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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Twinkle Nora Rock Me!: Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in favilla, Teste Ipse cum Honora

[To celebrate the 200th review here at The Land of Obscusion I offer you two ways of experiencing this piece: A text version which you can read below & a video version which you can watch via this link!]

(Lacrimosa dies illa) Haja Taisei Dangaioh, Next Senki Ehrgeiz, Ring ni Kakero 1, (Qua resurget ex favilla) Government Crime Investigation Agent Zaizen Jotaro, Rokudenashi BLUES, Crystal Triangle, (Judicandus homo reus.) Hareluya II BØY, Kingdom of Chaos - Born to Kill, Fantastic Children, (Huic ergo parce, Deus:) Asura, Matchless Raijin-Oh, Champion Joe, (Pie Jesu Domine,) Eat-Man, Para - The Parabiotic Guy, Pachislo Kizoku Gin, (Dona eis requiem. Amen.) Otoko Zaka, Dororo, B.B Burning Blood, Nora

After six years, it's time for Review #200. Come & rock me, Amadeus!

The first Nora OVA, based on Satomi Mikuriya's line of short manga, came out in Japan on January 21, 1985, but it would be another ten months before another OVA would see release. Released November 21 that same year, Twinkle Nora Rock Me! saw Mikuriya himself return to the director's, writer's, designer's, & storyboarder's chair once again, but with a completely different staff assisting him in the process. Was the near-entire year wait worth it all in the end, especially since the first OVA was rather fun & worth the watch? Please, this is 200th review on The Land of Obscusion, so it's obviously terrible but worth spreading the word about. Still, I've reviewed some real stinkers for my previous milestones, whether it was the constant downward spiral of non-quality that was Gundoh Musashi, the Frankenstein's Monster of an English adapted anime film that was Robotech the Movie, or the complete waste of time that was the son of a pitch, AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-. After all of those, I think I can handle an OVA that's barely 30 minutes long... I hope.

After helping put an end to a hostage situation at an airport, galactic bounty hunter Nora Scholar is hired by the Galaxy Police to head to Planet Dazzle to capture Fuchero, a notorious bounty who runs the planet filled with crooks & the like alongside his brother Touchino. Nora is chosen for the job because of her ESP abilities, as Fuchero is a notorious ESPer himself. After landing on the planet, Nora befriends Max, a dancer at the local bar.

Twinkle Nora Rock Me! has a slight bit of notoriety among some anime fans, like Mike Toole, who has featured this OVA on his Worst Anime of All Time panels & even wrote about it over at Anime News Network. Still, how bad could it be? I mean, it's not like it's Gundoh Musashi levels of incompetence, right?

No. Iie. Nem. Non. Nein. Nee. Nyet. Hapana. Nage. AniMéiyǒu. Aole. Ara...

What the hell is this?! I am truly at a loss for words, because I cannot fathom how the hell this was deemed to be a final product when the first impression you're given, after the opening sequence, is an entire scene of events being shown without a single bit of in-between animation. This isn't something that only occurs for a few seconds at a time, either. The entire hostage situation that Nora diffuses takes an entire two minutes & ten seconds to get through, the entire thing being shown as if you were watching nothing but colorized storyboards. Only the mouths seem to be properly animated, and only when there's no other movement going on. This isn't even the only time we see animation this non-existent, either. Half-way through there's a scene where Nora tries to convince Max to help her by trying to get him to dance to raise his spirits, which turns into a full-on dance duet that lasts a little over three minutes... Nearly all of which is done with a notable lack of in-between animation, making the performance look even worse than it was already looking.

You see, there's a difference between simply having limited animation, or even no animation at all, & what Twinkle Nora Rock Me! does. Something like Zaizen Jotaro, which is infamous for its highly limited animation, or The Violinist of Hameln, which is nicknamed "The Slideshow of Hameln" for having very few moments of actual animation in it, are purposefully done in the ways they operate, usually due to budgets or time due to them being made for TV first. At the same time, though, these two shows actually work with their restrictions to do something cool, whether it's Zaizen Jotaro's heavy use of cut-ins to change between shots & scenes, or Hameln's absolutely beautiful abundance of Osamu Dezaki-style Postcard Memories. Not just that, but the fact that these were TV shows also meant that animation errors or missing details could be fixed or added in for the home video release. Hell, even Gundoh Musashi's animation quirks (to put it in the nicest way possible) were planned to be fixed to some sort of extent via its own home video release. Yes, the first eight episodes were released to DVD in their original TV form, & became a best-seller in Japan, but there was a complete collection "Musashibox" in the works that was going to feature fixed animation... It never came out, but at least it was a possibility for Gundoh Musashi.

None of what I just said applies to Twinkle Nora Rock Me!, however. Unlike Zaizen, Hameln, or Musashi, this was an OVA, which meant that this was released straight to home video. In other words, there was not going to be an opportunity for a second chance here; what was on that VHS tape or laserdisc was what the final product was going to be. Not just that, but there was a ten month gap between the first Nora OVA & this one, so everyone involved had more than enough time to fully animate a 30 minute production. Even taking into consideration that maybe a second OVA was not originally in the works, not to mention the time needed for pre & post-production, I still think that there were plenty of days to make sure that every single scene was properly animated, with both key frames & in-between animation. It didn't even need to be well done animation; it just had to actually animate. These two infamous sequences are what Mike Toole has made known via his panels, and they definitely put this OVA into contention for "worst anime ever". Still, those are just two scenes, so is the rest of Twinkle Nora Rock Me! any good? The short answer to that would be "Absolutely not!", but how about the long answer?

First & foremost, those two scenes are the only ones to feature an absolute lack of in-betweening, minus the opening sequence at times, but one could argue that might have been done by choice. That being said, the rest of this OVA does itself no favors in the animation department, because even when it's animating properly it's not all that good. Maybe it was simply because the hostage scene affected my view for the rest of the production, but it always felt as if the anime itself was animating in a kind of janky way, never really reaching a point where the drawings truly flowed just right. It never quite reaches Gundoh Musashi's habit of constantly drawing characters off-point, but it just never really comes out quite as well as was likely hoped. Incidental characters' faces run the gamut from okay to pretty out-of-whack, & Max's face can do all sorts of weird things at times. Honestly, Nora is the most consistently drawn character (no surprise), with Fuchero & Touchino also looking good. Still, the inconsistent animation isn't the only problem with Twinkle Nora Rock Me!, since it's just not a well told or even interesting story in the first place.

Part of this honestly falls on Ms. Scholar herself, who is absolutely nothing like how she was in the first OVA. In fact, I'd say that this is a completely different universe because of how different the two Noras are. The original Nora was a bubbly, charming young woman who's outer innocence seemingly held a more tactful & dangerous person, but that's just how I saw her. This Nora, however, is outright portrayed as an ideal bounty hunter, and her catalog of ESP powers (which include teleportation, levitation, hallucinations, & downright time stop!) put her into Mary Sue territory, i.e. she's a little miss perfect. Even her personality is a complete change, going from a ditzy but always well-meaning person to a self-assured badass. This really makes this second OVA a bit of a bore, because even when you don't quite know what Nora will do next, you can tell it's going to be something that's supposed to look impressive, while the first OVA had the advantage of Nora being truly unpredictable & random. Everyone also keeps talking up how awesome & amazing Nora is, which is pretty damn lazy & unconvincing compared to how no one assumed much from the original Nora, which made her actions all the more interesting & amusing. The final battle between Nora & Fuchero is okay, though, if only because the villain outright turns into a Godzilla-esque monster for a few seconds, but that's really it.

Then there's Max, who is effectively useless in the end. Sure, he seems to know where Fuchero & Touchino's hideout is, but that information could have been obtained in a myriad of other ways. I only say this because Nora outright tells Max that he's not needed after she arrives at the hideout, with Max himself saying that he is unable to really help Nora out in battle. His only real achievement is how he deals with Touchino in the end, but even Touchino could have been dealt with any other way. Literally, Max's only purpose in this story is to give an excuse for a dance number, and considering how botched & poorly conceived that scene is it really just showcases how useless Max is in the grand scheme of things. Sure, Prof. Zachariasen in the first OVA was more of a straight man to Nora's antics than anything, but at least he was entertaining & actually contributed at times; Max is just pointless. In fact, it really feels more like Nora is simply using Max for her own means, manipulating his love of dancing in order to get him onto her side, since he initially keeps telling her to just leave & not get herself hurt. Sadly, I don't even think that this overall story could have been improved upon just by making it twice the length, i.e. what the first OVA was, simply because there's so little to be found here in the first place.

This is literally the only amusing part of this OVA.

I can only guess that a big part as to why Twinkle Nora Rock Me! is as poorly executed as it is comes down to the staff itself, which changes out nearly every major position from the original OVA. Of course, that's not counting the positions that Satomi Mikuriya himself had in the production; in fact, he was more involved in this second product. Sadly, while Nora's bounty hunter design isn't bad, it just feels so generic compared to her original OVA design, which had an oddly militaristic style to it; it added to Nora's random mystique. Anyway, aside from being the director, scriptwriter, storyboarder, & character designer, Mikuriya was also the animation director, replacing Masami Suda from the first OVA. Combine that with the fact that the "episode director" that assisted him this time around was Motoaki Suzukawa, whose only other credits are episode directing two episodes of Zenderman & handling the color setting for 1986 OVA Cool Cool Bye, and it's obvious that the actual animation of this OVA was lead by two people who were not really experienced in the actual art of animation. This is only compounded by the fact that only eight animators are listed in the credits, three doing key animation & five doing in-betweening; Mushi Pro also helped with another eight people, but that could possibly be for the backgrounds only. That doesn't sound like a big deal for for a half-hour anime, but even the first Nora OVA listed six key animators, twice as many as what this had, plus another six for in-betweening. This just feels like it wasn't even given a minimum of the care needed to put out a good product.

