Memories 1995

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Memories (1995)

Katsuhiro Otomo had been involved with two other anthologies (and one afterwards) prior to Memories, and while I’m still hunting down Neo Tokyo, I’m pretty confident in saying that Memories will remain my favourite.

And maybe there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in that – some of the stuff we see as teenagers seems to cling to us for decades after, right? Well, this is one of those titles but I think most anime fans would enjoy at least two out of the three shorts in this anthology regardless of the production context or their age.

Actually – let me re-phrase, if you like science-fiction and a bit of light horror, maybe some dark comedy or allegory, then Memories has you covered.

The anthology is made up of three pieces – all based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s short manga works, and features three directors.

For me (and for most folks it seems) the stand out is Magnetic Rose (dir. Kōji Morimoto), which is as haunting as it is beautiful. Everything about it is top notch and I’d recommend seeing Magnetic Rose if you had to choose just one.

Now, I’m definitely biased as there’s a lot of involvement from some of my favourite industry figures – there’s the Otomo source material and a screenplay by Satoshi Kon and music by Yoko Kanno, but the nightmarish search of the ruined ship and its decaying memories really is mesmerising.

The other two stories, Stink Bomb (dir. Tensai Okamura) and Cannon Fodder (dir. Katsuhiro Otomo) are just as well put-together but for me not quite as good as the opener – Stink Bomb has some moments of dark comedy but it’s closer to a tragedy in the end, and features such great animation too.

The final short is easily the more distinctive when it comes to art style, but perhaps due to its allegorical nature the message seemed stronger than the story; it feels closer to being a vignette actually.

I actually would love to see more of the anthology format today, as it seems to have resurface only occasionally across the last twenty years.

Or maybe it’s more that I’ve missed them? Obviously I remember Short Peace from 2013 and I was also excited to see that Studio Ponoc’s second work is also an anthology (Modest Heroes) so the anthology approach isn’t ‘gone’ at all but it did seem like it was no longer in fashion for quite a while there.

4 Stars

BEM: Become Human

BEM: Become Human (2020) follows on directly from the series but you could probably pick up the movie and have a different but equally enjoyable experience – how exactly it would differ probably strays into spoiler territory, though.

Immediately, the higher budget (and change to Production IG) for the film was clear, with more detail, bigger battles and overall smoother animation across the board (esp transformations and action) than the short series.

There are also subtle changes in character design and a narrowing of focus when it came to the story too – this is very much Bem’s tale. For me, that was both a strength and a weakness to the film, as Bela is sidelined and Belo only gets a bit of action, but overall the most screen time (and impact) comes from Bem’s struggle.

On the other hand, having the three leads separated does add some dramatic tension.

The main theme of what does it mean to be human? is still front and centre, allowing Bem’s backstory to sneak into his search for truth about himself and the city he seems to be trapped within.

[Spoilers below] 

In regard to the setting, it was perhaps the other stand out for me – I found it fascinating how much it reminded me of the original Westworld, Stepford Wives or the Truman Show perhaps. Since pretty much the whole city is in on the deception, there was a great sense that everyone was a villain or at least, untrustworthy.

I will say that I wished there had been time for the movie to do a little more with the relationship between Bem and his ‘wife’ perhaps, and I’ve already mentioned not enjoying the lack of attention given to the supporting cast (Sonia gets more time than the others) but overall, I’m glad I stumbled across the series and, in turn, the movie.

Definitely for fans of the supernatural or perhaps late 1960s manga.

4 Stars

Bright: Samurai Soul

Bright: Samurai Soul (2021)

Woodblock prints and math rock!

Here’s another anime where I have no knowledge of the source material, allowing me to head in to the viewing without ideas of what it ‘should’ be perhaps.

Having said that, I wonder if Bright: Samurai Soul would have been stronger as a short series rather than a film?

In any event, if you give this movie a shot I think you’ll at the very least find the visual style interesting, since the woodblock style is compelling, and all the yellows, reds and muted greens work so well to contrast the blues used for the leads.

Since this will be a short review, I’ll skim over a few things I’ve considered mentioning but basically, I liked the characters and (most of the time) really liked the music from Lite, and while the quest/magical artifact story-line hit all the right notes for me, it all felt a little too brief.

One final aspect I enjoyed was the bit of time here and there for a quiet moment, or the way prejudice was shown, along with the hints of society undergoing change.

