Abandoned #6 (Ga-Rei: Zero, Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 & El Cazador de la Bruja)

Welcome to my 6th ‘Abandoned’ post and of course, my usual disclaimer that I might come back to these one day!

  1. Ga-Rei: Zero (2008)

During my slump the other month (when I was having a lot of trouble finishing things) I started and abandoned various anime and Ga-Rei: Zero was one of them.

I’ve seen (or attempted) a fair few shows in the supernatural genre of late and this one had a few interesting things that I hadn’t seen heaps of times before, and visually I certainly had no complaints… but it made a classic storytelling ‘error’ as I see it.

I understand that the style of error I’m eventually going to mention is usually played as a twist but it had a secondary effect for me, which was to make me stop watching.

Basically, between episode 1 and episode 2, Ga-Rei: Zero changes the cast of characters completely. Suddenly, I had to meet a whole heap of new folks and do the work of finding reasons to care about them – and instead, I just didn’t and ended up moving on to a different show.

Maybe if I wasn’t in a slump I might have kept going… but I didn’t have the energy to watch (basically) two versions of Episode 1 back to back.

2. Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 (2020)

Gave this a shot the other day but I couldn’t get on board with the visual style. Cool to hear original cast members back for the voices however 🙂

Ultimately, I didn’t see enough to have much of a response re: storyline or anything else about this series, and I could probably come back to this one day, just to see more and give myself a chance to form a real opinion. For now, it’s pushed down a bit on my list.

3. El Cazador de la Bruja (2009)

The ‘girls with guns’ sub-category is one of my favourites and the setting was great so I think I’ll give this a shot again one day for sure, but since I tried El Cazador during my slump, I wasn’t able to finish the first episode.

It felt like it was taking a bit too long to kick off and in a way, that’s probably not true, but again, mid-slump I was only able to finish things that immediately and deeply hooked me from the opening few minutes.

Rage of Bahamut (Shingeki no Bahamut)

Rage of Bahamut (Shingeki no Bahamut) 2014

Okay, here’s a challenge for me – can I review a series in four paragraphs only? Let’s see.

Demons, Angels, Gods and Humans clash (and sometimes work together) in this supernatural fantasy, one that’s based on a card battling game from Cygames. You can expect a lot of modern, flashy animation (which is not a bad thing) and a memorable cast of characters too, along with a well-paced story. At the end, I was definitely left curious about the follow-up series, so I went away from Rage of Bahamut invested in the characters for sure.

Since I missed this show at the time of release, I did a bit of reading and apparently some folks were down on Naoyuki Onda’s character designs but for me that was a highlight – here they seem ‘off the wall’ for a fantasy setting, especially Favaro’s afro. The rest of the visuals are great, the settings and the creatures all memorable for me, evocative of what they represented with what felt like welcome modern touches – I’m thinking of the angels especially here.

I suspect at times folks might question a few character choices that suggest inconsistency but for me I was more thrown by a certain reveal that explained a sharp twist in one character. She started off kinda mysterious before transforming into tediously immature… but that was only a few times and it definitely makes sense considering the storyline.

In terms of audience, Rage of Bahamut is not so light-hearted as another Cygames/MAPPA collaboration (Granblue Fantasy). The tone here is at times closer to ‘Lupin’ only with more bounty-hunting, blood and demons too. If you’ve played the game you’d probably enjoy what seems like a proper fleshing out of the characters and if you like the genre, give this a look if it’s still streaming somewhere.

*I’m not counting this note as a paragraph – but since my discs for this series are not playing nice, I’ve had to source the images from online.

Guin Saga

Guin Saga is one that I’m having trouble deciding on a rating for – I liked it enough but I don’t know if I’d actually recommend it, unless you’re a fan of the novels this anime is based on, perhaps.

This series is a fantasy epic from the early days of CGI that gives you a taste of a really big world. If you tend to go for large and also long stories with adventure, intrigue, war and romance told from the viewpoints of multiple characters, then Guin Saga has you covered!

For me, the sprawl of the story was one of the aspects that I didn’t enjoy as much as the series neared the end. I’ll expand on that quickly – the story starts off with young twin royals having to flee their besieged city, where they are quickly thrown together with a strange warrior bearing a leopard’s head; Guin.

At this point (and for the first third of the show) the story is focused on getting the twins to safety and Guin’s quest to learn who he is and why he has a leopard’s head – all awesome in my book… but as the scope of the story expands, his quest fades into the background far too much for me.

