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The scent of flames: Armored Trooper Votoms

Welcome to Sunsa

To be honest, I doubt there is much I can say that will convince you to take a look at Armored Trooper Votoms. It’s an old series, with a heavy emphasis on war. Chirico is no Kamina. The characters are gritty and unrefined. When it can be hard to sit through just the 1 episode, 52 feels impossible, so I couldn’t blame anyone for not seeing in this series what I do, because it is most definitely an acquired taste; it’s just that I have acquired it.

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Lohengramm’s advantage; contrasting dictatorship and democracy

A statue of Rudolph Von Goldenbaum, Emperor of the Galactic Empire

Though Legend of the Galactic Heroes might seem like a Death Note style dual of fates fought between two talented leaders (Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance respectively) it is what they represent, as much as who they are and what they believe, which is just as riveting; a contrast of dictatorship and democracy and the ways in which both political systems are essentially imperfect and doomed to a rapid degeneration.

Political and military dictators are demonised in the modern world, but Legend of the Galactic Heroes dares to suggest that its own peerless commander, Reinhard, is not as much an ignorant, soulless monster as a power-hungry genius riddled with insecurity. Though his methods can be callous (allowing a massive nuclear strike against his own people to swing public support in a civil war wasn’t his finest moment) he has displayed fundamentally good intentions, galvinised his people under a united cause and rebuilt his corrupt government into an aggressive and forward thinking force. But for all his strengths, the dictator’s worst enemy isn’t the present day, but the future, as decadence, complacency and arrogance takes hold.

By its very nature, the quality of a dictatorship is transient, being as it is limited to the strength of one man and his subordinates. Because there is no freedom to vote for a new leader, that power to control millions passes to the privileged few; nobles, friends and family not necessarily ingrained with the quality to lead a nation. As the ideals of that original generation dilute through time, the dictatorship becomes a dynasty. Rather than earn it, people are born into power and become arrogant. They no longer represent, or even understand, the man on the street, they fight for their own petty and corrupt reasons; power for the sake of power. Eventually, the common majority will grow wary of being ruled by those with no understanding of them and, put simply, a revolution is inevitable. This is exactly what happens during the first season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, as the impotent Goldenbaum dynasty, having grown weak and arrogant through generations of inbreeding, is completely shattered by Reinhard von Lohengramm‘s tactical nous. They have no answer to his genius because none in their privileged ranks can match his desire or intelligence to succeed. In such a situation, the death of a dictatorship is inevitable, but it remains a long and drawn out affair.

Ale Heinnesen, hero and saviour of the Free Planets Alliance

In these regards, democracy is the antithesis of the dictatorship’s long-term weaknesses. Most importantly, the populace has the right to remove the leaders they deem incompetent. Ethically, it’s a better system, but at times of war, democracy faces a distinct disadvantage against the likes of Lohengramm. While the Galactic Empire moves with the poise and clarity of its talented protector, the Free Planets Alliance is bogged down with bureaucracy; days, even weeks, can be wasted in discussions and votes searching for agreement.

While a dictatorship can condition (propaganda) its people into believing anything, a democratic government is tasked with offering an unbiased education system and, vitally, freedom of choice and speech. The Galactic Empire can conscript soldiers, but the Free Planets Alliance cannot; capitalism takes hold as the public, quite rightly, chase their own desires and become reluctant to fight a war that, for them, means little. Politically, the government is mired in corruption; money-grubbing politicians content to delay vital processes for the sake of their own gain. In Lohengramm‘s Empire, such hesitancy would be warmly greeted with execution, but in the Alliance, long inquiries, investigations and proof are required.

Where do I stand on all this? Though I believe a dictatorship like Lohengramm‘s can work, it still relies on the fundamental good nature and whims of one man. If the Empire triumphs, will Reinhard (with shades of Gurren Lagann) step aside and offer the people a chance to elect their own leader, or will the Empire have to live with another gradually failing dynasty? Democracy is a better system and offers a safer future for the human race. However, without the luck of discovering Yang Wen-li, I expect the Free Planets Alliance would have long ago fallen into Lohengramm‘s hands. Obviously, democracy is ill-suited in times of war, and though it has survived in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I wonder if that’s merely an illusion conjured by Yang Wen-li’s talent? And if one man is so important, isn’t that an (albeit ambiguous) form of dictatorship any way?

