Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
You would think that after watching the TV series and OVA that I would have learned my lesson with the SaiKano franchise. But apparently not because here I am reviewing the latest iteration of the story, and this time it's live action.
SaiKano tells the tragic story of high-school-girl-turned-ultimate-weapon Chise and her struggle to maintain a romance with boyfriend Shuuji. It focuses on Chise's internal struggle to choose between the life of a normal high school girl and that of her duty as a tool of the military, as well as Shuuji's difficulties with being involved with such a girl. The story tries its hardest to make the romance between the two seem genuine and serious, but in the end it fails miserably. The "ultimate weapon" part of the story is just too over-the-top to expect anyone to take its presentation of emotional drama seriously. Maybe if it was a little more subtle in showing Chise in her "ultimate weapon" form, or if it worked harder to stress Chise's humanity over the her mechanics, then it might have worked better. But instead you see robotic ammunition that is probably ten times Chise's mass unceremoniously pop out of her body. I mean, how can anyone be expected to empathise with a girl who has five tons of hardware sticking out her backside? That's kind of a hard thing to ignore.
Over and above that, there were other elements to the story that stretched my suspension-of-disbelief threshold. The biggest issue I had was that they never really explain why Chise was specifically chosen to be the weapon, especially considering how emotionally weak she is. I think if the movie had presented some some compelling reason why the military choose her then it would have helped in making her character more empathizable. I also had a hard time accepting the idea that the military would let their "ultimate weapon" go back to her normal life, especially after a battle. Why not just keep her on the base? Those are the kinds of questions that I might have been able to ignore in a more action-oriented show (where you're not expected to think much anyway), but when presented in a serious drama they tend to be distracting.
Ironically, the live action movie's presentation of Chise as a weapon is actually less realistic than in the anime. For instance, in the anime when Chise's weaponry extends out her back, it tears up the back of her shirt; and when she returns from battle she actually looks like she's just been through hell. But in the live action version, her clothes always end up in tact and are relatively clean.
The movie's ending tried to be tragic, but wasn't very effective because to me it seemed forced and didn't flow naturally from the story. The last scene was kind of weird and ambiguous, but I don't have a ready interpretation of it.
The computer-generated visuals themselves were actually pretty impressive. I loved the designs of Chise's weapons and I thought the CG graphics melded naturally with the live action elements. But since the movie concentrated more on the drama, the CG effects are few and far between.
So in the end, this movie is about on par if not a step below the anime version. The visuals, while impressive, were too sporadic to make any real difference in the rating. If you are a SaiKano fan or are just curious about how the anime would transfer to live action (like I was) then maybe you will be interested, but other than some neat CG there really isn't much new to see here.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
When I saw the first episode I thought this was going to be such a great show. Full of mystery and all kinds of sci-fi goodness. Sure it had a naked girl right at the beginning so I guess that should have tipped me off some, but I figured it was just Gainax peppering the anime with some good old fashioned fan service.
But then came the second episode and the fan service turned into all-out moe -- just a romance with a some unrealistically "ideal" girl who is focused on the show's hero. And that just continued for half of the show. Where's the monster attack that we saw in the first episode? Where's the transforming Takeru?
Needless to say I was totally disappointed with those episodes. There was lots of nudity, but for a variety of reasons (the vague age of the girls not being the least) it was more awkward than titillating.
The second half made up for it some by bringing dark-Hikari out and developing the sci-fi part of the show. But the characters still felt shallow and I at the end I don't think it really saved it from the boring first half. Too bad. Maybe if those fan-service-oriented episodes were combined into just one or two episodes it would have been better.
The animation was average. Cool monster designs, but that was about the extent of it.
The music was nothing special. I liked the opening song, which was sung by the same person who did the opening to Evangelion. And I liked the closing song in the last episode, but everything else was average.
Overall, the show promised a lot of action and sci-fi intrigue but put off delivering on it until the second half of the series. I understand that the director was intentionally trying to break expectations and create a kind of dichotomy in the storyline, but unfortunately he didn't do a good job of it. That, combined with the shallow underdeveloped characters made for an interesting but overall disappointing show.
Monday, December 11, 2006
It was announced today that Ken'ichi Matsuyama, who plays Light's rival in the live-action Death Note movies, will also play the voice of L on the TV anime series airing in Japan this season. On the same day, it was also announced that there are plans to produce a live-action Death Note spin-off movie by 2008 that focuses on L as the main character.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
There's nothing more satisfying (in terms of cinematic experience) than when you end up watching an great movie when you didn't expected to be quite so good. That's how it was for me with Battle Royale.
The premise sounds pretty strange at first glance: Society has gotten sick of the disobedient and unruly attitude of its youth. So in order to teach the kids a lesson it institutes the Battle Royale (BA) Act. According to the Act, every year a class of students is chosen to take part in a survival contest. They are kidnapped, taken to an island, given random weapons (ranging from a paper fan to a machine gun), and are told that they must knock each other off within three days. The last person standing is allowed to live, but if more than one student is left after the time limit expires then everyone will be killed.
Yes, this movie is just as full of bloody violence and mayhem as the plot suggests. The story barely gives the audience a moment to settle in before the kids are kidnapped, dropped off on the island, told the rules of the game, and let loose to kill or be killed. And this could have gotten ugly really quick, but the movie does a number of things to keep the violence from becoming all too nausia-enducing. First of all, the characters' personalities and reactions to the situation are varied, balanced, and, most importantly, believable. They react in all the variety of ways that I would expect kids to react given the situation: disbelief, anger, refusing to fight, acceptance and reaction, or even enjoyment. Of course, there are some characters with villian-like personalities that are there as antagonists, and not every character got equal screen time, but overall the range of personlity types was impressive. Plus, in an especially familiar survival-technique (think reality TV), the kids start to make alliances to help protect each other -- many of which end up breaking apart in an every-man-for-himself brawl. I think the fact that the kid's reactions were believable and maybe even identifiable made the violence feel more cathartic instead of just gross.
As I watched the movie, I couldn't help but think that the fictional "Battle Royale Act" is exactly the kind of thing that adults in the real world sometimes wish they could do with bratty kids who refuse to follow their rules. The most direct example of that kind of wish fulfillment comes in the scene just after the students arrive on the island. First they are shown an overly upbeat instructional video on how the program works. Then Kitano -- the kid's former teacher -- asks if their are any questions, and when a student starts to complain, Kitano responds by throwing a knife strait into the kid's forehead. I can just imagine some teachers watching that scene and guiltily admitting to themselves that they wished they could do the same thing.
