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

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!

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

Update Quest 2020

For the next month or maybe more, I want to go back to my old reviews and expand/update/add things to them. Mostly, that will be pictures I think – but sometimes I’ll add a few more bits and pieces to the actual reviews as well.

Especially if I’ve changed my mind about something.

But I think for the most part, it’s going to be pictorial updates – so if you’re bored and wanted to browse, here are the first five reviews from the Heap, which I’ve just finished updating 🙂

Spirited Away
Claymore
Green Legend Ran
Battle Angel
Whisper of the Heart

Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko)

Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko) 2019

I watched Children of the Sea a little while ago, and afterwards I stuck with the aquatic-theme for a couple more films. One of those movies was Ride Your Wave* while the other was obviously Weathering With You, which I’ll write about now 😀

I’m also going to kick off the post with something different compared to my usual review structure, and share this from director Makoto Shinkai:

“I thought, ‘Should I make my next film so that I don’t anger more people, or should I make a movie that angers them further?’ And I chose the latter.”

Here, he’s talking about Weathering with You as per a quote that appears in this Variety article, and I was really interested in the context around that statement… but I’ll actually come back to it later. I guess I’m raising it now to frame the idea that Weathering with You is maybe more reactionary than a lot of his previous work – and that’s probably not a surprise, considering the enormous success of Your Name.

If you haven’t come across Weathering with You yet, it’s a teen drama/romance-fantasy told in a wonderfully ‘saturated’ way, and I didn’t really mean for that to be a pun.  

I guess what I mean is that Shinkai’s fascination with and also his devotion to water, light and colour certainly continues: everything looks so beautiful, whether it’s CGI or traditional animation. In fact, you could argue that it’s crushingly beautiful, and the detail – the atmosphere, the way you really sink into the setting, it’s all quite dream-like in a way.

[Spoilers from here on] For me, the visual elements are enough to compensate for what seemed like a slightly less cohesive story overall. Something about it didn’t quite pull together as neatly as say, Your Name (or his older films) and I wonder if I needed just a few more scraps of info re: what main character Hodaka was running from, for one. Feeling suffocated by a place – I buy that 100%, but maybe just a little more on specifics at home?

I also craved some extra follow-up on a few threads by the end and I’m not sure Hina turning her back on all technology for three years feels right? Related, would Hodaka not have attempted to contact her in some way (and vice-a-versa)?

Apologies, but I’m going to jump around again as I want to mention some other things that I enjoyed, before eventually circling back to Shinkai’s quote.

Firstly, I thought it was fun to see Mitsuha and Taki from Your Name – they don’t show up in flashy, attention-grabbing cameos, it’s far more low-key and maybe somewhat connected to the Variety quote above. 

Suga and Natsumi were actually my fav characters in Weathering with You, especially Natsumi and her motorcycle, but in contrast, one of the more serious moments I enjoyed was when poor Hodaka is making his earnest promises in the hotel. Moments like that in the film, when you’re young and your conviction is stronger than your ability to make things happen, I thought were nicely done.

For some reason I’ve ended up reviewing Weathering with You before Your Name. And while the order of reviews hardly matters, I think it’s hard not to compare Weathering with You to his older work – either as a progression or a reaction.

I’ll try to expand on that – when I think about colour and tone here, it seems there’s a growing warmth clear to Weathering with You and Your Name, especially visible in the extra moments of levity and hope that I see onscreen, but which don’t appear as often in prior works perhaps.

For instance, The Garden of Words and The Place Promised in Our Early Days are obviously still beautifully coloured, but they feel more melancholy overall. (And certainly Children Who Chase Lost Voices strikes me so).

…or maybe I’m remembering the colours wrong?

In any event, I’m finally getting closer to that quote (I promise) with a note about the ending first. Here’s a quick summation of the film’s conclusion:

After Hina chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Tokyo from drowning, Hodaka fights his way above the clouds to see her, eventually bringing her home. With her return comes rain that, over the next three years, displaces millions (maybe kills folks too?), and changes the entire city. Hina seems to have been praying, trying to stop it – maybe the whole time – whereas Hodaka reflects that change is inevitable. After this, the two get a personally uplifting reunion.

Now, what I haven’t been able to decide is whether the ending is nudging us toward letting him off the hook re: taking responsibility for changes to the city and all the displaced people? Because there is a bit of time spent on that reflection, time that I took as Hodaka justifying his choice to himself (and maybe us too) via words that others had offered.

Obviously, it’s not so simple – because Hina deserves life too; and it’s a rotten choice he’s faced with.

Doubtless we’re meant to tackle the theme and decide for ourselves, what should Hodaka have done? (Even Suga goes back on his bitter wish).

And perhaps, if real life is about meeting challenges (and not being able to ‘magic’ them all away) then does the ending constitute a bit of authorial messaging? I think it’s clear that Shinkai wanted to bring attention to rising sea levels, and so what seems like a sad ending is probably the only way Weathering with You could have concluded.

So, thinking of Shinkai’s quote and his desire to anger people again – I wonder if this overt message at the end is two things: a sincere concern about climate change, but also a reaction to some criticism aimed at Your Name, where folks** didn’t like the idea of a natural disaster used for entertainment?

Because here is an even bigger natural disaster that is also used in the plot of a teen romance, and maybe within that choice, there’s some hope that in such a popular film, a lot of people will pay attention to the problem being raised… almost like a gauntlet being thrown down?

Ultimately, I hate to drift too far toward autobiographical criticism, nor assign motive to someone else’s work, but in this case I feel like there’s room – especially with that quote and having a little bit of context around Your Name.

