Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Story = B-
Video = A-
Audio = B
Hunted by the Mings from China, young Kotaro and his dog meet a nameless samurai ("Nanashi") who is constantly being haunted by dreams of the past which lead him to seal his sword. Among the Mings is a fearsome Western fighter named Rarou, who desires only to find a worthy opponent. When both groups clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord, a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival, the reason behind the Mings' pursuit tests the bond between Kotaro and Nanashi. (Source: ANN)
Sword of the Stranger is pretty standard in a lot of respects. It has a standard samurai story involving a ronin warrior trying to protect a kid from other warrior/bad guys who want to use him for some villainous plot. It has the tried-and-true character types of the guilt-ridden samurai with the tragic past, the tough kid, the arrogant and power-hungry leaders, and the fighter looking for a challenge. But standard or not, the movie does pull off all of these elements successfully: The characters are sympathetic and compelling and the plot has just enough detail to keep it interesting while allowing the action to flow at a brisk pace.
But what sets this movie apart from others in the genre are the visuals. I don't mean the animation -- which is smooth and fast-paced -- and I don't mean the art -- which is above even Studio Bones' typically high standards. What I mean is the details in the action itself. The fight scenes are not only well choreographed, but also go so far as so show, in unexpected detail, the physical consequences of the fight. For instance, near the beginning, Nanashi finishes off an opponent by jabbing the hilt of his sword into the foe's neck. It sinks in, breaking the guy's neck, but when he Nanashi pulls the sword back, the neck swells at the entrance point due to internal bleeding. There are also a few other creative details, like when the hawk guy (I don't remember his name) is looking for his sword when it is in fact sticking out the back of his neck. Now that's quality!
As for the music, it was good and fit in with movie and enhanced the drama. At least I'm pretty sure it did because I don't remember it too clearly.
So anyway, this was a great movie overall and is definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in cool samurai violence presented with high quality animation and with good story and characters. And being able to watch it on the big screen at Otakon made it all the better.
Story = D-
Video = D
Audio = C
Takemoto study in art college, but not knowing what he wants to do in the future. Shy girl Hagumi loves painting. Some day she is painting and Takemoto see her; he fell in love. So does Morita, who is in art college too. (Source: ANN)
Even though I didn't like the anime version of Honey and Clover, I was curious in seeing this live action version (which was showing at Otakon this year). The only reason being that I wanted to check whether or not my theory about how the anime would work in live action was on target. And I can proudly say I was spot on.
This live action movie has all the down-side of the anime with none of the up-side. It's a story about a group of art school students who are all the victims of unrequited love; meaning that girl-A loves boy-B, but boy-B loves girl-C, etc. There is no focus on any particular set of characters, and with no other story elements driving the story forward it was hard to tell where it was going. And the worst part is that over the full 2-hours of the movie, nothing really even develops in any of these relationships, making it seem like the movie could potentially go on forever.
And it doesn't help that it moves so slowly throughout the entire thing. The conversations would include a line of dialogue, and awkward pause, another line, another pause, and so on. This technique can potentially be used effectively to build a sense of tension between characters, but that just didn't happen here. Maybe it was bad acting, or maybe it was lost in translation, but whatever the case it made each conversation way more drawn out than it needed to be. And it made the movie way longer than it had any right to be.
The thing about the anime was that, even though it had much the same type of storyline as in the movie, the visual gags and some of the extreme antics of the characters -- especially Morita -- at least made it somewhat entertaining, if not especially engrossing. But since those types of things can't be pulled off in a live action drama, this movie ends up falling flat.
As for the music, it is half-way decent. And just about all of the songs are in English which is nice from the perspective of a US audience. It also makes me think that maybe this is one of those movies where the soundtrack sells better than the movie DVD.
So in the end, this movie reminded me of a slow-moving Japanese version of Singles -- or any of those kinds of movies that portray multiple couples with loose connections trying to find love. I tend to dislike those kinds of movies because there is no plot and the characters usually seem so self absorbed and sappy that I just want to scream "Get over it already!" Again, I'm not saying that I don't like romance -- hell my favorite anime movie of all time is 5 Centimeters Per Second -- but with little focus and no plot, Honey and Clover left me bored out of my mind.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Story = C
Video = B
Audio = C+
Conspiracies are revealed and sides are taken as Ichigo's quest to save Rukia comes to its dramatic and blood-soaked climax. In the aftermath of the battle, Ichigo returns to the world of the living only to find himself and his friends being taunted by rouge mod-souls and soul-sucking creatures called Bounts. The Bounts have nefarious plans for world domination, which somehow necessitate kidnapping the last known Quincy...
The good news is that the whole story arc involving Ichigo saving Rukia from being executed is finally resolved. The bad news is that once that's all done with, we're faced with the show's first round of mind-numbing filler episodes.
Starting with the up-side of this season, the way that the Rukia-execution story arc is resolved really is climactic. That's mainly due to Ichigo reaching his Bankai form and attaining a new black sword and a new Matrix-inspired outfit (although he looked cooler when he had the cloak). But there are also plenty of other battles taking part across the soul society with soul reaper squads battling one another to show who is strong and who is just a poser.
But as intense as a lot of the battles are, there are a few that seem to drag out. The worst of it comes in the battle with the bearded soul reaper captain Shigekuni. About a quarter of that episode (and part of the following one) was dedicated solely to panning over the old man's muscular body in slow motion just to show how powerful he is. And after all that we never even get to see the guy fight! What the--?
But despite the propensity for lengthy body-shots, most episodes contain some kind of revelation that uncover some new aspect of the characters or world they live in... at least, until around episode 62 -- the start of the dreaded filler episodes.
"Filler episodes" are the parts of an anime where the animators have run out of source material from the original manga and thus have to bide their time by animating all-new plot threads until more manga-based story lines are generated. The main problem with that -- regardless of how good or bad those new stories are -- is that the pace is ruined because there are no more revelations. And that's frustrating because it's almost like you are starting from scratch with a crew of new characters who are not nearly as interesting as the originals.
And even if you give the writers some slack and say that you don't care if the story is sidetracked from a little while, I would still say that the new stories are inferior to the originals. For one thing, it seems like the writers are doing nothing more with the original characters than playing off a single personality trait -- Ichigo as an angry and driven teen, Otahime as a ditz, Kon as a pining pervert -- so the characters do not seem as deep or complex as they used to. Plus, the careful balance between action, drama, and comedy that the show had at the beginning is gone. Sure all the elements themselves are still there, but they are not as well timed making for an awkward narrative.
As far as the animation, it's pretty much the same as it's ever been: average most of the time, above average the rest of the time.
The music -- which hasn't changed at all -- is actually starting to wear on me. I can only take so much more of that "If you want to see some action, you've got to be the center of a-ttrac-tion..." song. And the guitar music has lost the edgy-cool factor that it had in the first season.
From what I've heard the filler episodes keep going until around episode 110 (there are currently 190 episodes released in Japan) so I guess I'm stuck with them for a while. But despite how horrible they get I'll keep trudging along because bad filler Bleach is still better than no Bleach at all.
More Bleach reviews: