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Memories 1995

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 some 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 came closer to being a vignette actually.

I actually would love to see more of the anthology format, 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’ but it did seem like it was no longer in fashion for quite a while there.

4 Stars

A Liquid Top Ten (2020, Quarter Two)

So, I’m a little late on the ‘second’ quarter here, but it’s still the second entry in this little ‘series’ of posts, at least 🙂

If you click here you can see a preamble and some reasoning re: why I included the ten titles I chose for quarter one… but let’s see if anything has changed! (If it has changed, it’s generally because I’ve changed my mind about something older or finally watched something I hadn’t seen before).

I will re-post this bit though:

  • I’m focusing on TV shows here
  • This list should change as I see more texts over the years
  • Equally, it should also change whenever I re-watch and re-evaluate something
  • By definition of the list being ‘mine’ it clearly reveals my biases and interests
  • Expect to see the 1990s heavily represented, lol
  • Subsequent posts will generally be shorter than this one

The List – Quarter One

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (1998)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


The List – Quarter Two

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Kids on the Slope (2012)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


So, there was a change 🙂

I’ve replaced just one title, but there are a few extras further below as well. But first:

9. Kids on the Slope (2012)

Kids on the Slope is a superb drama with an excellent romantic subplot and a soundtrack that should satisfy most jazz fans, especially if you like the Cool and Bob sub-genres. I loved it and look forward to watching the show again – especially for all the little references here and there, from character design to album covers etc

It’s also basically historical fiction I guess, or at least a period piece (in that it focuses on the 1960s in Japan) so that’s always a plus for me. Like most folks who’ve seen anime, I also really enjoyed the fluidity to the musical performances, achieved via rotoscoping.


Outside the List (for now)

This (unranked) list includes shows that are pretty close/could well sneak in. As I go through the months, I’m finding a lot of this process is based on mood as much as anything else, AND, wondering if this is where most of the action will be over the years? (I’ve certainly added more here than into the Quarter Two Top Ten.)

Samurai Champloo (2004)
Full Metal Alchemist (2003)
Gunbuster (1988)
FLCL (2003)
Haikyuu!! (2014)
Ushio & Tora (2015)
Pyscho-Pass (2012)
RahXephon (2002)
Witch Hunter Robin (2002)
Ghost Hunt (2006)


Based on my missed ‘deadline’ of May for this post, I’ll try to get the third quarter post done sooner, and once more see if anything has changed but if I don’t get a chance to see a lot of new things by September, it might not look very different.

As before, let me know if you think I’ve missed a great show! (Doubtless I have) and so maybe I’ll be able to include it in my upcoming watching if it’s within my reach, both figuratively and literally. (I’m curious to see whether some of my A-Z Challenge titles might eventually get into this list too).

Thanks for reading!

Black Lagoon (Burakku Ragūn)

Black Lagoon (Burakku Ragūn) 2006

So! I was pretty certain I’d enjoy this going in, and I certainly did, and so thanks to everyone who voted back in April!

I could probably centre most of this review on the OVA in a way (and most of my criticism) but I actually want to stay with the series proper for the most part. All I really knew about Black Lagoon prior to going in was that the setting was non-typical for anime, it was violent and that Revy looked good in shorts. 

Somewhere around here at the Heap I’m sure I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of the ‘girls with guns’ genre, and I like action films and crime shows too, and so Black Lagoon had three ticks right off the bat. The fourth tick was the fact that it featured (on the surface at least) a ‘mismatched crew’ as main characters.

And the series does delve into the related idea of ‘found family’, something I also enjoyed – but the main focus is probably on shooting things. Bars and people mostly – sometimes vehicles too, but if you’ve researched the manga say, then that won’t be a surprise, as you’ll know that Rei Hiroe mentions being influenced by directors like Woo or Tarantino.

Here’s a quick summary from Wikipedia on the premise:

The story follows a team of pirate mercenaries known as the Lagoon Company, that smuggles goods in and around the seas of Southeast Asia in the early to mid 1990s. Their base of operations is located in the fictional harbor city of Roanapur in east Thailand near the border of Cambodia.

And that’s where I think I’ll move to first in this review – the setting.

Seeing Southeast Asia in anime is pretty rare, and obviously I was thrilled watching a show set somewhere other than a school, but also the clear blues and warm colours were so good too. You can almost feel the sun in so many episodes. There’s plenty of green, blue, and other bright colours too, and even night goes for yellows and purples a lot of the time. The city itself becomes an important character, and Rock critiques it in short monologues, while being aware that it affords him a certain amount of freedom too.

