The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Viewing Journal: Rescue Me - Mave-Chan

OAV Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C
Story = C-
Video = C
Audio = C-

Journal

Rei goes to an anime convention and ends up in a world created by the desires of anime fans. Rei doesn't know how to get back and the world starts to collapse as the convention is coming to a close. (Source: ANN)

Back in my entry on Yukikaze I said something like "I hope I don't have to wait as long for Mave-chan as I had to wait for the final episode of Yukikaze." That was about a year and a half ago. So was it worth the wait? ... Not really.

This one-episode OAV is a simple fantasy story about a boy named Rei who goes to a convention and ends up stumbling into a world that is a manifestation of fans' love of anime. The characters in this other world represent parts of a particular anime -- in this case Yukikaze -- and as the anime's popularity wains the characters of this world start to fade away. Can Rei save the world -- and the anime it represents -- from fading into total obscurity? Watch and see!

Obviously the whole thing is pretty goofy, but if you really think about it, it's kind of funny because the theme is essentially, "Please keep Yukikaze popular!"

And that is just as well because in truth, the only people who will find any real value in this show are Yukikaze fans. Sure, non-fans may be able to understand what is going on in general, but they won't get the references (ie, what the different characters are supposed to represent), which means you loose 90% of the amusement-factor. And it's not like it has mind-blowing animation or an incredibly engaging plot that might interest non-fans. Heck, even if you have seen Yukikaze, it would be hard for someone to justify forking over another ten bucks just for this one half-hour throw away episode with no significant extras. It would have been ideal if this was included on the last Yukikaze DVD as an extra (as was originally planned). That way it would have ensured that the episode reached its target audience and would have been more worthwhile. As a stand-alone DVD I can't imagine many people giving this much consideration.

Viewing Journal: Karas (complete)

OAV Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C+
Story = C
Video = A-
Audio = B

Journal

The old Karas is dead, killed by an evil ex-Karas who now named himself Ekou. He started a series of murders against humanity by making his loyal youkai drain the body fluids from humans. Otoha ,a young man who just woke from a coma, is chosen to be the new Karas. Him and his trainer, Yurine, start the fight against the evil forces of darkness that are triyng to conquer the city of Shijuku. (Source: ANN)

The first part of this two-part OAV baffled me. Sure, the animation is incredible, and the fast action battles look spectacular. But the problem is that I had no idea WHY any of that spectacular stuff was happening because there was no context explaining why the battles were taking place. Cool visuals may add to the "ooo, aahh" factor, but action can never be really intense unless the audience cares about the battle's outcome. And they are not going to care about the outcome unless they know what is on the line and what the characters' motivations are.

And it's not just the battles that are confusing. All kinds of stuff happens in the first volume without giving any explanation as to why. Like why are demon-robots attacking people in the city? What's the connection between Karas, the doctor in the other demon world (although at that point you don't even know it's a demon world) and the guy in a coma? What's the deal with the girl with the weird goggles and is always hanging around Karas? And basically what is anyone doing and why are they doing it and what is everyone talking about?

And the music only serves to compound the confusion because it tries to dictate the tone instead of enhancing it. For example, at the beginning of the show you see this demon-robot thing rampaging around the city. Then this armored guy (who ends up being Karas) appears and there is all this dramatic music implying that the audience is supposed to be overjoyed that this guy has appeared. But at this point you don't know who that armored guy is or where he came from so why should I be overjoyed? He could be another bad guy for all I know. As a result, I was constantly thinking that I'd missed some key piece of dialogue or other plot explanation. As it turns out, the second volume explains a lot (although, if you read the back of the first volume's DVD case, it will also provide some insight). But by that point, the story has lost its opportunity to build any tension and/or sympathy for the characters. So even though it is nice to finally understand what is going on, the ending is not as climactic or satisfying as it should have been.

As I mentioned before, the animation itself is awesome. It is a seamless mix of 3-d and 2-d animation with fast and smooth action and detailed designs.

So in the end, what could have been a spectacular piece of animation, turned out to be only an okay anime though with very VERY impressive visuals. I might even go so far as to say the animation itself makes the OAV worth watching just because that level of quality is so rare in anime. If you do watch it, just make sure to have some patience with the first volume and faith that explanations will eventually come in the second.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Viewing Journal: Tekkon Kinkreet

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= A-
Story = B+
Video = A
Audio = A

Journal

Black and White are two orphans who roam the streets of Treasure Town, beating down any thug or yakuza who gets in their way. When mysterious foreign entrepreneurs appear with the intention of tearing down Treasure Town and replacing it with an amusement park, Black and White face their greatest adversaries yet. It is up to the destructive Black to save the fate of the city and up to the gentle White to save Black from his own dark nature. (Source: ANN)

I'll admit that I initially had low expectations for this movie purely because it is directed by an American (even though it is based on a Japanese manga and produced by a Japanese animation studio). Call it unjustified cynicism if you want, but whenever I see anime where the US has had some hand in its production, I usually end up disappointed. But luckily that's not the case with this movie.

The thing that makes it particularly worthy of praise -- for me anyway -- is the balanced way in which it presents Black and White's unrestricted freedom.

When it starts out, you see the two kids leaping up buildings, hopping across rooftops, chasing away challengers, and you even see Black beating the snot out of a gangster at one point. It's the kind of power and adventure that every kid has dreamed about having at some point (or maybe just me -- when I was a kid). And from that perspective, it starts out with a sense of almost whimsical nostalgia. And on top of that it does a great job of building up their attachment to each other as well as the city and all the people living in it.

But as you get further into the movie, you see that things aren't quite so carefree as they first seem, as the story shows the darker side of Black and White's wild abandon. The kids have to pickpocket to get any money; they survive cold winders with nothing but an abandoned car for shelter; and then those gangsters who Black beat up come down on both of them with a brutal vengeance. Plus, just as you get a feeling for the kids' attachement to each other, the plot works its hardest to try and tear the two appart. All in all, it makes for some unexpectedly heart-wrenching drama.

To be fair, there is a lot of strangeness in this movie that will probably confuse people. For one, the gangsters' main goal is to build an amusement park. Seriously. And it's not like it's a cover for some shady dealings either. It literally is just an amusement park and this is what Black and White are fighting against. Maybe it's supposed to be symbolic of commercialism's destructive effect on kids' pure imaginations ... something like that. But I have a feeling that the oddities are due more to the movie glossing over the story from the original manga than it is due to thematic subtlety. But even so there was enough plot explanation and character development keep me enthralled throughout.

Above the engaging plot and sympathetic characters, there is the wildly original animation. The visuals are colorful, playful, and unbelievably detailed. This movie has some solid replay value if for no other reason than that you will need to watch multiple times just to be able to absorb all the details. The art style is different from anything else I've seen in anime. It almost reminds me of something a child would do just because there is so much imagination in the details. Some people might think the visuals are too stylized, but I think the use of dynamic action and camera movement keeps the abstract visuals looking solid.

The music also matches and enhances the mood of each scene perfectly.

So to sum up, this a great movie with an original animation style that delivers on a lot of levels. Definitely recommended.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Coming Soon: Batman the anime-ted series

They're not taking a half-ass stab at this either. There are some big names associated with this thing from both Japan and US.

