MANLY MONDAY: Lupin VIII – The Story of a Cancelled Sci-Fi Pilot

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The Lupin III franchise is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, with countless entries and works over many years. While I covered a few of my favourite works already, it is interesting to look not only look at the beloved, but also at the ones that are overlooked.

Or in this specific case, the ones that never made it to the public. Not every entry can be successful in this fast world of entertainment, and some get outright cancelled before they see the light of day. Such as this little pilot episode to a new series called Lupin VIII in 1982.

Let’s take a look at this unusual pilot and what lead to its early cancellation.

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Lupin VIII, “Arsène & Company” in French.

Story and Changes

Lupin VIII takes place in the far future, space travel is a day-to-day occurrence and Earth’s orbit is full of space stations, galactic highways and private rockets, big and small.

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Lovingly designed backgrounds that establish the world in the intro.

Inmidst all of these flies a space ship in the shape of a zeppelin – it’s the office of freelance detective Lupin VIII. Together with his friends Jigen The Fifth and Goemon XVIII, they solve mysteries for many clients. Love interest Fujiko Mine (no extra number given) is also around, but having her own adventures that intersect with the other main characters coincidentally.

In this pilot, a little girl comes to visit the detective agency of Lupin VIII. She has a message in a music box from one of her ancestors to “wake him up” after 100 years. Those 100 years are nearly over, and she doesn’t know what to do about it. Lupin VIII and Jigen V accept the case and go on a mission, which will involve car chases on galactic highways, shootouts, a treasure hidden on the Moon and evil greedy villains to defeat.

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A girl giving them a mission…

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…ends in damp catacombs and with raging robot sharks.

If one reads this plot outline, it leads to the natural conclusion of “So, it’s Lupin III in Space?”, and while that is largely true, the amount of minor changes add up to quite a significant deviation from the original series’ topics and feeling.

Lupin VIII was supposed to be a kid’s show, and hence, it couldn’t have a “thief” as a main character – stealing is illegal, so a good example needs to be set – protagonist Lupin VIII is a detective now.

In addition, weapons and tobacco are also taboo. This means that both Lupin and Jigen swap their signature pistol and revolver for laser guns, and Goemon receives a lightsaber. This decision is fine, as it fits with the given sci-fi setting, but it also means that Jigen Daisuke (who is normally seen smoking) has a lollipop 24/7.

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The change from “thief” to “detective” poses another problem if one thinks of the original cast: What does Zenigata, Lupin’s adversary, do now? Lupin VIII is not a criminal, he follows a normal job.

Here is the kicker: Zenigata still thinks Lupin VIII is worth suspecting, and that one day he might show his “true colours”. Convinced that he is the descendant of many criminals from several generations ago, he certainly must be up to no good.

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His little robo police is very adorable, though. (And the pipe is a communicator!)

This fact is played for laughs (with Lupin VIII flatly saying that this outlook is “Good for him” to have), it feels a bit out of place for Zenigata, a capable police inspector, to have someone under general suspicion purely for their ancestry.

To have the cast look exactly the same (just add five generations as a number and you’re done) feels like a concept held back by its own self. Instead of creating its own character design, it simply repeats the classic and censors them for a younger audience.

“Descendants of the Lupin III cast in a sci-fi future” could be a very interesting visual design to tackle, but some decisions feel a bit out of place – such as Goemon’s space suit being futuristic samurai armour. It makes sense as an idea, but the armour is not giving him the visual finesse and elegance he normally has and that is part of his character. But it is positively goofy and grand, and thus very fitting for a kid’s show!

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Not his usual sleek self, but still as cool.

So, a few elements are changed, giving this pilot its own visual identity and feel, why was that?

An International Production

Lupin VIII was a French-Japanese production, collaborating with DiC Entertainment, who are known to many as the creators of the Inspector Gadget animated series, as well as co-productions with US studios on series such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Captain N. As a studio that mainly produced kid’s shows, it was only logical to make their Lupin VIII also one.

This international creative process may explain some of the character designs by Shingo Araki, who also did the designs for Part III (Pink Jacket Lupin) from 1984-1985. His character designs in Lupin VIII, especially his Fujiko Mine, feel more oriented towards a “80’s Western Animation” aesthetic. Fujiko especially reminded me personally of Jem and the Holograms (which is also a Japanese co-production!) or Michel Vaillant, if we compare her directly to her Part III contemporary.

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To compare: Fujiko Mine in “Lupin VIII” in 1982…

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…and Fujiko Mine in “Lupin Part III” in 1984. Same character designer, different feel.

Why was it cancelled?

Lupin VIII was cancelled not due to its content, but due to the use of the nameLupin VIII / Arsene & Company. The heir of the original author, Maurice Leblanc, who wrote the Arsène Lupin novels in 1905, did not give his permission for this anime, and thus, the project was doomed to fail – production was cancelled before the pilot could be finished.

Regarding the production and checking available sources, it seems like 6 episodes were planned, 2 were scripted, and only 1 episode made it to a near-finished stage. Some sources credit Rintaro as the director of this pilot, an acclaimed veteran who has worked on many anime such as Astro Boy, Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Metropolis, but no bullet-proof confirmation is given.

Should you by this point have checked out the pilot for yourself, you will notice a sad fact: there is no voice acting. Music and sound effects are present (and are nice!), but the dialogue only exists in subtitles. It never got to the production stage of “recording voice actors”. Unfortunately, these subtitles were hardsubbed [i.e. burned] into the visuals, so I apologise for those in the screenshots.

This pilot, in its mute and unfinished form, was released in the 2012 Lupin III Master File box set, as a relic and an inside look into a project that could have been lost in time entirely, and thankfully has survived.

Conclusion

All in all, Lupin VIII really is an interesting glance at a thing that never was – but also something that maybe wouldn’t have had the critical success as its contemporaries. To make a “Lupin for kids” is a noble goal, and could have been a hit with children – however, as a personal opinion, it would have been a better decision to do a “Lupin for everyone”, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro or Masayuki Ōzeki’s The Fuma Conspiracy, which can be enjoyed by the whole family as fun and action-packed adventures without the need to censor any original element. It also could have been its own thing with brand-new character design ideas, not held back by the legacy and influence of the original Lupin III.

However, one should not think too much about the “what ifs” and “should haves” of life, but rather see what is present. And so, we have Lupin VIII, a pilot for a show that never got the chance to prove itself – but that was nonetheless a brave attempt and beautifully crafted in its world design and animation, with a unique mix of French and Japanese art and aesthetic. I sincerely hope that we may get another attempt one day, as the idea of “Lupin III in Space” with rocket ships, orbital highways, robo police and lightsabers is too good to miss.

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The End.

 

Sources: “Lupin VIII” entries on AnimeNewsNetwork, Lupin III Encyclopedia, Wikipedia. DiC Entertainment Wikipedia Article, in French and English.

This has been another Manly Mondays with EyebrowScar, every Monday something manly!

You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!

 

MANLY MONDAY: “Lupin III Episode 0: First Contact” – A Heartwarming Reboot Prequel

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The beauty of the Lupin III franchise is that it has so many diverse entries over the last five decades that you are bound to find the one that fits your taste perfectly.

However, the sheer number of works can seem overwhelming for someone looking in from the outside. Where do you even start with a series that strong in numbers?

I will shed a light on this in this special LUPIN MONTH of September 2018, where I present little gems and oddities from the franchise that can all be enjoyed without previous knowledge. I covered Takeshi Koike’s two films and the 2015 Part IV TV series already, but want to diver deeper with you all to explore this wonderful world.

The status quo is always the same in all entries, making it accessible to everyone once you got the characters down: “Lupin The Third” is happy-go-lucky thief, “Jigen Daisuke” is a gunslinger with a 0.3 second quickdraw and is his partner in crime, “Goemon Ichikawa” is a stern samurai with a heart of gold who helps them, “Fujiko Mine” is Lupin’s love interest and thief rival, and bumbling “Inspector Zenigata” is always on the prowl to catch Lupin, in a never-ending game of cat and mouse.

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From left to right: Zenigata, Goemon, Lupin, Jigen, Fujiko.

Here is where some specific entries will stand out which give the backstory to this cast of colourful characters. In 2013, A Woman Called Fujiko Mine reset the canon and told ist own continuity in an adult setting, being a starting point for many with ist unique direction and artstyle. But before that recent adaptation, some others have also set out to tell the story of how the Lupin cast found each other. One of these is the stellar 2002 film „Episode 0: First Contact“.

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In a smoke-filled pub in some dinghy backroad, Jigen Daisuke is asked by a reporter to tell the story of how he met Lupin. The young woman is interested in writing a book about their adventures, the publishers are already supporting the idea without her having any info yet – the people just want to know.

Reluctantly, he starts, and as he dives deeper into long-forgotten memories that come back into the light clear as day, an unbelievable story of friendship, love and death unfolds.

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Going outside into the calm night, Jigen reminisces.

New York, many years ago.

Jigen is a hired gun for a high profile mafia boss, protecting him and his goods – Jigen’s life is calm and uninteresting. He is free to go wherever he wants to and earns good money, but the spark is missing.

This changes one day as a man is breaking into the mafia boss’ villa, challenging Jigen for the first time in his career. He is playing with sneaky disguises and tricks, and manages to run away while dodging all of Jigen’s bullets. Jigen wins, the intruder is scared away, the boss is unharmed, the treasure in the safe remains untouched, but… Who was that man? One of the other henchmen responds: “That was Lupin! Lupin the Third!”

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A short, but life-changing moment: Lupin and Jigen meet for the first time.

As it turns out, the treasure Jigen has to protect is quite valuable: It is a metal tube, called the “Cram of Hermes”, and inside it is the alchemy instruction to create one of the hardest metal substances ever, however, it can only be opened with a special key. And for different reasons, everyone of the core Lupin III characters will be involved around this object.

