Get This! Volume 5 Feature - The Next Level

Get This! Volume 5

Japanese CG overload!

Article by Joseph Luster (Email)
May 22nd 2006, 12:29AM

Karas: The Prophecy
Released by: Manga Entertainment
Running Time: 80 minutes
Language: English / Japanese
Directed by: Keiichi Sato
Available On: DVD

Welcome to Tokyo; a city with two populations, one human and the other demon. Dimensional separation keeps our worlds apart thanks to the guardian Karas and his masters. However, once a former Karas named Eko comes and rumbles the sacred balance while trying to take the streets, a newly risen Karas must fight for the sake of both dimensions.

Karas: The Prophecy has been speeding towards its final destination with a fair amount of promise and hard-to-crack hype attached for a variety of reasons, one of which is wholely studio-related. The 80 minute pseudo-feature is the first in a short series of OAVs by Tatsunoko Productions, solidified with legendary status for classic hits like Speed Racer and Gatchaman. As the primary part of their 40th anniversary project and helmed by Keiichi Sato (Animation Director for Wolf's Rain and Mobile Suit Victory Gundam among others), theoretically Karas has all the right moves to make the next big splash in the medium.

But somewhere along the way it breaks out of its perfect ten dive and becomes content with landing in the water feet first with little hurrah. Karas is a mish-mash of slick visuals and hit-or-miss character design. The feature opens with a bang, though, and when it sticks to blazingly smooth action it makes you want to grab a controller and wait for Capcom or Sega to release a badass franchise actioner based on the metal-suited hero (whose design is somewhat reminiscent of Keita Amemiya's gold-clad tokusatsu fighter Garo: the Fanged Wolf).

The score might be the crown jewel of Karas, thanks to Yoshihiro Ike's composition and a performance by the Prague Symphony Orchestra. The swelling music is effective in making the great moments of the feature seem larger than they are, while at least creating a tolerable atmosphere around the less enthusing elements.

Still, this mix of traditional-style animation and CG only meshes well on occasion. There's high contrast between the beautifully-animated characters and the hard knuckle metal beast fighting that plays out like an action game cutscene. Make no mistake, though, in nine scenes out of ten Karas is looking sexy. For all of the snoozer cliché segments, there are still moments worth recalling, making it a stunningly average cake with a grand coat of decorative icing. It should be interesting to see how the subsequent chapters hold up, but the swami says this prophecy is best told during a weekend rental.

Negadon: The Monster from Mars
Released by: Central Park Media
Running Time: 27 minutes
Language: English / Japanese
Directed by: Jun Awazu
Available On: DVD

"Kaiju will keep making incursions as long as Japan exists . . . because Japan is the only country in which kaiju live."

It's funny how one quote sums up the reason behind half a century of giant monster movies. I'll admit to being a bit skeptical at the idea of a full-CG monster flick, so my guard was up when I received a copy of Jun Awazu's animated short Negadon: The Monster from Mars. When I think kaiju movies, I tend to think live-action special effects ingenuity and balsa wood building explosions. As it turns out, though, Awazu carefully adds Showa-era meat to gorgeously animated skin and creates a final product worthy of its storied inspiration.

Once you get past the somber opening, there's little dialogue in the short. A faded filter of film scratches and grain add old-school flavor to the story of aged scientist Dr. Narasaki fulfilling his final mission as he awakens his long-dormant robot Miroku to vanquish the vicious beast Negadon as it attempts to wreak havoc on the streets of Tokyo. The story is simple, allowing the concerted efforts of the filmmakers to be purely visual in execution. There's little to no tiresome exposition because, really, there's no time for it.

So Negadon is a 50th anniversary celebration of monster films; a love letter to the daikaiju if you will (and one that took two years to craft at that). You don't need to watch the included interview with director Jun Awazu to know that he loves monster movies. It's apparent in every minute of Negadon, as well as the two shorts of his that are included as extras: Magara: The Giant Monster and Magara: The Final Showdown.

The Negadon featurette itself is just a little under 30 minutes long, but a lot of care was put into making this a disc worth owning. There's a making of featurette as well as the aforementioned interview with the director and the two preceding shorts. A couple of art galleries, one being the result of a fan contest initiated by Central Park Media, round everything out. Check this out for a brief but beautiful celebration of the spirit of daikaiju decades past.

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