posts early every year as a reminder to myself of events perhaps of interest. Usually these are antique/nostalgia/kitsch shows or record shows or comic shows (I prefer the shows that are more about actual comic books and less about celebrities or costumes) and the couple of Japanese animation conventions I attend mostly to screen weird clips and 40 year old robot cartoons.

There's a terrible habit of Ontario shows, at least the antique shows we like to hit, where the vendors are all packing up at 2pm to be out the door by 3pm. Well, first off, many people such as yours truly work crazy hours and aren't up at the crack of dawn standing in line at Tim Horton's. We just aren't. It's a pain for us to drive an hour or so out into the sticks, only to have the dealers all packing up because god forbid they spend an extra half an hour until their set closing time just to maybe make some money.  All I'm saying is these shows should run until at least 5pm, is what I'm saying. Think about it, won't you? Thanks.  And don't even get me started on how we have to drive out into the sticks to find interesting stuff because all the offbeat stores in downtown Toronto have closed and been replaced by condos, trendy gastro-pubs, and real estate brokers. Just don't even go there. And have you tried getting a decent meal out there that doesn't involve waiting an hour for a table at the Kelsey's by the Toyota dealership? Forget about it!

ANYWAY.

Sunday March 8: Guelph Record & CD Show Haven't been to a show in Guelph, not far away, a nice little drive, maybe worth it.

Sunday, March 29: Toronto Downtown Record Show these guys have been putting on a show at the Estonian Hall for years now. A good show, prices are a little north because vinyl is hip now or something.

Sunday April 12: Kitchener Collectibles Expo Never been to any sort of show in Kitchener. Might be worth the trip.

Sunday April 19Toronto/Mississauga Musical Collectables - Capitol Convention Centre  I've been to a few of these and there's usually a pretty good mix of stuff and prices aren't too bad.

Sunday April 19: Toronto Comic Book Show  We went to a mixed card/comics show here in '13 that was like 75% sports memorabilia. Who buys that stuff, and why? If this one's 100% comics we might give it a shot.

Sunday May 3: Ancaster Nostalgia Show & Sale  - This show has a good mix of stuff and prices are generally OK. Not too bad a drive either. 

May 9-10:  TCAF It's downtown, it's jam packed with amazing comics, it's free. Beat that.

May 22-24: Anime North  I'll be doing a bunch of panels and ANIME HELL

Sunday May 31: Ancaster Collectorfest

Saturday July 25 & August 29, Innisfill Roadshow Antiques North Outdoor Sales Event - 9-5pm at the Innisfill Roadshow Antique Mall. This is that antique mall on the way to Barrie. The mall's kinda picked over but some good stuff might be out in this open air thing. Their website isn't working.

Saturday Sept. 19: Aberfoyle Fall Special Saturday Antique Show Aberfoyle is a fairgrounds show on the way to Guelph. Sometimes the pricing here is nuts.

Sept. 24-27: Anime Weekend Atlanta I'll be doing a bunch of panels and YES ANIME HELL at this show in Atlanta, which I helped start 21 years ago

Sunday Oct. 18 - Toronto/Mississauga Musical Collectables - Capitol Convention Centre

Probably have to do another one of these in September or October. If you're reading this and know of some shows I should mention, let me know!

Thursday, February 26, 2015