The light of dawn always comes right after the deepest darkness

Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire

Writing an anime blog is frustrating. Either through lack of time or energy, I just haven’t felt the inclination to set aside an afternoon to write about something. I guess that’s more a reflection on my recent viewing habits than anything else, because since finishing with February’s Ookiku Furikabutte, I’ve not been able to immerse myself in a series to the point where I could contribute any kind of worthwhile, extended writing. Indeed, I was hoping to uncover some inspiration after catching up with two long time favourites, Naruto and One Piece, but to be honest, neither are firing on all cylinders at the moment. So, I’m sorry, dear reader, if things have seemed on the short side of late, but that I’m here now is as sure a sign as any that I’ve found something new to light the night; it’s an old flame I’ve been sheltering for too long, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Reinhard von Lohengramm enters the Royal Chamber

There’s no easy way to describe Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It is, in many ways, the crowning achievement for an entire generation of anime creators, a nigh-on ten year production that ran from 1988 to 1997 and stretches across 110 episodes. Quite remarkably, it contains the largest voice cast for any known animated production. All these artists, directors and actors, they lived through (and even worked on) such influential space operas as Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross and Space Battleship Yamato, and before retiring, they created this as a tribute to, or culmination of, their beloved star-fairing era. Essentially, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is that generation’s parting sentiment, their last, glorious hurrah, its opulent texture and poetic scope sweeping through distant stars to study man’s political, historical, romantic lust for power.

Reinhard's best friend, Kircheis, and his sister, Annerose

We have two protagonists at the heart of this story; ambitious aryan Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire (based on 19th century Prussia, hence the German names) and reluctant tactician Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance. By the time both men, notably younger than their peers, come into power, their sides have been fighting a war of attrition for over 100 years. Lohengramm’s lofty ambitions were set in stone when his beautiful older sister, Annerose, was bought (as in, with money) by the Kaiser to be his concubine. Reinhard rises through the ranks of the Empire’s military, gaining more and more power with each success, striving for the ostensible goal of winning back her freedom, though, with every passing victory; one wonders if he’s not planning to control the galaxy itself. Yang Wen-li is the exact opposite, in the sense that he isn’t driven by any lofty ambition, he doesn’t want to fight, and only does so out of loyalty to his comrades and for the sake of forging a peaceful future. Right from the start, there’s no real enemy to speak of, simply these two men on opposite sides of the fence, arch-rivals, geniuses, as fate would have it, striving for a better tomorrow.

Iserlohn about to fire the Thor Hammer

Their characterisation sets in motion this massive struggle for power engulfing man’s last frontier. So far, I’ve only seen up to episode 10, but during the first two episodes alone, over one million lives are sacrificed in battle. Much like Word War I, people are lost in their thousands, like pawns on a chess board at the hands of incompetent, pig-headed commanders too proud to quit. Also, there is a big Star Wars vibe, not least of all from the Empire’s gigantic fortress Iserlohn and it’s likeliness to the Death Star; the structure’s super-weapon, aptly named the “Thor Hammer”, can scythe through surrounding space-fleets with lightning force.

Yang Wen-li

I don’t want to write much more for fear of never ending; ultimately, this is a mere introduction to a series that’s all about social and political commentary, it’s so thought provoking that only a detailed, blow-by-blow study would suffice. Maybe that sounds intense? You’d be quite right; Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a concentrated, hard science fiction story heavy on philosophical dialogue (though not exactly at the level of Mamoru Oshii), military tactics and political manoeuvring. It has a wonderful, emotional score; rousing, soul-searching theatrical orchestra, utterly befitting for a story set within the Sea of Stars, where the whims of a select few carry the ideals and hopes of an entire generation.

You get the feeling that this is it, this is why I watch anime.

Black Lagoon – 13 – People call it spinal reflex

Madhouse Studios have an exceptional talent for adapting manga – BECK, Monster and now Black Lagoon, they clearly devote a lot of careful thought to developing a specific style for their works; almost inevitably, they craft absolutely unique anime. I feel safe in saying that Black Lagoon’s flair for attention grabbing will never fade, such is it’s commitment to ass kicking, it is a series willing to twist the boundaries of bad taste, adding layer after layer of extreme and unbelievable material, naturally showing a complete disregard of human life.

