Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) – Collaboration with Lita Kino

Morning all!

I’m excited to share another collaboration – this time on Back Arrow, where Lita Kino and I ask each other about the first three episodes. (Spoilers – we think you should check it out :D)

Thanks to Lita for diving in to Back Arrow with me too! If you haven’t already (or even if you have) you should visit Lita here at Anime Corner 🙂

Lita: Thank you Ash for the opportunity to collab with you. Even though our first idea went to pot. I really hope people give Back Arrow a try because I think it’s a great first time show for people who don’t watch mecha or wish to try to because it’s so less serious and more emphasis on fun with itself.


Ash’s Questions

1. What were you expecting before going in to ‘Back Arrow’?

The only expectation I had was a strong western setting terms of the background terrain, costumes etc. There was nothing I would ask for. I wanted to watch this not just because it’s mecha and I love it. Reminded me so much of Gun x Sword while the western settings are similar for me, Back Arrow is a curveball thrower. This series portrays itself as primarily fun majority of the time, this is something distinct within the first three episodes, it establishes. Introduction of the main protagonist Back Arrow arising from Rakuho, suffering amnesia with only memory of coming from beyond the wall.

Instead of this moment drawing on Back Arrow’s unfortunate circumstances with strong emotional emphasis. Back Arrow decides to go beyond the wall, without worrying about anything else. All the people from Edgar village staring at this strange man, butt naked. You feel like you are following an idiot of a protagonist and it works brilliantly for this series. It’s hysterical the first three episodes have been. I love series that serve up from what you expect like this, Back Arrow doesn’t pretend to be anything else. 

2. I was curious about how you’re responding to Shu after these first 3 episodes? Definitely feels like he’s holding the most back.

Shu is just full of mystery but he is an amusing man. Making a copy of the royal records had me laughing, but he is a man of science. That instinct and drive to do what it takes to grasp his goals. There is an underlying motive here but damn he is amusing. 

3. How are you finding the designs of the suits? (I’m getting a slight Power Rangers feel, which is fun.)

I LOVE this series concept regarding it’s mecha suits known as Briheight’s. The design of them reminds me of Gridman’s from SSS.Gridman but with a funky take. Concept of wielding these mechas based on your conviction is cool, each Briheight I’ve seen so far, really reflects the pilot as a person and personality. Mixture of conviction and becoming a pilot’s reflection, these mecha’s are definitely unique. This is another realm into the connection between man and machine. 


Lita’s Questions
 

1. We have a tradition of the main protagonist who has amnesia at the start. Normally there has been a strong emphasis and heartfelt plea at the start, also determination to discover who they are again. But we have a very lax protagonist who is just taking everything in hindsight as it comes. It’s this a refreshing approach to this protagonist tradition?

I think so, yeah. There’s sort of a refusal of the Call to Adventure – Arrow just wants to get on with own quest for the Wall and I’ve found that interesting. It feels like he’ll soften over time, but kicking off with an amnesiac who doesn’t seem to be very worried about that memory loss is interesting. Instead, he just dives into any situation with blind faith. Or conviction 😀 

2. I have yet to complete Back Arrow yet but the western centre reminds me so much of Gun x Sword. Been a long time since a western themed mecha has appeared. I think the outskirts of rocky and dune sand, the bright western costume designs look great. Do you think the western feel is there for Back Arrow?

It reminds me of Gun x Sword too, which makes me pretty happy. (In fact, the moment I saw Elsha and Atlee, I felt like two halves of Wendy had appeared onscreen :D). 

Agree! It feels like it’s been quite a while since a mecha show featured the western setting and isn’t it perfect for allowing the colours of the Briheights to pop too? I love the tropes I’ve seen so far, the village in distress, the stranger arriving to help etc. Really hoping they continue and that there’s a focus on stand-offs and duels.


3. I looked on MyAnimeList and this series has been rated 5 out of 10. I wonder if this is because people were expecting a series western here but the plot is pretty loose and so are the characters. This series is about fun 80% of the time, not what anyone was expecting. Do you like the loose fun factor here and the plot is throwing curveballs of absurdity as to where it may go? 

