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.

SoltyRei

SoltyRei (2006)

[Spoilers appear further below]

Two things bugged me about SoltyRei, although otherwise I really enjoyed the series – but I’ll get to those two storytelling issues in a moment.

SoltyRei has a lot of aspects that I tend to seek out in an anime; a futuristic setting, mechanised gear, even an android to go with the other science fiction tropes. It also features bounty hunting and conspiracy plotlines, and there are some moe elements that bring a fun balance, though I could see some folks making the argument that those aspects clash with the more serious bits. 

The series is quite character-driven, featuring a fairly large cast, but remaining mostly focused on Roy’s compelling struggle as a father, along with Solty’s adjustment to human society. While the large cast means certain storylines rise and fall in terms of importance and screen time, they certainly do tie together in the end.

The anime has an episodic feel in terms of cases that the unlikely pair of Roy and Solty must solve (at first), but the main storyline does come to the fore quickly enough.

Tonally, there are a lot of lighter moments (it was fun seeing Solty learn to cook for example) and while her solo-travelling arc stood out too, it’s not wholly uplifting even if it was among my favourite episodes. Above all other elements, I think Roy figuring out how to take emotional risks once more was the thing that hooked me most. There you can see the classic ‘detective with a troubled past’ trope, but I’m one to dig anything vaguely film noir 🙂

I’m about to get to my two main issues, which will include spoilers, but firstly, the fan-service can present another drinking game opportunity if you’re watching the direction. (Partial spoilers right below too).

Before they kill off a few of the female characters, Gonzo and AIC never miss an opportunity to get the girls into showers, baths or pools. And if you do need to get drunk (to borrow that game from Irina) just take a drink each time there’s a low-angle panning up Rose’s legs or a shot framed to ensure Solty’s shapely butt is visible.

Okay! To the problems I mentioned earlier – I think I’m extremely forgiving when it comes to most shows, and I know that not everything I consider a fault is a deal-breaker (or even a problem) for each viewer, but I wanted to raise two character issues:

  • Our villain, Ashley Lynx has a reason for being what he is, but that information is rushed in at the end, in time for his death scene. It seemed like this was done to evoke some last-minute sympathy – but I didn’t care about him so it didn’t land for me. Had some of this info been delivered earlier, I think his ending would have packed a punch – because there’s some sincere tragedy going on, but it ends up tied to a generic villain that doesn’t get the chance to be much more.
  • Rose is presented in quite an inconsistent way for such a vital character. Her motivations are both contradictory and/or hidden from the audience at different times, making her actions seem bizarre instead of mysterious. And while things were half-explained retroactively, during the period where the audience was kept in the dark, I lost some interest in her future. (This obviously lessened the impact of the ending episodes for me).
  • Half the time, as I watched her playing at villain I was thinking you have no reason to do this and you’re far too smart to fall for this tosh. And I remember thinking those things because previous episodes had taken some pains to establish Rose as clever and as having her own stubborn moral code. When she went ‘off-script’ for no reason, I didn’t find it intriguing, I found it an example of poor charactarisation – not the choice to have her essentially switch sides, but what I thought was a failure to present her motivation onscreen.

Now having spent all that time attacking the way important info about Rose was presented, I’ll also say that I reckon some things about her certainly are foreshadowed well.

Elsewhere, there were enough hints of upcoming things to keep me satisfied in that department overall, but for the anime as an entire story, I’m not sure whether my rating below is slightly reactionary.

For instance, I thought SoltyRei really was ‘great’… save for those two flaws, and so maybe my disappointment drives it down to ‘good’? I dunno, what’s in a rating, right?

(Again, the general sci-fi elements and Roy’s struggle were real highlights for me, in spite of the issues I mentioned above; in fact, those things rise above my doubts about the charactarisation in the end anyway – and there’s a great final episode too.)

3.5 Stars

Casshern Sins (キャシャーン SINS) (Extra Post)

Here I wanted to share a few more images and go over two things that I mentioned last post, in a tiny bit more detail. It seemed best not to have that post drag on any longer, and so this second post might be better.

First, I’ll include an example of the fight sequence style, second will be that ‘cracking’ effect and as it turns out there’s a “thirdly” further below too – I might just share some final random shots I liked.

So, this one is something you’ll see both Casshern and Lyuze do fairly often – leaping over enemies and tearing into them on the way down, and often wide shots aren’t the focus but instead it’s POV shots looking up.

