Sunday, 25 March 2012

Codex Hermetica: Chapter 2

Codex Hermetica
Chapter 2: Elf 17

If there is one thing that Americans and Japanese share, it is an affinity for sport. Of course, baseball, “America's Pastime” is a bigger deal in the Pacific Rim than it is here, but it doesn't stop there – you can find manga and anime versions of every sport out there, even things that Americans ignore. I have heard rumours of the legendary curling manga, but I have yet to find proof of its existence. But, the one 'sport' that does surprise me is that of Pro Wrestling. I've always found Pro Wresting to profoundly stupid, a soap opera for men, rife with sexual tension and homoeroticism (not that there's anything wrong with that). Not only that, but the idea of a scripted sporting event is anathema to me; I watch sports precisely because anything can happen. Let me quote an exchange from the second episode of Galaxy Angel Z, one of my favorite franchises:
Normad: What a meaningless spectacle this is. That man thrown up against the ropes shouldn't bounce back that hard. It goes against the laws of physics..
Ranpha: What was that?!
Normad: I'm just wondering why, when one guy gets up on the corner post, his opponent comes right up to the landing spot...
Ranpha: I hope you understand the magnitude of what you just said!
In short, I much like Normad, fail to understand the draw of Pro Wrestling. But apparently, it has be present in Japan for a while. In an episode of Urusei Yatsura, Ataru watches some Pro Wrestling at dinner, so it's been around since at least the eighties. And there has been a merging of the ridiculous costumes and spectacle of Pro Wrestling with Japanese MMA (I recall a cosplaying fighter, but can't find the source right now). And so this brings me to an obscure little OVA, that opens with a mixture of Pro Wrestling and MMA – in space!

Elf 17 – Technical Specs:
Year Released: 1987
Running Time: 1 episode, 30 minutes
AniDB rating (at time of writing): 40 votes with average grade of 5.91
ANN rating (at time of writing): 10 votes with average grade of 6.634
My rating: 8.3

Technically, Elf 17 opens with a 'Martial Arts Tournament', but flamboyance of it looks a lot like Pro Wrestling. Hell, the first fight we see is a Thor as a Construction Worker boxing a kangaroo. The fight itself is pretty good, if sparse, animation-wise, and there are a number of detailed shots of the stadium. As anyone that works with animation knows, crowd scenes are some of the hardest things to do, so I give Elf 17 props there. There are a number of alien species that look lifted straight from a Star Wars outtake, but I can hardly attack it for that, given this was made in the tail end of the eighties, when Lucas' masterpiece was all the rage. Anyway, the final match, between Hammer Man and a dude in a power armour, gets interrupted by our heroine, an elf girl in a pink leotard with super human strength. She quickly dispatches of Hammer Man and power armour dude, to win the tourney and the grand prize of a galaxy tour. As it turns out, the tournament was merely a cover to recruit a bodyguard to travel with an Imperial Prince in a Grand Tour of the Galactic Empire. Ruu, our elf lady, and K.K., the persistent power armourer, are gang pressed recruited into this role. The second half of the OVA deals with the gang's first adventure, filled with shipwrecks, desert tribes, wine, betrayal, and giant tanuki statues, all wrapped up in a generous topping of zany humour.
Man boxing a kangaroo is a peculiar spectacle. But a kangaroo boxing a robot? Now I'm afraid you've lost me.”
Comedy, Explosions and General Panic
The comedy in Elf 17 is very much flavored with absurdism, as appropriate for a show staring a super-strong pink-winged girl. The comedy comes from four distinct methods: 1) Ruu being stupidly innocent, 2) K.K trying to be cool and failing, 3) the Prince acting totally nonchalant at all times, and 4) the environment. This may seem deceptively simple, but remember this is only a 30 minute one-shot OVA, so if you try to get too cute, you'll run out of time. And the characters play off each other well. A good example is after K.K. refuses to fight Ruu since he's a 'feminist'. Ruu is declared winner of the tournament by default, only she won't except this outcome, since she feels like she is being pandered to. So she roundhouse kicks K.K. into the stands and then now is happy to be the winner. And the Prince's constant levelheadedness is almost a show stealer, despite being set in almost constant peril and needing to rescued by Ruu, he remains as calm as if he was at a tea ceremony.
The environmental comedy mostly comes from the constant explosions that follow our gang. It seems like every location our heroes grace ends up in a state of destruction, starting with the arena hosting the tournament. It gets blown into pieces, cause many frantic crowd scenes, including one brief shot where you can see a naked girl for a couple of frames.
This frame is the only nudity in the show.  And yes, I caught it.  You can't slip anything past me.
And then there is the unforgettable scene of the Trade Caravan/'Bacchus' statues extended fight. This is also one of the great comedic payoffs I've seen. The 'Bacchus' statues are actually Tanuki statues (more on this later) and anyone that has seen a Tanuki statue know that they are traditionally depicted with an exaggeratedly large ballsack. When the statues are first shown, the innocent Ruu points to the sack and asks K.K. what that's suppose to be. Quite flustered, he only stammers out 'Something important'. Well, at the end when the statues come alive and seem invincible, Ruu remembers K.K. telling her that and proceeds to Falcon Punch these 'important things', resulting in the statue's destruction and any male viewer wincing in sympathy (and the ringing gong sound effect just...ah, hits the spot perfectly). The return of what seemed like a throwaway testicle joke at the time to create an even funnier joke at the end is a hallmark of good writing that is rare among anime comedies. The comedy is very frantic and zany, but the high energy is reminiscent of other high-power comedies, like Excel Saga or Galaxy Angel.