I wondered about that too. If I think about something similar in tone from Kazuki Nakashima, like TTGL perhaps, then that show’s already 14 years old – that’s pretty much an entire generation ago, I guess. 

And so maybe significant portions of current audiences just aren’t used to a show like Back Arrow?

Loose and fun is a pretty perfect description, yeah and maybe people did want something different? For me, I’m loving every second of how over the top it can be and I’m really looking forward to more curveballs, yes! For one, (I’m very curious about the Granedger and wonder what surprises it’ll hold in store.)


So, folks – tell us, are you watching Back Arrow? Planning to perhaps?

If you’re already watching it, how are you finding it so far? (Beyond the first three episodes the show continues to do more absurdist stuff and raise the stakes on the action too, I’m still enjoying it a lot for sure :D)

The Big O (Za Biggu Ō) [Boxing Day Review]

The Big O (Za Biggu Ō) 1999

You can no doubt predict exactly what I’ll say about episodic storytelling by now, right?

This almost sums up the palette used throughout.

I’m definitely a fan of it – but The Big O ticks a lot of boxes for me outside its mostly episodic structure too.

First, there’s the slowly unfolding mystery in an unsettling but familiar city, then there’s androids, revolving villains, a dramatic multi-genre OST and finally; retro-looking mecha placed within a very 20th Century aesthetic – the mash-up is fantastic.

Having said that, if you don’t enjoy (almost) madcap mixes of conventions and genres, you probably won’t end up liking The Big O too much.

Despite the strong Batman/James Bond feel to the series, and despite the noir detective stuff happening on the surface, I still think that there’s enough dissonance and enough of the philosophical maybe, to deter folks who prefer a focus on a single genre or tone.

But again, that’s one of my favourite aspects of The Big O – that and the stylish character designs and art deco visuals.

I’ll take a shot at exploring the premise just quickly:

Roger Smith is a negotiator/investigator living in Paradigm City, known as the city of amnesia (for reasons which I won’t spoil). There, he is eventually pulled into the mystery of whatever event wiped everyone’s memory forty years ago, aided by former client, Dorothy – an advanced android.

To hopefully evoke a sense of tone here, I want to mention one person involved in the production – Chiaki J. Konaka. As with all collaborative arts, I think it’s cruel to point to only one person, especially in a review, but I think if I mention Chiaki then that might give a few clues as to the tone and direction of this series – especially the second season.

If I step away from my rhapsodising about the series for a moment, I’ll maybe get enough distance to point out some things that I didn’t love. Firstly, Roger is kind of a jerk and essentially mistreats Dorothy for nearly the whole series. And speaking of Dorothy, if you take a look at what she can do in the first two episodes for example, she is truly under-utilised by the story.

I believe more than a few people agree that Season 1 tends to be stronger than Season 2 (actually, I only took screencaps from S1 mainly due to time).

Three or four years later and the animation quality does get a boost for the sequel season, but for me, the powerful mysteries established in those first thirteen episodes aren’t all answered as satisfyingly as I’d hoped. (I also wished that Swchartzman got a little more screentime somehow, as I tended to really enjoy him and his monologues!)

In contrast to my comparative disappointment with the second season, there were still plenty of things that I continued to think about afterward. More, the audience does get a few answers in time, along with one reveal that had nearly as much impact as the stunning ending of episode 13, for me.

Okay, so now that I’ve finally reached this point in the review, I think it’s time to wrap things up – until my next post, where I want to try a bit of visual analysis on episode 3 of The Big O.

In the meantime, I hope I’ve made you at least a little curious about this ‘old’ anime! (It’s been in my top ten for a long time and I don’t see it leaving any time soon, but it did slip down a rung on the ladder at one point.)

5 Stars

(A few images to follow)

A merry time was had by all.

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)

GunxSword (Gan Sōdo)

GunxSword (Gan Sōdo) 2005

The taciturn hero* is certainly one of my favourite types, so having ‘Van of the Dawn’ fit that mould was nearly all I needed to confirm that I’d enjoy GunxSword – that, and this post from Scott at Mechanical Anime, which got me interested in the first place 🙂

This anime is one I missed when it was ‘current’, and it lands during what I think of as one big wave of anime popularity in the mid-2000s, back when things like Bleach and Naruto were dominating.    

