The 2nd Dimension

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Viewing Journal: Noein (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

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


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.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

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

Movie Overview
(Not yet available in US)

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


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.]