Mirai

Mirai (2018)

This film was kinda hard work.

It’s a family drama with a few fantastical elements but I felt mostly like I was locked inside the tantrum of one small boy for most* of the movie.

Having said that, there are a few wonderful forays into other places and times that expand the setting and add whimsy and also pack emotional weight as well… but for too much of the running time I found myself sitting through scenes of Kun’s jealous whining. (And yeah, he is just a little kid struggling with change, as is the whole family, but I didn’t enjoy it much).

Elsewhere the gender stereotypes are perhaps a little dull and I didn’t finish the movie feeling particularly uplifted, which is something I’ve come to expect from Mamoru Hosoda films. (Having said that, quite obviously not every single film he or any other creator makes has to be uplifting at all.)

Mirai is still visually beautiful and I really enjoyed the variety in the sort of single setting of the home, but the highlights for me were the scenes where Kun meets and learns about his grandfather – I’d watch a whole anime about that in a flash.

Not my favourite Mamoru Hosoda film by any stretch but it certainly might be your thing.

2 Stars

(Cool to hear Tatsuro Yamashita in the opening though).

* Of course, I am exaggerating when I say ‘most’ but it was too much for me.

A-Z Challenge: “N” is for Noragami (2014)

Noragami

This is (another) show that I wanted to tick off my A-Z challenge list and so I’m glad I’ve made a bit more progress on the challenge there, but sadly, it seems that maybe Noragami is a show Bones has abandoned.

I guess the audience didn’t love it enough to buy the merch or other physical items, and obviously, the studio has to follow their cash cows in order to stay afloat in a crowded marketplace… but I left season two of Noragami ready for a third and it probably won’t happen, which bugs me.

Nevertheless, that’s the way it is.

And I should switch to the things I liked about those two seasons – while also attempting to complete a short review for a change 😀

Noragami mixes supernatural action with comedy and drama in an urban (but not grimy) setting that’s kinda shown via the rooftops and telephone wires as much as the shrines and streets, which I loved.

For me, the creatures and magic were always fun and I liked the designs for both them and the humanoid characters, but I think the characters themselves were my fav aspect.

The pacing and reveals (especially around Yato’s past) and storytelling did the work of keeping me hooked, and while I probably enjoyed the first season’s main storyline slightly better, I got a lot of satisfying answers in the second.

The contrast between Yato and Hiyori as leads works a treat for me but I think maybe I was drawn to the side-characters as much as those two – even the sullen Yukine, who is given a nice arc, and is actually a pivotal character that I could have really disliked, but I ended up pretty keen for him to succeed.

I haven’t said much in the way of specifics here perhaps… and so here’s one I wanted to mention: the hierarchy of Gods and the way they operate within the bounds of the human world was a big hook for me.

Hmmm, now that I’m just rolling off things I enjoyed, it might be time to wrap things up and just mention a few last aspects – Ebisu had an interesting close to his storyline, and while I would have loved more from Kofuku and Daikoku, I did get to know a reasonably large cast, which gave the show plenty of variety, I reckon.

If you like action, comedy and supernatural elements around Gods and related deities then this might just hit the spot.

4 Stars

[This is the latest 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].

Toward the Terra (1980)

Toward the Terra (1980)

I tend to really enjoy stories that feature big concepts – especially imaginings of the future, and Toward the Terra features both of those things.

While it’s a generational story that skips a few years here and there, the beginning especially gives us a look at an unsettling ‘utopia’, a place boasting order and health but a place where a character might say something like “I’m sick of boys, let’s get a girl next time” and this statement would be perfectly normal.

The repressive society featured in Toward the Terra isn’t the main focus precisely, but it is the structure that our Chosen One (Jomy) must rebel against.

Ultimately, the story is a far-future struggle between humans and Mu (Mu are humans who can use psychic powers) and while the film does feature space battles and struggles, it’s not so much a war between equal and opposing sides, it’s more like a brainwashed humanity seeking to commit genocide upon the Mu.

It can be pretty grim – and while the ‘80s designs and animation might not make some of those things seem as visceral as modern shows could, it’s still compelling.

For me, the time skips I mentioned before suggest that this adaption would have worked really well as a series (and twenty-seven years later maybe it does :D), allowing the story to further explore things like Jomy and Physis for one, but beside that and similar issues related to the huge story and limited running time, I enjoyed Toward the Terra plenty.

4 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.]

Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)

Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) 2010

Before Hiromasa Yonebayashi became a founding member of Studio Ponoc, he was working at Ghibli on a lot of their blockbuster films. Arrietty was his debut as director, with a screenplay that Miyazaki adapted from The Borrowers. (Another example of his interest in storytelling from the UK).

This one is not in my top five Ghibli films, but I do prefer Arrietty to Yonebayashi’s other feature for the studio, When Marnie was There.

Ultimately, what keeps this one from climbing up the ranking in my mind, is the ending, which felt a little flat compared to the rest of the film… but I won’t try to claim that it’s a bad ending, because that’d be an exaggeration, I reckon.

What I loved most was the clear ‘world-within-a-world’ that existed in the film, with the borrowers having not only their own home and cast-off possessions, but that different perspective on human homes.

