Ashley is an Australian poet, novelist and teacher.
He's currently running a casual review blog called "The Review Heap" focusing film, anime, games, books and music - and (very) occasionally other stuff too. He is the author of half a dozen poetry collections and a few novels, some published traditionally and some self-published. He also occasionally publishes other folks too.
The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye (Za Sādo – Aoi Hitomi no) 2007
The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye met most of my expectations and I did enjoy it a lot, but there was a little something missing for me when it came to the ending.
However, I’ll stick with what I liked most first.
As I’ve said before, I love adventure stories, and usually ones based on light novels (or just novels in general) tend to have great plots and charactarisation. And that’s mostly how I feel about this anime; it was great to see heroine Honoka roaming the post-apocalyptic world, saving folks with her blade and mech suit, aided by her AI tank and the mysterious Iks.
There is a central plot that reveals itself in time, and while I said ‘post-apoc’ I should mention that this is a reasonably hopeful future-earth, compared to other shows at least. The setting was one draw for me, and the friendly bickering between Honoka and her tank (Bogie, voiced by Unshou Ishizuka, ‘Jet Black’), was great too, along with the fight scenes and interpersonal aspects between leads.
One thing that really stands out was the fact that The Third has a narrator – usually providing exposition or character monologue, which was interesting. It worked for me – but I could definitely see that as an issue for some viewers.
I also wondered about Paifu and her ‘rivalry’ with Iks re: Honoka, as that came across as pretty odd onscreen, even downright creepy… is Paifu meant to actually be a villain? She tends to act like one throughout.
But my main issue is with the ending. (A few times, the animation also dips and the character models seem fairly ‘off’ but I did get over that.)
Instead, as the series begins to wrap, there’s a significant plot line that seems like it represents the ‘ending’. It gets a few episodes to resolve things, and I finished it feeling the sense that ‘it’s all been sorted/crisis averted’ – but it wasn’t really the end.
There was more of The Third… left, and suddenly, tension had to be rebuilt in the two remaining episodes, and so the actual closing episodes of the anime didn’t feel quite as ‘big’ to me.
Having said that, it wasn’t a bad ending either… but it just didn’t land the same way as the preceding episodes, I guess. I was still interested to learn some final secrets, and I was always going to watch the final two, but yeah. Hard for me to rate, I probably personally enjoyed it a bit more than my score will suggest.
During the early-middle period of the series, there’s an episode or two with these stark, dramatic shadows that I really liked:
Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (Hottarake no Shima: Haruka to Mahō no Kagami) 2009
The success of Toy Story and Skrek are two CGI examples that I think of most when it comes to changing animation in America. Of course, it’s silly to point out only two examples, only two moments or studios (Pixar and DreamWorks here) as being responsible… but I think they are definitely noteworthy 🙂
Across the world in Japan, I kinda see Production IG as one similar driver of CGI integration into anime. Again, they’re obviously not the only studio doing so, but if I think of Ghost in the Shell in the mid-1990s and Innocence (among others) a little later on, I feel like there’s a clear line to 2009 when they released Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror.
Later in the review I do want to return to this rambling train of thought, but I should talk about the film itself sooner or later, huh?
Oblivion Island has a great fairy-tale feel, with perhaps a bit of Alice in Wonderland but a lot more Japanese folklore too, with a specific focus on kitsune. The hook for me was the idea that main character Haruka is drawn into a world of ‘forgotten things’, things which humans have left behind and have then been collected by fox-like creatures over the decades (and doubtless longer).
In fact, the scavengers have a motto: What You Neglect, We Collect, which is a pretty perfect description. When Haruka lands in the new world she is lucky enough to have a (reluctant at first) guide to show her around. And the Island is a pretty amazing place, where pretty much everything has been repurposed, from open books that function as seats on rail cars to gramophones deconstructed into chairs (okay, they’re both chairs :D).
There’s even a hierarchy/currency to the items, with mirrors being prized above all else – exactly the object Haruka needs to recover; her own precious hand mirror.
The story unfolds at a steady pace as the search gets Haruka and Teo (her guide) mixed up with ruler of the island, Baron. Maybe as an adult you won’t find heaps of surprises but I think kids would be delighted in all the right places, and Teo’s a cute little guy too. It’s also cool to see that Haruka is no push-over either.