But this isn’t as neatly defined as those shows. GunxSword is hard (but fun) to categorise, and I’m not sure I’ll manage it fully but I think it combines action, mecha, western, science-fiction and comedy in a fairly wild, ‘try anything’ approach, with the episodes held together by a strong quest narrative.

Two main characters, unlikely duo Van and Wendy, are searching a semi-dystopian world, looking for ‘Claw’ – the silver-tongued manipulator and psychopathic villain. Van for revenge and for Wendy, it’s more of a doubt-filled search, as she struggles to learn why the shadowy Claw has abducted her brother.

These twin threads pulled me through the episodic and the connected episodes alike. Hints and clues were spread out nicely, interwoven with character-building episodes, as the cast expanded quite steadily. And GunxSword becomes a real ensemble by the final confrontation too, which is something I loved because I like to see heroes bounce off those different character types.

Even though the story is ultimately serious and at times basically adult rather than aimed at teens perhaps, there’s a lot of oddball, even goofy stuff. More, the mix of mecha and gunslinger feel allows a heap of classic western/samurai tropes to sit along side the huge struggles of huge robots**.

I think of this especially with the range of characters that Van and co encounter on their travels, like Captain Kaiji, or the mafia don’s kid (and that car!), even Wendy’s turtle or Carmen99’s yoyo are small examples that would sell the idea of the show as a comedy – well, those and above all else, the moustache-fetish guys.

(But when you look at the relationship between the lead characters, the series is a bit more like a drama, and most folks are perhaps ruled by their doubts or their flaws, but somehow manage to pull together.)

Now, it’s hard for me to be certain of this, but fifteen years ago, it seemed that studios and other backers were a little happier to take risks on works that weren’t adaptations. Not sure if that’s a fault of my memory, or a lack of wide viewing habits on my part, but I don’t know if anything quite like GunxSword would get a twenty-six episode run today. (Maybe it’d be more of a single cour, a ‘see what happens before we commit further’ kinda thing?)

GunxSword is often compared to Trigun and there are definitely similarities in setting, and in the wandering, the episodic feel and at times goofy humour, but the tone and use of technology are certainly different here. (The OST is also more varied too).

So, is this one for you?

Hard to say… if you prefer dead-serious kinda mech anime then probably not, but if you’re after something fun, this might be worth chasing down.

4 Stars

* Having said that, Van can be a straight up jerk too, and it can take him a little long to see beyond his pursuit of revenge.

** On that note, I really liked the way Gorō Taniguchi revealed the scale of the robots/armour throughout too, especially via choice of angle and camera position in many of the battles.

Ah, Michael revealing his true colours.
Classic design

150th Review: The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkū no Esukafurōne)

The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkū no Esukafurōne) 1996

I want to quickly preface my [spoilery] review today with a link to a post from ThatRandomEditor, Where are the Shoujo Anime? which I think is a great question, because for me, I don’t think I’ve really seen an action-kinda shoujo for one, in a fair while (or maybe I missed them?)

The Vision of Escaflowne is a classic and one of my favs, which ultimately suggests to me that I should probably spend a lot more time on the review, but I think I generally ramble on long enough as it is.

Firstly, I think portal fantasy is probably still holding onto a recent ‘boom’ right now, but if you’ve already seen all the new isekai out there and still want more, then look no further! Even more so if you’re also craving shoujo, because The Vision of Escaflowne will meet both of those needs nicely.

The same goes for the bishonen character design, and while I always appreciate the 1990s and characters with visible noses, the slight Pinocchio-feel took a bit of getting used to at first. Elsewhere, there’s a focus on graceful lines, and not just due to our winged heroes or the knight-like mech, and I’d argue that none of it comes at the cost of variety either.

That diversity is also featured in the range of new lands and peoples that Hitomi must navigate, aided often by Van or Allen (who tend to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to Dornkirk and his plans for world domination). But Hitomi is no flailing damsel either, and her visions and her speed as a member of the track team save the day more than once. I enjoyed the Tarot as well, which I hadn’t realised was quite popular with girls in Japan at the time, according to my Blu-Ray’s special features.  

And perhaps the audience is firmly meant to be shoujo, but I read that there were twin manga produced, one with more shounen conventions and the other more like the anime, which does have its share of a complex love triangles. In a way things seem ‘softer’ on the surface, with plenty of glistening eyes etc but The Vision of Escaflowne doesn’t shy away from heartbreak and repressed, unfulfilled desires either.

In addition to those romantic elements there are enough battles and duels to satisfy action fans too, I reckon. It’s an at times grim world with an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction clear in the settings and characters. Having said that, the Dilandu encounters for one, became a bit repetitive for me. I found myself keen for Van to finish him off more than a few times, but having the invisibility aspect certainly kept suspense high, which I loved.

Okay, so I can’t wrap things up here without exploring some criticism, and while there were a few things that struck me, I’ll mention two below:

Sisters Eriya and Nariya – there’s a scene that I wasn’t sure how to read, especially in the way it was shot. Was it just meant to be run of the mill fan-service? Sapphic? Incestuous? I dunno, maybe I misread the scene but it never seemed to gel with their backstory or present storyline. Was it actually a missed opportunity to explore themes around sex and trauma?

And quickly now, by the end of the series I don’t know whether Folken actually earns his redemption arc for me, even if visually, one particular scene was fantastic.

Again, that could be a judgement call and I’m being a little hard on the guy but I dunno… He certainly helps our heroes out, but that whole mass-murderer thing keeps him firmly in the camp of villain, I reckon, even if he sees the light in time.

Nevertheless, The Vision of Escaflowne is an old favourite with a whole lot of stuff I loved, and one that I really enjoyed re-watching, but I can’t decide between 4 Stars and 5 Stars

… actually, it probably should be 5, especially with that killer Yoko Kanno OST.

(And I’ve also finally finished my second A-Z title now!).  

Poor hopelessly jealous Merle.

And there it is, the 150th review for the Review Heap!

(At least, I’m fairly sure it is – I counted, but may have missed a few, as it’s the 229th post but obviously not every post here is a review :D).

 

(I forgot to add – I usually take a lot of screenshots myself but this time my discs were playing up but I found a superb resource (qtpiecaps) which you can visit right here – it has a great list of shows available too.)

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:

Doamayger-D

Doamayger-D (2015)

Okay, so Doamayger-D fooled me for a moment at first, because I thought I was watching a show produced in the ‘70s but which had been released with extra notes onscreen for modern audiences 😀

But it was made only a few years ago of course and it’s clearly a loving tribute to (and parody of) 1970s mecha.

Everything from the ‘scratchy’ look to the character and robot designs and the battle scenes, down to the acting and narration, it all has that feel. It’s incredibly compact storytelling too, with each episode being about 2 minutes long, with the perfectly on brand ending theme stretching the overall running time a bit.

ILCA maybe wanted to make something truly regional, since aside from the ‘70s mech tropes, the show features baking and sweets common to Kyoto, and it makes me think the episodes are tv spots, or at least able to function as fun little promos for tourism?

Anyway, if you’re curious this won’t take long to check out and if you’re familiar with the tropes and aesthetic of older mech, then you might enjoy Doamayger-D.

3 Stars

Note: Doamayger-D is definitely fun and easy to digest, but I’d try to watch it via disc if possible, since even short load times between 3 minute episodes can feel like a bit much (but that’s no deal-breaker precisely).

Promare

Promare (2019)

Whenever folks complain about CGI in anime (as I sometimes certainly do) it’s not about this level of application and integration, I hope.

Promare looks amazing, and some scenes are burnt into my memory I reckon – two of which I’ll mention below. There is definitely a lot to like if you’re a fan of Gainax, Trigger or mecha in general, or I’d add, even the neon aesthetic of the 1980s.

For a change, I’m going to include a short summary of the premise (from Wikipedia) though I imagine there aren’t tonnes of folks who aren’t at least vaguely familiar with the film:

The planet Earth suffered a calamity known as the Great World Blaze, where the fires from mass spontaneous human combustions killed half the world’s population. Certain ones developed pyrokinetic abilities during and subsequent to the event, and became known as the Burnish.

