Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei)

The Dawn of the Deep Soul film continues with the ‘let’s do unspeakably cruel things to cute kids’ approach that featured in the first season of the anime.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei) 2020

Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the movie – that would be a lie, but some scenes will probably be hard work for most viewers, so take note if you know you’re not up for that sort of thing right now (or ever).

To contrast all that was harrowing about the movie, I’ll say that the amazing perseverance of the kids who keep fighting, no matter what, ends up being uplifting.

Although, perhaps what I enjoyed most about the film was the expansion of the world featured in Made in Abyss, learning more specifics around its often twisted workings.

Another highlight for me was the first fight scene between Bondrewd and the kids – put me on the roller-coaster a bit, because I was well-aware that it was far too early in the film for a resolution.

I don’t really have much in the way of criticism, save for something that’s relatively unfair – which is that the sense of travel and encountering new wonders and horrors is somewhat reduced here. And of course – it’s one film, not one season, and one film focused on a very specific location, Bondrewd’s fortress of horrors.

And I’m not sure this is a criticism precisely, but there are times when it’s clear how the narrative is going to traumatise Riko and co, and even the seemingly more stalwart Nanachi, and so some scenes may or may not land as hard as intended.

Again, whether you experience something similar or are even bothered by it is probably not going to be a big issue, if at all. Sometimes anticipation heightens the suffering too, lol.

Other than that, the film was often harrowing, occasionally uplifting, and pretty much every minute of it compelling.

(And also – before season 2 happens during the ‘summer’ of 2022, I reckon this film is a must if you’re planning to keep watching the Made in Abyss series).

4 Stars

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) 1989 [Collaboration with Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews]

it’s been a little while since I hosted a collaboration here, so I was really happy that Scott was up for working with me on Kiki’s Delivery Service – the famous Studio Ghibli adaptation of Eiko Kadono’s book (and top-grossing film in Japan for 1989).

If you’ve not had the chance to see this film, I hope we’re able to make you at the very least, curious enough to check it out!

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) 1989

Ashley: Hey! Excited to start this collab, especially as it had definitely been a while since I’d seen Kiki’s Delivery Service and last time we worked together was on a mecha show, so this should be a fun contrast. 

How long has it been for you? I wondered if you noticed different things about the movie this time around?

Scott: Hey Ashley! I’m excited too. It’s been way too long since the last time and I think this one will be a fun one to discuss.

Honestly, it’s been way too long for me. Over a decade and half I think. Ever since my high school marching band days when we watched films on these nice buses that have tv screens that we could watch movies from. Kiki was a staple for that.

To be honest, I can’t say that I really noticed anything particularly different. The screen I watched it on was small and with the length of time, it’s like watching Kiki’s Delivery Service for the first time.

How about you?

A: Cool, what a contrast from the bus tv and environment to a more controlled one at home 🙂

It’s been a few years for me and this time around I was reminded just how key Joe Hisaishi’s music is to the overall Studio Ghibli feel for me, how it really adds to the whimsy (or the drama in some of the flying scenes) but also the scene-setting. 

I had also forgotten that Jiji is voiced by Rei Sakuma and her voice (and characterization) is obviously quite different to Phil Hartman’s, whom I had become really accustomed to. It’s an interesting contrast, especially in terms of their respective personalities in the original vs the dub – Hartman’s Jiji has a fair bit of that classic Disney sidekick comic-relief that’s not present in the Japanese release. I definitely love his performance but it was fun to see another side to Jiji.

S: Oh yeah, I agree with that feeling. The big question I have is if Joe Hisaishi didn’t do the OST for it, is it really a Ghibli film? I mean probably, but it wouldn’t feel the same.

I feel like there are always some localization changes like that in English versions of Ghibli films. Like, Princess Mononoke had a prologue narration while the Japanese version didn’t or how Spirited Away had San say “oh, it’s a bathhouse”, because that’s not a thing in the United States. So I suppose that going with that choice made sense for this film for western audiences.

So this film. Kiki is quite a film isn’t it?

A: Yes! I love coming of age films and so Kiki… automatically ticks a lot of boxes for me. 

