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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Demo Disc Vol. 8: Crash's Colossal Calamity & Catastrophe

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Life Day? Anyway, Happy Holidays, everyone!

In the last single series volume of Demo Disc we looked at Get Ride! AMDriver, the one anime that Illumitoon Entertainment licensed but never released on home video. This time, though, let's do the inverse by looking at the only thing that another company ever managed to get out, but unlike when I reviewed Joe vs. Joe years ago (which was the only thing AnimeWho ever put out), this anime never managed to see a complete release. Seriously, the only thing worse than only putting out a single anime before dying out is not even being able to fully release a single anime before going into the aether.

A composite image, as the eyecatch alternate images for each side.

I won't really bother going into the history of Anime Crash, as it's actually very long & intensive. Plus, Justin Sevakis (with help from former Crash employee James Veronico) wrote a complete history on the company via ANN's Answerman column over two years ago, so just read that for more info. While I had no familiarity with Anime Crash's 90s exploits, as I wasn't in the fandom back then, I do remember when the company announced its intention to enter the anime licensing game back in 2004. Being a small outlet, the company wasn't able to grab any notable potential hits, but it definitely tried its hardest with what it had. Crash wound up licensing two Korean TV anime from 2002, Ki Fighter Taerang & Olympus Guardian, as well as being involved in the production of a car racing anime called Shiden (of which only a pilot ever got made), but in the end the only thing Anime Crash ever put out was a title that I've actually brought up on the blog before.

A Korean/Japanese co-production from 2001-2002 (which Sevakis admitted in his article had already been previously licensed & dropped by CPM before Crash got a hold of it), Geisters - Fractions of the Earth (or "Guystars", as the official romanization says) was a 26-episode TV anime that mixed together traditional 2D animation (done in Japan) with lots of CG (done in Korea), and more or less came & went when it first aired in Japan. I brought it up before on the blog due to the fact that it was co-produced by Groove Corporation, which wound up going out of business due to the supposed sudden disappearance of its CEO, who also apparently took the masters for the company's latest productions (& all of the money) with him. This wound up in the second episode of the Nakoruru OVA never being made, & the home video releases of the Xevious CG movie & both Geisters compilation movies never coming to fruition. Naturally, the collapse of Groove Corporation resulted in Anime Crash being literally incapable of bringing over the second half of the Geisters TV series, which Veronico swore was a "massive shame", & after a horribly conceived boxset release of Toshiro Mifune's Samurai Trilogy (which they assumed was in the public domain when it had been properly licensed by Criterion), plus some attempts at staying alive, Anime Crash did what it's named after by crashing & burning into nothingness in 2007.

Therefore, let's see if Geisters - Fractions of the Earth even had any potential to its first half, or if it was nothing more than a desperate grasp for anything by people who were in over their heads.

It's the 26th century, 400 years since a comet hit the Earth & brought about a second ice age. After the planet recovered, two groups of people repopulated the planet. There are the city-dwelling Dobias, the descendants of those who fled the planet & stayed in space stations to survive the comet, and the nomadic Shioru, who come from those that stayed on the planet & survived via underground bunkers. Unfortunately, both clans quickly realize that they aren't alone, as a new, monstrous race now co-inhabit the Earth, the nitrogenous Siliconians (also simply called "Creatures" by most people). To combat these beasts, the Juno Family from Dobias have created the Geisters, a special squad meant solely to combat Siliconians. After Geister Commander Leon is killed in action & a Shioru warrior named Shai Tanna is added to the quintet, new leader Dean Honos has to not only handle the fiesty Shai, but also a new Bio Suit that has been brought back from the cutting floor as it can combat a new breed of Siliconians. At the same time, however, there's also the existing strife between the Dobias & Shioru, not to mention a potential coup brewing in the mind of Elecia Juno, the sister of Dobias head Inamuna Juno.

