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page created: 5/9/07

The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

The Terror of Toony Town

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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Stan Lee Presents The Condor
Stan Lee Presents The Condor
2007 (2007) - Starz (Anchor Bay)

As if to prove just how disastrous an animated direct-to-video Hellboy could have been, we have The Condor, the latest attempt at an original superhero series from Stan "The Man" Lee. As both a creator and a personality, Stan Lee has engendered so much good will that I'm rooting for him every time he tries something new. But the sad fact is that outside of the Marvel Universe, Lee hasn't had much luck. The Condor extends that dubious track record.

Wilmer Valderrama from That 70s Show voices our hero, Tony Valdez, a spoiled brat of a rich kid whose parents own a cutting-edge robotics corporation. Tony couldn't care less about all that, focusing his energy on becoming a professional skateboarder. But then his folks are killed by their partner and he's beaten senseless, his legs left useless.

Sammi, the robotics-expert-next-door who secretly loves Tony, uses the nanotechnology to help him walk again and creates a high-tech skateboard that inevitably makes him become a superhero.

By anybody's definition, this is pretty lame stuff. The material tries desperately to be hip but it's clearly the work of older guys who have no idea what kids today actually sound and act like. Tony is a genuinely unlikable hero and his redemption as a superhero isn't nearly enough to overcome his snotty behavior of the last hour. If you've ever read a comic book before, you'll see every beat of the story telegraphed eons before they arrive. The animation is stiff and lifeless and Valderrama voices his character as if the filmmakers simply recorded the very first table read of the script and called it good.

The disc looks and sounds OK but the extras are as lame as the movie itself. Stan Lee is all over them, offering up an introduction and featuring prominently in the 12-minute featurette modestly titled Meeting of the Giants. He turns up again to offer his two cents on the characters in a lengthy gallery section and yet again to cheer you on should you choose to play Outskating, a goofy interactive game. I've never had a good time playing any non-trivia-based DVD game and this one is no exception.

I'm impressed that at his age, Stan Lee is still very much out there, seemingly as active as ever, trying new things. I grew up on his creations and nobody would be happier than me if he could come up with another Spider-Man or Hulk at this stage of the game. But if The Condor is the best he can come up with, it's time to move on. Write your memoirs, keep making cameos in Marvel movies, hell, bring back Stan's Soapbox! But please, don't "present" any more Condors. Excelsior!

Program Rating: D
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D+

Tokko 1

Tokko 1
2006 (2007) - Manga/Starz

The vast world of Japanese animation is something of a mystery to me, I confess. I've enjoyed my share of anime features, including the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. But I've never been able to get into any of the anime series like Cowboy Bebop or Neon Genesis Evangelion. Frankly, the idea of devoting hour after hour to the medium is a bit daunting. So I can't really say how the first volume of Tokko holds up to other anime series and can only suggest that it may not be your ideal introduction to the form.

The five episodes collected here introduce us to Ranmaru Shindo, a new investigator on the Mobile Investigation Force who is one of the few survivors of a horrific apartment building massacre years earlier that claimed the lives of his parents.

Ranmaru is plagued by cryptic dreams that begin to make sense when he encounters a secret branch of the police department known as Tokko. The Tokko taskforce always seems to be on the scene of mysterious, ultra-bloody murders, armed with swords that take care of possessed humans that bullets can't hurt. It appears that Ranmaru is destined to join Tokko as well, although this volume doesn't take us far enough into the series to say for sure.

The good news is that the animation here is bloody good fun, with plenty of creepy demons and swordplay to provide eye candy. And if you like your bloodletting with a healthy dose of Japanese power pop and weird sexual tension between Ranmaru and his younger sister, then Tokko is gonna send you over the moon. It was all a bit much for my tastes. Neither the story nor the style was compelling enough to make me all that excited for Tokko 2 but hey, at least it's better than The Condor.

The disc looks terrific and sounds pretty good with both Japanese and English dubs available. The extras are limited to an image gallery, the opening and closing songs presented without the credits over the animation, and most amusingly, an excerpt from a Japanese Q&A with three of the female voice talents. It's not very informative but it's very Japanese, with odd music and multi-colored Japanese subtitles plastered all over the screen.

Tokko isn't a bad series and each episode has at least one sequence that's genuinely impressive. Anime fans may have a better time with this than I did or at least an easier one, since it does seem that you need to adopt a different mindset before plunging into the world of serialized anime. If you don't have it yet, you're probably better off starting with one that's a bit more accessible.

Program Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C-

Filmation's Ghostbusters: Volume One!

Filmation's Ghostbusters: Volume One!
1986 (2007) - BCI Eclipse

I'm gonna be honest with you. I didn't really watch this show. I played the discs, sure, and glanced up at the episodes once in awhile to make sure that they were playing and looked OK. But actually sit there and watch all 32 episodes? I couldn't do it. Usually I do. I watched every second of H.R. Pufnstuf and Dungeons & Dragons for this column. But I couldn't make it through Ghostbusters. Sorry, folks.

For the record, this is the syndicated cartoon show based on Filmation's live-action TV show The Ghost Busters. It follows the sons of the original characters, Kong and Spenser, teamed up with Tracy the gorilla as they... y'know, bust ghosts, usually foiling a scheme by the nefarious Prime Evil.

The concept was brought back to ride the coattails of the unrelated 1984 movie, only to run smack dab into a competing cartoon that was based on the film. It's a mixture of comedy and adventure with episode-ending positive reinforcement messages for the kids. It's no better or worse than most other animated shows of the mid-80s, which is part of its problem. Regardless of what property laid claim to the title first, kids tuning in to a Ghostbusters cartoon did not want to see a gorilla and a couple of low-personality bumblers in safari gear. To distinguish itself from the competing The Real Ghostbusters, Filmation's Ghostbusters needed to stand apart and emerge as the clearly superior program. It never really did.

If however you have fond memories of this show growing up, BCI Eclipse and disc producer Andy Mangels have done their usual superlative job bringing it to DVD. Picture quality is cleaned up as much as humanly possible and while some dirt and scratches remain, it's hardly noticeable. Special features are on disc six, perhaps not as comprehensive as some releases from the company but still a lot more than you might be expecting from a release like this. Producer Lou Scheimer, writer Robby London and directors Tom Sito and Tom Tataranowicz provide on-camera interviews, none of which are particularly lengthy but are fairly interesting. Unfortunately, Scheimer's piece is shortest and his comments are the least illuminating. Animation fans will find a complete slideshow of the storyboards for episode 22 and galleries of model sheets and sketches. There's also the promo pilot sent to networks selling the show, an anti-drug PSA, a gallery of promotional art and a PDF file on DVD-ROM of the script to the ambitious five-part origin story arc. Best of all is the complete first episode of the original live-action series starring Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch with a guest appearance by Billy Barty. If you still harbor doubts as to which Ghostbusters came first, this should lay those to rest. If nothing else, it's interesting to compare the cartoon to its predecessor and as far as I'm concerned, any excuse to see Billy Barty is a good one.

BCI Eclipse does a great job with these sets and I'm sure that fans of this show will be thrilled to get it in their hot monkey paws. And having seen what they're capable of on shows I'm not particularly interested in, I'm eagerly awaiting that Jason of Star Command set, fully aware of the fact that I run the risk of wondering what I ever saw in the show in the first place.

Program Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Adam Jahnke

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