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 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.
Jin-Roh is another film that ticks a lot of boxes for me, but if you’re unsure about watching this lesser-known classic, keep in mind that I have my biases and I probably enjoyed this more than folks who maybe consider themselves ‘general’ action fans.
I say that because one of the things that I’m predisposed toward enjoying is an alternate history story and that’s definitely one way to describe Jin-Roh. And based on the pacing alone, perhaps don’t go in expecting a blockbuster-action movie.
Jin-Roh is a little more measured and could be described as character-focused, without being ‘slow’ either, I reckon.
Set in a troubled postwar Japan, with the 1950s rioting as part of the backdrop, there’s a lot of what I think is period-appropriate detail to the setting, contrasted with the almost futuristic armour worn by the Kerberos Panzer Cops. Our hero is Corporal Fuse, a member of the elite anti-terrorist force trained in the use of such heavy-duty armour. His story begins when he fails to shoot a young terrorist beneath the city.
And since the film uses a few thriller conventions, where everyone around Fuse is suspect, I won’t go into much more plot detail than that, and instead switch back to some of the production stuff that I tend to enjoy. Jin-Roh is based on a Mamoru Oshii work and was released post-Ghost in the Shell and so it feels like, to some extent, the team at Production I.G were still riding high and had a good budget too. The film definitely plays out that way, with high quality art and animation and a focus on character as much, or even more so than the action.
I’ll quickly note that action scenes aren’t absent either – and it can be quite ferocious, considering the Kerberos’ preference for those serious machine guns, but there’s time for Fuse to reflect and think about who he can trust too.
There’s even a lot that’s poetic about the film, from the faint ‘glow’ to some scenes, to the fatalistic attitudes of a lot of characters, or the way the Little Red Riding Hood nursery rhyme is used. In fact, in my obsession with seeking intertextual elements, I wonder if one of Fuse’s dream sequences doesn’t include a nod to a film I’ve mentioned before Don’t Look Now with the gate (and the girls themselves)?
But I’d better switch back to the visuals for one more point before I finish up, because I want to mention both the muted colour palette and how well that fits the setting, and also draw attention to the character design. If you’ve been exposed mostly to modern anime you might not be used to the realism common to various Hiroyuki Okiura designs, but I really enjoyed the variety from the director.
Finally, I want to mention the brooding soundtrack from Hajime Mizoguchi, which is another element that really sells the sombre mood of the film. In fact, it can be almost bleak and our lead is a little morose but I think, if you finish Jin-Roh you’ll see why. He is at least a little torn between his desires but it’s a very much internal struggle that is rarely played out upon his face.
So, to quickly sum up I believe this is a bit of a ‘must’ for fans of Mamoru Oshii but if you’re also interested in alternate history or a bit of subterfuge with your action then you might well enjoy this at times sombre movie.
(The colour of red itself runs through the whole film, with varying degrees of subtlety, but always feels effective to me)
It must be daunting to take on such a classic – often adapted and widely revered, the Alexander Dumas novel is perhaps the ultimate story of betrayal and revenge.
How’s that for a quick introduction for a change?
So, if you’re familiar with the specifics of the novel then you’re up to speed with the plot in the anime… for the most part.
There’s a few significant changes overall – for one, Gonzo set this version well into the future with space travel and war-suits, though aesthetically it remains very lavishly European in terms of costuming and character. Teens take centre stage here too, which is perfect in terms of keeping the viewer one step ahead of the main character but still one step behind the antagonist/hero. Elsewhere there are hints of vampirism and alien or demonic forces at play, but with or without any of those things The Count of Monte Cristo is still a gripping drama that will feel a lot like the original story.
Most people discuss the visuals of this series and it’s clear why – they are astounding as well as, at times, utterly exhausting. It’s such a forceful and impressive blend of Gustav Klimt, typical anime aesthetics and Ukiyo-e that you’ll be both dazzled and confused at times, I reckon. For me, I couldn’t look away but the first few episodes were truly difficult adjustment periods. (Here, I tried not to share too much but also failed to capture what it’s really like – especially when all those clothing patterns move :D).