If nothing else, one can't deny that Geisters isn't ambitious, which is easy to see within the first couple of episodes. The show is trying to juggle being an action series where humans fight for their very survival against giant monsters, with a bit of a touch of Guyver via the Bio Suits, with being a bit of a political story through the Dobias/Shioru relationship, alongside the ambition of Elecia wanting to usurp Inamuna as ruler. For most series, featuring only one or two of these elements would be enough, but this show decides to aim high. Since I can only judge the first half of this series, I don't feel like I can truly give a definitive judgment on if it actually succeeds in balancing all of these elements together. Instead, let's dissect how the first 13 episodes handle each element.

First up is the action & team dynamic of the Geisters themselves. On first glance, the team is filled with mostly stock characters & interactions between themselves. Leader Dean Honos is unsure of his actual ability but tries his hardest to lead the team as well as possible. Alcion Fama is the hard-headed member who's always trying to outdo Dean, feeling that Dean only got the promotion because of his family's noble legacy (while Al's nobility is only supposed). Shai Tanna is a feisty Shioru who has no issues with telling things like it is to others, regardless of it's her new teammates of even the senators in the Dobias council. Cris Vesta is the other female Geister who comes from a noble family, becoming a soldier to regain her family's status after her older brother died in service. Finally, Victor Deicius is the happy-go-lucky member, often being as light-heartened as possible, though when on a mission is just as reliable as anyone else. Quite honestly, Geisters doesn't try to reinvent the wheel in this regard, instead sticking with established character types, but at least none of them come off as idiotic or annoying.

As for the Dobias/Shioru plotline, this is initially showcased through a small Shioru resistance force lead by Walpa, who aims to take out the Geisters first & foremost. Aside from a minor assault on a factory early on, though, this plot doesn't take much hold until episode 8, when the Geisters are lured into a trap in the Silicon Forest by the Murcia Knights, the group of mercenaries that Shai grew up with before she was brought to Dobias by High Commander Lanbalt. In fact, this plotline isn't given more of a major focus until near the halfway point, where the cast wind up split between both Dobias & Shioru, & the latter's side of the story is explained. It really showcases how the strife between the two groups mainly comes down to how the Dobias look down on the Shioru due to their ability to leave the planet & survive while the Shioru's bunker survival strategy (& later life on the changed planet itself) suffered major losses. Not just that, but the Dobias only returned to Earth roughly 100 years prior, yet have already established a modern society through scientific advancements, which only make them feel superior. Yeah, it's mainly the tried-&-true "Science vs. Nature" storyline, but like the Geisters themselves once this plotline starts going strong it's told well.

Finally, there's the subplot of Elecia & her plot to take Inamuna's position as head of Dobias. This is actually portrayed alongside the Geisters' general equipment upgrades, like the Bio Suits being approved for usage, as this is Elecia's way of gaining favor. With the Siliconians only becoming stronger, & the Dobias council being very much into protecting their own interests, Elecia tends to gain favor with some of them easily, and not too far in she tries using that to her advantage by requesting to release the seal on "Evolution X", a mysterious power which brought destruction in its previous usage. Really, it's this subplot that probably makes the most impact in the grand scheme of things, as she winds up luring Alcion to her side by preying on his own insecurities by telling him that he has the best potential with the Bio Suits, and even showing him that she revived Leon as a cyborg. Admittedly, the revival of Leon isn't a big shock, as his death in episode 1 is rather sudden & his limp body is shown in a giant tube only a couple of episodes later; you could easily guess it from there.

