Category Archives: Review
Though perhaps falling short of being a classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, perhaps his swan song, is a return to form for the old master as he weaves a complex tale of childhood dreams, engineering marvels, solemn loves, and killing machines.
A bespectacled boy wakes in his ordinary house and climbs onto the roof, to which is attached something most unordinary – a plane. He climbs in and sails into the clouds as the townsfolk celebrate his flight, before organic, living bombs destroy his aircraft and he falls through the sky and back into himself, waking from the dream.
The opening scenes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, reflect the structure of the film. In most ways, it is his most realistic movie for Studio Ghibli, the company he co-founded. A fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of Japanese World War II fighter aircraft, the movie is reminiscent of the more grounded films from his Studio Ghibli contemporaries. But Miyazaki beautifully weaves his noted fantastical elements into the film through dream sequences and other events that transpire in Horikoshi’s head. Especially early in the film, the director did something to me he has never done in his previous films – he appealed to the boy in me, the one who dreamed big and wanted to be the hero.
But though the fantasy portions are a highlight of the film, bringing to mind soaring sequences from Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, perhaps even more enthralling is the animation in the more earthy parts of The Wind Rises- shadows on a face, writing on a piece of paper, grass and parasols blowing in the wind, and in what is surprisingly the most breathtaking and heart-pounding scene of the movie, Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko, passing paper airplanes to one another. Though not the rich visual feast Ponyo was, The Wind Rises is nonetheless stunning in its subtlety.
But it’s also these quieter elements that sometimes drag on for far too long. The movie clocks in at two hours, and half that time has the protagonist wandering – in Germany, in Japan – and not doing a whole lot, at least not in terms of anything dynamic. I guess engineering can only be so interesting when animated. The film does pick up after this soporific middle portion, however, as a lovely romance story unfolds, one which I didn’t expect to see in a Miyazaki film. That was a pleasant surprise.
Less pleasant was the elephant in the room – the fact that the main character, celebrated in the movie, was responsible for designing airplanes which helped Japan in their wartime activities. Miyazaki, a known pacifist, hammers home his themes that we must go on and follow our heart and that the common people of Japan, many of whom didn’t agree with the country’s actions, did their best without being responsible for the war effort. Unfortunately, Miyazaki tries too hard with his dialogue, beautiful as it is, emphasizing points which are more morally difficult to grasp than he tries to make them.
What is Horikoshi’s complicity in the killing of so many in the war? More importantly, what was the average Japanese person’s complicity in the war? The answer to both is “far more” than Miyazaki implies, though he deserves a modicum of respect for bringing up such difficult issues in his home country.
Ultimately, while the movie suffers because of the slow plotting and the moral unease of the tale, it shines to an extent that hasn’t been seen in a Miyazaki film since Spirited Away. As if to say that he has more to animate than Shinto spirits and magical stories, Miyazaki proves that he can tell most any story with graceful and sometimes astounding artistic strokes. If not a masterpiece, The Wind Rises comes close, and if it is his last film, Miyazaki has left us with a marvel to remember.
Goodness, remember all the anime I recommended for the beginning of the year (Spring Anime 2013)? I didn’t end up following any of them. One or two episodes was as far as I got on most of them.
I didn’t even watch the now popular Attack on Titan.
So what did I watch?
For the spring season, as mentioned, a lot of one episode hit and runs from “the Hentai Prince and Stony Cat” (blow up doll sacrifice to a tree….yeeeeah) to “Uta-Pri 2000%” (doki doki 4ever) to “Dansei Bunri no Crime Edge” (scissors!) and Valvrave the Liberator (vampire mechs). Somehow, none of them were holding my interest. Maybe I’m getting too picky in my old age, but even the first episode of Attack on Titan was too much for my nerves. I have watched some rather graphic and violent stuff in the past, but somehow seeing a human eaten was too disturbing for a poor college kid trying to stay upbeat and happy during her last semester.
So I watched happy things, like Hataraku Maou-sama! and My Teen Romantic Comedy Is Wrong as I Expected (aka: SNAFU).
Hataraku Maou-sama! ended up being better than many of us expected. The idea of a great dark demon lord becoming a part timer at a fast food place seems more absurd than interesting, but the show turns into something heartwarming and fun for all the characters. It makes heroes and villain rethink their motivation and be able to, for once, make their own decisions in life.