And on that note, it doesn't take too much thought power to see that this movie is a commentary on the Japanese education system. There are references to everything from the competitive nature of the classroom, to teachers who take out their personal issues out on the students, to inter-student relationships, to whatever. But you don't need to be Japanese to get and relate to what is going on, because I think a lot of the themes run cross culture.
Plot-wise, there were a couple of things that bugged me. The first is the logic behind BA Act itself. Supposedly it was enacted to correct the behavioral issues with Japan's youth. But from what I can tell, the kids all seem to be ignorant of just what the BA Act is, and those that do end up learning about it are (for the most part) killed off. So my question is: how is this supposed to teach the kids anything? Or am I missing something?
I also thought the ending could have been a little bit better. The explanation for why it ended like it did was logical -- I guess -- but still seemed like it was missing something. It's like it needed just one more line of explanation to make it satisfying. However, I did like Kitano's last scene so maybe that makes up for it.
The movie's soundtrack was awesome. There is a lot of symphony music (much of it reminiscent of some scores from Evangelion) that gives the story a powerful tone right from the beginning. I think it also adds to some of the theme. For instance, why is there symphony music instead of rock music? Answer: Because the "adults" prefer classical music.
Overall, I was really surprised by how much I liked this movie. It worked on a lot of levels that I didn't expect it to. And I think that if you can get over the extreme content and somewhat flawed premise, it's definitely worth checking out.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Whether or not you are a fan of anime, you have probably seen something that has been influenced -- directly or indirectly -- by the movie Seven Samurai. The Magnificent Seven, Samurai Seven, even The Three Amigos, and A Bug's Life all share a similar plot line whose origins can be traced back to Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic.
A small rice-farming village is threatened by a band of bandits who plan on pillaging the villagers' crop once it has been harvested. In an effort to save their livelihood, the villagers hire seven ronin samurai to help fend off the attack.
The plot, like I said, probably isn't anything you haven't seen before; and that may very well be this movie's downfall for many people. Despite the fact that this is the original, it's hard to watch it with the fresh mindset that people had back in the 50's when this kind of thing hadn't been seen before. And because of that, the plot may initially come off as predictable. But I think if you watch it all the way through there are a few aspect that stand out from a lot of contemporary films.
The first thing that stands out is that, despite the fact that it's a samurai movie, there isn't a lot of violence. The fighting doesn't really start until the last third (or so) of the movie when the bandits start to attack. And even then, the fighting is bloodless and comes in relatively short spurts. It seems to focus more on the strategy of fighting and the character's reaction to the fighting than anything else. There's no long-drawn out duels between key characters showing cool martial arts or sword-fighting techniques. There's only minimal violence as needed to tell the story, and that's about it. And I think that in itself makes it a better movie because the violence doesn't distract from the story.
The second thing that makes the movie exceptional is the characters. The two characters that stand out the most are Kambei and Kikuchiyo. Kambei is the de facto leader of the samurai. He's strong, experienced, wise, humble, and compassionate; all of which make him the most likable character of the group. I also think a lot of his likability has to do with the great acting by Takashi Shimura. The other noticeable character is Kikuchiyo. He stands out because even though he wants to be one of them, he lacks the nobility that the other samurai have. He comes off as brash and at times dim-witted, and because of his history as a farmer, I think he's like the bridge that connects the samurai with the villagers. The rest of the samurai get a kick out of his antics but also have a respect for his drive to help.
In fact, I think it's that cohesive relationship among all the samurai that is one of the things that makes the characters so appealing. They work together to come up with a plan to help the villagers, and don't bicker about who has the better strategy. It's not until one of them decides to act on his own that they really get into trouble.
The final thing that stands out (that I want to mention) is the ending. In the end, the samurai reach their goals, but not without sacrifice; and ultimately, they themselves gain little from the experience. It's that happy-but-not ending that I think makes the film more interesting because it flies in the face of a lot of Western-style storytelling that demands something more clear-cut.
Visually, Seven Samurai is about what you'd expect from a movie made in the 50's. The cinematography is good as far as the use of camera angles and the like. But the quality of the film is kind of crappy; meaning that you can see spots and stuff appear on the screen a lot. It didn't bothered me, but I can't help but wonder if there is a way to clean that kind of thing up these days.
The music was subtle and enhanced the scenes that it needed to, but again it's an old movie and the soundtrack sounds like it.
Overall, this is a classic movie with a solid story and likable characters and if you claim to be a movie buff then this is a must-see. However, some casual viewers may be bored by the familiar plot, long running-time, and dated look and sound -- which I guess I can understand. But for those who can appreciate the film's lineage and can watch it with a bit of perspective, then it's something that's well-worth watching.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Barefoot Gen is a historical drama about the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. It is loosely based on the experiences of Keiji Nakazawa -- the author of the original manga and survivor of the Hiroshima attack. It tells the story of Gen, who lives a hard but happy life with his family; but when the Alona Gay flies over and drops its nuclear payload, his life is changed forever.
This movie does not pull any punches when it comes to showing the full effects of the bomb's explosion. First off there is the explosion itself -- all shown in slow motion giving it an intense realism. Then you see its direct effects on people when men, children, pets, and even mothers holding their babies are all hit by the radiation blast and their bodies disintegrate in gruesome slow-motion detail.
The aftereffects of the blast are just as disturbing. Gen, who has miraculously survived, stands up to notice that the girl he had been walking with just a minute ago is now nothing but a corpse. He sees people walking toward him, but once they get close he sees that they look like zombies with melting flesh and who are totally unresponsive as he looks for help. When he reaches his house, he sees that it has collapsed and his family is trapped under the rubble. The only person he can rescue is his pregnant mother but the rest are buried and burned alive.
In the days that follow, Gen, his mother, and the newborn baby struggle to survive. Eventually they take in an orphan named Ryuuta because he reminds them of Gen's recently deceased brother. Their situation is made even more urgent by the fact that Gen's mother can't nurse the baby because she's had to nothing to eat and all she's had to drink is water.
It's a surreal experience to watch the whole thing unfold, but the the fact that the story was written by someone who was actually there helps to keep it grounded in reality. During the entire movie I kept wondering just how much of Gen's experience is a true-life reflection of what happened to the writer. For instance, did he really help his mom deliver her baby and did they really take in an orphan like it shows in the movie? Stuff like that really kept me paying close attention.
As much as the story was about hardship, Gen's youthful energy and attempts to make the best out of everything keeps the tone from growing too heavy. He keeps a forward-looking and cheerful attitude as he does various jobs to earn (and sometimes steal) money and food. Despite the somewhat disjointed and rushed feeling of these sub-stories, they help to raise the tone and make the story much easier to digest.
The second movie takes place three years after the end of the first one, and tells about Gen, his mother, and Ryuuta. Gen also meets up with some orphans and they work together to earn money to support each other and support Gen's mother whose health is steadily declining.