On the other hand, the series isn’t a nuanced exploration of another culture; it’s a story about various criminal factions and their competing interests in a fictional city, and one unlucky guy who has to navigate it all.

Black Lagoon is probably closer to a long action movie in some ways – so what you explore instead of another culture, is the lives of criminals and their shoot-outs. I think the rising tension in the pacing (and a focus on increasingly over-the-top action sequences) feeds my impression there, but the characters aren’t just shapes that happen to hold guns either. You will get to know the crew if you watch this, chiefly Rock and Rebecca, and even antagonist Balalaika.

However, I do wish I’d been given the chance to learn more about Dutch and Benny, who eventually became a little side-lined. And okay, I know that we all know that bare skin sells all kinds of media, not just anime, and Rebecca is an interesting character – no arguments there, but just a few more scenes on the background of Dutch and Benny would have been superb. (The manga doubtless does that, but I’ve not read it so I don’t know for sure).

Now, as I sometimes do here, I’m going to switch to dot points in an effort to curtail the length of this review – some of these are probably spoiler-y too:

  • You might like this show if you gravitate toward underdog stories, especially with Rock being sold out hard by his bosses.
  • To stick with Rock a moment, I found it interesting that he’s depicted as kinda disinterred in sex. Clearly, he’s surrounded by women he seems to find attractive but I wonder if his desire to stay in the ‘twilight’ helps keep himself at armslength from the interest he receives. Obvious counters to this could be Yukio or the possible implications in the OVA about him and a certain someone else… but I’m not sure.
  • The piece of music for the ending (and the footsteps) is really sinister.
  • Shenhua stood out because again, South East Asia in anime feels rare to me, and to see a Taiwanese character was great. She’s incredibly shrill, but setting that choice by the director or voice actress aside, I thought it was interesting that identity issues weren’t glossed over – you can see it play out a little between her and Revy in their back-and-forth.
  • Ginji needs a prequel series!
  • Seriously.
  • He does.
  • It was excellent to remember a time (via the U-boat arc) where neo-nazis were seen as actual villains, rather than described in some mealy-mouthed euphemism like ‘alt-right’.
  • The evil kids cliche + incest storyline felt a little off here, mostly because it occurs within the confines of a ‘shoot ‘em up’ basically, with no real time spent dealing with the horror the characters must have been put through prior to their appearance in the episodes.
  • Being an action/crime series, there are plenty of great action sequences, and even a few moments of humour here and there, but one of my favs actually comes from the OVA, where the intercutting POV shots and wider ones feel really fluid (during a scene in the The Yellow Flag with Fabiola).
  • Having talked a lot about the action, I want to quickly mention that the best moment for me is when Rock finally stands up to Revy and all her grandstanding bullshit. Close seconds probably occur more than once in the Yakuza arc.
  • And finally, Megumi Toyoguchi (who plays Revy) does an ace job with the whole ‘dead inside’ vocal performance, a sharp contrast from say, her work as Winry in FMA.

Onward quickly now to Roberta’s Bloodtrail, the OVA series that aired a few years after the second season of Black Lagoon.

So, the main series definitely has an ending, and plenty of chances to imagine ‘what happens next’, but ‘…Bloodtrail’ carries things on nicely. However, it once again sidelines Dutch and Benny for the most part.

The OVA is just as fast-paced and action-heavy as the main seasons too, but things are dialled up – from both violence to fan service and sexual violence too, so maybe take note if you were already on the fence about this show.

Roberta doesn’t get to be much of a character here, which is a bit of a shame, she’s mostly a Terminator instead. On the other hand, she actually takes some damage. I found that interesting, as if the nod to realism was almost ‘pushing back’ against a precedent Black Lagoon had set, where a character slices bullets in half with a katana for instance, and the focus is on stylish cinematic violence.

Reading around other reviews and comments, I see some folks didn’t like Rock’s development in the OVA and I am 50/50 on that myself. I think it’s more than reasonable that he’d be influenced by the villainy around him, but I wonder if the transition was handled a little bluntly onscreen?

I also wonder whether Balalaika almost became a little cartoonish for a moment (in episode 4 I think it was), but all in all I think the OVA is definitely worth watching if you enjoyed the regular seasons. It was interesting to see whether Rock’s gamble would pay off, and by the ending you’re left thinking he only got half a victory in some ways, perhaps a little more realism creeping in?

4 Stars

Anime A-Z (Watch-List Challenge)

As I’ve mentioned before, I do like lists. Perhaps more than I ought to, and so I don’t really need much of an excuse in order to create one!

Today, I thought I’d tweak a challenge that’s making the rounds at the moment, and turn it into a ‘yet to be seen’ one, instead of the more classic version that exists at the moment.


Below, is a list from A – Z of stuff I want to either watch for the first time, or rewatch.

Some of these shows have been on my list for many moons, some I only just heard of recently, and a few I believe I’ve already seen part of or all of them – but it was maybe twenty years ago, and thus my memory of those ones remains understandably hazy.

Parts of this list of films and shows might seem somewhat ‘historical’ if you’re brand new to anime, and with at least 70 years of anime production to draw from, there are plenty of gaps in my knowledge.

That’s something that (over the coming years) I’d love to fix where possible… but it’s such a huge ask to even approach a spot where I’d feel confident calling myself truly knowledgeable. (And I don’t really need to of course, I just like knowing where my modern favourites have come from I think :D).

And so, here we go at last, after my usual rambling preamble!

A            Ace Attorney (2016)

My knowledge of anime comedy is quite narrow, so I want to expand it and I know lots of folks enjoyed this series. As a bonus, I’d finally feel like I am on the ‘inside’ when it comes to that Christmas meme!

B            Brain Powerd (1998)

One I’ve always been aware of but never got the chance to see back during time of release – features direction and writing from Yoshiyuki Tomino + a Yoko Kanno OST 🙂

C            Chobits (2002)

Have long been curious as to whether Chobits is a kind of male wish-fullfilment re: having a perfectly subservient girlfriend, or whether it explores the clash of humanity, personhood and technology!

D           Dallos (1983)

I finally have a copy of this – and as a fan of atmospheric stuff, I’m looking forward to seeing this early Oshii OVA.

E            Eureka Seven (2005)

Having seen the sequel series, I ought to watch this, huh? 😀

F            Fist of the North Star (1984/1986)

I have reasonable memories of the film, but haven’t seen any episodes of the series, so I’m very curious to revisit this over the top classic in some form one day.

G           Ghost Hound (2007)

As a fan of the supernatural genre and also the writing of Chiaki J. Konaka, I have been trying to find a complete physical release of this for a while now, but no joy so far!

H           Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick (1997)

Similar to the last entry, I’ve been trying to find this for a long time but boy, I really don’t have a spare $200+ to grab a second hand (or sometimes new) copy. It’s become semi-mythical in my mind and I yearn for a re-release, lol.

I             Initial D (1998)

I don’t love racing or car-focused anime, but nor do I dislike them at all, I just rarely seem to choose that genre. I know this is quite the well-loved show and I’ve probably not started it yet, simply because I know it has a fair few episodes/versions and I don’t always have the energy for a series if it’s longer than one or two seasons.

J             Joker Game (2016)

Historical fiction + espionage? Perfect! Like a fair few anime fans I guess, the setting of WW1/WW2 era Japan is a draw for me, so I believe I will make the effort to watch this sooner or later!

K            Key the Metal Idol (1994)

A recent addition to my list of things I want to watch one day (thanks, Curtis!) I think I’ll enjoy this a lot, cyberpunk with a bit of a Pinocchio feel – I’m on board right away 🙂

L            Lily C.A.T (1987)

You can see the influence of Alien in so many places decades and decades later and I’m excited to see an anime take (aside from Bebop’s) on the isolation/space/deadly and mysterious creature.

M          Monster (2004)

Something I must see – I have only ever heard absolutely fantastic things about this one.

N           Noragami (2014)

I’ve been curious about Noragami for a while now and it seems like it’d tick a few boxes for me – supernatural and comedy, plus the drama, so I’ve added it to my list of shows to watch on Animelab… so hopefully it doesn’t disappear before I get to it!

O           Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009)

A preview on one of my other DVDs alerted me to this movie, and despite my trepidation when it comes to CGI but there’s a cool ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel to the story, with Haruka being drawn into a land of ‘forgotten things’ and so I’m keen to check it out one day.

P            Princess Knight (1967)

I thought this would be extremely hard to find but there are DVDs and Funimation recently added it – I can’t remember whether I can stream it here in Australia via Funimation, but as a fan of Osamu Tezuka I have long wanted to investigate, so this is the perfect chance.

Q           Queen Millennia (1981)

This series (or the film) is another I’ve been curious about – it has a connection to Galaxy Express 999 of course, but is less well-known perhaps. It’s another title (like Windaria) that Harmony Gold once screened, so I’ll be looking for a more ‘true to the original’ release.