SNAFU was appealing not because it was an outstanding anime, but because it had great characters, a great plot, and a solid drive to keep it going. The show was clever and fun, yet it also addressed relationships, mainly friendships, and how to make them work in a setting where perfect friendships are impossible.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet was another series I checked out, but it was a mixed bag for me. The characters were interesting, the story was good, but it didn’t strike a chord with me until the ending episodes. The end was great, but I somehow wished we had gotten there somewhat earlier. XD
For summer, there were quite a few unexpectedly good series. And no, I’m not talking about that swimming anime (I mean, it was good to, but er…). The summer of 2013 brought us Uchouten Kazoku, Servant X Service, and Kitaku-bu Katsudou Kiroku.
Uchouten Kazoku was translated by Crunchyroll to “Eccentric Family”, and while not an accurate translation of “uchouten” (which means literally “ecstasy”), I think it captures the show rather well. The kanji for uchouten (有頂天) literally breaks down to “possessing the heavens on your head”. Thus it could be said that a family who possess something like that will probably be a bit eccentric or even idiots (as they do call themselves) that take pride in able to living to their fullest potential, even as tanuki. I would even go so far as to rank this the top anime of 2013 for me.
Servant X Service had a slow and rocky start, even as a light romantic comedy. Granted, it had a tough act to follow from the fans who are still wishing for a Working! Season 3. I actually dropped it for a while because the behaviors of one of the characters in particular irked me too much. But, after hearing it did improve, I picked it up again and found the show develop into a charming and sweet story about people learning about what’s really important in life. Though the stuffed bunny manager may still need some time to sort his own issues out, at least the main characters find some resolution.
Now, for an anime I’m sure I’m the only one who watched, Kitaku-bu Katsudou Kiroku (known as “The Chronicles of the Going Home Club”). This was a fun comedy that referenced everything from “Star Wars” to “Saw” to various other anime, including Giant Robo at one time. The plot was simple, a group of high school girls who formed a “going home club” (a term used in Japanese for someone who is not part of a club), where they address the important issues of life like feeding pigeons, playing video games, and figuring out how to make their anime not canceled.
It was a fun ride and something to follow the fun times that the GJ-bu anime gave me last year.
The summer season would not be complete without KyoAni’s swimming anime Free! that left anime fans everywhere in tears of joy (or sadness). And that’s before we even knew what the anime was about! Free! was like a fun summer; full of pools and swimming kids, sunshine and barbeques. But like every season, summer has to end. It’s sad to see it go, but you know it will be back next year. Or so the rumors say…
And finally, here we are, at the tail end of the chilly fall season, where I’ve actually fallen a bit behind in my watching because of the big months of November and December are always busy for me. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up in January when I have nothing else to do (besides the new winter anime!). XD
But here’s a preview of what I have been trying to keep up with.
Kyoukai no Kanata: KyoAni revives after a long summer of boys in swimsuits to bring us a fantasy series with a blood wielding girl in glasses. One thing I will give KyoAni, no matter the setting, they can still make great story full of friendship, happiness, sadness, love and really pretty animation. While not the best KyoAni show by far, it made me happy to see a supernatural setting again (see: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as well as a hopeful and happy ending.
I’m a sucker for happy endings.
Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~: According to some friends, I really need to catch up on this one. I believe this is a reboot of sorts to an older series of the same name, but I’m finding this one much more exciting and thrilling. It has action, drama, and just enough mystery to keep the plot interesting and moving forward at a steady, quick pace. It’s about a town where humans and youkai (spirit monsters) exist in peace. Our main characters have the job of helping to maintain this peace, but there are currently unknown forces trying to disrupt this peace. Our heroes must find out who’s behind it and quickly.
Gingitsune: I’m watching this more for the calm feel and interesting characters. While not as lovely as Natsume Yuujinchou, the day to day adventures that a girl and a shrine herald come across are heartwarming in a way.
Kill la Kill: I feel like my morals are questioned every time I watch a new episode of this show. Undoubtedly created by a studio containing Gainax members that worked on shows like Gurren Lagann, Trigger debuts a full length series that is much different than their kick-starter, Little Witch Academia.
Once this show is over, I hope I’ll be able to put all the pieces together and find some deep meaning in this show. It feels like it’s trying to tell me something, but all the fanservice seems to be burying any important meaning. Granted, Medaka Box still somehow shined even through it’s fanservice.
But overall, Kill la Kill is about breaking out of a mold, living your own life, never giving up and of course, the power of friendship.
Or it could all a conflict of whether clothes are important in life or not. Only time will tell.
So what about you? What were the hit and misses of 2013? What anime did you enjoy this year? Did you have any anime that surprised you?
