Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sailor Moon Memories

Upon revisiting the first season of Sailor Moon in the original Japanese, I wanted to write about some aspects of the series that I remember from my childhood. Being a 17 year old anime, I was surprised that it still held up after all these years.


My experience with this series started sometime in late 1994 (or was it early 1995?) when I started seeing commercials for this show on ABC. At the time, Anime was a new thing for me, and in the Philippines, it was only beginning to show signs of increasing popularity after a long slumber (no doubt the limitations for showing certain TV shows at the time was part of its dormant phase in the early nineties/late eighties, although one can argue that Voltes V and numerous anime adaptations like Princess Sarah or Peter Pan were big in their day.)

I didn't care about seeing the anime at first, but my cousin recommended it to me (and it was part of a huge Sunday afternoon cartoon block on Channel 5 - then a fledgeling new channel - which had a number of good shows on it)

I watched the first episode. Funny as hell. Since then, for the next season and a half I fell in love with it. Mostly because it was funny as hell, a break from all the doom and gloom battles of Dragonball Z. And the ending was killer. I actually called ABC 5 a few times to ask when the next new episode was coming up (and I bet a lot of operators were befuddled when loads of phone calls came in asking for new episodes.) I 'broke up' with the series after a long dry spell, as the second season was notorious for reruns. Since then I've never quite looked at the series long and hard enough.

Sailor Moon finished airing its last season (Stars) in the Philippines a number of years ago, after a long run. Again, its last gasp was buried in the current deluge of anime coming here from Japan.

So... my thoughts on Sailor Moon.

The Tagalog Dub was Awesome

It might be part bias since I grew up with it, but the Tagalog dub was Awesome.

I consider Channel 5 and 13's dubs to have the best tagalog dubs of its time. Sure Channel 2 had their high production values, Channel 9 had this English oriented dub team with shows Dragonball, Saint Tail and Dragonball Z, and Channel 7... well Channel 7 had its days, but 5 and 13 had the best dubs.

(Of course, there was the fact that most of these channel's anime were dubbed by the same people. Heh.)

The Tagalog dub had a Filipino version of the main theme (Moonlight Densetsu) and some scenes edited out, such as the opening intro thingy which I realize was in almost every episode. And yet, the Tagalog Dub did one thing that I will always appreciate, and that was to make an already funny show funnier. Let me explain.

For the Sailor Moon Anime, veteran voice actors and actresses were recruited to do the job of bringing these characters to life. If you listen to AM radio, you might have already heard some of them over at DZRH (666 AM.) Voice Actors or Dubbers here in the Philippines are terribly underappreciated, as they get less pay, don't get the same public attention or appreciation as some other people and are virtually invisible in this industry. But these guys are pros. It is hard changing your voice and keeping it that way for at least 20-30 minutes. And these guys voice your favorite anime/telenovela/koreanovela/radio show! Respect.

For Sailor Moon it was Olie De Guzman and Vilma Borromeo as Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars respectively which made the classic first season of the series shine. Even in the original Japanese Sailor Moon started getting interesting the time Sailor Mars was introduced. At that episode (episode 10,) there as a full fledged team instead of just one or two individuals. Plus, the third member (Rei) was one whose personality clashed with the klutzy and incompetent Usagi, and the two bickered, often leading into hilarious situations.

De Guzman and Borromeo for some reason injected fresh chemistry into this pair. I don't know if they adlibbed, it was part of a great translated script or something like that, but when they fought, it was manic and hilarious. They had experience, as in Princess Sarah, they were also cast in two roles against each other (Lavinia and the titular Sarah, but with the tormentor/tormented positions reversed.) I will explore this in a later part of this writeup, but I have this to say.

To Miss De Guzman and Miss Borromeo, who dubbed Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars for the first season of SM, if there is still some sort of Star Awards for Television or FAMAS or some shit, you both deserve some sort of award. Best Actress Pair or something like that. If I had the money I'd pay to make a trophy for you two. I feel you both deserve some kind of accolade a million times more than some talentless shit getting a best Actress award just for looking cute and shedding a few tears. Voice Acting is HARD, yo.

Moving on, as the season went on towards the more dramatic/epic episodes, everyone started speaking Taglish. I have never seen this work on any other show except this one. (No, Initial D Fourth Stage, it didn't work that well for you.) This was, of course, awesome to see. Remember when Bobby (or was it Phil) Cruz as Neflite/Nephrite started talking about eating Chocolate Ice Cream? Epic shit right there boss. Or Kunzite was speaking in Taglish about how he will never be defeated or something like that?

They have to show this series again one day in Tagalog in HERO or some other channel, even just for the first season. And DON'T redub it. The first one was perfect.