This second movie is driven more by the characters than by events, so it is not as shocking as the first. It does however show that there hasn't been a lot of improvement to things over the years since the bomb hit. Classes for children take place in the rubble of a school building, people are still dying daily from radiation sickness (called Pika), and human bones can be seen lining the river bottom.
As far as the animation is concerned, both movies show their age to a degree, but the first movie is definitely much lower quality. (At times it reminded me of something from a Charlie Brown cartoon.) The animation in the second movie is much better, with improved detail and much more fluid movement of the characters.
The music in both movies is pretty bad. It's dated and even sounds cheesy at times. It doesn't distract from the power of the story and visuals though.
I've read a lot of reviews comparing this movie to Grave of the Fireflies -- the other, more popular World War II movie about orphaned children. That one was animated by Studio Ghibli so the animation quality is superior by far, but I'm not as sure about the story. I think Grave is more heavy-handed in portraying its anti-war theme in part because it pushes the cuteness of the kids and the tragedy of their situation in order to manipulate the audience's emotions. But Gen seems like it is just showing what happened and figures that that is enough to get the point across. Sure, it uses children, but the kids are not overly cute and seldom do anything I'd call adorable. Also, although the story can sometimes seem disjointed, I think Gen does a better job of making the movie watchable by balancing the tragedy with a sense of hope. The differences are diminished a bit when you compare Grave with the second Barefoot Gen movie. But regardless, if you like movies rooted in history, then I don't think you can go wrong seeing either one.
Satoshi Kon = ???:
The WOWOW page for Reideen, Production IG's remake of the 1975 mecha anime series Yuusha Raideen, now hosts a 30 second and a 120 second streaming Windows Media trailer. Reideen is scheduled to premier next March. (Source: AnimeNation)
The official homepage for Production IG's upcoming anime television series Seirei no Moribito now hosts a 50 second trailer. The trailer is available streaming on the website (click the bottom left-hand link on the site's top page), and is available for direct download in MP4 format for the PSP and M4V format for the Ipod. The series is scheduled to premier next April. (Source: AnimeNation)
The official website for the French theatrical release of anime film Paprika is now online. The site's "BANDE ANNONCE" section hosts a new English language narrated trailer ("VO") featuring extensive footage not contained in any previous trailers. (Source: AnimeNation)And this guy is just good:
A second trailer for director Makoto Shinkai's upcoming anime movie trilogy Byousoku 5 Centimeter has been added to the official site. The trailer is available in three streaming sizes, and as a 68.4mb high resolution WMV format download. (Source: AnimeNation)
Friday, November 17, 2006
Do you ever remember the old stories about a mystical land where a prince would fight a duel outside a mideval castle in order to save a a maiden from having to be engaged to a power vilian? And remember when the mystical land was actually a school, and the prince was actually a girl who just dressed like a boy, and the castle hung upside-down, and the villian was actually a group of students, and the maiden was a Rose Bride whose Groom would have the power to reshape the world? Remeber that? Well, if you do, then chances are you've been waching Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Here's the real story: Just after Utena's parents died she was consoled by a prince who gave her a ring with a rose crest on it. Utena was so impressed by the Prince that she vowed to become one herself one day. Flash forward a few years to Ohtori Acadamy where Utena Tenjou is a new student. She's a strong-willed girl who annoys the teachers by insisting on wearing a boy's uniform. After having her friend insulted by a member of the student council, Utena agrees to take part in a sword duel in order to defend her friend's honor. As it turns out, the duel is just one in a series that only those who wear the rose-crest ring can participate in. Whoever wins the duel is automatically engaged to a girl named Anthy Himemiya -- aka. the "Rose Bride". And whoever is engaged to the Rose Bride will eventually recieve the power to "revolutionize the world".
To be sure, there is a lot of weird stuff going on and when I first started watching this show I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. But I kept with it anyway because I was interested in some of the mysteries in the story: Like who exactly is "End of the World" and why does it keep sending letters to the student council? And why is Anthy bound to be the Rose Bride? And who is Utena's prince? And why is there an upside-down castle hanging over the dueling arena? And just what the heck is the deal with those shadow girls? And what is Chu-chu? A mouse? All these things kept me interested long enough to discover some of the other interesting elements.
The first half to two-thirds of the show follows a regular pattern: First, Utena is introduced to a new member of the Student Council and learns why they want to have the power to revolutionize the world. Then the Council member challenges Utena to a duel in order to achieve the power to realize their goal. In the end, Utena almost always wins the duel and the challenger learns to accept their situation.
After Utena deuls her way through all the Council members, she ends up fighting some of the minor characters in a much darker (and in my opinion cooler) story arc called the "Black Rose Saga". It's not until the end of that that arc that the series breaks from its usual pattern and finally makes an effort to move the story forward and explain some of what is going on.
The duels, I think, are used as a means of exploring and developing the relationships among the different characters. Each character has their own personal reason for wanting to deuling and most of the time it comes down to "I want to revolutionize the world because I want such-and-such a person to like me." So the duelists just want to use the Rose Bride as a means to their own end. Utena is the only one who doesn't have a selfish motive. She wants to win in order to keep Anthy from being used by everyone else. It's her independence and selflessness that are her strengths and the reason she is always able to win. So the show is basically saying that if you want to improve your situation in life, then it's better to change yourself than to try and change (or "revolutionize") the world.
Themes aside for a minute, the thing that will probably put most people off to this series are the romantic relationships which are pretty unconventional (to put it mildly). You've got a brother-sister thing going on, and a couple girl-girl, and an older-younger pair, and in finally you've got a kind of adulterous situation. There's even a hint of yaoi inuendo going on with the three of the main (rather effeminent-looking) male characters. There's nothing that you'd feel guilty about watching because it never gets graphic. In fact, there's hardly any phycial-ness to the relationships at all until near the end. But even then they only show you just barely enough to give you an idea of what is going on. The show focuses more on the emotional aspect of the relationships than the physical. But however unconventional these romances might be, I don't think the story would work quite as well without them. It's the "forbidden" nature of the relationships that gives the show it's conflict and really drives the story.
There's also a lot of symbolism that appears as a bunch of seemingly random visuals. You've got school desks that appearing out of nowhere and than move on their own, convertibles racing around on their sides then jutting up from the ground, or Anthy disappearing and turning into a tree. I don't have much analysis for that, though. Sorry.
With all the symbolism and "unconventional" relationships, the show could have easily turned sour from the weight of its own pretentiousness. But there are a couple of things that I think prevented this from happening. The first thing is that the show has going for it is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It can be funny and fun, at least for the first part of the series. And that definitely helps make it easier to watch.
The second thing is that no matter what happens, the show never stops focusing on it's characters. In my experience, when a show focuses too much on symbolism, the story tends to get lost under a heap of esoterica. And if the relationships are too graphic, it distracts from the emotions. But characters can both push a story forward and also create a connection with the audience. So focusing on them makes the keeps the story on track.
The end of the show did end up explaining a few things, but by no means everything. It was interesting, but I can't say it was totally satisfying. But maybe that was the point.
The animation quality is average. There is a lot of recycled animation in this show. They always replay the same scene of Utena acending into the arena, and later on there are other scenes that are constantly recycled. So those scenes and the last few episodes are good quality. But for the most part it's nothing special.
The music was strange and sometimes even haunting. But nothing that I was especially in love with.
In the end, I'm glad I watched this show. And even though I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, I was able to get into it after I got over the initial weirdness. If you are into shojo titles you will definitely want to check this out. But if you have low tolerence for strangeness you'll want to run far far away.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
If you are a relatively old-school (meaning pre-2000) anime fan then I'm sure you have a few shows or movies that bring back a waff of nastalgia every time you watch them. For me Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is one of them. The show was first released back in the mid-90's in an edited form -- meaning that some scenes were cut but also the soundtrack was totally re-done. This new DVD is the first time that the movie has been released totally in-tact and with the option of watching the original Japanese language and music tracks, so for me this was a must-buy.
The movie's story is pretty negligable. It's basically a series of fight scenes loosely tied together by a very strait-forward -- and very video-game-like -- story. Bison (or Vega in the original Japanese) is the leader of a crime syndicate called Shadowlaw (or Shadowloo in Japanese). He's going around the world to gather all the world's best street fighters to join his organization, and the legendary fighter Ryu is next on his list. But since Ryu seems to be hard to find, Bison figures that he'll use Ryu's old fighting partner Ken to lure him out.
Like I said, what there is of a story is basically an excuse for a bunch of fight scenes, and the Japanese and English versions are pretty much the same in that respect. The movie tries very hard to include all the characters from the original video game, so many of the scenes have absolutely no bearing on the actual plot. But to tell you the truth, for what it is I think it works really well because it doesn't try to be anything it's not. If you want to watch a fighting movie, sometimes you just want to watch a fighting movie and an over-developed story can almost seem like an annoying distraction. This movie doesn't pretend to have depth, it just gives you what you want -- one fight after another.
And those fights are the reason that I loved this movie back when I first saw it. The scenes were coreographed pretty damn well I thought. The animation was fluid and fast and detailed to a degree I hadn't seen before and haven't seen since. Even the super-gravity-defying techniques seemed to flow naturally and realistically. My favorites are the fight between Chun-Li and Vega (or Balrog in the Japanese) and the one between Ryu and Fei-Long. I remember watching those over and over again back when I first saw this and I had a blast watching them again this time.
The one thing that I was kind of dissappointed by in terms of the visuals was that Manga Ent. didn't re-master the video. It still looks old. Though in a way I suppose that just added to the sense of nostalgia.
As far as the unedited material is concerned, mostly it involved a little more blood splooshes here and there. The major addition that most people will notice is the Chun-Li shower scene. I remember back when I first saw it I just knew that something was cut out. Well here you get to see the full monte, with Chun-Li in all her full-frontal glory. So there you go.
The biggest difference between the English and Japanese versions is the soundtrack, which I honestly think makes the two versions feel like two totally different movies. The original Japanese soundtrack -- when present at all -- mostly includes soft and subtle background music, even during the fighting scenes. As a result you get a very VERY different feel than in the English version, which contains mostly harder-edge guitar sounds and includes some more modern (for the time) heavy-metal tunes from bands like Korn and Alice and Chains. Comparing the two, I think the Japanese version was trying to bring out more realism and emotion with the soundtrack. Although it was softer, it was also less distracting, which allows you to focus more on the fight itself and ponder what the characters are thinking and why they are fighting. In the English version, the music brings out emotion too, but it's more like an adrenaline-pumping intensity and gets you caught up in the action itself more than the characters.
Although I hate to admit it, I really prefer the English version over the Japanese. Although I can definitely repect, appreciate, and even enjoy the subtle drama of the Japanese soundtrack, I think that overall the English version is more effective at being entertaining. Like I said before, this is a fighting movie, and I think the English version takes full advantage of that by enhancing the intensity of the action, and as a result, I was able to get more into it. My guess is that the Japanese culture and sensibilities would probably get more out of the implications of the subtlety. But even all that aside, the Japanese version reminded me of something out of the 80's and tended to sound kind of cheesy. (Given that I usually hate edits in anime, I sincerly appologize and sympathize with all the purists out there.)
In the end, I did enjoy the English version more than the Japanese version. I didn't re-watch the entire English version, I just basically fast-forwarded to my favorite fight scenes, but even so the enjoyment I had for this movie back then still came back to me. But regardless of whether you saw this back in the day or are coming into it with a fresh perspective, if you like strait-out martial arts action then this is an anime you should check out.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Whether or not you are already familiar with the story of Gankutsuou, aka the Count of Monte Cristo from either having read the book (which I haven't) or seen the movie (which I have), I think this anime version has enough original twists and impressive visuals to keep anyone interested all the way through.
Gonzo treats the story of Monte Cristo much in the same way it did with Samurai Seven by taking a 19th centruy story and putting it in a futuristic sci-fi setting. So what you end up with is an anachronistic mix of old, new, and futuristic. The technique (called "mixing") can be incredibly effective as long as long as the anachronisms mesh well together as they did in Gankutsuou.
Admitedly the mixing does have an awkward moment or two. For instance, in one scene two characters take part in a sword dual. But, instead of doning armor, the characters pilot giant,possibly organic, mobile suits. I'm sure some viewers who are unaccostomed to anime converntions will scratch their heads at things like why the pilots feel pain when the robot gets stabbed or why the robots bleed.
But regardless, the vast majority of the show is able to effectively capture the tone and mood of an 19th century romantic novel complete with all the twists, and well-structured, naturally flowing plot elements. And I think that well-structured plot is a good part of what gives the show a distincly Western feel. Put that together with Japanese talent for character driven drama and it makes for a series that balances plot and character-development surprisingly well.
One thing that changed in the story (from what I've heard) is that in this version it is told from Albert's point of view. I think that change works really well because Albert has no idea what the Count's motives or plans are, so it makes the Count seem that much more intriguing. In fact, the Count is probably one of the coolest characters that I have seen in an anime in a long time. He's smart, driven, and has a strong personality, but he's also sympathetic and it's easy to feel for his plight. He also has a strong impact on the younger characters.
