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"Coyote Ragtime Show" Vol. 1: Style Over Substance, But Man, What Style!

by on February 12, 2007

You know, sometimes I find it difficult to avoid being influenced by what I read on message boards. I’d read things about Coyote Ragtime Show in numerous places, even before it was licensed: “It goes downhill after the first episode.” “It runs out of steam too soon.” “Not worth watching.” And on and on. At times like that, it’s hard not to let others’ opinions influence my enjoyment of a series. That’s not to say that my opinions are weak and easily manipulated by others. But when a movie comes out and all your friends say it sucks, it’s hard not to walk into a theater with the expectation that it sucks, right?

At the same time, you don’t want to become so defiant that you’ll defend a show out of pure opposition to popular opinion, even though, deep down, you agree with it. So you see how I felt as I watched Coyote Ragtime Show. I had to objectively judge whether I enjoyed it or not and not let past comments influence me as I watched.

So: Did I enjoy the first four episodes of Coyote Ragtime Show? Yes, although I do have a few reservations, which I’ll explain later.

Essentially, Coyote Ragtime Show is like an American heist film (think Ocean’s Eleven or The Ladykillers) but set in space. “Mister,” a criminal well known throughout the galaxy, breaks out of prison one week before his sentence expires with the intention of getting his gang (consisting of the conceited Bishop and the carefree Katana) back together. Mister wants to find a hidden treasure on Graceland, a planet that is set to be destroyed in a week. However, the only one who knows the way to the treasure (as well as how to unlock it) is Franca, a young girl/waitress who holds a video made by her deceased, legendary robber father Bruce. Along the way, Mister picks up Bruce’s former partner, Swamp Gordon, who currently works as a hip minister in a desert church. Think Don King mixed with Gene Shalit and you get an idea of what he looks like.

Meanwhile, Madame Marciano and her ruthless gothic-maid android daughters (try saying that five times fast), dubbed the 12 SISTERs, are tailing Mister, apparently wanting the treasure for themselves—hence, they never kill him or his cohorts, at least, not yet.

On top of that, private investigator and food inhaler Angelica Burns is also tailing Mister, having been fascinated by his numerous crimes and yet determined to take him in. Her partner is former cop Chelsea Muir/Moore, a ditzy blonde who nevertheless has an excellent memory and provides some of the comic relief.

Did you get all that? Because I’m not repeating it.

The show is very good at doing action. In the first episode alone, we get a prison explosion, the gothic maids slaughtering many of the prisoners (aside from Mister, that is), and Mister escaping. It only gets more intense from there: bar room brawlings, bar room shootouts, helicopter chases, and high rise danglings. Episode 4 has more sneaking around than full-on, violent conflict, but there’s some good stuff in there too, such as a rotating cube that holds the bank’s hefty monetary contents and a body-distorting suit and mask that Bruce wore to gain access to the bank vault.

Oh yeah, the show also succeeds at complicated heists and character histories. In fact, things move so fast in the first four episodes that I actually had to rewatch it again just to get all the plot points. It certainly doesn’t help that most of episode 4 is basically Mister and the group watching the video of Bruce’s legendary heist. I had assumed this was all happening in real time, but nope, it was a flashback, designed to instruct the group as to how the heist would be pulled off.

Above, I said I had concerns. Well, here they are. At this point, none of the characters seem too deep. They’re all fairly one-dimensional, which is to be expected in a series that emphasizes action more than character development, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Right now, I don’t really care about any of the characters. I mean, yes, I’m interested in whether Mister and the group will be able to get the treasure, but that’s about it. I don’t care about any of the character motivations because they’re fairly simple. This is especially true of the Angelica/Chelsea plot, as they get considerably less screen time than the criminals. Why is Angelica so intent on tracking down Mister? What crucial role does Chelsea play?

This may change, as it’s only four episodes in, so I won’t judge it too sharply yet. And to be fair, the character that shows the most promise is Franca, as she is concerned that the group is just using her to get the reward; there’s also the traumatic experience she had watching her father get killed right before her eyes. It’d be nice if the anime explored her character a bit more as we go along.

So what do I particularly enjoy about the show so far? It’s the visuals. If there’s one TV anime studio that clearly has potential, it’s ufotable. They were established in 2000, so they’re fairly new, but already they’ve shown significant strides, and they’re a studio to watch. The first show of theirs that I saw was Dokkoida!?, which was serviceable but had nothing special outside of a few moments. But Ninja Nonsense was full of creative wild takes, squash and stretch, and other cartoony moments, and I was quite impressed. It still had an anime TV budget but it was masked extremely well.

And now we have Coyote Ragtime Show, an anime series that looks amazing. Instead of the usual static, barely moving characters we too often see in TV anime, we get plenty of movement, even in standard talking scenes, and none of it looks choppy or lumpy. Just watch Katana gloat about beating the countdown in episode two. His whole body gets into it, and at one point I almost thought I was watching an American series. There are numerous other little moments like that, too, such as mouth movements other than the standard “two open and one close.”

And the action scenes really come alive thanks to the effort put into them. The first 12 SISTERs fight scene contains lots of camerawork that emphasize the best angles for the action; impacts that rock the screen and look like they hurt; eye-pleasing color choices; and flair to spare. They are a joy to watch. There also look to be a few moments that combine 2D and 3D, if I’m not mistaken, and they don’t look awkward.

The audio also has spark. Aside from Monica Rial (Chelsea), I didn’t recognize the majority of the ADV cast. That’s always good for voice acting, because it means you’re not typecast in the same roles over and over and can provide a good range. Everyone gives good energy, and I didn’t hear a single voice that made me cringe. Andrew Love as Swamp Gordon was my favorite dub performance, though that may be because I found his character the most entertaining to begin with.

Special material is slim: trailers, an art gallery, and clean open/closes. I hope future releases at least give us TV spots and character profiles, if nothing else.

Coyote Ragtime Show definitely has its strengths. The visuals are superb, and it delivers plenty of action and heist sneaking, as advertised. While I’m not into the characters or their motivations yet, that could change in the next two volumes, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

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