The Daughter of Twenty Faces (Nijū Mensō no Musume)

The Daughter of Twenty Faces (Nijū Mensō no Musume) 2008

This (loose?) adaptation of Edogawa Ranpo’s ‘Kogoro Akechi’ detective stories really becomes two different shows for me, with the first third being far superior. Not that the last half or ending is poor, but the focus becomes a bit muddled I reckon.

But is any of it outright ‘bad’? Not at all.

And I think if you like adventure stories and heists, then The Daughter of Twenty Faces should do the trick. (It also has plenty of daring escapes and fun action sequences from late 2000s-era Bones too.)

Thinking back, I remember that the first episode almost had me give up on the show – I won’t spoil why, but pay-off is worthwhile, I reckon.

In fact, the anime throws out a few twists and turns as you follow the clever Chizuko through the post-war Shōwa era on her quest to find the truth about the mysterious benefactor who operates as something of a surrogate father.

Twenty Faces and his crew, especially Ken, stand out as co-leads/supporting characters (and so does Tome, perfectly demonstrating heroism without brawn) and as much as I enjoyed the surprises and larger scope of the story, I’ll probably watch this again one day for the characters themselves.

[Spoilers below]

When it comes to a few things that stand out as disappointing, I will say that the decision to simply do away with almost the entire cast after about episode 6… well, I’m still of two minds about it.

Clearly, it works wonderfully to force Chiko to become more independent but it seemed also a way to place her into a generic school setting, to make sure certain manga arcs could be animated?

It really slashed into the tension and introduced tangents that weren’t as interesting to me as the main storyline.

My subtitles were a little hit-and-miss too, so I didn’t quite pick up on the full dialogue toward the final few episodes, but one day a re-issue might sort that out 😀

Despite my grumbling about those issues, I liked The Daughter of Twenty Faces due to the characters and the storytelling, and still find myself wondering how it was received ‘all the way’ back in 2008.

4 Stars

The Wonderland (Bāsudē Wandārando) 2019

Even as I type this, I’m sick of my own go-to thought being something like ‘compare this one to Ghibli’, because that’s lazy of me.

Moreover, Studio Ghibli hasn’t released a non-CGI feature for six years or so. And nor do they own ‘awe and whimsy’. No studio does, of course! (Having said that, I know Wonderland has been compared to Ghibli and Miyazaki films in particular.)

But it is different in terms of tone and execution.


The Wonderland is an old-school portal fantasy (or ‘Isakei’ to use the anime lingo) where characters are led into a fairy-tale world (rather than a game), which makes sense considering that it’s based on a children’s story from 1988*.

And the world that Akane and her aunt must save is a real draw for me since it’s got plenty of surprises and fun, whimsical settings, characters and moments. There’s also a classic ‘reluctant hero’ plot and it’s nice to see Akane quickly become less selfish as the story progresses.

(Of course, there’s an understandable reluctance – being asked to save a magical world you never knew existed would be worrisome to say the least).

As much as I enjoyed most of the film, there was something missing from the narrative. Perhaps strong ties to the central problem Akane is being asked to solve? Or maybe I wanted more from the villain too?

Still, the art and animation was beautiful and Chii was an interesting addition to the leads, and so I didn’t mind. And there were funny moments to balance the menacing ones too (without spoilers) like with Akane and the cats or Hippocrates’ transformation.

The Wonderland is aimed at younger audiences but it’s not G-rated either, so there’s violence but I don’t actually remember blood. Having noted the target audience, I found it interesting that an adult from the real world was allowed to come along for the adventure, which is kinda rare in YA fiction.

Directed by Keiichi Hara, (Miss Hokusai), this adaption was only released a few years ago now but I don’t remember hearing about it, not back then and not very often now either. I’m curious if anyone else had a chance to see it?

Maybe 4 Stars is a little generous in terms of a rating but for me, in a visual medium the visuals sometimes make up for other issues 😀

*Chikashitsu Kara no Fushigi na Tabi (Strange Journey from the Basement) by Sachiko Kashiwaba

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].

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

To begin, I thought I should note that this is the Disney film where the team emotionally torments that poor chipmunk character, and also mention that The Sword in the Stone isn’t an exploration of the Arthurian legend.

That timeless Chip ‘n’ Dale chipmunk design

Instead, I think you can consider it more of a series of fun, loosely connected sequences put together to delight young children with colour and slapstick. Which is not a bad thing at all, and it was a film I watched over and over as a kid on my grandmother’s TV, so I have fond memories indeed!

And it’s always great to see Disney’s love of forests on display too, something I notice and compare each time I watch a Disney film. Most of Arthur’s transformations make for exciting scenes but as an adult, I could feel certain moments starting to drag a little, and others felt a little rushed compared to what I sought from a King Arthur/Merlin tale.