Character Development and Love Triangles
Elf 17 manages to do a really good job in the creation of the characters and add depth to them. We get a really good feel for who these people are, impressive for such a short run time. This is mostly due to Elf following the golden rule of 'Show, don't tell'. In a lot of modern anime, you will find a lot of long winded monologues describing certain characters, and few attempts to actually show the described characteristics in that character. Elf succeeds here because it takes pains to show the character's personalities during the action of the show, basically allowing the plot to double-task. There is also a budding love triangle forming between the characters. It's is not explored in the OVA, unsurprising given the run time, but the seeds are there, and there is some glimmers of sexual tension between the characters.
Well, bathtime peeping is kinda romantic

The romantic options are intriguing, the choice between the rich and smooth Prince or the brash but enduring K.K. Plus, there is great potential for some very silly romantic comedy. It is a pity that there is not enough time to fully develop these ideas, but what little made it in is appreciated.

A Few Notes on Etymology
First, the Japanese word for both 'Elf' and 'Fairy' is the same, yousei. Often, the words are used interchangeably by translators, and sometimes, as in the case of Elf Princess Rane, intentionally translated in a certain way (the licensors of Rane feared that no one would buy something called 'Fairy Princess Rane', and with good reason). But the inverse is true, as well – often a yousei will combine both characteristics of western elves and fairies. This is the case in Elf 17 – despite using the English word 'elf' to describe Ruu, she retains several characteristics of fairies, including the glowing pink wings. The other etymology issue of note in this show is the 'Bacchus' statues. While they are clearly tanuki, this is not a mistranslation, this really is what the characters call them. I personally believe K.K. was just making shit up when talking about these, but he was never called on it, so we remain unsure. It could also be a meta-joke about how foreigners always manage to get everyone wrong about native cultures, but it is never really explained. Since K.K. gets nearly everything wrong about Bacchus as well, I favor the bullshit explanation.

Elf 17
This show has one goal: to make you laugh. It succeeds. The comedy manages to be both over-the-top and nuanced, at the same. I found it to be a great way to spend 30 minutes – the story was simple but intelligent, the characters well developed and the comedy clicked with me. While the video quality of my rip was low, the animation is still pretty good. The OVA is filled with crowd scenes, explosions, and fight scenes, and I was impressed with the quality of these, for a low budget eighties one-shot. And I liked both the inset song and the ED (there is no OP). Voice acting was strong as well. If there is one thing I regret, it is that the show is over too soon. The story has legs – you could spend hours with this gang on their galaxy tour. Sadly, there is no more. This OVA is the only video attempt for this franchise, and the manga only runs eight volumes in total (and all my attempts to find copies of the manga have ended in frustration). However, I can say that I am glad, at least, to spend a little of my time in this universe, even if the stay was far too short.
The Boxscore:
Plot: 8
Art: 8
Sound: 8
Character: 9
Enjoyment: 9
Value: 8
Overall: 8.3
Grade: B+

Recommendation: Watch it. At only thirty minutes, there is no reason to pass this up.
Elf 17 was never licensed outside of Japan, so you have to rely on fansubs here. The release by BOX has a pretty good translation, and BakaBT always has some seeds running.

Side Note: I've set a lower limit for the total number of words in one of these segments. I'm trying to stay above 1700 words. This segment, before this side note, was 1796. I'll try to do better next time.

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