DRAWN & QUARTERED
First DVD can make or break series
In January, Wilma and I took a look at the first volumes of several manga on the market, with the theory that initial volumes are key to getting people interested enough in a series to buy future volumes.
In anime, first volumes are equally important. Sure, there are fewer DVDs to buy in a series than manga on average, but there's a counterbalance: DVDs often cost $20 to $30, while manga cost $10 each.
So what is worth buying? I took a look at four series now available.
'Coyote Ragtime Show'
The King is dead; long live whoever gets his or her hands on his vast bounty. When Pirate King Bruce is killed, he leaves behind a pendant, a daughter holding said piece of jewelry, a fortune on a planet about to be blown to smithereens ... and a bunch of people who want to snatch up everything before it's too late.
A mystery man known only as Mister and his Coyote compatriots grab the girl and head for the planet. On his heels are an investigator, Angelica; her assistant, Chelsea; and Madame Marciano and her deadly group of android assassins, the 12 Sisters.
The show takes a while to find its focus. At first it centers on Angelica and Chelsea, making it seem as though the show will be from their perspective. But once the perspective shifts to the Coyotes, the plot picks up momentum.
The only concern at this point in the series is the subplot of the 12 Sisters, which seems underdeveloped. If that is addressed, this show could really be fun to watch.
Throughout history, factions of Catholics and Protestants have had trouble seeing eye to eye. Throw vampires and monsters into the mix, and you have a recipe for chaos. Or, for our purposes, "Hellsing Unlimited."
In one corner is the Royal Order of Religious Knights, the Hellsing Organization headed by Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing. Its purpose: to eradicate the monsters that plague Britain and the Protestant Church. Its agent: Arucard, a stylish vampire in red capable of dispatching an entire brood of zombies in a single slow-motion sequence.
Facing off against them is the Vatican's Special Operations 13th Division, the Iscariot Organization, and the Iscariot Paladin, Father Alexander Anderson.
This is actually the second "Hellsing" anime series; the promise is that it will follow more closely the original manga's dark, gory path. It would appear that in just 50 minutes, the production team is off to a good start.
In a post-apocalyptic future, humans coexist with androids called AutoReivs in a domed utopia known as Romdo. Yet all is not well -- an increasing number of AutoReivs are being infected with a virus and are no longer following human orders.
Inspector Re-l of the Intelligence Bureau is called in to investigate a series of murders, initially believed to have been caused by infected AutoReivs. But it soon becomes evident that more complex forces are at work. A monster known only as a Proxy is on the loose, an immigrant named Vincent is being targeted for some reason and a small AutoReiv fashioned to resemble a girl, Pino, appears to hold some key to the mysteries.
Soon, the questions start piling up. Why, for instance, does the Security Bureau erase all records of the Proxy's attack on Re-l? Why are all the infected AutoReivs following the same path through Romdo's immigrant district? And what lies beyond Romdo?
These mysteries make this series both a joy and a hassle to watch. Think of it as similar to "The X-Files" or "Lost," where large chunks of time are taken up presenting tantalizing clues in the most obscure ways. When a piece of the puzzle falls into place, it's a revelation; but then it's back to fumbling around trying to figure out which piece to place next.
This series could either become a sci-fi classic or collapse into a confusing mess. Fans of complex thrillers would do well to stick it out for a few volumes.
» Rating: 1/2
'Beet: Vandel Buster'
This series is your standard tale of "us vs. them" -- "them" being the demon Vandels, "us" being Vandel Busters, teams of warriors who defend humanity from the scourges of darkness.
The hero of this tale is Beet, an orphan boy who aspires to be a great Vandel Buster like his heroes, the Zenon Warriors, and end the Century of Darkness in the process.
When Beet is nearly killed by Vandel Lord Beltorze, the Warriors sacrifice themselves to save him, imbuing him with their powers. Three years later he's going around and kicking Vandel butt, with a little help from friends.
This series bears all the standard action-adventure clichés -- cheesy lines like "So you have come, Buster! My name is Zande, and you are dead! You sealed your fate the moment you crossed my sword!" -- and characters patiently recite the names of their attacks before they unleash them.
Of special note are Illumitoon's subtitles, which appear not to be direct translations from the original Japanese, but rather a closed-captioning of sorts of the English script.