Funniest Episodes Ever

Episode 11 -Usagi vs Rei? A Nightmare in Dreamland

This was an awesomely funny episode, in Tagalog or English. Usagi and Rei go to an amusement park and fight over absolutely everything, even a poor child who managed to get between the two. In the Tagalog version is enhanced by the comedy that ensues between the two and the chemistry the two actresses have.

In another sequence, Sailor Moon and Mars are both hypnotized and run around following what seems to be Tuxedo Mask, when in fact they are riding brooms (and looking like idiots.)

This was the first episode that explored Moon and Mars' bickering, and the episode had a lot of comedy in it. Fun to watch after many viewings.

Episode 31 -
Loved and Chased! Luna's Worst Day Ever

This was a Luna-centric episode, and one of the funniest of the series. Most of the episode is actually from or inspired by Gone With The Wind. Luna is being chased by some cats when suddenly a fishbone stops them ala Tuxedo Mask's Rose. It is actually a fat cat who is apparently attracted to Luna (and his name is Rhett Butler.) A lot of comedic subplots occur, including:

* Rei Hino can't get a date
* Sailor Moon in her usual hijinks
* Zoisite tries to find the something-the rainbow crystal, leading him to the girl who is the owner of Rhett Butler, but he realizes that the cat is the monster. He goes to the sewer much to his disgust, and upon reaching a tunnel, he finds that it is covered in rats, and he releases what is the gayest anime character scream ever made.

You have to hear it to believe me.

The Ending was Epic

The last few episodes of the series were amazing, as at the time I was watching it, 1) I had never seen a conclusion to ANY animated series, 2) none had shown most of the protagonists end up severely screwed and 3) none had come up with a satisfying ending to the series that made one want even more.

There were almost tears in my eyes as the events of the last episodes unfolded on Philippine TV. I was but 10 or so years old back then. Note that those were almost tears. I would never be so emotionally moved by an anime until, maybe, Honey and Clover.

The Similarities to Sentai

I've been reintroduced to Sentai in the past few months and it's clear that Sailor Moon was intended as a fusion of shoujo and this genre. The Stock Footage, the monster a week formula, the adviser character, even the transformations and the upgrade at the middle of the series are all there. All it didn't have was the giant robots.

In Conclusion

There are a lot more things to discuss, but hell, I guess I can stop here. The show still remains a cornerstone of the Magical Girl Genre and in itself an anime classic for years to come.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fly High, Aviators!

Chojin Sentai Jetman is THE greatest Super Sentai Series ever created. EVER.

I have had a lasting nostalgia for Tokusatsu productions from Japan as a kid, back when I knew them as these shows with people in plastic and spandex suits fighting guys in rubber monster suits. The special effects astounded me everytime, even if it was just the same stock footage over and over again, and I remember the cryptic text in Japanese, "tsuzuku" (to be continued) at the end of every episode.

From dramatic fare such as Maskman (a show that until recently had been my top contender for favorite Super Sentai,) and Bioman (considered by many Filipino Tokusatsu fans to be a cherished nostalgic classic) to weird campy fare like Shaider, and total children's fluff like Machine Man (who could forget the car driven by lying down, the flying baseball, or the cape made of a tablemat?) I devoured tokusatsu in my childhood.

Ironically, I had 'grown out' of Tokusatsu and Super Sentai when Jetman first aired on Philippine TV on RPN Channel 9. I had dismissed it, along with the other series that had been showing (IBC-13's Turbo Ranger, ABC-5's Goggle V and Fiveman, as well as a load of other series) as not as good as the classics I had watched in my childhood.

How wrong I was.

So why is Jetman the greatest Super Sentai? Let me say the reasons why:

1. It has all the good Super Sentai cliches - Like Maskman, it has the "my loved one is an enemy" cliche (expanded into no less than TWO love polygons by near series end,) there's the part where the robot gets pwned at the series half, only to be helped by another new robot (yay for new toys to buy) the villains get a major upgrade near the end, and there's this meddling new bad guy that you see near the series' end. Plus the climactic battle at the end.

2. It doesn't fall into the monster a week pattern - despite the cliches, the series does a good job of avoiding the boring monster a week pattern of previous series (monster causes trouble, heroes stop them and defeat monster, heroes fight and defeat giant version of monster, everyone is happy.) In one instance the heroes don't want to fight the monster; leading to a situation where no finishing move is done and the monster actually surrenders. Other episodes don't even go to the "fighting the giant monster" stage, or there is no monster for that episode/week, giving way to (gasp!) actual characterization and damn good writing for a Super Sentai.