Details:

The "2008 Movie Spectacular" special issue of Wizard magazine reports that Japan's Studio 4°C, Production I.G, and Madhouse are animating Batman: Gotham Knight, a collection of six shorts about the iconic DC Comics detective. The animated shorts will be scripted by Batman comic writers Brian Azzarello and Greg Rucka, A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson, Batman Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer, The Dark Knight movie producer Jordan Goldberg, and Batman: The Animated Series screenwriter Alan Burnett. Wizard Magazine reports that the shorts will be directed by American animator Bruce Timm. French fan site Catsuka reports that anime director Satoshi Kon will helm one of the six productions. The project is scheduled to debut next summer. (Source: AnimeNation)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Viewing Journal: Ping Pong

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B
Story = B
Video = B
Audio = C+

Journal

Best friends Peco and Smile have been playing ping pong since they were little kids. While the unique and brazen Peco plays to win and loves the sport, the quiet and introverted Smile thinks of it as just a way to kill time with friends, and plays only because he looks up to Peco as his hero. Though Smile is the more talented player, he frequently and intentionally loses to Peco out of a misguided sense of friendship. However, after Peco is badly beaten by his old pal Demon in an important inter-high school tournament and quits the game, Smile becomes the newest celebrity of ping pong. Smile begins training for the next championship, waiting for the return of his hero, whom he is destined to meet in one last match. (Source: ANN)

This is just a strait-up feel-good movie. There's no deep meaning, or intense duels to the death. It's just a story about kids learning life lessons through the sport of table tennis.

I think what mainly makes it a feel-good movie, other than the usual character-must-overcome-personal-obstacles-in-order-to-achieve-greatness, is that there are no real "bad guys". Smile faces challengers, of course, but there really isn't anyone for the audience to hate in this movie. The obstacle that Smile has to overcome is an internal one, and most all the characters in the movie -- even his challengers -- encourage him and give him support. It's the fact that Smile himself is not allowing them to support him that gives the show its dramatic conflict.

Of course you also have the actual Ping Pong matches themselves. With few exceptions, there's really no special cinematography or goofy special effects (like say, in Shaolin Soccer). Instead the matches get their intensity from the characters' motivations to win (or lack there of), and their techniques.

Actually, if there is one criticism I have of this movie it's that it didn't detail Ping Pong techniques much at all. I like it when a sports-related Japanese movie or anime will show the characters analyzing each others' techniques and try to find ways around them. But here, other than the characters showing off a few nifty special movies, there isn't much of any analysis. On the plus side though, I suppose that allows the audience to focus on the dramatic side of the match instead of the technical side.

I'm sure others will also criticize this movie for it's unoriginal plot line. I mean, how many times have we seen stories where the main character has little interest in an activity in which he has great proficiency (at least one). But unoriginal or not, the plot line works well to make it an effective and enjoyable drama.

So in the end, I'd recommend this movie to anyone who is in the mood for a simple and enjoyable story that has a lot of heart.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Viewing Journal: Tachigui - The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters

Movie Overview
TV Broadcast Info
(Not yet available in US)
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C-
Story = C-
Video = B
Audio = C

Journal

Retelling Japan’s history from 1945 to present through the feats of self-proclaimed dine and dash professionals. They are phantoms that rise and fall with Japan’s shifting diet-styles, dissenting heroes who carved their names on the dark side of dietary culture with their glare. (Source: AZN)

This is a documentary, but it's not. And it's animation but it's not. And it's kind of funny, but it's not. And all-in-all I'm not quite sure what to make of it other than to say that it's a unique kind of movie that could either make you laugh, or think pensively about the world depending on how you look at it.

The movie is actually a mock-documentary that recounts the post-war history of fast-food scam artists. It describes the techniques of ten or so different "grifters" throughout different eras in the fast-food industry -- from the early ramen shop through to modern hamburger joints. Why the director -- Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Jin Roh) -- chose this particular subject, I have no idea. Maybe he's trying to acknowledge people who live on the fringe of society as necessitated by a recovering post-war Japan. I don't know. But what I do know is that watching these scam artists and listening to the narrator as he describes their techniques and philosophies is alternately interesting, amusing, and mind-numbing.

It's amusing because you have such a riduculous subject that is being taken so seriously and analytically. And then seeing each grifter face-off against the shop owners, with one trying to outwit or just intimidate the other as if they are having a samurai duel is just funny. It's not so much laugh-out-loud funny, it's more like you just sit there and watch and think, "Wait, what the heck's going on here? Is this for real?" If there is a laugh-out-loud part it would be the scene with "Hamburger Tetsu" who will go into a shop and order a hundred hamburgers or more during peak hours so that the customers start getting antsy or near riotous. Seeing the chef (played by Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama) flipping those burgers every which way like a mad man was definitely the funniest part of the movie.

The humor subsides after a while though for a couple reasons. First of all the narrator goes into such depth and detail describing each grifter's techniques and philosophies that it just gets mind-numbing. The other thing is that about three-fourths of the way thorough it takes an odd shift in tone and starts talking about one grifter regretting his life and talking to his mother ... or something like that. I'm not quite sure what that part was all about but it seemed awfully symbolic, and resulted in me feeling a bit sleepy.

Pure entertainment-value aside, the movie can be interesting for a few reasons. For one, I can't help but wonder how much of the "documentary's" information is based on fact. It mostly uses this one author (whose name I can't remember at the moment) and his book as references, and I was wondering whether they -- or the grifters themselves -- were real or not. In addition to my curiosity over the movie's factual basis, there is also the point of its thematic value. But I'm less interested in the later because parts of the movie are so esoteric that it looses its entertainment value, and as a result causes me to loose interest in its analysis. (See the bit about being "sleepy" above.) But for those who like to pull meaning out of esoterica, this may be the movie for you.

Of course, the real reason to watch this movie is the strange animation technique used by Production IG which they dubbed "superlivemation". The visuals are all photographed from real actors, but then are manipulated so the characters have huge head and small bodies. The animation is a 2D/3D effect so the characters look like paper cut-outs standing on a 3D stage. The characters don't move per se, but instead the paper cut-out figures will either change or move in what looks something like you'd see in a JibJab animation. (Check out the trailer to get an idea of what I mean.) The result is a unique effect that can be hilarious at times, but at others -- when there is not a lot of movement and the narrator is in a long rant -- can be tedious to get through.

So overall I wouldn't call this the most entertaining film, but it is at least interesting as an experiment. If nothing else, I'd recommend watching this movie for it's unique subject matter and visual style. But if you are looking for some light-hearted escapism, you best look elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Viewing Journal: Highlander - The Search for Vengeance

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C-
Story = D
Video = B+
Audio = C

Journal

Colin MacLeod, the immortal Scottish Highlander, travels with the wise-cracking ghost Amergan in search of the immortal despot Marcus Octavius, who killed Colin's lover on the Celtic plains centuries earlier. The once great city of New York is now submerged under water, with only one dominant fortress towering over the sea, the fortress of Marcus Octavius. MacLeod is torn between saving the survivors of New York and hunting down his nemesis. (Source: ANN)

It seems like it should be a great idea. You take an established story from the US and put it in the hands of Japanese animators; the goal being to have a movie that is familiar to western audiences, but also has the best of the action-oriented animation of the east. It's been done before with varying success; but for this Highlander anime, the parts don't mesh well together and it ends up seeming like a forced patchwork of ideas instead of a cohesive story.

As I watched this movie, I could almost hear the writers in the background as they composed the script: "Okay, it's anime right? So that means it'll be graphically violent. And of course there has to be a post-apocalyptic setting. And impractically-but-suggestively dressed women. Yeah, that's pretty much the definition of anime. And since it's Highlander we have to have a ghost advising the hero; and everyone has to be blurting out 'There can be only one' like every three minutes. ... No, we don't need to explain what any of that stuff means. It's Highlander, so it'll all be self-explanatory. Right? ... Right!?"

