History trembles with unbearable anger

Sunday, September 13, 2015 at 12:47 pm Comments Off on History trembles with unbearable anger

So, how about that F-Zero: Falcon Densetsu, huh? Its coverage finished on Random Action Hour way back in April, if you missed it! It got a hastily-made characters page and everything!
I got around six emails during that period about what people want to see on Random Action Hour, which was actually pretty nifty! It’s neat to see folks still expressing interest in the site, and I appreciate the interest, though covering F-Zero was exhausting enough; I forgot how time-consuming that stuff can be! There’s a couple of shows I’d like to cover on it sometime in the future, but I can’t imagine it’d be any time soon. I need a break.

And having essentially watched the series two and a half times by now, I need to get it off my chest: my big dumb opinions on F-Zero: The Legend of Falcon can be found beneath the cut!

F-Zero: Falcon Densetsu
is the story of Ryu Suzaku, a cop who died trying to capture a prisoner, Zoda, and the two find themselves revived in the 23rd century; Ryu in a special police organisation, and Zoda under the evil banner of Black Shadow. The two groups fight over the prize money of F-Zero races with the interference of Captain Falcon, and as events proceed a number of questions are asked: Why was Ryu revived? Who is Captain Falcon? What is Black Shadow’s true goal? Who’s this Miss Killer character, and why does she look like Ryu’s girlfriend? All that cobblers.

The first three episodes are cack. They’re awful. They’re not good. They do the job of establishing the premise, I guess, but they’ve got lousy animation and no interesting storylines. It’s not until episode 4 that we meet Samurai Goroh, who the writers clearly have far more interest in writing than anyone else. He and his gang do come across as Mary Sues with wicked strength and sage advice and actual weight to their actions, but it’s just nice to see the series actually invested in something. It’s also the first episode that the animation turns decent!

As kids action anime goes, it’s purely adequate. You’ve got a good-vs-evil story with usually some sort of F-Zero action in each episode and a number of ongoing mysteries, plus an occasional pause for a character-of-the-day story. Some of the mysteries are quite engaging, though given how many of them revolve around Ryu’s Rip Van Winkle situation, it takes quite a while for them to show the real gravitas of this: losing everyone you knew and love, awakening in a world where everything is new and you’re considered a relic. It’s an interesting angle… but not enough is done with it, frankly.

That’s the problem with the show: it feels very “stock”. We’ve seen all these tropes before, and the writers don’t feel invested in the content. And that’s a given! It’s a licensed anime based off a game that wasn’t selling well in Japan – and they had 52 episodes to make of this stuff. It’s a tough predicament to express enthusiasm in.
My beef lies with how little they capitalised on the material. F-Zero hasn’t stacks of lore – GX was the first instalment to present any of the character bios and world building in-game – but there’s still plenty to work with. Each and every character has a back-story of their exploits, their home world and how they got into the sport. Some characters are solitary, while some have conflicts and relationships spanning multiple other characters. The world feels very influenced by American comic books – I mean, it’s a universe populated by monsters, superheroes and robots!
And being a racing game, no one’s really a “main” character. Sure, folks like Captain Falcon and Black Shadow are given more prominence and more detailed backstories, but everyone has their own little pocket of the universe they reside in, and the F-Zero sport is simply what unites all these weirdoes. Outside of the cockpits, I bet they’d be getting up to all sorts of crazy escapades.

There’s a lot of potential to be mined from that, and it’s so disappointing that the anime takes it and makes everything so… binary. These are the good guys, these are the bad guys, each of them fills a role and there’s no wriggle room for them to be anything else. Lucy’s the go-getter cheerleader, Jody’s the cold and aloof commander, Clank’s the kid who’s there to be emotional and contrary… but who is Dr. Clash when he’s not fixing things? The anime gives the man no backstory, no stories of his own, and barely any personality. He’s there to fix cars, and that’s that.
It’s neat seeing characters like Billy or Silver Neelson making appearances, but they inevitably feel wasted because they’re either a joke character there for one episode and never seen again, or they have to fit into the binary. The story has no room for characters not involved in the conflict, and the Platoon already has nine characters on the force, so nine times out of ten they’ve gotta be a Dark Million agent. It’s disappointing to find that every weird alien among the cast is working for the bad guys, with little to no time to see what stories they might have.

