Coyote Ragtime Show: Volume 1 Review
It’s been three years since the death of legendary space pirate Bruce Dockley, at the hands of Madame Marciano, leader of the Criminal Guild. Bruce had left behind a daughter, Franca, who he entrusted a key to seek out ten billion space dollars which is now located in a complex vault situated somewhere on the planet Graceland. Currently Franca takes care of an establishment exclusively for pirates, with its proprietor currently serving time on the planet Sandvil. His name is Mister, a notorious pirate referred to as “Coyote”; his true identity is unknown and he’s remarkably good at adapting to most situations by adopting false names. A problem quickly arises when it’s reported that Graceland, which has been in a state of civil war for some time, has been threatened by the intergalactic federation: if the Graceland Liberation Force doesn’t surrender within the next seven days the federation will drop a photon annihilation bomb, which will decimate the entire planet. Although Mister is close to finishing his one year sentence he has no choice but to break out and get to Graceland before it’s too late.
On Sandvil the penitentiary in which Mister presumably resides gets a visit from a woman posing as a federal investigator. Her name is Angelica Burns, a detective who has been hunting Mister across the galaxy for the past four years. Joined by a local police detective named Chelsea Moore she begins to investigate, but when the chief warden receives a bomb threat the entire place goes into panic mode. As bombs detonate and mister makes his escape, Angelica and Chelsea find themselves in an impossible situation. At the same time, a group of elite assassins known as the Twelve Sisters drop from the sky and cause destruction in their wake. Thanks to such distractions Mister eventually gets away, with the help of his loyal friends Katana and Bishop. Together they race to Mister’s home planet Ku-rong, but when they arrive Franca proves to be more than a little pissed off at the man who is supposedly meant to look after her. Sure enough there’s no time to waste; the Criminal Guild, Angelica and Chelsea are close behind and the week is quickly getting shorter.
Coyote Ragtime Show brings with it one of those classic, if not timeless set ups. It’s essentially about a heist set against a science fiction backdrop, which takes place over the course of seven days. It works all the better because of its simplicity; although there are a couple of hidden agendas, mainly relating to Marciano, which are bound to come to light later on it doesn’t get bogged down in too many details. It relies on a zippy pace and fun character interactions. It’s exciting to watch the fruition of a high stakes plan taking place over a limited period of time, knowing that these characters have to hit every mark perfectly and avoid all major obstacles. That’s what we as an audience always respond to so well; it’s the sense of wonder in not knowing how this journey will pan out, but going along for the ride all the same.
Here we have three factions worth noting: The Milky Way Federation, of which Angelica and Chelsea work on the behalf; The Criminal Guild, spearheaded by Madame Marciano who keeps tabs on her twelve assassins; and finally the Coyote with Mister and his loyal crew. The great thing though about Coyote Ragtime Show is that there isn’t a character as such to dislike. Clearly Marciano is the pick of the crop if you’re pushed into choosing a baddie, but so far she’s the least developed and therefore there’s little to no agenda of hers so to speak of; but the twelve robot sisters who are each amusingly named after a month of the year and take enormous pleasure in killing are actually funny, being more concerned about getting their new clothes ruined than anything else. Angelica and Chelsea are equally likeable, with Angelica having a penchant for shortbread and Chelsea managing to get by in life with her large breasts and photographic memory. But it’s evident that the tale isn’t solely about them. The opening episode on the disc is quite deceptive in that it portrays Angelica as being the protagonist of the piece, having tirelessly hunted Mister for four years now, but it quickly turns things around as soon as Mister makes his getaway by shifting focus on his efforts to find a hidden treasure. By doing so it leaves some of the more secondary players without any kind of rich development, yet given these particular circumstances I find myself not caring a great deal because despite that fact it continues to work immeasurably well. At the end of the day we’re watching three distinctly different classes simply doing their jobs, which serves up a huge cat and mouse scenario that ensures the series always keeps on its toes.
