The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Viewing Journal: Eden of the East (TV, Movie 1 & Movie 2)

Series Overview
Movie 1 Overview
Movie 2 Overview
DVD Info

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

On November 22, 2010 ten missiles strike Japan. However, this unprecedented terrorist act, later to be called as "Careless Monday," does not result in any apparent victims, and is soon forgotten by almost everyone. Then, 3 months later... Saki Morimi is a young woman currently in the United States of America on her graduation trip. But just when she is in front of the White House, Washington DC, she gets into trouble, and only the unexpected intervention of one of her fellow countrymen saves her. However, this man, who introduces himself as Akira Takizawa, is a complete mystery. He appears to have lost his memory. and he is stark naked, except for the gun he holds in one hand, and the mobile phone he's holding with the other hand. A phone that is charged with 8,200,000,000 yen in digital cash. (Source: ANN)
I started watching Eden of the East because it was directed by Stand Alone Complex and Moribito director Kenji Kamiyama, and was the first of his works not based on an existing manga or novel. He usually works with animation studio Production IG, and the result is some of the most stunning visuals in TV anime. But what really grabs me is his intricately plotted stories, and his strong, multi-dimentional, and intelligent characters. Overall he puts an incredible level of detail into all three parts of his anime: visuals, characters, and story. And for the most part, that is all present in Eden of the East, but even so there was something missing that kept me from being able to fully enjoy this story.

This review is for all of Eden of the East, including the 11-episode TV series and the two movies, King of Eden and Paradise Lost. The story revolves around several people called Seleção who have access to specialized cell phones. They can use the cell phones to call a woman named Juiz who is kind of like a catch-all concierge — she can, one way or another, grant any request in the hopes that it will ultimately lead to that person becoming savior of Japan, whatever that means. The main character is Akira Takizawa — a man who has lost most of his memory who gets involved with a group of people who are involved in the development of a kind of social networking site called Eden of the East. Suffice to say that a hell of a lot of stuff happens across the series and movies with lots of twists and turns. But all of those plot twists are part of a very well thought-out storyline, with lots of details that are integrated into the story so well that it never seems like there is a lot of exposition. This is an anime that you need to pay attention to, and have a solid memory for in order to fully appreciate all the work that has gone into it.

One of the things the most stands out in the show is the number of very specific references to the real-world. It specifically names locations like the White House in Washington DC and specific areas or streets in Japan. And then there are the numbers specific movie references from Taxi Driver to Dumbo. There are so many real-world elements weaved into the story that the over all effect is that it feels like a very solid setting within our world.

The visuals here are also mind-blowing in their level of detail. It reminded me a lot of Voices of a Distant Star director Makoto Shinkai in that you can tell that the settings are drawn directly from real places in both Japan and the US. I have been disappointed with Production IG as of late, but this series shows what they can achieve when they are in top form. And there isn't a lot of difference between the TV series and movies in terms of quality, mostly just in terms of scale.

So the theme here is detail detail detail; but as impressive as all that is, and as much as I genuinely enjoyed much of this series, ultimately I was disappointed with it. The first thing that was that I couldn't figure out the point of the story. And by that I mean that I didn't have a firm grasp on the motivation of the characters, or the purpose of certain events. As I mentioned, I was really hooked on the level of detail, but after a while that fascination waned because I just couldn't see what the purpose of everything going on. I'm not sure if I was a weakness in the storytelling or if I just wasn't paying close enough attention, but by the end of the second movie, I got pretty bored and was just happy to have it be over.

The other thing was that there were no strong characters to latch onto. In Stand Alone Complex and Moribito there were strong and intelligent protagonists; but I just couldn't see that here. The main character was supposed to be this weird guy with a mysterious past, but as I mentioned before, I didn't understand why he did the things he did at all; plus he always had this grin on his face and it seemed like he was supposed to have that Vash the Stampede "I'm acting oblivious but but I'm actually really powerful" grin, but I never got what the power was or what made him any more special than anyone else in the series. After a while I grew really annoyed with him and Saki, the main girl character, who seemed to like him for no reason. Actually, the other characters were more interesting, but got less screen time.