If I had to single out an issue… it was just the feeling that I didn’t love the movie – I ‘only’ liked it a lot. That’s not much of a criticism, is it? Maybe the climax was actually a little long but it was usually pretty exciting.
Okay, so finally I’m going to creep back toward the visuals – which is what I was slowly, slowly leading up to at the start.
I remember a certain amount of excitement and bold predictions from the media and creators during those changes to the animation world that I mentioned before, discussing the way new technology would revolutionise things (I remember a bit of that around the time of Appleseed for one).
You can still see that excitement in occasional special features included with physical releases, sometimes it’s even the same folks looking back and reflecting on how the predictions turned out a little differently (but not ‘wrong’ either).
So, why have I also wrangled this review around to special features?
Well, I like to use them as one potential marker of the level of success a studio hoped for with a new release and I was curious about Haruka and the Magic Mirror.
Obviously, most ‘extras’ double as marketing materials but when I saw the decent list of special features included with Oblivion Island, I had the impression that Shinsuke Sato and Producton IG wanted the film to be a big hit. And of course! Why shouldn’t they? Success also keeps the studio going and making more great stuff.
So, I guess finally now to a question – did other folks like the film and its blend of traditional animation and CGI?
Oblivion Island was nominated for and won awards but I suppose if I’m interested in more than one marker of success, then I can’t ignore box office either – so, using IMDB, Haruka and the Magic Mirror had a worldwide gross of $3,171,022.
Now, to give some context I’ll try a couple of other similar-ish films released in the same year. First up, Summer Wars, which listed a fair bit more in terms of ticket sales: $18,434,328. Hosada’s film also used CGI but not in the same way as Oblivion Island and he also had a lot of anticipation already built up at that point. Something more CGI-heavy then? I’ll try Astro Boy – it took in $39,886,986 but it’s not precisely an anime film. (It was also considered a flop).
Maybe neither of my examples are totally useful as 1-to-1 comparisons, but I think I can say that audiences were still slow to warm to CGI in anime then. I know some of that reluctance lingers today, and does so within me, but again, I think I mostly complain when it seems like the blend between techniques is not great.
And I reckon Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror brings the two approaches together nicely indeed. Even if the character models have that CGI-smooth look, there’s still a lot of texture and depth to them and the backgrounds and props, and not just courtesy of the lighting either I reckon.
So, finally, I’ve finished all of my tangents – and as it turns out, it took me a really long time to say that I enjoyed this fairy-tale CGI anime and think it’d probably be pretty suitable for kids, just not the really, really young.
[This is another entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].
Pet Shop of Horrors is a great example of ‘episodic’ storytelling, with its sombre tales contained neatly within each episode. There are two links between stories – Count D and his LA pet shop, and detective Leon, who is trying to uncover the truth about the place.
Aside from the cautious friendship between the two characters, the mysteries here focus on Count D’s customers and their folly.
Perhaps in time, maybe Madhouse could have built successive OVAs into a series – but that was probably never the plan. I guess also, this show isn’t ‘horror’ enough for folks who want gore and shock? And sometimes when a show doesn’t easily fit into one genre, it’s hard to sell. I dunno, I should research its reception!
But my point is (finally!) that this Pet Shop of Horrors is more like supernatural mystery more than full-on horror, and even at times, tragedy.
And while there’s a clear structure to the episodes – meet a customer to see what dangerous creature D sells them, then watch that customer struggle with their choices, there’s enough variety with mermaids, rats, serpents and kirin, and the characters, that I enjoyed each tale.
It was also fun to see what felt like a nod to Gremlins (but may not have been, of course) re: Count D’s rules about his caring for his pets.
Finally, the question of whether and/or how the customers invariably broke those rules was where most of the horror came into play, and depending on whether they were meant to be sympathetic characters, so too, the tragedy.
This feels like a somewhat forgotten OVA from the late 1990s now, but I liked it a lot.
Fourth in this series – I’m nearly running out of days in the month this time 😀
(Changed my mind re: metal and anime, but perhaps that style in Jan instead)
“Kyoumen no Nami” by YURiKA (Land of the Lustrous, 2017)
Very quickly now – I really like the almost stop/start structure, which still builds quickly to a catchy song. The OP almost has a delicate sound too, and not just via the vocal, which feels pretty apt considering what the poor gems go through!
“Akaneiro ga Moeru Toki” by Scoobie Do(Gungrave, 2003)
Something upbeat for the end of the year 🙂
I like the high contrast between the tone of the show and this song – it can be nice to have that at the end of an episode. (This method doesn’t always work for me, I guess – but I like it here :D).
It also feels a little rarer to have violin in a rock/pop song, which gives things another dimension I reckon.
So, more music in Jan but for now, fingers crossed 2021 starts to turn the tide against the virus.
Knowing that Hosoda has a new film coming soon(ish), I thought I’d do a quick comparison of some posters from one of his previous hits: Summer Wars.
It’s obviously clear that you’re being told this movie will feature an ensemble cast from both images, but Natsuki seems a bit less capable in the poster for the left, compared to the right. Technology is clearly important in both images, but the real world setting on the left is clear too.
To me it feels like the ‘original’ poster on the left places emphasis on romance, comedy and maybe drama, whereas the ‘international’ one seems to be more about action and science fiction, due to the avatars. (Of course, I don’t know whether each region got two variants etc so ‘original’ and ‘international’ here is probably not accurate).
There’s also this one – which was maybe a ‘coming soon’ poster, based on my (admittedly poor) memory, which I also like:
Sort of covering similar ground as before – showing an ensemble cast, hinting at drama and action maybe, but no hints of the technological elements (at least visually).
Similar ‘determination’ pose from Natsuki and here, Kenji is a bit ‘lost’ in the crowd.
So, how about you – do you prefer one over the others?
You can no doubt predict exactly what I’ll say about episodic storytelling by now, right?
I’m definitely a fan of it – but The Big O ticks a lot of boxes for me outside its mostly episodic structure too.
First, there’s the slowly unfolding mystery in an unsettling but familiar city, then there’s androids, revolving villains, a dramatic multi-genre OST and finally; retro-looking mecha placed within a very 20th Century aesthetic – the mash-up is fantastic.
Having said that, if you don’t enjoy (almost) madcap mixes of conventions and genres, you probably won’t end up liking The Big O too much.
Despite the strong Batman/James Bond feel to the series, and despite the noir detective stuff happening on the surface, I still think that there’s enough dissonance and enough of the philosophical maybe, to deter folks who prefer a focus on a single genre or tone.
But again, that’s one of my favourite aspects of The Big O – that and the stylish character designs and art deco visuals.
I’ll take a shot at exploring the premise just quickly:
Roger Smith is a negotiator/investigator living in Paradigm City, known as the city of amnesia (for reasons which I won’t spoil). There, he is eventually pulled into the mystery of whatever event wiped everyone’s memory forty years ago, aided by former client, Dorothy – an advanced android.
To hopefully evoke a sense of tone here, I want to mention one person involved in the production – Chiaki J. Konaka. As with all collaborative arts, I think it’s cruel to point to only one person, especially in a review, but I think if I mention Chiaki then that might give a few clues as to the tone and direction of this series – especially the second season.
If I step away from my rhapsodising about the series for a moment, I’ll maybe get enough distance to point out some things that I didn’t love. Firstly, Roger is kind of a jerk and essentially mistreats Dorothy for nearly the whole series. And speaking of Dorothy, if you take a look at what she can do in the first two episodes for example, she is truly under-utilised by the story.
I believe more than a few people agree that Season 1 tends to be stronger than Season 2 (actually, I only took screencaps from S1 mainly due to time).
Three or four years later and the animation quality does get a boost for the sequel season, but for me, the powerful mysteries established in those first thirteen episodes aren’t all answered as satisfyingly as I’d hoped. (I also wished that Swchartzman got a little more screentime somehow, as I tended to really enjoy him and his monologues!)
In contrast to my comparative disappointment with the second season, there were still plenty of things that I continued to think about afterward. More, the audience does get a few answers in time, along with one reveal that had nearly as much impact as the stunning ending of episode 13, for me.
Okay, so now that I’ve finally reached this point in the review, I think it’s time to wrap things up – until my next post, where I want to try a bit of visual analysis on episode 3 of The Big O.
In the meantime, I hope I’ve made you at least a little curious about this ‘old’ anime! (It’s been in my top ten for a long time and I don’t see it leaving any time soon, but it did slip down a rung on the ladder at one point.)