Feels like you could draw a neat link from this scene to ‘Finding Nemo’

One scene that sticks around a little long for me is obviously the squirrel one, whereas anything in the city tends to be a more rushed. Having Wart’s character voiced by three actors (including two brothers which was cool) made the variance between them quite stark, even too stark at times.

Overall, I don’t want to call The Sword in the Stone a bad film but there are enough better Disney ones to maybe seek out first. I still enjoyed the moat chase and the dueling magicians (when Merlin confronts Madam Mim) but I wasn’t enchanted this time around.

3 Stars 

Classic Dinsey to bring in the present to any historical story.

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.

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō)

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō) 2014

Nine years passed between the release of Mushi-Shi (2005) and Mushi-Shi (Next Passage) and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long myself 🙂

For me, having come to the first series late, I was lucky to be able to watch both reasonably close together… but now, after having finished, I’m also sad that there’s only a few specials left for me to seek out. Still, I can easily re-watch an episode here and there because both seasons are truly episodic.

Lazily, I’m going to quote from my first review for the premise:

Mushi-Shi is full of fable-like episodes that seem to draw on equal parts Japanese folklore and creator Yuki Urushibara’s fantastic imagination, exploring the lives of regular and remarkable people in an almost-Edo-period-setting that includes lots of supernatural elements mixed in with the natural world.

There are plenty of similarities between the two series – for one, Ginko is still the central character but not a character that needs to hog all the screen-time; you’ll get to know the people whose lives he changes too but no storyline drags. You’ll also get an ending with each episode and usually, meet a new and fantastical mushi each time.

Next Passage is still quite calm in many ways, often sombre too, but that doesn’t mean the anime is without tension. Mostly, I guess I’m referring to production techniques and pacing when I claim that it is ‘calm’. Again, once more the natural world dominates the screen, both beautiful and disconcerting as Ginko travels through the seasons.

One change I did notice seems to be the colour – this season feels a little more vibrant and even more picturesque; it’s usually very soothing. Even the darker episodes seem almost ‘warm’, like ‘The Hand That Caresses the Night’ for example, with the yellows, greens and browns.

If you enjoyed the first season then this will satisfy on every level I think – there’s even an episode with a little more about Ginko’s past, so I was pretty happy to see that. It’s hard to choose a favourite few episodes this time around, but ‘Floral Delusion’ comes to mind for sure.

4 Stars

Hercules

Hercules (1997)

Disney have obviously been at the forefront of adapting, sanitising and/or pillaging myth and fairytales* for many moons now. And it seems, especially commercially-speaking, that when they keep the stories happy, and ensure that it’s very easy to understand who is ‘good’ and who is ‘evil’, people are pleased.

However, I feel as though audiences aren’t too willing to let the company stray very far from that formula.

And part of me thinks Hercules might have been an early step toward less binary representations of good and evil, and maybe pointed toward an attempted change. It’s a change that I think comes to at least one end point with Atlantis. (Especially if I include Treasure Planet in that progression).

Hercules is probably closer to Aladdin in some ways, and watching it again much later, I can see why it did the usual big numbers. This time around, I probably focused on different things, especially the artwork and character design, though the story is a fun adventure and I think the liberties it takes with the family of Gods works quite well to make things a little more kid-friendly.

You also get plenty of exaggeration in character movement and faces, to keep that slapstick front and centre. As you might expect with Disney, there are also plenty of ‘modern’ pop culture references, with the Air Jordan stuff working best for me.

I want to come back to where I see a reasonably non-typical Disney character moving the needle toward morally grey, but for now I’m sticking with the visuals. I loved the sense of scale in the film – there’s a whole heap of extreme wide shots and towering structures, stunning locations and colours, typically beautiful Disney stuff.

But there’s definitely a Mediterranean look to the countryside and the character designs, which were based on work by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. I remember him most from Pink Floyd’s The Wall and you can definitely see his touch even in the finished, more rounded/tidier Disney designs. I’m pretty sure this is a sketch he did for Hades:

To switch to the cast for a moment, Danny Devito stood out and so did James Woods as Hades. Not sure what the actor was like back in the late 1990s but he seems to get attention for different things nowadays. Susan Egan (who I usually associate with Lin from Spirited Away), is also great as Meg; and that’s who I wanted to mention earlier.

Meg is a character with motivations that are not so clear cut at first. I’m not sure how younger viewers would have responded to her, but in a way she becomes the most interesting character in the film and it feels like she’s one example of cautious steps by Disney directors to shift away from the ‘kids’ category, for at least some of the time.