It seemed like the characters were divided into two groups: the "children" and the "adults". At the beginning there is a huge social gap between them as the adults manipulate the lives of their children for their own political, financial, and personal interests. The Count is the one who empowers the kids and through him they learn to take control of their own lives. And that growth in maturity and youthful rebellion is something that is easy to sympathize with as well.
The ending of the show was great for the most part, even though there were a few parts that bothered me. For instance, one character gets a little too out-of-control in a way that seemed out of place with the rest of the story. Also, I was kind of confused as to how exactly the Count and Albert resolve everything in their last scene. But despite all that, I was really liked how everything wrapped up, especially in the last episode were it shows what happened with all the characters.
Of course, I don't think any review of this show can be justified unless there are heaps of praise for the incredible visuals. Gonzo used a very original technique that uses patterns instead of colors. So as a chracter moves the pattern on their clothes stays still. It's something that is always noticable, but is never distracting and actually enhances the feel of the story. Beyond that, the other computer generated backgrounds, structures, and vehicles had an impressive amounts of detail and color in the design. Suffice to say that there is a whole lot to look at in this show.
The music adds to the mood as much as the visuals. The opening and ending themes flip conventions by putting the slow song at the beginning an the up-beat song at the end. What I especially liked about the ending theme was that it flowed naturally from the ending of each episode and into the preview for the next. It worked so well infact that I think this may have been the first time I've watched the opening and ending and preview in every episode! The rest of the soundtrack sounds like it was taken from a 50's sword fighting movie, which is a nice touch.
I watched this show in it's original Japanese, and I really recommend because not only is the voice acting better but each episode gives a recap in French which I loved. For some reason though, the english dub just translates that part into english, which seems kind of stupid to me. But whatever.
This is one of the best shows I've seen in a long time and I was sorry to see it come to an end. Overall, I think almost anyone could watch this and enjoy it because it's a familiar well-thought-out story that has enough originality to keep it interesting, characters that are easy to identify with, and a never-ending supply of impressive visuals.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Well, after months of waiting for the complete release, and after finally watching the original Gunbuster, I finally got through all 6 episodes of the fantastically epic Gunbuster 2 / Aim for the Top 2 / Diebuster (title varies depending on who you ask). And man was this show ever sweet.
AFTT2 is fulfilling in just about every respect. It has great art, animation, characters, and story. The settings have a cool, bright, colorful sci-fi feel to them. And the characters each have an original and distinguishable design. The mech designs are simple and dynamic and just cool to watch. The Gunbuster mech themselves actually remind me a lot of the mech in Gad Guard: simple, cartoonish design, but unlike Gad Guard these mech follow through with some wild weaponry that make for intense, frantic, fast-paced, action sequences that are fun to watch.
The soundtrack plays a big part in upping the dramatic feel to the show, especially during the battle sequences. The opening intro is like a happy j-pop kind of thing. It's catchy and has a good beat (though that didn't stop me from skipping over it for some episodes).
Another thing that I love about both this show and it's predicessor is that they both start out deceivingly slow and simple, but then build up to an enourmous scope and intensity leading up to a god-like climax and end with a perfect final scene. But unlike a lot of other anime that try to do the same, this show has a lot of substance to back it all up. The characters, technical concepts, and plot all drive the thing home to a resounding conclusion. I'm still trying to figure out how they pack it all into just 6 episodes!
I think fans of the original Gunbuster will love this one. Of course it's not as good as the original, but it's still just so much fun to watch, and contains a lot of the visual and story elements that I always want to see in anime but can never seem to find in one place. And the ending is exactly what I was hoping it would be.
As a final extra little tidbit of info, Gainax announced a while ago that they are going to be showing a theatrical Gunbuster vs. Diebuster movie October 1. There won't be any new animation as far as I can tell. It's just going to compile all the anime from the two series into two movies that will be shown as a double feature. I'd love to see that! Check out the sweet poster and the Gainax website.
Monday, October 09, 2006
This is a giant robot show but not the brooding-teenager/psychological-symbolism kind of giant robot show. This is the kind that focuses more on heroics than teen angst -- the "I want to save the world because it's the right thing to do and because I want to protect people" kind of show. And it throws in an extremely generous portion of in-your-face fan service to boot.
You won't find any hard science fiction here. The character, costume, and robots are designed to be flamboyant and dramatic instead of practical and functional. The show aims to please its audience with a combination of fond nastalgia for shows like Voltron, but also by reveling in its own low-brow excesses.
The animation focuses on two visual themes: giant robots and giant breasts; and the staff seemed to concentrate equally on animating both. A show that relies on visual energy like this one can break-down quick with the animation quality. But luckily, the quality is relatively consistent throughout.
Your enjoyment of the show will probably depend how you interpret the fan service. If you think of it as satire then the joke will probably get old quick. But personally I interpreted it (rightly or wrongly) as the animators being intentionally obnoxious and just generally having fun with the animation -- like a running gag where they are testing how far they can take it. And for some reason I found that hilarious.
The story is fast-paced and high-energy at the beginning but slows down at about the midway point. That's when the characters get a little more serious as they try to get their lives and relationships in order. It concentrates a lot around the love triangle between Goh, Anna, and Mira. Goh is married to Anna, but only after he thought his previous love, Mira, was dead. But after Mira comes back to life it causes all kinds of awkward moments. I never really liked this story thread, mainly because I really didn't think any of them should be together -- Mira was like the pining mistress, and Anna was just too young for Goh (17 vs 30). It's hard to take much of this too seriously though, since the T&A is in plentiful supply throughout.
The last few episodes pick back up the pace and ends the series exactly how a show like this should end: with an over-the-top battle sequence, explosive climax, and satisfying resolution that wraps up most of the plot points while giving closure to all of the characters.
So in the end, I'm not sure I could call this a great series, but neither is it a bad one. Ultimately, you're not going to get any deep thematic value out of watching Godannar. But it has plenty of energy and can be fun to watch, and sometimes that's all I need.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Samurai 7 takes the story from the original Seven Samurai movie and wraps it in the guise of a futuristic steam-punk-like setting. It's set in a world where a skilled human samurai can face off on equal terms with a 15-story tall mechanized fortress/warriors called the Nobuseri. It's not the kind of thing you'd call realistic, but in order to enjoy this show I think you have to be able to look through the sci-fi facade and see original story beneith it. I think the setting is really just there to give the old story a new spin and make it fresh for a new audience. But when you get down to the heart of it the themes of maturity, experience, war, and sacrifice are all just as relevant.
The story itself revolves around a village that gets plundered annually by a group of bandits. In order to protect their crop, the villagers send out their "water priestess" Kirara to find and hire a group of warriors to fend off the bandits. It starts out kind of slow and takes its time to develop as the samruai are all gathered. It's like you know that the story is going to develop into something epic, but it's hard to see how at first. It's not until about the midway point -- where the magestrate's son Ukyo makes his status transition -- that the story finally starts to take off.