And so while there’s some of a ‘bait and switch’ feel to all that – I think if you want a really large story with a large cast, full of competing interests, then you’ll enjoy Guin Saga. I mean, it’s right there in the title: Saga. You’re promised sprawl right away!

There are heaps of fantastic, sweeping wide shots in this series, I should have captured more of them.

Having said that, this is based upon a massive novel series that kicked off in 1979 and comprises 130 volumes and 22 spin-off novels. I assume that author Kaoru Kurimoto still holds a record for that, surely. Of course the anime doesn’t cover the entire saga, and (thankfully) nor did the production team at Statelight even try to do so.

Instead, they focused on what almost feels like a bit of a prologue, one that clearly establishes a lot of main (and interesting) characters, conflicts and their respective quests. Some storylines do have resolutions, but some are rushed and compressed, and by the end there is still too much left open, or left ‘ready for the next adventure’ which never came about in the end.

Now, that was no deal-breaker for me, but part of the problem I had was that the narrative spent a lot of time with people who were essentially scum and straight-up villains. Even some of the heroes became loathsome too, which wasn’t for me – since when I choose a heroic fantasy series, I’m looking for actual heroism.

Heroism isn’t absent by the way, since Guin is probably (to some extent) an actual hero, whereas some people who help the kids throughout (like Istavan) are portrayed as fickle sociopaths and one antagonist, Lady Amnelis has a fantastic character arc… but I couldn’t care about a character bent on genocide.

Plenty of these sorts of cool shots with character faces (and particularly eyes) dominating the frame in ‘Guin Saga’

Okay, placing those issues aside for a moment I didn’t hate this show at all.

There’s a lot of things I enjoyed, bold character design and a few exciting action sequences here and there too. The CGI seems fairly top-notch for the era, and visually the show is quite lush in terms of colour and setting – especially toward the end, some of the city-based establishing shots are ace.

There’s also a haunting ending theme and some great music throughout too, often really stirring – and most of it I think composed by Square legend Nobuo Uematsu. So, Final Fantasy fans at least, should enjoy the OST.

Ultimately, I liked this series more than it sounds but I definitely craved a narrowing of focus. And due to the studio having to compress a lot of source material, I found sometimes important things weren’t foreshadowed enough, so they came across as deus ex machina a few times.

And all of that combined with the mixed bag that were the characters, I don’t know whether this is a 2-Star show for me or a 3-Star.

So… 2.5 stars I guess?

I hadn’t realised this at first, since it’s been so long since I played the game, but I wonder if King from Tekken is inspired by Guin? Or maybe ‘Tiger Mask’ from the wrestling world?

(Or more likely, considering the dates now that I look them up – the Tiger Mask manga may have been a bit of an influence on Guin? Of course, mythology certainly has plenty of examples of animal head + human body.)

A Liquid Top Ten (2020, Film Edition)

Much like my previous, similar post to this one, I want this list to change whenever I come back to it 🙂

Also like my last post, there’s no special reason to do this really – but it serves two purposes for me; Self-Reflection and Fun. I do think that as bloggers and audiences we tend to crave the act of listing, of categorising and ranking, so I’m giving in to that need once again today!

And yes! The copying from my other post continues below, but with minor tweaks:

  • I’m focusing on films today
  • This list should change as I see more texts over the years and it will definitely reveal gaps in my knowledge
  • Equally, it should also change whenever I re-watch and re-evaluate
  • By definition of the list being ‘mine’ it clearly reveals my biases and interests
  • Expect to still see the 1990/2000s heavily represented, lol
  • Subsequent posts will maybe be shorter than this one

Onward to the list!

Let’s climb from the bottom up:

10. Redline (2009)

For my number ten I’ve gone with a film where almost the whole reason it’s here is due to the visuals. The storyline or character aspects are not bad – at all – but I think this is one film that you can appreciate on the art and animation alone. Boy, it is fantastic and still stands out style-wise, in the anime industry, with its heavy use of Dick Tracy kinda shadow.

9. Sword of the Stranger (2007)

This is a film that I hadn’t seen until quite recently and it shot into this list in part because I do really enjoy historical and also samurai anime, and upon reflection I think this one holds up better in some aspects compared to a classic I nearly included – Ninja Scroll. Sword of the Stranger has some superb fight sequences and great scene-setting too. Very much worth it if you’ve never seen this and you like the genre.

8. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Perhaps the first Vampire Hunter D is maybe more ‘important’ to anime in general (or at least certain genres) and in some ways I prefer the 1985 film to Bloodlust but maybe this one sneaks into the top ten due to the higher production budget. The story’s great too; it’s creepy without being crass and the visuals really are memorable. This is one that I’ve already reviewed (like at least half this list I think).

7. Paprika (2006)

As you’ll soon see, I’ve got a couple of repeat directors in this list, which shows that I’ve struggled to choose between two or more of their works… or that I need to see more films. But I couldn’t leave Paprika off this list – it’s influential and mesmerizing. Aside from the thriller storyline and great animation, there’s a lot of fun references throughout that rewarded me on nearly each re-watch.

6. Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)

I could have put a few of the big Ghibli films here – obviously Spirited Away is a landmark and I also love Whisper of the Heart, but I think Howl’s is a fantastic adaptation of an already fantastic book. It’s got all the classic Ghibli features to be expected from a Miyazaki film too and my favourite Joe Hisaishi score.   

5. Summer Wars (2010)

I’ve mentioned before how much I like the pairing of Hosoda and Okudera and I feel like this is their best work together. It’s fantastic that such a large cast works, with time enough to get a feel for even most of the minor characters here. To me, this has that adventure feel – even though the setting is (at least in one sense) limited to one homestead.

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

This is my favourite Ghibli film and it’s technically not a Ghibli film, I guess! I believe it’s easy to make a convincing argument that Princess Mononoke is a better execution of the same themes that appear in Nausicaa but I have a soft spot for this one. Since I’ve reviewed it here, I won’t ramble on too much more 🙂

3. Perfect Blue (1997)

I found myself having trouble placing some films above or below others, due to the implications of ‘quality’ that any hierarchy creates, but again, this is a personal fav list and as much as I love Nausicaa, I think Perfect Blue is too hard to place lower for me. This film is a harrowing psychological thriller executed so, so well. I seem to remember over the years, occasional calls along the lines of ‘why wasn’t this a live-action film’ and sure, it’d work… but I don’t like the implication behind the question: that animation was the lesser form for this story.

2. Akira (1988)

I know Akira tops a lot of lists and it should be abundantly clear why. It’s probably here at number two in my list because cyberpunk is one of my fav genres. Akira is a monster of a film, from its huge budget (esp for the time) and the staggering number of cells 160,000+ to the length and scope of the story. For me and many folks the world-building is another key draw; the setting is so immersive.

1. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

So, no surprises for the top of the list! Ghost in the Shell feels like it’ll be a film that remains enshrined for many more decades still, possibly in part because it’s a great mix of ‘high concept’ and grittier genre elements? I love that the structure is basically 3 or 4 action sequences with the rest being divided between dialogue and atmosphere. I probably watch this once a year and it’s always enthralling to me.


The Current List

Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Akira (1988)
Perfect Blue (1997)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Summer Wars (2010)
Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)
Paprika (2006)
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
Sword of the Stranger (2007)
Redline (2009)


Down a little further are a few films that could have made it into my list but got close enough.

Next quarter, maybe I’ll have seen a few more films and also, been able to decide whether I should have a Shinkai film in there!

Venus Wars (1989)
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Endless Waltz (1997)
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Ninja Scroll (1993)
A Tree of Palme (2002)


Again, like last time, let me know if you think I’ve missed something stellar (spoiler: I have) and maybe I’ll be able to include it in my upcoming watching if it’s within my reach, both figuratively and literally.

Thanks for reading!

Windaria (Douwa Meita Senshi Uindaria)

Windaria (Douwa Meita Senshi Uindaria) 1986

Time for another classic!

I want to start off by saying that there is a FAR better film hidden beneath the one that I saw, but my version was clouded-over by a misguided English-language script.

Sadly for me, this edition was surely not the version that Kunihiko Yuyama and Keisuke Fujikawa had in mind. As some of you will already know, Windaria has been released in several versions over the years, with most folks steering clear of the ‘Harmony Gold’ cuts.

And Windaria did go through a few cuts; chiefly to some violence and nudity, when released for the US market, along with a new script for the dub*. Now, the new script itself obviously made sense (for the most part) but it did do some ruinous things to characterisation and world-building, in its effort to make the film more ‘kid-friendly’.

I actually have an Italian release of the DVD, which happens to include the English dub – but remains visually uncut, so I’ve seen the full film in some ways, but didn’t get the real story. Later, I checked out a fansub and wow, there’s some serious differences between the two versions, especially when it comes to conveying character motivation.