Consider incestuous, cannibalising, underage twins from Europe. They carry axes and have sweet little dolls tied to their massive machine guns. They are clearly insane. Cute, but insane. They commit depraved acts, but what is truly chilling is that they are simply kids – innocent by nature, they are none the less completely lost in and exploited by the darkness that surrounds them.

Balalaika and even Revy (as cool as they look) are obviously killers themselves, but would one consider them evil? They show an emotional restraint in their bloody and brutal work, but if they took on the same job as “the Twins”, of course they would eventually rub out their targets all the same. But because we have seen them with their feet up, drinking beer and joking with friends, we recognise a glint of their humanity, instinctively we know that deep down, they have feelings just like you and me. The twins offer no such empathy; show no emotion in context with their disgusting acts, so it’s them that are the monsters. Apparently. Body count is irrelevant.

Black Lagoon is still just as fun as ever – there is a loveable black humour and corny kitsch value to be found in such an over-top bunch of episodic villains, and despite the animation (particularly character designs) looking strangely inconsistent, you just can’t beat this show for a good ol’ fashioned shoot out.

Pumpkin Scissors – 1 – Faith in humanity after all

I’m getting worried about the fall anime season; there is too much to watch. Putting aside the immediate favourites like Death Note and Black Lagoon (these two are unmissable in my eyes) the likes of Pumpkin Scissors and D.Gray-man have proved just as fun and action packed, so where does one (desperately trying to be a ‘casual’) anime fan draw the line? Because at this rate I’ll be signing pink papers down at the Akihabara mental asylum by the end of the month!

Paranoid rambling aside, Pumpkin Scissors cut an impressive debut. Set a few short years after a hard fought and debilitating war, civilisation is left in ruin. Law and order is spread thinly, and vicious soldiers turned sadistic bandits roam the land, exploiting the weak without a care in the world. Pumpkin Scissors follows the people willing to stand up and defend what good is left in their world.

Although I’m somewhat at odds with cliche teenage pretty boys and girls posing as our heroes, Pumpkin Scissors is evocatively set within a post-WW European landscape; crumbled buildings, muddy grass and depressed villagers fill the screen with their dank green hue. Running with this realistic tone, the brief skirmishes between soldiers and bandits are notable for their distinctly painful and violent aethetic.

Interactions between the characters are as interesting and natural as you would expect, there are no laugh out loud jokes but man mountain Randel Orlando has a face covered with scars and a chilling, excited look in his eyes when its time to take down a 3-manned tank; he is a bad ass. I’m interested to see how the budding relationship between he and the idealistic female lead (nick named Pumpkin Scissors no doubt due to her cute appearance) develops and whether they survive the mass of human darkness drowning them.

Sci-Fi Harry – Does exactly what it says on the tin

Uneducated and ignorant, my first taste of this most leafy of seasons is the earnestly dubbed “Sci-Fi Harry”. I knew absolutely nothing of this show before today and the only reason I figured I’d give it a try is because of the wonderfully unprentious name. It is literally what it says on the tin – a science fiction anime with a main character called Harry. Mirroring this complete lack of hype, there is nothing outright exciting or colourful about this show, between its typically bullied protagonist and a depressed colour scheme, this is an intentionally serious and down to earth stab at high school psychic horror.

I could describe Harry as frustrating and unpleasant – after all, he is a beaten, bullied and weak teenager and we take no pleasure in his treatment at the hands of his yobbish school mates. At the same time, he is an under dog worth supporting and provided he doesn’t collapse in a pool of [his own] piss, his development as a brave hero will rouse my heart.

Perhaps the best – or at least the most striking element of Sci-Fi Harry is its artistic approach. The surreal and completely unsettling opening theme aside (it truly is an abstract sight to behold), I was impressed by the angular facial features – the eyes are particularly detailed, beaming and jerking from side to side, and it’s been a while since I saw an anime character with a proper nose. No doubt imagining a view of life from the perspective of a jaded kid, Sci-Fi Harry evokes a lifeless and drab atmosphere just waiting to explode, and for this reason it won’t be for the excitable harem otaku.