All in all, this was a show that I can recommend for the visuals and the level of details, but I think it becomes weaker as it goes; so that the two movies, as visually incredible as they all are, completely fall flat by the end.

[ For a full list of reviews see the Viewing Journal Archive ]

Friday, July 06, 2012

Viewing Journal: Riki-Oh - The Story of Ricky

Movie Overview
DVD Info

Overall= A+
Story = D
Video = D
Audio =D

Sentenced to 10 years for killing a mob boss who caused his girlfriend to commit suicide, Ricky Ho is transferred to a corporate-owned prison, where he must use his martial arts skills to battle a corrupt warden and a group of prisoners known as "The Gang of Four." (Source: ANN)
I first heard about the Riki-Oh movie via an episode of AWO in which they discussed the original manga. They talked about how over-the-top the violence in the movie was, specifically mentioning certain scenes that sounded so crazy that I just had to check it out. But that desire remained unfulfilled until someone at work (the same one who had lent me the live action Devilman movie) offered to lone it to me. By the time I returned it, I had an new found appreciation for movies that are are so horrible in content and quality that they come full circle to become mind-blowingly awesome.

Admittedly, when I started watching the movie and saw some of those initial bloody scenes, I was not impressed. Part of that that was because I had already heard about them from other people, so it killed the surprise factor. But I also think that — as nuts as those scenes were — I'd seen crazier stuff in manga and anime. So sure Riki punches a guy through the stomach; so what? Battle Angel Alita probably did that like twenty times.

But oh how naive I was because things only got more and more crazy from there. I think the real turning point was a the fight scene where Riki gets his arm cut and then proceeds to do a certain trick to stop the bleeding, after which his enemy tries to strangle him in glorious fashion. That was when it was clear this was indeed something that I had never seen before. I'm sure if I saw those scenes in the original manga it would have been amazing enough, but seeing them done in live action without so much as a trace of irony made it completely mind blowing. And the end of the movie with the final fight scene that had so many WTF moments you can't not react to it, convinced me that this was a cinematic classic.

And on the subject of comparing the manga and movie, I've always thought that the main difference between anime/manga and live action was the suspension of disbelief factor. Since anime and manga are already artistically stylized, there's already a layer of unreality to it that allows you to get away with showing fantastic stuff like giant robot fighting one another or super powered school girls beating each other up. But since live action is by it's nature showing showing real actors in real settings, the audience is more likely to compare it to reality. As a result the audience is more likely to dismiss things that are not consistent with how they see the world. It's what I would call a low suspension-of-disbelief threshold; and I'd always considered that a weakness of the live-action medium… until Riki-Oh.

In Riki-Oh, everything is so over-the-top and in-your-face with the unreality of it that the "badness" actually makes it incredible. I'm not just talking about the horrible effects, but the actual story itself. So when Riki trips a guy in the bathroom and he gets impaled on spikes on the floor, it's not just that it's obviously a dummy that fell on the spikes; it's the inexplicability of those spike being on bathroom floor at all. There's no reason for them to be there other than because the director wanted to show a guy's head getting impaled. It's the unapologetic way that the director does what he wants while still keeping a strait face, so you're never sure if the ridiculousness is intentional or not, that makes the movie so much fucking fun. So you'll have a scene where the villian tries to kill Riki by having a ceiling slowly descend on him, but instead of escaping through the gaping hold in the wall, he breaks through the steel bars imprisoning him. That's cinematic gold, people!

I'm really trying to (probably unsuccessfully) avoid going into too many specifics because it's best to go into this movie without too many expectations. In fact, if you do see this and like it I'd suggest springing it on a group of unsuspecting friends. After a hour and a half of bodily explosions, I guarantee that you will be better and closer friends for it.

[ For a full list of reviews see the Viewing Journal Archive ]