The 2nd Dimension

Friday, February 29, 2008

Trigun movie coming in 2009

Promo image courtesy of Alafista

According to AnimeNation, the fourteenth and final volume of the Trigun Maximum manga in Japan announced that an all new Trigun animation is scheduled for release in 2009.

From the article:

According to the Japanese Moon Phase message board, the advertising "obi" on the freshly released Japanese Trigun Maximum volume 14 manga includes a confirmation that "Trigun the Movie," an original story motion picture promising "Vash vs Wolfwood!?" will hit Japanese theaters next year. The movie will be animated by Madhouse, directed by Trigun television series director Satoshi Nishimura, and written by Yasuko Kobayashi, the screenwriter of the Gilgamesh and Guyver TV series.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Akira live-action movies set for summer 2009

That's right! "Movies" plural. And with a target summer 2009 release date. It looks like they are going to be based more on the actual manga than the anime movie, which is a wise choice since the manga is a lot easier to understand.

From the article:

Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Bros. are set to team up for a series of live-action motion pictures based on anime artist, Katsuhiro Otomo's masterpiece, Akira . According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gary Whitta has been hired to write the adaptation, which DiCaprio will produce through his Appian Way production company. The films are being fast tracked for release in summer 2009. Each feature will be comprised of three of the books in Otomo's series.

Akira set in a neon-lit futuristic post-nuclear war Tokyo in 2019 where a teen biker gang member is subjected to a government experiment which unleashes his latent powers. The gang's leader must find a way to stop the ensuing swathe of destruction. The anime classic originated in 1988 as manga and then was made into an animated film by Katsuhiro Otoma, which is considered by many fans of Japanese animation to be among the finest works in the genre.

Warner Bros has the rights to Akira up until several years ago when they allowed the rights to lapse. They regained them after a spirited bidding war. Warner's executives are describing the double-bill as Blade Runner meets City Of God.

Warner Bros. and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way has not yet announced when production for Akira is scheduled to begin.

Source: Super Hero Flix

Monday, February 18, 2008

Reading Journal: The Twelve Kingdoms - Volume 1: Sea of Shadow

Book Overview

Overall = A-

For high-schooler Yoko Nakajima, life has been fairly ordinary--that is until Keiki, a young man with golden hair, tells Yoko they must return to their kingdom. Once confronted by this mysterious being and whisked away to an unearthly realm, Yoko is left with only a magical sword; a gem; and a million questions about her destiny, the world she's trapped in, and the world she desperately wants to return to. (Source: Amazon)

I watched the Twelve Kingdoms anime a couple of years ago and loved it; but the one thing that always bothered me was that the anime only told a fraction of the story from the original novels. Now, thankfully, all seven volumes from the original book series are being translated and released in the US, and the first proves to have all the qualities that I loved about the anime and more.

The story in this first book can be broken down into three main parts: First Yoko meets Keiki and is whisked away to another world. Then she ends up getting lost in the new world and has to fight her way through all kinds of physical and mental battles in order to survive. Then eventually she finds out why she was forced to come to this world and what she needs to do. That's mostly the same story as was in the anime, but the major difference is that this version focuses entirely on Yoko. That means that her two fellow students -- Asano and Sugimoto -- are totally absent in this version. But that works out well since it allows the story to be told from one consistent point-of-view, giving it the ability to focus on Yoko's personal development.

And that personal development is a huge part of what makes this a great story. The person Yoko is at the beginning of the novel is very different from who she is at the end. The anime has that same kind of development, but the book goes into greater detail to describe Yoko's emotional reactions and mental reasoning, so it's easier to follow exactly why she makes certain decisions throughout the story. This mostly occurs during the second part, when Yoko is trying to figure out who to trust and whether or not it's worth fighting to stay alive. I think some people will think that this middle portion is boring compared to the action packed beginning and the revelations from the end, but personally I love it when a story goes into depth about what a character is thinking because it adds depth to her character. Plus it keeps me from having to question she does certain things, making her easier to empathize with and understand.

