Merry Men? (Mania.com)

By:Matt Kamen
Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So, catch anything good on TV this weekend? Probably not, in America. Here in the UK though, we had the premiere of House of Flying Daggers: The Series.

No, wait, I'm sorry. I meant the new Robin Hood series, not that you could tell the difference until about halfway through. Robin and Much, his former manservant, pause on their way home to Locksley from fighting in the Crusades to help a clothmaker dig a ditch in return for a hearty meal. A fight breaks out when Robin (almost without reservations) succumbs to the clothmaker's daughter's wiles. A jarringly out of place fight scene ensues as Robin and the clothmaker clash swords as they dart between flowing green sheets and across an open air structure, allowing for many flips and twists. I know one of the aims of the series is to update the mythology for a new generation but visually lifting from kung fu cinema be it intentionally or otherwise lent a rather odd feel to the introductory episode of a series based on one of Britain's most enduring folk tales.

Afterwards, once Robin and Much return to Locksley, we begin to see the brutality of the Sheriff of Nottingham's regime and the show improves dramatically. Up until this point, Robin had been little more than a roguish vagabond but give him some injustice to rile against and the character really comes to life. The majority of the regular cast are introduced from this point Will Scarlet, Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff and Marian, no longer a maiden in this version; instead an updated independent woman fully capable of defending herself. Marian and Robin clearly already have a history at this point and a frosty one at that. One omission is Friar Tuck, though executive producer Dominic Minghella said in an interview in this week's Radio Times (think TV Guide, America) that they would consider the character if a second season is commissioned.

The performances aren't perfect yet, with Keith Allen's Sheriff in particular coming across as more than a little camp almost too villainous to be taken seriously. Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne shows more potential as a villain, if his character moves beyond the petulant thug he was here. I think the central performance of the show was the pairing of Jonas Armstrong and Sam Troughton as Robin and Much respectively. The two play off each other wonderfully, an important factor in a show and story as deeply rooted in camaraderie as Robin Hood is.

Bar the bewildering first few minutes of Kung Fu Hood, "Will You Tolerate This?" does a very satisfactory job of introducing most of the principal characters and explaining the world they're living in. Sub-plots are set in place Guy seemingly knows Robin prior to his return, Much inexplicably breaks down in tears at one point, hinting at tortured memories and Marian and Robin's back-story is yet to be told providing more than enough hooks to come back next week. It's not quite at the quality level of Doctor Who, the time slot for which Robin Hood occupies, but the potential is definitely there to match and possibly even surpass it.

Rapture Tube

After resolving their issues with Sky, at least temporarily, cable channel Rapture are about to launch their new anime-centric show, Anime Nation. A clip from the first episode of voice actress Monica Rial being interviewed by an animated mascot character named Kanki has been 'leaked' onto the internet and can be seen at You Tube. While it's fantastic to see a show centred solely on anime on UK airwaves, Kanki either needs to be seriously improved or dropped entirely or Rapture risk trivialising both the show and the subject matter with comparisons to other kiddy TV mascots such as Gordon T. Gopher or Edd the Duck.

IMAF

This year's International Manga and Anime Festival is a month away. IMAF is a celebration of anime and manga and artists inspired by the medium, with one of the key attractions of the event being the art displays and competitions. The deadline for entries into this year's design and animation competition has been extended until Monday 16th September. Last year's event saw such talents as Michiru Morikawa emerge and hopefully we'll see equally high quality entries this year. The event itself is held from the 10-14th November at London County Hall in Westminster.

New DVD Picks for 09/10/06

A quick correction for last week's DVD picks Panda Z volume 1 has been pushed back to 4th December according to Play.com. This is the second delay for the title but, as with the first, is probably due to the unique packaging being difficult to print.

Gerry Anderson The Monochrome Years

Gerry Anderson is the creative genius behind well-known shows such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray. Before those popular series, he was responsible for some lesser known children's shows including Four Feather Falls, rumoured to be the basis for Woody's Round-Up in the Toy Story films. This rather hefty collection collects most of Anderson's works prior to the introduction of colour TV in the UK. This 17-disc set offers complete runs of Supercar, Fireball XL5 and the aforementioned Four Feather Falls and the first series of Torchy the Battery Boy. A fantastic archive collection and a nostalgic look at some classic kids shows as well.

Texhnolyze: Volume 6

The penultimate volume for this bizarre yet beautiful anime series of cyborg boxers. From the ever-so-slightly deranged mind of Yoshitoshi ABe, also the creator of the existence-questioning Serial Experiments Lain and the ethereal Haibane Renmei, Texhnolyze is deliberately hard to grasp and is perhaps better suited to the film student's domain but starkly beautiful show to watch nevertheless.

Ju-On: The Grudge 2

A two-disc release of Takashi Shimizu's creepy haunted house sequel. We learn more of Toshio, the spirit that controls the house in question, in the film proper (raising some parallels with Sadako of Ring fame) and the release is supported with a glut of extras including interviews with creators, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, making ofs, international promotional footage and a commentary track on the film itself with Asian cinema expert, Bey Logan.

That's it for this week. Thoughts? Comments? Hatemail? Contact me at mattkamen@gmail.com