Ultimately it’s hard to know which way this 20 episode series will eventually head – given the original manga series was scribed by the same author of Night Head Genesis, I’m half expecting an influx of gay bishounen, yet I can’t deny that this first episode of Sci-Fi Harry is striking and interesting, hardly chilling but edgy and moody, wollowing in dank modern suburbia with a curiously ambiguous and confused lead character.

Black Lagoon – 12 – BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

So that’s it then, no more Black Lagoon for (at a guess) a couple of years. I really loved watching this series; after a hard day at work, when it’s a tough ask to even keep your eyes open let alone watch and read anime, Black Lagoon shone like a bloodied beacon of hope. I knew no matter how tired, or how jaded, I could enjoy watching this.

That’s what Black Lagoon meant to me. It didn’t carry much emotional weight, but it had episode titles like “Guerrillas in the Jungle” and “Rasta Blasta”. There is something so attractive about its zero pretension; it’s somewhat fun to see when a series is so honestly and passionately devoted to just thrilling the viewer from start till finish. It’s fan-service, but in a broader sense (not in the moe – killer loli – panty shot – harem sense) – taking it’s cues from the Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme era of 1980s action, Black Lagoon was a consistent, balls against the wall action series with little or no regard for human life. It’s great.

If I didn’t know a second season of Black Lagoon was coming, I would feel somewhat deflated by this final episode. Of course- it pays off with the now-expected-during-every-episode kick ass action; in particular, ninja woman throwing around her giant machete on a rope is a high point, but then it just ends. We don’t even get to see Dutch. Hints are made about the second season (American CIA agents talk to Revy as if she has trained with them in the past, the Japanese Guerrilla survives to fight another day), and basically it ends with the feeling of just another episode. So much so I waited for the next episode preview, but alas nothing appeared. My anticipation of the second season starts now.

I love a lot of anime and technically, so much of it is superior to Black Lagoon – but I just know that if I had to choose one anime series, over almost everything else I’ll happily watch Black Lagoon again and again. BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

Black Lagoon – 11 – The prelude to carnage

After the previous couple of unrelenting maid bashing episodes, the eleventh instalment of Black Lagoon was always going to seem a tad watered down in comparison. And so it proves- the penultimate “Lock’n Load Revolution” has more talking than shooting, and is almost entirely aimed at building up an initially convoluted race between an ambitious group of idealistic terrorists, a somewhat traditional (testicle cracking) Chinese triad (in cooperation with the CIA!) and in the middle of it all is of course our Lagoon.

If I have a problem with Black Lagoon it is that the characterisation has taken a vacation. It’s now more like watching Hellsing (though a lot better) – wondering who or what monsters will be facing Revy next. As fun as it is to see some crazy Chinese mafia bloke kick a grenade into a group of hapless grunts, Black Lagoon somewhere along its war path has lost that underlying emotional catharsis and is vainly trying to cover itself with one too many trendy gimmicks. In short, it’s getting a wee bit episodic. Still fun, but lacks a human bite.

Black Lagoon – 10 – The unstoppable chambermaid

There are many ways to settle a score and none better than an old fashioned dust up; I think this qualifies as the first time I’ve ever seen two women literally beat the shit out of each other with their bare knuckles. None of this pulling hair and scratching with their nails nonsense; if Black Lagoon is going to have a face-off between the two toughest women in the world, you better expect more than a few pinches.

So episode 10 marks the end of the “Unstoppable Maid” arc; emotionally it added nothing to the series, but I’ll be damned if I come across another couple of anime episodes this year that look as red hot as this was. While firmly tongue in cheek and more than willing to poke fun at its own absurdity, I love that knowing wink Black Lagoon makes at the viewer. That and the slick homages to any number of classic Hollywood pop-corn movies- this time Terminator 2 being the obvious influence behind Ms. Roberta and her unstoppable quest.

Usually I can’t stand girls-with-guns anime, but Black Lagoon ditches any hint of dainty beauty and replaces it with a big fat “fuck you!”

Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal – Jaded no more

I was suffering from anime burnout earlier this evening and rather than try to watch something new (and inevitably hate it with this jaded perspective), I decided I’d dip back into my ever-growing DVD collection, pull out a classic I knew I’d love and rediscover my passion for anime.

Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal is a series of dark prequel OVAs set before the events of the TV series. It’s a story concerning the bloody history of Himura Kenshin and reveals the mystery behind his iconic cross-shaped facial scar.

There are many, many reasons why I love these OVAs. Being a fan of the original Rurouni Kenshin TV series it is like a dream come true to see the series depicted in such a serious, dramatic way. Gone is the slightly uncomfortable slapstick comedy, replaced with horrific violence and a sombre mood. I always enjoyed how Rurouni Kenshin would regularly reference Japanese history and legend (I’ve learnt so much about Japan thanks to anime) and the narrative backdrop for these OVAs is based on true events; the Japanese revolution of the Edo period (around 1866 to 1869) in which the Tokugawa shogunate is eventually overthrown. We get to see legendary (real life) personalities like the Shinsengumi’s feared captain Hajime Saitō in action fighting Kenshin. Their climatic meeting in Trust & Betrayal is a great moment for both fans of the TV series and history buffs a like.

The action, which purely consists of lighting fast, utterly brutal sword and ninja fights showcases some of the finest samurai choreography ever animated. Watching Kenshin taken down warrior after warrior is an absolutely stunning and harsh spectacle, an utterly visceral, backs against the wall feeling.

Of course this would all mean nothing if Trust & Betrayal had little of real value to say but thankfully, this is far more than simply fan service for pre-existing fans of the TV series. The story is self-contained and features an absolutely gripping love story; driven by a tragic romance, set against a world-changing revolution and animated with visceral brilliance, these 4 OVAs are rightly considered landmark productions and taken as a whole, are up there amongst my favourite anime of all time.

First look at: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

In a universe far, far away from Earth, an intergalactic war between two political systems has enveloped its peoples for centuries. The Free Planets Alliance (democratic) and the Galactic Empire (imperial) regularly clash in battles that claim millions of victims.
Leading the Galactic Empire ever onwards is Reinhard von Lohengramm, a relatively young admiral (20 years old) who has the brilliance and charisma of an experience war veteran. His only equal is the Free Planets Alliance’s Yang Wen-li, a talented tactician who is building a fearsome reputation as an unstoppable leader of men. On their young shoulders will rest the hopes and dreams of mankind.

Having been at a loss as to what to blog lately, I decided to dive into the murky depths of the AnimeSuki fansub archive. There is so much airing these days that it’s easy to overlook the older anime and 1988’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes is exactly that; numbering 110 episodes (it ended in 1997), this is an underrated space opera reminiscent of the earlier Mobile Suit Gundam TV series (minus the mecha).

As you would expect from a series called Legend of the Galactic Heroes, this is an impossibly epic story that covers mind boggling space and time. The two lead characters are admirable and involving, especially Reinhard von Lohengramm, who embodies such a classical ambition for power. The battles and overriding war theme will satisfy hardened military fans who enjoy an attention to detail and tactics- the first two episodes are almost entirely devoted to one gigantic battle; both a shocking melee of space combat and a tense tactical clash between Reinhard and Yang Wen-li. Just like MS Gundam, both sides have their own unique uniforms and power structures.

The animation despite beginning in 1988 isn’t bad at all. I really love the slender Victorian-esque character designs; there is a poetic rhythm to their cat-like movement and graceful expression.

Based on the first four episodes, I’m already hooked in by Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While it’s strong emphasis on political and military manoeuvring won’t be for everyone, this is a good old fashioned space opera set against the compelling lives of two star gazing, ambitious heroes.

Black Lagoon – 9 – T:1000, unstoppable maid edition

“You should have paid more attention to Rock’s joke, Benny-Boy.” Quips Dutch, a sweating shadow of his composed former self, having just seconds before been subjected to the vicious blood lust (and impossibly strong arms) of an ass-kicking maid from hell. “Imagine her as an invincible killer robot.”

The set up for this story arc is so simple and yet it works so well. Not since Spike crossed guns with Pierre Le Fou or Rock Lee went kung-fu on Gaara have I been so viscerally thrilled by an episode of anime. The fluidity of movement, the sense of an unstoppable power being unleashed, it’s all here, taken to school with a pumping electronic soundtrack, achingly cool aesthetics and the sheer absurdity of what is rapidly exploding infront of us.