Beyond the art there’s a lot of angst and bitterness, but also perhaps a lot of nobility. At times it’s easy to get frustrated with young Albert’s naivety but he’s not the only character with something at stake here, so you’ll get to know other folks. For instance, I think most people would accept that Franz is just as important as Albert and the Count, along with the romances. In a way, it’s a large cast and you do get a bit of time with everyone.
While it’s mostly a story about the way Albert is manipulated into a role within the Count’s long revenge, the other plots are woven through the story neatly and toward the end, in impactful ways. [Spoiler here] In fact, for me the duel between ‘Albert’ and the Count is actually the high point in terms of drama, probably because you’re meant to be well-aware of what’s really happening. After that, the ending didn’t quite pack the same punch – and related, I would have loved something different or possibly more visceral for some of the revenges Edmund took.
I know there’s some discussion out there re: the ending of the anime vs the novel and each viewer will have their preferred approach but I wasn’t aghast by it or anything. Throughout, Gankutsuou will push you toward sympathising with the antagonist – and again, I’m reserving the word ‘villain’ for other characters here in some ways, but it takes a while before you’re given much of the Count’s back-story for context around his actions. From a storytelling point of view I think that makes a lot of sense, considering how well-known the source material is.
I know earlier I mentioned a large cast and I’ve touched upon a few of the bad seeds but there are bright moments (such and the purity of Valentine and Maximilien) but switching back to a more morally grey character, there’s one of my favs: Peppo who has an important role even if the screen time might not suggest it, precisely.
In terms of audience, note that themes of revenge, betrayal, incest and abuse are front and centre, and so despite the pretty exterior the series does a great job of revealing the depths of human villainy and weakness. In fact, when the visuals lean into the gaudiness I think it becomes at least partially a comment on the excesses of the nobility; that glittering veneer of honour that is so easily tarnished.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) 2017
Action-packed and grisly at times (perhaps gratuitously so, and I understand that descriptor won’t match everyone’s opinion of course) this series is pretty fast-paced, building quickly to a finish that maybe could have been ‘bigger’ but was by no means a let-down, either.
In a way, the tagline writes itself and I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it used officially – but basically, if you can imagine zombies on a train then you’ve got it to some extent.
Obviously there’s a more to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress than that, but not as much as I’d like in terms of world-building and any wider context appearing in the story. To a small extent the film that followed mitigates that feeling but overall, I think this could have easily been 24 episodes with a lot more exploration of how the world came to be the dystopia it is shown to be in the series.
Still, I’m always willing to give a chance to a story that isn’t an adaptation and knowing that Wit Studio would produce something that (at a minimum) looked impressive led me to give the show a shot after stumbling across the film on Netflix last year.
Okay, time to jump in to some dot points:
Yukina and also Kurusu were underused in the story, I reckon.
The villain was the ‘handsome evil’ type and he really was a piece of work – clearly pretty much everything about him was a lie used to manipulate others, some good characterisation there.
I enjoyed the conflicting idea of being trapped – but trapped in moving thing, so whenever a train was attacked by the kabane, there was a sense that flight was both happening but also kinda useless. Having said that, maybe too many zombies were ‘shamblers’ so not always very threatening.
I didn’t buy the viewer resentment toward Ikoma I think I remember reading. If you’ve seen this series you’ll know he’s a classic underdog so I was on board with him pretty quickly. Most of all, he was almost always right about pretty much everything, and had to suffer fools almost constantly.
On a related note, one great thing about being so far behind everyone else with new shows, is that I often miss both the hype and the naysayers. It seems that at least to some extent, Attack on Titan fanatics piled on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a bit, considering it too similar or just a money-grab, somehow?