I'm not saying that it's a bad thing to have those elements in a movie. It's just that in this case, they are there without any much explanation or build up and as a result they seem out-of-placed and/or forced. The point being that the story is more focused on including easily recognizable (and marketable) stereotypes from both anime and the Highlander franchise than on making a cohesive story.

Here's another example: Marcus and Colin have countless battles over a number of centuries. And every time, Marcus wins and comes within millimeters of cutting off Colin's head only to have some convenience save him -- mainly ending up on "holy ground" where immortals are forbidden to kill each other. I can understand this happening maybe two or three times... but every time throughout centuries!? Of course, this is really done as an excuse to show how the pair survive through the past and into the future. It's nice idea; but such a string of conveniences just kills the tension in the story because it makes the hero seem ... well... immortal -- but more due to plot contrivances than his own longevity.

The animation itself is flawless. The action is smooth and the overall art is clean. I'd expect nothing less form the legendary directory of Ninja Scroll. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the animation is too good for the story. Let me explain....

Japanese have a very different way of telling a story than the west does. Anime tends to have character-driven stories that focus on relationships. The west tends to have plot-driven stories that focus on conflict. Neither is inherently better than the other, but I think the character-driven nature of anime is part of what gives it so much energy, and is the reason why it matches well with the dynamic animation. And, to me, a western-style story -- which doesn't have as much energy -- seems like it's limiting the potential of the animation itself. So while the animation quality is great, it looses a lot of the intensity that it would have with a more Japanese-type of story.

So in summary, this movie has great animation, but everything else suffers from weak and forced storytelling. On the bright side, I heard that there is going to be another version of the movie coming out early next year in which the Japanese director had more control (before the US producers got their hands on it). That might be interesting to see, but honestly I'd really have to work up motivation to spend another couple hours with as much of a disappointment as this version was.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Viewing Journal: Noein (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = B-
Audio = B+

Journal

Fifteen years in the future, by high-level scientific power, a violent battle takes place between Lacrima, that protects humanity, and Shangri-La, that plans the annihilation of all space-time. The key to stopping Shangri-La's invasion is a mysterious object known as "the Dragon's Torque." A group known as the Dragon Cavalry is being sent through space and time to find it. In the present, twelve-year old Haruka and her friend Yuu are contemplating running away from home when they meet a member of the Dragon Cavalry named Karasu (Crow). He believes that Haruka has the Dragon's Torque and claims to be Yuu from fifteen years in the future. (Source: ANN)

This is just an all around strange show. It has a baffling sci-fi plot, but it is balanced out just enough by relatable characters and dynamic animation to keep me interested.

To start, the show throws out a lot of pseudo-scientific terms that attempt to explain how the whole time-space traveling thing works. And on one hand, that makes the show engaging because you are forced to keep track of all the explanations that are given. But even though I was able to eventually understand some of the general ideas (ie, that time branches off new dimensions for each possibility that exists at any given moment), I was still confused about a lot of the technical details and how it all related to some of the key plot elements -- like why was the world of Lacrima deteriorating, and how did Noein end up in his current condition. But as confusing as a lot of the key concepts and plot elements were, there were two things that kept me watching: the characters and the animation.

The show deals a lot with universal -- almost conventional themes of maturity and regret, and as a result the characters' motivations and relationships are easy to understand and empathize with. This gave me something to connect with; so even if I didn't understand the technical details of what was going on, I could at least understand it in terms of the characters' motivations. Also, the show shifts often between scenes that advance the plot and scenes that show the kids just hanging out and joking around. And while this can make for some rather odd shifts in tone, it also gives the audience something familiar to connect with.

The other thing that kept me watching was the animation. The style and quality can shift wildly from scene to scene but regardless it is always fast paced and dynamic. Both the characters and the crazy-looking Shangri-La attack ships have loose -- almost other-worldly designs that makes the overall look of the show all the more dynamic.

The music does a great job of giving the show an epic feel and at times is even helpful in clarifying the plot. There were times when characters would be talking in all kinds of confusing scientific terms and the only way I was able to understand the implications of what they were saying was the ominous background music.

So in summary, this show is an odd mixture of elements that balance each other out well. It's sci-fi concepts alone might have been too cumbersome, and it's character development alone may have been too conventional, and it's action alone may have been too abstract, but strangely enough, all of them together balance each other out to make this it an overall enjoyable and original viewing experience.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

English Appleseed: Ex Machina trailer

Here we go again. I wasn't crazy about the first Appleseed movie, but this sequel looks promising. Half of that is probably due to the fact that it doesn't use cel-shaded animation like the first one did; and the other half to it being directed by Johnny Woo. Looks like it'll be out here on DVD next spring.

Enjoy.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Viewing Journal: Evangelion - 1.0 You Are [Not] Alone (untranslated)

Movie Overview
(Not yet available in US)
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= A
Story = B+
Video = A+
Audio = A+

Journal

At the age of 14 Shinji Ikari is summoned by his father to the city of Neo Tokyo-3 after several years of separation. There he unwillingly accepts the task of becoming the pilot of a giant robot by the name EVA01 and protect the world from the enigmatic invaders known as "angels." Even though he repeatedly questions why he has accepted this mission from his estranged and cold father, his doing so helps him to gradually accept himself. However, why exactly are the angels attacking and what are his father’s true intentions are yet to be unraveled. (Source: ANN)

There must be some kind of the cosmic force that intertwines me, Japan, and Evangelion. That's because about ten (!) years ago, during my first trip to Japan, I caught a showing of Revival of Evangelion (a combined showing of Death and The End of Evangelion movies). And during my second Japan excursion just a few weeks ago, I happened to be able to catch a showing of the latest movie, which is the first of four totally new movies collectively titled Rebuild of Evangelion that retell the story of Shinji, Rei, Asuka and the gang from the very beginning.

And this movie is quite literally a retelling, because it begins exactly where the first episode of the TV series begins and follows the same path up through the successful conclusion of "Operation Yashima" -- episode 6 of the series. That actually worked out great for me because, even though I was watching it in Japanese with no subtitles, I still knew exactly what was going on and at times I even knew the exact dialogue. So having said that, two questions might come to mind: (1) Is this even worth seeing if you've already seen the original series? and (2) Would someone who has never seen the TV series know what is going on?

For the first questions I'd say "hell yes" because even though a lot of it is familiar, it's what is different that will really shock and reinvigorate fans. There are a number of totally new scenes, like Misato and Ritsuko conversing as they are riding on some kind of transport-seat, and the battles are a lot more intense -- especially the battle with Ramiel. Plus, some parts of the story that don't come up until near the end of the TV series rear their heads here early on, and with some shocking twists that portend even greater storyline deviations to come in later movies. And on that note, here go the spoilers:

[Spoiler start]
Shocker #1: Just before the start of Operation Yashima, Shinji is being his usual whiny self, so Misato, in order to re-motivate him, takes him down to Terminal Dogma in a scene reminiscent of the end of episode 21 where she shows him "Adam". But this time, instead of wearing Seele's seven-eyed mask, the white giant is instead wearing something that looks like the white owl-face of the angels. And though I didn't understand what Misato said in total, I distinctly heard her utter the word "Lilith" in reference to the giant...