In any event, I enjoyed Hercules and one of my only concerns was the Muses… On one hand, the designs and animation upon the clay pots were great but the gospel didn’t work for me because it seemed somehow borderline tokenism? I dunno, can’t figure it out yet. Maybe I’m off-base, and I’d like to be wrong there.

4 Stars

* And other stories, of course.

Dragon Quest : Your Story (Doragon Kuesuto Yua Sutōrī)

Dragon Quest: Your Story (Doragon Kuesuto Yua Sutōrī) 2019

Being a fan of JRPGs, I found myself waiting quite keenly for the Switch edition of Dragon Quest XI and really enjoyed playing it last year.

Flash forward to now and I was happy to stumble across Your Story.

It’s a classic fantasy, adventure film that adapts the storyline from the fifth Dragon Quest game, blending action, humour and magic nicely to my eye. Again, I’m on record plenty of times as being wary of CGI and anime, but everything looked top-notch to me and perhaps I was less inclined to feel like it didn’t suit, because I associated everything here with the game visuals rather than 2D anime.

On that note, I’d argue that you can definitely watch this film without being familiar with the game series – and a point of interest for me was that the narrative spans a fair few years, and more than one generation as well, but does so in such a way that doesn’t make things feel disconnected either.

Quite thrilling for me, as a fan of DQXI, was hearing the game’s OST in the film, and each instance certainly fit the storyline. Also appearing in were the now-classic ‘slimes’ and other creatures – and though the usual look of other Akira Toriyama character designs didn’t appear in the same, distinctive way as in the games perhaps, they still worked for me.

I will just note that maybe, if you’ve played any of the games, you might get a few more references or easter-egg kinda things, but again, it should still be enjoyable for someone who isn’t necessarily a fan of the series too. (I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it’d be suitable for little kids… but it’s probably aimed somewhere between tweens and adults perhaps).

4 Stars

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku)

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku) (1992)

Lots of pastel-ish tones in this film, which really adds to the bleakness.

I missed The Weathering Continent back in the 1990s but I know it would have caught my eye if the film had actually had any chance of being screened in Australia – but then, at the time of the movie’s release I was probably watching Astro Boy re-runs (along with He-Man, She-Ra and Voltron).

And then, a few years later, by the mid-90s, it was all about Neon Genesis!

Still, I’m glad I’ve now seen The Weathering Continent because I know I’ll watch it again one day, since I enjoyed it so much.

It really walks the line between creepy and haunting so well, aided by a barren but not empty setting. The story follows three wanderers as they traverse a wasteland-like Atlantis, but it’s not a quest to discover ancient wonders – it’s more like a struggle to survive an ancient, cursed place.

I’m not sure I should try to categorise The Weathering Continent as ‘cult’ or ‘overlooked’ and I’m not coming up with a lot of info re: how it was received upon release, but I know it did have a theatrical run, though it’s not ‘feature length’ at 50-odd minutes. This anime is not something I suspect you’ll be able to stream easily, but I found a DVD via good old ebay, and it has a great, landscape sleeve:

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51AGu829N7L._SX425_.jpg

Anyway, it was of course easy for me to learn that the film is an adaptation of a light novel series by Sei Takekawa (illustrations by Mutsumi Inomata) and that it was directed by Kōichi Mashimo. Mashimo’s name caught my eye because of Eat-Man and Noir, so it was interesting to see that same moodiness from the first Eat-Man here. However, unlike Noir the action is sparse in The Weathering Continent.

But when it occurs it certainly looks good – this is from Production IG before they changed their name, and character design stands out to me as well, obviously very 1990s. But above all, it is the city where the bulk of the story takes place that enthralled me, and yes the architecture and use of mostly sombre colours and detail is great, but the inhabitants themselves were what had me hooked, those masks and costumes!

Again, I wanted to share a lot more shots of the masks and the city but I restrained myself

I’ve had to fight the urge not to screen-cap the hell out of this one, because on the off-chance that you might want to see this film, I don’t want to spoil too much, yet I want to evoke enough to get you curious at least 😀

That’s probably enough rhapsodising from me, I think – basically, if you’re in the mood for a sword and sorcery anime that is also heavy on atmosphere (but a fairly light on plot), then this lesser-known film from Mashimo should satisfy.

4 Stars

TTGL Collab with Scott from Mechanical Anime

Here it is!

I’ve been (typically?) awfully busy of late, and so a combination of scheduled posts + random bursts of energy have kept me in the blogging game, but today I want to share something that was heaps of fun and which I worked on with Scott for a while (I slowed things down a few times, sadly).

It’s a collaboration post on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (which I’d never seen before!) and it was awesome to work with Scott, who knows so much about Mecha and so if you’ve got a few mins and you want to check out what we talked about just take a look at the link below 🙂

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Collaboration.

It’s my second collaboration post so far and I hope to do more in the future!