Joshi puroresu cage fight carnage

This month we reviewed Chickfight, and one of the flaws I criticized was that the cage-fight wasn’t up to the standard I expected from such things. To show you exactly what I mean, here’s the cage-match which I mentioned there, between Tomoko Watanabe and Kumiko Maekawa vs. Etsuko Mita and Mima Shimoda. It’s in two parts, so sit back and enjoy it.

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The player will show in this paragraph

Lethal Panther 2

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“If I could somehow peel off the half of the disc this is on and dispose of it, I would.”

While there’s no denying the quantity of action in this film, the result feels more like an all-you-can-eat ticket to Taco Bell than anything else: you find yourself yearning for some quality rather than the Grade-D battles we get to see here. The bar is set remarkably low after two sentences, literally, of exposition. We are hurled into a long battle between two groups, about whom we know little and care less, running around an abandoned building, firing weapons with complete abandon and engaging in really poorly-staged wirework, in lieu of actual martial-arts. Y’see, the point of using wires in a gritty urban flick like this, is to enhance the impact of the moves, not to turn the players into Peter Pan and Wendy. Having endured a couple of his movies, I am forced to the conclusion that Ko is definitely in the lower tier of action directors in Hong Kong.

And his talents in other cinematic areas seems hugely in doubt too. Shot in the Philippines – where film-stock is cheap – it only marginally qualifies as a girls-with-guns flick, and is largely included here as a warning to anyone who is expecting anything like the original movie. While that was a guilty pleasure, for its “anything can happen” vibe, this one is simply dull. It’s mostly about a local cop, Albert (Del Rosario, I presume), hunting down the criminals responsible for the death of his wife. Oshima plays a Japanese Interpol agent, sent over to target the same gang, but she is sadly wasted: she’s got enough talent that she doesn’t need to fly-by-wire, and there are just enough flashes of her athletic ability to make you wish there were more.

Huge chunks of this don’t make any sense, and you’ll soon find yourself tuning out and not caring as things career from one badly-executed fight or chase to the next. Things blow up, people fight, and large numbers of rounds of ammunition are expended, to little or no actual impact on the viewer. It’s films like this that drove a stake into the heart of the genre as far as Hong Kong was concerned, in the first half of the 1990’s.

Dir: Phillip Ko [as ‘Cindy Wong’ – don’t ask me why]
Star: Monsour Del Rosario, Gabriel Romulo, Yukari Oshima, Sharon Kwok

Dirty Pair Flash, Mission 3: Random Angels

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The final – to date – installment of Dirty Pair adventures on the screen, is a bit of a mixed bag. Of the five episodes here, two are pretty good, one mediocre, and two are more than a tad creepy, thanks to the level of, from what I recall of my days in anime, used to be called ‘fan service’. There is an entire episode centered around beach volleyball, which is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to see Kei and Yuri in a variety of miniscule costumes, bordering on the fetishistic. Now, I just don’t find cartoons sexy – no, not even Jessica Rabbit – and given both of them are technically under-age, it all gets a tad sleazy. Things get worse in the fourth episode, when an even younger boy, rich and clever, but very weird, builds a mechanical replica of Yuri and falls in love with it.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, when they keep on track, the show has the right mix of goofy humour and collateral damage that we love. Witness the second installment, where our pair find themselves being hunted by Monica De Noir: someone younger, deadlier and with an even more saccharine approach to life, whose weapons include things like a giant killer teddy-bear. That’s got some nice jabs at the Sailor Moon school of anime, though since Flash takes some aspects of that show on-board, it does count as biting the hand somewhat. Also enjoyable was the final episode, where Berringer, a villain in a military hard-suit who was jailed thanks to Chief Poporo, lays siege to WWWA headquarters, with vengeance atop his list of priorities. It’s kinda Die Hard crossed with The Terminator, and I was sorry to see that one finish. Completing the set is an episode where Kei has to nurse a baby through a hostile landscape; emphasis on a) ‘nurse’ and b) ‘hostile’, which is also kinda odd to Western eyes. Having always preferred Yuri to Kei, this was never going to be one of my favorites.

All told though, it is a significant improvement on the dire previous series, returning the focus to what made the Dirty Pair entertaining, in a cheerfully destructive way. It certainly feels something of a mis-step to separate Kei and Yuri, as in a couple of the pieces: the interaction and character contrast between them is part of the show’s appeal. However, when they’re together and working in synch, they still represent one of the best double-acts in anime history, and I hope there will perhaps be more Dirty Pair available down the road.

Dir: Takahito Kimura
Star (voice): Rika Matsumoto, Mariko Koda, Shigezou Sasaoka, Mika Kanai

Dirty Pair Flash, Mission 2: Angels at World’s End

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Where are Kei and Yuri, and what have you done with them? That might be the anguished cry of the Dirty Pair fan after watching these five episodes, most of which eschew any efforts at high-octane action, in favour of generally unamusing comedy and tedium. All five parts are set on World’s World, a theme-planet that recreates 20th-century life for tourists. Our heroines are sent there because the computer is virus-infected, to bodyguard the network engineer Touma (Ono) who is going to fix it. Their presence becomes necessary, as it’s soon clear someone is out to stop Touma from doing his job. That only occupies the bookend episodes: the middle three are, while still set on the same planet, largely unconnected. In them, Kei and Yuri must look into ghostly goings-on at a girls’ school, help Touma with his love-life and bring a con-artist to justice.

Wow, this is bland and forgettable. Two of the episodes are closer to shaggy-dog stories, with twists in the tail that might as well open with flashing neon signs indicating their presence. This is not the Dirty Pair I signed up for. I signed up for the ones with the large weaponry, capable of taking out entire cities with a shrug of denial and an oversized weapon. Not these…bimbos, more interested in the romantic dalliances of a feeble supporting character than in a bit of the old ultraviolence. Really, the direction taken in this slate is a good example of why I started to lose interest in anime after the mid-90’s: a dumbing-down and kiddification of the medium, that largely removed everything that attracted me to it to begin with. I blame Pokemon.

