Monday, 28 December 2015

進撃!巨人中学校 / Shingeki! Kyojin Chuugakkou / Attack On Titan: Junior High

Enjoying Shingeki no Kyojin doesn’t mean you have to adore its various spin-offs. I watched the live-action movies recently, and can’t say I enjoyed them very much despite impressive visuals. The manga version of this gag spin-off also hasn’t been received too well, though I haven’t actually read it myself. But fully accepting it’s just a silly bit of comedy fanservice, I thoroughly enjoyed Chiugakkou.

I tuned in for the first episode and the new premise amused me quite a bit – exaggerated, silly versions of our main characters are attending a school split between humans and titans. Eren’s grudge comes not from personal loss but because his lunch was stolen and eaten. In fact, that’s what the nefarious titans do here – invade the school grounds of the poor defenceless humans and steal their bento. It’s silly and fun and I really like the characters rendered in such cutesy styles, especially Eren and Armin.

Character traits are amplified in the ways fandoms enjoy. Levi is an authoritarian upperclassman obsessed with cleaning and rules. Mikasa’s skills are superhuman and her devotion to an oblivious Eren boundless. Armin for some reason is extremely susceptible to the cold and needs to go everywhere wrapped in his futon.

The 12-episode season treads the usual ground for school comedies. The kids take part in sports days and go to a matsuri, where romance is in the air. There are mix-ups with love letters and fierce competition to be student president. It’s silly, innocuous stuff and much of the humour comes from seeing these characters who are usually in such a serious and grim setting transposed to one that’s so light and fluffy. I’d say it works better than it ever did for Full Metal Panic!

I’m not saying this is a superb anime or one to recommend highly. It’s cheaply-done, unoriginal and the laughs aren’t on a par with the likes of Azumanga Daioh or Nichijou. It’s very much a by-the-numbers comedy spin-off that plays it safe and follows a formula. But that’s all I wanted from it, and it certainly succeeded. 

Saturday, 19 December 2015


I must say, though I liked Despicable Me a lot, I’ve been very surprised by the enduring popularity of the minions. They were slightly irritating in the films, though occasionally funny or cute or both. But through popular adulation or the power of forced marketing, they’re ubiquitous, especially in East Asia. In both Japan and Taiwan, there’s a profusion of soft toys of the things, even though I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything else relating to Despicable Me.

So perhaps it made sense to give the minions their own vehicle, which box office numbers show certainly did draw more of an international audience than a new Despicable Me film would have. On the other hand, it’s extremely hard to shift focus fully onto comic relief without making a film with a strong smell of direct-to-video sequel. Minions does not manage to avoid this, at all.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean this isn’t an enjoyable and silly film, and it being set in London with a lot of familiar locations gave it bonus points for me.

After a prologue showing minions attempting to serve evil figures throughout history, we find out that in the 60s, they were left bereft of a master or mistress. Thus, intrepid minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob set off to find the most despicable being on earth to serve.

At a convention, they discover and win the affections of the wonderfully-named Scarlet Overkill, an American femme fatale with designs on the Crown of England.

The plot as it unfolds is very silly and anything-goes, but that works just fine. But this film can’t hold a candle to Despicable Me or its satisfying sequel. The thing is, those films have a lot of heart, and the minions are just cute comic relief on the edge of that. This film, while fun and silly, is almost bereft of anything you could call heart. There’s no real emotional stakes here, and for that reason, everything stays superficial. That makes this a functional kids’ film that will keep the littlest ones entertained but nothing more.