Yet overall I think I ‘only’ liked it rather than loved it. Maybe if you’ve seen the original you might like to compare here, or perhaps you just like swords and magic like me 😀

3 Stars

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood (2021)

Coming to the series cold, the connection to the game Dota 2 had no positive or negative impact for me – it was just a fact about the anime, and so I enjoyed having no preconceptions going in.

I know that animation produced by non-Japanese studios can get some flak from the community but I don’t really care – DOTA Dragon’s Blood looks great and it was a lot of fun to watch a fantasy/action animation with all the classic creatures.

Plenty of humour, plenty of really ace action-sequences and even the fan-service tended to actually make sense here. There was also lots of lovely imagery and striking use of colour to further keep me watching and without spoilers, the story probably isn’t full of curve-balls but it’s satisfying.

I have a few fav characters from the large(ish) cast, but Marci is a stand out – I also don’t recall dozens of mute characters appearing in other animated works I’ve seen, so that was really interesting. (There were even Australian voice actors too, which is another rare thing).

Toward the end, I will say that it seemed that the pacing picked up a little too much. Important events outpaced the running time, and once again, it felt like modern production choices (esp those favoured by Netflix) meant the team at Studio Mir had to squeeze in a 13-episode portion of a big story into an 8-episode run.

Maybe that was just my impression?

But with more episodes on the way, I’m definitely tuning in whenever more of the story is ready.

4 Stars

Abandoned #12 (Gantz, Black Blood Brothers & Dagashi Kashi)

Kicking off with my standard disclaimer – I’m not ruling out one day returning to any of these shows… it just might take a really, really long time for some of them, perhaps.


Gantz

The science-fiction concept had me hooked but after only half of one episode I had come to loathe Kei Kurono.

Having said that, I might finish this one day – or just read about the plot to learn of some unanswered questions I have about the scenario.

Black Blood Brothers

Of the three I’ve listed today, I think this might be the one I could return to in the future, because I’m curious about events in the prologue.

And I liked Jirou’s character but Kotarou was a bit much in that first episode for me to continue.

Dagashi Kashi

I felt like trying out a comedy and the idea of a sweet shop sounded pretty great, but despite a memorable design, Horaru was not so much charming as annoying for me.

Of course, is it fair to give this (or any series) just one or only half an episode? Not really… but then, I have so many shows I want to watch/try/finish 😀


Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei)

Gundum is one of the heavyweights of the anime industry that I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet (which surprises me) as I had planned to do the original series and then Gundam Wing, but when I saw that Shukou Murase was directing this one, I thought I’d switch to Hathaway instead.

I should note that this will probably be more of a ‘dot-point’ style review as I don’t have enough knowledge to contextualise the film within the franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei) 2021

Although, I will say that I loved this – the visual aspects from design to colour and movement were all ace and story-wise, the film is a great set-up for what’s to come. I was actually surprised to find that Hathaway feels very much like an old-school spy novel at times, which was cool.

(But there are a few big action scenes + a bit of fan service to go with the intrigue and verbal sparring too).

  • Hathaway feels like triumph in lighting
  • The work done to sell the scale of the robots in this film, like showing feet of the mechs filling the screen and all those low angle POVs, loved it
  • There were a lot of standout scenes but the milkbar & taxi scenes jump out for me
  • Gigi is an interesting character – there’s a lot of ‘mysterious woman/femme fatale’ stuff going on (not that my screen shots show that), which feeds into that espionage feel. I’m left wondering what her role will be in future films.
  • It’s interesting to see Australia mentioned as an important base – I wonder if back in the 1980s (when the books were written), if my homeland was still a bit in vogue for settings to be mentioned but not used.
  • I’m not really up to speed on the (ongoing?) tension between the Evangelion/Gundam camps, but with or without any boasting to (potentially) influence you, I still think that this film was pretty spectacular.

I also wanted to ask myself whether Hathaway could function as a possible entry point into the Gundam franchise… and I’m not actually sure it would be the best one.

The same classic themes around war and loyalty etc are front and centre, and of course, giant robots! but something about Hathaway makes me wonder if it would be right.

I don’t think I have enough knowledge of the franchise to make a recommendation.

But to finish at last, I will say that it’ll be tough to wait for the next two films but I’m keen, very keen.

5 Stars

Kurozuka

Kurozuka is a sometimes jumbled, often compelling adaptation of a novel by Baku Yumemakura and which is on the surface, a vampire story.

