Friday, 27 January 2012
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
It’s probably on the strength of watching the Tales of Symphonia animation and feeling it was all so truncated that it was unfair to the story of the game, but I feel it’s just a little unfair to judge this anime adaptation of not one but two Sega JRPGs without playing the games. On the other hand, I like neither the world nor the characters enough to feel any drive to play the games through, and only watched it for the sake of the cosplay group we had going.
From what I surmise, this is really the story of the second game, Shining Wind, but also serves as a sequel to Shining Tears, with the major cast of that game showing up, offering support and key items. In the usual Fushigi-Yuugi-cum-Dog-Days-type plot, a group of students find out about a mysterious fantasy world in a book and are soon teleported there, where they find they have amazing powers and become the centre of attention. Two of the boys, Souma and Kiriya, discover that they can use ‘soul blades’, swords pulled directly from the chests of the girls around them that reflect their hearts – and so decide to fight for good. However, the third boy, the more mature Saionji, with the same power, gets a bit power-mad and tries to take over the world. Of course, there is a bigger baddie, a demonic dark elf, and only the soul bladers’ true ‘holy grail’ swords can stop him.
It’s all very by-the-numbers and formulaic, to be honest. Deen do their usual middle-of-the-road job, providing nice character designs and pretty close-ups but keeping movement to a minimum, letting action scenes get clunky and overall making the whole thing look a bit lazy. Pretty as they are, none of the characters are very likeable or interesting, none have much in the way of memorable character quirks or strong motivation, and Souma is a singularly dull protagonist. I liked Zero, the protagonist of the first game turned into a kind of guardian angel, but he does very little. Towards the end the cast gets huge, with random royalty and interchangeable giant warrior characters everywhere, none of them at all developed, and the problems of trying to please fans of two games in 12 episodes comes to the fore. The final crisis is abrupt, and ends without very much difficulty, giving the impression of not much done at all, and since none of them seem to miss home at all during the adventure, it comes as a surprise that any of them want to return home at all.
The romance is all very awkward as well, and it’s problematic when the most believable relationship here is the creepy one between Saionji and Hiruda. I get the impression that there’s supposed to be a slightly naughty air of homoeroticism to the whole thing, but it just comes over as very awkward and forced, especially when Zero randomly gives Souma a sponge bath, especially as both characters are fairly obviously voiced by the same person. As for Souma finding out who will give him his true holy grail sword in that pseudo-sexual lying-back-with-eyes-closed-and-lips-parted way, well, all I can say is no wonder Mao was crying at the end. None of it is titillating and none of it really works.
What Shining Tears X Wind has going for it is fantastic character designs. They are along traditional fantasy lines, but varied, interesting and very much appealing. Faces look cute, outfits are awesome and weapons are impressive. But that’s really about it – in terms of the world, the characterisation, the story…sadly, Shining Tears X Wind falls well short.
Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Here it is, then. The worst piece of animation I have ever seen. Stephen Fry writes in his autobiography about the guilt he felt giving a book a bad review, but I feel no compunction calling this the worst anime I’ve ever seen: it’s not anyone’s personal baby but the mangaka’s, and after all, it’s the lowest sort of trashy porn so I seriously doubt she has any great attachment to it.
Yes, this is another review of a hentai – although I suppose it may be trying for shounen-ai rather than yaoi, featuring as it does ridiculous arty angles and shining lights rather than pixellated genitals. And yes, it’s another homoerotic one, although it’s actually been a while since I last watched anything like this, unless you count the tedious Junjou Romantica – which I suppose it has more in common with than, say, Words Worth.
You may point out that I always seem to give homoerotic anime a hard time. I didn’t like Papa to Kiss in the Dark, I stressed how much better Enzai would be without the porn and Boku no Pico remains more funny than anything else. Loveless and especially Gravitation really tried my patience, and Sensitive Pornograph was dire. So why keep watching them?