I also really like how much dramatic tension there is in seemingly small stakes, such as those that come from delivering items, retrieving items or making the switch with Jiji etc, which is contrasted with the emotional beats of her quest for acceptance, self-discovery and of course, the bigger, action-based stuff in the latter half of the film.

S: I love them too, honestly. A well done coming of age story are some of my favorite things. So relatable and can be applied to so many scenarios to keep it fresh and interesting.

As for digging into details, there are so many of them in the story that just add so much extra fluff into it for me too. So many good little bits of micro attention that just makes the film a lot better then the viewer would first expect. I feel like that coincides with Kiki establishing herself because every moment is a little bit of tension.

A: I feel the same with those small details, like the work on the pastries or the slow warming of Osono’s Husband toward Kiki, or the stunning backgrounds, especially when it comes to the buildings. I feel like it’d be easy to do a whole post just on the scenery 😀

If you had to pick a high point for that tension around Kiki’s growth, what would it be do you reckon?

S: Exactly and there are just so many little bits like that to make the world feel so organic. Just like the bus driver given the time to actually close the door because he drives off. So many small things like that which add up and make the experience just so grounded.

Oh, the moment of tension? I feel like its centered around Kiki’s relationship with Tombo hits a whole point. Probably where she questions her magic. Very much where all the tension in the staying in that city suddenly explodes. I could be wrong about that though…

A: Same again! In fact, the questioning of her magic always made me a bit sad. The crushing, somewhat comparatively dull adult world pushing its way in? 

Maybe that’s a little negative of me – Kiki certainly finds plenty of fulfillment doing things adults do as well. Her sense of purpose and confidence from her independence, which is earned through all those non-magical things.

S: Isn’t questioning her magic so relatable though? She’s a little too early in her own life to think that was though. Especially comparing herself to her mom. Maybe she is growing up too fast by doing the usual witch tradition.

Yeah, I think her finding out she doesn’t need her magic to be around people or just live is a good way to carry this story. I think that her magic coming back from that understanding feels completely natural because of it.

A: It really is, definitely – and it suits the overall uplifting tone of the film too, huh?

So before we finish, I wanted to ask what or whether anything didn’t work so well for you?

S: I feel boring in saying in saying that I don’t have much against it? In some cases I just felt a bit rushed at some times? Some scenes didn’t have as much room to breathe as they could? That’s about it for me.

I really don’t have much to say against it. What about you?

A: For me I thought I was going to say that the film was a touch long… and yet, is that even true? Do I even have any actual criticisms – I don’t think I do, either 😀

It really feels like the Studio Ghibli team firing on all cylinders, creating a really fantastic adaptation, and visually, nailing the match of theme to visuals, of character to expression etc. So I’m like you – loved it, can’t really find anything to complain about!

And finally, huge thanks to Scott for joining me for another collaboration 🙂

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse

This film would probably be a real delight for folks who like in-jokes and intertextuality.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse (2018)

It’s also nice – after 60-odd years – to see the character expanding as other folks don the suit and save the world!

Into the Spider Verse might feel like wall-to-wall awesome action sequences but there’s enough time for character development for Miles and even Spider-Gwen, along with a few classic super-hero twists that you’ll probably see coming if you’re fairly familiar with the genre.

Aside from those moments (which I still found effective) there is a new depth, and opportunities for humour, due to the multi-verse structure. I won’t offer spoilers here, in case you’re like me and it takes you a while to see things that make a big splash upon release (I’m roughly 3 years late :D).

Although, there is a fun voice acting choice for a supporting character that I wasn’t expecting – a perfect fit, really. I want to spoil it now but really, that’s no fun at all.

Highly recommended if you like top-notch animation (on many, many levels here) and want to see a different take on Spiderman.

5 Stars

Update Quest 2021 (12)

Again, this update task is taking me way, way longer than I’d hoped – but here’s some progress nevertheless 😀

Today, 12 more updated reviews taken from the blog’s past.

