Monday, 10 January 2011

Show-stealing and Plot-hole Avoiding: NEEDLESS

Some comic relief situations are so overused they almost become enjoyable again...

One of the elements of animated shows by the japanese that has kept me watching them since a child is how most are a single season production with a story arc. When I was a young lad whose father decided to show off the english dubbed Space Battleship Yamato he had purchased on a whim to me, it astounded me that I could watch a television show where there was an actual conclusion. Instead of frantically flipping through a TV guide every week only to find the things I wished to watch had been thrown to different time slots again, or that I had missed an episode due to a double screening the previous week, I had something complete. I wasn't just seeing fragments, or a new foe of a week, I was seeing a tale I could compare to the novels I was reading. I was one of those lads weened on Tolkein you see, so a large narrative didn't scare me.

Of course, one of the biggest problems we face as fans of this medium is that while we get plenty of endings, most of them still wind up terrible. Perhaps it's because the staff are trying to cram a 20 hour visual novel into thirteen episodes (like every Nitro+ adaptation since they first gained attention). Perhaps there were severe budgeting issues (see: every Hideaki Anno or GONZO adaptation). Perhaps it's a comedy that doesn't need an ending, yet they try to make a character arc anyway (Kannagi). Perhaps the director's insane and has some serious grudges (most Yoshiyuki Tomino shows). Or perhaps the source material simply got, well, bad (Dullalala). Regardless, it's all so easy to watch every show expecting to be ultimately disappointed, when we should be satisfied and ready to get on with our lives.

So it was with much trepidation that I first watched the comic Needless become a cartoon .It's a stupid, shameless and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek superpowered action romp with a series of events that just keep ramping up the madness. So, perfect for being turned into a mediocre show that tries to stay inoffensive for television, right?

Well, it starts strong. Madhouse employ some of their most stylish animators to showcase Imai Kami's darkly-lined angular men and mechanics. Action has velocity and explosions are large. The intentional sex jokes and bad puns are all there. The plot's covering events just as they are. All goes well!

Then the middle starts to happen, and the budget cuts start popping up. More stock backgrounds appear during action. More koreans appear in the credits. Yet, the show keeps its relentless pace. A good ten or so episodes are spent in a single room, but the combat and constant influx of new opponents keeps it fresh.

Then new opening and ending sequences start. It removes the thumping heavy metal opening with such elegant lyrics as WE ARE MODERN STRANGE COWBOYS and the ending that somehow highlights everything wrong with appealing to creepy nerds while still convincing them to buy the inevitable hug pillows and figures of the characers featured. A far blander rock song now opens the show, and a far more innocuously cute ending sequence plays.

Yet the show itself keeps charging ahead.

Then we reach the climax. Two episodes of inevitable flashback occur, but they don't feel tacked-in. They're consistent with earlier mysteries introduced, and provide a large amount of resolution. Then the show diverges completely from the source material with two and a bit episodes to go, precisely because it needs to have a worthwhile ending.

And if you hadn't read the source material before hand you wouldn't notice.

You see, while the animation takes some hits, the writing stays solid. The plot stays consistent with its own degree of madness. Indeed, some of the conclusions it reaches may confuse the viewer if they decide to see how the comic handled things, as they both make sense in their own way. Sure the actual protagonist, young Cruz Schild spends most of the climax on the sidelines, but I didn't mind. There is no doubting that in this show, his overly muscular and hotblooded comrade-in-arms Adam Blade is who you're really watching this for. Just to hear him make another inappropriate comment. To see him steal another superpower. To see him punch some bad dudes who need to be punched. And it delivers on this.

I'm not going to say it's the greatest production of all time, nor that everyone should watch it. It's undoutedly a show for lads who want to switch off their brains. However, if you want to see an adaptation that doesn't leave you wondering why you bothered spending 12 hours of your time, give it a whirl. You might be surprised.

So, how about you? Have you seen anything that ended well lately? Tell me your thoughts!