A-Z Challenge: “O” is for Oblivion Island, Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (Hottarake no Shima: Haruka to Mahō no Kagami) 2009

The success of Toy Story and Skrek are two CGI examples that I think of most when it comes to changing animation in America. Of course, it’s silly to point out only two examples, only two moments or studios (Pixar and DreamWorks here) as being responsible… but I think they are definitely noteworthy 🙂

Across the world in Japan, I kinda see Production IG as one similar driver of CGI integration into anime. Again, they’re obviously not the only studio doing so, but if I think of Ghost in the Shell in the mid-1990s and Innocence (among others) a little later on, I feel like there’s a clear line to 2009 when they released Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Later in the review I do want to return to this rambling train of thought, but I should talk about the film itself sooner or later, huh?

Oblivion Island has a great fairy-tale feel, with perhaps a bit of Alice in Wonderland but a lot more Japanese folklore too, with a specific focus on kitsune. The hook for me was the idea that main character Haruka is drawn into a world of ‘forgotten things’, things which humans have left behind and have then been collected by fox-like creatures over the decades (and doubtless longer).

In fact, the scavengers have a motto: What You Neglect, We Collect, which is a pretty perfect description. When Haruka lands in the new world she is lucky enough to have a (reluctant at first) guide to show her around. And the Island is a pretty amazing place, where pretty much everything has been repurposed, from open books that function as seats on rail cars to gramophones deconstructed into chairs (okay, they’re both chairs :D).  

There’s even a hierarchy/currency to the items, with mirrors being prized above all else – exactly the object Haruka needs to recover; her own precious hand mirror.

The story unfolds at a steady pace as the search gets Haruka and Teo (her guide) mixed up with ruler of the island, Baron. Maybe as an adult you won’t find heaps of surprises but I think kids would be delighted in all the right places, and Teo’s a cute little guy too. It’s also cool to see that Haruka is no push-over either.

If I had to single out an issue… it was just the feeling that I didn’t love the movie – I ‘only’ liked it a lot. That’s not much of a criticism, is it? Maybe the climax was actually a little long but it was usually pretty exciting.

Okay, so finally I’m going to creep back toward the visuals – which is what I was slowly, slowly leading up to at the start.

I remember a certain amount of excitement and bold predictions from the media and creators during those changes to the animation world that I mentioned before, discussing the way new technology would revolutionise things (I remember a bit of that around the time of Appleseed for one).

You can still see that excitement in occasional special features included with physical releases, sometimes it’s even the same folks looking back and reflecting on how the predictions turned out a little differently (but not ‘wrong’ either).

So, why have I also wrangled this review around to special features?

Well, I like to use them as one potential marker of the level of success a studio hoped for with a new release and I was curious about Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Obviously, most ‘extras’ double as marketing materials but when I saw the decent list of special features included with Oblivion Island, I had the impression that Shinsuke Sato and Producton IG wanted the film to be a big hit. And of course! Why shouldn’t they? Success also keeps the studio going and making more great stuff.

So, I guess finally now to a question – did other folks like the film and its blend of traditional animation and CGI?

Oblivion Island was nominated for and won awards but I suppose if I’m interested in more than one marker of success, then I can’t ignore box office either – so, using IMDB, Haruka and the Magic Mirror had a worldwide gross of $3,171,022.

Now, to give some context I’ll try a couple of other similar-ish films released in the same year. First up, Summer Wars, which listed a fair bit more in terms of ticket sales: $18,434,328. Hosada’s film also used CGI but not in the same way as Oblivion Island and he also had a lot of anticipation already built up at that point. Something more CGI-heavy then? I’ll try Astro Boy – it took in $39,886,986 but it’s not precisely an anime film. (It was also considered a flop).

Maybe neither of my examples are totally useful as 1-to-1 comparisons, but I think I can say that audiences were still slow to warm to CGI in anime then. I know some of that reluctance lingers today, and does so within me, but again, I think I mostly complain when it seems like the blend between techniques is not great.

And I reckon Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror brings the two approaches together nicely indeed. Even if the character models have that CGI-smooth look, there’s still a lot of texture and depth to them and the backgrounds and props, and not just courtesy of the lighting either I reckon.

So, finally, I’ve finished all of my tangents – and as it turns out, it took me a really long time to say that I enjoyed this fairy-tale CGI anime and think it’d probably be pretty suitable for kids, just not the really, really young.

4 Stars

[This is another entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].

Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006)

Le Chevalier D’Eon

The first episode of Le Chevalier D’Eon offered everything I wanted – swords, magic, twists and turns, intrigue too, and all of it taking place in historical European settings!

In fact, I remember after seeing the opening being pretty thrilled, feeling sure that I’d found a show that I knew I would love. And I would definitely put the first episode (D’Eon∴ Lia) up against most of the first episodes of my other favs for sure.

And in the end, I did love the series but I hit a wall in the middle.

I think I know why – it’s the pacing.

Now, I mentioned pacing here in one of my previous ‘Abandoned’ posts – there was a point where I felt a slight drag on the forward momentum, because I knew that our four leads were going to visit a new town, catch up on local politics, help out, and then collect a few scraps of info on the main quest.

At one point, that pattern repeated itself for enough episodes to deter me, and it took a while to come back to the series, even though at the mid-way point I should have been totally unable to set Le Chevalier D’Eon to one side.

And what’s interesting to me is that I love episodic storytelling but this time around it felt like mini-arcs with not enough of the main plot woven throughout to satisfy my curiosity.

On the other hand, I certainly finished Le Chevalier D’Eon because there was so much I want to know by the end. In addition, the characters, settings and magical elements are all great – along with the swashbuckling too, of course.

But it’s not really an adventure show (despite escapes, conspiracies, monsters and swordplay etc) because as I’ve mentioned before, intrigue and politics feature heavily here. There’s even a touch of romance, but the magic (Poets and Psalms used to destroy and manipulate) are probably the main focus, along with a slew of changing loyalties.

The price of loyalty too, is a huge theme in Le Chevalier D’Eon and one that I enjoyed plenty.

I think another stand-out aspect is the range of (loose) historical elements; not just things like the various royals that our leads meet (or figures like Comte de Saint Germain and Maximilien Robespierre), but aspects that had me reading up on the real-life D’eon. In fact, it seems a shame that the existence of Lia in the anime clouds important details about D’eon.

Finally, I guess I should say, be warned, by the end there is very little left for the surviving leads to celebrate – perhaps unsurprising considering the setting.

Still, the anime was compelling for me, even when its storytelling sometimes became a little opaque or even if, as I see it, giving D’eon room to process truths about his sister is somewhat swept aside by the scope of other events.

4 Stars

(This series is sometimes compared to Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, released a bit earlier, since both are somewhat similar in themes and settings).

A Liquid Top Ten (2020, Quarter Four)

December is here (somehow)! Hope you’re all safe – I’m back with an update to my Top Ten… which is to say, I’m updating some things that are lurking just beyond and I also have one ‘shuffle’ change 😀

As usual with these posts you can click here for a preamble along with the parameters (no films etc etc) and also some reasoning re: why I included the ten titles I chose back in quarter one.


The List – Quarter One

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (1998)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


The List – Quarter Two

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Kids on the Slope (2012)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


The List – Quarter Three

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Kids on the Slope (2012)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


The List – Quarter Four

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
Trigun (1998)
The Big O (1999)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Kids on the Slope (2012)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


Just some shuffling up there, reflecting no doubt, my semi-recent re-watch of Trigun.

But in the beyond, where other shows are jostling for position in my mind, there’s also something I missed in the past, which is Land of the Lustrous which is not just visually amazing but features a really fun mythology and plenty of memorable characters too.


(Still!) Outside the List (for now)

This (unranked) list includes shows that I reckon are pretty close/could well sneak into the top ten one day. Again, the longer I do this, the more I’m finding a lot of this process relates to mood as much as anything else. I still suspect that this is where most of the changes will occur over the years.

Land of the Lustrous (2017)
Samurai Champloo (2004)
Full Metal Alchemist (2003)
Gunbuster (1988)
FLCL (2003)
Haikyuu!! (2014)
Ushio & Tora (2015)
Pyscho-Pass (2012)
RahXephon (2002)
Witch Hunter Robin (2002)
Ghost Hunt (2006)
The Great Passage (2016)
Dororo (2019)
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)
Vision of Escaflowne (1996)


As before, I’m always looking for classics to add to the list if anything you think I’d like is missing, just lemme know 😀

Thanks for reading!