Well, the fact is that there are good stories along these lines out there. This show covers similar themes to many a CJ Michalski or Yamakami Riyu publication, only with everything that makes it unique also being everything that makes it utterly horrible. Why animation companies should choose to animate a manga like this and not something decent I don’t know. So I am not naturally predisposed to hate these shows – they are just very bad examples of their kind.
Okane ga Nai – and I sigh as I write this – is about a girly-boy university student who looks like a mutant little girl stretched out and given ten thousand eyelids around his terrifying eyes. He is voiced by the seiyuu who did characters I really like, like Riku in Onmyou Taisenki, Gauche in Tegami Bachi and Albert in Gankutsuou, which makes me strangely sad (and he was also Grell in Kuroshitsuji, which makes me mostly confused). Through no fault of his own (a reckless family member), he is in debt by millions of yen to a huge scary (but handsome) 'businessman' (One Piece’s Arlong and Naruto’s Asuma…). Unbeknownst to the boy, he once showed kindness to the man at his most vulnerable, so the man is actually in love with him. The man thus decides to express his love by saying that the boy can pay off his debt by moving in with him and becoming his whore.
Romantic as this may sound, it gets worse. Not only does the man keep his feelings hidden for some reason, making the boy feel he is being mercilessly raped, he has powerful enemies. Thus, the main crisis of the OVAs comes when the boy gets kidnapped, drugged and the bad guys strip him with intent to rape him on camera. The man comes sweeping in to save the day – too late to stop the boy being violated by a suppository and exposed to the camera, and with the great plan of bringing in one of the rapists’ daughter and threatening to slit her throat. And then just using brute force instead. To celebrate the boy being saved from almost being raped on camera, arrangements are made to make a nice sex tape of him, now that he’s found out the man actually genuinely has feelings for him. This is, of course, supposed to be hilarious.
I hate everything about this, except that it was only four episodes long. I hate the art, with the absurd giant seme and ridiculous stick-limbed uke. I hate their faces, one some sort of golem and the other with creepy eyes that look like an unkind anime parody – though the original manga seems to look less terrible. I hate the rape fantasies even more than I hate them in just about all erotic anime (as it’s sadly prevalent) – this time it’s even more of a nonsense because a few words would totally change the issue. I hate that the boy is supposed to shrug off the fact a whole room of men saw him abused and violated. I hate that he’s supposed to fall for his abuser. I hate that the characters are such distorted ideas of lovers.
This is really like banging my head against the wall. I’m aware that it’s like watching a live-action porno and complaining about how unbelievable the plumber’s character was and how the naughty nun’s lines didn’t ring true. But dammit, this sort of thing is a huge industry in
Sunday, 22 January 2012
Funny little show. Could be quite entertaining, could be eye-roll-inducing fanservice for undiscerning lolicons. We’ll see. But I was amused enough to want to watch more. I feel somewhat dirty afterwards, though.
In all honesty, though, they could’ve made exactly the same anime and just SAID they were 18, so I don’t see why anyone should be too disturbed.
Saturday, 21 January 2012
First Impressions - 3.10.05
The story, inasmuch as there is one, is that green-haired alien Dejiko arrives in Akihabara with her sidekick Puchiko and their weird floating mascot Gema. Dejiko wants to be an idol, but has no money and nowhere to live, so takes employment (and a room) in a Gamers store – which makes sense, given that the character was conceived by Koge-Donbo as a mascot for the chain. Dejiko soon clashes with local idol Rabi-en-Rose, and usually outdoes her, while various outlandish and surreal things happen. In the OVAs, the Black Gema Gema gang, along with little Piyoko, who is adorably useless at being evil, try to kidnap Dejiko in the name of interplanetary war, getting into various scuffles that usually end up with Dejiko using amazingly destructive eye beams, Piyoko using her mouth bazooka and poor Puchiko failing entirely to contribute.
Dejiko is a pretty annoying character, all things considered, but manages to just about be cute. The rest, though, are genuinely adorable, and I have a soft spot for the peripheral male characters like Coo, Murataku and overenthusiastic weeaboo Rodoyan. Really, the best thing about Di Gi Charat is how funny and even clever it is when it gets totally reimagined, though – something that would not work without a strong and distinctive base. And that’s exactly what this is. Not everyone’s cup of tea, not all that funny and not clever, it is still adorable, memorable and a great start to a franchise.