The other thing that makes this story so impressive is the intricately developed world in which it takes place. You can tell that the setting -- much of which is based on Chinese mythology -- was fully realized before the author wrote a single page. The world of the Twelve Kingdoms runs under a very specific set of rules, and to break those rules warrants divine punishment. It's like the gods were trying to create a world that worked under a system that allowed humans to have free will, but also kept it from falling into total chaos. So as a result, everything from the way that the land is divided to the social hierarchy is extremely organized. The political structure has a series of checks and balances that are meant to ensure that only the most qualified rulers are chosen and that they make the decisions that are best for the people. But despite all that, it still doesn't keep some rulers from becoming corrupt and some countries from falling into chaos. It's almost like the author is commenting on the fallacy of humanity, saying that even when gods create a fool-proof system, people will still find some way of screwing up. But thematic analysis aside, the more I learned about the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, the more fascinating and engrossing it became.

Since I'd never read a translated version of a novel before, I was worried that the translation from Japanese to English might make for some awkward writing, and that some concepts might get lost. But as it turns out, this book is very well written. It is a very fast and easy read even with its depth and details.

The one major disappointment was the ending. It builds up to what you expect to be a huge battle, but then it skips any description of the fighting or invasion of the castle, and instead goes right to the resolution. My guess is that the author had spent so much time showing Yoko's personal struggles, that she had used up her page allotment and she was forced to wrap up quickly. Although, I supposed that the argument could be made that the victor of the battle is a foregone conclusion so any further description is unnecessary; but given that the rest of the novel is so detailed in showing how the action unfolds, it is jarring to have it end so suddenly.

Despite that though, overall I loved this book and can't wait to read the remaining six volumes. Whether or not you are a fan of anime, I think this is a well-developed story from beginning to end that has believable characters and a lot of depth that almost anyone could enjoy. Very highly recommended.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reading Journal: Genshiken (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= A+
Story = A+
Art = A-

College freshman and ACG lover Kanji Sasahara settled down his extracurricular activity in Genshiken (The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture) in order to become a true and thorough otaku. Meanwhile, Saki Kasukabe, the girlfriend of another freshman Genshiken member (also a bishounen) Makoto Kohsaka, was dragged into Genshiken's otaku-ish activities reluctantly, yet her resentful attitude towards otakus is changing without her notice. (Source: ANN)

When I first started reading Genshiken it was a shock to my system, because I didn't expect to be able to relate so much to so many of the characters and in so many different ways.

And Genshiken really is all about the characters. There's no overarching plot; it's just a group of otaku hanging out together talking about anime and manga and doing things that otaku like to do, from building models to going to conventions to commenting on their favorite shows. It does an especially great job of highlighting and explaining different types of otaku quirks, habits, and mannerisms in the context of a comedy with realistic characters. So in that way, it's kind of like the otaku's version of Seinfeld, where Jerry's apartment is replaced by the Genshiken clubroom.

The thing that distinguishes this from other similar otaku-focused stories like Otaku no Video, is that the comedy doesn't come so much from parody or satire; instead the comedy a natural result of the characters' personalities and how they all interact with one another. It's neither mocking nor endorsing anime/manga fandom, it just showing anime fans and how they are. So you don't laugh at them because they are otaku, you laugh because -- otaku or not -- the situations they end up in and their reactions to them are funny. And a lot of it is the "yeah, I've been there before" kind of humor that almost anyone could relate to. For instance, there is one chapter where Madarame and Kasukabe are in the clubroom when Madarame notices that Kasukabe seems to have a nose hair sticking out. He spends the rest of the chapter trying to figure out whether it is actually a hair or a piece of lint, and whether or not he should tell her.

But even more than the comedy, it's how much I could relate to the characters that really hit home. In fact, I think that except for maybe Madarame and Kasukabe, I could find something to relate to in just about every character, and not just their general personality but specific thoughts they had or specific situations they've been in or reactions they've had. That makes the manga incredibly cathartic because those characters were expressing ideas I've always had but never actually verbalized.