Kurozuka (2008)

After finishing the series I think it can be more comfortably described as science fiction/action with incidental vampirism, which is both interesting and – if you are looking for some vampires – disappointing.

Produced by Madhouse and directed by Tetsuro Araki, Kurozuka bears a few hints of aspects which later appear in Attack on Titan but here there’s an epic, centuries-spanning tale squeezed into 13 episodes.

I’m not able to put my finger on what I think made this anime close to being amazing, without getting there.

Fun action, interesting world with a good central mystery to the storyline, even a disjointed narrative structure to keep things from becoming too predictable… but something was missing.  

Two things that I came up with after thinking a bit:

  • the set-up of a potentially doomed romance actually led to something else, a swift separation of the main characters which then denied them much meaningful interaction for nearly the rest of the series, and
  • the sheer volume of off-screen story that did not appear (or was not referenced) in time for the climax to have a big impact.

Did all of my grumbling mean I hated this series?

Not at all, but I guess it’s a very easy 3 Stars for the rating, since I’m glad to have seen it (and am now quite curious about the book), but at the same time, I don’t know if I’ll watch it again.

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō)

Back Arrow is bursting at the seams with exuberance and I enjoyed that a lot.

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) 2021

For me, it’s wildly over the top and dead sincere at the same time, leaping between those two contrasting extremes. In that way I guess you could say that there’s a mix of aspects from shows like TTGL and Gun x Sword, among others.

A while back, Lita and I did a ‘first reactions‘ kinda collab and I’m happy to say my response to the show remained quite favourable indeed.

Now, in other reviews I’ve definitely criticised stuff that hops between extremes (or wildly contrasting tones) but obviously I don’t always have a problem with it. I thought Back Arrow shifted in such a way that I was expecting things to be a bit off-the-wall from the beginning, and so it didn’t bother me.

All the shounen tropes and clichés (and bizarre humour) are out in full force in Back Arrow (the choir! the wine bottles!), declarations shouted with clenched fists, escalating battles and a huge finish.

It was hard to believe in a way, but as the last few episodes unveiled new and more gigantic surprises in terms of that escalation, I was swept up in the sense of fun – all the amps go up to 11 here.

In terms of fav characters, Shu stands out for me, since he forges his own path, though I will say that his key betrayal actually seems poorly handled in respect to another character, considering the supposed importance of a certain flashback. That’s probably pretty vague if you haven’t seen Back Arrow but I was hoping to avoid spoilers.

So I’ve written a few paragraphs now without mentioning the plot but it includes some of the big stakes I’m looking for: save the world and know thyself, along with a big enough cast that a few folks get to live out different aspects of each.

I can see how this show might fail to meet the needs of some audiences – some of the key anime that Back Arrow is channelling across its 24 episodes were now released generations ago.

And to be honest, there is a strangely childish part of me that really enjoys the fact that Back Arrow seems to be almost a cult show already.

That’s actually a bad thing, though – I want Back Arrow to be more popular so that more shows like it get made.

4 Stars

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi)

This is a typical OVA in some ways – violence and nudity (or the threat of rape being passed off as ‘comedic’), all predictable things about certain anime genres, some of which have certainly come to tire me after a couple decades.

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi) 2000

That isn’t to claim Puppet Princess is terrible, or that I think it’s impossible to take on serious themes in anime either, but Puppet Princess feels too casual with its application of that content for me.

I should talk about the story sooner or later – but first, Puppet Princess almost seems bit of a warm up for Karakuri Circus, especially when it comes to the puppetry (which was probably the best aspect of the anime).

An adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita’s one-shot manga, it’s a straightforward but still at times exciting story of vengeance. Rangiku (the Puppet Princess) recruits warrior Manajiri and together they seek and eventually take on Lord Karimata, who murdered her family.

There are a few fun surprises, especially toward the end, and the art and animation works for me, though this 2000 OVA won’t deliver things you might be used to if you favour modern action sequences and techniques.

Is it worth chasing down?

Maybe if you’re a fan of Kazuhiro Fujita or the era of production perhaps, or just if you really love swords and shinobi.

3 Stars

Review (A-Z List) Update

Just a quick post while I’m still working on finishing my current novel – I’ve updated my review list, I think it’s 12 or so reviews that I added/missed since I first made the page back in July 🙂

Reviews: A-Z

And while I’m here, I’ll throw open requests again – anything you’d like me to review here at the blog?