39 of 39 episodes seen
Before any conclusions can be reached it is best to always lay the facts out in front of us as they are. Agatha Christie no Meitante Poirot to Marple is a thirty-nine episode long television series that adapts various novels and short stories featuring Christie’s detectives Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Some mysteries are solved in the space of a single episode while others take significantly longer with novel adaptations usually running for four episodes at the most. It sounds like a good setup and could potentially work very well but problems arise at the start of the very first episode where it is revealed that while the names Poirot and Marple are prominently featured in the title and while both detectives are characterized fairly well this isn’t really their story. No, this is the story of young Mabel West and her pet duck Oliver as they (yes they) learn about detective work from these two thoroughly qualified mentors.
Mabel desires independence, to find her own path in life free from her father’s overbearing influence and expectations, a desire that eventually leads her to seek a position as an assistant to Poirot. That’s all well and good I suppose but the problem is that her father’s supposed controlling nature is never properly established. The height of his onscreen tyranny is when he quite understandably chastises Mabel for bringing her pet duck into a crowded ballroom in the first episode. Beyond that there is the point that he insists on her going to a supposedly unpleasant boarding school, a potentially good line to follow up on. The creators would have done well to open the story at the boarding school, showing the viewer what a stultifying environment it really is in order to make Mabel’s perspective more readily understandable. Unfortunately they don’t and the only reason Mr. West is overbearing is because Mabel says he is.
However, while Mabel is indeed a poor character I can’t entirely dismiss her. While she is an obvious ploy by the creators to draw in a younger audience through the experiences of a similarly aged original character she spends most of her time in the background, never becoming intrusive and getting in the way of the story. Indeed, the most valueable role Mabel plays is that of a plot device to connect the worlds of Poirot and Marple. In the end the worst the creators have done by introducing the Mabel character is merely to take the Watson role of Captain Hastings and divide it up between two characters.
No, the worst transgression that the creators of this television program committed is related to another character entirely. This is a character so utterly useless in the context of a murder/mystery program, so cynically placed that the sheer gall of the creators is mind-boggling. I am of course talking about Mabel’s damned pet duck Oliver, a pseudo-anthropomorphized little yellow duck who looks, for all intents and purposes, like he wandered into the murder/mystery show out of a Walt Disney film. Oliver’s sole function, his singular purpose in being inserted into the world of Agatha Christie is to be a cute little duck that the viewers can look at and marvel at how cute he is to the point that he actually gets in the way. There are moments where the mystery that the show is supposed to be about is shelved so Oliver can pop out of the wicker basket Mabel carries him around in like an all too cute jack-in-the-box so he can sit in the lap of and be fawned over by whichever character happens to be around at the time. The height of his hideousness comes when during one particular case Oliver actually finds the murder weapon, receives credit for it, and tears off the murderer's disguise. It all gives the impression of a production process where the creators had their priorities terribly confused.
On the story front the best I can say is that the adaptations of Christie found in Poirot to Marple are adequate and that’s all. While various blunders hinder the production (among them a rather pointless escape from a French port under gunfire) and a good deal of the mystery has been drained out of these mysteries the essential quality of Christie’s writing does manage to somehow work its way through in the end making these acceptable but nonetheless flawed adaptations. The animation is similarly adequate but a good deal more bland. Character designs are as generic as they come with a minimum of detail accompanied by a flat color scheme all around. The only area where Poirot to Marple truly succeeds is in its soundtrack which can be often quite effective.
However, despite a well utilized soundtrack I can only recommend this show as a potential child’s diversion (in which case it has the unfortunate potential to ruin the experience of Christie for future readers) or as a curious oddity for Christie fans as it was for me. If you’ve already seen the Granada Poirot television series, or better still actually read Christie yourself, rest assured you’ve already had the superior experience as both are far superior in terms of characterization, wit, suspense, and most importantly mystery. read more
25 of 25 episodes seen
Let me take a step back for a moment, because the truth of the matter is that Code Geass brought with it a genuinely compelling concept, one that could have done wonders if the creators at Sunrise had known what the hell they were doing. It takes place in an alternate universe where a version of the British Empire called Britannia, through various quirks of fate, manages to endure and thrive into the 21st century. After witnessing the assasination of his mother and having his and his sister’s lives ruined by his father, an exiled Britannian prince living under the assumed name Lelouch Lamperouge, out of a desire for revenge against the emperor, rises to become a revolutionary leader in an occupied Japan.