It’s a warm, intimate world where little is wasted and ‘simple’ tasks take on more epic dimensions – like that first quest for sugar. (Those scenes show the same beautiful attention to detail Ghibli is known for, mirrored in the natural world too, but for me I think of the house most whenever I remember Arrietty.)

I won’t ramble on much longer, but the tension between the Arriety and Sho’s storylines eventually meeting is great, and I always find it sad but sweet when he tries to switch the kitchen around. But of course – in the end, he cannot help Arrietty and her family, as the power of one small boy cannot fully stand up to the cruelty of the adult world.

Still, Arrietty isn’t a tragedy, so there’s an ultimately uplifting ending in store if you’ve never seen this one 🙂

4 Stars

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

Arte

It feels like only a few folks are talking about Arte (or I’m just missing the discussions) but I’m glad I stumbled across this show! (I’ve been watching episodes of Arte between Black Lagoon stints, and the contrast is vivid :D)

Arte 2020

Arte is a seinen series that should appeal to folks who like historical fiction too and coming of age themes in any other genre, but also visual artists themselves. Obviously, setting a show in Florence during the 16th century means (High) Renaissance but in Arte it’s not a drama about the masters, but a coming of age story that focuses on apprentices – chiefly Arte herself, of course.

And she’s an endearing heroine whom I wanted to succeed, kind and determined, classic seinen stuff. Having been extremely lucky to have once visited Florence (and Venice) I was enthralled by the setting as much as the storyline, due to the beautiful detail. [As a side note, I did also like seeing the canals so clear and sparkling in the anime :)]

Arte isn’t an episodic anime, as it is building to two key moments that do pay off, and while the individual storylines and characters were definitely enjoyable for me, I think the mentor stuff around Arte and Leo were my favourite aspects, aside from learning more about the specific labour that went into the art world back then.

I only had one gripe, which was the amount of time the story spent in Venice, though that wasn’t because things suddenly became worse, but more because I wanted to see her grow more under Leo’s guidance and he wasn’t in those eps, lol.

On the extremely low chance of a future season, I guess that could still happen. The manga certainly has plenty of issues available for Seven Arcs to draw from 🙂

Part of me wants to say ‘5 Stars’ because I enjoyed so much about the show but I think it’s a fairly niche series in some ways, so I don’t want to potentially mislead anyone reading this. However, if you like the visual arts or the genre, or historical Italy, then I think you’ll enjoy this a good deal indeed.

4 Stars

Katarina has quite the introductory episode
Perhaps the only time Leo smiles from memory
I should have tried harder to find more pictures like these

RahXephon

[Spoilers abound!]

RahXephon (2002)

Today I’m starting with a thank you to In Search of Number Nine because I think that without these great posts, I would not have been introduced to a classic mecha show that I’d somehow missed over the years 🙂

As fans of RahXephon certainly already know, narrowing the series down to just a couple of genres, say ‘mecha’ or ‘science fiction’, clouds the fact that the anime is one of those killer shows with variety – and it’s happy to slow down and explore its characters through romance, intrigue and betrayals.

Now, I know I was already pre-disposed to enjoy RahXephon because I like Chiaki J. Konaka’s writing a lot, but also because this series has a mystical/ethereal feel, and I think those elements are pretty interesting to see in mecha. I was quite transfixed by hints of mysteries not explained in the narrative too.

One of the other aspects I really enjoyed was the tension-building throughout – which, unsurprisingly, is linked to the characters, many of whom have motivations that are kept from the viewer for many episodes.

Thinking about the series now, months after I finished that first time, I realise that as much as the action sequences do stand out in my memory (for their otherworldly nature especially) they’re mostly memorable due to how connected they are to the characters who go through them.

Here, I guess I’m thinking mainly about Hiroko’s death or maybe Elvy’s dogfights or even when Haruka is trying to defend and impress Ayato in those opening episodes, because especially upon second viewing, these moments with her strike me as quite sad. It feels like everything she tries in order to recapture the past just falls so flat.

RahXephon can feel down-beat – but there are moments of levity and action and mystery to go with it; and also some great detail to the Mu and the connected world-building. It’s exactly the kind of series that I reckon you’d enjoy even more upon a second viewing.

As I sometimes do, I want to quickly jump to some random dot points:

  • In a great cast, I found Ayato’s mother to stand out – especially when she was speaking the Mu language, as it’s this really disconcerting mix of unnerving and soothing.
  • The Futagami reveal was cool; I should have known he’d be a ‘higher-up’ 😀
  • I’d have loved a bit more time spent expanding upon the villains, as their role in the ending wasn’t quite as impactful, perhaps. On the other hand, it really allowed some of the main cast to take on highly antagonistic roles too.
  • Maybe all of Quon’s dialogue doesn’t land for me… but it’s still an important part of the show’s tone.
  • The design of the RahXephon is one of my favourite mecha designs out there, and the dolems are striking too. Related, I thought the use of song/voice added to the eerie nature so well – those first couple of episodes, where the viewer is just cast into conflict with little idea of who is who, one of my anchors was just how different it all was.
  • Loved Ayato’s 1970s-style outfit in the abandoned department store.
  • The ending theme perfectly evokes the feel of the show and it was always interesting to hear the variations.
  • Useless trivia: My DVD set has really nice illustrations (likely by Akihiro Yamada) on each disc, ones that I think were taken from earlier single-disc releases or maybe posters? But sadly, because my copy is an ‘ex-rental’, glue from the stickers that the store had used on the discs was jamming up my player. I had to use the ‘orange’ cleaner that folks in the retail industry might recall – it’s strong but not insanely so, and deals with sticker residue really well… when used on plastic surfaces, that is. When used on printed discs, it can erode some of the image itself, so a few of my discs now have what look like ‘scrape marks’ 😦

In terms of the production context, obviously Bones was a fairly new studio around 2001 – but having evolved from Sunrise, they had plenty of expertise to draw upon.

RahXephon was maybe their third TV series and they’d had a few films out already, one of which was the Cowboy Bebop movie, so it certainly feels like things were going well. The anime is also the only one (so far) to be directed by Yutaka Izubuchi, who was well-known as a designer. I really wish he’d direct again/be given the chance to direct again – but I’m glad they gave him the chair in those early years.

Back then, Bones had two teams, but I don’t know if any of the current five teams have made anything quite like RahXephon? But that could well be my ignorance at play – and in fact, if anyone knows of something approximately similar from Bones, I’d love to hear about it! [I’ll quickly add that maybe Un-Go and probably more so Xam’d are vaguely close].

It’s now been 18 years since RahXephon was released, and 25 since Neon Genesis changed so much about the genre, and I know the two shows are often compared. There are obviously aspects that are similar in tone and character but I never felt like I was watching a cut-rate clone. And in my reading for this review, I found that other folks mention Megazone 23 and Brave Raideen (1975) as being closer.

(And Yutaka Izubuchi feels the same about Brave Raideen, about wanting to bring a different sense back to the landscape of giant robots.) So naturally, I’m now curious to see a few episodes but that’s a long-term project. My knowledge of 1970s-era anime is pretty much limited to Lupin, Space Battleship Yamato and a handful of films.

Anyway, getting back to RahXephon I’ll try to finish this one with a recommendation. I think, if you’ve seen other works penned by Chiaki J. Konaka then you’ll enjoy this for sure. If you like post-EVA mecha stories with a bit of angst, then yep. Also maybe, if you’re the kind of fan that follows studios, and maybe have a soft spot for ‘early Bones’ productions, then take a look at RahXephon.

And finally, if you’re the kind of viewer who likes to be left with a few questions at the end of a series, then definitely watch this one – not sure who is streaming it at the moment, but it’s still around I’m sure!

5 Stars

Gallery time! I took around 300 screencaps and of course, have had trouble deciding which pics to highlight. Here’s some with the occasional thought here and there in the captions:

We see two shots with a lot of space between characters fairly often, from memory – and it certainly suits all the secrets it seems everyone is holding.
I like the ‘beehive’ kinda look to the edges of Ayato’s vision when he’s piloting.
There’s another shot of Quon which has me half-convinced that they gave her the umbrella (in part) because it would add to a distinctive silhouette.

And finally – the costume I mentioned earlier, which I liked well-enough for a temporary outfit, but Haruka did not:

Planetarian (ONA)

Planetarian

Planetarian is melancholic but still soothing somehow – gentle rain, soft colours in blues and greens, even ‘washed out’ as many of them are, all to really effectively show a city left behind. In fact, the setting is probably my favourite thing about the series but that’s probably just me – what most folks will (rightly) enjoy more is the character development, I reckon.

Watching Planetarian recently, as right now our own society slowly shuts down for the most part, added a bit of extra eeriness to some of the scenes, something I wasn’t quite ready for. On the surface, this short ONA series is a post-apocalyptic story about a scavenger in a ruined city – evocatively named a Sarcophagus City – but the main focus is more the way he must reluctantly open up to an abandoned robot who cares for the Planetarium.  

The story is bookended by two action scenes – with the second being the most high stakes, but as I mentioned above, the structure gives far more time to the ‘Junker’ and his cooling toward the poor robot, who at first, doesn’t quite seem to realise how lonely she is. Without drifting down the path of spoilers, I’ll say that her quest to put on a special presentation about the stars is definitely tinged with pathos but it’s not a relentlessly bleak series either.

There’s also a follow-up film with some repeated footage that I haven’t finished at the time of writing this (but I will finish), however you will get a complete story if you only end up viewing the ONA. So, Planetarian is definitely recommended if you’re after something atmospheric, or downbeat, but something that is also sweet at times.

I’m having a moment of regret re: using a star rating for these reviews – I liked this adaptation and I was caught up for sure, I felt for the characters. Maybe the pacing slowed a few times but that isn’t worth me knocking a star off, I reckon. And so ‘3 Stars’ doesn’t seem right and ‘4 stars’ is probably closer, even if I suspect some folks might not enjoy the moe aspect.

3.5 Stars