Shocker #2: The end. Kowaru wakes up in some kind of coffin. He then talks to the black Seele monoliths a bit. Then, in front of him, we see another white giant that does have the Seele seven-eyed mask (or was it the new version?), and this one is Adam. Hel-lo!
[Spoiler end]

So that's the scoop for existing fans, but what about those who have never even heard of the show? Will those two people even be able to follow the storyline? My bet is that, putting aside the intentionally ambiguous parts, I do think it should be relatively easy for newcomers to follow. Like I said before, it pretty much follows a linear timeline (ie, it's not the mishmash of cut scenes you see in Death), so it should be relatively straightforward. Of course, whether or not a newcomer would actually like it is a little trickier to answer because Gainax -- the movie's animation studio -- is known for starting a story out with a disarmingly straightforward storyline only to turn it on its head later on. So if you find giant-robots-with-teenage-pilots-fight-equally-giant-aliens a tediously redundant genre to follow, the story of this first movie may not impress since it is essentially three such battles back-to-back. But my guess is that the real judgement will need to wait until this movie can be taken in conjunction with the other three yet-to-be-released movies to see how it all plays out. But who knows?

Okay, so story bologna aside, let's get into what really matters: the animation. Dear Lord, the animation. For one thing, although many of the scenes are exactly the same as in the series, they are actually redone so that not only is the animation is more smooth, but there are small-but-noticable differences . For instance, in the first scene when all the tanks are lined up in the streets in anticipation of the first angel attack, the water in the in the lake is red instead of blue -- why I don't know... but there it is. And then, after the first angel gets hit by the N2 mine, it suddenly generates a new face. And as crazy as that may sound, what will really get fan's cojones raging will be the parts that don't look anything like the series, namely the battle scenes. The biggest and most intense battle is the last one with Ramiel. He still shows up as a cube, but here he morphs into all kinds of different shapes before he fires his all-powerful beam into Unit-01. And that final battle between Ramiel, Unit-00 and Unit-01...There are no words...

So good animation...check; but what about the sound. Well, let's just say that I'm sure glad I was able to see this in a theatre because they had the sound turned up so loud that my chair was literally vibrating (and not subtly either) whenever there was an explosion or even just when there was a lot of bass in the music. Speaking of the music, much of it is recycled from the TV show but with slight additions (like a chanting choir) to give it a fuller feel for the big screen. Of course I bought the soundtrack, but it doesn't contain the ending theme "Beautiful World". Guess I'll need to download that one.

So okay, I think you get the picture here. I liked the movie. I know there are a lot of people out there who will be disappointed with how closely much of it follows the TV series, but I can guarantee that the story will only deviate further and further away at later movies are released, so in anticipation of that even cynics will need to watch this one eventually.

Speaking of future movies, there is an obligatory "Next Episode" preview at the end of the final credits. It suggests that the next movie will have a totally new Eva, as well as a totally new character. Youtube has a fan-made reproduction of the preview for those who must know.

Also, for those who anticipate its release state-side, no one has yet licensed this movie. But its release is inevitable at some point, so stay tuned.

[Update: Evangelion 2.0 movie preview trailer is now available.]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Viewing Journal: Zipang (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C-
Story = C-
Video = D+
Audio = C-

Journal

Mirai, an improved Kongou-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, is one of the newest and most advanced ships in the entire Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF). Her crew, also one of the newest, is lead by Capt. Umezu Saburo and Executive Officer Kadomatsu Yosuke. While running scheduled training exercises one day, Mirai encounters a fierce storm that throws their navigation systems into temporary disarray. After a few minutes of recovery, the crew is shocked to discover that they've been transported back in time to June 4, 1942 -- The Battle of Midway, during World War II. Letting history take its course for this battle, they manage to avoid the conflict firsthand and make a vow to remain anonymous, changing history as little as possible. However, when the crew comes across the dying Lt. Commander Kusaka Takumi, XO. Kadomatsu's instincts to save lives takes over, changing the course of history more than he could've imagined. (Source: ANN)

Let me start out by saying the one thing about this show which may be a big factor in determining whether or not you want to even start watching it: There is no ending. Don't let the title of the final DVD volume -- "Return to the Future" -- fool you. The crew of the Mirai never does get back to the future and the events that build up over the course of the show never have any pay-off.

Now I know some of you will come reply with something like, "But Bob, can't you just appreciate the story that the show does give you and stop fretting over what it doesn't?" And my answer to that is "No, I can't." The reason is that the only thing that kept me watching this show at all was to see how the future is ultimately affected by the Mirai and Lt. Takumi. But since the show ends before Takumi's plans come to fruition or the Mirai returns home, we are never able to see how history is ultimately affected. And even the historical events that the Mirai does alter seem minor and thus have less dramatic impact. Of course, those events might have a huge effect later on, but how are we to ever know? There's no ending.

Again you may be saying, "But my good man, what about the characters? Surely such a show is chalk-full of gripping human drama!" And I'd say, yeah, sure there's human drama -- or at least the attempt at it. But the characters are too melodramatic and cliche so the drama is more cheesy than intense. For instance, whenever the Mirai would unleash its arsenal of long-range or heat-seeking weaponry, the soldiers would be so shocked as to chalk it up to magic or being from the devil or some other reaction where I would think, "Oh come on, that's a little much don't you think?" Of course, anime doesn't always have the most realistic characters, but with a show like this that is rooted in history and that includes actual historical figures, it needs more realism and depth to its characters to match it's realistic, historical setting and moral dilemmas. To be fair, there are a few scenes were characters act with more subtlty and genuineness, but a combination of the disappointing historical impact that Mirai had and the cliche or unrealistic reactions of other characters dulled the impact that the good scenes had over the course of the show.

The art and animation for this show are equally unimpressive. I think maybe I was spoiled with Monster, but the character designs here are too simplistic and inexpressive to be dramatic. And the setting used a lot of computer animation that stood out awkwardly against the 2-D animation.

So obviously I wasn't crazy about this show, but I have to give it credit for at least coming up with an interesting concept -- even if it didn't cash in on its potential. And I'm sure history and/or military buffs will enjoy the references, but even they will ultimately be disappointed by the conclusion -- or lack there of.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Viewing Journal: Ergo Proxy (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= D+
Story = D+
Video = B+
Audio = C

Journal

In a future where the world has been ravaged by a nuclear apocalyse, there exists salvation in a domed city named "Romdeau", where humans and their android servants, the autoreivs, live in. Under the implementation of complete management control, it is a paradise where feelings are literally discarded, and the governing council dictates the way of life the citizens should live. But this utopian landscape is soon broken by a series of mystifying murders. Re-l Mayer, a female inspector from the Citizen Information Bureau, along with her autoreiv partner Iggy, are tasked to solve the murder cases. She is soon attacked by a creature drawn to her which is neither human nor android, and learns about the mysterious phenomena called "Awakening", an event which draws her further into the case...and to the world beyond the limits of Romdeau. (Source: ANN)

Watching the trailer and opening animation, this looks like it's going to be an awesome show with dark sci-fi action and drama. As it turns out, it does have those elements, but the tone, theme and symbolism are all done with such a heavy hand the it makes from some awkward storytelling. A lot of what happens in the show seems more like it is intended to push the show's tone and themes, and as a result it sacrifices having relate-able characters and a comprehensible plot.

One of the oddest things about the story is that there is a lot of very straightforward, even blunt explanation compacted into the first episode or two. But then much of the rest of the show is hard to follow, because there is little to no comprehensible explanation as to what is happening or why. Then, in the last couple episodes, it frantically tries to explain everything again. As a result, the beginning seems odd but somewhat promising, the middle is just cumbersome to get through, and the end doesn't have enough time in between all the lines of expository dialogue to build a satisfactory climax and resolution.

Another issue that I had it that the show is so forceful and blunt with its tone and themes that they actually distract form the story. For instance there's one episode where Pino visits a theme park where everyone is fascinated with her "spontaneous smile." So they all repeat over and over again how wonderful her smile is, and at some point I was just like "I get it, natural emotions, don't be manipulated, whatever! Now move on."

