Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin)

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin) 2008

Anime adaptations of games seem generally fraught with risk in my mind – and yet I can’t actually think of a tonne that I’ve seen and disliked, and instead, one obvious success seems to come to mind whenever I do think of games and anime, Steins;Gate.

But I’ll get to Sands of Destruction now.

So, even if individual elements didn’t always feel top-notch, I definitely enjoyed the anime and like other reasonably episodic shows, I was able to watch an episode here and there between other titles and not miss a beat.

Production I.G must have faced a fair amount of restriction in terms of what they could do because the series had to be linked to the DS game, but I thought the humour usually worked and while the setting and storyline is very much ‘classic fantasy’ (with an oppressive society for the characters to rail against) that was certainly enough for me 🙂

There were a few surprises and the pacing of each story drew me along nicely – one stand out was the ‘Dr Elephant’ episode, but overall the scene-stealer was usually Toppy. A tiny, teddy-bear-looking, monologue-ing hero, he was pretty great, I reckon. Toppy also scored a lot of great lines and moments, and to my surprise, the character-affectation of adding ‘kuma’ to the end of every single sentence was not as annoying as I thought it would be.

Eventually.

At first it bugged me a bit.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed the non-human character design more than the human design for the most part, and I felt like I was craving a few extra threads from the main plot to appear earlier than they do, but maybe it’s a minor quibble. The animation wasn’t always knock-out stuff but nor was it poor – at all.

I believe that if the show’s style of humour works for you then that will be enough to lift other elements that will probably seem a little standard. If not, you might not enjoy Sands of Destruction that much.

3 Stars

Murphy’s Irish Stout: Last Orders

Murphy’s Irish Stout: Last Orders (1997)

I’m not a fan of too much corporate involvement in art.

Obviously, many studios are big corporations with commercial concerns and I’m not going to erroneously claim that popular = bad.

However, when I heard about the Murphy’s ‘Irish Stout’ advertisement Last Orders I did pause. It is a great, one minute clip with fantastic direction and a funny pay-off but again, some of the best folks from Japan’s animation industry of the day hired to make an advertisement for a drug?

Of course it’s hardly up to me to judge folks for the jobs they take on and again, this cyberpunk beer ad is pretty great. It clearly evokes Ghost in the Shell, and has that film to thank for its existence, since the UK company probably wouldn’t have commissioned Last Orders otherwise.

I only recently stumbled across the spot on Youtube and after a quick search I found some (hopefully accurate) production credits:

  • Director – Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Blood: The Last Vampire).
  • Character Design – Kazuchika Kise (Ghost in the Shell)
  • Background Art – Hiromasa Ogura (Jin-Roh)

Only takes a minute to watch of course 🙂

Psycho-Pass (Saiko Pasu)

Psycho-Pass (Saiko Pasu) 2012

I thought I’d try to avoid a long, rambling preamble for a change and instead take a shot at summing up my response to the show in a few words – disturbing, fascinating and mostly compelling.

While it actually took me months to finish Psycho-Pass (usually watching one or a few episodes at a time only) that’s not an indictment on my enjoyment of the series because I think it’s easily one of the best cyberpunk/futuristic dystopian shows around.

Obviously on several levels it’s a procedural/mystery/thriller with all the conventions that go with them, but the setting really elevates Psycho-Pass beyond and it was probably the most engrossing aspect to me as a viewer. The characters ranged from utterly engaging to tedious and even criminally under-used, I feel – but I want to stay with the setting a touch longer before I get back to the characters 🙂

To understand the Japan featured in the series, which falls into the ‘dystopia masquerading as utopia category’, I want to quote from the wiki entry:

Psycho-Pass is set in a futuristic era in Japan where the Sibyl System (シビュラシステム Shibyura Shisutemu), a powerful network of psychometric scanners, actively measures the minds and mentalities of civilised populations using a “cymatic scan” of the brain. When the calculated likelihood of an individual committing a crime exceeds an accepted threshold, he or she is pursued, apprehended, and killed if necessary by police forces.

A consequence of this system that I didn’t quote above is that while people generally tend to lead safe and calm lives, it is at the cost of much autonomy in terms of deciding the path of those lives.

The tension there tends to be the cause of most crimes the characters must solve in the series, and it’s probably the main theme for both the heroes and the villain – so, classic stuff, which I was really happy about.

Psycho-Pass also definitely kept me guessing at times and while it is equal parts thrilling and interesting, I’d like to warn folks that some episodes can be seriously disturbing.

And it’s not just the violence, but the way society reacts to violence – and without spoilers, I’ll just say that part of what makes it chilling is the seemingly real possibility of a similar society rising in the future. Maybe?

Now, finally to the characters – for me, a few pawns used by the key antagonist were a bit dull, but leads Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami more than made up for it, with the tension between idealistic and cynical playing out in an interesting way by the end.

The supporting cast were great too, but now I want to circle back to my ‘mostly-compelling’ comment and pair it with my ‘criminally under-used’ comment.

Yayoi Kunizuka.

For whatever reason, she was hardly used despite being one of the more interesting supporting members of the team – and yet, the series took time to devote an entire flashback episode to her punk rock past… but then just never came back to it.

Even by the end of the first season there’s no sense that she’ll be given a chance to get the closure other characters were afforded. It thus became a kind of odd detour that interrupted the pacing and dissolved perhaps too much of the building tension.