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Saturday, 14 January 2012
Thursday, 12 January 2012
A recurring comment I see about this film is that it was a ‘big screw you to the fans’ – albeit often in less charming language. That seems fair – I got it on VHS as someone who wasn’t a huge fan of the first film but one who had enjoyed it and wanted more of the same, and after all Fievel Goes West wasn’t an utter disgrace to An American Tail, so nothing prepared me for just how dire this was going to be. I had read the Mrs Frisby sequel and that had been quite palatable, too.
Well, this film had nothing to do with that sequel, or the books at all beyond the basic premise and characters. It also had nothing to do with Don Bluth or his studios. Instead, it was made by MGM 16 years after the original in one of their multiple attempts to revive their studio’s animation department long after the glory days of Tom and Jerry left them. They bought the rights to Don Bluth’s United Artists films and set about making sequels. I’ve yet to see All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, but I can’t imagine there was much of merit there.
The plot is that Timmy, the sick mouseling from the original, has (at some point) been the subject of one of Nicodemus’ prophecies. He will one day be a great hero and save the rats, etc. This horrible lazy storywriting not only kicks off the action of the film, as for no better reason than this prognostication, Timmy has to leave his family behind and go to the mouse colony, but drives the antagonist – big brother Martin spends his life full of resent that his brother has glory laid out before him but he doesn’t. Timmy, now grown into early manhood, meets Jenny, a young rat who reveals that her parents have been locked up by NiMH. As it turns out, though, the mastermind now is not Doctor Valentine, but Martin, who has a whole new personality and a plan to attack the colony that just happens to be scheduled for the day Timmy and co arrive.
Everything about this is incredibly sub-par. The prologue makes the bad mistake of showing some Bluth animation, which only highlights how deeply inferior this is. The only things that look good in the whole film are some backgrounds when Jeremy the crow is in flight. When it comes to the artwork, the models go all over the place and the colouring is so simple it makes everything look horrible and cheap. The animation is very poor, mostly just blocky and awkward, though with some sad attempts to closely match the actors’ lines, but done so clumsily and gracelessly that it’s perhaps the only time I’ve ever thought the character animation would have been better if the actors had read their lines after animation.
The performances are similarly poor. Ralph Macchio, the Karate Kid, by this point closer to 40 than to 30 and a long way off Timmy’s 17 rat years, is as wooden and stilted as it gets. Dom Deluise is the only significant returning cast member (I wouldn’t count the guy who plays Mr Ages), wisely cashing in on everything he could before his career stalled (unless it’s why his career stalled, but who can say?), but he’s given just about nothing funny to say and is paired up with a caterpillar with the most terrible design possible. Jenny was Hynden Walch’s first voice-over role, and if you ask me she’s incredibly lucky she got the chance to continue until she found roles where acting a bit wooden and vague came over as just right and even charmingly sweet rather than weird – Starfire in Teen Titans and Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time. Getting Eric Idle in to be the bad guy may not have seemed such an odd idea – he proves remarkably versatile in Transformers the Movie, after all - but here, he’s just being himself, and it just makes no sense whatsoever that Martin goes a bit mad because of a mental experiment and starts speaking like an eccentric middle-aged Englishman.
Idle features in one of the worst songs in the piece, mostly just talking, but they’re all pretty even in the ‘horrible’ stakes. At least he isn’t as bad as Macchio, who badly needed a singing double – the poor guy tries hard, but when he pushes for big notes, he sounds unfortunately like Kermit the Frog.