On the plus side, I did like the character designs. Let's face it, Re-l's eyeshadow is probably the biggest part of what makes this her look cool. The autoreivs organic and somewhat disturbing designs are also impressive.

As I mentioned before, the opening animation is awesome and is enhanced all the more with the song by Radiohead. The rest of the show's music worked well within the show, but wasn't especially noteworthy in itself (IE, I'm not rushing out to buy the soundtrack).

So in summary, at first glance this show looks like it has a lot of promise. But ambiguous storytelling and a heavy-handed tone end up making this a chore to watch.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Viewing Journal: Bleach (episodes 26-51)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B
Story = B
Video = B
Audio = B

Journal

Ichigo's journey to save Rukia continues, as he and his companions develop and increase their fighting power and skill in order to battle the members, lieutenants, and captains of the 13 Soul Reaper squads. Meanwhile, the squad captains learn that there is more to Rukia's imprisonment and planned execution than meets the eye, as a plot is unfurled that will eventually turn the entire Soul Society upside down.

I think I'm starting to understand how all those Dragonball Z fans must feel, because this Bleach story arc certainly is taking it's sweet time moving forward. When it started, I thought the whole thing about Ichigo going to save Rukia would last a few episodes before it moved on to other things. But as it's turns out, the story arc that started at the end of last season, still hasn't wrapped up by the end of this one.

Of course, I understand why it's taking so long. First of all, there are a ton of characters to introduce. And once they are introduced it needs to delve into their pasts, explain their fighting styles and techniques, and display all the wacky forms their zanpaktuou swords can take. Then there are all the episodes-long battles that take place where characters (especially Ichigo) will come near death, only get back up, dust themselves off and end up victorious.

That's not to say that all that character development and the intense fighting aren't incredibly cool. In fact, those elements are exactly what keep me watching. I said in my review of season 1 that I couldn't wait to find out what all the different soul reapers would be like and how their different swords would help them fight; and in that I have not been disappointed. The whole concept of how their swords have their own souls -- and their own personalities -- and work in unison with the soul reaper brings a fascinating new dimension to the show. And the fighting techniques and weapon designs just ooze creativity and originality.

Then there's Ichigo himself, the kid who seems to come near death at least 5 or 6 times in this one story arc only to recover each time to become all the more powerful. Most recently he is training with the spirit of his zanpaktuou as well as that inverse version of himself to attempt to reach "Bankai" -- a kind of super-elite power. I'm looking forward to seeing how that element is resolved, and seeing what his new zanpaktuou will end up looking like.

The animation and art have remained consistently high quality throughout its run. I still enjoy the original character designs of the soul reapers. And the animation during the battles is colorful and add to the intensity of the fights.

I haven't really noticed the music much in this season. I think it's pretty much the same as last season though and it seems to match each scene well. I don't particularly like the opening theme as much as last season, and the ending theme.... ugh... My wife, who is not a big anime fan but who seems to be enjoying this show, mocks the ending theme just about every episode. ^_^;

So despite the drawn out story arc, this show remains well-worth watching. And I'm looking forward to see what happens in the next season.

On a related note, Adult Swim has apparently stopped running Bleach after episode 52 in favor of showing Death Note (another awesome show you must watch). What the heck? I guess I'm going to have to start looking into Bleach fansubs after all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Viewing Journal: Animation Runner Kuromi (complete)

OAV Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B+
Story = B+
Video = B
Audio = B

Journal

After being inspired by the fictional anime, "Luis Monde III", Mikiko "Kuromi" Oguro goes to animation school and and finally lands the job of her dreams at Studio Petit. Upon arriving, she meets the head of production. Unfortunately for her, he dies soon after meeting her and passes his position unto her. Now that she's head of production of "Time Journeys", it's up to her to rally up the lazy animator's and finish the second episode in a week. (Source: ANN)

If anime production is really run like it is in Animation Runner Kuromi, then it would seem that everything just just total stress and chaos all the time. But this 2-episode OAV presents that insanity with a tone of lighthearted fun that makes it easy to enjoy.

For fans of anime, this OAV can be at least somewhat insightful because it shows that animators have to answer to some harsh realities. Not that this is exactly a documentary, and I'm not sure how much of it is technically accurate, but even looking at it as a sort of parody or caricature of the true nature of animation production can be enlightening. If nothing else, it presents what kind of factors can lead to variation in animation quality; such as what artist is working on a particular scene, exporting in-between animation overseas, and especially time constraints.

Another challenge that Kuromi has to conquer is dealing with all the different personalities of the animation staff. For instance, her major issue is getting all of the key animators to complete their work. It seems that most all of them have some excuse for why they can't get the work done, and the one guy who does consistently have everything ready on time is a horrible artist, so the director has to redo all his artwork anyway. Kuromi has to learn how to work around these personalities to keep "Time Journeys" on schedule.

Of course, the educational benefit of the show (if there is any) isn't the only thing that makes it worth watching; it's seeing how Kuromi is going to topple all of these seemingly insurmountable obstacles to complete the production so the series can air on schedule. It's also fun to watch the wide variety of colorful characters with quirky personalities and how they each deal with the stress. I especially liked how the animation director Aoi tried to give up smoking in the second episode and as a result she would unconsciously stick random objects in her mouth to deal with it.

The animation quality is top-notch. The designs are simple and colorful adding to the fun tone. The music also adds to the upbeat tone.

So overall I really loved this show and recommend it for any animation fan who is curious about what life at an animation studio might be like, or anyone who is just in the mood for a lighthearted, short series with a well-rounded and quirky cast that is easy to cheer for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Don't comment... Just watch 'em dance

I just started watching The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and just wanted to commemorate the occasion with this. Enjoy. [HQ version]

And for even more coordinated moe goodness... [HQ version]

Monday, August 27, 2007

New Evangelion movie trailer + series recap

A new trailer for the Evangelion 1.0 movie is now available. A higher-quality version is available at Stage6.

And for those of you who haven't seen the series and original movie in a while, here's a recap (don't blink). High-quality version (recommended), again, at Stage6.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Be careful who you post about...

Recently I received a couple of blog comments that took me totally by surprise. The first was from a guy who I posted about who was cosplaying at Otakon 2006, seemingly naked, with just a blue dot covering his privates. He comments:
Actually Sir, I was wearing other clothing beneath my cardboard dots. Amazingly enough flesh colored fabric is avalible. [Ben]
The latest one just came today on a post I did a few months ago about a guy named Nate Metcalf who -- apparently unaware -- was dressed just like Nabeshin (or Lupin III if you want to go a step further) while a contestant on Jeopardy. He comments:

As the "crazily dressed guy" in the photos, I'll admit I'm flattered and a little creeped out to find myself on this blog. A friend did a google and sent me the link.

For the record, I've never seen or heard of Nabeshin in my life. Not even an anime fan.

Talk about life imitating art [nate]

I'm a little freaked out myself, but probably encouraged even more. I mean, just when I thought nobody ever reads this stuff, I get comments from the very people I post about. Go figure.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

AMV of the Day: Ranma Kickin' Ass

I haven't seen much Ranma ½, but I still love this video.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Viewing Journal: Lupin III - The First Haul

Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
See below

Journal

Arsene Lupin III is the grandson of the master thief Arsene Lupin. With his cohorts Daisuke Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII and his love interest Fujiko Mine, he pulls off the greatest heists of all time while always escaping the grasp of Inspector Koichi Zenigata. [Source: ANN]

I have not seen a lot of Lupin III other than Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro and a handful of TV episodes, but I have always been curious about it since it is such a classic. After seeing this collection of five Lupin movies, I can see where the appeal for the character comes from, but the success or failure of any particular story ultimately lies in the hands of the individual director.