Some of these reviews now have extra pics and extra text too, some only feature additional pics or tweaks to the wording, it all depends on whether I had more to say/had changed my mind about certain aspects etc

Trialing a bit of a different approach with the links this time too:

Arion

Arion (1986)

Arion should satisfy fans of Greek mythology and ‘old school’ anime.

And it certainly did for me.

Before starting, I hadn’t realised that Arion was a film by Venus Wars director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko but I see some fun similarities in the scale of the story and in character design too, especially with Athena and Susan/Miranda.

The big budget for the film is clear in the animation and art, especially when you compare the movement of troops in battle scenes to a typical television series. (In the special features included with the Blu-Ray for instance, I saw mention of a pretty huge number of cells. Part of the count was the detail but also the length of the film).

Arion is a big story but it all fits into the running time fairly well – there are a few points I’d have liked a bit of extra background on (even with a general knowledge of Greek mythology) but if I had a main quibble to bring up here, it’s the few jumps in character development.

On one hand, it’s all on screen and clear from context what Arion learns and what he’s thinking, but what is sometimes missing is any emotional reaction or struggle – a few times the narrative presents him having already moved on, going about his business post-reaction, and I would have liked to see those reactions.

There is a bit of lightness throughout the film, such as the little sound effects for Seneca’s movements during the theft, and the dialogue at times, but overall it’s epic, dramatic and somewhat unforgiving to most of its cast, even with what is ultimately ‘good guys win’ ending.

For fans of symbology, I think you’ll find a bit to unpack during the last battle but I don’t want to offer up any specific spoilers here.

Arion wasn’t widely available until recently and so I’m glad I’ve had a chance to see it at last, but I’m torn between rating on personal satisfaction vs artistry in the visuals… and so I guess I’ll stick with 3.5 stars.

*I should note – this is about Greek gods and so their general absence of moral fibre is on full display here, sometimes only thematically but sometimes depicted too.

BEM: Become Human

BEM: Become Human (2020) follows on directly from the series but you could probably pick up the movie and have a different but equally enjoyable experience – how exactly it would differ probably strays into spoiler territory, though.

Immediately, the higher budget (and change to Production IG) for the film was clear, with more detail, bigger battles and overall smoother animation across the board (esp transformations and action) than the short series.

There are also subtle changes in character design and a narrowing of focus when it came to the story too – this is very much Bem’s tale. For me, that was both a strength and a weakness to the film, as Bela is sidelined and Belo only gets a bit of action, but overall the most screen time (and impact) comes from Bem’s struggle.

On the other hand, having the three leads separated does add some dramatic tension.

The main theme of what does it mean to be human? is still front and centre, allowing Bem’s backstory to sneak into his search for truth about himself and the city he seems to be trapped within.

[Spoilers below] 

In regard to the setting, it was perhaps the other stand out for me – I found it fascinating how much it reminded me of the original Westworld, Stepford Wives or the Truman Show perhaps. Since pretty much the whole city is in on the deception, there was a great sense that everyone was a villain or at least, untrustworthy.

I will say that I wished there had been time for the movie to do a little more with the relationship between Bem and his ‘wife’ perhaps, and I’ve already mentioned not enjoying the lack of attention given to the supporting cast (Sonia gets more time than the others) but overall, I’m glad I stumbled across the series and, in turn, the movie.

Definitely for fans of the supernatural or perhaps late 1960s manga.

4 Stars

Bright: Samurai Soul

Bright: Samurai Soul (2021)

Woodblock prints and math rock!

Here’s another anime where I have no knowledge of the source material, allowing me to head in to the viewing without ideas of what it ‘should’ be perhaps.

Having said that, I wonder if Bright: Samurai Soul would have been stronger as a short series rather than a film?

In any event, if you give this movie a shot I think you’ll at the very least find the visual style interesting, since the woodblock style is compelling, and all the yellows, reds and muted greens work so well to contrast the blues used for the leads.

Since this will be a short review, I’ll skim over a few things I’ve considered mentioning but basically, I liked the characters and (most of the time) really liked the music from Lite, and while the quest/magical artifact story-line hit all the right notes for me, it all felt a little too brief.