It’s a nice spin too, come the second episode, as it allows plenty of insight into the lives of notorious criminals who are in fact quite nice and honourable fellows in their own right, while continually mounting tension through the use of the actual authorities. This first volume excels in quickly setting up well defined characters and relationships within the Coyote crew, with the most interesting naturally being that shared by Mister and Franca. Franca has always worried that Mister’s affections toward her have been nothing but a smokescreen so that he can get his hands on the treasure that she holds the key to. And so it seems apparent that the series will gradually deal with this over time. However, Coyote Ragtime Show does away with all such things manipulative and gets right down to the action. After two episodes she realises that Mister has indeed truly cared for her and will do anything to ensure her safety; he could have taken her key any time he wanted, but his pirate code shows that he has scruples, as well as a decent amount of humanity underneath his gruff, cigar-munching exterior. Bishop and Katana have their own individual quirks, while Don King look-a-like Swamp adds to the overall nicely played comradery.
The series is also interesting in its portrayal of police corruption and prevalent criminal activity in a future where planets are governed by a galactic federation. It’s something which inevitably relieves the burden from its star characters, whose actions are perhaps nothing compared to the far grander state of affairs, whereby governments and judicial systems spread across the galaxy are having their pockets lined by the ones in charge of causing acts of ill repute: much of this is reflected whenever Marciano is on screen discussing plans of action with the disgruntled Criminal Guild, in addition to dodgy police matters being the reason that Chelsea finds herself disparaged in her job, which ultimately forces her to leave. But Coyote Ragtime Show doesn’t dwell on these matters to a huge extent, rather simply stating that the times rarely change and that perhaps some folk shouldn’t be held nearly as accountable as others; those who can afford to watch from the sidelines, safe in the knowledge that they may never be caught. It has a strong self-awareness that at the end of the day its goal is to entertain as much as it possibly can, making sure that it effortlessly gets from point A to point B with sharp efficiency.
Coyote Ragtime Show also happens to scream big budget; it’s a gorgeous looking series that makes the most of every penny. Its action set pieces are brilliantly staged, some relying on decent CG when taking into account some of the more complex battles involving space vessels. Although most of the action is ground based the series of events take place across a multitude of planets, primarily Sandvil and Mister’s home Ku-rong, with Graceland name dropped several times, being that it’s central to the Coyote’s journey. Slowly but surely the world of Mister and company begins to open up and offer an expansive universe where just about anything goes. Also pleasing is the overall character designs. Despite one or two fairly generic creations we have a roster of charming looking characters that seem to have drawn inspiration from other series. The most obvious I must point out is Mister himself, who literally looks like a cross between Batou from Stand Alone Complex (incidentally being voiced by the same actor Akio Ohtsuka) and J from Heat Guy J, while elsewhere Franca is your typical teen with large hair ribbons and Bishop and Katana are standard variants of what we’ve been accustomed to in the past. The Twelve Sisters are also interestingly designed, with the focus being on their Lolita fashion sense, which makes them some of the more complex and detailed looking creations in the series. In all the characters in relation to their environments are perfectly suited as the world of space pirates collide with that of mysterious organisations.
Ep. 1: Jailbreak
Federal Investigator Angelica Burns arrives on planet Sandvil, where she’s greeted by a feisty young detective named Chelsea Moore. Chelsea’s job is to escort Angelica to the Sandvil Penitentiary, where she hopes to acquire information, and possibly capture a felon who is commonly known as “Mister”. Having hunted him for four years she believes that he may be on these grounds, but his true identity is unknown. As she gets closer through her investigation of the penitentiary’s records the chief warden receives a phone call from revolutionists, who inform him that a bomb has been planted on the premises. The bomb explodes, which cause mass panic throughout the prison blocks. As the guards rally up the prisoners Mister comes out of the shadows and stages his daring escape, but before Angelica can bring him to justice twelve assassins belonging to the criminal guild infiltrate the grounds and kick up a storm.
Ep. 2: The Girl from the Pirate Hideout
With the days ticking down until the destruction of planet Graceland, Mister and his friends Bishop and Katana make their way to their home planet of Ku-rong, where Mister’s pirate hideout establishment is being run by a young girl by the name of Franca. Franca’s father was killed three years ago by Marciano of the Criminal Guild, and since that time Mister has been her sole guardian, brought on at the request of her father and his old friend Bruce “The Pirate King”. Franca believes that Mister’s feelings toward her are an act and that all he wishes to have in his possession is a necklace bestowed upon her, which is said to contain the key to Bruce’s legacy. With the Criminal Guild drawing ever closer, they must set aside any differences and take flight toward their next destination.