Because in the dub there are some extreme left-turns for characters that have almost zero foreshadowing and a real dearth of detail in other scenes. Overall, I think it’s clear that the original is a tragic cautionary tale, told on a fairly epic scale, but the new script really makes the cast – especially Izu – seem unbelievable in key moments.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy despite those problems. I feel like I’m being a little hard on Windaria, because it’s still worth seeing for the visuals alone. It’s a beautiful and detailed film, with sweeping vistas and great character design too. In a way, it has a very vague Castle in the Sky feel but it’s not an adventure film with that sort of violence and a happy ending.

Instead, as I mentioned above, Windara is a cautionary tale.

It focuses mostly on the ‘star-crossed lovers’ trope, and pitches them in the middle of war, politics and tragedy (of course). There are even a few protagonists almost masquerading as heroes too. Again, it’s still a bright fantasy film from a real golden age of anime, so it’s clear, and nearly everything feels high-quality in terms of production. (In particular, I loved the way they portrayed water in the film – especially in the scenes around the city of Itha.)

And there are a few moments where the true nature of the tragic circumstances shone through the dub, and without spoilers I’ll say one moment above the others was focused around poor Marin, great writing and visuals there.

Okay, so finally now – would I suggest that everyone should try to track down Windaria?

Maybe if you can get the uncut, original version. Even if maybe you don’t watch a lot of fantasy-themed anime or generally watch work from the ‘80s, the production values are high and there is a more complex, rewarding story there, it just wasn’t the case for the script that I saw.

3 Stars

* The Harmony Gold director did mention that, as was perhaps not unusual for the era, that they weren’t given a translation or notes to work from, so I suspect they did their best. And it’d be a tough job! What I guess I didn’t agree with, was pushing the story toward PG territory.

Eat-Man / Eat-Man ’98

How’s this for a fun premise? Strong-silent-type mercenary who can recreate anything he eats wanders around a cyberpunk/dystopian/fantastic world taking on all kinds of jobs!

Well, both adaptations of Eat-Man are indeed that – but I’ve been having trouble deciding precisely how I responded to them. They were only made a year apart and both completed by Studio Deen, so there are plenty of similarities in terms of art style and other production aspects.

The biggest differences are story, character and tone.

In some ways, Eat-Man is less satisfying than Eat-Man ’98 due to those differences… or at least, so I thought at first.

Usually, I try to complete an entire post for each anime when I do these comparison-style write-ups, but I’ll combine these two series into one post today, I think because it’s going to be a fair bit shorter than usual.

Here’s a comparative overview:

Eat-Man

  • Our hero ‘Bolt’ is generally very quiet and seems unhappy
  • Narrative is episodic with Bond ‘girl of the week’ feel
  • A whole heap of unexplained stuff
  • Art style has a little more detail in some aspects
  • Quite a moody, even mystical tone

Eat-Man ‘98

  • Our hero ‘Bolt’ is extremely taciturn and seems cold
  • Narrative has no overarching storyline but more connected episodes
  • Less unexplained stuff
  • Art style more polished overall, maybe more variety in direction
  • More of an action/adventure tone

Eat-Man (1997)

In this version of the adaptation, Bolt seems to wander in an attempt to find meaning, and his characterisation seems a little more enjoyable to me overall. The anime steps away from the manga but remains similarly episodic, yet throughout it sneaks in foreshadowing: there’s a floating wreckage of what appears to be a space ship.

In many episodes it’s just hanging there in the background and other times it’s framed with Bolt appearing to look at it – it’s a nice narrative hook that maybe didn’t pay off for me, considering that it’s rushed into focus at the end.

But probably the most fascinating things to me were the fantasy elements that were almost… occult-like, and added a whole lot of mystery but also deep confusion, even if it did at times make for some striking imagery.

In this first series too, there’s a minor difference – which is the colour of Bolt’s glasses, here they put me in the mind of Vash more than they did in the second series. (And to quickly play chronology, the Eat-Man anime predates the Trigun anime by a year, and the Trigun manga pre-dates the Eat-Man manga by a year.)

One clear mark against this version for me were the filler-moments, or the stretching out of certain scenes beyond what was needed, something that I didn’t notice anywhere near as much in the 1998 show.


Eat-Man ’98 (1998)

Here, the mystical elements are stripped away a fair bit, and a little more cyberpunk pushes through. More of the episodes present little arcs or multi-part storylines here, in stark contrast to the 1997 season. This mostly removes the ‘girl of the week’ feel though the series is still ultimately episodic.