I’ve been on a hot streak with Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project- I’ve liked every anime I’ve decided to watch among the recommendations from years past. I figured this year would be the same, as two of the recs I received (Kara no Kyoukai and Garden of Words) were already high on my “to watch” list, and the third, Aoi Bugaku, also piqued my interest.
In the end, I picked the one I’d most been looking forward to watching, Kara no Kyoukai. And I’m glad to report that my streak of winning Secret Santa anime continues.
Kara no Kyoukai (The Garden of Sinners) features Shiki Ryogi, a mysterious woman with incredible killing abilities and a past shrouded in mystery – and one that involves our other protagonist, the mild-mannered Mikiya. Based on a light novel, I watched the original seven main movies, skipping one that was more or less a clip show, as well as the later-released OVA. I also have not seen this year’s newest release, either.
Strangely enough, the series is at its best when it’s also at its most confusing. The first movie begins right in the middle of the story, and it works, as we slowly uncover Shiki’s past and learn the “rules” of this world (something I had to pay particular mind to, being only marginally acquainted with the Type-Moon world). The second movie lends itself even more to this blessed confusion, and it begins the time jumps in the story – in between movies and well as within. This whole framework felt very literary, as certainly early on, and throughout much of the series, I felt I was reading a great work rather than watching animation.
Ready for more pain?
The third Madoka Magic movie, subtitled Rebellion, pushes angst to extreme highs (or lows), as Gen Urobuchi puts his cast of cute magical girls in heartrending situations and weaves an unexpected tale that will leave viewers breathless.
Continuing where the first two movies, adaptations of the original series, ended, Madoka Magica The Movie – Rebellion eases us into a familiar world, but one that shouldn’t exist. Madoka’s sacrifice seems to have never occurred, as this new world finds her along with the entire cast in existence, though a few have slightly altered personalities, including villains from the previous works. But what is this world? Why does it exist this way? And can Homura discover the secrets behind it?
This third and (possibly) final installment of the Madoka Magica series divides nicely into three parts. The first functions as a quizzical introduction. Viewers are left scrambling, wondering why things have turned out this way. Did we misunderstand what occurred in the finale? Meanwhile, we’re treated to Akiyuki Shinbo’s always interesting directing style, as uncomfortable backward head slants and dichotomous visuals mark the landscape of the film. But with a budget far surpassing that of the series, he is able to match his direction to some of the most beautiful and stunning animation scenes ever developed; it’s pure pleasure to watch the magnificent scene when the magical girls team up to take down their enemy. The same can be said of the scenery, as Shinbo treats us to some of his most intense or creative artwork during scenes of exposition or silence, ensuring us that despite a nearly two-hour running time, we won’t be sitting through a soporific movie.
Adding a further dimension is Yuki Kajiura’s score, which is almost a character in itself, adding voice to scenes throughout the film and at times affecting it as much as the animation and script. Truly cinematic, it is perhaps the beautiful scoring that particularly makes the movie one that should be enjoyed in theaters as much as the outstanding visuals do. The new opening and ending, “Colorful” by ClariS and “Kimi no Gin no Niwa” by Kalafina, respectively, are memorable and further add to the film’s scope, which is as large as to be expected.
Indeed, we fall further into understand the enormity of the story (emotionally more than physically) as the second phase of the tale follows Homura, poking and prodding in true tough-girl detective style, often coming to blows with her friends, to find out the truth. And what a truth it is.
Certainly, many fans will be shocked, more than once, by the final act of this supposed final film. It takes the story in a direction that is appropriate for the series, which has always been a mind bender, but it also alters significantly how we think about the franchise’s characters and the grand narrative. While I found the movie to offer a strangely comforting answer in a discomforting finale, others will feel quite differently. Certainly many in the crowd at my theater were shocked, and after the credits rolled, almost all were silent, perhaps both in confusion and awe.
And that’s both a strength and the weakness of the movie, as it perhaps tries to give too much story, working our minds like a steam engine, while denying us the enjoyment we could have in seeing a slightly less dizzying finale. This perhaps tells how fine the film is, though, that I would nitpick about the movie forcing us to use our minds.
I will say that Madoka fanatics may perhaps find other, more considerable flaws in the film, though if they’re there, I almost don’t want to know what they are. Please just leave me alone. I want to be free to soak in the most visually and musically impressive and compellingly scripted animated film I’ve seen in quite some time.
