Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: B+
- Packaging Rating: B
- Menus Rating: A+
- Extras Rating: N/A
- Age Rating: 18 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Critical Mass Video
- MSRP: 79.99
- Running time: 315
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Cool Devices
Cool Devices Box Set
By Joe McCulloch
February 07, 2002
Release Date: March 07, 2000
Be gentle, this is my first time. Recently, I got hold of the Cool Devices Box set, and was looking for some alternate opinions. Aside from one post on the board, I found none (not surprising... Cool Devices falls into the netherworld of "H" and many would have little to do with it..... hell, Amazon wouldn't even carry the damn thing). So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. This review first showed up on the message board, and here it is again with a few changes....
This is a review of disk one only, as it is all I have watched so far... the "box set" is literally just that: the 3 DVDs stuffed into a box (with recycled art... wish there was something more special... ah well). While shrink-wrapped, the 3 cases do fit rather snugly, but they come out easily once they are liberated from their plastic prisons. I'd have still rathered a Pioneer-style cardboard explosion, but hell... it's Cool Devices. Even the DVD cases are one notch below the status quo in terms of quality; they are deep and made of rather flimsy plastic. Nice art, though, and descriptions for ALL the episodes are included on the back of the box in addition to particular descriptions on the back of each case... a good touch. The three disks also form a fun picture when stacked side by side, which I'm certain will just blow the collectability level straight into the stratosphere... Oh, and there is no way ANYONE will ever mistake this for a mainstream title. Literally EVERY corner of each case, disc, and the box itself are stamped with warnings (as if the cover art wasn't enough of a tip-off).
Anyway, disc one. The menus are very nice, with music and animation... they are actually better than many mainstream anime DVD's. Very cool cyber-interface. Each episode is given it's own menu, with 3-6 chapter stops in each (Curious Fruit has the most). The extras consist of random pieces of art in the photo gallery, and a pile of neato character designs in the pencil test section (most of which is devoted to Curious Fruit... you'll be surprised at how many variations there are of a latex bodysuit). The extras are identical in each episode menu, leaving me to wonder why they are not simply on the main menu.... deception, perhaps?
Video is good and clean, with little pixellation. Sound is decent... nothing spectacular, but doubt it was ever spectacular in the first place. The music in the series is very good, and the voices are clear and crisp in Dolby 5.1 (I think). There is not much surround-sound action, though... everything is directed toward the center. Of course the only voices you'll be hearing are the Japanese ones; there is no dub, and the subtitles are part of the video... obviously the tapes were just dumped on a disc. Still, the video is fine, with no fatal losses in quality.
So the show itself? I've been waiting for this one for a long time, actually. It has a reputation as good H, and the only other good H I've seen on DVD is Urotsukidoji (Perfect Collection). Does it live up? Well, it's actually hard to say. It's an anthology by different directors and writers, and there are large leaps in quality. Curious Fruit (this disc's obvious selling point) is first, and it's not bad at all. The first scene features a bit of bestiality (just to get THAT taboo out of the way ASAP) and the rest is a standard SM (not Sailor Moon you fools, sado-masochism) plotline (if such a thing exists). A young girl is lured into the bondage underworld, and learns to love it. Aside from creative costumes and the usual whips 'n chains, the show actually has a very tender feel to it, with a genuine happy ending. Next up is Sacred Girl, a tale of incest and voyeurism. A sexy teacher helps a brother and sister consummate their mutual attraction with the help of various hidden cameras that bro uses for some late-nite peeping. The mass orgy scenes WILL remind you of Eyes Wide Shut. The animation is a bit sub-par, but the writing in this episode is great! Just about everyone has some kind of psychological kink, and there's lots of angst and frustration before the fun starts. Add in some awfully disturbing flashbacks, and you have the disc's best! And then we drop off the cliff with ep.3, which has no plot at all. It's just 3 sex loops (which is what they called porno's before they were slapped onto tapes and sold as films). One is a stylish but NASTY rape/murder/domination fantasy, one is a rip-off of a famous Clockwork Orange scene (lots of Kubrick fans on the Cool Devices staff....), and the final one involves two motifs: anal sex and piss. The low point, by far (although I love the author's name: Protonsaurus!!!). Finally, we have Kirei, a pseudo-rape fantasy (which may have once been a computer game), only this time loaded with lovely visuals and even some symbolism. And the most horribly large breasts you have ever seen. I'm talking god dam Chesty Morgan here. Does anyone really think that's sexy?! Ah well. The episode's OK, less misogynistic than Proto's cat and bunny show, although still rather harsh (when the natives are done with their ladies, they throw them down a big pit... this will not increase female viewership, I suspect).