While the story is entertaining enough, it’s frustrating that it refuses to change the status quo much at all. There are twists and turns, some with really exciting potential like the realisation that Ryu’s lover and Ryu’s killer are both working for Black Shadow, but aside from some lightweight manipulation on Zoda’s part, next to nothing is done with it. Zoda fuckin’ dies for several episodes, and while it has some mild bearing on the bullshit scheme Black Shadow has cooking, it’s mostly an excuse to have a new toy to put on shelves.
With the exception of Clank, the Platoon’s lineup remains unchanged throughout the entire series. Mighty Gazelle is introduced halfway through the series; he’s actually Clank’s dad and was a sleeper agent among Dark Million, but was revived in a robot body as a ploy by Dark Shadow to infiltrate Platoon headquarters. Even after his brainwashing is cleared up, he has to come to terms with his condition, his betrayal, and how his son thinks about all this. It’s the first storyline to properly utilise Clank, and it’s a terrific angle to work with: he was a trusted agent in the past, but can they trust him now? Are his enhanced talents worth the risk?
Who cares, because he sticks around for a measly three episodes before dying, and goes unmentioned until THE CREDITS OF THE FINAL EPISODE.

It’s tough to talk about the show without making comparisons to something, be it the source material or other kids anime. As far as story and character development go, Bomberman Jetters trumps Falcon Densetsu in that category; its story has themes, man! It took a measly six characters from the source material and spun it into a surprisingly heartfelt tale of loss, growing up, and coming to terms with one’s flaws. Are there themes in F-Zero? Beats me, buddy.
The entire time I was watching the show I was thinking, they could’ve done this way better. Trying to fold the world around a good vs. evil storyline is not only a bore, but a waste. The unique universe is the real attraction to F-Zero‘s lore, and to modify or ditch a ton of that because it’s no longer relevant to the conflict is a tremendous bummer. Choosing to focus on these select characters for the whole dang run with barely any variation got mighty tiresome, especially when they had little interest in letting them grow or change!

What does the show do right? Well, I’ll admit I wasn’t dying about the character design at first (and the spherical breasts on all the ladies is a real eyesore), but it does a good job of punching up some otherwise lacklustre designs. Dr. Clash’s squat physique and mad hair help him stand out from being a recoloured Doctor Octopus, and although it takes an eternity for the animators to do it justice, Jack Levin’s loud design does fit his role as Ryu’s friendly rival. Apparently the character designer also worked on Ultimate Teacher, which is a strange connection. The difference a good animation studio can make, huh?
Having an outlet for these characters to be part of stories helps a number of them. Jody Summer comes across as a bit of a perfect waifu in her F-Zero GX bio, but the anime presents her as tough as nails and all-business, masking her grief over her brother’s death. It still doesn’t give her great stories, mind you, but it’s a start. Super Arrow really shines with his larger than life performance, a well-meaning dope who always tries to save the day, no matter how outclassed or cowardly he is. His wife Mrs. Arrow, however, seems like a real step down from her game version. The likes of Lisa Brilliant and Miss Killer make for good additions to the cast, while Ryu and Lucy fit the roles they’re given; I don’t know how well Ryu would fare in an ensemble cast.

I had a fair enough time watching the show (i’d had to have, given i had to rewatch it twice again for the Random Action Hour coverage!), and if you’re curious then it doesn’t hurt to check it out. I do wonder if it serves better in its intended purpose to introduce people unfamiliar with it to the series, rather than fans already acquainted with it. I do sincerely wish this wasn’t the only F-Zero media out there, that we at least got a manga or something, but you take what you get, I suppose.
If you’d prefer a sampling, I’d have to recommend the following:

  • 04 Seeking Out Samurai Goroh!
  • 06 Kate Alen the Diva
  • 07 Michael Chain’s Trap (dub only, though – see below!)
  • 12 Black Shadow’s Laugh
  • 15 Sniper Pico
  • 19 Gomar & Shioh’s Grand Operation
  • 21 The Hot Blooded Ladies’ Battle!!
  • 24 Octoman’s Dream
  • 40 Coffee Break
  • 51 The Legend of Falcon

4KIDS DUB (GP Legend)
I ran these in the background while doing research for the Random Action Hour coverage, and I actually enjoyed it to some degree! … mind you, I might have just gotten tired of the Japanese voices and stale sub script by this point.

