Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cool Guy: Kamen Rider Kuuga

Ever since I began watching Kamen Rider (which wasn't all that long ago, really), I have mostly exposed myself to Showa era shows such as Black, Stronger, and V3.  I'm not sure I have any particular reason, but I've always been fond of old shows, whether live-action or animated.  I decided to switch things up a little bit and watch a Heisei show, and I had seen an almost-unanimous thumbs up for Kuuga on the web, so it seemed like a natural choice.

A new hero.  A new legend.

As stated in a previous entry, my first viewing or two was a little bit jarring, seeing as I had only really been previously exposed to Showa Rider shows.  Kuuga is a very different animal in regard to both story and production, so I admit that it took some getting used to.  The main character, Godai, is very different from most Showa protagonists.  He's cheery and goofy most of the time, rarely getting down in the dumps about anything.  He's a plucky hero, and despite not emanating JUSTICE from every pore in his body and every word that he utters, he is always fiercely determined and dependable.  Godai is the kind of person from which the other characters draw inspiration and encouragement.  Nothing keeps him down for long, not even death.

Our plucky hero.

In addition, Kuuga sports a very likable, colorful cast of characters, many of whom have their own personal problems to deal with throughout the course of the show.  I don't particularly feel like dwelling on any of them in particular, but they are all interesting to watch as they develop and interact.

Kuuga's got some eye candy. (Sorry about my crappy screenshots)

Jean:  Making every scene he's in awkward as hell.

In contrast to the cyborg riders of the Showa era, Kuuga appears to be more mystical in nature, drawing power from an ancient artifact known as the Amadam.  He is exceedingly versatile, with a number of forms suited for various situations.  He is also amazingly powerful.  The Showa riders I've seen are able to pull of some of the most insane stuff, but as far as raw power goes, Kuuga is definitely top-tier.  The fiery aftermath of his rider kick is powerful enough to prompt the police to move his fights to secluded areas. 

Kuuga's Rider Kick

This brings me to a very interesting aspect of this show.  Kuuga actually actively cooperates with police, and his level of cooperation increases as the show progresses.  One of the most important side characters, Ichijou, is a police officer that becomes Godai's close partner and confidant.  Also, the police aren't useless by any means in Kuuga.  They are especially useful later in the series when the lab develops special bullets and stuff.

Brodai and Ichibro:  Bros

Now for the enemies.  The baddies in Kuuga are a tribe of beings known as the Grongi (or Gurongi).  They're an interesting bunch, participating in Gegeru, which are game-like hunts with human prey.  They engage in these hunts one at a time, keeping track of their kill counts.  The purpose is to eventually lead to a Final Gegeru and ultimately bring about the "Ultimate Darkness".  The Grongi aren't immune to infighting and drama, as some of them get butthurt over who gets chosen for a Gegeru and things like that.  Also, their Gegeru are usually governed/guided by some sort of pattern.  All in all, they make for interesting enemies, and their designs and concepts are pretty cool as well.

Cool-looking Grongi dude.

Battles in Kuuga can be quite brutal.  The death toll from Grongi attacks are frequently specified, and they are very high.  Violence is also a bit more graphic than some of the older Rider shows.  People get decapitated, slashed across the face, necks snapped, and all sorts of cool stuff like that.  Even Godai isn't immune to Grongi attacks and is hospitalized several times throughout the course of the series.  Seeing Godai get injured can be almost wince-inducing at times, like during the battle where Godai is rather painfully poisoned and another one where he gets shot through the arm. It definitely helps that the man who becomes Godai's physician is an important character and confidant as well, so secrets are safe and whatnot.

Kuuga takes death pretty seriously.

As for the production values, Kuuga has this interesting camera-work that I found to be a bit cheap at times.  There were moments when it seemed too obvious that somebody was just kind of toting a camera around and filming some people.  Either it got better as the series progressed or I just kind of got used to it.  I haven't really decided.  There's also some cheap CG, but it didn't last long enough to bother me much.  The music is decent, often a reworking of the opening theme.  The opening and closing themes are both nicely done and suit the show very well.

Overall, Kamen Rider Kuuga was a fantastic experience.  As a former Showa guy, I can say that even though it is a bit different, it is still a good watch.  In fact, I was so hooked that I blew through episode after episode in a rather short amount of time.  Despite any flaws, if I were to give Kuuga some type of rating, I would go ahead and give it a 5/5.  I was that entertained.  Every toku fan should try Kuuga out and see if he's enough of a cool guy for you. (and he likely will be)

A very cool guy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reeking of Awesome: Streets of Fire

Whew, it's been a while since I had a chance to sit and write about anything.  I have a number of entries brewing in my head, including Why SaGa Rocks My Heart.  I'm almost done watching Kamen Rider Kuuga, so expect a review soon.  In addition, I have been re-watching Yu Yu Hakusho, so expect a review to follow its completion.

Anyway, last night, I recovered from a horrendous and sleepless week of school and work by watching Streets of Fire with a friend.  Over the years, I had heard songs from the soundtrack and learned of potential influences on other works, including anime.  My interest had been piqued for a while, and I finally got around to watching it.  Here are some thoughts about the movie itself:

The Movie

The setting for Streets of Fire is pretty interesting.  The movie has some pretty heavy 1950's retro influence, but at the same time, it's got that distinct 80's vibe.  I fancied that it might be a strange retro-inspired future setting or alternate 50's timeline or something.  My imagination was probably just getting carried away, though those ideas would be pretty cool.  It was probably just the 50's.

The plot itself is pretty simple.  Soldier guy Tom comes home to big city, hot singer ex-girlfriend Ellen (played by a young, steamy Diane Lane) gets kidnapped by biker guy (A creepy-as-usual Willem Dafoe) and his gang.  Motley crew of Tom, hot singer's manager (a really douchey Rick Moranis), and tag-along sarcastic ex-solder lady McCoy go to the rescue.  Tom and crew rescue Ellen, Tom gets laid, Tom kicks Raven's ass, and Tom leaves all soldier-of-fortune style as Ellen sings the final song.

This man never ceases to be creepy.

I admit that it's a bit shoddy in places.  The pacing is noticeably off, especially toward the beginning.  It kicks off so quickly without providing much time to linger on any of the characters' thoughts or feelings.  It reminded me of a role-playing session in that sometimes, when I play a tabletop role-playing game, the story is a little rushed and stretched in the beginning to get the characters together to form a party (if they aren't together when the thing starts).  Yeah, getting to the action is nice, but taking time to focus more on what makes these characters tick would have made the story much stronger.

The Awesome

Despite its flaws, Streets of Fire reeks of awesome.  Why?  The soundtrack for one.  The standout songs on the soundtrack, "Nowhere Fast" and "Tonight is What it Means to be Young", are both Jim Steinman songs.  Whenever Steinman is involved, you know things are going to get epic.  For those who don't know who he is, think Bat out of Hell, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and other over-the-top songs.  I'm a fan of his stuff, so the soundtrack was a treat for me in places.

Also, the movie has had a surprising influence on awesome things.  Take, for instance, The Protomen's Act II album.  You can tell just by comparing covers that there's some influence.  Also, some of the synthesized retro sounds on the album hearken back to the 80's.  Motorcycles, badassery, etc.

After watching Gundam 0080, I had become rather fond of Megumi Shiina's comforting voice, so I ended up with her greatest hits album.  Coincidentally, one of her biggest hits over in Japan was Konya wa Angel, the Japanese version of "Tonight is What it Means to be Young."  Her version is a bit sweeter, but they are both good.

I'm also pretty sure that Bubblegum Crisis has some Streets of Fire in it.  Just compare Priss Asagiri with Diane Lane:

Maybe I'm just imagining these connections.  Maybe there are more out there.  I could be looking at this whole thing the wrong way.  Maybe Streets of Fire isn't that awesome in and of itself.  Maybe it's just that it reminds me of things I find awesome, thus becoming awesome by proxy.  Either way, Streets of Fire reeks of awesome.  Go check it out and see what you think.