This concept could have gone in any number of directions and in the right hands could have been turned into something truly remarkable. Unfortunately Goro Tanaguchi and his team at Sunrise either didn’t realize the potential of what they’d come up with or were simply too caught up in making a commercially successful product to care. For, you see, although the basic premise survived to see the light of day it has been chained to and obscured by a wide variety of disparate concepts and ideas, none of which add anything of substance to the proceedings. This is a program that wants to be a mecha action series at the same time it wants to be a war drama at the same time it wants to be a romance/harem series at the same time it wants to be a high school comedy while above all else its trying to be Death Note with a copy of V for Vendetta in its pocket. It all gives the impression of a program that’s so terribly frightened of being disliked by any one subset of the anime fandom that it rushes to appeal to every conceivable kind of viewer and as a result is never truly exceptional at any of the things it attempts.
Giant robots, for example, are thrown in for no better reason than to draw in and satisfy the needs of the giant robot fandom. I don’t have anything against mecha per se but neither do I have any great love for it leaving me rather indifferent to it overall. All I ask is that it adds something to the experience, that there is some concrete purpose for their presence motivated by the narrative, that the giant robots aren’t merely props easily interchangeable with any other fantastical weaponry. Full Metal Panic provides, in its continuity, a fairly detailed justification for how its variation on the giant robot concept came into being. Patlabor provides a similarly believable rationale as well. Ride Back would have had a wonderful thematic connection to its motorcycle/robot hybrids had the creators had the sense to utilize a specific scene outside of the end credits. Code Geass has no such virtue. The “Knightmare frames” come across as a ploy just as empty and cynical as Gonzo’s additions of giant robots to their adaptations of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo.
The story itself runs into trouble fairly quickly. In the first episode, Lelouch is inspired to begin his campaign against Britannia when he obtains a supernatural ability called Geass from a mysterious girl wearing a tight-fitting straitjacket. This ability allows him to control the will and actions of anyone he chooses with very few actual limitations. All he needs is direct eye contact with his intended victim and that’s it. By comparison the Death Note has a whole page full of rules and restrictions on its use. As a result, a lot of Death Note’s intrigue is generated from the various ways Light Yagami finds to work with or around those rules. The Geass is almost too powerful by comparison. As a result it makes his decision to start a rebellion in Japan as a means of gaining revenge against his father in Britannia seem a very roundabout way of doing things. It would seem more effective to simply hop a plane home, Geass his way past security to get to his father and that would be the end of it. Its not like Lelouch doesn’t accomplish much the same thing with his brother Clovis at the end of the second episode. Of course, if Lelouch were to actually follow the course simple logic would dictate then he wouldn’t have started his rebellion and Code Geass wouldn’t have had the opportunity to indulge in enough overblown spectacle to shame Michael Bay.
This problem is further compounded by the revelation in the second episode that Lelouch is some sort of super-genius strategist. It’s never explained to any degree where his ability comes from, whether the creators want the viewer to assume that its some sort of blood inherited trait or that he was simply educated on the subject. The most the viewer is allowed to understand is that Lelouch’s “strategic brilliance” has something to do with the fact that he’s good at chess, which, if you actually accept that, only explains a fraction of the schemes that he devises. In the end, as a character Lelouch comes across as little more than a plot devise, a strategy generating machine that provides the series with its single greatest source of overblown spectacle.
Out of the rest of the cast the only character who made, or I should say had the potential to leave in impression on me was the anti-Britannian rebel Kallen. She receives an entire episode devoted to her background as the daughter of a Japanese mother and a Britannian father. Much is made of her identification with the Japanese side of her parentage and how her deceased brother figures into things and there is indeed potential for something interesting here. Unfortunately nothing is ever done with any of these elements. Everything that was brought up in that episode is quickly shelved and never brought up again.
It should be noted that a good portion of the issues I have with the show stem from the fact that [i]Code Geass[/i] possesses all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull. The result is a heavily calculated experience where the hands of the creators can be clearly seen picking and choosing which ideas or scenarios would have the greatest impact regardless of whether or not they make any sense (coincidences are invoked to the point of absurdity). The first episode alone depicts an ethnic cleansing (a scenario the series portrays twice in its first season) and a bloody mass suicide sure to satisfy the more ghoulish members of the viewership. Fanservice is plentiful and obvious with only a scant few female cast members escaping the first season with their dignity, if they ever had any to begin with.
On the technical side of things there isn’t really a whole lot I can complain about. The animation is smooth well done. The color scheme employed can be a little too bright and cheery for its own good with purple mechs and a city that is lit with pink lighting at night but that is a minor complaint overall. Character designs come courtesy of CLAMP so if you like their artwork you’ll like what you see here. If you don’t like CLAMP then there isn’t anything in Code Geass that will convince you otherwise. The soundtrack, credited to Hitomi Kuroishi and Kotaro Nakagawa, isn’t anything spectacular but it is nonetheless serviceable. It is a competent presentation overall, if only. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
Last Exile takes place in a marvelous steampunk world of giant hulking airships and smaller faster aircraft known as vanships that seems as much inspired by the industrial 19th century as it was by the 18th. The forces of the neighboring Disith are invading the country of Anatorey. Both nations engage each other according to rules handed down by a technologically advanced group with its own agenda known simply as the Guild that resides in the Grand Stream, a violent storm system that separates the two warring nations. Claus and Lavie, a pilot/navigator team who work as couriers with their vanship, are drawn into the ongoing conflict between Anatorey, Disith, and the Guild by Alex Rowe, the enigmatic captain of the rogue battleship Silverna and a mysterious little girl named Alvis.
The setting is truly one of Last Exile’s greatest strengths and it is aided by wonderfully detailed artwork and character designs from Range Murata who is known for his earlier work on another Gonzo production, Blue Submarine No. 6. Animation is smooth throughout although the presentation is weakened by an at times obtrusive use of computer-generated animation. At its best the blend of the two formats adds an epic grandeur to dogfights and naval battles. At it’s worst it stands out in sharp contrast to the two dimensionally animated elements that surround it like in the Silverna’s hanger filled with CGI vanships. The soundtrack for Last Exile was the only one composed by the group Dolce Triade which is made up of Hitomi Kuroishi, Maki Fujiwara, and Yuki Yamamoto (Kuroishi would later go on to work on the soundtrack for Code Geass). It comes across as appropriate to the epic scale Last Exile was aiming for and is more than a match for the animation in terms of quality.
It is, however, the story and characters that are often the most important elements of a successful program and it is in these two areas that Last Exile suffers the most. It is essentially the same deficiency in both and it is that Last Exile never really goes into any great detail on either its story or its characters. This isn’t necessarily true across the board. Claus and Lavie receive an entire episode devoted to their back-story and others such as Alex Rowe, Dio, and Luciola do receive a goodly amount of attention. In addition the vanship pilot/navigator relationship functions as a very interesting character dynamic. On the whole, however, there are a lot of areas that feel like there should be some development where if there isn’t a vague hint of detail there is only its complete absence. The pacing doesn’t leave much room for this sort of development, moving along at such a rate that when developments do occur they rarely feel natural let alone believable. Characters who were once enemies become allies and two nations that had been bitter enemies for years become friends as though all their previous hostilities meant nothing at all. There is something of a coherent story to be found for the attentive viewer but it is mostly the skeleton of one.
Last Exile’s conclusion only worsens matters by throwing logic completely out the window. Strategies are implemented and character deaths occur for no greater reason than that the writers needed them to happen for the sake of the conclusion they were trying to reach. In the end, very little is explained either. Yes, the true nature of Last Exile’s world is revealed as is the true nature of the mystery ship Exile but the ending only serves to raise more questions than it actually answers. What Last Exile truly needed was more time to flesh out its story and characters than its 26-episode length allowed. As it is Last Exile is still a good show despite its faults and it’s at least worth a look for the prospective viewer. Come for the setting and the audio/visual presentation just don’t expect the story and characters to match up. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
Cowboy Bebop takes place in the year 2071. Decades earlier a system of gates was established to allow for easy travel throughout the solar system. However, due to a fatal instability in the gate system that was ignored by the contractors, a disaster known as the Gate Accident occurred. As a result of the accident most of Earth's surface was destroyed and humanity spread out to more habitable places on or around other planets. This leads to a kind of neo-Wild West scenario with the central government and law enforcement agencies in a weakened state leading to a kind of lawlessness. It is an institutionalized system of bounty hunters that picks up the slack and this is the concept much of the program centers on.
The setting, as mentioned, is a kind of neo-Wild West in space, hence the "Cowboy" half of the title. Unlike Trigun, for example, which takes place in a setting that, steampunk elements aside, is virtually identical to that found in American Westerns, Cowboy Bebop plays out in a setting very much like the present. Its science fiction but the world is nonetheless recognizable as being our own. Some elements stand out on occasion from the rest of the world as though they were transposed straight out of a typical American Western with little thought to consistency with the rest of the setting (for example the occasional conspicuous presence of individuals dressed in ponchos and sombreros), but it all works nonetheless to create an intriguing world for the story lines to play out in.
I tend to think that one the reasons for Cowboy Bebop's monumental success is the fact that it is a very fun, easy show to watch. It doesn't make any demands on the viewer with its highly episodic nature and lack of any real overarching plot. The closest Cowboy Bebop comes to having one is the story of Spike's past and even then it only occupies five episodes out of the total twenty-six. By and large, episodes either focus on the story of a specific bounty or on developing the main cast and their pasts and even though Spike's story is given the most attention it still suffers from the limited amount of time it receives. In fact, if I were pressed, I'd have to say that the main story line is not exclusively about Spike's past at all but about everyone's. The members of the crew of the spaceship Bebop all have troubled pasts which they all eventually have to face up to and that they will either overcome and move on or be destroyed.
To it's credit Cowboy Bebop possesses a well-developed essentially likable cast of characters. Spike, Jet, and Faye are all interesting characters and even Ed, despite remaining largely a question mark throughout compared to the rest, is still a fun character to watch. Problems arise, however, with members of the supporting cast, specifically those involved with Spike's past. His past is revealed with a wonderful sense of subtlety throughout via the use of flashes of memory, succeeding to tell a complete story despite the time constraints. However Spike's old associates from the Red Dragon syndicate don't come out so well. Julia and particularly Vicious receive very little development. Some characters from stand-alone bounty hunting episodes are more developed. Often the most understanding that is provided about these characters comes solely from Spike’s reactions to them which, to be fair, often proves to be enough.
On the audio/visual front Cowboy Bebop is quite the success. Character designs by Toshihiro Kawamoto are consistently appealing and the animation is smooth utilizing a nicely done blend of two dimensional and computer generated animation. For the purposes of this review I watched the dub for Cowboy Bebop which is regarded as one of the best with good reason. All members of the cast fit their characters well and convey believable emotion when needed. Yoko Kanno should need little introduction for her role in composing the soundtrack, focusing primarily on jazz while providing a fair variety of other genres throughout. All in all a very high quality production even ten years later.
Overall, for me, Cowboy Bebop isn't a favorite, my main gripe being my issues with the story line. However, despite that it proved to be a very fun, perhaps even addictive show to watch. It has a wonderful soundtrack and a cast of characters well worth remembering after the final credit scroll. For this I award it an overall rating of 8/10. read more