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As the first season of Revolutionary Girl Utena ended, Utena had finally finished successfully dueling the members of the student council. She may well have been able to enjoy some peace, if it wasn’t for the sudden appearance of a new set of duelists, each wearing a black rose, pushed forward and aided by Mikage, the leader of a strange seminar. Utena must once more fight duels to protect Anthy, the rose bride. But these new duelists are different. They are not strangers, but people Utena knows. Driven by bitterness and hatred, they fight not to take Anthy away from Utena, but to kill her. The black signet rings they wear were each worn by one of one hundred boys who were rumored to have died in a fire. Why is Mikage doing this, and how is he connected to Akio Ohtori, Anthy’s older brother?
In this season, Utena, Anthy, and the student council members tend to take a back seat. The center stage is instead handed to the minor characters, giving us a chance to see them in a completely different light. Hidden motivations and feelings that we never guessed are revealed, adding a brilliant new dimension to the story. I really enjoyed discovering more about them and their relationships with the main characters. The episodes featuring Wakaba were especially good, and really gave more depth to both Wakaba and Utena.
We’re also introduced to Anthy’s older brother, Akio. While we’re never given full insight into his character, we are given glimpses of just how important he’s going to be for the rest of the series, as well as to his relationship with Anthy.
This also ties in with another huge part of this season: foreshadowing. Much of it is very subtle, only hinting that what little things it was showing us would later become very important. In a way, it became the underlying tone of the entire season. Episodes tended to end on a slightly unresolved note, leaved an inconclusive feeling. The end of the season, in fact, seemed to me to be slightly inconclusive in and of itself. While I did find this a little irritating at times, it worked very well when it came to leading up to the next season.
I do have some complaints, though. The duels were more predictable than the last season, making the episodes far more repetitive, almost to the point of giving the season a “monster of the week” feel. As well as the foreshadowing worked, very little of the plot was actually revealed, which was frustrating, and what plot the season did have was rather confusing. These faults are not unforgivable, but they were still there nonetheless.
I watched this in the remastered Japanese audio with English subtitles. The sounds were very clean and clear, and the voice acting was great. The animation had also been cleaned up, making the colors and lines seemed much sharper. The extras on the DVDs included some fun stuff like interviews with Kunihiko Ikuhara, an old Utena promo, and trailers: not too much, but I enjoyed them anyway. The box-set also came with a booklet filled with interesting extras, such as episode commentary by the director, interviews with some of the staff, and art galleries.
This was a great season, despite its faults, and the remastering made it all the more enjoyable.
Review copy provided by Nozomi Entertainment
If there’s a consistent criticism of volume one of Steins;gate, it’s that the opening episodes are cold and inaccessible, with characters that are difficult to initially connect with. These issues are long forgotten by the start of volume two of the series, which follows self-proclaimed mad scientist, Rintaro Okabe, as he deals with the consequences of the time machine he and his colorful team have built. In fact, the story and characters have become so compelling that viewers will be glued to the action of part two, not because of the premise and unique feel of the series, but because we desperately hope to see Okabe fix the future and rescue the other characters from sometimes horrible fates.
The focus of the second half of FUNimation’s captivating series is on Okabe as he does everything humanly possible (and impossible) to reverse the effects caused by his tinkering with time. Most of these episodes are particularly intense, as character origins are revealed, a sinister and violent society closes in, and mysteries of the past and future are unraveled. But the show doesn’t leave us cold – it’s particularly intimate, as viewers see and feel what Okabe does on his very personal missions.
Extraordinary. I think that might be the best catch-all to describe Steins;gate, the unique and riveting series recently released by FUNimation.
The premise is pure science fiction. Between attending lectures on time travel and dodging away from an imagined organization that has it’s sights set on him, self-declared mad scientist, Rintaro Okabe, runs a motley lab out of his apartment in which he creates “future gadgets.” He and his brilliant team find themselves inventing a machine that is capable of sending messages back in time. Though excited about the discovery, they soon discover that manipulating time has dire consequences, not least of all because the covert society tracking Okabe may not be so imagined after all.
An outline of the story gives the gist of the plot, but it doesn’t convey the uniqueness or excellent execution of Steins;gate. The tone of the series is almost claustrophobic, exemplified by the small apartment in which much of the action occurs, the bland tones used to animate the series, and the choices in animation, including the extreme close-ups and other angles at which the “camera” often focuses. But further, the series is as much mystery as science fiction, and also contains plenty of comedy, angst, romance, and yes, moe (which plays a purposeful role in the show and it’s setting of Akihabara).
