The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)

The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge) 2016

It’s always exciting to see animation helmed by folks from beyond Japan and the US, since those are the two production locations I’ve been most exposed to.

Having said that, Studio Ghibli is a co-producer but the look and feel of this feature film definitely reveals more of Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit’s hand, and an overall European aesthetic. For me, with my limited knowledge of animation in the wider world, I saw hints of Herge in the character designs but that’s not really important.

I’m trying to be brief for a change (hahaha), so instead, let me leap to a bit of plot – this is a fantasy, but chiefly a drama about a man stranded on an island and who encounters a curiously belligerent (it seems) red turtle. (Thematically, it’s more nuanced than that however).

Switching to the tone of the story I think you can’t go wrong by saying that it can be described as a cross between Castaway and a fairy tale. Yet The Red Turtle is ultimately more uplifting than the Tom Hanks film. Still, it’s fairly downbeat – but I remained enthralled by the visuals once a central mystery was resolved perhaps halfway through.

Focusing on the visuals, aside from the ‘line and dot’ look of a lot of the film, it’s an explosion of light and colour without being gaudy; it remains so natural, becoming almost hyper-natural in some ways. From the sand, water and forests, it’s like a work of art. There’s also a lot of dramatic composition too, with wide and sometimes extreme establishing shots to really drive home the idea that humanity is just one part of the world. Yet it’s hardly a preachy film, considering one feature is a lack of dialogue.

Very much worth seeing if you’re a fan of the art of animation.

4 Stars

Castlevania (TV Series)

Castlevania (2017 -)

Castlevania as an animated TV series was a long time coming.

The first four episodes were released back in 2017 after around ten years of development ups and downs, with the next batch following late last year – leaving most viewers pretty keen for the third season, it seems.

And I’m one of them for sure; in part it’s due to the art style, in part the storytelling and probably the ace performances of the voice actors too. Generally, I have limited knowledge of which dubs are super-high quality for most anime or animated works (obviously I know that Cowboy Bebop’s is top-notch and many Ghibli ones are great too) so it was nice to hear a range of accents in Castlevania.

Maybe it’s ‘impossible’ to write spoilers about the storylines for fans of the franchise, since they are close to the games, but there’s a lot of familiar character conflict and bitterness mixed in with the gore and fantastic fight sequences as Belmont, Sypha and (in time) Alucard set out to destroy old Vlad Dracula Tepes.

While some of the gore was kinda casually employed (rather than being used to have an impact on the main cast) and the cursing worked perfectly 50% of the time and seemed like posturing the other half of the time, I still think the series is otherwise fairly close to an ‘instant classic’ – at least, the first two seasons are. The initial four episodes have perfect pacing and while the second season wallows a bit in Dracula’s court, the finish is big enough to compensate for me. And all the action throughout is satisfying I reckon, from a visceral and technical standpoint, especially the Belmont/Cyclops and Belmont/Alucard battles. I’d link to the whole thing here but it’s probably going to have more impact after watching the lead-up.

Perhaps above and beyond those aspects are the character design and voice acting.

The look and feel of the characters clearly (and wonderfully) go for a Symphony of the Night / Ayami Kojima feel, with the regal/Elvish vampire approached used to full effect. The creature designs are good too and the settings are suitably grim, and the somewhat dimension-twisting architecture of Dracula’s castle really stood out in the second season especially.

Finally and quickly to the voice acting – I thought Graham McTavish really nailed the power and menace of Dracula, but also humanised him so well. Somehow now, I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice when I think of Dracula. Richard Armitage really killed it as Trevor too, and while everyone else sounded great to my ear, I wanted to also mention someone I didn’t recognise at first, Peter Stormare in season two as Godbrand.

I’m fairly confident in saying fans of the Castlevania franchise will enjoy this adaptation, so too horror/supernatural fans, though perhaps not so much folks who might consider themselves general anime fans – though the Amercian and Korean studios who produced the animation certainly nailed the anime aesthetic.

4 Stars