And that catharsis is intensified all the more because of the manga's theme of "acceptance". Kasukabe, as a non-fan, has to learn to accept the Genshiken because she is in love with one of the members. Sasahara finds acceptance for from the club for his love of anime, manga, and video games even though he has always been embarrassed about said fandom. Oguie has to accept otaku because, despite the fact that she hates them, she is in fact one of them. This theme makes for a kind of wish fulfillment for otaku readers because, let's face it, justified or not, Japan or US, the interests of otaku are often regarded by most people as odd -- if not freakish. And for an anime/manga fan to find a group of people, like Sasahara did, that not only accept but also encourage those interests is like a gold mine. And reading about such characters feels a lot like hanging out with any group of good friends.

As for the art, it fits the manga perfectly. The details put into everything from the setting to the characters and their clothes make the manga fun to read but without forcing you to linger so long on a page as to ruin the pace of the story. The character designs are relatively realistic, which is good because it makes it easy to distinguish the characters from the anime that they watch.

So overall, I'd say that this really is a manga that any true anime/manga fan would love. For me, I'd definitely say that this is one of the best manga I have ever read and I am really going to miss it. Non-fans probably won't be able to empathize quite as much, but they may find it useful to help understand how a lot of otaku think.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reading Journal: Neon Genesis Evengelion - Angelic Days (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= B-
Story = B-
Art = C-


In this alternate retelling of Neon Genesis Evangelion everything is different. Shinji and Asuka have grown up together as childhood friends, Rei is the new kid at school, Misato is their teacher, NERV is just beginning to assemble teenagers for their experiments, and the second impact never happened. The story proceeds as a romance rather than an action series, with love triangles a-plenty. (Source: ANN)

I'll start out by saying what this manga is not. First, although it does begin with the alternate-universe scene from the series, the manga is not a sequel or prequel or tied in any direct way to the timeline of the original Evangelion TV series. Second, this manga will not give you any insight into the unsolved mysteries of the series' storyline, so fans who are hoping to uncover revelations into the series' plot best look elsewhere. Third, there is not a lot of action in this manga. There is a short battle or two, but it certainly won't satisfy those looking for high-intensity Eva/Angel action.

Despite all that, most of the major ideas are still here -- the Evangelions, NERV, Adam, the Angels, even Seele -- but they serve more as the context under which the characters develop their romances as a "kids trying to be kids during hard times" kind of story. Hints of mystery and intrigue are still here though; for instance, NERV's reason for their experiments on the children, and the origin of the white giant Adam. Plus the origins and intentions of Kaworu (whom fans will be happy to hear gets plenty of face time in this manga) and Rei, and their connections to NERV add to the intrigue. But again, these mysteries are more there to advance the romantic struggles and introspection of the characters than anything else.

Of course, the thing those fans will mostly react to -- for better or worse -- are how the characters' personalities are altered. Hardcore fans will vilify this as a bastardization of the original series since the manga lacks much of the series' angst. But those critics aside, I think this manga will fulfill a need in a lot of Eva fans because the characters are so much more open and... well... sane. The personalities are all still the same -- Shinji is still trying to please others and Rei is still unsure of herself -- only they have less neurosis, more extroversion, and overall a more relaxed, sometimes silly tone. Personally, I loved the emotional angst in series as much as anyone, but I still think that Angelic Days' alternative take was a refreshing change of pace.

The first four volumes cover Shinji and the gang during the days of the Angel attacks; but after that story arc wraps up, the fifth volume flashes back in time to tell about the budding romance between Gendo and Yui, then the final volume flashes forward in time to show everyone when they are older and basically ties up all the romantic threads that were covered in the first four volumes. Those last two volumes were a good way to wrap up the story, but since they don't have the backdrop of Eva and the Angels like in the first four volumes, they seem more like strait love stories.

The art of the manga is disappointing; but I think that is mainly due to the fact that it is so different from the original TV series and manga. Sure the character designs are familiar enough where you can tell who is who, but the style isn't as clean and the facial proportions just seem out of whack.