Of course, there’s two more seasons of the show but here’s where I finally get around to ‘mostly-compelling’. I kinda have no desire to keep watching – which sounds odd, because I enjoyed Psycho-Pass. BUT enough of the main plot threads were resolved so that for me, there’s not enough to keep going.

Well, that and the fact I want more from another certain other character not featured in the next season(s)!

Still, season one had a really satisfying finish on many levels – but I want to quickly mention how much I appreciated the colour and light in the wheat fields at the end; it really stood out compared to the night and neon that dominates the rest of Psycho-Pass, so I thought that was a great contrast.

Brilliant science fiction but probably not for everyone, I reckon.

5 Stars

As a tiny postscript, at times I felt like a few action sequences were a little less fluid than I was expecting, and I’m not sure if that was due to the temporary studio switch or a desire for more realism in combat.

(For screen shots I’ve used anisearch and google images this time around).

Miss Hokusai (Sarusuberi: Miss Hokusai)

Miss Hokusai (Sarusuberi: Miss Hokusai) 2015

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.

4 Stars

B: The Beginning

Perhaps a quick warning – this review is even more rambling than usual, so if you’re looking for a plot summary maybe click here first 😀

So! There was a whole lot I liked about B: The Beginning (and it’s nice to know there is a second season in production) but one thing that bugs me is that the working title was Perfect Bones – which is far better than the generic final title, right? Is it just me? Perfect Bones* clearly links to the meat of the series in a subtler and more satisfying way and again, is far less generic than… well, anyway, I enjoyed this series!

And that’s partly because of the odd mix between aspects that are quite at home in a CSI/Criminal Minds cop team (featuring an uneasy genius and a taciturn leader) and the supernatural, the teen angst, and some horror and occasional bits of comedy too.

At first I thought there were too many disparate parts, but the series mostly brought it all together, definitely enough for me to suspend disbelief and want to see how it ended.

(However, keep in mind that I do enjoy genre mash-ups a lot and so I have that bias).

The story follows twin, converging storylines which are both engaging for differing reasons and while it seems one has more action (young Koku’s search for a lost love) and one more investigating (Keith Kazama Flick’s search for a killer), the division isn’t always clean cut.

Both stories essentially offer plenty of both action and intrigue, delivered with the fairly ‘slick’ modern animation that’s always pretty impressive if not always distinctive, but then, you don’t always want super-distinctive. Sometimes you want reliably enjoyable, I reckon.

And I don’t mean for either of those descriptions to come off as put-downs either, so hopefully they don’t do that.

Aside from those aspects it was probably the characters and the mythology that the series created and wove in and out of the story that I found most enjoyable.

In terms of character, I think it was Keith and Lily’s relationship, which has an abrasive mentor/rival/student thing, that I enjoyed the most – her earnestness is endearing and his drive is too. On the note of the mythology, I’d actually have loved more of that (perhaps over the boarding school flashbacks – though they certainly served a purpose) and maybe season two will do just that?

Despite my enjoyment of Keith and his storyline, the slapstick sometimes seemed oddly out of place and to some extent, the Koku character is reasonably standard, but again, that’s not a deal-breaker for me as everything lifted up the more conventional aspects; slick, vivid animation, some great villains, a few twists and real comedic moments were joined by interesting mythology and an Italian setting, so yeah, I was a pretty happy viewer 🙂

And the ending theme is another highlight, both the credits sequence itself and the moody song – which fans of Megadeth might be interested in, as it’s performed by Man with a Mission in collaboration with Marty Friedman.

Back in 2016 when Netflix were making those early pushes into anime this show was announced as: “the first ever original anime title to debut all episodes simultaneously in 190 countries around the world” and so it was clear they wanted it to succeed, and partnering with Production I.G on this 12 episode series was a pretty great first step.

Obviously a big distribution deal, an average title and a great ending theme song aren’t enough to make a killer series; it’s everything in between that we’re interested in – but for me the separate elements added up to something memorable.

Having said that, I suspect if you watch a lot of US crime shows or anime in general, Perfect Bones B: The Beginning won’t be surprising but it hit a lot of the notes I was looking for.

*And yeah, I understand that the visual representation of the ‘B’ itself is also important to the story but still, Perfect Bones would have been better 😀

4 Stars

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito) 2007

I suspect some folks would have felt that Moribito was a slow series but I’m pretty comfortable dismissing that notion – character development doesn’t equal ‘slow’ for me 😀

In fact, there are plenty of fight sequences and interesting magic too, along with enough secrets and character conflict to keep things engaging all the way through. By the end, I found myself pretty disappointed that the second novel hadn’t been animated too, actually.

Should you end up hunting this one down, I think it’ll be clear that series is adapted from a story written by a novelist – as the overarching storyline, sub-plots and character development are all handled so well. Having said that, I would have loved a bit more time spent on a few characters but that’s the nature of switching mediums – some things have to be changed.

But there’s a whole lot to compensate: the beautiful colour palette used throughout, the vaguely familiar ‘historical’ setting and costuming, the music which was equally stirring and haunting, and some really sleek battles too.

As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to really remember scenes that feature somewhat lesser known weapons, and here in this case, the spear fighting really caught my eye, it seemed like a perfect mix of drama and realism.

And though Moribito features a female lead don’t expect fan-service – Balsa is more like a mix between stern warrior and parent-figure, one who undergoes some soul-searching about her role in life as she strives to protect the runaway prince.

Watch this if you’re interested in a historical action/drama anime with supernatural elements and a pretty moving story – especially that ending.

5 Stars