Lupin III is a classic James-Bond-type character but with even more of a free spirit since, as a criminal, he is not bound by the limits of the law; and, as a manga/animation, he is not bound by the laws of physical or logical plausibility.

Lupin's free-wheeling, consistently good-natured confidence is what makes his character so appealing. He is a thief, but he is a "gentleman" thief, and as such only steals from those who deserve to be stolen from. In the end he may or may not get the treasure but regardless he'll usually help a person or two along the way.

The rest of the regular cast consists of Lupin's sidekick Jigen who reminds me of cross between a sharp-shooting cowboy and a pulp-movie private eye. Then there's Fujiko who is like Lupin's version of the Bond-girl. Then there's the master samurai Goemon, who adds the eastern flare to a mostly Western cast. Finally there is Zenigata, the bumbling international police detective who has dedicated his life to trying to catch the thief.

The only problems I had with this cast is that for some reason the writers seem compelled to include all of them in every movie. For some of the movies, I think the story would have flowed a lot better and felt much less awkward if it just focused on just Lupin and maybe a sidekick or two. Zenigata is one character who could have definitely been left out of a couple of the movies, but I guess they want him in there so you never forget that Lupin is in fact a criminal after all.

As for the movies themselves, how good they are depends on the approach that the director decides to take. Some focus on action, some on cliches, others on comedy. But I think the best results come when the story, tone, and characters are consistent. In this collection, the ones that do that the best are The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure and Dead or Alive. But just to be fair, I'll go over them all individually...

Voyage to Danger
Overall= D / Story=D / Video=D / Audio=C-

Out of all of the movies in this collection, I liked this one the least because it is constantly pulling its punches, resulting in weak action and characters.

To start with, the villains are not nearly as strong or ruthless as they need to be for an action/adventure movie. They are constantly falling for any number of cliches. For instance, at one point Lupin asks for a final request (to smoke!) before the villain kills him, and he actually grants it! which then gives Lupin a chance to escape. Then there's the tired cliche of the villain going gaga over the sexy girl, which allows her to infiltrate his operations.

Plus, scenes that start off as suspenseful have cliche or anti-climactic pay-offs that are supposed to be funny but end up being disappointing, if not annoying. And I know I'm not supposed to take this too seriously, but the whole part with Lupin stealing the submarine stretches even my suspension of disbelief threshold. Of course, you could argue that that it is all done in the name of parody, but if so it's still ineffective because there is no sense of self-mockery that you need in any good parody. You could also argue that it's just good campy fun, and, when done right, that kind of thing can bring a lot of energy to a show. But here the cliches and weak storytelling deflate any potential energy out of those scenes. And regardless, characters still need to be consistent in order to make it entertaining.

The animation in this movie is also substandard. The movement is jerky and the art is downright unattractive. So yeah.. wasn't too crazy about this one.

Dragon of Doom
Overall=D+ / Story=D+ / Video=D / Audio=C-

After watching this movie for a while I started to notice some consistencies between this and Voyage to Danger. They both had crappy animation, anticlimactic suspense scenes, the mind-numbingly illogical plot lines, and the same tired cliches (I guess having a final request for a smoke is a supposed to be a running gag?). So much so that I eventually started to wonder if they both had the same director. As it turns out they do. That was a relief since it meant that the other movies, which have different directors, could possibly be better, which they are.

The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure
Overall=B- / Story=B- / Video=B / Audio=C

This is the first movie in this collection where I could actually start to understand Lupin III's appeal and potential. It's no more believable than the other two, but at least this one is much more of an obvious action/comedy making it a lot of fun to watch. The villains are weird and ruthlessly evil. They do have weaknesses, but those weaknesses are consistent with the tone of the movie and the character's personality.

Another thing that I like about this one is that it presents Lupin as an actual thief instead of a treasure-hunter-for-hire. So it actually makes sense when Zenigata comes chasing after him. Of course, as a result Lupin is less of a sympathetic character (at times he at least seems to kill some cops to escape); but that didn't make it any less fun to watch.

The animation is also a lot better. It is both simple and dynamic and meshes well with the action/comedy plot.

The Secret of the Twilight Gemini
Overall=C- / Story=C- / Video=D+ / Audio=C

This one is a adventure story. It has a decent story, but nothing about it stands out as exceptional. It goes back to presenting Lupin as more of a treasure-hunter than an actual thief, so someone new to the Lupin III franchise might wonder why the cops are always after him. (As my wife said, "Why are they chasing after him? He doesn't seem like such a bad guy.") The art and animation are detailed, but not particularly attractive. But, again, it's a relatively good adventure story, so from that perspective it's worth seeing.

Dead or Alive
Overall=B+ / Story=B / Video=B+ / Audio=C

Now this is what a Lupin III movie should be: a fun action/adventure storyline with a strait-up bad-ass villain, and Lupin attempting to steal a countries' national treasure. Plus all four of the Lupin quartet are there from the beginning so there's no need for awkward, forced introductions later on. The action is frantic and makes for some exciting fight and chase scenes. Lupin may have have some unbelievably outlandish means of getting out of situations, but at least they are logical given his situation. For instance, my favorite one is near the end when Lupin, having lost his gun, fires a bullet by wedging it into a crack and then throwing a knife at it. Not remotely plausible, but cool nonetheless.

The treasure this time is protected by a nanomachine security system whose technology may be wild, but which makes from some wickedly cool action scenes. The animation looks a little dated, but even so has a level of detail and dynamic movement that you don't see much these days.

The reason that this movie sticks out is probably because it was directed by the original creator of Lupin III, Monkey Punch (yes, that is the name he actually goes by). The guy obviously knows how to handle his own characters to bring out their full potential.

Conclusion

So Lupin III has a lot of potential, but the quality of any particular movie is still hit or miss. I'd recommend this pack only if you are a Lupin III completist. But for those who only want to see the good stuff, I recommend The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure and I highly recommend Dead or Alive.

Many thanks to The Question for letting me borrow this pack.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Viewing Journal: Shakugan no Shana (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C+
Story = C+
Video = B-
Audio = C+

Journal

Sakai Yuuji, a high school student who expected his normal life to last forever, is dead. When he was on his way home he witnessed a shocking view as the world suddenly froze: people were engulfed by blue flames and a monster resembling a large doll swallowed them. Just as the monster prepared to consume Yuuji, a sword-wielding girl in black attire with flaming red eyes and hair that burns like embers saved him from the monster. The girl called herself a "Flame Haze" who hunts the "Guze no Tomogara", creatures from another world. As Yuuji noticed a blue flame in his chest, she called him a "Torch", a temporary replacement, saying that the "real" Yuuji's existence had already ended. Unfazed, Yuuji befriended the strange girl, named her "Shana", and joined her fight against Tomogara and other Flame Hazes. (Source: ANN)

A short review this time because, although this show has a dark and original plot with lots of dramatic potential plus a good amount of action and impressive visuals; there was one thing that hampered my enjoyment of it. That being the "cute" moe-type personality of Shana.

Shana starts out seeming like she is going to be this bad-ass fighter. And for a time she is, but then after a while she starts to dull down and become weak. I know that this is supposed to be because of her relationship with Yuuji, but even when that wasn't a factor she came off as weak. I think the show does this to make Shana seem vulnerable, but the price was that it failed to cash in on the dramatic potential that could have resulted from a stronger character.

Plus despite the original plot and interesting ideas presented in the show, a lot of the character relationships were common anime stereotypes that you'd find in any high-school drama. There's the love triangle, the boys fawning over the older woman, the boy who has girls fighting over him but doesn't even realize it... These stereotypes dull the edge of what could have been an otherwise striking storyline.

So in the end, I would say this is worth checking out if you are looking for something original and dark. But be wary that the novelty of the plot can wear thin after you are exposed to the romantic cliches.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Viewing Journal: The Hidden Fortress

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= D+
Story = D+
Video = D+
Audio = D+




Journal

The film begins with two luckless peasants, Tahei and Matashichi escaping the aftermath of a battle. In a hidden valley, they meet and try to help General Rokurota Makabe , whose mission is to help and protect a princess. The peasants try to help but mostly impede his mission. They are later joined by a farmer’s daughter, whom they acquire at an inn from a slave-trader, or procurer. Together, the five make an arduous and desperate trek through enemy territory, transporting a treasure of gold that the princess and the general hope to use to rebuild the princess's military to one day retake her land and rebuild her realm. (Source: Wikipedia)

I saw this at Otakon this year. The only reason I wanted to see it was because I'd heard that it was the movie that Star Wars was based on. But as it turns out (after a small bit of online research) all Lucas got out of this movie was the idea of telling the story from the perspective of the "lowest" characters (R2D2 and C3PO in the case of Star Wars).

The Hidden Tower is an Akira Kurosawa movie, which automatically makes it a classic since he is a legendary Japanese filmmaker from the '50s (or there about). And I'm sure that back in the day some of his movie-making techniques and style were cutting-edge, but watching it from my seat at Otakon, I was pretty bored.

At least the first half of the movie was boring because the plot just trudged along so slowly. Much of it just seems like dead air because it lingers too long on a lot of scenes. For instance, there's one where the movie's "lowly" characters, Tahei and Matashichi, are trying to climb up a hillside but keep slipping among the rocks (while, predictably, their leader took a shortcut and ends up waiting for them on the other side). It was amusing at first, but they just kept slipping down and trying to climb back up and slipping down again so that after a while I just wanted to say "Okay I get it already, they're nimrods, can we get to the next scene already?" There's another scene where there is a duel between the general Rokurota and another general named Tadokoro. The fighted was long and not particularly exciting and seemed like there was no choreographical planning involved at all... just two guys running around trying to slash (unsuccessfully) at one other with spears.

The characters were pretty flat as well. The two "lowly" characters from whose perspective the story is told, Tahei and Matashichi, don't seem like much more than comic relief with no real character development. Rokurota is your stereotypical tough-guy-hero. And then you have the princess who seems to do nothing but glare at people the entire movie, which is especially disturbing with those slant eyebrows she sports.

Actually the only character I liked at all was the old general that the princess and Rokurota met in the hidden tower. After some thought I realized the actor also played the role of the lead samurai in Seven Samurai. He plays that wise/amused demeanor just perfectly (maybe I should check out some other movies he's been in...).

So I was ready to pass out about half-way through, but thankfully the second half picked up the action and moved the plot along at a relatively brisk pace, catching my interest a bit more. I still wouldn't say that the second half was good enough to warrant a good review, because my standards are at least slightly higher than "at least it was good enough to keep me awake."

So while it wasn't the most entertaining two-plus hours I spent at Otakon, I'm still kind of glad I watched it if for no other reason than so I can say "I watched the movie that inspired (certain aspects of) Star Wars ... but Star Wars is better."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Viewing Journal: 5 Centimeters Per Second

Movie Overview
DVD Info (Not yet available in US)
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= A+
Story = A+
Video = A+
Audio = A+


Journal

Tono Takaki and Shinohara Akari are close friends who, upon graduation from elementary school, are parted because of family movement. Their deep feelings for each other keep them in contact, but they worry they may not meet again. Then, one day, Takaki decides to visit Akari.........This is a movie in three parts that follows the thoughts and relationship of 2 young people as they meet and part, both from their point of view and from people around them. (Source: ANN)

At this year's Otakon, I was lucky enough to be able to catch a showing of Makoto Shinkai's latest masterpiece 5 Centimeters Per Second. I was just blown away by the movie's simple, but emotionally and visually rich storyline. Shinkai fans will find the theme very familiar as it seems to be the subject of all of his works -- that being the struggle to maintain a relationship even when people are separated by distance and/or time; but what Shinkai does, he does exceedingly well and this is probably the pinnacle of his storytelling talents.

What makes this stick out from his other movies is that this one, while touching slightly on space exploration in the second part, is a realistic story that could easily take place today. And while his other two works are told within the framework of a sci-fi story, this one focuses almost entirely on the characters. As a result there is no distraction from being engrossed in their emotional anxiety, making this as involving of a show as you'll ever see.

Shinkai has always been a master of visuals, but here he kicks the animation up a few notches -- having leaned a few things from his initial, fan-produced Voices of a Distant Star. This is probably the first romance movie that I would say you absolutely have to see on the big screen in order to appreciate fully. Even the most mundane of urban settings are presented with such vibrant color and detail that you'll need to watch it a few times over to absorb it all.

The last part involved a short story followed by a beautiful song mixed with scenes from the movie as well as some other scenes from the lives of the characters. The combination of the music and visuals was an unexpectedly intense climax to the movie. When it was all over I stood up and had to recover a little because I felt a little emotionally drained afterwards.

Overall this is a movie I would suggest any fan of cinema should watch just to see what the medium can accomplish even with such a simple boy-girl-romance storyline.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reading Journal: Death Note (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Rating:
Overall= A+
Story = A+
Art = A+

Journal

Shinigami own notebooks called “Death Notes” which are used as killing devices. Whoever’s name they write down in a death note will die within 40 seconds. Shinigami Ryuk dropped his Death Note in the human world where it’s found by honor high school student Light. With the death note actually having directions in it for its use, Light discovers he now has the power to discreetly kill people, and with this new power he plans to change the world in his ideal world by killing off criminals. Eventually the governments of the countries around the world notice the unusual amounts of deaths of their criminals, and figure out someone is behind them, but they have no way of discovering it themselves. That’s when they hire L, a master detective, to find out who is behind the murders. (Source: ANN)

I'm having a hell of a time trying to figure out what to write for this review, but that's not because I have ambivalent feelings about this manga. On the contrary, there are so many great qualities of this manga that I can't think of where to start... But I'll give it a try anyway.

First of all there is the original story line... Not only is the story's concept intriguing, but the entire follow-up throughout all 12-volumes constantly keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen next. Even just looking at the title "Death Note" may give the impression that this is going to be some kind of Gothic horror genre. And although there are some of those elements in here, that's not what keeps fans enthralled. What keeps them coming back are the two main characters -- Light and L -- who have to constantly try to outwit one another in order to gain the strategic upper-hand. This manga uses reasoning like other manga use action. It will go through a character's thought process as they try to consider every possible scenario before making a move. That makes for some dense dialogue, but also makes for some electrifying tension because you are always trying to think of what loopholes might have been missed or how L or Light (or Near and Mello later on) will counteract each others' strategy. It pulls you into the story because you not only see what the characters do but why.

The characters themselves make the story worth reading as well. Not only are their quirky and extraordinary personalities enthralling, but they are also complex characters that evolve throughout the series. Watching Light as the Death Note corrupts his initially well-meaning intentions; and watching L as he develops a camaraderie with Light adds even more depth to the story. And although the story involves themes of good vs. evil, there are no absolutes in either category. There are fans of the manga who root for Light and those who root for L, because neither is inherently the good guy or bad guy.

And those characters come all the more to life with the manga's superb artwork. It's clean and dispenses with the standard manga character design stereotypes (e.g., big eyes, outlandish body proportions). Not only does each character have a distinctive look, but each also has a distinctive posture. Nowhere before have I seen a manga artist have such a firm grasp of using body language to enhance personality and dialogue. Takeshi Obata's artwork undeniably makes reading even the most dialogue-heavy moments a joy.