Land of the Lustrous seems to be cited fairly often as a show that can change minds when it comes to anime and CGI.
I guess I’m fairly hard on CGI that I feel isn’t integrated all that well with trad techniques in the anime world, but I wouldn’t consider myself as the sort that would instantly dismiss a text due to its use of CGI either.
All of which is to say that I didn’t need convincing 🙂
The blend is great and so visually Land of the Lustrous is beautiful – the colours are vibrant and the ‘shatter’ effect is heaps of fun. Having comparatively less detailed backgrounds and settings really added to the contrast too, from the grass, to the sea and the snow. I felt bad kinda looking forward to how (visually at least) each stroke of misfortune might end up looking for the characters.
Others have said more interesting things about the visuals than I have and I doubt I’ll add anything ground-breaking about the story or characters either, but while the anime features lots of action-sequences, Land of the Lustrous is definitely character-driven.
Everything revolves around Phos and her struggle to find purpose. Many of the disasters that strike her community (generally a cyclical war between three cultures) come from her failures, choices and desire to do what’s right.
Creator Haruko Ichikawa has also given Phos plenty of great lines when it comes to injecting the comedic element, which definitely kept me smiling.
There’s also clear development for our lead character too – actually, let me pause for a sec. I’ve said ‘her’ before but in fact, Ichikawa describes the gems as being genderless and suggested as much to the translator for the English release, so it’s they for Phos and co, and maybe sometimes in the original some masculine pronouns are used too – but my Japanese is non-existent, really, so I can’t be sure.
If you like a mystery woven in around an interesting and (for now?) narrow setting, then Land of the Lustrous should also satisfy on that level. I don’t want to go into too much detail now, due to my usual fear of spoilers, but I’m keen for a second season so I can learn more!
And not just about the main storyline and the history of the gems, or the master’s connection with the invading Lunarians, but also folks like Padparadscha who I hope has a main role in the future.
Not sure whether Orange have more Land of the Lustrous on their plate for the near future, but I’m definitely keeping an eye out.
At a glance I guess Astra could be mistaken for a light comedy or teen romance set in space… but there were definitely a few surprises in store for me.
I had this on my list after folks started talking about it a while ago, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching this series – there’s heaps of things I enjoyed; fun characters, the trials of being lost in space, adventures to new planets, a ‘one of us is a traitor’ plot-line and some big science-fiction twists.
There were also plenty of comedic moments too, even a bit of fourth-wall stuff, which is always a plus. It is anime, so of course there’s an obligatory beach episode but if I’m remembering correctly, it operates to lull you into a bit of a false sense of security in regard to what’s due to follow.
Now that I’ve come this far, I’m finding Astra: Lost in Space hard to write on without kinda giving certain things away, so I’ll finish this short review by saying that Kanata is an obvious fav, and Aries jumbling up her words is always cute, but best overall moment from a character is probably Zack’s declaration of love.
Maybe take a look if you want a space adventure with some fun twists and reveals.
Fairly sure I still have a few of these posts left too, based on what I remember as having only a few images/being in need of an update. Had a bit of trouble sourcing images from my Origins disc, hoping this won’t be a recurring problem though.
To begin, I thought I should note that this is the Disney film where the team emotionally torments that poor chipmunk character, and also mention that The Sword in the Stone isn’t an exploration of the Arthurian legend.
Instead, I think you can consider it more of a series of fun, loosely connected sequences put together to delight young children with colour and slapstick. Which is not a bad thing at all, and it was a film I watched over and over as a kid on my grandmother’s TV, so I have fond memories indeed!
And it’s always great to see Disney’s love of forests on display too, something I notice and compare each time I watch a Disney film. Most of Arthur’s transformations make for exciting scenes but as an adult, I could feel certain moments starting to drag a little, and others felt a little rushed compared to what I sought from a King Arthur/Merlin tale.
One scene that sticks around a little long for me is obviously the squirrel one, whereas anything in the city tends to be a more rushed. Having Wart’s character voiced by three actors (including two brothers which was cool) made the variance between them quite stark, even too stark at times.
Overall, I don’t want to call The Sword in the Stone a bad film but there are enough better Disney ones to maybe seek out first. I still enjoyed the moat chase and the dueling magicians (when Merlin confronts Madam Mim) but I wasn’t enchanted this time around.