With these three plotlines running concurrently, the question now is whether Geisters juggles them well together, or if it simply advances each one individually & doesn't bother to really mix them up properly. To be honest, the anime kind of throws you for a loop by giving an initial impression that winds up feeling completely wrong. Just by watching the first five episodes (the first DVD) you get the feeling that Geisters is mainly about fighting against the Siliconians, with the Dobias & Shioru having to come together to survive, made all the tougher through Elecia's own plans. After Episode 5, however, you start to barely see the Siliconians, with the only other appearances afterwards coming off more like simple reminders that they exist. Instead, the anime is more about how the Geisters wind up becoming players in all of the sides of conflict, whether it's Dean & Shai eventually winding up with the Shioru due to a ploy to frame Shai for the murder of a Dobias senator (while also being assisted with Peela, a mysterious girl identified as the "Messenger of Zennoju" by the Shioru), Alcion siding with Elecia to prove his superiority, Cris having to deal with the Dobias senate when she takes command of her family's succession, & Victor unknowingly being used for other purposes (his girlfriend Mari works for Elecia, but in Episode 13 shows signs of doubt). Interestingly enough, Geisters gives off the illusion of being an action series about a sentai-esque team fighting giant monsters using power suits, but in reality is a character drama & political intrigue series that just happens to feature the occasional action sequence.

This isn't a hentai, I swear!

Being a Korean/Japanese co-production, the staff obviously features names that most anime fans may not be familiar with, but first I want to focus on the writing staff, unlike usual. That's mainly because Geisters was written by two people who have only this series to their names when it comes to anime, head writer/series composer Naruhiko Adachi & co-writer Tokiko Inoue. Hell, Adachi seems to have never written anything again, as he doesn't even have anything else listed over at all-cinema. Taking that into consideration, along with the fact that the entire thing was conceived of in Korea (which would only complicate things), you'd think that this series wouldn't be written all too well & would likely collapse under its own ambition. While I can only speak for the first half, I must say that I am amazed at how Geisters not only doesn't fall apart half-way through, but actually tells a fairly good story. Not a grand example of originality or playing around with tradition, admittedly, but an extremely solid story nonetheless. As mentioned earlier, the show gives off a first impression of being an action series with some character development, but instead becomes all about the characters with only some action. In fact, there isn't even a heavy use of stock footage; it's there & used when expected, but overall is only shown sparingly. Of course, Episode 13 could very well be the high point of the series, with the second half botching the landing completely, but for what we got I am pleasantly surprised at how well told the story & characters are.

As for the animation itself, Geisters is truly a tale of two countries. The traditional 2D animation was done by Artland, with direction by Koji Ito (this being his biggest work), who Anime Crash erroneously credited on the DVD covers as the director of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor; Ito was actually mechanical animation director for that series. Oddly enough, though, I've also seen mention that Ito only directed starting with episode 9, which the first eight being lead by Sumio Watanabe, who has never directed anything else; I can't verify this, but it's worth mentioning. Anyway, combined with Ito also doing the storyboards & mechanical design, as well as characters designs by Kenichi Imaizumi (Yugo the Negotiator [Russia Chapter]) & Masayuki Goto (Maze, Kishin Corps), the 2D animation side of the show looks solid, though obviously relying on the some of the usual limited animation standards to get away with things like hiding the need to animate mouths & the like. The Armored Arm upper body suit that the Geisters wear look cool, but other than that the 2D animation is reserved for actual people & the environments they are in.

They tried, I'll them give them that... They really tried.

The CG by Korean studio Frame Entertainment, on the other hand, isn't too bad for the time the show debuted in, but mainly in that it wouldn't be out of place in a higher-budget video game's CG cutscenes. Unfortunately, the mixing of the two types of animation just doesn't work. While I'll give credit to Frame & Artland for trying their hardest at times to make the mix work, there's just such a giant valley between how the two visual mediums look that you can easily tell that the giant Siliconians, vehicles, Bio Suits, & even some buildings just aren't in the same world as the characters that exist around them. On their own, the 2D animation & CG are fine for their time, but together they just don't mesh. Thankfully, once the show starts focusing more on the characters than the action the CG usage is more limited, & the vehicles don't look quite as contrasting as the monsters, but I'm sure that just won't continue on into the second half, especially once the Bio Suits (& the upgraded Mega Suits) start seeing more use. An admirable effort, no doubt, & one that I think was worth the attempt at the time, but this is more of an example of people learning from Geisters' mistakes for the future.

Easily the biggest name to be attached to the staff of Geisters is Kenji Kawai, who was brought in for the music. Since it's Kawai I can assure you that the soundtrack for this show is good, but at the same time this isn't one of his better works. For a legendary anime composer like this, "good" is actually on the low end of the scale, so while the tracks themselves sound good & effectively match the scenes that they're used in, absolutely none of it really sticks in your head once you're done watching. Luckily, that's not the case for the opening & ending themes. Opener "Hold On" by Wild Peach may not exactly be a song fitting for the thematics & eventual mood of the show, but it's upbeat & jazzy sound is just infectious upon first listen, & I was very happy when I eventually found the full version a few years back; definitely a hidden gem of an anime OP. Closer "True Answer" by Joelle is much more standard by being a slow-paced piece of R&B, but it's still a well made song nonetheless. "Hold On" would only be used for the episodes that Anime Crash put out on DVD, but Volume 3 does feature the second OP as an extra. Said OP, "Wings" by Yumena Yokosuka, is another downright awesome theme song, this time by being a straight up rock song that absolutely matches the strife-filled story that had been set up in the first half; more standard in that regard, but still a great listen. Anime Crash also included the Korean OP & ED as well, with the OP all about slowly building the tempo up until the chorus, & the footage used obviously makes it look like Shai is the main character; the ED is an elegant short song that doesn't really do anything else.

The Korean OP & ED are all we get from that language, though, as Anime Crash was only given the Japanese audio for release, so let's talk about the original voice cast. The Geisters themselves are played by Tomokazu Seki (Dean; Domon in G Gundam), Kouichi Toochika (Alcion; Neji in Naruto), Tomoe Hanba (Shai; Etna in Disgaea), Masayo Hosono (Cris; Ayame in Naruto), & Katsuyuki Konishi (Victor; Kamina in Gurren Lagann), and the end results are both what you'd expect yet also against type. Seki, for example, very rarely goes into his hot-blooded screams that he's iconic for, & while Konishi starts off very goofy like a lot of characters he voices, he winds up being very somber & borderline depressed after a few episodes. That being said, Toochika delivers a lot of pompous anger & Hanba mixes together seriousness with boundless energy at times, while Hosono maintains seriousness with a bit of humanity. For the rest of the major cast shown in this first half, the late Daisuke Gouri voices Lanbalt with almost a monstrous amount of gruffness, but still maintains more than enough humanity to make him likable. Mari Yokoo (Elchi in Xabungle, Big Mama in Gangsta.) & Ayako Shiraishi (Marbet in Victory Gundam) voice the Juno sisters, with Yokoo's Inamuna coming off as very regal & in charge, even when pushed into a corner, while Shiraishi's Elecia has a nice amount of conniving & vileness. In fact, Elecia Juno was Ayako Shiraishi's final role before she retired a day after Geisters finished airing in Japan. Finally, Yumiko Watanabe (who's a guest role, essentially) does a fine enough job with Peela, though her character's true self seems to be shown only in the second half, so I can't really judge her properly.

Anime Crash's dub, in comparison, is filled with absolutely no known actors of the time, even though it was a New York production, and while there are some rather poor performances it holds up slightly better than you'd expect. That being said, however, some of the actors involved did go on to (comparatively) bigger things, if my research is correct. For example, Dean is voiced by Matt Long, who would be a main character in Jack & Bobby & have recurring roles in series like Mad Men (Joey Baird), Private Practice (Dr. James Peterson), & most recently Helix (Dr. Kyle Sommer); Long is honestly one of the best actors in the dub, too. While Victor's actor Mark McDaniels wouldn't go on to much more as an actor, though he's another solid performance in this dub, he would go on to be a stuntman in movies like Into the Wild & two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The same fate would go to Laura Marks, Inamuna's voice (though in the dub she's oddly renamed Inana), who is now a playwright & still working in New York. Finally, Tesha Buss, Shai's actress, played Rumpleteazer in Cats for two years on Broadway & now runs Good Commons, a public retreat in Vermont. If you want someone who wasn't a good choice, though, I'd say that would be Ellen Shanman, who voiced Cris. I could tell that she tried her hardest, but her voice just did not work for Cris. Oddly enough, though, Shanman would be the sole member of this dub to do more anime-related work, voicing a couple of incidental characters in Pokémon Advance & just this year was hired to write the planned Hollywood adaptation of Tiger & Bunny; whether that movie will happen is anyone's guess. Overall, Geister's dub isn't bad & generally utilized talented actors, but is admittedly nothing more than "good".

