Ongoing Investigations: Case #131

Buddha is one of Vertical’s most acclaimed and best-selling Tezuka manga. So the fact that Toei Animation produced Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure as part 1 of a trilogy of high budget movies adapting the legendary manga caused a good deal of anticipation in the anime community. While the movie is competent it sadly does not live up to its potential. Having to adapt eight pretty hefty volumes in three movies is quite a task. So they have to compress and rearrange some of the material. It can be a bit disconcerting to anyone who read the books but I did find it took me too far out of the story. The main problem is the movie is about as subtle as a neon pink elephant with a boom box playing a heavy metal cover of Pink Elephants on Parade. The original manga knows how to guide the pace of the story and your emotions so things come off as organic. The movie goes boom boom boom from one scene to another without any real elegance. A story like this needs time to breathe so the powerful scenes are more resonant. But with no tonal shifts everything becomes a monotone instead of a constant high. The soundtrack in pretty much over your shoulder the whole movie screaming in your ear the themes of each scene. Everything has a slightly cheesy feeling by the fact that the music is always in your face ham-fistedly trying to invoke an emotional reaction out of you. The animation is clearly high budget and theatrical but the direction robs any of the impact that would have had. It is not that this movie is bad. The problem is that it is so much lesser when compared the amazing source material it is based on.

Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure is the first of three planned films. I have never read the original manga so this was my introduction to the series as well as the figure of Buddha who I only know a minimal amount about. The film is well and truly a fable so with that comes some things you either accept or don’t. With a fable there is a lot of grand gesture and speech, everything that happens is there with utmost importance to teach us something or drive home a point. And to that end, cut out are the little pieces that make up a character; they are more an idea than anything else. However, even rolling with that there are certain aspects of this movie that don’t jive. It was clear the filmmakers had a ton of material to get through which created some incredibly abrupt scene changes so much so that emotional impact was lost. The film is split about 50/50 between Siddhartha (who becomes Buddha) and Capra (a boy who rises in the caste system) however by the end of the film I was unable to fully link these two. At least not enough to justify spending so much of their precious little time on Capra but perhaps that will be resolved in the subsequent installments. And finally, I kept thinking that movie was over time and again but then it would just keep going. Buddha: The Great Departure isn’t an overly long film but because of its execution it wore out its welcome.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a delightfully ridiculous manga series. If you have only seen part 3 aka Stardust Crusaders you don’t know what you are missing. Parts 1 and 2 are distinctly cruder than Hirohiko Araki’s later works but there is still that divine insanity from the beginning. Phantom Blood is where we first meet the infamous and beloved nogoodnik Dio Brando as well as the start of the Joestar bloodline. One dead main character later we skip to Battle Tendency and a new member of the Joestar family, who will be familiar to fans of part 3. Jonathan must face 4 ancient near invincible vampires instead of one crazy powerful vampire. These first two parts are very clearly inspired by Fist of the North Star with the art style, character design, and martial arts emphasis but instead of using an ancient assassination martial art to kill post-apocalyptic warlords they use an ancient sunlight martial art to kill super vampires. The art is a bit ugly and crude by the story is breathtaking. We have all the crazy characters named after bands, musicians, and songs. We have top hat wearing Italian martial artists, poisoned wedding rings, vampiric Jack the Ripper, honorable cyborg Nazis, and epic bromance. The fights are always clever and unexpected with both sides actively working to out think each other more than just over power each other. Also characters on both sides die left in right. They kill the main character of Part 1 and the minor characters are even more likely to die. I could describe to you every scene in detail and it would still be surprising to read it. If you can get past the art there is no reason not to start reading Jojo’s.

I was finally able to rectify my never having seen the Galaxy Express 999 movie last weekend. It is the story of young Tetsuro’s journey through space for vengeance against the man (robot?) that killed his mother. When the film starts he is living on the streets where he is trying to steal a pass to climb aboard the Galaxy Express and thus fate leads him and the beautiful, mysterious Matael together. Needless to say they do board the train bound for the Mechanized Empire. Each stop off they visit adds another look at humanity and how the mechanization of people has affected the universe, none very positive. It also has a fair bit of action, especially as Tetsuro gets closer to his goal of finding Count Mecha. There are even cameos by Queen Emeraldas, Tochiro, and Captain Harlock which culminate in the final battle. I have to say the famous song from the movie, while a joy to sing, doesn’t seem to really fit the tone of the film. It is a melancholy movie with themes about what it is to be human, to live and love. Considered a classic of anime, it deserves its reputation.

Not being able to read Japanese means that most of the time when I start reading a manga series I have a good sense of how a series is going to flow because people have been reading it for a book or two before I even start chapter 1. So with GEN Magazine volume 2 I am pretty much on the ground floor with everyone else who is probably reading these stories. Wolf mainly focuses on the relationship between father and son in this chapter. We get a good deal more insight into Naoto’s deadbeat dad and their relationship. The cast has grown a bit with a comic relief boxer and an actual female character. I am curious to see how long it takes from them to revisit the Sumo wrestler we met in the first chapter but that might take a while as the story is probably going to focus on the boxing training for a bit. VS Aliens continues it quirky story with Sakuma getting drawn in the strange friendship of Kitaro and Segawa. I am curious if an actual aliens are involved or if this is Segawa’s method of dealing with an empathic power. Is Sakuma running from aliens, Yazuka, or something else? I’m curious to see where they are going to take the story. KAMEN is still clearly in the set up phase. We learn that the masked general is of the female persuasion and that the people above her are not the most kind-hearted of chaps. We also learn that the masked man has a bit more on an uneasy alliance with his mask than a partnership. Souls continues to focus on the parts of Japanese horror manga that I generally have no interest in. I don’t mind horror when it is mixed with another genre but straight up it just turns me off. All the chapters in this volume are building chapters so while I still can’t definitely make an opinion I am still interested to see where three of the four stories are going. That is better than the percentage that Meat Loaf would give you.

GEN Magazine volume 2 continues the stories from the first. Each title surprised me in what kind of story it was telling, my first impressions weren’t fully correct. I was surprised by the clipped pace of Wolf’s second chapter as Naoto starts to integrate himself into the boxing gym. We meet a couple of new characters, have a bit more humor, and Naoto’s father makes a proclamation. Some of the fight scenes here are really nice looking and stand out. We also don’t see Shota from the first chapter so I’m wondering if his story isn’t actually being told here either. While more humor was present in Wolf, less was in VS Alien this time around as the kids go on the run. You can slowly see the bonds of friendships cropping up in what still seems like a simple story but more serious. KAMEN’s focus changes a bit for this chapter as well introducing us to the world and its figures more. I’m curious how the prisoner that we have glimpsed who has given us a little info is going to tie into the story. They have been able to make me ask questions and want them answered with this chapter. I read the next chapter of Souls despite not being crazy about the first, you learn more about the mother and things flip around a bit. This seems to be leading to a more frightening height but that only cements it not being for me. Another positive volume from GEN with potential to spare.

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