The sequence will finish with the sliced-in-half moment, as another Redshirt robot bites the dust. (I should have included the preceding moment for this sequence, but it turns out I missed it).

These impact shots are always fun too.

For the second thing I wanted to note, a quick quote from the previous post:

(Sometimes the sharp, ‘snapping’ approach to the Ruin (for robots at least) made me wonder whether Land of the Lustrous and their shattering crystals were accidentally foreshadowed here, which was fun.)

It’s great detail but obviously these stills lack a bit of impact without motion or sound involved, but you get the idea.

And finally, just a few bits and pieces from different parts of the series with a note or two, mostly stuff I wanted to include before but again, I didn’t want that first post to run forever.

I wish this had been followed up a little more in the story.
Sometimes the colour changes to something far warmer than the usual wasteland. Elsewhere, greens are usually avoided.
This song was pretty cool, with the multi-tracked vocals by voice actress Nami Miyahara.

Not precisely the villain, but definitely one of the bad guys, Braiking Boss in his 2008 form and classic form below.

And there we go – second post on Casshern Sins completed!

One day, I’ll link back here when I’ve found and seen the 1973 series, or perhaps I’ll be able to locate the OVA from the 90s first.

Casshern Sins (キャシャーン SINS)

Moody stuff from this reboot of the 1973* anime; a bleak, quiet series that still has a steady stream of battles but which divided fans upon release.

I know that changing the tone (and also canonical story elements) with a reboot can be risky, but without having seen the original, I basically accepted the anime ‘as is’, though I could see the influence of the past on the character design for sure.

But it’s time to get to the premise – which is, the overpowered robot Casshern wanders a wasteland that is falling further into ruin, a ruin that he created, but cannot remember. On top of this, nearly everyone wants to kill him because they believe it will save them from the relentless decay.

It’s a grim story full of desperate folks, shown in shadow or washed out colours, contrasted by the brightness of a few key characters, mostly Ringo. I was pretty much enchanted, which is an odd word perhaps, considering what I’ve just described, but I was hooked by the visuals and also the need for Casshern to succeed, to make things better.

Earlier in the review, I mentioned that there were a lot of battles but it’s not precisely an action-heavy series. In addition to the destruction of many, many robots, the anime features an equal or higher share of silences, wandering, or characters facing off with their stares as much as anything else. It’s dramatic, and that drama is matched by the direction or at least, shot composition, with all the extreme close-ups being fish-eyed, and plenty of silhouette shots too.

More, the drama continues via the stylised, at times samurai-like combat, which ranges from ‘single slash’ to ‘slow-motion-acrobatic’. I think it’s very much about maintaining the graceful aesthetic that the slender characters posses. On a vaguely related not, it’s interesting that Lyuze has less of the ‘70s vibe of others, and more a 2000s ‘urban’ costume.

Time to switch to dot points, I think:

  • Staying with the action sequences a moment, many are quick, to show Casshern’s dominance, but the first struggle against Dio is great, it had the most tension for me – more so than their final encounter.
  • Luna is a pretty great villain, an extremely selfish thing that operates almost on reactionary whim, which makes her a fantastic false prophet in a way.
  • Ringo is almost unbearably bright and cute – and thus very welcome, a very necessary character that brings balance, I reckon.
  • One of my favourite characters is Dune, but I have a bit of trivia instead of a note about the character. I found it interesting that same voice actor is behind both Dune and Akoes – but more so, it is the criminally underrated Yūto Nakano, whom I instantly recognised as ‘Ginko’ from Mushi-Shi.  
  • Sometimes the sharp, ‘snapping’ approach to the ruin (for robots) made me wonder whether Land of the Lustrous and their shattering crystals were accidentally foreshadowed here, which was fun.
  • Character design was a real stand out for me across the series – there’s the extreme grace of the key robots like Casshern, Dio, Leda and Lyuze etc, but the ‘redshirt’ robots are far blockier, far more 70s but in a different way. Sometimes, I got a Code Geass feel too, especially due to the prominence of triangles, and with some of the more insectoid looks.
  • There’s an episode for Lyuze that’s kinda odd, but I think I see mostly what it was going for with her internal struggle.
  • Across the whole of Casshern Sins, the episodic wandering half feels like it contains more of my favourite moments, like those with singer Janice or Margo the painter perhaps.
  • Because it’s ultimately a dystopian show, there’s that loss of ‘humanity’ which turns the desperate into the animalistic, and really adds to the bleakness. However, when I think about contrasting scenes with bright, more vivid colours (often featuring flowers and general cuteness) these moments are often undercut by the menace of fear – my worry for Ringo or other innocents.
  • And further, there’s a fantastically melancholy soundtrack, which is beautiful but has a similar function to underscore the threat of the ruin, the transient nature of everything in Casshern’s world.
  • Transience is definitely a key theme, and how different characters deal with that knowledge, whether it’s a more gentle approach like Ohji or a more pitiful – and probably contemptible one – like with Leda.