The slow development may be frustrating for those looking for strait-out action, but I really thought it helped set the mood. Plus it gives the anime a chance to flesh out the background and internal politics of the world. So when the action really does start rolling, you have a better understanding of why things happen the way they do.
The pacing also allows more time to establish the characters' personalities. So when they start to develop and mature the impact of their change is more dramatic. The best example of this is the novice samurai Katsushirou. He's young and naive and full of ideals about honor and romance. But as he journeys to fight the nobuseri and save the village he's faced with many harsh realities. He's ready to die for his cause, but it's when he's faced with the death of others and starts to understand the true price of war that his idealism turns to rage and things start to get ugly.
Other characters develop to varying degrees as well. The one character that really surprised me was Kikuchiyo. At first he just seemed like the stereotypical brash dim-whitted comic relief character, but eventually I really started to like the guy. He had a sense of the real world that the other characters lacked. And there was something about the english voice actor that played him that seemed to bring out a loud-but-honest quality that I grew to like.
The ending of the show was suitably climactic and brought satistfying closure to most all of the characters. There's success, but not without sacrifice. And some people may not like how the romantic relationship develop and end up, but to it's credit the story stays true to the theme of sacrifices made in war.
The animation quality varies through out the show. The CGI parts are consistently high-quality, but the 2-d animation ranges from excellent to average. Regardless though, GONZO did a good job of making the two mediums as seemless as possible. And the visual quality is never a distraction for the story.
The music was good and subtle enough to compliment the mood of the story.
So in the end I'd say this is definitely on my list of recommendations. Don't let the slow start fool you. If it wasn't for the fact that the show aired on IFC I might have never bothered to see it, but I'm definitely glad I did. I even bought the recently released Seven Samurai DVD, and I'm willing to bet that the anime will encourage other fans to follow suit.
On another somewhat distracting note, while watching the show I kept thinking that the plot sounded familiar somehow -- other than from the original movie. And just a few days ago it hit me: A Bug's Life. It has the same basic premise: a village hiring a group of warriors in order to protect them from bandits who annually plunder their crop. So I wonder if the Disney flick was influenced by the original Seven Samurai movie. Hmm... (Wikipedia says so, but that's far from gospel.)
Saturday, September 30, 2006
In a post on her website, Earthsea novel author Ursula K. Le Guin noted that a US release of Gedo Senki will happen "when the contract with the TV people for their film and rights runs out: not before 2009." She's referring to her publisher's contract with The Sci Fi Channel, which produced an Earthsea TV miniseries in 2004 and has the US rights to make movies based on the original books for four more years.Gedo Senki is actually directed not by Acadamy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki, but by his son Goro Miyazaki. There has been some high profile tension between father and son over this movie relating to the younger's inexperience in animation. Regardless though, according to Newtype the movie "grossed over one billion yen in ticket sales in its first week, and distributor Toho is anticipating a final tally of over ten billion yen, which would make the anime film one of the biggest in Japanese movie history."
Not sure if Disney would automatically have the rights to this one since it's not directed by Hayao, but I can't help but wonder how high anticipation for it will be in 4 years. I guess it just gives that much more time for fan-subbers to work on it. ;D
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This movie seems to have been specifically designed to appeal to people who have finished the Final Fantasy 7 video game -- which makes sense considering that it's a direct sequel. FF7 fans will love all of the homages to the music, setting, characters, storyline, and fighting techniques of the game. But for non-fans, much of this will probably just go right over their head. Oh, sure, there's some expository introduction at the beginning of the movie, so to some extent I'm sure non-fans could follow along. But for the most part there is not a lot of plot explanation, and there is practically no introduction for the FF7 characters other than of Cloud and Tifa (I don't even think they mention the names of most of them). Thankfully though, there is a great extra on the DVD which recaps key scenes from the game. So for people who haven't played the game, it makes a nice summary, and can be a refresher for those who haven't played in for a while.
The one thing that will definitely impress the audience -- regardless of your gameplay experience -- is the immense volume of eye candy that abounds in this film. There's a lot of matirx-like fighting (ie, slow-down, speed up, slow down, speed up...), which you may or may not like; but the gravity-defying battles, impossible camera angles, and just gorgeous visuals are sure to make just about anybody stop and gape in awe. The director says (in one of the DVD extras) that they didn't want to limit the film's potential by confining the characters actions to real-world physical laws. Their only rule was basically, if it looks cool then do it.
As far as the movie's storyline, in the beginning the story seems like it has a lot of potential; but after a while it seems to ditch story/character development in favor of over-extended (but really cool) fight scenes. And for some reason the ending fight seems kind of deflated. Sure it's visually climactic, but storywise there isn't enough explanation as to why cloud wins at the end (sorry for the spoiler, but come on, like you didn't already know that was going to happen). Maybe I missed something, but after the fight was over I really expected there to be more. I did like how the very last scene played out though so I guess it wasn't all that bad.
Overall, I'd say that if you have played the game then watch this movie because you'll get a kick out of the game references. If you haven't played it, you'll have to take the story with a grain of salt and just accept that you aren't going to understand everything. If nothing else, you can at least enjoy the eye candy.
I'm not quite sure how to handle this one because it's basically an animated version of a part of the FF7 story. So if you haven't played the game then you won't know what is going on at all. And if you have played the game then you already know what is going to happen. But all that aside, there's just something fun about watching the FF7 characters in anime form.
This one-episode story mainly revolves around Zack and how he and Cloud are on the run from Shinra. It does a good job of clarifying some elements that didn't play out as well in the game -- like Cloud and Zack's ride in the truck, and how exactly Zack died. The animatoin is great, and the music is good, though nothing about the later really sticks out in my mind at the moment. So if you're a fan and get a chance, then check it out.
It was originally released in Japan as an extra on the FF: Advent Children DVD, but for some reason it wasn't on the US version for some reason. So sad.
And that's pretty much all I have to say about that. :D
This Fafner prequel takes place a few months (?) before the events of the TV series and revolves around a last-ditch effort to keep the Festum from discovering the location of Alvis. While watching the show, at first I thought this was kind of a stupid story idea since -- if you've watched the TV series -- you know that the Festum are going to find the island eventually anyway. But as it turns out, the inevitability of failure makes for some tragic drama, and in the end I thought they made a good explanation for why achieving peace -- however temporary -- is so important. So all-in-all, the story is pretty good -- not great but worth seeing if you're a fan of the show.
