About ashleycapes

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.

Quick Guessing Game (7)

Hello! I wanted to squeeze in another of these before the end of the year 🙂

Six more screencaps to guess:

Again, no particular theme or era, just images I either already had or could find – and hopefully I haven’t accidentally used any repeat shows/films.

(One is perhaps a little difficult, without characters visible etc, and also being a sequel to something that was more popular.)

Heaven Official’s Blessing (More Impressions)

I wish I had more to say today, but basically – I’m still enjoying Tian Guan Ci Fu plenty and also finding it hard to wait between episodes.

The adventure feel is still really strong and what probably amounts to Xie Lian and San Lang’s first date is really cute, even if the scenes aren’t quite played that way onscreen.

One of the only seasonal shows I’m keeping up with this time around! (8 episodes in so far.)

Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006)

Le Chevalier D’Eon

The first episode of Le Chevalier D’Eon offered everything I wanted – swords, magic, twists and turns, intrigue too, and all of it taking place in historical European settings!

In fact, I remember after seeing the opening being pretty thrilled, feeling sure that I’d found a show that I knew I would love. And I would definitely put the first episode (D’Eon∴ Lia) up against most of the first episodes of my other favs for sure.

And in the end, I did love the series but I hit a wall in the middle.

I think I know why – it’s the pacing.

Now, I mentioned pacing here in one of my previous ‘Abandoned’ posts – there was a point where I felt a slight drag on the forward momentum, because I knew that our four leads were 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.

At one point, that pattern repeated itself for enough episodes to deter me, and it took a while to come back to the series, even though at the mid-way point I should have been totally unable to set Le Chevalier D’Eon to one side.

And what’s interesting to me is that I love episodic storytelling but this time around it felt like mini-arcs with not enough of the main plot woven throughout to satisfy my curiosity.

On the other hand, I certainly finished Le Chevalier D’Eon because there was so much I want to know by the end. In addition, the characters, settings and magical elements are all great – along with the swashbuckling too, of course.

But it’s not really an adventure show (despite escapes, conspiracies, monsters and swordplay etc) because as I’ve mentioned before, intrigue and politics feature heavily here. There’s even a touch of romance, but the magic (Poets and Psalms used to destroy and manipulate) are probably the main focus, along with a slew of changing loyalties.

The price of loyalty too, is a huge theme in Le Chevalier D’Eon and one that I enjoyed plenty.

I think another stand-out aspect is the range of (loose) historical elements; not just things like the various royals that our leads meet (or figures like Comte de Saint Germain and Maximilien Robespierre), but aspects that had me reading up on the real-life D’eon. In fact, it seems a shame that the existence of Lia in the anime clouds important details about D’eon.

Finally, I guess I should say, be warned, by the end there is very little left for the surviving leads to celebrate – perhaps unsurprising considering the setting.

Still, the anime was compelling for me, even when its storytelling sometimes became a little opaque or even if, as I see it, giving D’eon room to process truths about his sister is somewhat swept aside by the scope of other events.

4 Stars

(This series is sometimes compared to Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, released a bit earlier, since both are somewhat similar in themes and settings).

Amon Saga

Amon Saga (1986)

Amon Saga is classic sword and sorcery in anime form that is definitely up front about its influences – obviously via tropes common to the genre, but this revenge story might also bring to mind Schwarzenegger-era Conan too.

Elsewhere, there’s an interesting mix between what I think of as hints of Elric of Melniboné and ‘D’ from Vampire Hunter D.

And maybe that’s partly due to the character designs by Yoshitaka Amano?

The OVA also has a few exciting sequences and some memorable moments and characters (for me, it’s Alcan who almost steals the show) yet what I think what I enjoyed most was the visuals – especially the use of colour and shadow. Some older films, especially those that pre-date modern CGI techniques, spend a lot more time on composition, on shadow or colour, and while my screencaps probably don’t back up my claim, it’s definitely there.

I really enjoyed Amon Saga but it’s probably not one I’ll watch annually, despite the visuals.

There’s a lot to like there but the story didn’t match it, I think, whether because of what I thought was a bit of missing world-building or the sense that Amon rode off into the sunset simply ‘because’, or the fact that I didn’t really get to know him enough.

However, if you like retro anime, fantasy and adventure, then this is still going to satisfy on some levels at least, even if it probably won’t end up your new favourite.

3 Stars

Thanks to Josh for bringing this to my attention too 🙂

Not my best screencap effort here 😀
The transfer for my DVD seems a bit darker than it probably looked upon release.

