Out of Scheduled Posts! XD

So, not much to say here – other than the fact that I’ve now got nothing left in the bank of drafts/scheduled posts.

Which means it might be a while before I get another review or two up.

Hoping to at least do a Boxing Day review like in the last two years but I’m not sure what to review. I’d really like it to be Kino’s Journey but I might have to choose a film instead (since it’d be shorter and easier to review in the shrinking amount of free time I have at the moment).

In the meantime, I might do another guessing game and/music post to keep things ticking over!

Tokko

If you like breasts and blood, supernatural-action anime Tokko has got you covered.

Okay, flippant opener I know – but I’ll switch to the tone of the series now.

Tokko (2006)

On the special features for my disc I noticed the team mentioned wanting to create something edgy/dark and that since the series would screen on Wowow during a late night slot, they’d be able to come closer to the source material.

I can’t speak to that but there’s a fair share of blood, some supernatural and sci-fi horror, along with plenty of breasts too, when it comes to costuming. (None of the nudity really makes sense of course – it’s not a question of romance or passion, but it’s not R-rated stuff either).

Now, in terms of ‘flaws’ I’ll say the animation quality varies a little, as does the consistency of character models at times, but I’m pretty forgiving of those things when it comes to supernatural stories.

So, what is the story in Tokko?

“When 108 demons free themselves and start killing people, Special Public Safety Task Force, or ‘Tokko’ for short, is formed to stop them.” Covering familiar ground here but the series definitely has a few extra dimensions via the various groups at cross-purposes, along with something I found pretty interesting.

Here, the characters were probably in their early 20s (rather than being either younger or older) meaning that Tokko could fit into the (perhaps fledgling) ‘New Adult’ genre as it’s called in the world of books.

This meant that some of those problems appeared onscreen – the trials of independence, workplace issues, juggling dating and work, those were the welcome, extra things that main character Ranmaru Shindo had to deal with when not slashing up monsters.

On that note, the violence is a touch more than your average shounen/seinen perhaps, and while the supernatural/horror elements did stand out at times (especially the opening and the lab episodes) I think that Tokko could have been ‘good’ to my mind, but when I got to the ending… woah.

And so to finish with a spoiler – do not seek out Tokko expecting a solid ending.

After the climax to the final episode, there’s this odd rush of ending-erasing stuff, as if to somehow reset the story and then kick off on a second season, a season which just never materialised.

3 Stars

(Also, episode one has quite the wtf moment but I won’t spoil it for anyone who might hunt this show down one day).

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

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood (2021)

Coming to the series cold, the connection to the game Dota 2 had no positive or negative impact for me – it was just a fact about the anime, and so I enjoyed having no preconceptions going in.

I know that animation produced by non-Japanese studios can get some flak from the community but I don’t really care – DOTA Dragon’s Blood looks great and it was a lot of fun to watch a fantasy/action animation with all the classic creatures.

Plenty of humour, plenty of really ace action-sequences and even the fan-service tended to actually make sense here. There was also lots of lovely imagery and striking use of colour to further keep me watching and without spoilers, the story probably isn’t full of curve-balls but it’s satisfying.

I have a few fav characters from the large(ish) cast, but Marci is a stand out – I also don’t recall dozens of mute characters appearing in other animated works I’ve seen, so that was really interesting. (There were even Australian voice actors too, which is another rare thing).

Toward the end, I will say that it seemed that the pacing picked up a little too much. Important events outpaced the running time, and once again, it felt like modern production choices (esp those favoured by Netflix) meant the team at Studio Mir had to squeeze in a 13-episode portion of a big story into an 8-episode run.

Maybe that was just my impression?

But with more episodes on the way, I’m definitely tuning in whenever more of the story is ready.

4 Stars

Abandoned #12 (Gantz, Black Blood Brothers & Dagashi Kashi)

Kicking off with my standard disclaimer – I’m not ruling out one day returning to any of these shows… it just might take a really, really long time for some of them, perhaps.


Gantz

The science-fiction concept had me hooked but after only half of one episode I had come to loathe Kei Kurono.

Having said that, I might finish this one day – or just read about the plot to learn of some unanswered questions I have about the scenario.

Black Blood Brothers

Of the three I’ve listed today, I think this might be the one I could return to in the future, because I’m curious about events in the prologue.

And I liked Jirou’s character but Kotarou was a bit much in that first episode for me to continue.

Dagashi Kashi

I felt like trying out a comedy and the idea of a sweet shop sounded pretty great, but despite a memorable design, Horaru was not so much charming as annoying for me.

Of course, is it fair to give this (or any series) just one or only half an episode? Not really… but then, I have so many shows I want to watch/try/finish 😀


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

Kurozuka

Kurozuka is a sometimes jumbled, often compelling adaptation of a novel by Baku Yumemakura and which is on the surface, a vampire story.

Kurozuka (2008)

After finishing the series I think it can be more comfortably described as science fiction/action with incidental vampirism, which is both interesting and – if you are looking for some vampires – disappointing.

Produced by Madhouse and directed by Tetsuro Araki, Kurozuka bears a few hints of aspects which later appear in Attack on Titan but here there’s an epic, centuries-spanning tale squeezed into 13 episodes.

I’m not able to put my finger on what I think made this anime close to being amazing, without getting there.

Fun action, interesting world with a good central mystery to the storyline, even a disjointed narrative structure to keep things from becoming too predictable… but something was missing.  

Two things that I came up with after thinking a bit:

  • the set-up of a potentially doomed romance actually led to something else, a swift separation of the main characters which then denied them much meaningful interaction for nearly the rest of the series, and
  • the sheer volume of off-screen story that did not appear (or was not referenced) in time for the climax to have a big impact.

Did all of my grumbling mean I hated this series?

Not at all, but I guess it’s a very easy 3 Stars for the rating, since I’m glad to have seen it (and am now quite curious about the book), but at the same time, I don’t know if I’ll watch it again.