Essentially, we see how the original cast gets together: How Lupin and Fujiko find each other, and even see them interact as a romantic couple – which is very wholesome and a rare sight, as Fujiko is the on-and-off girlfriend and rival of Lupin. Goemon makes his appearance as well, Zenigata builds his passion of hunting Lupin and Jigen learns to accept the friendship of Lupin.

This will all be woven into one big fun adventure – involving bank heists, chase sequences on highways, in subways and even on water, and of course many hijinks, disguises and plans to trick one another. This is a very fun film that also takes time to unwind in some scenes, finding a great mix between “bouncy” and “chill”.

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Fun for everyone!

Themes and Execution

Lupin and Jigen form the thematic main axis of the film, two men who are destined to become partners in crime, but meet under conflicting circumstances, on different sides. While Lupin finds an immediate liking to his future friend, it is Jigen who is very reluctant and even dismissive of Lupin’s attempts of befriending him – resulting in many comedic and tension-filled scenes of action and banter.

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If you pay attention, there is a charming reoccurring visual metaphor of Lupin trying to light Jigen’s cigarette on several occasions, (figuratively lightening up this partnership with a tiny flame), and Jigen refusing in many non-verbal ways: spitting out his cigarette, turning his head away to dodge the match or simply swatting Lupin‘s hand away.

To see this relationship grow from „deadly rivals“ to „bromance through thick and thin“ within a single film is a wholesome experience, and definitely a highlight in this movie.

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From foes to friends. But in the beginning, they are more preoccupied with trying to kill each other.

One of the most fun elements in the film is Inspector Zenigata. How does someone become so obsessed as to dedicate your whole being to chasing one single criminal? And especially: How was he before he found his purpose? Young Zenigata is a member of the Japanese police, and is sent to New York. It is here where his prequel-characterisation goes hand in hand with his position in the story, creating a fitting and fun substory that weaves itself into the main plot.

Zenigata is a capable police inspector – as he always loses against Lupin, he seems like a bumbling fool, he has to lose so that the protagonist can win. However, Zenigata is a police inspector, who later joins INTERPOL, so: This is a skilled cop right here. We might just not always see it.

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A young Zenigata dealing with the American way of doing things. There will be many culture crashes and yellings between him and his new boss.

Seeing Zenigata fight street crime and rigid US legal systems is a joy, and really shows that he deserves to be Lupin’s adversary. If the concept of “Zenigata vs. USA” sounds intriguing to you, then you could easily watch it for that alone.

This film takes place, as already mentioned, in New York City, and the metropolis looks simply marvelous. From well known sights to little back alleys, everything feels grounded, real and visually stunning. Together with the beautiful framing and storyboarding, this film is a beauty.

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Here is just a small selection, I adore the overall “gritty yet warm” aesthetic.

There are people who are opposed to the early- to mid-2000s anime aesthetics, as it was a time where the 90s left, but the new zeitgeist hadn’t quite formed yet. Some anime from that time period hasn’t aged quite well in retrospect. However, Lupin III Episode 0 does not fall into the category. It wears its look with full pride and well-polished execution, showing no sign of bad ageing.

In addition to the visual flair, I must point out the fantastic soundtrack that accompanies this scenery. The Lupin III franchise always had catchy big band and jazz sounds and this is no exception: A great rendition of the main theme with a funky gospel-like choir makes for perfect opener and the orchestral sweeping scores that feel right out of an oldschool Hollywood film really sell New York as a setting.

Adding to the city’s melting pot status, two other additions were surprising, but more than welcome: A flamenco character theme for Jigen, and a bossa nova soundtrack for the whole film. The decision to give Jigen a dramatic acoustic guitar cue and castanets as a character theme is a perfect fit, making not only his appearances more dramatic, but give him a melancholic yet passionate melody, underlining his characterisation in the film – somebody who is stuck with an unsatisfying gangster job and who might need someone to pull him out to find his true call.

 

The bossa nova soundtrack, sung in authentic Brasilian Portuguese as well, gave the whole film a soft, laidback and immensely relaxing tone, underlining what the frame narrative already set up: it is the story of a late night reminiscence, of somebody recalling how they got to their point in life. The inclusion of these two Hispanic/Latin elements was a personal highlight for me, and made me very happy.

Have a listen here:

I was immensely smitten this soundtrack.

Conclusion

Lupin III Episode 0: First Contact is a heartwarming reboot prequel, that really delivers on all sides: fun character interaction, expressive animation, lovingly crafted backgrounds, and a great introduction for new fans. And even for older fans of the franchise, it delivers with its own lovely take on an established cast, and that is always fun to see.

With its comfortably snack-sized runtime of just 90 minutes and a lovely early 2000s aesthetic, it makes for a great adventure I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, be it old or new fan. It makes for a relaxing yet entertaining ride, so give it a watch when you feel like visiting the warm world of Lupin III in big, buzzing New York City.

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The End.

 

 

LUPIN MONTH! For every Monday in September 2018, one more Lupin III entry!

This has been Manly Mondays with EyebrowScar! 

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

MANLY MONDAY – “Bastard!!” (OVA): When Shonen Jump met Heavy Metal

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The Weekly Shonen Jump magazine is one of the biggest and most influential around the globe when it comes to manga and pop culture in general.

One Piece, Naruto, Dragon Ball, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bleach, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and many, many more were published in the magazine, where they would gain worldwide popularity, critical acclaim and the love of millions of fans all around the globe. However, there are also the smaller ones that time has forgotten, even though they sold millions.

One of those is “Bastard!!”.

Bastard has been running since 1988 uninterrupted in Shonen Jump, then switched to the Seinen-oriented Ultra Jump in 2000, and continues today, making it one of the longest running series in the magazine. The series has about 30 million copies in circulation, which makes it one of the higher ranked manga series. (To give you a point of reference, Death Note is also at 30 million, Sailor Moon is at 35 million, and Haikyuu!! at 28 million.)

The Bastard manga doesn’t seem to have the same reach as the others in that league, but it still is a very interesting piece of media to look at, even if it may not be as popular as its contemporaries.

Instead of going through 31 years of manga, we will look at the standalone OVA series, which came out in 1992, and see what makes this 6-episode series a beautiful time capsule of the 80’s.

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Bastard!! – Destroyer of Darkness!

The high fantasy adventure story unfolds in the lands of “Metallicana”, where the four “Evil Lords of Havoc” are attacking the castle of the king. They have sent in the powerful wizard Osborn to attack the fortress with a gigantic Hydra.

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In the castle, the magicians and knights are helpless. They are losing all their men, the damage done to the castle walls is getting worse by the second with this raging beast that cannot be stopped.

Somewhere in the castle, the young priestess Tia is told by the Great Priest that she holds the key to turning this desperate situation around: If she kisses her childhood friend Ruche, she will release the legendary wizard who was sealed inside him a long time ago. Reluctantly, she agrees – and promptly, hell breaks loose.

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She has awoken one of the ancient enemies of the kingdom: Dark Schneider.

A powerful dark wizard and egoistic tyrant, who once belonged to the four “Evil Lords of Havoc” – they were once a team of five. And he is quite upset about having been sealed away for the last 15 years. He wishes to destroy everyone in his path and go back to being an overlord, but as it turns out, his host Ruche did more than just sealing him away: As he is using the young teenage boy’s body, he is changed by the empathy and friendship he had towards Priestess Tia – even if it’s just marginally, he cannot do her harm.

Meanwhile, the Hydra and Osborn arrive in the throne room, sure of their victory. As they spot Dark Schneider, they freeze: He was believed dead for the last 15 years, and now the old ally is back? However, Dark Schneider has had it with all this mayhem around him, and simply decimates the attackers with a dark spell.

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The “Slayer’d” spell, turning Osborn into dust.

And so, the new Dark Schneider is back, slightly changed, and having feelings for Tia, the childhood friend he never actively met, but knows that she is important to him as a person. As the episode ends, he kisses her and thus accidentally turns back into his host’s form, Rushe, who has no clue what happened to him.

Tia and Rushe embark on an adventure together, to fight the four “Evil Lords of Havoc”, and stop their plans to destroy the world.

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This is how Bastard begins, and immediately, three stylistic choices will jump at the viewer at full force: The very 80’s design, the high fantasy setting straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons session, and the abundant use of Heavy Metal references.

Triple the Style, Triple the Fun

I. Heavy Metal

Dark Schneider is a reference to German heavy metal singer Udo Dirkschneider, the country of Metallicana is pointing to Metallica, and Captain Bon Jovina at Bon Jovi. And it doesn’t stop here, there are 5 more episodes to go, we will meet King Di Amon (a vampire lord who wears Kiss-like facepaint), and other different dark magic spells, such as HellionBooryan Deado, Gunsun-Ro or the all-destroying MEGADESU.

(Depending on translation, the names might be changed to avoid copyright issues, the anime goes for example for “Meta-Rikana” instead of “Metallicana”, while my German manga copy left the name unchanged.)

Similar to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, another long-running Shonen series, the names of real life bands and singers will be used for characters, and this becomes its own brand of fun to ‘spot the references’. Some will be more out in the open, such as the castle of Whitesnake, but some more obscure, like the Dark Priestess Abigail.

However, it is not only a way to pay homage to a whole music genre, but it also weaves itself to the fantasy setting, which also had its influence in the metal genre.

II. Fantasy Aesthetics

One thing that I have to immediately point out, is the beauty of the world design, especially in its use of backgrounds.

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Gallery of Backgrounds, swipe/click right to flick through

The hand-painted landscapes and architectural designs make the world grounded and graspable, and the different settings every episode make for new, unpredictable highlights of carefully crafted art.

Together with the grand scope of armies fighting, the world being in danger, and the heroes roaming the lands together, we get a grand, bookish feeling of worldbuilding. There is history and depth here, even in this short running time.

In addition, some heavy metal influenced designs will be found in this fantasy, for example the evil deity Anthrasax, which looks straight out of H.R. Giger’s mind (who had made NSFW album covers for Danzig, Tryptikon and Celtic Frost), or the (sadly manga-only) “Golem” that Dark Schneider summons, which strongly resembles Snaggletooth, the mascot of the band Motörhead.