R            Rose of Versailles, The (1973)

I’m cheating a little here, by using the ‘library’ style order for the title – but I still have to see this classic, an anime I’ve been curious about ever since watching Revolutionary Girl Utena.

S            Secret of Cerulean Sand (2002)

Steampunk and adventure, sign me up! Finding this one very difficult to track down too, but it’s nice to have something to look forward to – thanks again to Curtis for the rec 🙂

T            Tale of the White Serpent, The (1958)

The first anime made in colour – I didn’t think I’d be able to find this but there was a recent restoration done in 2019, I just can’t remember whether it features subtitles or not. (This is based on a famous Chinese legend and there is a Chinese-produced CGI prequel story out as well.)

U           Utawarerumono (2006)

There’s a few iterations of this story out there but I thought I’d begin at the beginning – and since this deals with masks and identity, along with mythology and has historical aspects, I’m keen right away 😀

V            Vision of Escaflowne, The (1996)

Another re-watch that I’ve been meaning to get around to for a long time, keen to compare my memories of this show vs what it’s actually like one day. Maybe I’ll do that soon…ish, actually.

W          Wicket City (1987)

Is the movie as pornographic as I seem to remember? Probably! One day I’ll re-watch it and find out but I think the action sequences were memorable. This film was a big deal in tape-trading circles in the 1990s, along with late night TV scheduling if I’m remembering correctly.

X            Xenosaga: The Animation (2005)

Over the years I’ve always been willing to give adaptations of games a shot, and since I’ve played a fair bit of Xenoblade lately, this one caught my eye. Not sure how well-received it was but sounds like science-fiction and androids, so cool, will give it a go!

Y            Yatterman Night (2015)

With the role of hero and villain switched this time around, I’m really keen to see how this update on the classic 1970s show plays out, so I now have my entry for the letter ‘Y’ 🙂

Z            Roujin Z (1991)

Admittedly, I’m cheating again here with the title, but there’s a prominent ‘Z’ in it so I’ll accept this as my entry. As a Satoshi Kon fan I’m keen for this, and once again, science-fiction themes, so I’m in! Like more than a few on this list, I once more want to thank Curtis from Iridium Eye Reviews for making me aware of this one!


Okay, that took a lot longer than I was expecting! But, I certainly had a lot of fun collating, researching and checking my collection/streaming services to see what I might be able to find and add to this list.

I currently own or at least have access to probably half a dozen of these, so some of the names might pop up in future reviews… but I feel like I should do a bit of a Trigun ‘arc-style’ series, like I did with Nadia and so that might happen sooner!

Anything on the list above that you’ve already seen and would recommend in a non-spoilery kinda way? 😀

Arte

It feels like only a few folks are talking about Arte (or I’m just missing the discussions) but I’m glad I stumbled across this show! (I’ve been watching episodes of Arte between Black Lagoon stints, and the contrast is vivid :D)

Arte 2020

Arte is a seinen series that should appeal to folks who like historical fiction too and coming of age themes in any other genre, but also visual artists themselves. Obviously, setting a show in Florence during the 16th century means (High) Renaissance but in Arte it’s not a drama about the masters, but a coming of age story that focuses on apprentices – chiefly Arte herself, of course.

And she’s an endearing heroine whom I wanted to succeed, kind and determined, classic seinen stuff. Having been extremely lucky to have once visited Florence (and Venice) I was enthralled by the setting as much as the storyline, due to the beautiful detail. [As a side note, I did also like seeing the canals so clear and sparkling in the anime :)]

Arte isn’t an episodic anime, as it is building to two key moments that do pay off, and while the individual storylines and characters were definitely enjoyable for me, I think the mentor stuff around Arte and Leo were my favourite aspects, aside from learning more about the specific labour that went into the art world back then.

I only had one gripe, which was the amount of time the story spent in Venice, though that wasn’t because things suddenly became worse, but more because I wanted to see her grow more under Leo’s guidance and he wasn’t in those eps, lol.

On the extremely low chance of a future season, I guess that could still happen. The manga certainly has plenty of issues available for Seven Arcs to draw from 🙂

Part of me wants to say ‘5 Stars’ because I enjoyed so much about the show but I think it’s a fairly niche series in some ways, so I don’t want to potentially mislead anyone reading this. However, if you like the visual arts or the genre, or historical Italy, then I think you’ll enjoy this a good deal indeed.