One thing I was really disappointed by was the fact that it doesn't do much in the way of providing insite into the Festum or Fafners and why they do what they do, especially since there is a lot of stuff in the series that I still don't understand. But... Eh..
The visuals are a definite step up from the TV show. The Festum themselves are rendered in greater detail and the battle scenes are a lot more fluid. The music in the OVA is good too, but I don't think it's quite as good as in the show. Angela has a new song in the soundtrack, so that in itself is something worth listening for.
Overall if you are a fan of the original series I'm sure you're going to want to give this extra little Fafner episode a try. Though if you are not a fan, I don't think this will change your opinion one way or the other.
Monday, September 18, 2006
This was a frustrating show. I loved the first six or seven episodes, and I thought the characters were great and the action was great and it was just an all-around fun high-school-students-battle-one-another-while-conveniently-exposing-their-underwear type of show. The animation was top-notch and the fighting was intense and there was even a surprising amount of character development. For instance, when I first saw Masataka I would have bet anything that he would have been a typical weak-but-nice character. And then what happens? He kicks Souchiro's ass something fierce. So by the time the sixth (or so) episode rolled around, all the characters seemed to have a pretty good relationship developing and their goals seemed all set out.
Then, just when everything was set up and I was really excited to see what happens next, it dumps all the best characters in favor of an all-too-long flashback. What the heck?
I'm not saying that the flashback had a bad story at all -- in fact it was great with it's own set of interesting and cool characters. It's just that it needed to be (and could have been) edited by maybe half. That's because by the time it wrapped up it had taken up most of the show and after a while I just wanted to get back to Souchiro, Masataka and the gang. I mean, learning about Maya, Mitsuoumi and Shin was all well and good, but I wanted to find out about the other "present day" characters too. Like why does Souchiro have so much potential as a fighter, and what's the history of him and his mom, and why did Aya fall instantly in love with Souchiro to the point where she automatically proposed marriage? And how did Masataka get so powerful and what's the history of him and his brother? In fact, after the flashback story ends Masataka fades into the background as pretty much a non-character. Which sucked because after he gave Souchiro his ass-whuppin' I was really looking forward to see what Masataka would do next.
Now I know this is an Oh Great! battle/fan service show -- hell, that's what attracted me to it in the first place. But you can't expect to start out with a certain set of characters and start to build them up and them dump them for most of the series. I mean, when you have only five characters represented in the show's opening animation, you'd expect that they'd get a little more air time at least. I don't know...
Anyway, speaking of which, this show had one hell of a catchy take-over-your-brain kind of intro. I still find myself singing "Bomb a head" out loud on occasion to the point where I can practically feel my brain cells breakdancing in my head. It's that bad (but in a good way).
As far as the ending of the show is concerned, there really isn't one. (Yet more evidence that the flashback should have been edited-for-time.) The show is apparently going to be concluded in two OVA episodes, but Geneon hasn't said (to my knowledge) when/if they will be released in the US. [Edit: After some research, I discovered that the last two episodes of the US release are in fact the 2-episodes from the OVA. So I guess we'll never get a chance to see the final tournament fight after all. There is also a movie that just re-tells the flashback arc called The Past Chapter. So there really is no new Tenjho Tenge.]
So in summary, Tenjho Tenge was a fan-servicey martial arts anime that followed up with some depth to the story. Unfortunately, that depth came came in the form of a good-but-over-extended flashback that crowed out some of the original characters. But when it's all said and done, nobody is going into this show expecting deep characters or story. They just want plenty of high-intensity fighting and exposed flesh, and on that this show undeniably delivers.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Yes I finally finally FINALLY finished this freaking game. All told it took me about 9 years before I finally got around to taking the time to see it through to the end. This latest session recorded over 60 hours worth of play time. And that's not counting the times at during the last part of the game when the Playstation froze up 4 freaking times forcing me to restart and loose about 2 hours of playtime.
Anyway, the ending was pretty cool, though I wouldn't have minded seeing a bit more of a resolution (at least something more than the short "500 years later" scene after the end credits).
Of course, the whole reason I was motivated to finish the game was in preparation for watching the Advent Children movie as well as the Last Order anime. So, God willing, it will be worth it. According to a comment I got a while back from straightfromthecask, playing the game gives you a greater appreciation for the movie. I guess I'll find out when I watch it, which I plan on doing after I finish up Tenjho Tenge.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
According to the October issue of Newtype (Japan) (On sale September 10), four new Evangelion movies are in the works. The four movies will include a prequel, a mid-series movie, a sequel and a "final" movie. The prequel movie is due out early summer 2007.According to Hiroaki at the AnimeNation Forums:
While the new story will be set during the same time frame as the original TV series, Newtype states that it will be an entirely new project, not be a remake or improvement of any sort. Newtype also mentions that viewers will not need to have already seen previous Evangelion material in order to understand and enjoy the new movies.
Hideaki Anno will write the scenario for the first movie and will be the general director and manager for the entire project. Kazuya Tsurumaki will direct the movies while Yoshiyuki Sadamoto will provide character designs and Ikuto Yamashita will provide mechanical designs. Shinji Higuchi will provide storyboards for the first movie.
Khara, a new studio that shares office space with Gainax, was recently set up and is seeking production staff to work on Anno's new project.
- 1st movie (90 minutes) is due out May 2007;
- 2nd movie (90 minutes) is due out February 2008;
- 3rd & last movies (each 45 miutes) are due out May 2008;
- "these movies will solve all of Eva's doubt". :D
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Apparent scans from the October, 2006 issue of the Japanese edition of Newtype Magazine (not officially due out on shelves until this wekeend) have appeared online, backing up almost word for word the information reported below. Images Copyright (c) Kadokawashoten 2006 / (c) GAINAX - Khara / Project Eva
The title for the new film series is "Evangelion Shin Gekijou Ban", it will consist of 4 parts (First volume, Second part, Latter part and Final story) with the first part arriving in Japanese theaters in early summer, 2007. Staff include General Supervisor: Hideaki Anno, Director: Tsurumaki Kazuya , Character Design: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Mecha Design: Ikuto Yamashita, Animation Production: Khara (Color) Studio. The scenario of the 1st part will be written by Hideaki Anno with storyboard by Shinji Higuchi.
Key points of an interview in the magazine with Toshimichi Ohtsuki of King Records have also been circulating. According to that information:
- The content is quite different though the time base of the story is the same as the original TV series.
- It will be a remake, however, it is not a re-creation but a "new work".
- The approach will be different than what Tomino-san did with the Gundam Z New Translation films, there will apparantly be a large amount of new material.
- Even if the TV series has not be seen, the viewer will be able to enjoy it. Though the content becomes easy, it is not redundant to those already familiar with the series.
