Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
October 1st, 2005

Shadow Skill Vol. 1

Directed by John Swasey
Written by Megumu Okada
Starring a totally different set of people depending on the language track you select
Produced by ADV Films
100 mins

I guess my name's getting around somewhere.

Because recently, ADV Films started sending me stuff. Which, I guess, sort of works--ADV's lineup is almost exclusively anime, and there are at least a few video stores that get it. It's not like you'll ever spot "Excel Saga" in theatres (much as I might wish you would. Any studio heads reading this, think about it. Just don't screw it up.), so in its way, it really DOES kinda work.

But it puts me in an odd position.

See, most of this stuff comes broken down into episodes. From what I can tell, most anime releases are the practical equivalent of the "Arrested Development" box set (Oh Fox. Why? Why did you KILL THAT SHOW???).

Meaning, my whinging aside, that you never see the whole thing, and you're going to spend the next one hundred minutes watching only part of a plotline.

Which means, what the hell do I do about this? Everything else I cover is reasonably complete (or at least self-contained, where sequels may be involved later), but right now, I've got to cover something like a third of the plot on this one DVD.

So, I figure I might as well just cover what's put out in front of me as best I can.

Anyway, this is the apparently long story of a girl ninja with the preposterous title of "The 59th Sevalle". Without going into a whole lot of commentary on the social organization of things, being a Sevalle is like being Knight Protector or somesuch. Basically the top warrior of the country, which is called Kuruda, in thoroughly Japanese fashion. To make a very, very long story short, our Sevalle (named Elle Ragu, in a move that got me hungry for spaghetti) is out training and getting better and paying off massive debt related to property damage and her time spent in bars.

Basically, whenever she's not destroying property, she's off getting liquored up or working one of an endless series of joe jobs in an effort to make money TO get liquored up.

It's amazing that this raging alcoholic of a ninja manages to put her giri on in the morning let ALONE pound holy old hell out of monsters fully ten times her size on a regular basis.

And I hope that I remember the word "giri" right....

Let me sum all this up in a very simple fashion. This was not my kind of anime. I love insane, wildly comical anime like "Excel Saga" or "Ebichu Minds the House". I'm fond of nonsequiturs and pointlessness in my anime.

But if you're one of the whole bunch of people who shows up for Toonami every Saturday night to watch "Naruto" like it's some kind of deranged religion, then hold on're going to absolutely LOVE "Shadow Skill."

Because I've seen "Naruto", and I've seen "Shadow Skill", I think there's a basis for comparison here. Sure, both are about teenage ninjas--"Naruto" has a hyperactive moron, a hot chick, and a total prick for ninjas while "Shadow Skill" features a raging alcoholic, overly buff chick ninja and her idealistic little brother for ninjas. But there's more than a few differences too--"Shadow Skill" is a lot deeper, and a bit darker, than "Naruto". Plus, "Naruto" focuses a lot more on man-to-man (in the species sense) combat, while "Shadow Skill" leans more on ninja-versus-giant-monster with plenty of ninja on ninja action.

All in all, "Shadow Skill" is going to be the kind of thing that ninja fans, especially "Naruto" fans are gonna go bats over. The rest of us will find it serviceable and satisfactory, especially if "Excel Saga" is out.

Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain

Directed By Christian Viel
Written By Christian Viel
Starring Jenna Jameson, Ginger Lynn Allen, Chasey Lain, Richard Grieco
Produced By Christian Viel
78 mins

You know, if ever there were a "Death To America Showcase!" on Al-Jazeera, eventually, "Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain" would show up on it.

In fact, it would probably be their launch title.

Why the deliberately political reference in a space you've come to know (and I hope to God love by now) as a space devoted to movie coverage? Well, it's fairly simple.

"Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain" is one of the biggest examples I've seen of cinematic foreigners who hate America I've seen since...well...since probably "Black Hawk Down". And for a non-action film that's really saying something.

See, "Evil Breed" is about a whole bunch of Americans who go on a trip to Ireland, act the part of typical asshole Americans when abroad, and then get systematically slaughtered by a tribe of inbred cannibals living in the Irish bogs.

Now, the first sign that "Evil Breed" is going to be a total raving flop is not in the first five minutes. Oh no...that comes when you look at the cast list.

At least two former porn stars can be found in "Evil Breed". As if that weren't bad enough, they dredged up the career of Richard Greico. You remember him, right? The guy who was washed up back when Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan were bouncing their heads around the Roxbury back in the late nineties?

Yeah, THAT Richard Greico!

So whoooo boy. What we've got here is the perfect storm for a bad movie--a lousy plotline containing more cliches per minute than most romantic comedies and a cast whose biggest assets have nothing to do with their time spent studying Stanislavski.

When it takes less than fifty seconds for the movie to segue into wholesale nudity from the female cast, you know that you're not going to be looking at a serious Oscar contender here.

The effects are frankly about as bad. Twenty nine minutes fifty two seconds in proves to be high-water mark for lousy effects--the fact that that's a dummy is pretty obvious. And check out the unidentified organ removed from a victim at the one hour one minute mark. That look like a plastic bag full of red gelatin to anyone else?

However, to give credit where credit is due, "Evil Breed" does manage to stumble on an innovative way to prevent a "spot-the-wires" moment at the one hour, two minute twelve second mark by only filming the decapitation from the neck up.

And yet, I can't help but wonder if there's some kind of massive joke being perpetrated here. For instance, there's an opening scene when they describe exactly what a B-movie character would do in a certain situation surprisingly similar to what they're faced with. They then do exactly what they describe, with the exact same results that they describe.

If they're going for some kind of weird parody / irony sort of concept, then man did they succeed. But even this is a limited sort of success--to successfully mock the conventions, they have to actually USE the conventions, and this gives them a limited amount of innovation available to them.

The ending is pretty ludicrous, frankly. It's mostly a lot of killing and nudity, with some gore and assorted disgusting thrown in for flavor. It looks to be where most of the special effects budget was used. Even worse, it uses all the standard conventions that I just railed about--including "the boring virgin is the last to live", and a strange twist that just didn't make much in the way of sense at all.

The special features will be fantastically limited and only involve two deleted scenes, along with trailers for "Green River Killer", "Tamara" and "Saw 2".

All in all, "Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain" is either a spectacular practical joke on its audience, or just a really bad joke on its audience, depending on whether or not this was all actually meant as a joke.

Either way, frankly, I'm not laughing.