A Liquid Top Ten (2020, Quarter Four)

December is here (somehow)! Hope you’re all safe – I’m back with an update to my Top Ten… which is to say, I’m updating some things that are lurking just beyond and I also have one ‘shuffle’ change 😀

As usual with these posts you can click here for a preamble along with the parameters (no films etc etc) and also some reasoning re: why I included the ten titles I chose back in quarter 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)


The List – Quarter Three

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)


The List – Quarter Four

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
Trigun (1998)
The Big O (1999)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Kids on the Slope (2012)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


Just some shuffling up there, reflecting no doubt, my semi-recent re-watch of Trigun.

But in the beyond, where other shows are jostling for position in my mind, there’s also something I missed in the past, which is Land of the Lustrous which is not just visually amazing but features a really fun mythology and plenty of memorable characters too.


(Still!) Outside the List (for now)

This (unranked) list includes shows that I reckon are pretty close/could well sneak into the top ten one day. Again, the longer I do this, the more I’m finding a lot of this process relates to mood as much as anything else. I still suspect that this is where most of the changes will occur over the years.

Land of the Lustrous (2017)
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)
The Great Passage (2016)
Dororo (2019)
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)
Vision of Escaflowne (1996)


As before, I’m always looking for classics to add to the list if anything you think I’d like is missing, just lemme know 😀

Thanks for reading!

Anime OP-ED (November 2020)

Third in this little regular post – you can jump back to September where the first post can be found, but this time around it’s a couple of older songs that I’ll quickly share:

“Shell” by Bana (Witch Hunter Robin, 2002)

Suits the tone of the series really well – and it’s got an interesting mix of early 2000s hard rock and power-ballad going on too.

“See you Space Cowboy” by Yoko Kanno/Seatbelts feating Mai Yamane (Cwoboy Bebop, 1998)

This is a perhaps an even more sombre version of the regular ending theme, and maybe hits harder due to where it appears in the series.

But I love this alternate version from the tweak on mood to the vibraphone and the way it still packs a bit of a punch even as it’s more restrained. If you like city-pop you might also recognise Mai Yamane’s distinctive voice from her solo career too.

Okay, next time in December… going for metal perhaps, we’ll see what I can come up with!

Quick Guessing Game (6)

Returning!

Here’s another six screencaps to guess – well, 5 pics and 1 gif:

(Still struggling to complete an entire review, lately and I have a few shows to actually write-up, so I’m a bit behind. December might be the return of the ‘regular review’ schedule… maybe!)

50 Favourites (& just a line or two for each)

I guess this post really steps on the toes of my other ‘top/fav’ posts, but I tend to like lists a lot, despite their extremely low functional value!

Of course, as with all posts like this that I make, you’ll notice gaps in my viewing. You’ll also probably pick up on my obvious love of certain genres like sci-fi, fantasy and action, but I do occasionally watch stuff that doesn’t fit those labels 😀

(Only the top ten are actually ranked, the rest I just listed randomly because I gave up on ranking very quickly. TV/OVA releases only.)

50 Favourites

Cowboy Bebop (1998)

No surprises from me here, right? This series has had an amazing life so far – I’m hoping the Netflix adaptation won’t end up as an awful footnote.

Ergo Proxy (2006)

One of my all-time fav science-fiction titles in any medium. Featuring Amy Lee of Evanesence too… well, not really.

Mushi-Shi (2006)

Episodic storytelling done so well – beautiful series too, sombre as it can be.

The Big O (1999)

Batman meets Bond but with retro mecha and a gripping mystery. Even though the second season isn’t quite as good as the first, there’s a lot to enjoy for me.

Trigun (1998)

One day I reckon Trigun will creep up higher on this list – and it’s hard not to enjoy such a good-natured hero too. I tend to like post-apocalyptic fiction and westerns, so this was always going to be featured 😀

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)

Is this actually an underappreciated series? I’m not sure… mostly when I see it mentioned, it’s because folks like it a lot. Memorable characters and action-sequences with some ‘slow-burn’ aspects here.

Steins;Gate (2011)

One of the more recent shows on my list – and it’s pretty much ten years old already. Great time-travel science-fiction with a side-order of ‘tear-jerker’.

Neon Genesis (1995)

Perhaps because of the bitterly divisive ending, I think I actually like Evangelion even more now than back when I was a teenager.

Kids on the Slope (2012)

Jazz, coming of age themes, historical fiction and stories about being in a band – yes to all!

Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)

Flawed in a different way to Neon Genesis, this is one of my favourite adventure series out there. I’ve written a few posts on it too 😀

Gunbuster (1988)

I remember how hard the ending hit that first time – I have to watch this again and review soon.

Samurai Champloo (2004)

It’s interesting to see just how different Watanabe’s Champloo is to Cowboy Bebop – while being very similar in terms of genre mash-up/heavy incorporation of US culture and music. Another great cast of characters too, I’ve nearly had this in my top ten a few times.

Full Metal Alchemist (2003)

That’s right folks – not Brotherhood. This is what I saw first and I haven’t finished Brotherhood yet, so I can’t compare properly. But I will add, this version has more Maes Hughes.

Haikyuu!! (2014)

I don’t know a lot of sports anime but I play volleyball and love underdog stories, and so I loved the mix of realistic stuff and drama here 🙂

Ushio and Tora (2015)

Classic supernatural shonen – I really enjoyed the buddy-cop aspects too, and wish more folks had seen this.

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (1998)

Sword and sorcery is one of my all-time fav genres and the Lodoss series hits a lot of marks – aside from the RPG stuff, it has a lot of cool 1990s-era visuals that I dig, like the designs and split screens.

FLCL (2003)

One of my former students recommended this to me one year and boy does it stand out among anime – does some fascinating things with medium and style. Great OST too.

Pyscho-Pass (2012)

Disturbing vision of the future – a new classic, or at least, Season 1 is in my opinion, but I haven’t seen the others yet.

RahXephon (2002)

I nearly missed this amazing mecha show, one of my favs of the genre. It’s probably more mystical, more of a drama than being an anime of constant battles but I liked that.

Witch Hunter Robin (2002)

Another supernatural anime, this one suffering a bit from that early CGI-look but compelling leads in my opinion and so I don’t notice too much in the end.

Casshern Sins (2008)

This is a pretty bleak series really, but it’s a memorable reboot, a lot of contrast between grace and decay throughout.

Battle Angel (1993)

I still wish this had been a full series instead of a short OVA but it’s a great adaptation of a seminal cyberpunk work nevertheless.

Claymore (2006)

Here’s another ‘unfinished’ show, and one that I wish had been given a fuller ending. Still, if you’re in the mood for bloody action and revenge, then Claymore should deliver.

Pumpkin Scissors (2006)

In my review I mentioned a slight FMA resemblance here but it’s no copycat and I really liked the idea of a small team trying to do post-war recovery.

The Dragon Dentist (2017)

Something released within the last five years! I remember being enthralled by the opening sea battle but everything else was great too.

Outlaw Star (1998)

Space opera is one of my other fav genres and Outlaw Star checks a lot of boxes, from the mis-matched crew to mystery, action and humour, and of course, space!

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (2016)

Horror with a dash of steampunk – grim but not without a few uplifting moments, the ‘trapped on a moving thing’ was a nice way to offer extra tension.

Kurogane Communication (1998)

Few seem to have heard of this but it’s such a great positive dystopian show – fascinating that each ep is only around 12 mins too.

Bubblegum Crisis (1998)

That’s right. The ‘90s version – that’s the one I’m going with, folks. And basically, it’s in part because I saw it first and have a fondness for this version.

Blood Blockade Battlefront (2015)

As a fan of Yasuhiro Nightow I was excited to try this out one day and it’s wonderfully over the top – still hoping for a third season.

Violet Evergarden (2018)

Once more into the tearjerker sub-genre! Beautiful stuff from top to bottom, it’s also a nice to see letter-writing in the foreground.

Golden Kamuy (2018)

The wartime period, the winter setting, the unlikely duo and the treasure-hunt makes this so good, but there’s also a chance for me to learn about another culture with the Ainu so that’s another draw for me when it came to Golden Kamuy.

Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997)

Maybe a bit like Princess Knight but with more fairy tale surrealism even, this is a classic but not one beloved by all, I think. The aesthetic has that elvish, angular look that was big in the past too, and which I usually enjoy.

The Vision of Escaflowne (1996)

Another classic shojo, this with more action and a whole lot of mecha as well. It’s a great mix and characters definitely stand out here, along with the range of romantic sub-plots.

Read or Die (OVA) (2001)

If you want to see Mata Hari, Genjo Sanzo and Ludwig van Beethoven (among others), battling it out with secret agent heroes with inventive powers, in an easy to digest 3-part OVA, then this is worth finding!

Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006)

Featuring one of my all-time fav opening episodes, this is a heavy mix of politics, swordplay and magic as a team of musketeers traverse Europe, hunting evil ‘Poets’. (More when I write a full review one day!)

Black Lagoon (2006)

Crime, action and fan-service in this ‘girls-with-guns’ classic, set in a fictional SE Asia during the 1990s but with a more modern aesthetic.

Gundam Wing (1995)

Compared to at home, this was another anime that seemed to do better years later in the US, and was my proper introduction to the world of Gundam.

Lupin the Third (1971)

Another classic. It’s fascinating to see the tonal shift here, from the early Ōsumi episodes to the majority Miyazaki/Takahata ones, but once you see those first seven or so, it becomes clear how much they had an impact on Watanabe and Cowboy Bebop.

Astro Boy (1980)

Ah, before I knew what anime was, there was Astro Boy and Osamu Tezuka’s unwillingness to shy away from tough themes in a kids show. Burnt into my memory 🙂

Ride Back (2009)

I really enjoyed this and was thinking I’d have loved it just as much if it remained focused on racing alone – but there are definitely a few layers, here.