4 Stars

* Sharing another collaboration soon! 🙂

** Wish I could find specifics on the response.

I feel like I’ve seen awesome close-ups of writing in more than a few Shinkai films now 🙂

Cyber City Oedo 808

Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990)

This is a classic (and fairly violent) OVA series and one which I suspect most cyberpunk fans are at least aware of, but is definitely worth watching if you like the genre but have never had the chance; it’s probably online somewhere by now but I’m not sure who streams it.

For me, so much of Cyber City Oedo 808 feels wonderfully connected to the 1980s (no surprise considering the release dates) whether it’s the assumption that floppy disks will be part of the future or the big hair and heavy metal theme song, or the old school blue palette used for night, it has so many things that I tend to be fond of.

At the same time, in terms of plotlines, the anime is a little more fantastical, even mystical – considering the way machines and computers infiltrate humanity, but especially when I think about episode 3 (Crimson Media) which features the ‘vampire’ storyline.

But in all the big ways it’s definitely science-fiction.

For one, there’s a crime-ridden, megacity-setting where the power of technology is used to both monitor and maim. Cyber City Oedo 808 also makes extensive use of futuristic weapons, equipment and vehicles, and conventional ideals of what it is to be human are abandoned. It’s not a long exploration of those issues though, since the focus is firmly on action, technology and sometimes the gore (directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri)… so the anime is not setting out to be philosophical perhaps, but I felt like there was plenty of room to consider those aspects if I wanted to.

Cyber City Oedo 808 follows three convicted criminals who have been offered the chance to commute their sentences by hunting down and executing other criminals. Each lead basically gets their own episode, though they do operate (somewhat grudgingly) as a team at times.

I quickly alluded to this before, but as a Yoshiaki Kawajiri film, there is a bit of fan-service when it comes to the detail on the violence, but in a way, it seemed like both less and more than what you’d see in things like Wicked City or Ninja Scroll.

With each episode, the storytelling is really focused; I felt like I was in good hands when it came to info around setting and character motivation too, and I hadn’t realised that Akinori Endo also did screenplays for Armitage III and Battle Angel, which was cool.

I love each storyline and so it’s hard to choose a stand out without going into spoiler territory, but since Benten is my favourite character, I reckon I have to go with the menace of Crimson Media, complete with its quieter moments. (You can also see a real echo of Benten’s own temperament in ‘villain’ Media, but again, I don’t want to drift into spoilers here!).

5 Stars

Tension stays pretty high in part due to these ‘kill switch’ collars that ex-convicts must wear.
This guy always makes me think of Vic Rattlehead.

On Liking (Nearly) Everything

If you’ve seen any of my reviews over the last year and a bit here at the Heap then you might have noticed that there aren’t a whole host of 2 or 1 star scores. (And thus it probably seems like I enjoy everything).

In a way that’s true – because if I’m not enjoying something, I probably won’t finish it, or sometimes won’t review it. I also don’t seek out things I suspect I won’t enjoy, and thus, when I do review a film or a series it’s mostly getting 3-5 stars because I’m only writing about stuff I liked.

In addition, I’m quite easy to please when it comes to the media I consume 😀

So to counter this, I’ve rustled up some reviews that are actually lower than 3 stars, just to… prove to myself that I don’t like everything?

And so here they are, the lowest rated anime titles I’ve mentioned here at The Review Heap (so far…):

Fractale

Wildly uneven tone on what was almost a magical adventure (as I saw it).

Like the Clouds, Like the Wind

If this hadn’t been so rushed near the end I would have loved this for sure!

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

Worth seeing… maybe, even if the lead is kinda terrible (in more ways than one).


And there we go – only three so far, but I do have one coming up that I think will be 2.5 so one day I can update this post, I guess!

Update – found one more!

Children of Whales

Children of the Sea (Kaijū no Kodomo)

Children of the Sea (Kaijū no Kodomo) 2019

Kicking off this review with some useless trivia – I had actually arranged with my local cinema to maybe screen Children of the Sea back in January but the bushfires prevented that – and obviously, I didn’t want people to risk their lives on entertainment stuff at that point, but I was pretty excited to finally see the film last night.

And if I was rating Children of the Sea only on the visuals and animation, it’d be 5 stars no sweat, everything really is stunning.

However, the narrative lost enough of its momentum at one point, that I know I’ll end the review at 4 Stars. Does that matter? I mean, do star ratings (or even opinions) mean much? Not really – everyone has to decide whether they’ll watch something based on their own markers, but what I’m trying to say is that I loved the look of this movie, right down to the pencil-stroke aesthetic for the character faces.

I’m probably more familiar with earlier Studio 4°C works like Spriggan and Memories but I am now really looking forward to their next release, Poupelle of Chimney Town. However, to actually get back to Children of the Sea itself, I thought Ruka was a great leading character and I was quickly invested in her struggles, thanks to a clever opening. Umi is my second favourite of course, though the boundary-challenged Sora is kind of jerk 😀

Before a significant shift, and one that surprised me, the tone of the film strikes a balance between mystery, wonder and social isolation. It’s all brought together by the visuals, which are ultimately very realistic for most of the film, but can be more vividly presented, and even slightly magical.  

I won’t share the premise or too much of the plot here, because while on the surface Children of the Sea still looks like an aquatic-themed fantasy adventure film (mixed in with some coming-of-age stuff) there are two genres that are perhaps more apt when I think about the film now, because the preview certainly gave me one impression…

But I think that magical realism is more accurate than a general fantasy tag – and if I say too much about why I believe that to be the case, I might inadvertently spoil stuff. To circle back to what I mentioned re: that shift in tone, there’s a point where the movie becomes extremely metaphysical and it was there that, while the visuals remain entrancing, the storyline stalled.

Again, in the end I didn’t mind so much, and I look forward to watching Children of the Sea for a second time one day, but be prepared to go beyond the realms of what you might have first expected, if you choose to watch this!

4 Stars

(Review 148)