To finish at last, I want to mention the ending – because Casshern Sins is definitely about robots fighting, but it’s also a redemption quest that doesn’t quite work out the way I was expecting, which was great.

There are a few ‘final’ fights in those last episodes but the real climax is actually Casshern’s promise to Luna, which I won’t spoil, but it’s an extremely satisfying close to the anime’s theme, even if it isn’t an all-guns blazing conclusion.

5 Stars

* One day I’d like to compare the two eras, especially because I think it’ll be a stark contrast.

[Turns out I have more than one post in mind for Casshern Sins, so I’ll link it here but it’s mostly because I took too many screencaps (as usual!). In the post, I’ll go over a few things I mention here, I think, like the ‘shatter effect’ and some of the combat or small things I didn’t include here.]

Update Quest 2020 (3)

As I mentioned with the first and also second of these posts, I’m heading back to old reviews and expanding/updating/adding things to them – mostly (but not exclusively) pictures as it turns out.

And so, here are the contestants for update post #3:

Steamboy
Blood Blockade Battlefront
The Napping Princess
Fractale
Armitage III

Spriggan (Supurigan)

Spriggan (Supurigan) 1998

So! I was stunned to learn that Netflix is creating a series for Spriggan and that it’s due next year.

I think you could argue that it suits their action/sci-fi-heavy anime catalouge, but I guess I’m still surprised that Spriggan, which seems kinda ‘forgotten’ maybe, would be picked. In any event, I’m definitely looking forward to it because I think there’s room to expand the story, as compared to this 1998 film adaptation of Hiroshi Takashige’s manga.

And this is most certainly a film for action fans.

Spriggan is packed full of blistering, superhero-style battles and action sequences (even a touch of DBZ in there at times) and before you (maybe) groan at the idea of another schoolkid with unrealistic abilities, Spriggan does address that seeming oddity.

To very quickly talk premise: the story features two powerful groups vying for control over a world-altering artefact, with young hero Yu taking the lead as the top agent tasked with preventing misuse of said artefact.

For Studio 4°C this is quite opposite in tone etc to a latter film like Children of the Sea (which is the most recent comparative text I’ve seen) but the same level of care and attention to detail appears onscreen, with some cracking action sequences, as I mentioned above. Among the best I’ve seen in any anime.

Now, most folks seem to have problems with the story, and it does take a backseat to the action but it’s not like the plot is wildly swinging from one idea to another. Instead, maybe it’s just that a few important things (like Yu’s past, perhaps) don’t get a whole lot of screentime.

Katsuhiro Otomo was involved as a supervisor, and maybe you might then think of Akira in superficial ways (mind powers and sci-fi in general) but Spriggan is definitely closer to an American action film, fast-paced, violent and even far-fetched.

All the things that made it fun, perhaps.

4 Stars

You can’t quite tell here, but this guy is about to throw that helicopter.
Watch out, dude

Maybe #2 (Akudama Drive, Moriarty the Patriot, Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina and MAGATSU WAHRHEIT )

A little similar to my ‘Abandoned’ posts I thought I’d do a second ‘Maybe’ one – though this time it’s doubling as a seasonal sampling kinda thing, I suppose 🙂

So I’ve seen episode one (or two) of each of these four shows and have yet to decide which I’ll keep going with. Well, it’d probably more accurate to say, which I’ll watch weekly, which I’ll save for later, and which one I’ll do write-ups on episode-per-episode.

(As I mentioned before, I don’t think I can keep up with reviewing two seasonal shows each week).

Akudama Drive

I’ve been hoping that there would be a science-fiction/action show this season and Akudama Drive seems like a cyberpunk feast when it comes to the visuals – though I’ve chosen a deceptively happy split second from the episode.

This feels like it will be way over the top, though at this incredibly early stage I don’t yet have a reason to get invested with most of the cast.