One last thing... once the credits finished on Kirei (be sure to watch them, there's more story afterwards) the DVD froze, along with my player. I had to unplug the damn thing to get it to work again. A very nasty bug that may affect your player too. I have been told of various problems scattered throughout the Kirei episode on various machines, so beware. My bug might be avoided by playing all and not viewing each episode individually, I don't know about yours. My system is a shiny Toshiba SD-2008. So caveat emptor. Still, the disc is good overall, and a worthy purchase for every otaku with an open mind. Or at least buy it for the mind-blowingly out of place title sequence, which CANNOT be what the Japanese creators of this product had in mind for it's image. PLEASE respond with comments..... I love feedback!
Now for disc two. The menus here are similar to those of disc one, with each episode given it's own little sub-section. However, there are no pencil tests here, only random pictures (probably publicity stills). And I noticed that Critical Mass jettisoned the title sequence on this volume; I guess someone in charge actually watched it... Oh, and that bug is present again. Just select play all... you'll be fine. So how are the operations?
First we are "treated" to Seek, which I KNOW is based on a computer game... one can only imagine what the game involved. A common motif in H computer games is to keep the main male character as much of an avatar for the person playing as possible. Often the character's face is not shown; this is to increase the feeling that one is "in" the game. This motif is present in Seek and also Proto's trilogy (but then again, what self-respecting anime character would WANT his face shown in those... gems). Sadly, when such an image is transferred to film, where the viewer is not in "control" of the action, the technique is rendered senseless. So, Seek's male lead may as well be an anatomically correct mannequin; that is how poorly he is developed. There is some plot involving our hero's need to live up to his father's image, but that gets roughly 15 seconds of airtime. The rest of it involves the bondage training of a kidnapped young girl, who is exposed to all sorts of tortures. Unlike Curious Fruit, there is no warmth, no sense of caring... just torture. And what torture it is... By the time the enema scene rolled around, I literally had to pause the video to regain my composure; this was the first time in my life I was EVER sickened by a series of drawings. I guess that's worth something...
Seek II is next, this time revolving around our hero's able female assistant. She performs tortures on the girl from part one, as well as two new ladies. There's also bestiality (wheeeeeee...) and the infamous "electrode" scene, which had people dropping dead of heart attacks or something when this first came out on videocassette. It's not nearly as bad as the stuff in part one... anyone who's seen "Bloodsucking Freaks" from Troma has seen this already. All the while, the wicked dominatrix has flashbacks to her own training at the hands of our faceless hero's father (who has a TOTALLY different character design than he had in part one). The whole ordeal takes place at a big masked orgy in a large mansion... hmmm... this is the second Eyes Wide Shut similarity... either Arthur Schnitzler stories span cultural gaps or... Could Kubrick have been a closet H fan?! The mind boggles. The saga ends with the captives turning the tables on their oppressor... or maybe it was all a dream... or maybe a fantasy... I really have no clue; the whole thing is edited so feverishly that you can barely tell what happens. Oh well, at least the animation is good (for both one and two).
Then, we get to the big one. I wonder how many people bought this disc just for Yellow Star? I will confess.... I am a HUGE Yasuomi Umetsu fan. I will watch ANYTHING this man does... of course he has only written and directed two pieces: Presence (from the tragically out of print Robot Carnival) and the spectacular Kite. Contrary to what you may have heard, Umetsu ONLY did the character designs and storyboards of Yellow Star; he did NOT write, produce, or direct it. But so what? The animation is the best of the series, and the character designs are fantastic! Every frame drools with noir imagery, and some of Umetsu's trademark motifs (like cute little toys) are present. Although Umetsu didn't write this, it's easy to see where he got the inspiration for Kite... the stories (and designs) are quite similar. A young girl is drugged and constantly raped by her new stepfather, a detective. She eventually fights back. This would have been the best episode of the series, except for the mean-spirited ending, which just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Oh, and the young lady's mom wins the award as "only Cool Devices female NOT to get naked".
Finally, we have Slave Warrior Maya. It's a rather funny episode, about a rather dim young girl who is transported to a magical land. She is promptly sold into slavery by wisecracking lizards (really!) and bought by an evil robot emperor. He plans to transform poor Maya into a sex slave, but little does he know that she is a legendary warrior! All in all, this is a refreshing change of pace for Cool Devices... it's funny (always a plus for any H). Also, this is the only episode of Cool Devices where nobody actually has sex... the villains are too busy performing odd experiments on Maya to actually do anything. One has to wonder what the robots are getting out of all this... I guess they sell the slaves, as I can't see why they'd need them for themselves... I mean, they're robots... Ah, well. It's mostly predictable action, but the ending is genuinely surprising, and leads right into...