Bad story, bad art, bad animation, bad music, bad direction, bad concept and bad for associating itself with what is after all an underappreciated classic, this is every bit as terrible as its reputation suggests.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
With this artsy short film, Kousaka Kitarou managed the rather bizarre feat of becoming the new figure to watch – after already having had a remarkable career that meant he had a significant role in many of anime’s most important films. He started out in Oh! Production while Takahata was still working for the studio, and though he had no credited part in Takahata’s Gauche the Cellist, nor in the animation the studio produced for Miyazaki’s Cagliostro, by 1984 he had worked with both future Ghibli helmsmen through key animation in 1981’s Jarinko Chie (by Takahata for TMS) and 1984’s Nausicaa (for Topcraft), the latter as one of a long list: the role of a key animator is often integral to the story of the rise of a significant Japanese animator – especially when it comes to
It was during this period that he left Oh! and branched out in remarkable ways. After Laputa, he was there to provide key animation in a number of landmark titles, all released within two years – Gainax’s first film Wings of Honneamise, the weird but interesting Mamoru Oshii half of Twilight Q (with Studio Deen), Takahata’s most well-known piece Grave of the Fireflies and Outomo’s seminal Akira. As if that were not already a remarkable enough resume, he followed it up by associating himself with episodes of Yawara!, which as well as being made by Madhouse as they moved into becoming a powerhouse studio able to make features was the first manga by Urasawa Naoki to become an anime (Kousaka also had a hand in Master Keaton and the superb Monster). He then worked for Rintaro on the early X2 anime, one of the first time Clamp’s work had been adapted for anime, a year after its predecessor Tokyo Babylon. He tried his hand as a director with the OVA A-Girl before returning to Ghibli for some of their best films, rising up through the ranks to become an animation director for Whisper of the Heart and then a supervising animation director for Princess Mononoke – my two favourite Ghibli works. His second work as a director saw him return to Clamp to adapt Clover, and then in 2001, he was not only a Ghibli supervisor again for Spirited Away, but also provided more key animation for Rintaro with his remarkable Tezuka adaptation Metropolis.
So yes, he was in a good position when it came to make this short film in 2003. I’m sure that’s the most I’ve ever written about a director’s history, but I just find it remarkable. Usually, it amuses me to find that someone in anime has a link or two to another significant figure, but Kousaka seems to have worked for almost every highly prominent figure in anime short of Kon Satoshi and Hosoda Mamoru, who probably nodded to him as their Madhouse sempai.
The story Kousaka decided to adapt was from the manga Nasu (‘aubergine’). One of the stories there was about a cycle race, and the story is that since they were both cycling fans,
The art remains mostly realistic, and the influence of Ghibli on the character design is noticeable, especially when it comes to the wife, to the point that I’m sure if it were more well-known this would get mistaken for a Ghibli work as much as KumoKaze. At the end, though, in the final sprint, the sheer speed and exertion is expressed in looser art, scratchy lines and distorted faces – but it is done with such superb timing and taste that it manages everything that the race segment of The Animatrix fails to pull off.
It may not sound like there is much to this film, nor that it is a very interesting subject, but it is trying something different with animation and managing it extremely well, and will appeal to arthouse fans – indeed, it was the first anime ever to be shown at
Saturday, 7 January 2012
I can see why the release of this film was unspectacular. Having to work from the (reasonable) premise that American kids in the 50s didn’t really know what ninjutsu was, MGM tried to make everything more universal – ninja arts became generic magic, the idea of ninjas isn’t raised at all and there’s no attempt to convey that Sarutobi Sasuke is a legendary figure in Japan not too far removed from Robin Hood in the English-speaking world, thus already familiar to the audience. What comes over – from what I’ve seen of the dub – is something quite awkward and unwieldy, like a drab Peter Pan vs a witch story.
And the fact is that this is a very, very difficult film to attempt to detach from its Japanese origins, because beyond the opening scenes – which are by far the worst thing about the film – it is very, very Japanese.
It’s the opening that gets the film its reputation as derivative of Disney. This is true, but not to the extent many critics would have you believe, especially as I suspect many of those watched the dub, which introduces more songs. Young Sarutobi Sasuke lives in the forest with his big sister, making friends with all the animals of the forest (who speak in annoying baby-talk) and – appropriately, given that his name means ‘Monkey Jump’ – swinging through trees with monkeys. Amongst these animal friends is Bambi…no wait, Eri, who is very much a Bambi rip-off. When Eri gets in trouble with a hawk and ends up in a lake, he is attacked by a mysterious salamander. Sarutobi and the little deer’s mother save him, but at the cost of the latter’s life, though there thankfully the Bambi derivations end. The salamander just then decides to reveal itself to be a powerful evil spirit, a hideous woman in the oni/yama-uba/hone-onna tradition. To fight her, Sasuke realises he must learn ninjutsu. After a rather confused encounter with some bandits and the demon, Sasuke stumbles across the sennin/hermit Tozawa Hakuun (Presumably a descendant of Tozawa Hakunsai) who can teach him the ways of the ninja. Along with his sister, their animal friends, a little girl the bandits almost didn’t have the heart to kill and historical feudal lord Sanada Yukimura (played by a young Nakamura Katsuo, who would have a distinguished acting career and return to voice acting after several decades for Steamboy), Sasuke returns after three years to put an end to the demon – who hasn’t honestly done very much harm in that time.
The main problems with this film are its mixed animation quality and its pacing. Sometimes there is such fluidity in the animation that it rivals the Disney it aspires to emulate – two scenes in particular are remarkable: one of the demon doing a geisha-style dance that’s very obviously traced from live-action in the Snow White tradition, but another where Sasuke climbs up a mountain that I’m not sure could have been done that way. This latter scene is the only time there’s believable weight behind the boy’s movements, and a lot of reason the animation looks poor near the start is that characters sort of float, and if they fall, they never seem heavy at all. The art is very mixed, the characters constantly going off-model and some jarring filtered photographs used for the backgrounds. But this was a studio in its infancy (including being Rintaro’s second anime job), and the weightlessness becomes acceptable once Sasuke can fly and shoot fireballs and walk on water.
Overall, a piece of animation history well worth seeing, with occasional bursts of charm, style and technical excellence, tempered by a lot of problems. I’d avoid the dub, too: it’s a liberal adaptation that freely changes names and even events – at the end of the film, for example, the dub and my subtitles both had Sasuke agreeing to enter Yukimura’s service, but what he actually says is that he’s just a kid, and goes skipping off. Not Toei’s best, nor genre-defining, but well worth the watch.
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Of all the anime I’ve watched, including all those that are many years in the past now, Fafner has been by far the most forgettable. Even the likes of Ragnarök and Kono Minikuku mo Utsukushii Sekai, which I barely gave a thought to since I finished them, years ago, left much more of an imprint than this. Without prompting myself, I could remember little more than that it was a mecha series about kids living on a funny crescent-shaped island when most of the rest of the world had been destroyed, and that there was a satisfying final scene with a secondary character fulfilling a dream of being on TV.
The rest – main characters, antagonists, reasons for fighting – were largely gone. I couldn’t even remember the mechas themselves, and all I wrote when I finished the series at the end of March 2005 was a note to say I was ‘watching the final episodes of the angsty, occasionally moving but mostly bland Soukyuu no Fafner.’
Bland, I think, sums up my feelings on the series, another attempt at a new Evangelion that fell well short. Mecha in general is not my favourite, unless it’s funny, like Big O or Gurren Lagann, or does something subversive like Bokurano or, indeed, Eva. Giant robots tend to get in the way of plot development and have never struck me as very cool to watch, which I suppose is their whole purpose. I tolerate them in the likes of
The plot, as I have now reminded myself, is that the little
The plot turns tragic quickly, and underpinning everything is melancholy – the children, previously so sheltered, must now fight and very possibly die. The only light relief comes from the aforementioned boy, Hiroto, who wants to be famous.
The main problem with Fafner is that it’s 26 episodes (and an OVA side-story, which I watched later), during which not a lot really happens, and generally the tension comes from people not wanting to take part in any action but stay safe and do nothing. This does not make for very compelling viewing, and perhaps is why I was left so indifferent.
Nevertheless, there is now a film and rumours of another series on the way. And perhaps when there is little else to do or watch, I shall spend a bit of time checking them out.