The setting has a lot of scope: the creators could potentially have thrown Kei and Yuri into any era and any location [can you imagine them in, say, the Wild West or feudal Japan?]. Appreciating that, dumping them into modern era Tokyo demonstrates a dearth of imagination that borders on the sad. There are occasional flashes of what you would expect from the series, such as the final episode, which becomes a moderately-rousing chase after the perpetrator behind both the computer virus and the attacks on Touma. That just simply throws the failings inherent in the rest of the episodes into even sharper relief. I never previously thought that the Dirty Pair could ever be boring; I guess I have this set of OAVs to thank for convincing me otherwise, as I spent far too much of them wondering how much longer there was to go.

Dir: Takahito Kimura
Star (voice): Rika Matsumoto, Mariko Koda, Kenichi Ono, Akio Ootsuka

Dirty Pair Flash, Mission 1: Angels in Trouble

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The surprising thing about this, is that the six episodes, basically, form a single plot, a radically different approach to the first phase anime, where the individual OAVs stood on their own, with little or no ongoing story arc. Here, the parts mesh, starting with the pair, off-duty, coming into possession of an encrypted card, which they must get back to 3WA headquarters, in the face of significant opposition. From this develops the uncovering of a galaxy-wide conspiracy involving the malevolent Lucifer group, which must be foiled, since they have control of galactic communications. However, a significant subplot involves Lady Flair, a sniper who humiliates Kei in the second episode, provoking her into a fury which leads, later on, to our redheaded spitfire quitting the 3WA in order to pursue Flair on her own terms.

There’s some interesting background provided, in that Kei and Yuri are not the first to bear the “Lovely Angels” name for their employers. It seems to be more like the “Double 0” prefix, though perhaps limited to one pairing at any given time. Anyway, it seems the reign of the previous incumbents, Molly and Iris, ended when the former was killed on the job, and Iris quit, to vanish from the scene. Savvy readers may be already making a connection to the previous paragraph, but you’ll find no spoilers here. No. Not at all. I can neither confirm nor deny any such thoughts.

I can’t help feeling this wasn’t as good as it could have been, given the components, which have potential. Maybe’s it’s the relationship between the heroines which is the problem; efforts to show them changing, from initially dislike into devoted partners, never convince on any significant level. All the rest of the elements are certainly present, from the major urban renewal scheme initiated by the demolition company of Kei+Yuri, Inc. in the first episode, through lightly-cheesecakey costumes to wholesale mayhem at an airport where everyone is packing heat, and there are enough good moments and fun to keep me amused. But the pair (Kei especially) are less heroic, savvy women, than two peeved, heavily-armed, teenage, girls. As we already have someone in the house who fits 3/4 of that bill – thankfully, not “heavily-armed”! – the appeal of this series is naturally diminished.

Dir: Takahito Kimura
Star (voice): Rika Matsumoto, Mariko Koda, Hazime Koseki, Yumi Touma

Chickfight

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“Probably the best American women’s wrestling DVD I’ve seen to date.”

This 8-woman tournament took place on October 2004 as part of All Pro Wrestling’s Halloween Hell weekend, in in Hayward, California and.was the first under the ‘Chickfight’ banner. If you’re used to the Diva “matches” [quotes used advisedly] put on by the WWE, this will come as a pleasant surprise – it’s closer to the Japanese style, where technical skill is more important than breast implants. Perhaps the most surprising thing is the length of the bouts: rather than being a five-minute distraction, 15 or 20 minutes being not uncommon. The wrestlers come from Mexico and Japan as well as the US, though they really deserve better than both the location, which appears to be a lock-up garage complete with a roll-up door on one side, and the crowd, the bouts taking place in front of an audience that hardly seems to number fifty.

That said, the women still give their all, and Sugey is probably the most impressive, both in her quarter-final contest against Candice LaRae, where she totally destroy her opponent into unconsciousness, and then again in her semi-final match versus Nikki Roxx, where the pair roam turn the entire venue into the ring. Meanwhile, the other half of the draw sees Cheerleader Melissa – who can now be seen on TNA as Awesome Kong’s “Islamic” sidekick, Raisha Saeed – move through the tournament, defeating her opponents, Tiffany and Christie Ricci. The contests there are more evenly-balanced, though probably also count as somewhat less memorable – the acid test being that they failed to distract us as much from the appointed task of packing up boxes, in preparation for our imminent move. The final is a steel-cage match between the Princess and the Cheerleader [which, if it’s not a Disney movie, should certainly be one], held on a later evening – likely a wise decision, since otherwise, the wrestlers would be fighting their third contest in one night.

To be honest, the finale was a bit disappointing, since we believe it’s not a real steel cage match until the phrases “busted wide open”, “mask of blood” or “Oh, the humanity!” are used. This was far more like a regular wrestling bout inside a wire fence than anything, and the cage also hampered the camerawork, leaving me feeling like I was watching proceedings on CCTV. It didn’t help that the commentators didn’t know the rules for the fight, and weren’t aware that escaping the cage made you the winner. Really, it’s a pale shadow of a cage match when compared to something like the 1997 tag-bout, Las Cachorras Orientales (Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita) vs. Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe. That, dear readers, is a cage-match [and can be found on our video page for April 2009]. Overall, however, it’s a good-value package with some quality content and despite occasional qualms about the production values, I intend to check out other entries in the series down the line.

Star: Princess Sugey, Cheerleader Melissa, Nikki Roxx, Christie Ricci