As I already indicated, Mikuriya's writing for this OVA isn't any good, either. For the first OVA he was able to tell a story in such a casual & lighthearted way that others would likely have told in a serious & dark manner, but all of that style & touch is completely missing here; it just feels lazy in comparison. There's also an odd amount of nonsensical moments, like Nora wearing a second outfit on her way to Planet Dazzle that's never seen after the few seconds it's shown, or the random black cyborg that joins her & Max on stage at the very end, making Max look uneasy for no real reason; hell, Nora even wears her original outfit in the intro for no discernible reason. What was the point of stuff like this? That's not to say that I think Mikuriya didn't put his all into this, but I do think that, for whatever reasons, he was unable to bring back the people that helped him make the first Nora so enjoyable & the end result here just shows. Even Yuji Ohno didn't return for the music, with his replacement being rock band Vigilante. Granted, the massive change in tone likely wouldn't have matched Ohno's jazzy style, and Vigilante's songs here definitely fit the "Rock Me" part of the title. Still, it just winds up feeling very stock for the time, and even the main theme that shares the name of the OVA, though a little catchy, doesn't have much to it beyond that since it just talks vaguely about Nora. At least "Yumehiko" from the first OVA had its oddity of being an ode to a main villain sung by Nora.

The voice cast is probably the only real high point, but that's only because it features a lot of the same actors from the first OVA; even then, though, they don't have much to work with here. Yuriko Yamamoto returns as Nora, this time delivering more of a tougher take on our heroine to match her complete change in personality. Ichiro Nagai once again voiced a main villain by playing Fuchero, and he does fine, but he has very little screen time in general here. Max is voiced by Akio Nojima, who played side character Edward Pecanson in the first OVA, and he probably tries the hardest to make his character sympathetic; I'll give him that. Finally, the late Takeshi Watabe (Inspector Arizuka in You're Under Arrest) voiced Touchino, playing a relatively stupid giant well enough. Oddly enough, both of these OVAs featured major names in voice acting of the time, like Banjo Ginga, Daisuke Gouri, & Hirotaka Suzuoki, but only in bit roles.

We're not quite done yet, though! As if to make up for the fact that this second OVA was only half the length of the original, the staff also produced a making of video that came after the end credits. Unfortunately, much like the OVA itself, Twinkle Nora Rock Me! the Extraction is a 15-minute documentary that doesn't really document much. There are three short interviews with producer/planner Norio Yamakawa, Satomi Mikuriya himself, & Yuriko Yamamoto (plus a short bit with the recording director), but none of them really say much. Yamakawa talks about how he got interested in Nora, Mikuriya explains how Nora herself is the equivalent of his "first love", & Yamamoto more or less just gives a generic account of how she had to audition for her role & how fun it was for her to voice Nora. Honestly, the main focus is on Vigilante, as their music is all over the extra, which is organized more like a series of short music videos with the interviews spliced in between each one. The shorts generally showcase Mikuriya as trying to hunt after Nora in real life, even leaving the production of this very OVA because he was bored & wanted to hunt. Not only does that make him a little like a stalker, but it almost feels like the special is admitting how bad the OVA is; even the creator/director didn't want to work on it! The entire thing just feels weird, as it even includes some (wannabe) comedic interludes, a flubbed interview piece with Yamakawa because his phone rang while talking, & the entire thing ends with a literal music video for the entire "Twinkle Nora Rock Me!" theme song. To be honest, what annoys me most is the fact that Yamamoto doesn't even get to portray the real life Nora in the special; my guess is they got a model instead. Isn't just perfect that a terrible OVA receives a just as terrible making-of featurette?

There's no simpler way to put it: Twinkle Nora Rock Me! is one of the absolute worst anime out there, made all the worse because of what it followed up. Nora, while not one of the best OVAs of the 80s, is a very fun & enjoyable way to spend an hour, with a truly unpredictable heroine that you want to keep seeing & an execution that changes things up in ways that gives it its own identity. It's follow-up, on the other hand, is an ill-defined yet bog standard story wrapped in a mish-mash of poorly written characters & plot, not to mention redefining Nora Scholar herself as an outright Mary Sue who seemingly has new powers as the plot demands. On its own that would simply be a bad second OVA, but what puts it into all-time worst territory is just a constant barrage of terribly done animation, the biggest of which are two scenes, the first being the hostage sequence itself, which are so poorly done that they don't even feature in-between animation. It's crazy that the Nora OVAs as a whole represent both the best & worst of the OVA boom, as the first is a great example of the variety of ideas & concepts that sometimes could only have been made during this era, while the second is the perfect example of how some people may have just tried to take advantage of a boom & wanted to make a quick buck, no matter how bad the product was. The only mercy this OVA gives to viewers is that it's only 30 minutes long, not including the almost-as-bad making-of special it came with, but for me, personally, Twinkle Nora Rock Me! is down there with Gundoh Musashi, Legend of DUO, & AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave- as one of the most painful & tortuous anime one can ever watch. If you're truly that curious, it was fansubbed not long ago, and you can look for that on your own.
Let me finish Review #200 with this: While I'll still try to make any future milestone reviews (250, 300, etc.) about the worst obscure anime I can find, I can almost guarantee that no future milestone subject will ever be as bad as this. I think I've truly found the bottom of this well now, and I never want to spelunk this deep ever again.

Thank you for sticking with me for 200 reviews, my readers, and while I won't promise another 200 I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

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