Treasure Planet

I believe Treasure Planet was at one point among the most expensive animated films ever made, and while that obviously didn’t automatically make it brilliant, I think the movie is still pretty great.

Treasure Planet (2002)

Equally, it’s ‘under-performance’ box-office wise doesn’t automatically make it poor, either.

To me, this early 2000s era of Disney is kind of a push toward making animated films for somewhat older audiences. This one and Atlantis or even Hercules perhaps, seem to point to that (since-abandoned) trend, but most folks consider the time period as a slump for the company.

Still, tweaking Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island and transferring it into a sci-fi setting definitely let the artists showcase a new world and fun ideas (like the solar surfing) while at the same time holding onto a tried and true storyline.

For me, everything pretty much works great in the change from sea pirates to sky pirates.

There are a few aspects I didn’t love (like poor old Ben), but they were minor. One thing that stood out were the performances, especially Brian Murray as John Silver and David Hyde Pierce as Dr Doppler, though it was impossible not to hear Niles Crane the whole time 😀 (I was also thrilled to recognise Roscoe Lee Browne as Mr Arrow.)

While I’ve hinted at the maybe slightly older audience here, our hero Jim never crosses over into what could be called ‘cold-blooded, weapons-based violence’ – even to save himself. So that’s one reason for me to note that it’s still clearly a PG text, but that’s not a mark against the film either.

There’s a classic, adventure mix of action, suspense, mystery and exploration in Treasure Planet but above all for me, I think it’s the mentor/surrogate father figure relationship that keeps everything together.

4 Stars

This is what I always think of as the ‘One-Eyed Willie’ homage, just with bonus eyes of course.

Trinity Blood (Toriniti Buraddo)

Time for a short review!

Trinity Blood (Toriniti Buraddo) 2005

Another entry into my ‘monsters hunting monsters’ collection – Trinity Blood has heaps of action and enough blood for vampire fans, but probably skews toward political intrigue almost as much as action.

In the end that was probably my favourite aspect, especially within the Vatican but the settings were another highlight. Trinity Blood takes place mostly in Europe, only during a post-apocalyptic time where vampires and human co-exist in an uneasy (and often broken) truce.

Partly due to the setting, there’s a lot of great character designs and costuming, especially from the Empire (not to overlook Caterina), but what I remember most is probably the characters. Father Abel Nightroad has a vague ‘Vash’ feel but is more capable of bloodlust (yeah, a pun, sorry) and is helped along by a fairly large cast. And while I wanted a bit more time spent on folks like Leon and Kate, I can imagine future seasons would have rectified that.

I found Trinity Blood hard to rate however, because despite great rising tension across the season and plenty of stand out moments (most of Seth’s scenes for one), the ending was a little rushed.

No doubt Gonzo were planning for another season (there are plenty of light novels by Sunao Yoshida to choose from) but that wasn’t to be. There is a resolution to the anime, and a set up for the bigger story, but some important things happen ‘off-screen’ which was a shame. I missed the impact of those moments.

4 Stars (maybe it should be 3 but I enjoyed things otherwise)

A Little About Anime in 2006

More than once, I’ve mentioned that my favourite eras of anime tend to be the 1980s and 1990s. However, the 2000s certainly contain many of my favourites as well. And so today I’m going to write about just one of those years – two thousand and six.

This post won’t have any structure, I guess (apologies!) – but I’ve got some facts and figures here, a bit of trivia and some ranked lists before I mention my own favs, all mixed in with the occasional general thought.

… And I think I’ll start with those stats (as per Wikipedia):

  • 306 anime television programs produced.
  • Sales of DVDs and Laserdiscs in Japan: 95 billion yen.
  • Box Office earnings for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: 300 Million Yen.

Seeing that number of shows produced, woah – you could nearly watch one a day for the entire year. In comparison, 2018 seems to have at least 260 produced and jumping back to 1982, it’s only 42 with about 15 of those films, not tv series.

Clear marker of massive growth!