One final aspect I enjoyed was the bit of time here and there for a quiet moment, or the way prejudice was shown, along with the hints of society undergoing change.

Yet overall I think I ‘only’ liked it rather than loved it. Maybe if you’ve seen the original you might like to compare here, or perhaps you just like swords and magic like me 😀

3 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei)

Gundum is one of the heavyweights of the anime industry that I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet (which surprises me) as I had planned to do the original series and then Gundam Wing, but when I saw that Shukou Murase was directing this one, I thought I’d switch to Hathaway instead.

I should note that this will probably be more of a ‘dot-point’ style review as I don’t have enough knowledge to contextualise the film within the franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei) 2021

Although, I will say that I loved this – the visual aspects from design to colour and movement were all ace and story-wise, the film is a great set-up for what’s to come. I was actually surprised to find that Hathaway feels very much like an old-school spy novel at times, which was cool.

(But there are a few big action scenes + a bit of fan service to go with the intrigue and verbal sparring too).

  • Hathaway feels like triumph in lighting
  • The work done to sell the scale of the robots in this film, like showing feet of the mechs filling the screen and all those low angle POVs, loved it
  • There were a lot of standout scenes but the milkbar & taxi scenes jump out for me
  • Gigi is an interesting character – there’s a lot of ‘mysterious woman/femme fatale’ stuff going on (not that my screen shots show that), which feeds into that espionage feel. I’m left wondering what her role will be in future films.
  • It’s interesting to see Australia mentioned as an important base – I wonder if back in the 1980s (when the books were written), if my homeland was still a bit in vogue for settings to be mentioned but not used.
  • I’m not really up to speed on the (ongoing?) tension between the Evangelion/Gundam camps, but with or without any boasting to (potentially) influence you, I still think that this film was pretty spectacular.

I also wanted to ask myself whether Hathaway could function as a possible entry point into the Gundam franchise… and I’m not actually sure it would be the best one.

The same classic themes around war and loyalty etc are front and centre, and of course, giant robots! but something about Hathaway makes me wonder if it would be right.

I don’t think I have enough knowledge of the franchise to make a recommendation.

But to finish at last, I will say that it’ll be tough to wait for the next two films but I’m keen, very keen.

5 Stars

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi)

This is a typical OVA in some ways – violence and nudity (or the threat of rape being passed off as ‘comedic’), all predictable things about certain anime genres, some of which have certainly come to tire me after a couple decades.

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi) 2000

That isn’t to claim Puppet Princess is terrible, or that I think it’s impossible to take on serious themes in anime either, but Puppet Princess feels too casual with its application of that content for me.

I should talk about the story sooner or later – but first, Puppet Princess almost seems bit of a warm up for Karakuri Circus, especially when it comes to the puppetry (which was probably the best aspect of the anime).

An adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita’s one-shot manga, it’s a straightforward but still at times exciting story of vengeance. Rangiku (the Puppet Princess) recruits warrior Manajiri and together they seek and eventually take on Lord Karimata, who murdered her family.

There are a few fun surprises, especially toward the end, and the art and animation works for me, though this 2000 OVA won’t deliver things you might be used to if you favour modern action sequences and techniques.

Is it worth chasing down?

Maybe if you’re a fan of Kazuhiro Fujita or the era of production perhaps, or just if you really love swords and shinobi.

3 Stars

Supporting the Anime Industry

Back in my Wonder Egg review I wondered how I could directly support animators working in an exploitative industry, and I was feeling despairing of things changing…

And so today I’d like to share a couple of links that allowed me to help at least a little.

One is a bit of an overview of things you can do to help, and the other is a specific, ongoing crowdfunding campaign.

Here’s the first:

How YOU Can Support the Anime Industry

And it was from that link and its range of ideas that I came across the 2020 Animator Dormitory Project.

It looks pretty great and I’ve donated, hoping I can make a bit of a difference that way. (I would have liked to support the union mentioned in the first article but I couldn’t figure it out).

But for the Dormitory Project, if you’re interested in reading more you can check it out below:

2020 Animator Dormitory Project

And there’s a video explaining a bit about it here: