The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Viewing Journal: Appleseed - Ex Machina

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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

Deunan, a young female warrior, and Briareos, a veteran cyborg-soldier, are both partners and lovers. As members of E.S.W.A.T., the elite special forces serving Olympus, they are deployed whenever trouble strikes. The two fighters find their partnership tested in a new way by the arrival of a new member to their ranks - an experimental Bioroid named Tereus. (Source: ANN)

This is a big improvement on the first Appleseed movie in both the story and the animation. That probably has something to do with the fact that this one was directed by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker John Woo. Although I have only seen a handful of his movies and -- other than his tendency to use doves -- can't say that I'm an expert on his style; but regardless, he definitely did a better job with characterization and keeping the visuals and action consistent, especially compared to that first movie.

The plot has something to do with a device that causes people to go out of control (or something like that... it's actually been a while since I saw this), and Deunan, Briareos and the rest of the ESWAT crew need to find out what's going on. But what's more is that Deunan has to take on a new partner: a Bioroid (artificial human) named Tereus who looks just like Briareos did before he became cyborg. It's a pretty cool twist on the story that gives a lot of opportunity for emotionally charged back and forth between the trio, and a good amount of drama -- or at least as much as you can have a in a CG movie.

And that's where the real draw of this movie comes in: it actually does a good job of giving the CG characters enough personality and expression to make seem incredibly sympathetic. The improved CG itself is part of that. The visuals are actually consistent instead of the half-realistic, half-computer-shade that there was in the first movie. The facial expressions of the characters are more natural and not as rigid or awkward as they were in the first movie. Same thing with the body movements. The characters look relaxed and -- well, like actual characters.

Even the costumes add to the their personalities. When you see Deunan in that dress at the birthday party, or Tereus walk in in his tux, or Briareos in his military t-shirts, it seems so familiar for a sci-fi CG-animated movie that catches you off guard.

But it's as much the writing as the visuals that make the characters come alive. The dialogue isn't quite as cliche or predicable as it was in the original. And the interaction between characters is natural. There is a lot of casual back and forth and guys chucking each other on the shoulder, stuff like that makes the interaction more sympathetic, believable, and relatable.

Of course, what you probably are REALLY going to see this movie for is the crazy shoot-em-up, sci-fi tech action, and there is plenty of it here to please. Everything from the landmate robotic armor whizzing all over the place and blasting everything, to Deunan and Birareos in the church doing all kinds of unexpected gun tricks and acrobatics to catch the bad guys. Both in terms of the art and the action, it is all a lot of fun to watch.

The music works well too. Both in terms of intensifying both the action and the drama, it does a good job of enhancing each scene.

My only major gripe about the movie is that the ending requires that you have seen the first movie in order to understand what is going on. And it has been so long since I saw that first one that I couldn't remember who was who or why certain things were happening. So the ending didn't seem as climactic as maybe it was supposed to be.

In a lot of ways this seems like a typical action movie, but it doesn't seem as much like the typical animated action movie because of the smart writing and well-choreographed action. So I'd definitely recommend it, even if you have seen the first one and were put off by the story and visuals, this is enough of an improvement to make it worth checking out. The action is fun, and the characterization really warms up the rather cold medium of CG-animation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Viewing Journal: Strait Jacket

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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

It is a world where magic and science coexist. Rayotte Steinberg, a lone wolf "tactical sorcerist", fights against monsters. They used to be human beings, but they have overused forbidden power, magic, to turn into monsters. What he wears is "mold", the straitjacket that keeps him human. He carries an explosive magic wand. If he casts magic, he moves one step closer to being a monster. If he doesn't, he will be killed. Among the harsh battles, he will face a sin he committed in the past. (Source: ANN)

Here's another movie where I like the concept, but am less impressed with how it's executed. The story takes place in a world where magic is commonplace and is incorporated with technology to create new practical tools. I think it would have been cool if they would have gone more in depth in explaining the "science" of magic and incorporating those concepts into the story. I usually like stories that do that kind of thing -- taking a concept (even if it's fictional) and exploring all the details and possibilities of it throughout the series (Mushi-shi, Standalone Complex, and Fullmetal Alchemist are a few examples of shows that do this well). But unfortuneately the writers of this movie never consulted me (damn them), so didn't end up going in that direction.