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The Giger God Anthrasax. (I personally suspect a mix of Anthrax and Saxon)

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Dark Schneider’s Golem…

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…and Motörhead’s Snaggletooth.

III. It’s 80’s as heck

Bastard fits in with other 80s Shonen anime franchises, in all good and bad ways.

The protagonist is strong and powerful, and in addition, is someone who has a teenage boy as a host – but with no drawbacks. Even if Ruche can’t remember what Dark Schneider does when he takes over his body, it is never portrayed as something bothersome or negative: The contrasting example would be Naruto, who suffers under the demon sealed inside of him. And, of course, a kiss is the trigger to swap them both around, so romantic tension is always automatically given. The comedic banter between Tia and Ruche/Dark Schneider is also a highlight that is accentuated in goofy expressions and fast timed physical comedy.

The other “good” way would be the OVA format: This anime did not run on TV, it was made for home release, and hence, it can go all out on violence and nudity. The additional short length makes for a condensed and straight-to-the-point experience without filler or downtime. Together with the late-80’s-early-90’s anime aesthetic, it is a marvel to watch, a true time capsule of this period. Big poofy hair, ladies in leotards, muscular protagonists, very ugly and very evil demons, metrosexual heroes – shoutout to my personal favourite character in this whole OVA, the Ninja Gara, who wears a black fishnet t-shirt and absolutely stunning red eye shade.

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The “bad” ways, so to speak, are the problems that can come with very early Shonen OVA adaptations: They are incomplete. Bastard is only 6 episodes long, but it seemingly adapts smaller arcs here and there, with only loose connection. One episode, a new hero will join the protagonists at the end of the episode, only to be completely missing in the next one. In addition – and here I found only minimal sources – it seems like 8 episodes were planned, and the last two were scrapped. One source suggests that this was because on of the “creators” (not specified) was arrested during production. But even with its open end, the OVA makes for a fun snack-sized Shonen watch that really trims the fat on all sides and polishes what is there to full brightness.

Yet, I must also point out some decisions in the story that would most likely not fly nowadays, most notably some character’s parental figures. Tia’s father is not the most supportive, the King and his high priestess daughter are equally rough, but the relationship between Dark Schneider and his adopted child Ashes Ney is the crowning debatable jewel in this 80’s treasure – which is never questioned and given quite some focus.

It will make for some uncomfortable moments, but as the layer of campy schlock is already so thick, it manages to lay low in the grand scheme of things. (Just listen to that wonderful ending theme!)

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Conclusion

Bastard is truly “the 80’s condensed into 6 episodes of anime”, with all its up- and downsides. Not only makes it for a great throwback to another time in anime history, but also in Shonen Jump history, to see what was one of the big series back in the day. You can spot references and preferences in retrospect now that you are looking back from the future: The Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure-like way of naming characters, the evil antihero with his gory fighting style that is reminiscent of Devilman, or the Dragon Ball Z style wizard fights of flying around and flinging energy blasts.

Although Bastard is still around, it is far away from the reach it once had, and has changed its aesthetics and focus radically, being more ecchi-focused than aiming for the grand high fantasy stories of rivaling countries, all out war, and armies of good and evil.

If you like this time period in anime history, I highly recommend checking it out, purely for the stellar art and animation, and then for the wonderful pulp story that has its own  rough charm. It watches very quickly, so enjoy a great time with this little overlooked gem!

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The End.

 

This has been MANLY MONDAYS with EyebrowScar!

You can find my podcast “GARcast” on Youtube, where we discuss GAR and manly anime!

 

Sources: Entries on “Bastard!!” on Wikipedia, ANN, and MAL.

MANLY MONDAY – Golgo 13 (TV): First Impressions of a Sniper’s Life

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The Golgo 13 series has been one of the longest running manga series of all time, first published in 1968, and still being going on today without a break. Artist Takao Saito is still drawing the series, and even with his over 80 years of age, he is still keeping up the schedule and the series he had created.

He has a fantastic drive and creative spirit, and if you wish to see how he does his work, I highly recommend the “Manben” documentary series, where his work process if recorded and commented by himself. For example, he uses his own cigarette to dry the white-out spaces on the page. To the question if he has burned the page before, he simply answers with “Yes, many times.”

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A technique as rad as his own drawings. (Source)

And of course, his works have been adapted many times, into films and TV series of all sorts.

Golgo 13: The Professional (1983) by acclaimed and beloved director Osamu Dezaki is a fantastic way to enter the franchise, as it tells a self-contained hard-boiled story of a family drama that professional sniper “Golgo 13”, or Duke Togo as he calls himself, gets pulled into. This film is also widely known as the first anime to ever use CGI in its animation, and it truly is something to marvel at how far we have come. Seeing the 2D and 3D segments clash is simply astonishing, especially since Dezaki’s directional style is very aesthetic and precise in its framing, which is then broken with a free camera moving low poly helicopter scene. I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good adult crime or spy thriller, and to fans of the medium for Dezaki’s superb style, action and framing.

While the film is fondly remembered and often discussed, there is another adaptation that I wish to talk about. The 2008 TV series, simply named Golgo 13.

This series spans 50 episodes in total, I have now seen 8 episodes and want to give you my first impressions.

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Duke Togo is a professional sniper, the best in the trade. He works under the codename “Golgo 13” and practically no information is given about him: we don’t know his age, his nationality, his background or anything else. All we have is a stone-faced hitman with no internal monologue – we cannot see inside his head, neither the narrator, nor the viewer.

Togo’s days seem to follow the same structure every time. He is called by a client, he is told his mission, he starts preparing, he shoots said target, and then disappears as silently as he arrived. He gets a job, then he gets the job done. As simple as that.

While this may sound monotonous on paper, it’s the execution and variation that makes this series.

Maybe Duke will be caught halfway through the episode, and the rest is just him trying to escape the police’s grasp with mindgames. Or maybe, his client falls in love with him, so he needs to deal with this inconvenience. Or maybe, Duke is supposed to interrupt a weapon’s deal from happening.

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Duke Togo. The man, the mystery, the person with the single most permanent scowl.

Essentially, Golgo 13 excels in the creativity of its cases and how these are framed. As a sniper, the main goal is not to kill some, it is to shoot somebody or something. And these can range from killing a corrupt politican, to killing a yakuza boss, but also towards shooting a violin string.

 

A violin master is humiliated during an important concert when one of his strings snaps. As this string is vital for the performance, he cannot play anymore and is booed off-stage. When he hears that one of his most hated rival musicians is supposed to replace him, he wants to humiliate him just the way the audience did back then: Duke is supposed to shoot the fourth string of his violin during a concert. With everyone watching. Without the musician noticing that this was sabotage. And the whole episode is dedicated to this music feud and Duke figuring out on how to do such an impossible job – planning, observing, gathering tools and then executing this complicated plan.

In another episode, Duke must fight again two ultra-modern military snipers in a desert, which slowly unfolds in a delicate and deadly game of hiding and seeking in the sand. And as these episodes tend to be quite slow and careful in its depiction of a sniper’s work, the surroundings can shine with their beautiful designs and atmosphere.

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The battle goes far into the night, and the colour work is fantastic.

For a sniper, the surroundings are essential to their work, making a shot possible or impossible, so it is extraordinary to see how much care the Golgo 13 TV series puts into those. They may not be of the highest quality or most elaborate architecture, but the backgrounds and setting make everything grounded and easy to grasp.

But a world is nothing without the characters it inhabits. And here, Golgo 13 has great fun in its episodic structure, always building a little microcosm of relationships and people to visit. And this is where Duke Togo shines.

Looking at this unit of a man, one might think that he is an emotionless killer machine who just does his job and nothing else. Here is where this initial impression is wrong: By pairing him with different foes and friends to play off of, his deadpan attitude and seemingly emotionless face achieves either strong respect or a blissful comedic status.

Especially in one episode where Duke gets caught after an assassination by an equally bearish police commissioner, who is dead-set on arresting Duke. The whole argument and trying to unmask him as the true culprit feels similar to a bonkers court case, where evidence and testimonies are thrown against each other in rapid fashion.

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You!

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Duke Togo’s unmoving face truly is the best.

And so, this stone face becomes one of the greatest assets of the series, be it as a comedic reaction, an expression of repressed melancholy, or maybe even something more enigmatic when Duke gets entangled in romantic or life-threatening situations. And if you see his face move, be it just a twitch of the eyebrow or a silent drip of sweat running down his temples, you know that the situation is drastic.

Those rare moments really make for a nice treat, and so, Golgo 13 delivers its emotional core just a bit differently – but to great effect.

Conclusion

Of course, giving a final rating to a 50-episode show after only 8 episodes is nonsensical. However, the direction it has taken looks absolutely entertaining, and reading from other reviews, the series is not dropping its episodic structure. And so, we will get 50 little adventures in the life of Duke Togo, the sniper called “Golgo 13”.

If one looks at the staff list, we find 20 different episode directors, and maybe this is also why everything feels so fresh every time: Many different creators telling stories about the same man, all from different angles and perspectives.

Will he win every time? Sure he will, he is Duke Togo – one of the best marksmen in the world. He has done this job for over 50 real-life years now. Many stories, many cases, many clients – and yet, he continues with that unwavering face of his.

And this is what made this show a very comfy watch for me, something lovely to put on in the evening to relax. The slow preparing and planning of his jobs, the certainty that all will go well, but mixed with that light suspense of not know exactly “how”. The creativity and the wonderful execution make this simple concept shine, and I can’t wait to continue watching this series. Will it be funny, will it be dramatic? Who will he fight against, the FBI, the yakuza, or just a private person? We can only find out by taking more short but serene glimpses into the life of a Duke Togo, the sniper called “Golgo 13”.

The End.

 

 

Sources: Manben Episode “Takao Saito”, Wikipedia, AnimeNewsNetwork & MyAnimeList “Golgo 13 (TV)”

All images are taken from my French release DVD.

