Sunday, March 29, 2009

Laminated: a Review

Animax Asia has been hyping up its first original feature release, LaMB, for a while now. It started with the contest announcements, I think, which eventually led to a selection of finalists, the collaboration of a series of international studios, an interactive web site, a couple of music videos, the release of a "Making Of..." feature, countless commercials upon commercials, and finally the first thirty minutes of the show.

Somewhere in the middle of the ruckus, my brother and I both mentioned our skepticism — the animé had better be good, we figured, considering the amount of effort that Animax's great marketing machine was putting into it.

To be fair, I missed its original telecast last Tuesday. Fortunately, it's standard practice for Animax to give working stiffs like me a second chance to see their shows, so I managed to catch the first episode around Sunday lunch. Given all of the handling and preparation, I was expecting the animé to impress me.

Unfortunately, it did not.

For starters, it's an interesting premise. I like the idea of a setting where criminals are "rehabilitated" into blank slates in order to serve a useful function in society — and that, as a result, you have a class of people who act as pack mules for the rest of the population. It's a "crunchy" setting that can lend itself to any number of plots, and which has its own built-in moral conflict. Despite the strange nomenclature ("LaMBs" are each assigned to respective "Shepherds"), I would be interested in seeing what other stories can be told with such a universe.

The music definitely got my attention. While The Click 5 and Simple Plan aren't exactly on the global radar, I think they did a great job; their music seems to add a secondary element into the setting — I'll go as far as saying that it gives it an added push in the "techno" direction without going into hard sci-fi (which I don't think the show emphasizes). LaMB looks like it's setting itself up to be a love story in a futuristic environment; considering that the emotive aspect should take precedence in such a case, I think that the music really nails it.

The graphics were, admittedly, rather hit-and-miss for me. On the one hand, the background images were great — they're absolute works of art, and I'd really like to find out who the artists were, and if they have any other works available. On the other hand, the 3D renderings feel merely adequate for the most part... although that could be because I'm not sold on a future that's made entirely of streamlined surfaces. The character models were a bit of a disappointment on my side; While they would make for excellent posters and still images, they looked quite awkward on the screen.

If there was any aspect where Animax really dropped the ball, though, it was with the animation. I've seen project teams make good animation, and this definitely isn't it; I feel hard-pressed to put it in such a category. The majority of the scenes look rushed and strangely-executed; the opening montage alone was enough to make me wonder if I was watching an effort that had been put together by disorganized high school students. There is a ton of well-produced animation out there, and as far as I know, we moved beyond static character models and choppy transitions somewhere in the early 1990s. I feel that LaMB fails abysmally in this area.

While I can't pass judgment on the story after seeing a single episode of the animé, I'm fairly certain that the writing can be improved a bit. There are some good lines, of course (I'm looking forward to further explorations of Keiko's "sense of humor", for example), but the dialogue seems tattered in some areas. Jack Griswold seems to get a lot of the awkward stuff; I'm hoping that that's because his character is really supposed to be like that, and not because he happens to have most of the spoken lines. Animax usually acquits itself well when it comes to its English translations; I'm not sure how they managed to come up with something that I feel I could either match or improve.

In contrast to the writing, however, the voice acting isn't bad. I feel that it has good potential, actually — although I must point out that these are experienced actors and actresses that we're dealing with. I expect a short "grace period" before the voices reach their full range, which implies that this aspect will get better as the series goes along.

I'm aware that this is the first original Animax-produced work (and possibly the first regional animé effort), so I have the feeling that I should go easy on this. However, all the marketing hype makes this difficult to ignore: LaMB is, in my eyes, a finished product that comes with a lot of scratches despite the manufacturer's pristine guarantee.

Animax will probably get better at this with time, yes. But until then, I can only hope that somebody takes a close look at where the technical production fails here, and apply those lessons towards future efforts. This is, strictly speaking, a work that should have seen further development on the assembly line. As a viewer who's sat through all the anticipation, I just expect better.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with ALL of your comments. LaMB proved to be a HUGE disappointment.

I don't know how much Animax has changed in the original script. But one of the things that bothered me is that despite its, as you say, interesting premise, it just can't decide WHAT it wants to be -- a scifi epic or a sappy romance.

Also, is this supposed to be ORIGINAL? There are just so many similarities with Ghost In The Shell that makes LaMB a less than satisfying watch. My cousin who loves Ghost In The Shell actually squirmed while watching it.

Now I'm even more convinced NOT to join any more Animax Awards contests in the future.

Sean said...

Anonymous: I'll stop short of calling it a disappointment, to be honest. I feel that the only reason as to why it feels disappointing is because the show was overhyped and over-marketed. If it were not for the fact that the audience's expectations were raised so high as to put us on a pedestal, my review wouldn't be this bad.

Unfortunately, hype is double-edged. Sometimes it gets a lot of people tuning in to see a work of art, and sometimes it just results in a lot of name-calling at the screen. I don't fault the quality of the show too much (because it is, after all, a first try); what I fear is the possibility that the producers believed their own hype so much that they decided to let the final product off the drawing board.

If it's possible for any studio to pull together a masterpiece out of scratch (no matter what the odds are), then it's always possible for Animax to come up with one based on its contests. I don't question the likelihood of another contest and another attempt in the future; I just hope that the chance isn't wasted like this one. I just hope that somebody in their corporate machine realizes what the mistakes were, and does something to fix it next time.