What it does end up being is a monster/gore-fest, and an unimpressive one at that. The magic-science part is only briefly touched upon as a setup to explain why people all over the world are turning into monsters. Apparently the use of magic poisons people in some way so that eventually they turn into rampaging homicidal mutants. The only people who can stop them are "tactical sorcerists" who don "molds" -- suits of armor that carry giant magic-powered monster-killing guns. Rayotte Steinberg is one such sorcerist who has a strange kid sidekick who looks like he has bug-eyes on his forehead and is somehow tied into Steinberg's mysterious past.

The show relies heavily on two things to attract viewers: the monster/gore-fest, and Steinberg's "lone wolf" character. Personally, I'm not really into gory monster flicks to begin with, especially when such little detail is given for why those creatures exist. Violence is cool and all, but -- just like I mentioned in my previous review on Afro Samurai: Resurrection -- you need to answer the "why" behind the violence for it to have any intensity or dramatic impact. For instance, the biggest question I had was why the sorcerists always say "exists" before firing their guns. If there was more detail into that kind of stuff, it would have been a lot more interesting. It's the same thing with Steinberg's character. There is some explanation into why he is the way he is, but since the rest of the story is so sparse on details, that even that little bit of explanation isn't enough make his cool persona convincing.

I do have to admit that the reason I picked up this DVD was because I thought the visuals in the trailer looked cool. But for some reason they didn't look quite so impressive in the movie itself. I guess when you string together all of the best scenes back-to-back, you can make any movie look good. The best animation was during the parts where the tactical sorcerists would fire their guns, but other than that the animation is just average.

I'd comment on the music here, but I honestly can't remember any of it at all. That's usually a good indicator that it was either so perfectly synced with the scenes and meshed so well that I never noticed it, or that it was so unimpressive that it didn't draw my attention in any way. I'm guessing it's probably the later for this one.

In summary, this anime had an interesting initial concept, that was never fully developed and instead focused on violent monster action. So unless you're into that kind of thing, I'd recommend you save your money for something better than this average-to-below-average anime.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Viewing Journal: Afro Samurai - Resurrection

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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


Late one night, Afro is suddenly attacked by Jinno. However, he is unable to protect himself, and Jinno drags him nearby to his father's grave, where a woman named Sio awaits. She proceeds to take the Number One headband that he possesses, as well as the remains of his dead father's skull. Before leaving, she tells him to seek and obtain the Number Two headband, if he wants the right to take back his father's remains. With that, Afro must once again embark on a path of violence in order to let his father rest in peace once again. (Source: ANN)

This movie could have been cool if they would have focused on telling a bit of the history of the legendary numbered headbands and developing the world that the story takes place in (while still including crazy fighting action of course). But instead what we end up with is a story that includes inconsistent, one-dimensional characters and a cliche plot.

It also has the same flaw as the original series: it takes itself way too seriously for all the goofiness that is going on: a samurai with a giant afro with his loud-mouth semi-hallucination sidekick, a cyborg with a teddy bear head, a rotund lust-filled scientist, and crazy villainess.

It seems like all it is really doing is trying to take a bunch of "cool" elements, throw them together and hope that it results in something super-cool. And it is possible to do that, but you still need to have a cohesive plot and you really need to explain the "why?" behind it all. Otherwise the story will seem forced and pretentious.

Even the high-quality animation did not improve my opinion of the show. The stylized character designs and dynamic fight scenes were enough to distract me from the flaws during the original series; but by the time this movie rolled around, so the novelty had worn off.

The music is almost all rap -- yet another element that attempts to make the show seem all cool and bad-ass. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just that everything is this show is just trying so desperately hard to be cool seemingly without any effort to develop characters or settings, that it ends up seeming pitiful.

So I wasn't crazy about this follow-up movie to the original series. If you really want more Afro Samurai, you're better off just watch the original series twice.

Friday, April 03, 2009

New Fullmetal Alchemist series available in english NOW

[ UPDATE: Watch it now! ]

According to Anime New Network, Funimation will be offering the 2009 Fullmetal Alchemist series, Fullmetal Achemist: Brotherhood, on its website on April 9 at 12:00pm -- just four days after it's Japanese premiere.

This is just another part of a multinational release of the series that includes countries such as France, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Funimation has already released the original FMA series and the concluding theatrical movie.

Whether this new series will be a direct continuation or an althernate re-telling has yet to be seen.