So in summary, Angelic Days is essentially Evangelion-lite, with hints of the some of the qualities of the series, but is as much -- if not more -- interesting in how it deviates from the original than how it is similar. The best way to think of it is as a fairly well done doujinshi that uses elements from the original series to create an "if only..." type of story. Whether or not you enjoy it depends on how much of a hardcore Evangelion purist you are and how much you enjoy shojo romance. As for those who have never been exposed to the original series, I can only imagine what your reaction would be.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Reading Journal: Blame! (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= C
Story = C
Art = C

In the post-apocalyptic future, the complex networks of machines have created chaos and the human world was destroyed. The robots known as the "Constructer" continued to build a meaningless structure with no one to guide them. Soon these cities reach out to the outer planets and another breed of life form emerges. Follow the journey of a strange man, name Killy, in his search for the understanding of the chaotic world being run by Silicon lifeforms out to destroy him and every living thing in their path. (Source: ANN)

I did not particularly like this manga, but despite that I just could not stop reading. Much of that is due to the fact that it is so easy to read. I don't mean that the plot is easy to understand, because it isn't. The plot essentially involves a character named Killy going around an unimaginably massive structure shooting these huge semi-organic creatures called "Silicon Creatures" with his compact-but-insanely-powerful Graviton Beam Emitter while withstanding their onslaught with a superhuman healing capabilities all the while searching for something called "Net Terminal Genes" which will allow him to access the Megastructure's network dubbed the "Netsphere". That's about as much as I was able to comprehend across all ten volumes of this manga, partly because there is little to no dialogue to explain what is going on. And what little dialogue there is involves cryptic terminology that is never fully explained (at least as far as I could tell). Character and plot development take a back seat to the action. Characters show up, then leave or die, then come back in another form for reasons I could never understand, all the while Killy stoically goes about his business babbling about "Net Terminal Genes" and blowing stuff up.

And the artwork didn’t do much to clarify things. Well, actually the art is pretty cool taken by itself. The visuals are dark, and at times look more like a rough sketch than completed artwork, sometimes being extremely detailed and other times extremely minimalistic in order to emphasis the scale of the Megastructure. The dark artwork fits nicely with the dark, ominous setting without being too angst-ridden or moody.

But even though the art style is impressive, it makes it very difficult to follow the action. It's like there will be a bunch a panels, but I could not tell how they were all connected. You'll see Killy in one panel, and a Silicon Creature in another, and some kind of blur in another and then an explosion, but what any of that stuff has to do with each other is vague. It is especially difficult given that the plot and characters’ motivations are so obscure to begin with.

So if everything is so confusing then why the heck would I say that it is easy to read? Well, for one thing, since there is so little dialogue, it is easy to breeze through a volume in a few minutes, even if you might not understand what happened. And even though the action can be difficult to follow at times, it's still hard not to get caught up in all the unrestricted destructive fun of it. But the main thing that attracts me to this manga is its sheer scale of concept.

Killy goes throughout this metal dungeon and for a while it's hinted that at some point he will reach the surface. But the more I got into the story the more I realized that there actually is no surface; and though the total size of the structure is never definitely given, some online research revealed that it could be as large as the Jupiter's planetary orbit! That gargantuan scale gives artist/writer Tsutomu Nihei plenty to play with in terms of setting designs. In fact this is probably the first manga I've read almost purely due to the setting alone. In each volume, I couldn't wait to see what place Killy would wander into next because each "room" or "level" is so different from the one preceding it. The fact that Nihei is a former architect probably contributes to the boundless imagination of the setting. Plus, given that scale the idea that "constructors" are constantly adding onto the Megastructure, and the Netsphere and Authority somehow manages it all, fascinates the heck out of me.

So in summary, Blame! is purely cerebral storytelling with plenty of action with a larger-than-life scale. So while I was not particularly impressed by the lack of character development, the confusing plot, and hard-to-follow action scenes; I am still likely going to pick up the prequel and sequel volumes and maybe even the anime at some point (if they are ever released in the US) simply because I am fascinated by the world of the Megastructure itself.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Viewing Journal: Le Chevalier D'Eon (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

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

During the time when Louis XV still ruled France, a certain woman was found dead in the coffin floating through the Seine river. D'Eon, the woman's brother, determines to seach for the killer of his sister, Lia. But there are some strange movements in France. And things become more strange when Lia's soul enters D'Eon's body... (Source: ANN)

I have mixed reactions to this show. I like the way that it incorporates real historical settings and characters because they give it a sense of legitimacy. Plus whenever I watch these kinds of period series, it always makes me curious about the real historical references (which is conveniently satisfied by the DVD extras the talk about the real-life version of the characters) and just how possible the events in the story really are.