This has been Manly Mondays with EyebrowScar! Every Monday, something I want to present to you!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

MANLY MONDAY – Recommendations for the Best German TV Shows!

With me writing about many different pieces of media around the globe, I rarely talk about Germany, the country I was born and live in. I’ve had some people ask me what German TV series I can recommend, either to learn and get a feel for the not-so-easy language, or to check out the culture and media landscape.

So, I compiled this list to present a few German TV series that are good and worth watching! A first draft of this list I had made available as a PDF on social media, but such things often get buried very quickly in the sands of time, so have an extended version here as an article!

(Some of those have English subtitles, others don’t, I will recommend all of them nontheless, one might never know if an international/digital release comes around.)

 

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Stromberg („Stromberg“ / lit. „Current/River Mountain“)

5 seasons, 46 episodes and 1 film, ProSieben 2004-2012, 2014

IMDB | Wikipedia

This is Germany’s „The Office“, while it doesn’t share the name with the UK original, it certainly is an adaptation, they even got sued after their second season for being too similar to The Office.

This series leans more towards the hard-hitting cringe comedy of the UK version instead of the surreal and lighter US version. But it is more than just a carbon copy. We have the eponymous Mr. Stromberg, who is the boss of a little office branch, and he wants to be accepted as „The Papa“, the helper for everything and a person of respect, but constantly fails. „Ernie“, a bumbling co-worker, portrayed as a character from the old GDR gets a lot of love from fans, and character constellations differ from other international adaptations. Mr. Stromberg is insanely quotable and honest, this is some of Germany’s finest comedy.

In Germany, it is available under Amazon Prime. I have no information on English subtitles.

 

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Der Tatortreiniger („Crime Scene Cleaner”)

6 seasons, 27 episodes, NDR, since 2011, ongoing

IMDB | Wikipedia

Heiko “Schotty” Schotte is crime scene cleanup. After a murder has happened and the police is done with their gathering of information and evidence, he cleans the place professionally. Middle aged and a calm Northern lad, he normally just wants to do his job. And of course, everything escalates always in a different way.

Either he is called to a pub and starts a discussion there, or is at a magicians house, where he doesn’t know how to deal with the whole tricky furniture. He always meets colourful people, from caring grandmas, to strange kids, to friends mourning, or evil exes.

This is often considered to be the crème de la crème of German TV. Surreal, black humour and unpredictable, every episode plays out completely differently. And very often just in one room, like a theatre play.

“Der Tatortreiniger” won an important culture award for one of its episodes that plays out in a Neonazi party house, where a member was killed. The dialogue is always sharp and hilarious, but this one was pure brilliance. Shotty is fun and honest chill character, and this TV series is a must watch for anyone who wants to look at German TV.

This series is available on German Amazon Prime, I have no information on English subtitles.

 

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Generation War („Unsere Mütter Unsere Väter“ / Our Mothers Our Fathers)

1 season, 3 episodes, ZDF 2013

IMDB | Wikipedia

A miniseries on WWII. While there are certainly a lot of films and series about the topic, this one is special and caused a lot of discussions in Germany.

It shows the war period from a civilians point of view, and how they lived their lives during the Third Reich. Five friends meet for one last night, and swear to come back, excited by the war and the new age that is upon them. This series shows the cruelty of the military, but also the propaganda, misdirection and guilt of the common people. A perspective not often found in such media.

Productionwise, this is first class. Special effects, cruelty of war, four intertwining storylines and an intense  presentation. This one should have German subtitles and be available, as the BBC localised it and broadcast it on TV.

 

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KDD – Berlin Crime Squad (Kriminaldauerdienst / “24h crime investigation service”)

3 seasons, 28 episodes, ZDF & arte, 2007-2010

IMDB | Wikipedia

The KDD, the 24h Crime Squad, are the guys who first arrive on a crime scene, and do the initial work, but also follow up on it, if necessary. They are the tough guys who always have to be ready for the worst. And it certainly is consuming them mentally.

We follow 7 different main characters, and see their shift changes over 24h day and night. Everyone has their own problems, from drug-taking kids, to losing their partners, to freshly building a family, to dealing with grief. Basically: everyone is severely screwed up. And it’s not getting better.

This series got overwhelmingly positive reviews, but was considered “too dark” by the  general public, who wanted lighter police action, not hard drama.

It therefore became a cult classic, and moved to the “artsy channel” arte in it’s third season. This feels far more akin to a Scandinavian series, with a dark mood, broken characters and depressing storylines. Cleverly written with shifting perspectives with a diverse cast of different ethnicities, genders and ages, this is an often overlooked gem.

This series is available in German on DVD and Bluray, but I have no information on subtitles. As an English version of the title exists, there should be some somewhere.

 

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Tatort: Münster (Crime Scene: Münster)

31 episodes, all over the place, WDR, Das Erste, since 1970, but Münster since 2002-ongoing

IMDB | Wikipedia

The “Tatort” series is a great classic in German TV, every Sunday, ever since 1970, there is a new episode, but, here is the kicker: While they are all called “Tatort”, there are different teams of investigators in every big major city. Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgard, Saarbrücken… Over 15 teams are out there, each with their own city, own team, and own feeling and writing.

And the team from “Münster” is the most beloved and a fan favourite. You got a team of two guys: Frank Thiel, a hard Northern police investigator who loves football and is divorced, and pathologist Karl-Friedrich Boerne, an elitist opera goer and high society man.

The amount of bickering and banter between the two is legendary. They are friends, even living in the same house opposite each other, but they very often behave like an old couple. Boerne being especially fun, since he always wants to be where the action happens, but very often reality catches up with him: he is not a cop, neither mentally nor physically. The whole “Elitism vs. Proletariat” is strong in this one, and super fun.

The supporting cast is what makes this series perfect. Valkyrie chainsmoking prosecutor Klemm, who is constantly mistaken for a man on the phone due to her deep voice, Nadeshda, cute slav policewoman sidekick who is often smarter than the two and has to help out, and Thiel’s dad, 70 year old weed-smoking hippie, who drives a taxi and is always informed when something is going on in the city.

The perfect blend of comedy and crime series, this version of Tatort always has the highest ratings and is beloved by all. Always keep an eye out if a “Münster” episode is on!

This series is available on DVD, but I have no information if English subtitles exist.

 

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Tatort: Hamburg (Crime Scene: Hamburg / Cenk Batu: Undercover Agent)

6 episodes, Das Erste, since 1970, but Hamburg 2008 – 2012

IMDB | Wikipedia

Before Til Schweiger took over the Hamburg “Tatort” and turned it into a very self-congratulatory Hollywood spectacle show about himself and his real life daughter, there was another man guarding the city of Hamburg: Cenk Batu.

Mr. Batu was the first investigator of Turkish decent (a very important step, as the biggest migrant minority in Germany is from Turkey, with 14,6%) and his run was dark and intense. Only 6 episodes long, but nearly ever single one of them stood with me.

He is an undercover agent, having to go deep into gang warfare and terrorism plots, and thus, his private life suffers. He is depressed, has no friends, and is always in hiding. There are no police meetings, no cosy offices, he is always on the front line.

Together with the dark waters of Hamburg as a setting, this series was one of the shining ones on German TV, but it sadly ran too short, even with its conclusive ending.

Cenk Batu’s run received an international release, under the name of “Cenk Batu: Undercover Agent” and is available on DVD with English subtitles. (Although it seems out of print.) The episodes seem to be also available for purchase on Youtube.

 

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Lerchenberg (Lark Hill)

2 seasons, 8 episodes, ZDFneo, 2013

IMDB | Wikipedia

This series is a self-deprication and ironic outlook on German TV landscape itself, playing in the institution of the ZDF. (Comparable to BBC Two, license fee funded as well.)

We follow Billie, a young female junior producer who wants to make it at the ZDF, but soon notices that this whole institution is bonkers. She gets teamed up with Sascha Hehn, an older actor who lives in his car and is only doing schmaltzy cheap romance films. Her job: Get this guy back on track. And thus, the mayhem starts. People stealing projects, funding running out, live broadcasts going wrong, you name it.

Very real and often full of dark humour, this is a fun and sharp series. Although it is pretty short, it manages to parody a lot of the German TV landscape.

The name “Lark Hill” is where the real studios of the ZDF are, so it also gets an added bonus of showing how the real studios look. A lot of actors play themselves, thus this series could be compared to the UK series Extras, just from more a production kind of view.

My DVD copy of Lerchenberg had English subtitles on it, so you should be fine with the German release, if you wish to import that one.

 

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Ijon Tichy Raumpilot (Ijon Tichy: Space Pilot)

2 seasons, 14 episodes, ZDF 2006-2011

IMDB | Wikipedia

Now here we have a cult classic, a sci-fi satire series, based on Stanislaw Lem’s “Space Diaries”. Ijon, a slav chill space hero, rides through space with his hologram friend in a “three-bedroom-rocket” and is looking for adventure. An episodic space series, full of fun and madness, that is insanely cheap produced and not hiding it – with great success. Spaceships look like household appliances, and everything is cardboard or tin foil. And yet, it has a lot of fun with its world of cheapness.

I have only caught a few episodes here and there, but the low production value and serious passion make this one a lovely little gem to look at.

According to Wikipedia, only the second season has English subtitles on its DVD.

 

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Alarm für Cobra 11 (Alarm for Cobra 11)

22 seasons, 317 episodes, RTL, 1996-ongoing

IMDB | Wikipedia

Ok. Listen here.

German Autobahn without speed limits.

Meets.

Michael Bay-like EXPLOSIONS.

That’s it.

This show has been going on for 20 years now, with great success. It’s popcorn TV, and it has been exported all over the world. “Cobra 11” are the special unit for highway crime. It’s fast, it’s a spectacle, stuff will explode. A lot will explode. Like BIG EXPLOSIONS AND CAR PILEUPS AND PEOPLE JUMPING OUT OF CARS AND-

Here is a Japanese trailer with the VA Fumihiko Tachiki. Yes, Gendo Ikari  from Neon Genesis Evangelion or Kaiji’s narrator.

Definitely not ”””Quality Television””””, but a good time and some of the finest practical stunt work Germany has brought out.

As this series has been exported into over 120 countries, there should be one version in your language.

 

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Das Millionenspiel (The Game of Millions)

1 episode, event, “live television”, Das Erste, 1970

IMDB | Wikipedia

To include a classic of German TV, Das Millionenspiel needs to be in there. It was a scripted show, but broadcast and presented as a live show. 14 men are being hunted all throughout Germany, free to kill, by designated “hunters” who wear firearms.

Most of them have been killed already and we follow the last man, Lotz. In order to win the prize, one million marks, he has to reach the live studio. A cruel race begins.

This was presented as a sadistic Live Game Show, with open telephone lines for people to call. It became a scandal and harsh social experiment as many people gave angry calls, but also many wanting to be “hunted” or “hunters”. A lot of people fell for the fictitious show, and it marks an important moment in German TV history.

While the film can be found uploaded on Youtube, I have no information on English subtitles.

 

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Switch Reloaded (Switch Reloaded)

6 seasons, 102 episodes, ProSieben, 2007-2012

IMDB | Wikipedia

Switch Reloaded is a sketch comedy series that parodies all sorts of films and TV series. German ones and US ones as well! From CSI:Miami to Bones, to House MD, to Monk, there are a lot of parodies to be found here!

And even though you might not recognise all of the original TV series, you will have a blast with them. Television formats are the same all over the world, after all.

DVD releases and Youtube channels exist, but I have no information on English subtitles.

 

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Walulis sieht fern (Walulis watches TV / lit. Walulis looks far)

4 seasons, 20 episodes, ZDFneo, 2011-2014

IMDB | Wikipedia

Phillip Walulis analyses the current TV landscape and how it works, all with parody sketches and media satire. His show is a direct adaptation of BBC Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe. As it has a bigger focus on German media and its tropes, it is worth looking at. Especially the short skits are fun, with reoccurring characters and a mix of analysis, information and satire, it is a worthwhile show that will make laugh and learn something.

Walulis is now working on Youtube, with weekly analysis videos, even on US media, and has his old episodes online as well. There don’t seem to be English subtitles.

 

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Pastewka

8 seasons, 77 episodes, 2005-ongoing, Sat.1, Amazon Prime

IMDB | Wikipedia

Comedian and writer Bastian Pastewka plays himself in his eponymous series. A comedy slice of life with surreal elements as well as hint of truths here and there, as this series is an exaggerated version of his own turbulent life. Guest actors will play themselves as well, this series gets often compared to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and has won several awards, German and European alike.

The series ran from 2005-2014, and recently got a sequel-revival in 2018 on German Amazon Prime. No information on English subtitles.

 

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Game One (former MTV’s Game One)

12 seasons, 307 episodes, 2006-2014, MTV Germany

IMD | Wikipedia (German only)

Now here we have something beloved, influential, and emotional to many, many people in Germany. Game One was a TV show that combined video game reviews with sketch comedy.

Back in 2006, MTV Germany wanted its own format about video games, and brought over a few nerds from a small show called GIGA Games, and told them to do something fresh and new for a young audience. And so, they did.

This was a weekly show, always airing on Friday evening, and soon became one of the flagships of MTV Germany. The two main hosts, Daniel “Budi” Budiman and Simon Krätschmer, became cult heroes to a new generation of gamers, who would lead the show with fun, charm and lot and lots of laughter. Their usually low budget soon became their own aesthetic, obvious greenscreens, lots of slapdash costumes and a big heart to hold everything together. Their self-proclaimed leitmotif: “Hauen und Pappe!”, meaning “Beatings and cardboard!”, was the peak of what this show was: lots of excellent practical humour and cheap sets.

Throw together “British surreal comedy” and “video games”, and you got Game One. Many sketches and phrases of theirs have entered the popular mindset of Germans everywhere, and when the cancellation of the show was imminent, they came together for one last hurrah: The final episode will bring tears to practically everyone who even remotely knew the show.

However, they would not disappear: They founded “Rocketbeans”, a digital TV channel, and have even revived their show as Game Two, under the new license-fee funded digital branch of ARD and ZDF called “funk”.

Game One will be fondly remembered by millions of people, and Rocketbeans are continuing their adventure to a bright future. Even if they don’t have subtitles, give the lads some love. Here is the library with all their past Game One episodes (which will always be uploaded on Youtube too somewhere), here is their new Youtube channel Rocketbeans, and here is their own presentation in 60 seconds, and it perfectly encapsulates what Game One was all about:

 

 

And that concludes the first batch of recommendations, if there is more need, I will be recommend some more, feel free to reach out!

Have fun watching them, and all the best!

 

 

This has been another Manly Mondays with EyebrowScar, every Monday something to present!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

MANLY MONDAY – Lupin III Part IV “The Italian Adventure” TV Series – (Review and Episode Recommendations)

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In one of my latest Manly Mondays, I talked about the Lupin III films by director Takeshi Koike, and how the hardboiled tone really fits the series.

As already mentioned in that article, the beauty of the now 50 year old “Lupin The Third” franchise is that it comes in many shapes, zeitgeists and forms: long running TV series, big cinema releases or short-running experimental shows.

Koike’s films in 2014 and 2017 were intended for a mature audience, given the depiction of violence and intensity of the themes it portrayed, and director Saya Yamamoto’s entry in 2012, A Woman Called Fujiko Mine, was equally adult – yet with a different focus as it explored sexuality and identity of the long-established characters.

However, Lupin III had always long-running TV series as a main focus, which were split into “Parts”. In addition, each of these Parts had a different suit jacket colour for protagonist Lupin to wear, so that it was immediately clear from the first glance which series you were watching: Part 1: Green Jacket (1971-1972), Part 2: Red Jacket (1977-1980), Part 3: Pink Jacket (1984-1985).

Each “jacket colour” is also unique in feel and tone, I highly recommend checking some episodes out to see what you might like the best. As these series are very often of episodic nature, you may pick and choose to your heart’s content.

And in 2015, a new TV series came around – Part 4: Blue Jacket (2015-2016).

Let’s take a look at this new series in retrospective, what did it do and what was added to the long-running legacy of the franchise?

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A Love Letter to Italy

The story of Lupin III is very much grounded in the usual set-up: Lupin is a thief, roaming the lands with Jigen, his gun-slinging friend, in a tiny yellow Fiat 500, where they will be entangled in all sorts of adventures. On this journey, they will be supported by Goemon, a friendly yet stern samurai, and Fujiko Mine, a rival thief and love interest to Lupin. They are constantly chased by Inspector Zenigata from the ICPO, whose only goal in life it is to finally bring Lupin behind bars.

Lupin III Part 4 “L’avventura italiana” takes place, as the title says, in Italy, which makes for a gorgeous setting. The Mediterranean feeling with the sunny, bright lighting is always is a beautiful sight, and as the team has to flee and chase very often, we see a lot of Italy – the countryside, the beaches, the castles, and old inner cities.

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Apart from the usual sights and landmarks, the care that went into the details is astounding: euros are used throughout as currency, license plates are in the European style, and even newspapers, signs and police cars are in Italian, really selling the setting as a graspable place to be. In addition, Part 4 aired in Italy before it did in Japan, which is unusual, but fitting for this series, as Lupin III enjoys its cult status in this country.

New Friends and Foes

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Part 4 brings some new additions to the usual cast, most notably Rebecca and Nix. It’s difficult to introduce new characters to a web of already established relationships, but this series manages it quite well.

Rebecca Rossellini is a rich, spoiled, but quirky and fun girl with green-yellow hair, who has an acting career, a financial empire and good looks. Having lost her parents and now the sole heir of the conglomerate, she seeks thrills in her perfect life, things she cannot buy with money.

Lupin makes a marriage proposal to her, and surprisingly, she agrees – and after less than a month, they are standing in front of the altar. It turns out, of course, that this was all an elaborate plot by Lupin to steal a certain treasure, however, all the paperwork for the marriage already went through: Rebecca has become Ms. Lupin. What should have been a short scam turns out to be more complicated, and Lupin is officially married now – it will be one of his main goals over the course of the series to get Rebecca to sign the divorce papers.

But this creates an interesting love triangle with Fujiko Mine, as well as a thematic clash of femininity: Rebecca, the fun, young and quirky girl on one side, and Fujiko, the classy, mature and experienced woman on the other side. And while they are not explicitly fighting over Lupin, the banter, conflicts and hijinks that ensue are quite fun, even from Jigen and Goemon’s side who both cannot believe that Lupin is a “husband” now.

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Time to decide, Lupin!

Rebecca makes for a fun rival/romantic interest, but she is not universally present in every episode, nor does she have major influence on the complicated main story.

For me, it was the other new character that I was very fond of:

Nix, a British MI6 agent. He strictly follows his orders and thus has a few run-ins with Lupin’s crew, eiter because he actively has to fight them, or because their paths randomly cross.

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Agent Nix. (“Nix” being colloquial German for “Nothing”, not sure if intended.)

His design was a standout for me: the short slightly military-tinged haircut, the stern look, the wrinkles that give his face age and character, and especially the pointy ears (which serve not only an aesthetic purpose!)

While Nix seems like an uptight and efficient spy who doesn’t do anything besides following orders to 100%, more and more details about him will be revealed over the course of the series, and in the end, I was immensely happy to have him in this series.

As it turns out, Nix has problems to keep his emotions under control, and is often in danger of “snapping”, which might be hazardous for everyone involved. When his missions carry out well, he stays calm, but if he fails or a loved one is in danger, hell breaks loose. Nix is not only a spy, he is also a family man, with three cute daughters and a strong wife, so may God have mercy on your soul if you ever intend on hurting his family.

Nix carries emotional weight in his job and in his private life, and his role of being a responsible father clashes with his dangerous profession. He is a well-round character with a slightly tragic side too, but his likability and his switching between “deadpan serious” and “full on burning rage” serves for impressive, as well as funny moments within the story.

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Nix, a great rival for Lupin.

As Nix is an important character with a lot of action segments and character acting, he gets some amazing animation cuts in Part 4, for example this cut by Shinya Ohira, where he fights a rebel spy. The unusual artstyle break and the pencil shading outlines give Nix’ actions visual power and strength.

Story and Standout Episodes

The story of Lupin III Part 4 is not the tightest, as not all episodes are here to drive the main plot forward. It is episodic, with an “Adventure of the Week” format, where you can enjoy every episode on its own, and occasionally be reminded of the big scheme in the background. The story goes off the rails somewhat to longer it goes, with some pretty incredible story twists and introductions, but it is all in good fun, as the strong cast can hold any outlandish plot together. The season finale might not have the biggest impact, but a nice ending overall.

However, there are some episodes that are able to absolutely stand on their own. If you want to get a taste, or if you simply want to visit the highlights this series has to offer, here is a small selection from my personal experience:

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Episode 1: Lupin’s Wedding

“Rating”: Give it a Try!

Obvious choice to take the season opener, but this episode is a great character piece, with Lupin’s and Rebecca’s wedding and the controversy it causes with Fujiko, Jigen and Goemon. In addition, the animation is top-notch and delievers movie-quality action scenes to establish Rebecca’s character. A fun intro to the series!

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Episode 3, 7 and 19: 0.2% Chance of SurvivalThe Zapping Operation and Dragons Sleep Soundly

“Rating”: Give it a Try!

Three episodes for Agent Nix, one being his introduction to his character and his skillset, being on par with Lupin and Jigen, and the other episode to show his family side and the caring father that he is. The third episode however takes a very dark spin on the spy business, with harsh violence and great danger to the protagonists. It makes for a strong tonal break that is worth checking out, if you are interested. (Keep in mind though that his episodes are more intertwined with the main plot and are not “pure” standalones!)

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Episode 13: The End of Lupin III

“Rating”: MUST WATCH

The mid-season finale and the episode that deeply touched me emotionally. In a surprising twist of events, Zenigata catches Lupin. Now that he has achieved his life goal, he gets a new goal: Keep Lupin behind bars. By removing the rest of the cast and only leaving Lupin and Zenigata in a 1-on-1 theatre piece in prison and total isolation, it goes far into the relationship of the two rivals.

I was highly impressed by this episode, and I would recommend it blindly to absolutely anyone.

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Episode 16: Lupin’s Day Off

“Rating”: MUST WATCH

A simple premise: Lupin, Jigen and Goemon have a day off, so they book a table at a fancy sushi restaurant. They have to arrive at 6 PM, and it is only a short drive through the countryside to get there.

This episode is slice of life beauty with perfect comedic delivery, and how much a simple idea can escalate into madness. This one had me in stitches, from the fast action to the quick jokes. A jolly good time of an episode.

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Episode 20: To Hear You Sing Again

“Rating”: Highly Recommended

A melancholic episode that I don’t want to spoil too much of. It is the story of an old Italian diva and her husband, and how long such a love can last through all the ages, through the good and the bad. A touching story that may move you to tears.

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Episode 26: Nonstop Rendezvous

“Rating”: ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH

This second special Bluray episode, sometimes called “Episode 26”, serves as a prequel to all of Part 4 and is an all out action romp with everything you could wish for: Fun character interaction, high-speed chase scenes, action shenanigans and full on physical comedy of the first degree. It reminds me of other amazing car chases I have only seen in films so far, and it will have you thoroughly entertained! The last few minutes may be a bit slow, as it only serves as a lead-up to Episode 1, but everything before that is pure fun and the essence of Lupin III comedy action.

Conclusion

Lupin III Part 4 was a good time, and especially cosy to watch over a long time, basically like it aired, one episode per week and going faster if you feel like it. Not all episodes are stellar, some are outright bland, such as Episode 15 where Lupin infiltrates a high school to simply fight against bumbling teachers, but overall, I had a splendid time with a few amazing highlights.

If you want to get into the Lupin III franchise, I would maybe recommend other films instead, (The Castle of Cagliostro, The Fuma Conspiracy or Jigen’s Gravestone) as you may already need a bit of a grasp on who all these characters are, before you see them interact with newer ones. I’m still happy about the introduction of Nix, I hope that he may return for the next currently airing Part 5 in 2018.

The Italian adventure makes for a comfortable series to watch as a mood piece, to just see the cast hang out and enjoy themselves, with some great action sprinkled in here and there. It’s not the best of the franchise, but a very solid entry that you can check out if you want to – and if not, you can enjoy the standalone episodes I recommended to you as short film snacks.

Overall, I’m happy that I watched it, and I look forward to more adventures of the wonderful Lupin III cast.

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The End.

 

 

This has been Manly Mondays with EyebrowScar! See you next week!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

Sources: Wikipedia “Lupin III”, MyAnimeList “Lupin III Part 4”

MANLY MONDAY – “Death Pie”: Like James Bond with Mahjong

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There are many niches in the manga world, and one of the most unique ones is the “mahjong manga”. The monthly magazine Kindai Mahjong by the publishing house Takeshobo first hit the shelves in 1972 as a text magazine, and a manga magazine followed in 1980. Ever since then it has brought many interesting beloved series to the world, and even kickstarted the career of Nobuyuki Fukumoto, who would gain critical and popular success with his two hit series Akagi: Yami ni Oritatta Tensai and Ten: Tenhou-doori no Kaidanji.

Now, the idea of a mahjong magazine seems odd: All the manga that are released here have to feature this game of tiles – something not everyone is familiar with, especially outside Japan. It poses a simple yet deserved question: If everything is centered around a single game that must be the focus, doesn’t it get awfully stale or boring really fast? Surely the authors must be limited in their choice of stories and characters, right?

Surprisingly, this is not the case.

In fact, if one looks at it closer, it gives a lot of freedom. There must be mahjong in it, surely, but the rest can be chosen freely and this has led to some amazing series: Akagi and Ten both combine yakuza and villain plots with deep human drama, Tetsunaki no Kirinji by Uhyosuke is about a divorced single father dealing with his online mahjong addiction to take care of his daughter, Getter Robo High! mixes Go Nagai mecha, mahjong and high school, and Legend of Koizumi by Hideki Oowada is, well, world politics on crack.

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If you haven’t seen Legend of Koizumi, I highly recommend that you do.

The best proof of this freedom is that Kindai Mahjong is not only still going after 38 years, but also that it has spawned many spinoff magazines with different readerships. Kindai Mahjong is not one of the biggest magazines out there, but it enjoys its stable cult status and continues its run.

I wish to present one short series from this magazine, to show what is possible within this mahjong frame: Death Pie by Kazuhiko Shimamoto, from 1989.

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Death Pie is the story of Tobioka Tsuboshi, an ex-cop fighting against drug cartels, who plays mahjong against big yakuza clans and defeats them monetarily. Of course, more plot threads will open: undercover missions, secret infiltrations, backstabbings and fights for life and death with tiles and guns. It feels distinctly “James Bond” in its story beats, but in its look and characters as well:

Smooth manly men in suits, good-looking classy women, overly evil villains, capable dangerous henchmen, high stakes gambling, secret casinos, action scenes and explosions in helicopters, cars and ships – everything that simply says “007” is here. Despite its yakuza setting, it borrows the feel of a Western style action film, and it fits.

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A very rad action protagonist. Who also plays mahjong.

The look of the series brings me to another great quality this manga has: the art by Kazuhiko Shimamoto. He is mostly known for his “Blazing Transfer Student” series, but also other series that feature flames and blazes in the title, such as the autobiographical “Blue Blazes” (which has a fantastic TV adaptation) and “Burning Pen”. “Blazing Transfer Students REBORN” also received a Netflix live action reboot/revival in 2017, which I also highly recommend.

And as you can probably tell from that selection,  his series are characterised by BURNING PASSION and HOTBLOODED ACTION. Here you will find big emotions, huge clashes, and energetic characters who will fight for what they believe in. This is reflected in his artstyle, which is drawn with the same amount of power. Shimamoto does not only tell stories with fire, he IS the fire.

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Shimamoto explaining HOTBLOODED DRAWING.

In his making-of/behind the scenes manga Burning Pen he describes his approach to drawing: Have the same amount of passion as your characters, and bring that directly onto the paper. And it shows, with heavy contrast, stark brushstrokes modeling his characters, and thick outlines that make objects and sound words come alive.

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That’s one way to end a mahjong pool party.

I wish to especially point out the use of ink brushes, especially to draw the male characters hair, which gives everything a great sense of movement. The linework is outstanding, and gives the whole series an immense energetic feel.

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Of course, as Death Pie is very short, with only 9 chapters, I do not wish to talk a lot more about the story, and as I already said earlier, the plot feels distinctly James Bond, with the personal touch of Shimamoto.

But how does mahjong fit in with all of this?

The underworld and gambling go together hand in hand already, and so it does in this story as well. But Shimamoto’s presentation lifts it to another level. Most mahjong manga have intense games with outlandishly gigantic imagery, such as the visual metaphors in Akagi, or the special attacks in Legend of Koizumi, and Shimamoto’s trademark HOTBLOODEDNESS brings it’s own visual look to the table.

 

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For comparison: Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s Akagi…

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…Hideki Oowada’s Legend of Koizumi…

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… and Kazuhiko Shimamoto’s Death Pie.

And for those worrying about not knowing the rules of mahjong, this series does not put an immense focus on it. It is rather the surroundings and settings that make it fun, as well as the villains. The serious action film look with the over the top presentation of the mahjong manga creates a fantastic feeling, that is worth reading this series for. The plot can get a bit convoluted, or you may lose track of some characters, but in the end, it is all worth it: for the artstyle, the character design, the drawings, and the fact that one of the henchmen is Mahjong Bruce Lee.

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Death Pie is a little gem that I would like to recommend to everybody. With its very short run of 9 chapters, you can easily read it in an afternoon and enjoy it to your heart’s content.