Bye bye, Japanese eyecatch, & hello, useless replacement!

Finally, a quick mention of Anime Crash's overall presentation for these DVDs. First & foremost, Crash removed every single episode title splash & eyecatch, instead relying on its own self-created CG splash to introduce each episode, which for 2004 was just weird to see done. Not just that, but if you compare the episode titles to those listed on ANN's encyclopedia & Wikipedia Japan, they don't match at all, but at the same time the Japanese audio for each episode preview uses these different titles, so I'm just left confused. Also, with the exception of Episode 13, all Japanese text slates are removed from the video, which means that listings of what each new location is & the title for each upcoming episode are gone from the video. As mentioned, though, Episode 13 keeps all of the slates, and even looks to come from a completely different master, as the video quality takes a very noticeable drop compared to all of the prior episodes. Finally, Volume 1 features a trailer for Ki Fighter Taerang (so much for that release...), while Volume 2 has a series of interviews with the dub cast & director Anthony Gentile (which is what I used to match the actors with my web searches), & Volume 3 has dub outtakes. Sadly, the outtakes aren't really entertaining at all, & the interviews are either fairly generic or blatantly self-complementary. Both Buss & Gentile talk about how Geisters is "adult anime" & not kids stuff (not their words for the latter, but so fitting), & Gentile in particular tries to hype up the show as completely revolutionary & an obvious mainstream hit in the works... Yeah, about that.

If you take the time to read Justin Sevakis' Answerman retrospective on Anime Crash, you'll come to the realization that Geisters - Fractions of the Earth could have very well been given a complete release, as the company managed to survive until 2007. No, what killed Geisters' North American release was the collapse of Groove Corporation, but the whole ordeal really seems to showcase the life of Anime Crash's attempt at entering the North American anime industry from a licensing perspective. This was a company created by fans of the medium & eventually had bigger & bigger aspirations. At the same time, though, those aspirations were fulfilled by whatever means, whether it was by releasing public domain kung-fu movies, trying to treat small name Korean animation as something bigger, or by taking the first "traditional" anime series it could get a hold of, even if it was coming from a potentially troubled licensor. All that being said, however, Geisters - Fractions of the Earth isn't a bad anime by any means, at least on the merit of the first half. Sure, the mix of 2D animation & CG just doesn't work most of the time, those expecting lots of action may be disappointed, & it doesn't aim to reinvent the wheel in any way, but this is still a rather enjoyable & intriguing dramatic story that honestly surprised me in how well it worked from a storytelling perspective. Is it good enough for me to want to import another seven DVDs from Japan so that I can see the rest of the story? Maybe not, but I also only have so much shelf space as it is, so that's also stopping me. After all, James Veronico did say that "the 2nd half is much better -- deeper plot, much better animation, and some Game of Thrones level political craziness. Though it ends like a Guyver rip-off."

Considering that Groove Corporation seemed to be the only company involved that really pushed for this anime, the chances of Geisters ever getting license rescued are likely next to nil, but at least I have a little more respect for what Anime Crash tried to put out.

1 comment:

  1. I've started adding staff for this show on ANN, and you'd likely be pleased to know that the second half of Geisters IS available online, albeit in raw Japanese and subtitled Korean. I won't say where, but I will drop its Korean title (가이스터즈) as somewhat of a hint.