Bolt is a little colder, seemingly more unyielding – but the storylines like to play with the idea that he’s cold, yet there is usually a reason for his manner. It’s also in this re-do that we get a few more tantalising hints about who or what Bolt really is, though I imagine more seasons would always have been needed to get any more answers.

One welcome change here is that there are actually a few characters that return, or have an impact on Bolt and so it feels like there is a bit more at stake. I probably slightly prefer the direction in this version of Eat-Man, something that jumped out to me during the highlight of the Bye Bye Aimie episodes.

And now to quickly sum up!

In the end, I think that the 1998 Eat-Man is essentially a better adaptation (not precisely because it’s more faithful to the source either) and I preferred its OST, but despite the faults of the 1997 iteration, somehow I enjoyed it a little more. It’s less conventional within an already unconventional setting/premise and I preferred the art-style.

Eat-Man 97, 3 Stars

East-Man 98, 3 Stars

Not the Top Reviews from the Second 6 Months

Following on from the previous post in this style, here’s a list of reviews that weren’t the top posts re: reader interest, but which I’m highlighting because I like something about each one!

Onward:

November – Sword of the Stranger

December – Mushi-Shi

January – Un-Go

February – A Tree of Palme

March – 8 Man After

April – Miss Hokusai

Complete! There they are, a handful of reviews or posts that I liked, or some which maybe did something slightly different from what I normally do 😀

Thanks for reading!

Ashley

Popular Reviews from the Second 6 Months

So, this is the second set of these posts for Heap, where I highlight reviews (or posts) that ended up being the most popular across a certain span of time, and today I’m aiming for the one that covers the second 6 months of The Review Heap in action.

I’m actually a little early,and I’ve actually doubled up on November BUT, Nov – April is 6 months at least, and I want a bit of space between this post and a future, similar one due in June 😀

Below, you can see a list of the ones that got the most traffic – though I may or may not have done the best job in expressing myself in them.

Onward:

November – What is a Classic?

December – Aladdin

January – Nadia vs Atlantis

February – Tokyo Godfather Collab 🙂

March – Abandoned

April – Vote on What I Should Watch Next

Just like last time, I’ll have a follow-up post to this in a few minutes, one that highlights a different set of reviews but from the same span of time.

Thanks for reading!

Ashley

Vote on What I Should Watch Next – Results

Okay, I ended up leaving this open a bit longer than I’d meant to, but I’ve got some results now:

So, we have Black Lagoon as clear winner, with Gunbuster not miles behind but not close enough. Classics Akira and ‘much-harder-to-find’ Neo Tokyo got a bit of love, though I voted for Neo Tokyo myself 😀

Time Travel Girl is a show I stumbled across that features famous inventors, and I believe it’s a co-production with an educational group, so I’m still curious about that. And Blast of Tempest is Bones series that I’d never heard of, so I think I’ll keep it on my list somewhere for ‘someday’.


So, the schedule is basically as follows:

  1. Finish watching Gurren Lagann
  2. Finish watching Le Chevalier D’Eon
  3. Begin Black Lagoon 🙂
  4. Bonus Watch – Gunbuster

So, this’ll take me a little while and I’ve got a few scheduled posts that I’ve been building up for a while that’ll arrive first, but for now, thanks for voting!

Vote on What I Should Watch Next

Today’s post is basically just what it says in the title 😀

And so maybe if you’re exceptionally bored at the moment and have little else to do except vote in this extremely low-stakes poll, then I’d love to see what you think by choosing from the options below 🙂

I should note quickly, that by ‘next’ I actually mean the series I watch two shows from now.

That’s because I’m currently watching two shows at the moment – one of which is Gurren Lagann and the other is Le Chevalier D’Eon so it might take me a little while to get to the winner.

So, what’s on the menu?

Well, it’s a mix of stuff I’ve stumbled across recently, stuff I’ve been meaning to re-watch and also things drawn from this list – which I made a while back when I was doing a 2020 directions post.

Edit: (Wow, that display is exceptionally bad from my end – apologies, all!)

Well, hopefully the poll at least functions – even if it refuses to sit itself nicely within the centre of the blog. Next time maybe I’ll use Google Forms or Survey Monkey etc etc!

In any event, I’m looking forward to see who wins – and I’ll run the poll for a week or so, I reckon 🙂