There will be something for everyone in here, be it the thrill of mahjong, the energetic artstyle, the larger than life characters, or simply the interest to check something out from a decade long past, in a niche manga magazine that has lived for many years and will for many years to come.

 

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The End.

 

 

This has been MANLY MONDAYS with EyebrowScar! See you next week!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

Sources: Wikipedia: Kindai Mahjong, MyAnimeList: Death Pie, Mahjongkrazy Scanlation Notes

MANLY MONDAY – “Zombiepowder.” Tite Kubo’s Early Western Fun

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Back in the day when I was a little kid, the book shop was my world. I read many manga there, even right into the teenage years, as the store had comfy couches and chairs to sit on, so that you could browse and read for an unlimited time. It was here that I found Zombiepowder for the first time, by an author I had only heard a bit about: Tite Kubo, most famous for his series Bleach.

I would later find out in school exchanges and travels outside of Germany that Bleach was actually a huge thing. The internet told me that it was on the level with One Piece and Naruto, the “Big Three” of Shonen Jump, and I was quite surprised. Bleach was never a gigantic thing in Germany, most likely due to the anime not being widely available, especially in the “golden early days”. (One Piece ran since 2003, Naruto since 2006 – in a dreadful version, don’t remind me of the opening, the One Piece one is amazing, watch that instead – both on the big channel RTL II, while Bleach started only in 2010, on a niche channel called Animax.)

And so, in 2008, I held a volume of Zombiepowder in my hands, not knowing about Bleach, and started reading this new series I had never seen before. 10 years later, I revisited it.

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Zombiepowder is the story of Gamma Akutabi, a silverhaired hero with a big sword and big heart, in a Wild Western world. He is a “powder hunter”, someone who is on the quest to hunt down the “Rings of Death”. If you collect all twelve rings, you can produce the eponymous “zombie powder”, a substance that brings life: If used on a dead person, that person becomes alive again, and if used on a living person, that person becomes immortal.

Hence, many people are after these rings for different reasons, and so far, no one has managed to gather all twelve into one place. Gamma Akutabi is after it for the immortality, and on his quest three other characters will join: C.T. Smith, his partner in crime, a very upright classy gunslinger complete with suit and bowler hat, Elwood, a young teenage pickpocket, and Wolfina, an energetic paparazzi  lady who fights with forged press releases and a modified tripod.

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From left to right: Elwood, Smith, Gamma and Wolfina.

As this manga is quite short, with 27 chapters only before it was cancelled by Shonen Jump, I wish to talk less about the plot and more about the characters and style that Kubo shows us here.

Kubo’s artstyle and linework have always been immensely stylish. Even though I have never seen or read much of Bleach, I can tell you that his design is instantly recognisable and very pleasing to look at. Clothes are wonderfully designed and fitted, characters have sleek shapes and sharp features, and the action makes it all shine with simple to understand panelling and framing.

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Simple, clear, and straight to the point.

The tone of the series alternates between “serious” and “goofy” quite easily, and the characters can carry it as well. The more outlandish moments serve as nice breathers between the onslaught of action.

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From serious busting through a wall…

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…to silly busting through a door.

And there is A LOT of action in Zombiepowder, the series consists of battles pretty much every chapter, and – surprisingly – it works! Characterisation is interwoven with the respective fighting styles of the protagonists, everyone with their own strengths and weaknesses. Cool stuff happening with cool people, nice.

Gamma Akutabi’s design, the silver hair and coat, together with his chainsaw sword and later magic use was a design I particularly loved, and sadly it had to go too soon. He could have been a classic Shonen protagonist to stand alongside others, even with the slight accusations of Kubo taking too much visual inspiration of Trigun and Western/Mad Max settings à la Fist of the North Star and Battle Angel Alita.

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That’s rad.

While I recommend reading Zombiepowder to everyone, it’s going to be interesting what you take away from it.

It’s pre-Bleach, opening itself up to comparison, but it’s also its own thing of a young upcoming artist trying to find his voice.

It’s also a short Shonen riddled with strange decisions, as Kubo says in the behind-the-scenes: This was his first work in the magazine Shonen Jump, and he was under “great emotional trauma” while drawing Zombiepowder – due to the crushing workload of having to produce a chapter each week, and due to him not knowing how to communicate with his editor, sometimes taking decisions he didn’t want to, accepting them without discussion.

The manga ends abruptly as well, it manages to round off its first arc, and then suddenly introduces three finishing chapters with many new characters and a sort of style-breaking feeling. While I was not a fan of how it leads to the ending – it leaves two protagonists behind in an uncertain path and has some questionable character designs – it does leave on a nice, if short bitter-sweet note.

If you wish to read Zombiepowder, I will recommend the physical release in 4 volumes, as it comes with a lot of making-ofs, other early Tite Kubo manga (which are all worth of analysis as well), special artwork and even a playlist of music for every character in the manga. Hey, I didn’t knew Kubo liked Rhapsody, an Italian powermetal band, one of my absolute favourites!

Conclusion

Essentially, this manga is a great stepping stone into a genre that Kubo would help to shape, and a short fun romp by someone who would later on do great things. To my personal shame, I must confess that Zombiepowder was the reason I put off Bleach for a decade: Gamma Akutabi and his gang were so energetic and fun, that Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends paled for me in comparison. Given, of course, that I had only read the first volume of Bleach, but alas, I was having more fun with this Wacky Western than Supernatural Highschool.

10 years later, it’s still very fun, even if a bit wonky in retrospect, and I will check out Bleach soon, it’s about time I reckon. And while I do that, walk the path into the other direction, and check out Zombiepowder, and see how you will like it. It may not be your new favourite, but it will be a powerful time capsule to rediscover.

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The End.

 

This has been MANLY MONDAYS with EyebrowScar, see you next week!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

 

Sources: Zombiepowder Wikipedia, Zombiepowder making-ofs (Physical Release, Tokyopop)

MANLY MONDAY – “Thumper” That Inescapable Lovecraftian Rhythm Violence

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I love rhythm games. The combination of music and gameplay that comes together with precise timing and satisfying crispy button presses is always great fun. It can make your adrenaline rise like nothing else, make yourself dissolve into music, thinking only about keeping and following the rhythm. And once you succeed at a very hard level, you can relax and marvel how you even made it through that onslaught of notes.

Quite a few games have accompanied me in the past, some even right into the present, Donkey Konga (with bongo controllers!), Elite Beat Agents (basically Proto-Osu!), Love Live School Idol Festival (my first entry point into the Love Live franchise, don’t look at me like that), Final Fantasy Theatrhythm (Why is “One-Winged Angel” DLC?), and Audiosurf 1 & 2 (which let you play your own music!). It is a little dream of mine to own a Dance Dance Revolution arcade machine one day, as I ever saw them in films and my country doesn’t have arcades – and people who know me in real life know that I will immediately play it if I encounter one. I’m not super good at DDR, but, goddamn, do I love it.

Once I saw the trailer for this specific game here last year ago, I was interested. It looked sort of like Audiosurf, but more intense, far more intense. However, it just trickled to the back of my mind to stay there, not a huge wish to immediately pick it up, but maybe I would give it a shot one day. And as one Steam sale rolled around, I finally bought it for myself.

It was a trip I had never experienced before.

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The game was called Thumper. You are a little metallic space beetle, rushing along a single path in an unknown galaxy. Little spots of light are on your track, you press a button to hit them with a shockwave. Some metallic barriers will spring up in curves, so you need to lean in with the control stick to not frontally hit them. And sometimes, laser barriers will get into your path that you must speed through while holding the same button. Essentially, all you need it a control stick and a button. These obstacles follow the same rhythm as the music, no problem. It’s one big track separated into little segments, you can even quit midway through a song and return at a later time. As simple as that.

Or so one might think.

This world is visceral, dark, haunting and fast. Two hits and you’re dead. When you hit a curve barrier or a laser, your metal wings get blown off, leaving you only with your riffled little beetle body whizzing along a nightmarish highway through space. Of course, you get your wings back if you finish a section of a level, but it puts pressure on you. You want to protect yourself and your beetle. What your beetle does or what they feel, but the goal is clear: forward. The only way is forward for you and your space beetle.

And the most driving factor of your quest forward is the music. Although, can it be described as music? I had extraordinary fun with Donkey Konga and Elite Beat Agents, as they feature songs from Earth, Wind and Fire, Queen and even Smash Mouth, all songs you recognise and can sing along to to your heart’s content. They make you tap your foot and bop your head to the music, and they will be earworms for the rest of the day!

Not so in Thumper. You cannot sing to Thumper.

The music is a beat, from ‘calm and eerie’ to ‘loud and clanging’, and you are building on the beat by interacting with the obstacles that come at you: barriers make a “clank” sound and “swoosh” past you as you lean so far into the curve that the rear end of your beetle touches the wall for a second, the spots of light go “booom” as you give them a shockwave, and the laser barriers break with high “click click” sounds. To that, once you notice that you can spread your wings to fly, a risky but rewarding move, you can add “ding ding dings” as your metal wings break little light arcs above the track. And once you manage to successfully fly and land from soundwave to soundwave spot, you smash downwards with a satisfying “FOOOOMF” that even makes your screen go into slow-motion for a second.

To all of this rhythmic noise in time signatures foreign to untrained ears comes the background – a deep, heavy sound carpet that spreads all over, a dissonant and intimidating soundscape that does more than just to amplify the empty space you fly in. You notice it, this is more than just a long metal highway through the galaxy, it is something else. And as the track suddenly grows insect-like legs and narrow geometric tunnels that close in on you, the doom orchestra in the background doesn’t stop with its loud drums and haunting strings, all it does is pushing you forward, forward, forward – towards what? What is the goal? What is the purpose? The bosses are too big to understand, too strange to grasp, fighting in ways you need to analyse to survive, twisting, disrupting, blocking your path, that never ending path hurtling towards them. You need to follow the beat to continue. The droning beat dictating your heart.

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To make a long story short: Thumper is a lovecraftian rhythm horror game.

“Horror” not the sense of spooky imagery or jumpscares, “horror” in the sense of existential dread and the fear of not knowing what will come next. New types of enemies may appear, the music might change, or tunnels might block your view, pushing the reaction time further down. All with that fast and immense pressure of timing, understanding and reading in a matter of seconds. The visuals in combination with the music alone are haunting, putting you in a state of alertness, but what is the true kicker is the gameplay, which merges perfectly with the rest – creating one cohesive dark beauty.

This game is difficult. The learning curve is steep, but it remains always 100% fair. If you died, it was absolutely your own fault for not reacting in time. Every obstacle is clearly telegraphed, not only with a distinguishable colour and look (sound spots are blue, barriers are red-silver and appear vertically, lasers are red-only and appear horizontally) but also with a sound. Barriers come up with a big “clack“, lasers shoot in from the side with a “clink” and enemies slither in with a “shhhhh” or intimidate you with a loud “BWAAM“. Combining with all of these sound words I already described earlier: That’s a lot of noise. Noise that becomes music. Noise that is useful.

I have talked a lot about this game now, and haven’t actually shown you any gameplay footage yet. Take a look at the trailer:

It’s an onslaught of information, strange imagery and rhythmic loudness that wants your full concentration and focus. Game marketing loves to talk about “immersive gameplay”, but I have rarely seen it more fitting here. The game draws you in with its carpet of noise, the ungraspable atmosphere and quick, unforgiving, but fair judgement of your skills. As I said, the game is fair, the learning curve is steep, but it never feels disheartening. This game pushes you to go forward, forward, forward – the same way your little beetle goes forward, forward, forward. And the only way to do that is to simply ‘git gud’.

I only played it with headphones, which I highly recommend, and there is a VR version available as well. From what I’ve seen in other reviews, this version is even far more intense, and my head-phones-only adventure already was. You will be frustrated, you will put the controller down, only to return after 2 minutes, as the noise and the lights draw you inside again. You will scream, yell, be relieved, celebrate and curse a lot, and that’s beautiful.

(VISUAL SPOILERS: I streamed Level 8 on Twitch for friends to see, and if you want to see me play and react to the final boss of said level, here you go:)

Conclusion

Thumper is an intense game that I would recommend to everyone who loves fast and furious precise gameplay with strong immersion. It’s “short”, with only 9 levels, but you will have to bite and fight yourself through those, so I was entertained for a few weeks. Post-game contents include world-wide leaderboards, highscores and rankings, and you will love to return to it and be astonished at how fast your accumulated skill crumbles apart again.

The “story” is simple, if there even is any, and yet it managed to surprise me in the end with one of the most memorable and gameplay-bending end bosses. Any game that can make me have my jaw fall to the ground in surprise and dread is a great one, and Thumper managed it several times.

If you like rhythm games, this one is a must-play for you, for everyone else, this is a trip you should not miss out on. Dive into the lovecraftian world of noise and loudness, and fight your way forward and ever forward.

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To infinity and beyond.

The End.

 

 

This has been MANLY MONDAY with EyebrowScar, see you next week!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)

MANLY MONDAY – “Avengers: Infinity War”, The Grand Finale 10 Years in the Making (SPOILER-FREE REVIEW)

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Way, way back when I was a little kid in the midst of Europe, I didn’t grew up with superhero comics. My heroes were “normal heroes” with inseparable partners: Astérix and Obélix, Tintin and Haddock, Don Rosa’s Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories, Vicky the Viking and the crew of his dad, or Alfred J. Kwak and his friends.

This all somewhat changed, when Spiderman by Sam Raimi hit the theatres, I must have been around 11 years old. I was just so fun! Spiderman 2 cemented that wonderful feeling, I went to see them with my childhood friend several times in the cinema.

The Spiderman 2 Gamecube game thus also holds a special place in my heart, not only for being a splendid game with a fantastic open world, but also for my childhood friend and me beating the final boss together. We both held the controller together, one pushing the button to dodge, the other with the punch button to wait for an opening to finally take down that villainous Doctor Octopus. What a wonderful time that was, to see the joined effort come together and to celebrate in the flicker of the end credits.

Many years later then, when I was in middle school, I heard of Iron Man in 2008, and I was surprised. There are even more heroes? And apparently they had been around for many decades? In comics? Like my Tintin and Astérix? My nostalgia was not for them, Spiderman was a lovely memory of my past, but nothing that would carry significantly into the present.

Iron Man and Thor were fun, the rest was so-so or didn’t even catch my interest, and when it was finally revealed that all these heroes would come together in a thing called “Avengers”, a name I had never heard before, I remember sitting in the cinema and muttering after the title came on screen: “Oh man, I would so laugh if this film sucks.”

I would be very wrong.

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Because it was very, very fun.

Avengers showed that the big superhero crossover was possible. Many heroes with backstories in their own films, then coming together in another movie, leaving time for the crossover event itself, not needing additional time for character introductions or presentations. Even the villain, Loki, had been introduced before, getting his chance to shine – with many jokes, big action setpieces and a simple, yet engaging plot, Avengers took the world by storm. In the background, it was also building up to something.

More heroes got introduced, the universe got bigger. Antman got my interest, as it was by one of my favourite directors, Edgar Wright, and even if he didn’t direct it in the end, his tone shined through, making it immensely fun. Guardians of the Galaxy came in with technicolour rainbow fun and an oldschool groovin’ soundtrack, and then the second Avengers rolled around, not as super satisfying as the first one, but still a great time in the theatre. And it was still building up to something.

Phase Three rolled around, where Marvel really got into their groove, and here you will find my favourites: Thor: Ragnarök and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, films which combined emotional strength and comedy to entertaining cohesive bundles of joy – Doctor Strange and Spiderman: Homecoming also being very strong entries that I would wholeheartedly recommend. And they continued to build up to something.

That something has now arrived, after being 10 years in the making:

Avengers Infinity War.

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Just a fraction of the gigantic main cast, with three intersecting franchises: Doctor Strange, Iron Man and Hulk.

A gigantic threat is looming upon the galaxy: Thanos. A galactic overlord who wants to collect all six Infinity Stones, which grant the power to rewrite reality if they are combined into one weapon – a gauntlet in this case. In many different films before that, we know where the Infinity Stones are, and in some, they even played very big roles.

The plot is simple, yet effective: Thanos is coming, he must be stopped. And in order to do that, the power of all the Avengers and their friends is needed. Good guys set out to defeat the bad guy. Simple, straightforward, boom, done.

However: It’s the execution where this film shines. To take over 20 main characters and fit them into one big story is not an easy task, but it succeeds in an entertaining and satisfying way. Not all characters appear at the same time, they enter the stories at different points, and then get split up into groups. Some combinations are logical, the Guardians of the Galaxy are one group, surely, and Iron Man will team up with Spiderman, that much is clear from the previous films.

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This team-up can only go well. Just look at them.

But over the course of the film, they get re-shuffled, and go to their own intertwining substories, and this is where the main fun is to be had. As the audience already knows all of these characters, the burning question is: How will they all react to each other? Will they get along? Will there be banter? Or will they end up as a harmonious bunch? Some of these combinations I had never seen coming, and also never expected them to work so well. Especially [backwards: tibbar hsart eht dna dog esron eht] was a duo that really hit home, and if you would have told me that before, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The character interactions are where the fun lies, and the smaller teams with unique combinations keep everything fresh and interesting. (Hence, I would also recommend that you watch many of the MCU films before Infinity War, if not all. Some people will tell you different things on what to skip or not, but I think most people will agree that you will absolutely need Thor: Ragnarök and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, as the events of the two lead directly into this film.)

Of course, not everything is fun and games in this film, there will be emotional moments as well, and these blend perfectly into the comedic segments. It never feels like one mood is overstaying its welcome, the mix between “funny and sad” is balanced out extremely well, and gives a great flow to the film. In the 149 minutes of film, I never felt as if it had lengths or dragged out moments, everything felt snappy, powerful and going forward.

In addition, the villain of the story, Thanos, is given enough room, and even his own parallel plotline, so that he receives depth as well, making him one of the best, if not the best villain in the MCU so far. All I can say is: This finale (or rather, the first part of the finale, as the continuation will be next year) was absolutely worth the time waiting.

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Sidenote: I also want to praise Klaus-Dieter Klebsch as the German voice of Thanos, he is one of my favourite voice actors, and he was born for that role. He has spoken many villains from my childhood as well, maybe adding that little bit of extra to my enjoyment.

Conclusion

Back in 2008, when I was saw Iron Man with doubtful eyes, I could have never imagined where it would all lead. I was proven very wrong in my prediction, and I am pretty sure that many were too, such a big film franchise had never been attempted before, and some other franchises have tried to copy it afterwards, but nobody achieving it to this extend.

While some initial films of Phase 1 or 2 were drab or not very engaging, Marvel has now found the perfect formula of entertainment, big bombastic fun with an equally big, beating heart, that ties everything together emotionally.

And Avengers Infinity War also managed something that many films hadn’t done recently: to surprise me. Not only in shocking moments, but also in emotional ones I hadn’t seen coming, without being “out of nowhere”. It’s a tight bundle of many cohesive and strong storylines, that comes together after many, many years. And it was beautiful.

Behind me in the cinema was a little kid with their parents, maybe 11 years old or so, and it was very well behaved, didn’t interrupt others, enjoyed the film and only occasionally spoke something out loud. And yet, I couldn’t help but smile at the little hollers and exclamations of “Oh no!”, “Yes!”, “Whoa!” and several very big “What?!”.

I remember a little kiddo also sitting in the cinema, being very excited about Spiderman 2, and looking forward to seeing my fantastic super heroes on screen, and going to see the films several times in the theatre, smiling at the visual fireworks of action and heart in front of my gleaming eyes.

The eyes full of doubt from a decade ago were finally shining again like they did on this very day.

The End.

This has been MANLY MONDAYS with EyebrowScar. See you next week!

(You can also find my podcast “GARcast”on Youtube, where I talk many different series, films and other manly media with my friends!)