For me, the two shows are plenty different even with some clear similarities, and I think I’ve argued before a little on the important role of the cash-cow – without said cow, the more ‘risky’ or original shows just don’t get made. (And here I mean ‘original’ as compared to a show that is an adaptation of an existing manga etc).
Overall, I enjoyed Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress without being over the moon. If you’re a horror or dark fantasy fan (even a steampunk fan perhaps) you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy here, beyond the beautifully coloured art.
At times, the show paused for what seem almost like glamour-shots, switching to a little extra detail while also adding an almost soft focus, as if they were setting up future stills for trading cards or other merch? There’s more than I’ve noted here of course, but I tried to snap a couple. (First is a better example).
The storyline is continued in a follow-up film that I actually abandoned last year, at the time knowing that I should probably watch the series first.
I definitely enjoyed the movie; it continued the main themes and struggles, advancing some character development too. I do wonder whether the relationship hindrances thrown up between Ikoma and Mumei were always natural?
Still, if you enjoyed the series you’ll like the film, I reckon.
Sometimes I feel like society’s tendency toward hyperbole in language dilutes words a little – and sure, language is always changing and that’s exciting… and maybe I have my own inclinations toward exaggeration at times but I reckon The Dagger of Kamui really is an ‘epic’ film.
Superficially, it is over two hours long but I was thinking about the other elements – geographically it features Japan, Russia and America and the storyline is essentially inter-generational; more, there’s training and trekking through the seasons, duels and battles, a treasure hunt, a promise of revenge and finally toward the end, the backdrop of war as Japan’s final Shogunate collapses.
Personally, the revenge story is focused around young ‘foundling’ Jiro who has been misled by a corrupt monk, the blocky, even stone-like and formidable Tenkai.
During Jiro’s search for not only the truth about his family (and who was responsible for their deaths) he goes through a lot of the classic coming-of-age aspects you’d expect to see but that doesn’t mean The Dagger of Kamui was predictable, precisely. There are plenty of twists (though one in particular seemed to push the bounds of coincidence or design) and our hero’s kinda mournful face makes up for his taciturn nature in some ways.
Part of what I really enjoyed was the way the film (and obviously the novels too no doubt) really think big – and I also wonder what sort of research both writers undertook? Because historical figures are littered throughout (even Mark Twain when Jiro reaches the USA!) and it seems like there were deliberate parallels drawn between the Ainu and the Native American tribe Jiro visits – I can’t figure out exactly which tribe they’re meant to represent but the French girl is an odd inclusion.
Related to this, I can’t decide whether the portrayal of Sam is a bit tone-deaf and/or whether it just takes the film a while to get around to calling out slavery for the bullshit that it is.
So who’s this one for?
Well, it’s pretty violent at times but more often than not it’s done in a heavily stylised way with coloured flashes and almost ‘floating’ fight-scenes that perhaps approximate slow-motion I think, along with some great bright colours. Having said that, the DVD I have is not remastered or restored etc so you won’t quite see that brightness in my screen caps.
But otherwise, if you like samurai or ninja* films and big epics, I think you’d enjoy The Dagger of Kamui, as Rintaro and Madhouse made something striking, I reckon – right down to the OST, which is almost a throwback to 1970s rock but it also features Balinese kecak vocals – which here are percussive chants that become quite menacing in the context of the film.
A classic for sure but maybe a classic to action-epic fans more so.
* I found it interesting that shinobi were shown as both villainous and heroic – in contrast to a lot of Western portrayals perhaps, but I also didn’t necessarily notice much disdain of shinobi that I would have thought samurai characters would show. Maybe I just missed it 🙂
Thanks to the Classic Anime Museum for reminding me of this film too – check out Josh’s review here.
Mushi-Shi is a series that had been floating around the edges of my awareness for a long time it seemed, and one I finally sought out specifically only last year.
As part of my research I looked at blogs and posts from various sites that discussed the show as ‘underrated’ and it seems that over the years, Mushi-Shi has grown a lot more popular in western fandom. So much so that I think it’s no longer underappreciated and overlooked but instead it appears in more lists without the word ‘underrated’ attached at all, which is awesome.
