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.