Okay, now for some ranked lists from a few different places – sadly, finding historical lists was not possible based on the short amount time I spent on this search 😀

First, here’s one from IMDB focusing on 2006, which placed the following shows at the top:

  1. Aria the Natural (2006– )
  2. Code Geass (2006–2012)
  3. Black Lagoon (2006)
  4. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006–2009)
  5. Negima! Magister Negi Magi (2006–2008)

And now MAL – last night when I checked over there, the all time ‘Top anime’ list contained two shows from 2006 inside its Top 50:

13: Gintama
40: Code Geass

(I also saw Mushi-Shi a little further below, though the series started in 2005 and finished in ’06 so I’m not sure I should count it here.)

And two more sites I checked also feature familiar titles from 2006 in their favs – Anilist has Death Note at #3 whereas over at Anime-Planet the first entry for 2006 I found was Code Geass sitting at #43. Next up from the year in question was Death Note in position #96.

How about you – got a fav or two from 2006?

I can’t really disagree or agree too much with those lists, since I haven’t seen enough from each (although Death Note wouldn’t be so generally high for me). Obviously, none of my searching represents anything comprehensive. I’ve also missed a few titles, left off a few that I came across too, since I can’t mention 306 shows here 😀

But finally to my lists – these ones aren’t ranked, it’s mostly just things that I found interesting, favourite shows or ones I want to see.


So, based on my memory + the recent reading up on the year, and lists, it does seem that 2006 was dominated by the following two anime:

  • Code Geass
  • Death Note

But if I was sharing longer lists before, you could see that 2006 was also the year when the following titles were released/continued/wrapped up, many of which also remain fan favs today:

  • Higurashi When They Cry
  • xxxHolic
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society
  • Aria the Natural (second season)
  • Hellsing Ultimate (OVA 1 and OVA 2 I think)
  • Hell Girl (finishing)
  • Mushi-Shi (finishing)

And, there’s a whole host more, of course!

But in terms of anime from the year, ones that that I’m still chasing down, here are three on my list – and I’m ranging from ‘very keen’ to ‘curious’ about these:

  • Ghost Slayers Ayashi
  • The Wallflower
  • Nana

If you’ve seen any I’d love to hear if you’d recommended them!


At long last, here are my favourites from 2006, though I might have forgotten to include some. So far, I’ve reviewed only 5 here at the Heap, but I’ll include just a line or so about each now, before finishing up!

  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

A huge film from Mamoru Hosoda – fun premise, memorable leads and everything looks great, of course. Is it old enough to call ‘classic’ yet?

  • Intrigue in the Bakumatsu – Irohanihoheto

I haven’t seen a whole host of anime featuring travelling theatre groups, so this really caught my eye, in addition to the historical setting and supernatural elements.

  • Ghost Hunt

More supernatural – mixing suspense and some comedy, though this single season leaves a lot up in the air, I still really liked it.

  • Pumpkin Scissors

Sometimes compared to FMA, Pumpkin Scissors is a dark but not oppressive war-time anime following a small team of soldiers fighting injustice and corruption.

  • Ergo Proxy

My all-time number 2 from my top ten – one of my favourite science-fiction works in any medium, I think.

  • The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye

I also love adventure stories, and usually ones based on light novels or just novels in general, tend to have great plots and charactarisation. I’ve always found it interesting that The Third has a narrator.

  • Black Lagoon

Girls with guns, but also crime drama + a SE Asian setting really makes this stand out for me. Over the top but that’s a definitely plus.

  • Red Garden

I don’t see this one mentioned a whole lot, maybe because it’s aged visually? But it’s a supernatural crime show that once caught my eye, grim but engaging.

  • Le Chevalier D’Eon

I think I’ve said this before, but this has one of the greatest first episodes I’ve seen in anime, though I did find myself struggling with the pacing at times. Still, swords and the supernatural 😀

  • Paprika

Satoshi Kon’s Paprika is a superb psychological thriller, great science-fiction that looks great too and is far superior to the Christopher Nolan adaptation known as Inception.


Done! *wipes brow*

I’ve been working on this for a while and foolishly, I thought it’d be a ‘quick’ post but of course, I got carried away a bit.

In any event, how about for you – what stood out in 2006? Anything I haven’t mentioned here that’s worth investigating? Have you seen Ghost Slayers Ayashi, The Wallflower or Nana?

Hit me with thoughts on 2006!

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.]

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)