Ep. 3: The Man They Called “His Right-Hand Man”
Hot on the pursuit of the Coyote crew, the Criminal Guild’s helicopters track them to a remote part of the planet, but quickly lose them when they take shelter at a small community church. It’s here that Mister walks back into the life of an old acquaintance: a man named Swamp who used to be Bruce Dockley’s right-hand man and helped him carry out some of his biggest heists. Swamp is now a preacher man, but he still holds a light grudge against Mister, mainly due to now knowing why Bruce entrusted his daughter and treasure to him, in favour of himself. But petty differences must be cast aside once more when the Criminal Guild find them and force them to retreat. Swamp is persuaded to join Mister’s small crew after helping out with the eradication of Sep, while elsewhere Angelica and Chelsea are trying to prize information out of the severed head of May: one of the Twelve Sisters.
Ep. 4: Bygone Days
Mister invites his crew to sit down and view a recording made by Bruce Dockley, which chronicles his clever infiltration into Central Bank and the one year spent gaining the trust of every employee. His goal was the forge a perfect plan: to raid the heavily complex “Gigabanks” vault containing ten billion space dollars. Thus sets in motion the Coyote crew’s plan, once they arrive on Graceland, with little more than two days left until total annihilation.
Coyote Ragtime Show volume one is the first of three from ADV, with the series totalling twelve episodes. The disc itself is simple enough, though the main menu is slightly disappointing as it has all the hallmarks of a cheap flash animation.
Note: Despite being rated 12 the series is actually quite violent, particularly throughout the first episode in which the Twelve Sisters take perverse glee in maiming and shooting, with plenty of blood and some scenes which may make some feel a little uncomfortable.
Presented in its original 1.78:1 ratio and given anamorphic treatment, Coyote Ragtime Show looks very pleasing. The style of the series immediately leaps out, with its clean and thin line work that offers plenty of fine detail throughout. As with the majority of ADV titles related to newer digital anime series there’s next to nothing in the way of distracting artefacts; there is however some mild edge enhancement, not to mention a spot of banding and the transfer is unfortunately NTSC-PAL, but it’s nonetheless pleasant to view. Colour reproduction is superb, with the series offering plenty of vibrancy through its characters, impressive backgrounds and finely rendered CG. With spots of action taking place in outer space, in addition to night time intervals it’s good to see solid black levels and fine contrast. It’s shows like this that makes me wonder just how good they could look in HD, and hopefully it won’t be long before we get to find out.
In terms of sound ADV provides us quite the treat. On offer is both English and Japanese 5.1 Surround tracks and I’m happy to say that the series sounds fantastic. For my primary viewing session I listened to the native Japanese soundtrack and where necessary I sampled the English surround offering. Essentially both tracks are almost identical: both offer absolutely tremendous bass reproduction and the action sequences sound stunning, with machine guns, explosions and engines getting a good amount of rear coverage, which pulls the viewer right into the heart of several major conflicts. One thing to note is that the English dub is ever so slightly nuanced, with the biggest difference being the way in which the Twelve Sisters communicate with one another. Here ADV adopts a similar approach that Stand Alone Complex employed whenever Section 9 talk via cybercomms with that distinctive echo, and it works well here utilising the rear speakers, whereas the Japanese offering is far more subdued, though well handled all the same. The majority of dialogue is presented via the front channels and it remains crystal clear at all times.
Optional English subtitles are included of course, as is standard practice, and they’re of the usual high quality we’ve come to expect from ADV.
Sadly, for a show as enjoyable as this one, we get very little in terms of bonus materials. Aside from the obligatory clean open and close (the closing sequence being quite sublime though, as it features doll versions of the main characters) we get a production artwork gallery which runs for a few minutes. Also included on the disc are trailers for other ADV releases: Poni Poni Dash, Jinki: Extend, Cosplay Complex and Sorcerer Hunters.
I’d like to be able to say that there was more to talk about, but there honestly isn’t. The first volume supplies us with all it needs to at this point and it does so with style. While we do only get four episodes on the disc, the last of which places all of its attention on setting up the main heist, there’s plenty of fast paced high adventure and interesting characters, with the volume finishing as strongly as it began.