Disc three. Same as disc two on all technical levels. There are only three operations, though. Luckily, two of them are the series' strongest. But first we have Slave Warrior Maya 2. Damn, this went right to Hell. All of the humor of the first installment is gone, replaced with the standard torture and bondage, some of which may disturb certain viewers, thanks to Maya's.... Enhancement. There's really nothing special at all about the episode, except the end. Or lack thereof. That's right, there's NO ENDING. Well ok, there is an ending, but it's obviously just a teaser for more action to come! A look at the credits reveals that these two episodes are based on volume one of the Slave Warrior Maya manga. So where's the rest? Not made, I suppose. Too bad, while this episode was unremarkable, there was definite potential for a good epic H tale. But instead, we're left hanging with lots of unresolved plot threads, especially among the supporting cast. It's like watching a Media Blasters title. And I apologize; the priestess chick in this episode also does not get naked, like the mom in Yellow Star. But, I'm sure she does later in the manga, so mom keeps the award.
Next up is the surprise of the series, Binding. This was not familiar to me going in, and it had no degree of notoriety to it. But this is the best operation of the entire series, in my opinion. It also funny, like Maya 1, and it displays an almost playful tone toward the sex. A young writer has an incredible string of bad luck while on a train. His wallet is stolen, the track is destroyed by and earthquake and he is left stranded in the middle of nowhere. He makes his way to a strange house, filled with lovely girls. After some sexy hi-jinx (yes, this episode is actually sexy, instead of stomach churning), he gradually becomes privy to a plot by the mistress of the house. In the end, he is tied up and nearly made a sex slave (that's right, in a shocking turn of events the MAN is tied up and menaced by a bondage fiend). Luckily, another earthquake arrives just in time for our hero and his true love to escape. This is the standout of Cool Devices. Nearly all the sex is consensual for a change, and even the bondage scenes are kept relatively light. And who can hate an ending that features our happy couple walking off stark naked into the moonlight? Watch the credits, there's a neat little epilogue afterwards. The animation isn't really that good, but who needs it? It's a fun story.
Finally, we get Fallen Angel Rina. It's by "Mon-Mon", who also did Curious Fruit... I guess he's the "bookend" for Cool Devices. Like that first operation, Fallen Angel Rina features plenty of nasty stuff, but it all seems to make sense in the end. In some ways it's similar to (the admittedly far superior) Perfect Blue, another idol singer tale. Plus, it's stylish as hell. Rina is a popular idol singer, who's father grows very ill after losing all of his (and Rina's) money on a poor business venture. A shady record company, whose execs want her to form a more "adult" image, buys out Rina. She is assigned a new manager, who forces her to dress in skimpy clothes, and perform all sorts of humiliating acts. Now, many girls I know dress in skimpy clothes because they LIKE them. Rina, however, reacts very badly. She's so used to being a wholesome role model, that she can't handle any sexuality without facing extreme guilt. Of course, her manager keeps pushing her into provocative situations, which eventually result in her being molested, usually by normal men passing by! There's even a scene in a porn theatre with various guys watching some H, and then enacting their fantasies on Rina. A very interesting message to be sending the audience... Eventually, we discover that Rina's management actually wants to sell her into slavery (damn, you can't spit in the Cool Devices world without hitting a sex slave outlet). However, Rina turns the tables on her tormentors at the last second, in what can only be described as a perfect ending. Like Curious Fruit, the heroine winds up happy (in a very twisted way). Plus, the villain gets his comeuppance, a rare occasion in Cool Devices, where evil is celebrated. Of course, this episode seems to be saying that deep down, WE are no better than these anime fiends... Not the kindest message, but any depth in H is good depth.
So there you have it. Cool Devices. I think it's worth buying for the adventurous H fan, or really any adventurous anime fan. You may very well hate it. Or maybe you'll love it just for being so different. In any case, it's a good first outing for Right Stuff/Critical Mass, and a great sign for the future of H on DVD (hell, if THIS made it, the rest of Urotsukidoji HAS to). Shut you eyes, be not afraid, and dive in. You won't leave unchanged.
Toshiba SD-2008 DVD player, Toshiba FST stereo monitor (36'), all internal sound.