The art and animation added to the sense of realism and authenticity. The setting and costume designs were ornate and detailed and at least appeared to be authentic for the period. The characters designs were very realistic, especially with regards to their facial expressions, which were complex without being exaggerated like you see in other anime. The action scenes were also animated with a great deal of detail, especially the fencing scenes which looked to be expertly choreographed.

What I didn't like so much were the more fantasy-type elements. The show starts out building up a good sense of authenticity as to its historical setting and characters, but then at the end of the first episode it introduces these zombie characters called "gargoyles". That whole zombie element really ruined a lot of the show for me because you have this realistic historical adventure/drama interspersed with what can only be described as a campy horror cliché. There were other inexplicable visuals that were meant to represent the magical element to the show -- like how the words to the Psalms would come out and surround whomever the spell-caster was trying to control, or how D'Eon's hair ribbon would just suddenly fall out whenever Lia's soul would take over his body. These visuals just seemed blunt and out-of-place compared with the more realistic parts. Of course, without the fantasy elements, there wouldn't be much of a story, but I just wish they were handled with a bit more subtlety.

So in summary this is a well-plotted adventure/drama with realistic characters and top-notch animation. Unfotunately the magical/horror elements distract from the realism and can detract from the quality of the story. Overall though, I did enjoy the show and would recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Viewing Journal: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (season 1)

Series Overview
DVD Info

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

On the first day of high school a beautiful girl named Haruhi Suzumiya introduces herself as having "no interest in ordinary humans". She asks for any aliens, time travelers, sliders or espers to join her. Watching her weird behaviour is Kyon who sits in front of Haruhi and is the only person who talks to her. When Kyon comments about Haruhi's joining every club in school and then quitting he unwittingly gives Haruhi an idea to start her own after school club. Thereafter Kyon and several others find themselves dragged, literally, into the Save our world by Overloading it with fun Suzumiya Haruhi's Brigade (the S.O.S. Brigade for short). (Source: ANN)

To be clear, this is a show directed at anime fans. It is intentionally full of all kinds of cliché storylines and characters from moe to tsundere to child detectives and RPG gaming. But it is presented in such a self-aware manner that they act as a parody of themselves by highlighting just how ridiculous such clichés are.

But it is the way that parody is executed within such an original concept that really makes this show rise above other similar anime. As the show eventually reveals, Haruhi's boredom is a dangerous thing because she unknowingly has the power to unconsciously manifest the things that she desires to happen. It's a power that could have cataclysmic consequences if not kept in check, so the members of the SOS Brigade need to keep Haruhi entertained enough to prevent her from destroying and recreating the universe according to her own whim. That story concept could be used to do show kinds of crazy stuff, but for the most part her powers end up manifesting with such subtlety that the characters have a hard time determining what events happen on their own and which are a result of Haruhi's power. And as a result, the show seems more like a regular high school comedy sprinkled with odd occurrences than an all-out magical fantasy. And while I can't say that this make the story more realistic, it does make it seem more grounded and adds a subtle tone of sci-fi mystery to parody which makes it interesting as well as hilarious.

Of course, the other thing that makes this a great show is Haruhi herself. Even without her powers, she is like a force of nature who drags people kicking and screaming into her schemes for achieving self-amusement. Watching the way that she obnoxiously manipulates characters in order to get her way is really what drives the show's character-driven comedy. The other characters also rise above their cliché personalities in order to have genuine and reasonable reactions to the wacky events that Haruhi drags them into. And the unspoken romantic tension between Kyon and Haruhi is another thing that adds a layer of genuineness of the characters.

As far as the art and animation, it ranges from very high quality to above average. The character designs are -- as you might image -- cliché to fit their purpose, but they are also detailed and colorful enough to make them engaging.

The soundtrack for the show is phenomenal. The musical scores during each scene fit perfectly, but what really makes the show are the actual songs that are played during the ending animation (or the full-length version) and during the (chronologically) final episode. Each of which illustrates just how fun this show really is.