I've heard both good and bad reviews about the stories final chapters, but in my mind it ended perfectly. Though probably individuals' reactions will depend on which character they want to win (since it could go either way...many times over). There is -- as is par for the manga -- a lot of dialogue to trudge through, but the reward at the end is well worth it. The best review of volume 12 I have read thus far describes the end of Death Note as "like observing an elaborate dominoes set-up and then seeing it collapse in twisted but elegant patterns. You marvel at the time and patience it took to set it all up, are amazed to watch the dominoes fall in rhythm and then feel a little disappointed that it's all over."

There is certainly a lot more to be said about this story because there are so many twists and turns -- some of which are extremely controversial among fans (sometimes justifiably so). But taken as a whole, this is an incredibly original and engrossing story for fans of manga and non-fans alike.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Trailer for NEW Evangelion movie

The first of 4 brand-spanking new Evangelion movies. This first one is a re-telling of the first part of the TV series. Awesome new animation quality.

Release in Japan schedule for September 1.

5 Killers trailer

A new US co-production: 5 Killers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Viewing Journal: Paprika

Movie Overview
(Currently in theatres)
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B+
Story = C+
Video = A+
Audio = B+


Journal
In the near future, a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment called PT has been invented. Through a device called the "DC Mini" it is able to act as a "dream detective" to enter into people's dreams and explore their unconscious thoughts. Before the government can pass a bill authorizing the use of such advanced psychiatric technology, one of the prototypes is stolen, sending the research facility into an uproar. In the wrong hands, the potential misuse of the device could be devastating, allowing the user to completely annihilate a dreamer's personality while they are asleep. Renowned scientist, Dr. Atsuko Chiba, enters the dream world under her exotic alter-ego, code name "PAPRIKA," in an attempt to discover who is behind the plot to undermine the new invention.

This movie seems to elicit some rather polarizing reviews. Those who love it tout it's lush visuals and entrancing dream-logic storyline. Those who hate it say that the plot is simply too hard to understand. And after having seen it myself, I can certainly say that both of those observations are true; but the fact that the story is hard to understand is kind of the whole point considering that it attempts to blur the lines between dreams and reality -- or more accurately, it tries to totally merge those two worlds into one. And the movie does a fantastic job of showing the illogic of dreams, but unfortunately it does so at the expense of its story and characters.

To start with, I have never seen dream-sequences presented quite so accurately in a movie as they were in Paprika. Most movies just seem to string a bunch of random crazy scenes together and call it a dream sequence. But in Paprika, while you still have wild crazy seemingly random visuals, it does an especially convincing and accurate job of showing how one dream flows into the next with an eerily natural fluidity. In fact, while watching those scenes, it called up to mind some of my own dreams and the way one thing will be taking place and then suddenly I'll be somewhere else altogether but it will all seem perfectly reasonable and natural at the time. That fluidity -- mixed with the incredibly dynamic and colorful visuals and light-hearted music -- made the dream sequences in Paprika especially fun to watch.

The down-side to this is that Satoshi Kon (the movie's director) seems to focus so much on presenting fluid visuals and convincing dream-logic that he sacrifices the movie's story and character development. The story itself is a pretty simplistic who-stole-the-dream-machine mystery. But even a simplistic plot isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you fill it out with plenty of character development to give it some emotional depth. But Paprika just seems so bent on showing as many dream-sequences as possible that it forgets to develop the story and characters to the point where it would give those sequences some real cathartic impact.

The other point that I think the story missed on is that it didn't build anticipation at all. Paranoia Agent (another Satoshi Kon work) had a similar theme but did a better job of gradually building one odd event on top of another until the very end where it was an all out hallucination bonanza. In Paprika, the very first thing you see is a dream sequence, and the from then on the dream-logic never lets up. The problem with this is that, as the movie moves on, these scenes start to get old. So by the half-way point it seems like the movie has shown us all its tricks and without a strong story or characters to take over the visuals start to loose their charm.

But even with those criticisms, I still have to say that this is one of the most original and visually fun movies I have seen in the theatre in quite a while. So I still give it high marks and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys dream-logic-type movies.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Viewing Journal: Paradise Kiss (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= A-
Story = A-
Video = A-
Audio = B+

Journal

Yukari is a typical high-school student who listens to her parents and attends school everyday. As she starts to question her way of life, she encounters a group of fashion design students who has a clothing label known as "Paradise Kiss". The group needs to find a model to showcase their designs in an up-coming fashion show and decides to pick Yukari instead. Initially, Yukari was reluctant to be associated with this seemingly eccentric group, but eventually, she realises that they are really nice people. Furthermore, their passion and enthusiasm to follow their ideals and dreams make Yukari realise that she has not been enjoying her life and this motivated her to pursue her own dreams. (Source: ANN)

This is a show that takes place in the world of fashion, but there really isn't a lot of talk about its technical side. Fashion is more like the means though which the main character -- Yukari -- develops from a "by the book" student into someone who follows her own will. And it tells that story extremely effectively. This is the first show in a long time where after one episode ended I couldn't wait to get to the next one, not because I wanted to see what happens next, but just because I liked watching the characters develop.

Part of the show's effectiveness lies in how realistic it is. The characters are believable, but they also have such a creative edge to their personality that whenever Yukari goes to see them it sees like she is stepping into a totally separate world -- one where people follow their passions instead of the rules of the world. And it's that passion along with their reliance on each other that really draws you into into the story.

The visual designs also add to the theme of realism and originality. The character designs are each unique and intriguing and reflect the creative side to their personalities. But the most unique part of the art is the costume designs -- which if I remember correctly were actually designed by a real fashion designer (though I don't have a source on that at the moment). It's especially noticeable since in most anime the characters always wear the same thing (to make it easier on the animators I'm guessing), but here they change clothes constantly, and one character even goes so far as to have a different hair color and style each time she shows up.

There isn't a lot of music throughout the show's soundtrack, but as it turns out, that actually works in its favor and gives it a lot more credibility in my eyes because it doesn't rely on music to enhance a scene and manipulate the audience's emotions. The characters elicit enough of a response in themselves. That's not to say there was no soundtrack to it, though most of it seemed to come in the form of a character's radio being turned on in the background or something, which again added to the realism.

The opening and ending themes are awesome, and I watched both in every episode. For some reason I just couldn't resist watching the OP because it seemed to put me in just the right mood to start each episode. The ending is something that you have probably heard before: "Do You Want To" by Franz Ferdinand (kudos to Geneon for working through that licensing nightmare). The song starts in the last few seconds of the each episode and then transitions into the EP. It's a great technique that I haven't seen so successfully employed since Gankutsuo. The final animation is a blast to watch too, as the main characters dance around in SD form.

If I had to find one flaw in the show I would have to say that it is that the story is so rushed. For instance, in the first few episodes the relationship between George and Yukari develops awkwardly. At first she doesn't like George at all, then all of a sudden she is all over him and I was never sure when that switch took place. Things got all the more rushed near the end. The last episode especially seemed to cram a good 3-episodes worth of material in. Conflicts arise and are resolved in a matter of minutes, giving me the impression that the show was scurrying to cover as much material from the manga as possible. As a result you don't get enough time to absorb and react a scene before the next thing happens. But even given the rushed nature, it was still all really good stuff and the ending was still for the most part satisfying.

So overall I think this is a great show for anyone who enjoys a creatively-executed, realistic drama with intriguing characters, or anyone who is just looking for something a little different.