The characters of Steins;gate are particularly memorable. Okabe reminds me of a favorite character, Vash the Stampede (Trigun), in terms of being portrayed as a humorous caricature, whom we get to know better and better as his humanity is revealed through unimaginable circumstances. Other characters include Kurisu, the young genius who will long be remembered as a prime example of tsundere; Daru, the overweight and perverted hacker; and Mayushi, Okabe’s childhood friend who becomes a most essential part of the plot, particular as this DVD set reaches it’s cliffhanger climax.
The voice cast excels in these meaty roles. Mamoru Miyano is particularly memorable as he digs deep to express voicing ranging from maniacal laughter to deathly distress (sometimes in the same breath!). The English voice actors have much to live up to, but do a good job in bringing their own quality to the characters. Again, the actor playing Okabe is a bright spot, as J. Michael Tatum delivers a strong performance doing the English version of the mad scientist.
The FUNimation release is relatively bare on extras, though voice acting aficionados will enjoy the fun insights provided by the company’s VA’s on commentary tracks. The set also features an interactive map of Akibahara, showing important locations in the show. The Blu-Ray DVDs are of the expected quality, though perhaps they’re not a necessary upgrade over DVDs.
Volume one ends on a cliffhanger (though the time travel focus of the series perhaps makes it a bit less shocking than it would otherwise be), but it’s not necessary to keep the viewers entranced. The story, characters, style, and depth of Steins;gate make it so that most viewers (and certainly this one) find it impossible to resist watching the rest. It’s among the best releases of FUNimation’s recent slate, and one of the best anime of recent years.
Review copy provided by FUNImation.
OVA Collection (BD/DVD Combo)
Tenchi Misaki, a typical high school boy, has the responsibility of attending to a shrine his family cares for. Fulfilling a lifelong curiosity, he enters a cave which legend states has been sealed in order to confine the horrible demon, Ryoko. Little does Tenchi know that his accidental release of the sexy demon will lead to the arrivals of two alien princesses, a Galaxy Police officer, and the world’s greatest scientific genius; a battle among genius criminals and goddesses; a fight for Tenchi’s affections; and the fulfillment of his destiny.
Out of print for many years, FUNimation has surely brought joy to many fans by releasing the classic OVAs, available for the first time on Blu-Ray. Tenchi Muyo has a dear place in my own heart, since it was the first anime that hooked me, back in the early days of Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. I was eager to see how the series held up (and how it looked on Blu-Ray).
Approaching the series with a critical eye, rather than with the nostalgic glee with which I normally watch it, helped revealed the show’s faults. The script is sometimes terrible, as the early part of the series contains a lot of nonsensical actions and dialogue by the characters. The English language screenplay actually improves upon the direct translation, though it can’t correct poorly constructed plot points, like Tenchi sleeping on the roof of the school the entire day before awakening to a revenge-minded Ryoko.
The writing gets stronger and the inconsistencies start to fade as the series progresses, though. We get to know each of the girls intimately (more so than we get to know Tenchi, who is famously declared unnecessary by the series title) by the end of the series, and they are classic characters: the wild and needy pirate/demon, Ryoko; temperamental and prim princess, Ayeka; her responsible and slightly mischievous younger sister, Sasami; serendipitous and empty-headed police officer, Mihoshi; quirky scientific genius, Washu; and even the cabbit/spaceship Ryo-Ohki, who is also of the female persuasion.
I came into the fall season with high expectations. I prepared myself for keeping watch on a lot of new shows (for me at least), since I was sure I’d be watching several classics-in-the-making in these autumn months.
It didn’t take long for that illusion to fall apart. I dropped Robotics;Notes, which I’d really been looking forward to (and which I’ve heard has gotten much better). Other series slowly fell away from my viewing list, including Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, Suki-tte Ii na Yo., and Psycho Pass. With the exception of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, which has surpassed my expectations, even those series I continue to watch (Sword Art Online and Little Busters) have been underwhelming.
What a disappointing season. And what a blessing.
Sometimes I have a struggle between giving time to my hobby and to the important things in my life. There’s almost never a moment where I actually have to choose between Toradora and taking my kids to the park, for example, but I do have to choose between sleep and watching anime. And when I choose the latter, I’m sometimes not-so-nice to my family and not-so-productive at work the next day.
This season, luckily, I’m well-rested. ;)
More than that, I have time to focus on things that specifically came up around the holidays, like busyness with family (including a couple of birthdays), a renewed enthusiasm to be healthy, and freelancing jobs I’ve taken.
So, I’m thankful for the disappointing season. And here’s hoping for more terrible anime during the winter!!
Just kidding. ;)
How about you? What have been your favorite series this season? And what blessings have you experienced lately?