Arte (2020)

Historical setting in Italy, a series about art and artists and an underdog heroine with a positive outlook – all pluses! This was a fun series that I’ve like to see more of but I dunno if it was popular enough.

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)

Nostalgia trip! Having played in rock and metal bands as a teen and into my 20s, this was a great music/teen drama.

Gurren Lagann (2007)

A fair while ago on the blog, I tried to figure out what I thought was a ‘classic’ and ended up deciding that certainly, the age of a show wasn’t the only thing worth considering. This is classic mecha with enough humour to fit in parody elements too.

Berserk (1997)

More sword and sorcery anime, something I haven’t really seen for a long time, it seems (outside of the portal fantasy genre at least). Well, maybe ‘dark fantasy’ is a better genre, though the series is less so than the manga.

Demon Slayer (2019)

Ah, another recent anime in my list, this is typical shonen from top to bottom but visually striking – with a couple of flaws; the failures to really use Nezuko in the narrative and… well, Zenitsu.

Made in Abyss (2017)

Adventure, mystery and suffering! I’m quite keen to see the film one day, to see how those kids survive against serious odds.

Hozukis Coolheadedness (2014)

I’m not familiar with a lot of comedy anime, but the premise forced me to take a look – hell as a bureaucracy, with the demon Hozuki tasked with running the show while his superiors slack off.

Granblue Fantasy (2017)

Anime based on games are hit and miss for me but this has a fairly light feel to the fantasy adventure and I liked it. Fond memories of binging this with the flu one year!

Ghost in the Shell SAC (2002)

Obviously fairly different from the seminal film but still pretty awesome – and I finally get to include some more cyberpunk on this list!


Done!

That took longer than I thought, but there we go at last.

50 Favs (for now) and there’s certainly a few more I could have included – I have twelve or so left over, all vying for a place in the list 😀

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Early Impressions)

I started a fair few shows from the current season but haven’t really drifted back to many of them yet – with one exception, Tian Guan Ci Fu.

Only the first 4 episodes are available but I’m enjoying it a lot – it has plenty of things I love: action, fantasy, historical aspects and fantastic costumes, lovely art and engaging characters, so I’ll definitely continue on.

This early, the romance hasn’t really kicked off – in fact, the show is a little darker, more supernatural perhaps than I was expecting, but that’s not a problem at all. Xie Lian is a great lead too and I’m keen to see how he’ll hold his own against the Demon King.

I’m also enjoying this introduction to the Xianxia genre (which is closely related to Wuxia, I believe), with the heroes not just being warriors but also gods – which creates some interesting problems for the story; how to make them not too overpowered too early etc

Looking forward to more!

It’s also my first introduction (I think) to Chinese animation group Haoliners Animation League, and this is beautiful work so I’ll definitely seek more of their productions in time.

I will say, that I have one minor issue so far, which is with the typsetting for the subtitles, they’re a touch small. Obviously, that’s because both the Japanese and English are placed onscreen, one above the other. Maybe that’s just my poor distance vision, but the alternative is to have no translation at all, and I would not like that!

Treasure Planet

I believe Treasure Planet was at one point among the most expensive animated films ever made, and while that obviously didn’t automatically make it brilliant, I think the movie is still pretty great.

Treasure Planet (2002)

Equally, it’s ‘under-performance’ box-office wise doesn’t automatically make it poor, either.

To me, this early 2000s era of Disney is kind of a push toward making animated films for somewhat older audiences. This one and Atlantis or even Hercules perhaps, seem to point to that (since-abandoned) trend, but most folks consider the time period as a slump for the company.

Still, tweaking Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island and transferring it into a sci-fi setting definitely let the artists showcase a new world and fun ideas (like the solar surfing) while at the same time holding onto a tried and true storyline.

For me, everything pretty much works great in the change from sea pirates to sky pirates.

There are a few aspects I didn’t love (like poor old Ben), but they were minor. One thing that stood out were the performances, especially Brian Murray as John Silver and David Hyde Pierce as Dr Doppler, though it was impossible not to hear Niles Crane the whole time 😀 (I was also thrilled to recognise Roscoe Lee Browne as Mr Arrow.)

While I’ve hinted at the maybe slightly older audience here, our hero Jim never crosses over into what could be called ‘cold-blooded, weapons-based violence’ – even to save himself. So that’s one reason for me to note that it’s still clearly a PG text, but that’s not a mark against the film either.

There’s a classic, adventure mix of action, suspense, mystery and exploration in Treasure Planet but above all for me, I think it’s the mentor/surrogate father figure relationship that keeps everything together.

4 Stars

This is what I always think of as the ‘One-Eyed Willie’ homage, just with bonus eyes of course.