One issue that is most controversial issue among fans is what order to watch the show in. When it was originally broadcast in Japan, the episodes were shown out of chronological order. The regular version of the US DVD release only allows you watch the episodes in chronological order, but if you get the special editions you have the added option of watching them in the original broadcast order (subtitled only). I decided to watch them in the original broadcast order and am glad that I did. I think it makes for a better build up and climax due to the order in which the show reveals certain mysteries and the way it develops the characters and their relationships. So I think as long as you are aware that you are watching them out of order, that is the most satisfying way of viewing this show.

So all in all this is a highly entertaining anime that is just plain fun to watch, especially if you are an anime fan. It hooks you with its parody and its genuine and wacky characters and original concept will keep you coming back for more. Recommended for otaku everywhere.

A couple of extra notes... First of all, the last DVD has a scene from what seems to be a similarly themed show called Lucky Star. The scene includes the Haruhi cast and can be seen here. My guess is that fans of Haruhi will end up liking Lucky Star too (though I haven't actually seen it, that's just my guess). I'm not sure of the US release date.

Also, in case you are wondering why I have this review labeled as "season 1", it's because a second season is currently being produced. I'm not sure when it will be aired in Japan though, so stay tuned.

Viewing Journal: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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

When 17-year-old Makoto Konno gains the ability to, quite literally, "leap" backwards through time, she immediately sets about improving her grades and preventing personal mishaps. However, she soon realises that changing the past isn't as simple as it seems, and eventually, will have to rely on her new powers to shape the future of herself and her friends. (Source: ANN)

This is a spectacular character-driven drama and is probably one of the -- if not the best movie I have seen all year (that being 2007).

Part of what makes this movie so easy and enjoyable to watch is that, unlike most time travel stories, it doesn't have the characters traveling across great spans of time or trying to alter world history. The time travel involves leaping back hours, or at most a few days in order for Makoto to make her own life easier so she can do things like sleep in without being late for class, or allowing her to ace tests easily, or avoid awkward social situations. And because the story focuses on short-term time travel and simple every-day events, it is much more believable and easier to relate to. That simplicity also allows the movie to focus fully on the characters and their actions and relationships without having to be distracted by a grandiose plotline. All of this simple, believable, character-driven drama gives the story plenty of emotional range, with both fun (and funny) moments, as well as moments that are dramatically intense.

The animation is simple but the movement of the characters are detailed and extremely realistic. It ranks right up there with the best of studio Ghibli in terms of animating the most minute details of a character's life in order to add depth and realism (which makes sense since some Ghibli staff was involved in making this movie). The artwork is simple with fluid and soft line work that adds to the relaxed easy-going tone of the movie.

That's not to say that the movie is perfect, as it does have a few flaws that distract from its tone. The most significant flaw is that it deviates from that simple every-day storyline in order to give an explanation for the time travel. Personally, I would have been happy if it would have been something like the movie Groundhog Day, where they never really explain why she is able to travel through time since that is not as important as what she does with the ability and how it changes her. But as it is, the movie does add an extra layer of complexity to the plot by bringing in another time-traveler, and as a result makes for an awkward sci-fi shift in tone.

And this issue is compounded all the more because the events that follow are confusing and at times self-contradictory. Plus there are plot threads that are never fully explained (i.e., what exactly is the significance of that painting for the people of the future?). But personally I was able to mentally work my way around these flaws, because the successes of the movie still far outweigh its shortcomings.

One thing that people may be confused about is Makoto's aunt, whom Makoto goes to for advice. The story never explains who this aunt is or why she is so knowledgeable about time travel. As it turns out, this movie is actually a sequel to a live action movie from 1983, which is in turn based on a novel. This anime movie takes place 20 years after that original movie, and the aunt is supposed to be the main character from that live action movie. You don't need to see the original film to appreciate this anime version, but understanding where her character comes from does help alleviate some confusion.

So in summary, this movie is just incredible and even with its flaws ranks right up there with 5 CM Per Second as one of my top picks of 2007. Highly recommended for all audiences.