And maybe I’m putting too much stock in what I’ve found online, but I think even before the second series was produced, that the popularity of Mushi-Shi was climbing steadily. And I’m obviously more than happy to recommend Ginko’s travels to nearly anyone reading this… that is, unless you have a hard time with episodic storytelling. However, if you dig that structure then you can also enjoy a beautiful, at times really pastoral and poetic series to go with those self-contained plots.
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.
For a change today I want to try a couple of different things, nothing drastic, but here’s five things I wanted to highlight, ranging from fairly micro-level to bigger picture stuff:
I hope Yūto Nakano, Ginko’s voice actor, is getting heaps of work, because I think a lot of his performance; it’s both calm and commanding. Superb change of pace if you’ve been on a shounen binge, for instance.
In terms of our hero’s costume you’ll notice that it’s almost anachronistic… but it is an alternate Japan, not a historical one. The obvious effect that choice has for me is that the coat really helps Ginko stand out – it’s a brilliant piece of costuming when most other people dress reasonably similar from village to village, yet it’s still unassuming which suits him so well (a quick comparison is below).
I’ve read reviews here and there that bemoan a ‘lack of character development’ in Mushi-Shi but I think that’s not a fair assessment of a series that often plays out like Detective Fiction. In such mysteries, the crimes/stories/settings change but the main character doesn’t because that’s not the purpose of an episodic show. Instead, I’d argue that Ginko has to appear ‘fully formed’ and stay stable, stay as much ‘himself’ as possible in order to help connect the episodes and add that extra cohesive element to the viewing experience.
Mushi-Shi is at times quite sombre, which isn’t to say it’s depressing but on the other hand, not every story has a happy – or sometimes even a completely happy ending, and so some fans tend to space out their viewing, and I certainly found that I watched it at a similar pace.
Finally, I think it’s possible that you won’t always be able to predict the way Ginko solves some of the problems he faces, which is a real gift in storytelling of any type.
Okay, so there’s that section sorted – and I wish I had more to say about Mushi-Shi actually. I perhaps don’t because, like a lot of well-known favourites out there, it feels impossible for me to add much in the way of new analysis or discussion. Even so, I found that I had to include my thoughts anyway, that’s what the blog is for, right? 😀
Some storylines and characters will stand out more than others for different folks, a bit like an anthology really, but here’s my favourite five episodes to finish off this write-up:
The most recent anthology-style project from Katsuhiro Otomo is Short Peace. It was released a few years back now and it’s conceptually a little different from previous ones (like Robot Carnival or Memories) in that it includes a PS3 game released in conjunction. But since I’ve never played Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day I’ll have to stick with the short films here.
Okay, so this collection is made up of four shorts and again, not every piece will suit every viewer but generally speaking most critical response has focused on the excellent Possessions and Combustible. That doesn’t mean that the remaining two are bad however. I’ll quickly talk about each but drop a little warning now that I’ll have a spoiler in regard to the final short: A Farewell to Weapons.
Opener Possessions was nominated for an academy award and I can see why – heavy with atmosphere but not without humour, it has fantastic use of colour and the CGI is generally super-cohesive. The lead character is a traveller caught in a storm and the empty shop he takes refuge in is kinda infested with tsukumogami. Yet the way he solves the problem is interesting, as it’s not a typical response to fear. At times, I wasn’t sure he moved through the setting in a wholly integrated way but this is still my favourite of the four.
Next up is Combustible which continues with the historical settings via a story that is probably a smaller-scale view of the Great fire of Meireki. The visual style evokes woodblock printing too and appears perhaps muted at first… but doesn’t stay that way. I think you could argue that this one is also an abbreviated love story though I think what interested me most was the way fire-fighters were represented: I hadn’t realised that tattoos were common for the era when it came to labourers and fire-fighters. And while my country burns as I type this now, I realise Combustible hit home a bit more. (I was aware that tattoos in Japan have not always been welcome but I found this link explored some specifics, and I thought it was really interesting).
Now to the final two (latter para has the spoiler) starting with Gambo, which also uses a historical setting. Gambo explores a classic samurai trope – that of the terrorised village in need of help. Yet the hero is not a swordsman, and beyond that tweak, there are some other surprises too. It’s also the far more graphic and disturbing of the four.
Finally, A Farewell to Weapons which is a detailed, tense war-story that visually made me think of Western warfare in the Middle East. But it is a futuristic setting in terms of the robotics and so that aspect kinda puts the last short at odds with the rest of the anthology. For me, the only real downside to it was that within a few moments I knew exactly how it would play out and how it would end – with all the characters dead, of course (I think some of the team even talk about retirement in the beginning and if that’s not a narrative invitation to death then I don’t know what is), but I wouldn’t skip this one, that’s for sure.
I’ve definitely said this a few times before here but my vote is always for Memories as the stronger anthology helmed by Otomo, though I probably prefer this over Robot Carnival.
Note: I shouldn’t overlook the fact that Hajime Katoki directed A Farewell to Weapons actually, as he is one of the key mecha designers in the Gundam universe 🙂
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind (Kumo no yō ni Kaze no yō ni) 1990
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind has a bit of a history as a ‘mistaken Ghibli film’ and if you’ve done any reading about it you’ll be aware that Katsuya Kondō’s memorable character designs were a part of that misconception.
And while the animation quality is probably higher than for some OVAs of the time (especially the action sequences) I suspect where the film reveals some real flaws is in the adaptation – as it becomes extremely rushed at one point. As I’ve said about a few films here and there in my reviews, this would have been a great mini-series. Based on a historical/romance novel from the year prior, it’s a story set in the 17th century and follows a young girl who seeks to become a wife (concubine, really) of China’s Emperor.
Ginga is that young girl, and she’s a plucky lead with enough spark to be engaging. At times, the supporting cast is as good but with such a compressed running time, not many characters get a chance to be more than their single role. Worse than that, is probably the last third of the movie. After a good build up, establishing some intrigue and conflict, the film just hits fast-forward.
Events that should have massive impact on Ginga are just glossed over in a rush to the ending, which is kinda anti-climactic after the first two-thirds. I was pretty disappointed and maybe my rating reflects the hope that I’d had for Like the Clouds, Like the Wind but I do think a lot of viewers would have a similar reaction. It is really interesting to see such a cosmopolitan court featured in the film, though that aspect isn’t supposed to be the main draw.
I suspect it was meant to be more along the lines of a historical romance, as per the novel, but with only 80 minutes I just think there wasn’t enough time to show the audience everything they needed to see, especially in terms of character relationships.
the Crimson Pig – another classic Ghibli film, and another chance for Miyazaki
to explore romance and the thrill of flight, along with the planes themselves
Having opened with that statement I’ll quickly add that Porco Rosso is still most definitely an action film but there’s a real sense of a sweeping, even war-time Hollywood romance to a lot of the story and setting, which is no surprise given the historical aspects.
Doubtless everyone is aware that this movie was based on a Miyazaki manga and commissioned (at first) as a shorter film for flights upon Japan Airlines. But it quickly grew into a full-length feature and I reckon it’s one of his best, though Porco doesn’t get the same attention as say, Spirited Away, Howls or Totoro.
brief, Porco Rosso is the story of an Italian ace fighter pilot who has
turned his back on humanity and even cursed himself into having a pig’s head.
He now works the Adriatic sea as a bounty hunter and struggles to deal with his
old life – perhaps chief amongst his worries is former love Gina (voiced in the
dub by Susan Egan who some will recognise as Lin from Spirited Aaway).
Again, I’ll skip away from too many details of the plot but there’s a lot of comedy in the movie too, mostly provided by Porco’s rival, the ego maniac (yet somewhat honorable) Curtis. But there’s plenty of room for slapstick too and some good one-liners, and perhaps most amusingly, Miyazaki gets to expand upon the comical (even silly) fist fight routine he also used in Laputa: Castle in the Skyyears earlier.
I think most of what really enthrals me each time I see the film is the
stunning scenery – it’s an idealised but still enchanting version of Europe –
even with the fascists. And having Porco’s plane painted red really makes it
pop against the sunny blues and greens; I guess it’s an obvious but still
course, being a visual medium I’m gonna mention the actual plane designs and
attention to detail there too, which seems stunning, and the dogfights are
always fantastic. I wish I knew more about aviation to really appreciate the work
I think Miyazaki and Ghibli put in to those aspects, actually.
But another aspect that stands out to me was the dub – it felt like, post the success of Spirited Away, Disney decided to put a fair bit of money behind the voice acting. I always feel a little sad when I don’t give the original actors enough credit, since they deserve to be heard, but I’ve grown really accustomed to Michael Keaton as Porco and Cary Elwes as Curtis (in fact, all of Cary’s work for Ghibli feels perfect to me :D). There’s even a gruff Brad Garrett right around the peak of Everybody Loves Raymond in a smaller role.
Aside from the adventure, romance and aerial battles, this might be Miyazaki’s most intertexual film for Ghibli, since it comes jam-packed full of references – I’m sure I’ve missed some but it feels like there are so many: Hollywood-style movie posters, Gina’s lounge-singing scene, the Disney and Betty Boop homages in the cinema, the historical context of course and the haunting Roald Dahl scene to name a few. I guess there’s also a few in-jokes, and maybe Fio hearkens back to Nausicaa somewhat, in the way that the fist fight looks back to Miyazaki’s earlier work too. In fact, there’s one of his quotes that I found when I went digging:
“When a man becomes middle-aged, he becomes a pig”
And I wonder if middle age (I guess he was around 50 at the time) influenced a lot of the nostalgia found in the movie? (As opposed to Miyazaki claiming that he himself was a pig).
The richness of the allusions continue to Joe Hisashi’s soundtrack too – which is perhaps not as lush as that of Howl’s Moving Castle, but when I listen to it now I wonder if it isn’t more romantic? So much is beautiful:
But there’s also the moments like this, to circle back to the allusions, where it seems Hisaishi is channeling Flight of the Bumblebee:
And I’m sure there are other aspects I missed there, but since this ended up being far longer than I first imagined, I think I’ll wrap it up now and just say that I love this movie 😀
I definitely enjoyed this film, as I tend to gravitate toward stories that are about artists of just about any form, but this was bright and memorable for me in terms of visuals and characters too, if not the storyline, precisely. More on that below however.
Obviously I’m hardly qualified to discuss the
source material in terms of its balance between historical fact and drama, but I
wouldn’t say I was surprised to see Hokusai often relied on his daughter to
finish commissions and so Ōi’s work probably went unrecognised fairly often.
Though that wasn’t precisely the main source
of tension in the film for me, I think the family relationships and Ōi’s
efforts to help her younger sister took up a bigger portion – that and Ōi’s
personal struggles with her work and identity. I know some folks didn’t enjoy
the episodic nature of the storytelling and maybe I personally would have
preferred a more conventional approach in some ways, because I think I’m
somewhat conditioned to expect that when a film is biographical.
And yet, asking and expecting that would kinda
be a bit reductive of me… because in a way, I think the film now rests in my
memory as a collection of impressionistic moments that aren’t necessarily
connected to the cause and effect of a traditional linear narrative, and that’s
probably just as impactful anyway!
Overall, I think I was most excited to be offered a look at the lifestyles of painters during the Edo period and ended up really enjoying the detours into mythology, along with the actual artworks themselves of course.
Definitely recommended if you like somewhat
meandering family dramas or biographical films that don’t precisely play out in
a typical fashion.