Moriarty the Patriot

As this is a detective show, I’ll probably give it a shot at least for a few more episodes. The idea that Holmes’ nemesis was once fighting for the unfortunate is fun, so I enjoyed this opening episode.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina

I think this will be more generally cute stuff amongst episodic storytelling, more so than say, something like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Little Witch Academia – which certainly doesn’t disqualify it for me.

However, two episodes in and I think I’ll save this to watch every now and then, rather than each week.

MAGATSU WAHRHEIT

I quickly got a sense that this would have a large scale, from the opening shots, and there is a lot going on – in a good way. I could probably watch this weekly but maybe I won’t write about it each time, to manage my time better. (Based on a video game, which doesn’t automatically mean it will be a poor show by any means).


Anything caught your eye for this season? (There are a few shows on CR that I can access (just not so easily via web, compared to if I had the app) but I haven’t listed them here).

Escaflowne (Esukafurōne)

Wow, talk about a shift in tone!

Escaflowne (Esukafurōne) 2000

I’d always considered the Escaflowne movie as only vaguely related to the series but now that I’ve re-watched both recently, it’s even more obvious that the movie is not meant to be considered a ‘re-telling’ at all.

The shift obviously plays out visually and via a new tone to both storyline and characters, but something I hadn’t known until checking out the special features, is that director Kazuki Akane very deliberately made those changes.

He mentions that a key audience for the series, ninth-grade girls, would have grown old enough to reach college or join the workforce and “hit various roadblocks and probably have a lot of worries”. Upon reflection, he felt that due to making a film for them, that “the story couldn’t help but become more serious and dark.”

This idea that, four years later, teens who loved The Vision of Escaflowne series might be struggling with disappointments in life really does play out on the screen, not just via Hitomi’s listless, depressed temperament, but the darker, angrier more viscous action that has all but replaced the romance and intrigue from the series.

At first I’d thought that this had been a shift toward the clichéd things sometimes aimed at teenage male audiences, but the comments from Akane really put the film in a new light for me.

The changes that obviously matter the most to fans are around character, and some I really love. It’s nice to see Millerna happy, and while Allen is now under-utilised, at least Merle is no longer tediously jealous. I’m in two minds about Van, whose bloodlust can be a bit overdone, whereas folks like Jajuka have less time onscreen… but he certainly has an interesting role still.

Biggest among the adjustments, and perhaps most divisive among viewers, is Hitomi, who changes from decisive and ultimately positive, to listless and depressed. She might even take on the damsel role a little here but I feel like it mostly worked in the context of the movie – she doesn’t get a lot of time to adjust to being thrust into a terrifying new world.

Many of the character designs were changed for the film too (still by Nobuteru Yūki*) and some of them I like a lot, or at least can appreciate re: how they suit the film’s darker mood. First among them could be Jajuka, but Allen is ‘tougher’ now (same with Van) and Folken has gone from a vaguely Bowie-ish hairstyle to full on Labrythin-era locks.

I won’t go over the plot now, but it’s a classic portal fantasy with ‘save the world’ stakes – instead, I’ll mention a few other things I really enjoyed. Of course, the music by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi is great once more, especially everyone’s favourite piece Sora. (Okay, maybe it’s not your favourite but the constructed language is haunting and the little homage to Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie is tops too).

Masahiko Minami and co had only just left Sunrise to form Bones when they did Escaflowne and the studio really pulls out all the stops here.

I’ve read that a few sequences were also doubling as showcases for animators and so if you liked the work of Yutaka Nakamura in things like Sword of the Stranger then the you’ll enjoy the action here – most of all perhaps that opening fight sequence. It’s a real high point, especially due to the non-conventional lighting and colour. [Spoilers in the next paragraph].

Now I’ll switch to a couple of criticisms.

In an echo of the television series, I didn’t feel that Folken’s motivation was shown all that well. However, probably my biggest issue with the storyline is probably his final encounter with the heroes. On one hand it satisfies due to a certain character striking the killing blow. Their motivation is strong, even with no more than single piece of foreshadowing.

But on the other it was surprising than neither Van nor Hitomi actually play a role in that ending. In a way, the climactic action scene is actually the mech fight between Van and the cool, calm and collected Dilandu.