3. Even the silly episodes are entertaining - in one episode Ako (Blue Swallow) is shown to have a sempai who is a ramen freak (no doubt this episode was sponsored by Nissin or something like that) who collects vintage ramen. Suddenly this ramen beast thing named God Ramen (WTF!!!) appears and helps him make the perfect ramen which he calls Ako-chan, where he promotes this by dressing up in ridiculously fake glasses and beard ala Groucho Marx, singing double entendres about how he wants to "eat" Ako-chan. WTF!!!!!!!!!!

In another episode a dimensional monster tries to live good because he is too nice to defeat the Jetmen (in one case he almost causes the total defeat of the Jetmen but fails due to a random act of kindness) and becomes an assistant at a hair salon. WTF!!!!!

4. Great writing, even if you have to suspend your disbelief sometimes - there are some great standalone episodes, like the one where two of the Jetmen are trapped in the bus where strange murders occur in the bus whenever it comes through a tunnel. Everyone suspects everyone else, when it turns out that the bus itself was the culprit! Pretty clever stuff for a Super Sentai.

5. The enemies were just too badass - 70% of the episodes, you see the Jetmen's ass getting kicked royally, with most of them turned into chess pieces, trapped inside pictures, that kind of crazy shit. Gray was an example of "cool" badass, a cyborg who enjoys fine arts and listening to classical piano music (not making this up!) Emperor Tranza, who appears later in the show, demonstrates his powers disguised as a human by outperforming all of the Jetmen in their respective talents (beating the Yellow Jetman in an eating competition!) and making great plans to ruin the Jetmen's day. Radiguet is one of the baddest villains EV4R and you want to see him bite the dust because he is so evil.

At one point even the home base of the Jetmen are attacked. Villains actually entering the HOME BASE, which is like their heaven. It's like if Dr. Man went inside the Biodragon and attacked the Biomen in their own turf. Of course, the Jetmen retaliate by attacking the Villains' home base, the Vyrock.

Also, the mechas, as invincible as they seemed in previous installments, are raped pretty bad this time around. No simple burying in the ground like Maskman's Great Five Robo, no way boss. Instead the robots get their arms chopped off, their stomachs disemboweled. Even the finishing attack of the Jetmen's Jet Icarus, the Birdonic Sabre, gets defeated and chopped in half, at least TWO times in the series.

6. the Red guy was not the coolest one in the block - As much as we, as kids, wanted to be Red One or Red Mask in our little playdates, Gai Yuuki (Black Condor) will forever be the true coolest Jetman. Going his own way always and not really caring at first for world peace, he strikes a friendly rivalry with the less cool Red Hawk. Their heads butt frequently throughout the first part of the series, culminating into a flat out brawl near the series midpoint. In one instance he singlehandedly kills one enemy monster, transforming while walking in the middle of explosions. Badass.

7. MECHAS OMG WTF - there were not two, but THREE mecha in this series. Two of which combined into a bigger, more gianter (hehe, "gianter") robot (who STILL got beat up by the enemy) and the third, annoying ADHD robot turned into a cannon that served as the gianter robot's weapon. All three got their asses kicked in the end.

8. WEAPONS OMG WTF - they had these cool swords that you could attack to their blasters, and later in the series, they even had new blasters that they could lock into their old blasters, forming new, powerful, BIGGER blasters. Oh, and they had this car that turned into their cannon (which was also destroyed by the enemy - see, this enemy is really badass, or the Jetmen are wimps)

9. The Evil Plans were actually working - often you just laugh at the incompetence of the villains in making any sensible, concrete plans for world domination/world destruction/killing the heroes. Here, their plans were sensible, often worked to an extent, and would cause the Jetmen serious damage. Made me kind of admire the villains for what they did.

10. The Characters - ALL of the characters had their own feelings, nuances, likes and dislikes, even the villains. Each of the Jetmen (and each of the Villains) had at least one episode to tell their story. At the center of this are complex love polygons within the Jetmen (Red, Black, Yellow and Pink) outside the Jetmen (Gray, Red, and Maria and a little Black) which makes for very interesting characters. It also makes you sad when a major villain or character bites the dust.

This led to the series having the best developed characters in Super Sentai.

11. The ending - I can't say anything about the ending, but IMO it's one of the most surprising, shocking endings of a Super Sentai yet. Fortunately for fans of the series, the story is continued in a (probably non-canon, but meh) manga that resolves all of the hanging plot threads.

Give Jetman a try and see if you think it's the best Super Sentai Ever. Like me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cinemalaya 2007 Catchup: Ligaw Liham

Back in the day, we didn't have mobile phones or the internet. Sometimes we didn't have phones at all. I could remember in my childhood, before the days of PLDT's Zero Backlog program, of going to the PLDT center in Alabang (a 20-30 minute drive from home) just to make a call to my grandparents in Bulacan. Connecting to others was difficult, and often the only way one could communicate to another through long distances was through letters.

This theme of connection is mixed in with a man's first love in the independent film Ligaw (na) Liham. Set sometine in the 70s, in a place where letter writing may be the only line for people to communicate with the outside world, Nor is a man who is in control of this system when it suddenly stops working for one reason or another. Although placed in an outsider role in the community (he is considered the village idiot or something to that effect) he uses his power over the letter writing system to write letters to a village lass, Karen, in the place of her husband. Soon the exchange of letters makes him fall in love with the girl. The usual complications stemming from this unlikely correspondence ensues.

The film is one of the examples of increasing film production quality in recent Cinemalaya entries. Although technically there are no problems (and the film deserves some merit in terms of cinematography, editing and music,) and there are solid performances from both leads, the film may strike some as paced too slowly or overlong.

There isn't much else I can say about the film but it explores its themes adequately and gives a good, if slightly flawed, story of a first love.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cinemalaya 2007 Catchup: The Shorts

Like the films I will be reviewing, I'll just make the reviews as short as I can. Some spoilers may follow.

Doble Vista - Only saw 30% of this one. Too bad, since it was promoting itself as a noir. Being a fan of noir, I wanted to see if this really was what it was. From what I saw... maybe.

Durog - Interesting film. A hallucinogenic look into the destruction of one man's psyche, all because he wanted a fix. Well, he got a fix alright. OK performances from Baron Geisler and Roxanne Barcelo, good camerawork and solid plot.

Gabon - My friend never "got" what this film is all about. To me, it is a reflection of the cultural traditions we have regarding family. A little girl wants to follow her parents so much, she dutifully goes to school to finish her schoolwork even though she is already dead. Good performances from the non-actors.

Liwanag sa Dilim - a bit abstract, but quite intriguing from start to finish. A interesting take on Man vs. Himself. Go go Mark Gil.

Maikling Kwento - quiet slice of life film. I kinda noticed that this took place in the 80's during the waning years of Marcos' regime, although it didn't really have to do anything about that.

Misteryo ng Hapis - Too angsty for my taste. It was dripping with it and left me with a slightly sour impression. My friend liked this though, so it might just be me.

Nineball - probably the funniest short of the lot, and the least serious. Watch out for a cameo from Efren Reyes.

Rolyo - a look into a child's dreams for a better future as she collects film reels. Here she sees a world that seems alien to her, a world that she wants to reach. At least, that's how I saw it. Nice.

Tagapagligtas - one of the more serious films. Seeing that I encounter people like these everyday in the hospital, it has a personal touch to it for me. Should we judge these people for what they have done to themselves and to others? Good production values and acting.

To Ni- as a kid who often played alone, this kinda touched me a bit. OK acting from the child actor/s.

That about wraps it up for the shorts. Told you the reviews were short.

Cinemalaya 2007 Catchup: Still Life


It's been a while, hasn't it? Gearing up for posts regarding Cinemalaya 2008, let's first finish what we started last year (has it already been a year?) and get some reviews in.

Still Life

One of my favorites from last year, it details the story about a painter who, after discovering that he is suffering from a debilitating condition, seeks refuge in a remote seaside location. Here he meets a mysterious woman with her own story to tell and the two forge a peculiar bond.

See that picture above? Absolutely fantastic composition and choice of location. Great cinematography from Dan Villegas. Musicwise I have no complaints, and the production value, like the other competition films this year, has gone up a notch.

The story is quite entertaining, as it is one of the few Filipino movies that tells of a love not quite romantic, not quite platonic. Tired of the slew of sugary sweet rom-coms that have dominated Philippine Cinema since the turn of the millenium, this is fresh as fresh can come for me. Both leads deliver a brilliant performance and their on-screen chemistry is perfect. Glaiza de Castro deserves some merit as Emma, and gives a nuanced, natural performance. I look forward to seeing her in more, similar (or not so similar) productions. Watch for a cameo by John Lloyd Cruz in the beginning!

One of the few complaints I heard about the story is that it did not need the sudden twist at the end (and the twist is indeed something major that I will not spoil it here.) It works perfectly as two people meeting each other transiently in a remote place and saving each other by means of their new friendship. In some ways it draws parallels to another interesting movie that I enjoyed, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Personally it could work either way, and ending the movie before and after the twist did not have any detrimental effect of my enjoyment of the film.

There was many a teary eye in the cinema in the closing moments of the film, and there were some sniffles present too. Ultimately the film strikes me as a clever little not-quite-romantic drama that deserves its place among the greats of Philippine indie cinema.