Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Animation: Mad Monster Party (1967) and R.O.D. The TV (2003)

Here are two Animation Quick Picks.  First up is Mad Monster Party, that most of us of a certain age have probably seen at sometime in our youth, but it hasn't been as widely circulated or broadcast in recent years.  The animation style will be instantly recognizable to those who grew up with Rankin/Bass holiday specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer (1964) and Frosty the Snowman (1969).  Because of the association between Rankin/Bass and holiday specials, many people mistakenly believe that Mad Monster Party is a Halloween special.  Instead it is a feature-length film, not a television special, that parodies several well known movie monsters.  Personally, I haven't seen the film since childhood, and I look forward to adding it to my queue when it begins streaming on Netflix Instant View this Friday, 4/22/11.

Mad Monster Party (Jules Bass, USA, 1967, 95 minutes)
Netflix: Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller lend their vocal talents to this bizarre stop-motion animated parody of horror films. Dr. Frankenstein makes plans for his retirement and convenes a meeting of all monsters to announce his replacement. As word spreads that the doctor is going to choose his young nephew for the position, the visiting creatures plot a coup d'état that would leave Dr. Frankenstein retired ... permanently. Netflix link.
Begins Streaming 4/22/11

I have also begun watching R.O.D. the TV on Hulu over the past few days.  I caught the later half of the series when it played late nights on G4 several years ago, and it is interesting to go back and finally catch the first half of the series.  While this might seem to be strange praise, what I liked about it the first time around was that I had no idea what kind of fictional world this was supposed to be, but the political reality of this alternative universe slowly revealed itself.  At the time I was also in the dark about the connections to not just one but two previous anime and manga properties.  The Paper Sisters (Michelle, Maggie, and Anita) are from the Read or Dream manga, while the first character we are introduced to, Nenene Sumiregawa, is from the Read or Die manga and OVA anime.  This leads to some jarring revelations if you are not familiar with these backstories, namely that the Paper Sisters are "paper masters" who can manipulate any knid of paper to form a wide variety of objects and weapons.  The Paper Sisters are assigned as bodyguards for the Nenene, and the first few episodes slowly develops their relationships as well as foreshadows the return of the protagonist from Read or Die, Yomiko Readman, who is Nenene's long lost best friend, and an even more powerful paper master than the Paper Sisters.

While Episode 14 explains much of the alternative universe political backstory for the series, suffice to say for now that the central conflict that evolves is between the British Library and the Chinese publishing company Dokusensha, who are battling for control of a series of books that hold the key to global domination.  The Paper Sisters, Nenene, and Yomiko are eventually caught up in this international conflict, even as they try to resolve their more personal and domestic conflicts.  What I like about the show is the interesting mix of tones as the domestic melodrama merges with some quite exciting and dynamic action sequences.  Once you accept the seemingly limitless power of ordinary paper in the hands of the paper masters, the show does reward you with endlessly inventive ways in which the paper masters use that power.  In other words, the show often displays the qualities I associate with great science fiction (though I don't know if this fits in that genre, strictly speaking) in that you learn the rules of the fictional world piece by piece as you watch it, and new twists on your understanding of that world are gradually revealed.  This is true both for the paper masters powers as well as the political reality of the British Library and Dokusensha. As I mentioned before on my earlier entry on Death Note, there are not too many anime series that I have watched from beginning to end, but I look forward to finally catching up with all of R.O.D. the TV in the coming days.

R.O.D. the TV (Koji Masunari, Japan, 2003, 26 episodes) 
Anime News Network: Three girls named Anita, Michelle and Maggie are hired to protect Japanese author Nenene Sumiregawa during her stay in Hong Kong. In an incident where the "Paper Sisters" save Nenene from a disgruntled author, Nenene discovers that the sisters have the capability to control paper at their own will - an ability once used by her long-lost friend Yomiko "The Paper" Readman. Arriving in Japan after an airliner incident, the Paper Sisters move into Nenene's apartment and become her freeloading bodyguards. Hulu link.

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