Of course, the finale of a film doesn’t have to include a fight (action-genre or not) for me to enjoy things. But I’m sure the trade off disappointed some people with Folken’s last scene, as that moment of surprise comes at the cost of some emotional impact, I reckon.

In the end, this might appeal most to action and fantasy fans rather than romance viewers. Perhaps treat the Escaflowne film as something quite unlike the series, and let it stand ‘as is’ – a beautifully animated, dark action film that mixes fantasy and a little mecha with only slight touches of romance.

4 Stars

*Probably one of my favourite character designers, who has also worked on things like Kids on the Slope,The Weathering Continent, X, Record of Lodoss War, Battle Angel Alita and RPGs like Chrono Cross and Seiken Densetsu 3.

(I had to share the horse laughing, even though my screencap is obviously a little ‘off’ here :D)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Upon re-watching Sleeping Beauty recently I was fascinated to realise that the three fairies are pretty much the main characters 🙂

Obviously they’re not the only characters, but they probably have the most screentime for one and they also take many of the important risks. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather also devise all the plans, in addition to providing the only good comic relief while at the same time being responsible for saving everyone around them!

Of course Auroa and Phillpip have nice singing voices but I think for a lot of people Maleficent stands out most in terms of character – she’s a pretty superb villain, capable of true cruelty, and her colour scheme of green, purple and black is unnerving too.

Visually, I was enthralled.

It wasn’t just the tremendous dragon/forest of thorns scene, but elsewhere too, the art and backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty are amazing – the detail on the bark upon the trees alone is just so great!

The whole forest, really – especially with those distinctive shapes and textures, but many of the castle scenes stood out too. I really liked the illusion of depth there, via that amazing multi-plane camera set up Disney was known for.

However, I was interested to hear something quite dull from director Geronimi – who I believe was unhappy with the art direction and backgrounds by Eyvind Earle, feeling that no-one would even look backgrounds. What a fool, huh? 😀

Sure, I doubt kids of the day would have cared that much but I would like to think that surely, one part of why Sleeping Beauty has endured over other Disney films has to be the art, because I don’t think the film stands above several other Disney titles around due to its storytelling, which I thought was pretty uneven.

On that claim, there’s a bit too much time spent on what I’d call filler, I guess – my favourite example being the two kings in that endless scene where they discuss and agree to things which have already been agreed to.

Even so, I’m really glad I watched this again because if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on some amazing stuff, especially the work of Eyvind Earle.

4 Stars (one of which is probably for the art alone)

By the power of Grayskull!

Kai Doh Maru (Kaidōmaru)

Kai Doh Maru (Kaidōmaru) 2001

I got the sense that Kai Doh Maru (and its focus on incorporating CGI into the storytelling) was somewhat connected to the same Production IG approach and era that included Blood: The Last Vampire.

The visual style of Kai Doh Maru is striking in a different way however, thanks to the washed out or water-colour look, an aesthetic the team use to evoke a historical feel. And it is distinctive, but watching it now… the early 2000s CGI is quite dated, at times reminding me of old architectural software, due to that flatness.

On the other hand, direction of the sharp action sequences feels great – and when colour appears it really stands out. I also liked both character design and the soundtrack but overall this isn’t one of my favourite OVAs.

The main issue I had was with the pacing and plot. Since Kai Doh Maru is around 40 minutes long, and takes on a pretty large story, there are a lot of gaps in what occurs onscreen. If I knew the Heian period and stories around the Shitennō well, maybe I’d have followed better – especially in regard to what I’d consider an abrupt ending. (And so maybe that’s not a fault of the storytelling truly, but a deficiency in my knowledge.)

Further, I surely missed many subtleties throughout due to that. I did pick up on the heavily restrained romance between Lord Raiko and our heroine of course – but having said that, the focus is on war, politics and historical details. There’s also a supernatural element too, but I won’t spoil how it’s used.

I certainly don’t see Kai Doh Maru mentioned much, even among older fans, but it’s memorable even if I don’t precisely think I enjoyed it from top to bottom.

2.5 Stars

Update Quest 2020 (2)

As I mentioned with the first one of these posts, I’m heading back to old reviews and expanding/updating/adding things to them – mostly (but not exclusively) pictures as it turns out.

I have a few more of these posts to complete, but not sure when the third one will be ready at this stage.

In any event, here’s the second batch, some of which I have actually added text to as well:

Ghost in the Shell: Innocence
Children of Whales
Paprika
My Neighbour Totoro
Eureka Seven AO