Thirty years later, Galo Thymos lives and works as a member of the firefighting group Burning Rescue, in the city of Promepolis. He responds to incidents involving the purported Mad Burnish, a group of liberating terrorists [led by Lio Fotia].

One thing that struck me, especially in these times, is that it was nice to see fire-fighters as heroes as opposed to say, police, which to be honest I couldn’t stomach at the moment. But getting back to Promare, I really enjoyed the dynamic between the leads (two hot-heads in a way) – since it was a little different from the classic kid must pilot mecha to save the world.

And while comparisons between Promare and Gurren Lagann (especially re: Galo and Kamina) can be made, I think it was fun to have two heroes who start off as adversaries work together to take on the glittering facade of a true villain. That’s a trope that I’m enjoying a lot lately, so I guess it spoke to me when I cheered Galo and Lio on.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the way the film balanced itself to appeal to a range of audiences, and in a way it really felt like Trigger nailed that ‘commercially-successful but-still-artistic’ project really well. (I may have said this before, but I’m not a huge fan of those two things being set up as opposite ends of a quality spectrum actually).

So, if you’re on the fence about watching or purchasing this I think that Promare has that real blockbuster feel, with a fun blend of action, character and comedy, and for me it definitely had enough reveals to be interesting, pay-offs to be satisfying and both likeable and understandable characters to keep me hooked.

What I will mention is the visual aspect – the colour palette is extremely 1980s (or even Vaporwave if you’re younger, I guess) and that might wear some folks down – in some action sequences there maybe wasn’t enough definition between moving parts to really track what was happening, so I think it’d be worth watching more than once in that respect.

Elsewhere, the hard lines and solid colours also kept things distinctive – in a way, it kinda brought Ben 10 to mind, but that’s not a good comparison tone-wise. Promare is definitely anime.

For the two moments I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, I wanted to find images for both but I’m not sure the internet will provide what I need… but there are a few shots from (beneath) an ice lake that are perfectly serene, and there’s also a fantastic range of styles compressed into Lio’s volcano scene that I think fans of animation should see at least once.

You could watch it here of course, but in the context of the whole film it’s obviously better

Okay, that’s about it! Basically, I really enjoyed Promare and I think I’ll grab a copy one day, but I was lucky that just last week Animelab randomly decided to put the movie up for streaming across a three day period!

5 Stars

More screen-time for Ignis needed!

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia) 2013

Once again, I’m going to fight my urge to ramble here – so, that means just a few paragraphs now, focusing on Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet this time.

If you’ve never come across this series I think I’ll mention that it stands out in the mecha genre a bit, in no small part due to the amazing setting. For me, I could have watched ten extra episodes more in line with the first half of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, which had a fun slice-of-life feel at times, as the characters go about their business upon a verdant and vibrant, connected fleet of ships. Likewise, I could have enjoyed the scenery just as long – it’s bright and textured, yet didn’t feel repetitive; I left off sure that we could have explored a lot more.

The show delves into the requisite fan-service at times, but the main focus in Gargantia… (aside from the eventual re-emergence of the science-fiction) is probably pilot Ledo’s faltering attempts to understand a new culture. I really enjoyed seeing his trials there, both with language and ideology, but for action fans you’ll be given more battles and violence in the last few episodes. There, a lot of the warmth is jettisoned, along with lead character Amy’s role but I suppose in exchange for that you do get some development from a different character – the somewhat dubious Pinion.

In some ways this is like two halves of a longer series condensed into one short series, where the ‘science-fiction space war’ part is mostly placed aside as the hero adapts to his new circumstances. Seen that way, I think Gargantia… has a fair bit in common with the First Contact sub-genre, only it’s one kind of human meeting others.

The anime looks great of course, with Production IG at the helm, but if you were hunting down the works of Gen Urobuchi don’t expect something like Pyscho-Pass… though there is a sub-plot featuring a cult here that would have fit into that dystopia. If you like mech design for salvaging as much as for fighting, and if you want some comedy and a fresh setting to go with your science-fiction, then I reckon you’d enjoy this despite some uneven aspects for me.

3 Stars

Ah, yes – the time-honoured tradition in anime of having animals resting on the heads of characters.