This is all such a great fun because of the realistic ways in which the character’s react to their increasingly insane situations- it’s easy to see that Dutch and his crew are genuinely disturbed by the cute T-1000 (and her massive knife) chasing their moving car down the street, and as a viewer, this powerfully conveys the intense danger in which they find themselves.

Black Lagoon 9 is a jolting visceral experience, the kind of quirky action-packed genius Tarrentino would die to replicate, and as hard as I’ve tried, you can’t do justice to such a buzzing spectacle with mere words alone.

Black Lagoon – 8 – Best.maid.ever

I write this post in lieu of discovering that Black Lagoon, surely the best anime airing in Japan at the moment, will only last a measly 12 episodes, and although I have heard rumblings that it should be continued in OVA form (no doubt adapting as yet unwritten manga chapters), 12 damn episodes just isn’t enough for a series as outright fun and exciting as Black Lagoon.

Now with that emotional outburst cleared from my system, it is with a reluctant joy that I can say that episode 8 is possibly the best yet. In terms of sheer climatic build up, the last 12 minutes were close to perfection. We’ve already had the absurdity of nuns with guns, so it seems worryingly natural that the newest character would be a military-trained South American house maid. It’s the way this character is introduced; the music is ripped straight from The Godfather as this cute-looking killer wanders from person to person, innocently inquiring about where to find the local Columbian mafia. Her young master narrates her journey, slowly building the powerful aura surrounding her and then you have the sunglasses, such a fucking cool look.

All this and we’ve yet to even see her in action. Just as she shoots her umbrella, the ending theme seeps in and that’s it. More next week. It’s one big tease, but damn, it’s really something.

Black Lagoon – 7 – Personality clash

The ticking time bomb of Revy’s personality finally explodes in the face of Rock, though gratefully he also snaps back and unfurls a passionate rant all of his own. It’s easy to imagine Rock being your typical male doormat, but here he stands up for himself and proves he too has an unbreakable steely quality beneath his tentative nature.

Revy, who often uses Rock’s middle-class background as a reason to insult him, is firmly put in her place and suddenly they have a new-found respect for one another. Rock has proven to Revy that he is willing to risk it all for the Lagoon, even if it took a black-eye and a gun to the head.

Amidst all this, there is treasure chest of absurd humour and quirky gimmicks to found in a wily mob of arms-dealing, drugs-smuggling nuns; all headed up by a sweet old lady with a specific taste for quality tea. I love how Black Lagoon is set in such a dead-pan and colourful paradise for unconventional criminals of all shapes, scars and sizes!

Black Lagoon – 5 to 6 – Nonchalant massacre of Neo-Nazis

It’s clear by now that Black Lagoon will be Rock and Revy’s show; the action scenes in these episodes are as expected absolutely kick ass, though the majority of what Black Lagoon is driving at is Revy’s humanity (or lack there of). Having slaughtered dozens of Neo-Nazi bastards, she nonchalantly explains to Dutch that she can no longer work with Rock.

Revy’s super human killing instinct is borne from an absolute disdain for life (including her own); she can kill so many people because to her they are nothing. However since Rock turned up and started questioning her brutal ways, Revy has started doubting herself too, and it’s that split second of hesitation that can cost her life. Assassins can’t afford to have morals.

On a totally superficial level, it was great to see Dutch kicking some Nazi ass too; he is the cold, calculated hit man to Revy’s indiscriminate kill-everything-that-moves motto of death. The inevitable Nazi showdown was edgy in how it soundlessly depicted Revy just walking from room to room, shooting men by the dozen. There is such an exhilarating discard for life during these moments that you can’t help but love it.

Angel Cop – Repulsive, Uncomfortable, Anti-Semitic

Growing up as an impressionable teenager in the mid-90s meant that my first taste of anime came through Manga Entertainment’s infamous VHS releases; sex, violence and science fiction were the orders of the day and as cheap and nasty as this kind of anime often was, I must admit I still think back on that time of my life quite fondly.

Angel Cop is the epitome of everything Manga (at least in the UK) used to stand for; it’s sinister, bereft of moral fibre and overflowing with such uncompromising violence. And when I say violence, I’m not talking about your sweet Elfen Lied rag dolls. Here is a morbid attention to detail which often forces some quite repulsive and uncomfortable scenes of murder and mayhem. I can best describe it is truly visceral gore. The titular lead character is Angel; a harder, nastier version of Matoko Kunsagi with a hatred for terrorists so deep that she is willing to kill a young kid if it means taking down her unenviable target.

Reading up on Angel Cop shows that it caused quite the controversy when first released in the West due to (according to Anime News Network) “… a rather blatant anti-Semitic slant, however both the dub and the subtitles were altered to a certain degree to cover this”. I am yet to see anything approaching racism in these first couple of episodes, though such an offensive subtext would hardly surprise me given the director is Ichiro Itano, who has previously worked with such questionable content in Violence Jack and to a lesser extent, Gantz.

Based on these opening episodes, I must admit that I am quite enjoying my look back at Angel Cop. Nostalgia often has a way of making things seem better than they actually are (imagine my disappointment when I realized Transformers: The Movie actually wasn’t the greatest film of all time, for shame) but this is still holding up today, despite being produced as an OVA series way back in 1989. The action is fierce and shocking and the visuals are reassuringly striking, combining those wonderful (read: ugly, Brian May-esque) hair cuts from the 80s with an exciting science fiction plot involving special government agents fighting psychically-powered vigilantes and pumped up cyborgs. What more could an action junkie want?

Black Lagoon – 4 – Neo Nazis

The beauty of Black Lagoon is that it knows exactly what it is; pure action, and then forcing the volume way past maximum. If last time flying submarines weren’t enough for you, how do Neo-Nazi’s sound?

The Black Lagoon is after a precious Nazi painting (commissioned by none other than the Fuhrer himself, Hitler) that has been sleeping with the fishes for a good 50 years, since the collapse of World War 2. It’s an easy 50k for Dutch and his crew until a regiment of hard ass Neo-Nazi’s crash the party and decide they want the painting too.

Of course, it’s unfair for me to label Black Lagoon as all action, because while the gunplay surely plays a pivotal role in this show, the characterization and setting is equally as strong. In just 12 minutes, I found myself carefully invested in a doomed Nazi submarine captain and feeling his subordinates’ claustrophobic horror when told they have but 2 hours left to live.

The kid within me just wants to go giddy at the flashy, powerful style of Black Lagoon, but its true strength lies within a compelling ability to weave personal stories within the context of such sheer explosive madness.

Black Lagoon – 1 through 3 – Adrenaline Rush

It took me a few weeks to catch onto Black Lagoon, but now I’m fully convinced of its (loud) qualities. I had avoided it up until this weekend because the reviews I’d read gave the impression that it was another typical girls with guns anime. I was wrong and it’s much more than that. I’m sorry for doubting you, Madhouse.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though- Black Lagoon is a purely action driven series, but (like Gungrave) rather than simply wallowing in style, the story sprinkles enough compelling character development to really capture the moment. The star of the show is Levi- an absolutely badass mercenary capable of killing her enemies by the dozen. So far, she has shown very little in the way of emotion- preferring instead to swear, get drunk and basically kill anything that moves. Her foil (and opposite lead) is Rock- a Japanese “salaryman” whisked away from the boring world of corporate business. He’s still searching for meaning in his life and opts to become a sailor of the Black Lagoon rather than go back to his boring old life of monotony. Rock is living the epitome of every salaryman’s dream.

The rest of the Lagoon crew are just as likable- particularly captain Dutch, who defines macho cool in very 1980s Schwarzenegger way.

It’s notable just how immoral the story has been up until now. Given this is about modern day ‘pirates’, the action is not so much as case as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, rather how much Dutch and crew will be paid – there is no respect for human life. The characters are criminals, but remain sympathetic because of their honourable warrior-code and a strong sense of comradery and friendship.

The animation is very physical and kinetic; when combat kicks off, there is a real bite to every bullet, every punch and every torpedo. It’s consistently exciting because the presentation maintains a palpable sense of danger where anything and everything is a possible weapon.