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.