- The technique that purposely scatters difficult words and phrases will not be used any longer.
- As an antithesis to current animation industry segments, it is an attitude on the production side to pull the act in the age that started from Eva.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
This is a hard title to categorize. You can't really call it an action title, because there is very little action in it. And you can't really call it a drama because there it's not really about relationships. It's not a mystery, and I don't even think I'd call it a thriller.
The closest thing I could come up with is that it is a smart, character-driven political suspense story, and it's a damn good one at that. The story revolves around Yugo Beppu who is a negotiator (as you may have guessed). This means that he represents his clients in talks with another party and tries to make deals in order to get something (usually a kidnapped person) that the client wants.
Now I know that doesn't exactly sound like the most exciting plot, but Yugo is a negotiator like Indiana Jones is an archiologist. So his negotiations often end up involving exotic locations, violent war mongerers, and excruciating torture.
The thing that really makes this show stick out above the rest is the fact that you'll never see Yugo try to fight his way out of a tight spot. Instead, he uses two things to get himself out of trouble: his smarts and his communication skills (well that and an uncanny ability to resist torture). It's a strange thing to watch because I've just been conditioned to expect fists to fly when characters get in certain situations. But the fact that Yugo doesn't makes the show that much more involving because I started to think "well, if he's not going to fight, then how is he going to get out of this mess." And thus it pulled me in.
The thirteen episodes in the series cover two unrelated story arcs: the first takes place in Pakistan and the second in Russia. I wasn't quite as impressed with the Pakistan one because it seemed to focus more on how tough Yugo was than how smart he was. But the Russia arc was was smarter and more complicated and I think had stronger characters. So I loved that one, and if there ended up being more Yugo like the Russia arc, I'd definitely buy it.
Another cool thing is how realistically the show tried to portray situations. Not just the historical or scientific references, but the visuals too. Like when Yugo's wrists have been bound or tortured, the bruises are still there days later! The show's interpretation of the Russian and Islamic cultures were also a surprise. It was more balanced than you'd ever see in a movie made in the US.
The unfortunate thing is that, since this show doesn't seem to fall into any one category, I don't think it has much of a shot of doing well in the US. The reason being that if a show doesn't fall into a certain category then people won't know if it's their "kind of show" or not. Of course there's also the fact that it's not it's not the action-oriented storyline that makes a lot of anime popular here in the US. The only thing I can say is that if you like smart anime, then this one is for you.
From Anime News Service:
Goo Movie pointed out something interesting regarding the attendance numbers of Paprika at Venice. American actor Ben Afflek's latest film Hollywood Land screened in the same theater on August 31st. Despite the star himself being in attendance, tickets were sold only filling 700 seats. Satoshi Kon's screening on the 2nd drew 1060 people filling it to overcapacity. Tickets sold in out in less than an hour.
As an aside Hochi Shimbun has more on the director's 5 minute standing ovation. Ringing applause, bravos and shouts of joy filled the theater for 5 minutes or more. During this time Satoshi Kon says he recalled faces of his staff, many sitting in front of a computer in a dark room for 2 years during the production. He said he was there as his staff's representative. Feeling excited and rattled he said he also wish his staff could hear the applause for 2 years time.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
The second season of IGPX has wrapped up on cartoon network, and while there are some improvements over the fist season, it's really just more of the same.
I did like the addition of team "White Snow" to the IGPX roster. I loved the character designs of the team members and their giddy-but-cold personalities really stuck out from the rest of the teams.
The story delved into the history of some of the characters as well. You learn a little more about Andrei the coach and the relationship between Takeshi and Liz finally starts to develop. And Luka, probably the best character in the cast, finally gets a chance to really shine.
But despite these improvements, there really isn't a lot that makes this second season a lot better than the first. The races still look the same and Satomi still seems to lack any stratagy short of "do your best" or "work as a team" which may work nice as general themes, but don't do much to make the races/battles any more exciting.
The animation was good, but -- again -- there really wasn't much of anything that we hadn't seen numerous times before in the first season. The acception to this was at the end of the show when team Satomi races team White Snow. The animation studio Production IG finally shows what they can do in those last two episodes and I was plenty happy to see it.
At the start of the first season I thought this show had a lot of potential. There was an original concept with cool mechs and was supported by a great animaiton studio. But the show didn't really add anything else new through it's 26-episode run. And the lack any real racing strategy or character depth only added to the disappointment. And although the ending seemed to make up for much of this, overall it just ended up seeming ... average.
Fafner was a giant robot show, and just like many shows in that genre it had giant robots (called Fafners) with teenage pilots fighting alien invaders (called Festum) with mysterious origins.
The problem that I had with the show was that a lot of the time I just wasn't sure what was going on. I couldn't distinguish between the elements of the plot that were being kept intentionally ambiguous/mysterious and the elements that I didn't understand simply because I was being dense.
The thing that made it more frustrating was that I was paying so much attention to trying to figure out what was supposed to be going on that it took my attention off of the real focus of the show: the drama. It's like I knew that characters were getting all emotional, but I didn't understand why they were getting emotional. In other words, I couldn't empathize because I didn't understand the source of their suffering (or whatever).
Maybe if I would have just kind of laid back and not worried about things like where the Fafners came from or what Soshi's roll in piloting the Fafners was or what this "Mir" thing was supposed to be or what exactly a "core" was supposed to be or what the message that the Festum kept repeating was supposed to mean, and instead of thinking about all of that just concentrated on the character interaction and general melodrama then maybe I would have enjoyed it a little better. But who knows? Eh. :shrug:
Regardless, by the end of the show, many of those confusing plot points were cleared up so I was finally able to enjoy it a little more. I do think the ending was a good dramatic climax, but still wasn't totally satisfying since there were still a lot of pieces that I didn't understand. I know that there is a prequel OVA out in Japan, so maybe that would help explain some plot points, but I'll just have to wait and see if that's ever released in the US.
The animation in the show was okay, but I can't really can't say that I was impressed with the job that Xebec did on either the character, mech, or alien designs nor the general action scenes. There just wasn't much of anything that stuck out. Again, perhaps the animation in the OVA will be an improvement especially since I just noticed that Production IG is involved with the production. (Maybe I won't wait until it's licensed... ...)
The only thing that I can say that I really did enjoy unconditionally was the music, which seemed almost too good for the show. Sometimes it even seemed like it was even was carrying the drama. Then there were the great music for the opening and ending credits which was performed by Angela, who is one of my favorite J-pop groups at the moment.
So in summary, I'd say if you are expecting mystery or action on the level of Evangelion or RahXephon, you will be disappointed to the point of confusion. But if you are looking for plenty of melodrama and are able to ignore the ambiguous plot elements, then go ahead and give it a try.