4 Stars

Katarina has quite the introductory episode
Perhaps the only time Leo smiles from memory
I should have tried harder to find more pictures like these

I can’t believe you haven’t seen…

I’m sure I’ve said this in the past to friends and associates (and I hope I said it with genuine curiosity rather than with some manner of scorn) but I thought I’d hurl the question out there and see if you have one for me!

Have you ever read one of my reviews and perhaps wondered Hold on, why does it seem that Ashley hasn’t seen [name]? After all, he seems to love [genre/other show]?

Well, please ask!

If I’ve at least heard of the ova/show/film, then I should be able to give something of an answer – and if I haven’t, well then, it looks like my recommendation list will grow, which I’d just hate to see happen 😀

Demon City Shinjuku (Makai Toshi: Shinjuku)

Demon City Shinjuku (Makai Toshi: Shinjuku) 1988

I swing back and forth on how much I enjoy the works of Yoshiaki Kawajiri (and Hideyuki Kikuchi) due to their tendency to drift into territory I’ll describe as crass at best.

Other times, the team-up creates things which are sinister and stylish from start to finish – with plenty of action to go along with the horror elements. Demon City Shinjuku mostly fits under this description for me.

And if you like the supernatural genre or films with great action sequences or with low-level lighting, stylised reds, pinks and blues for the palette of a city in endless night, and a city filled with mysterious characters and seemingly insurmountable odds for the hero(es) to tackle, then you’re in luck with Demon City Shinjuku.

To contrast, I’m certainly aware that some of the criticisms aimed at this film (and which can also be applied to many films and genres, especially fighting shonen) are certainly valid. Character development is not missing precisely, but the storyline is mostly built around getting the hero from one battle to another. And those battles tend to be exciting or surprising and are clearly so well directed, and thus the trade-off is definitely worthwhile for me.

On the other hand, Sayaka Rama doesn’t have much of a role beyond damsel (but she’s pretty brave, forging ahead in her high-vis pink dress) and so that issue with the characterisation being a little thin plays out elsewhere too. Again, I think there is a trade-off – which is the mystery behind a lot of figures (and the setting itself) especially for someone like Mephisto.

I also found it interesting to see the shinai from Kendo being the hero’s weapon of choice, which is something I think modern martial arts anime has maybe moved away from a little. As tends to be the case with me, I really enjoy Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s character designs – and even though his role is mostly confined to the prologue, the character of Genichirou strikes me as a cool mix between Clint Eastwood and Jet Black, or maybe he just has a 1970s vibe in general.

In terms of audience, I’ll mention that Demon City Shinjuku has far less sexualised violence compared to say, Wicked City or even Ninja Scroll, and the violence is somewhat more restrained too. I wonder if at this point in his career (right after Wicked City) there was an urge to make something (potentially) more commercial and suitable for distribution in the US, as Bloodlust perhaps was.

4 Stars

The Review Heap: 2020 Directions (Checking In)

I’d planned something to mark the 1st year of The Review Heap but June hasn’t felt like time for much in the way of a celebration, so I’ve deferred my original idea for now.

I still want to mark the moment, I guess, so I’ll do a bit of a ‘check-in’ perhaps, and update any progress on what I’d planned for 2020 in this post, so let’s see how many goals I maybe made progress on!

Here’s a summation of the goals I had in mind back in Jan:

  1. Keep reviewing at my own pace
  2. More Anime
  3. Review albums
  4. More discussion posts
  5. Review more games
  6. Do more collaborations
  7. Release a book

  1. The plan for The Review Heap was just to review (nearly anything) at my own pace.

This is still going as intended 😀


2. More Anime

Yes and no.

Below are some of the ones I’d planned to review, and while my reviewing pace has been fair, I didn’t get to many of these… yet!

  • Buccano!
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • Black Lagoon
  • Samurai Flamenco
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Perfect Blue
  • Shigofumi
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • Gunbuster

Here’s a quote from below which is essentially still true, though I feel a little more relaxed about reviewing them in the future at least:

There are also more than a few big-impact anime that I just haven’t got around to reviewing yet, such as Astro Boy, Neon Genesis, Cowboy Bebop, FMA, GITS etc and I’m super-keen to write them but I’m mostly paralysed by the question what could I hope to add to the discourse? They’re so massive and so storied that it’s hard to bring much new to the conversation.


3. Review Albums

No and no.

I wanted to review a few albums (having the common theme of being albums that were released right after a band broke-up) but zero progress on that so far. Will try to do at least one or two in the next 6 months.


4. More Discussion Posts

No and no.

So, this didn’t happen either! I had no ideas for any such posts, and so I didn’t write any 😀

I might give it a shot… actually, I do have just one idea based around a quote from Mamoru Oshii (below), and maybe such a post around anime and age will eventually appear on the heap, I’m not sure.

“I’m not watching anything. There are zero titles I’m interested in. I mean, I’m over 65. Trying to get into anime aimed at young people is impossible. That’s true for Japanese films in general, not just anime. Everything is made for a young audience.”


5. Review More Games

None.

This one is indeed pending. I’ve played plenty, both since I was a kid and lately, but haven’t had the time or drive to write up any thoughts. I am playing the ‘new’ Xenoblade, which does of course appeal to anime fans.


6. More Collaborations

Yes!

Okay, so I have one new collaboration (see here) and another two in the works, so I’m happy to report that this goal for 2020 is on track 🙂

I love and recommend doing collaborations, so I’m very pleased that things are going well there.


7. Release a book

Nope 🙂

Here there has been a little progress I guess – I’m still writing reviews, after all, but I’m still not sure how to structure it. Nor am I sure it wouldn’t just be a project for me hahahaha


So, some progress, which I’m happy with, and some things I’ll try to put more focus into but for now that’s a wrap! One year on the Heap 🙂

Again, thanks for reading!

Ashley  

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku)

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku) (1992)

Lots of pastel-ish tones in this film, which really adds to the bleakness.

I missed The Weathering Continent back in the 1990s but I know it would have caught my eye if the film had actually had any chance of being screened in Australia – but then, at the time of the movie’s release I was probably watching Astro Boy re-runs (along with He-Man, She-Ra and Voltron).

And then, a few years later, by the mid-90s, it was all about Neon Genesis!

Still, I’m glad I’ve now seen The Weathering Continent because I know I’ll watch it again one day, since I enjoyed it so much.

It really walks the line between creepy and haunting so well, aided by a barren but not empty setting. The story follows three wanderers as they traverse a wasteland-like Atlantis, but it’s not a quest to discover ancient wonders – it’s more like a struggle to survive an ancient, cursed place.

I’m not sure I should try to categorise The Weathering Continent as ‘cult’ or ‘overlooked’ and I’m not coming up with a lot of info re: how it was received upon release, but I know it did have a theatrical run, though it’s not ‘feature length’ at 50-odd minutes. This anime is not something I suspect you’ll be able to stream easily, but I found a DVD via good old ebay, and it has a great, landscape sleeve:

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51AGu829N7L._SX425_.jpg

Anyway, it was of course easy for me to learn that the film is an adaptation of a light novel series by Sei Takekawa (illustrations by Mutsumi Inomata) and that it was directed by Kōichi Mashimo. Mashimo’s name caught my eye because of Eat-Man and Noir, so it was interesting to see that same moodiness from the first Eat-Man here. However, unlike Noir the action is sparse in The Weathering Continent.

But when it occurs it certainly looks good – this is from Production IG before they changed their name, and character design stands out to me as well, obviously very 1990s. But above all, it is the city where the bulk of the story takes place that enthralled me, and yes the architecture and use of mostly sombre colours and detail is great, but the inhabitants themselves were what had me hooked, those masks and costumes!

Again, I wanted to share a lot more shots of the masks and the city but I restrained myself

I’ve had to fight the urge not to screen-cap the hell out of this one, because on the off-chance that you might want to see this film, I don’t want to spoil too much, yet I want to evoke enough to get you curious at least 😀

That’s probably enough rhapsodising from me, I think – basically, if you’re in the mood for a sword and sorcery anime that is also heavy on atmosphere (but a fairly light on plot), then this lesser-known film from Mashimo should satisfy.

4 Stars

RahXephon

[Spoilers abound!]

RahXephon (2002)

Today I’m starting with a thank you to In Search of Number Nine because I think that without these great posts, I would not have been introduced to a classic mecha show that I’d somehow missed over the years 🙂

As fans of RahXephon certainly already know, narrowing the series down to just a couple of genres, say ‘mecha’ or ‘science fiction’, clouds the fact that the anime is one of those killer shows with variety – and it’s happy to slow down and explore its characters through romance, intrigue and betrayals.

Now, I know I was already pre-disposed to enjoy RahXephon because I like Chiaki J. Konaka’s writing a lot, but also because this series has a mystical/ethereal feel, and I think those elements are pretty interesting to see in mecha. I was quite transfixed by hints of mysteries not explained in the narrative too.

One of the other aspects I really enjoyed was the tension-building throughout – which, unsurprisingly, is linked to the characters, many of whom have motivations that are kept from the viewer for many episodes.

Thinking about the series now, months after I finished that first time, I realise that as much as the action sequences do stand out in my memory (for their otherworldly nature especially) they’re mostly memorable due to how connected they are to the characters who go through them.

Here, I guess I’m thinking mainly about Hiroko’s death or maybe Elvy’s dogfights or even when Haruka is trying to defend and impress Ayato in those opening episodes, because especially upon second viewing, these moments with her strike me as quite sad. It feels like everything she tries in order to recapture the past just falls so flat.

RahXephon can feel down-beat – but there are moments of levity and action and mystery to go with it; and also some great detail to the Mu and the connected world-building. It’s exactly the kind of series that I reckon you’d enjoy even more upon a second viewing.

As I sometimes do, I want to quickly jump to some random dot points:

  • In a great cast, I found Ayato’s mother to stand out – especially when she was speaking the Mu language, as it’s this really disconcerting mix of unnerving and soothing.
  • The Futagami reveal was cool; I should have known he’d be a ‘higher-up’ 😀
  • I’d have loved a bit more time spent expanding upon the villains, as their role in the ending wasn’t quite as impactful, perhaps. On the other hand, it really allowed some of the main cast to take on highly antagonistic roles too.
  • Maybe all of Quon’s dialogue doesn’t land for me… but it’s still an important part of the show’s tone.
  • The design of the RahXephon is one of my favourite mecha designs out there, and the dolems are striking too. Related, I thought the use of song/voice added to the eerie nature so well – those first couple of episodes, where the viewer is just cast into conflict with little idea of who is who, one of my anchors was just how different it all was.
  • Loved Ayato’s 1970s-style outfit in the abandoned department store.
  • The ending theme perfectly evokes the feel of the show and it was always interesting to hear the variations.
  • Useless trivia: My DVD set has really nice illustrations (likely by Akihiro Yamada) on each disc, ones that I think were taken from earlier single-disc releases or maybe posters? But sadly, because my copy is an ‘ex-rental’, glue from the stickers that the store had used on the discs was jamming up my player. I had to use the ‘orange’ cleaner that folks in the retail industry might recall – it’s strong but not insanely so, and deals with sticker residue really well… when used on plastic surfaces, that is. When used on printed discs, it can erode some of the image itself, so a few of my discs now have what look like ‘scrape marks’ 😦

In terms of the production context, obviously Bones was a fairly new studio around 2001 – but having evolved from Sunrise, they had plenty of expertise to draw upon.

RahXephon was maybe their third TV series and they’d had a few films out already, one of which was the Cowboy Bebop movie, so it certainly feels like things were going well. The anime is also the only one (so far) to be directed by Yutaka Izubuchi, who was well-known as a designer. I really wish he’d direct again/be given the chance to direct again – but I’m glad they gave him the chair in those early years.

Back then, Bones had two teams, but I don’t know if any of the current five teams have made anything quite like RahXephon? But that could well be my ignorance at play – and in fact, if anyone knows of something approximately similar from Bones, I’d love to hear about it! [I’ll quickly add that maybe Un-Go and probably more so Xam’d are vaguely close].

It’s now been 18 years since RahXephon was released, and 25 since Neon Genesis changed so much about the genre, and I know the two shows are often compared. There are obviously aspects that are similar in tone and character but I never felt like I was watching a cut-rate clone. And in my reading for this review, I found that other folks mention Megazone 23 and Brave Raideen (1975) as being closer.

(And Yutaka Izubuchi feels the same about Brave Raideen, about wanting to bring a different sense back to the landscape of giant robots.) So naturally, I’m now curious to see a few episodes but that’s a long-term project. My knowledge of 1970s-era anime is pretty much limited to Lupin, Space Battleship Yamato and a handful of films.

Anyway, getting back to RahXephon I’ll try to finish this one with a recommendation. I think, if you’ve seen other works penned by Chiaki J. Konaka then you’ll enjoy this for sure. If you like post-EVA mecha stories with a bit of angst, then yep. Also maybe, if you’re the kind of fan that follows studios, and maybe have a soft spot for ‘early Bones’ productions, then take a look at RahXephon.

And finally, if you’re the kind of viewer who likes to be left with a few questions at the end of a series, then definitely watch this one – not sure who is streaming it at the moment, but it’s still around I’m sure!

5 Stars

Gallery time! I took around 300 screencaps and of course, have had trouble deciding which pics to highlight. Here’s some with the occasional thought here and there in the captions:

We see two shots with a lot of space between characters fairly often, from memory – and it certainly suits all the secrets it seems everyone is holding.
I like the ‘beehive’ kinda look to the edges of Ayato’s vision when he’s piloting.
There’s another shot of Quon which has me half-convinced that they gave her the umbrella (in part) because it would add to a distinctive silhouette.

And finally – the costume I mentioned earlier, which I liked well-enough for a temporary outfit, but Haruka did not:

Abandoned #7 (Bumper Issue!)

This post has more titles than usual, as it includes a few things that I’ve saved up or didn’t include in previous lists, but basically due to the number of them today, I thought I’d only do a line or two about most.

As ever, some of these I gave half an episode to at most, so maybe I jumped the gun… Others, I am certain I won’t finish but one is very much more of a ‘deferment’ perhaps 😀

First, the list:

Dances with Dragons
Blazblue: Alter Memory
Code: Realise – Guardian of Rebirth
Vividred Operation
Garo: Crimson Moon
Code:Breaker
Corpse Princess
Appleseed XIII
The Garden of Sinners
Black Butler
Coyote Ragtime Show
Le Chevalier D’Eon


Dances with Dragons

Was enjoying the premise and the mix of magic and tech – but the chemistry between the two leads somehow fell flat for me, even though it had tension.


Blazblue: Alter Memory

This seemed to draw together a whole heap of tropes and character archetypes from other shows but the structure of the first episode was too jumpy for me to grow invested in anyone.



Code: Realise – Guardian of Rebirth

While I do love steampunk I just couldn’t get on board with this particular dub. I’m curious to give this another shot though.



Vividred Operation

Sci-fi action and adventure! Magical girls saving the world! Costumes! Well, in the first few scenes the show seemed to be more about finding the ‘best’ camera angle to show the teenagers’ labia through panties so, no.



Garo: Crimson Moon

Might come back to this, as I like supernatural and also samurai-themed anime, but in my previous watching slump I found that there was no point of view character for me to latch on to in the prologue.



Code:Breaker

Again, welcome to another victim of my ‘supernatural slump’ – something about this felt melodramatic, rather than dramatic and so I drifted away from this one after a few eps. I think it was partly Rei that I didn’t enjoy.



Appleseed XIII

I do love the franchise but couldn’t get into the visual style with XIII.



The Garden of Sinners

This was interesting but seemed to be a little coy when it came to details I wanted more of – and I’m certainly not against stuff that could be described as having slow-burn pacing, but I don’t know if I’ll come back despite lingering curiosity.



Black Butler

I can definitely see why this is a classic but I found myself impatient for something ‘bigger’ though subtly isn’t a negative thing at all. I was enjoying the humour too. I could easily revisit this one day.



Coyote Ragtime Show

May well continue this one in the future, as it was nice to have a different kind of lead character to what is typical in modern anime. I can’t recall quite why I set this one to one side.

.

Corpse Princess

Okay, unlike most others in the list above – I actually finished a season of this series. It was grim enough and even had character development, a bit of ‘Vash-like’ humour and the fan-service didn’t try too hard, but the real problem was season two.

I don’t know if the show got ahead of the manga after season one but the significant recapping and sudden stagnation of the story means I gave up after a few episodes.



Le Chevalier D’Eon

All right – here we are at the end of the list, and this one is the ‘deferment’ I mentioned before.

I will definitely come back to Le Chevalier D’Eon but each time I sit down to watch another episode I find myself hesitating.

I think I know why – it’s the pacing.

It feels as though I hesitate because I know that our four heroes are going to visit a new town, catch up on local politics, help out, and then collect a few scraps of info on the main quest. That pattern has been repeating for a while now and so I’m finding it hard to jump back in, even though by the mid-way point I should be unable to put the show to one side.

What’s interesting to me is that I love episodic storytelling but this feels like mini-arcs with not enough of the main plot thread woven throughout to satisfy my curiosity. On the other hand, I know I’ll finish Le Chevalier D’Eon because there is so much I want to discover and the characters, settings and magic are all great – along with the swashbuckling too.

And that first episode is one of my all-time favourite opening episodes to an anime, so I know I enjoy this series enough to finish… but it’s a matter of when will I have the patience? Hopefully soon!