GP Legend
‘s marketing and editing says “stuff that” to Ryu’s journey and places maximum emphasis on the racing; this means cutting Captain Falcon’s presence to a bare minimum, shuffling the episodes around, and even going so far as to splice more racing footage into some episodes! The show is also adamant to prevent there ever being a moment of silence; there’s noisy scene transitions, endless banter between characters and loud techno music in place of the old soundtrack. If you like a wall of noise, this is for you!
The edits are… well, you’ve probably made your own conclusions. The series didn’t run long enough for the real story arc to begin, but the edits suggest they weren’t that concerned about following it closely. I do appreciate some of the cuts, if simply because they tighten up the pace of a show that’s, well, paced like an anime. If anything, I actually wish they condensed the series even more, just so it could get to the more entertaining character-of-the-week stories around the middle. The opening quarter is pretty weak, let’s be be frank.

The voice acting is the usual crowd from 4Kids, and it’s rather hit or miss. None of the villains sound terribly satisfactory, and Mr. Zero’s commentary is even more grating in English. That said, the Platoon all make decent transitions, and the comedic characters translate really well; David Lapkin plays John Tanaka hilariously, but David Willis easily steals the show as Super Arrow. His single appearance is easily the highlight of the whole show – and the staff appear to have really enjoyed his debut, as that episode saw more edits than any other, mostly to downplay the actual main story. And believe me, that was a good call!

Given the material it’s working with, there wasn’t not much the dub could do to improve it. It’s a pity they didn’t get to cover the middle chunk of the series, which would’ve been ideal for the episodic racing adventures they advertised the show as.
And to be honest, I wonder if they should’ve just recut the show entirely to be episodic shenanigans. I can’t speak for American television, but any 4Kids show that got shown on UK terrestrial television was doomed to repeating the same episodes over and over – it took years for Sonic X to move beyond its first dozen stories, I’m sure! (and then we saw nothing but the Sonic Adventure arc on loop!)
All in all, it’s hard to recommend. Episodes 7 and 15 are worth checking out if just for the dub performances, but overall it’s not good enough to alleviate the show, nor is it bad enough to be mockery material.


For years, the series’ finale was the only part of the show that had been subtitled in English – it wasn’t until 2012 that Dreadopp and Zedopp put the hard work in to covering the entire series, to whom I offer huge kudos! Big ups for having the guts to hunker down and just do it, y’know?
You could argue it’s a bit of a mysterious project, though. What credentials have they in translating Japanese? Where did they source the videos from? (given the artifacting on some episodes it’s probably VHS rips) The two have blogs and Twitter feeds, but they just start posting the videos come the anime’s 9th anniversary – no visible prep work or anything. I don’t follow enough fansubs to know if this is common behaviour or not, but you wanna see the effort, right? Show your work, dudes! Didn’t school teach you anything?!

The subtitles get the job done. They’re a very straight-forward translation. It is a bit flavourless; there’s a bunch of spelling errors, there’s no translators notes of any sort, and it’s all very rudimentary… but like I said, it gets the job done. I could gripe and nitpick about lots of little things abut it, but there’s no genuine failings I have to say about it*. It’s a bit dry, but I’m simply glad that these two did what others ignored and subtitled nearly twenty of hours of content. Hats off to you, Dreadopp and Zedopp!

* the Silver Neelsen episode is darn near incomprehensible to me, though I can’t tell if that’s down to dodgy translation, cultural differences, or the episode simply not being very good.

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