Batman Ninja (Ninja Battoman)

I stumbled across Batman Ninja and had to click ‘watch’ because the premise sounded pretty fun – Batman, his enemies and allies are sucked back in time to Feudal Japan… and it’s exactly as crazy as it sounds.

Batman Ninja (Ninja Battoman) 2018

Mecha castles, monkey armies, katana fights, explosions – the Joker farming – it’s got everything, really.

Above the wildly bold strokes when it comes to the storytelling is what I thought was a really pleasing visual style and a fairly seamless integration of the CGI with the ‘hand drawn’ style; I really liked it and wished I could find images to show the full colour range of what the studio did, it was often beautiful.

Supposedly the English subtitles present quite a different story to what the original screen writer had in mind but for me, I didn’t feel like the film was meant to be a dialogue-heavy character study, there are few moments of introspection/reflection in any event – it’s mostly action scene to action scene, with the ante being ratcheted up nicely each time. And yeah, too many villains/allies get too little screen time but it works for me even so.

Aside from a pretty great Joker performance from Wataru Takagi, I also really enjoyed the character designs by Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) and I’d recommend taking a look at this if you wanted to see what DC + Anime looks like (though it’s not the first time Japan has taken on Batman).

4 Stars

The shift in style here is great – fantastically unexpected scene too.

Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen)

This’ll be a fairly short review today but that’s more about my energy levels, rather than the show, which is great watch, I reckon – and not in spite of how over-the-top it is, but precisely because of that fact 😀

Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen)
2017

As a Trigun fan I was very curious about Blood Blockade Battlefront when I first heard about it; it’s a couple of years old now but I remember being excited back then – I was expecting action and Yasuhiro Nightow’s kinda zany humour, and I got ’em both!

If I had one criticism it’s that maybe Blood Blockade Battlefront falls down a little for me due to the way some plot threads are handled – there’s a lot left to the viewer to infer from knowledge that’s probably clear in the manga but seems absent from the anime.

Still, the purposefully flashy (and fun) other elements in the anime make up for anything I missed – like the battles, creature design, setting and bold characters – folks like Zapp, who is definitely over the top, but so many smaller players are memorable too. (And while my fav is probably Klaus, I do wish there was a little more screen time for others like Chain.)

I will definitely be seeking out the second series one day – but a quick warning, if you do watch this, be ready for Episode 6 which is far more sombre in tone than the rest of the season.

(Another thing I loved – the end credits theme song is pretty snappy, most folks seem to like it better than the intro from what I’ve read :D)

4 Stars

Green Legend Ran (Gurīn Rejendo Ran)

For me, this OVA series was in no way terrible… but it just seemed like it included a pretty wide range of ideas that didn’t quite come together by the end, and so missed the mark a little for me.

Green Legend Ran (Gurīn Rejendo Ran) 1992

A lot of folks mention the influence of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind here and it’s definitely clear, though Green Legend Ran is both more violent and less assured in its storytelling, I reckon.

There were some haunting moments and some sharp action sequences in the series but even with a reasonably sympathetic hero and heroine, I still wasn’t enthralled.

I did like the character design from Yoshimitsu Ohashi (who has worked on Millennium Actress and Trigun among others) some of it was really memorable – especially the Bishops, who were both bizarre and creepy, that aspect was pretty great.

Other characters appear bold in a way that maybe evokes something common to kids animation, but this maybe clashes a little with the tone of the story for me.

Not the best example I could find actually, still somewhat illustrative despite the true size of the thing not quite being fully clear.

(In terms of more ‘cross-overs’ from other 1990s series, a minor character is also voiced by Kōichi Yamadera who is easily recognisable as the voice of Spike from Cowboy Bebop.)

Even though it’s not super-detailed, I did enjoy the setting – it had a good mix of dystopian desert and unnerving greenery, though I don’t want to talk too much about those scenes so as to avoid spoilers.

It was nice to be unsure as to who exactly was the bigger threat in this series, as nearly everyone poor Ran and Aira encounter have their own hidden motives.

Still, despite some big themes and some fun connections with other shows, I’d only recommend Green Legend Ran if you had always been curious about the series and perhaps can find it reasonably cheap/can stream it.

3 Stars

Claymore (Kureimoa)

If you’ve read about Claymore you’ll know it’s quite violent and almost relentlessly grim.

Claymore (Kureimoa) 2007

It’s not without hope however – and heroes do actually exist in the show. And while the muted colour-scheme adds to the oppressive feel of this medieval series, vivid uses of green, pink and blue sometimes provide nice levity throughout.

For me, what was most engaging were the characters – obviously Clare, but the ‘half-monster’ hunting ‘true monsters’ set-up allowed for a lot of other interesting players to feature too, but I won’t spoil anything there.

(I will note that without voices, close-ups and variation on hair style and eye-shape, the key players would be hard to tell apart from one another at times.)

What did disappoint me was that after 20 killer episodes with consistent rising tension, the last few fell quite short, especially given the build up. For me, things fell apart pretty much right after the Rigaldo fight sequence.

Not sure whether the creators planned a second season and it just never got green-lit, but a few plot threads seemed simply abandoned – and I do mean ‘abandoned’, compared to ‘left unresolved’, which I’d have had no trouble with as a viewer.

Another key problem for me was that vengeance sub-plot. It definitely becomes a key reason to keep watching but the way it is handled by the end is kind of baffling – again, if I accept that the writers thought they were going to have a chance to adapt more of the manga, then it possibly makes sense!

Still, I think the series deserves the ‘classic’ tag as it’s compelling, even when disturbing and a few times, it can be kinda heart-rending.

If you’re a fan of Beserk you’ll probably like Claymore, if you haven’t already come across it – after all, the anime is a few years old now.

4 Stars

Get used to this colour scheme – even if I’ve highlighted plenty of the more colourful moments.
Not sure if this is promo or fan art, either way it’s great

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)

For the first post here at the Review Heap, I wanted to jump back to a write up I did a fair few years ago – because if I’m going to review/highlight anime (amongst the other things I’ll ramble on about here) then I should start with the studio that really had an impact on me (though as a kid of the 80s I remember mostly Astro Boy :D).

So, up first it’s Spirited Away!

Miyazaki’s work as a director seems so warm and I guess I naturally gravitate toward his films. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy Takahata’s work, or the films of the other directors from Studio Ghibli, but I’ll probably end up reviewing the Miyazaki ones first.

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
2001

Perhaps like many Western audiences, this was my first exposure to Studio Ghibli and its wonderful films – though I didn’t see this movie until about three years after it’s English-language release.

I was actually at uni and had recently borrowed the impressive 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Inside, I noticed Spirited Away and went straight to the university library where I borrowed the DVD and that was it. I was hooked.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl who has to work in a spirits’ bathhouse in order to save her parents, who’ve been transformed into pigs by their own greed.

A pretty simple description of the plot, right?

But it gives an idea of the main source of tension, I hope. What it fails to show is the stunning attention to detail found in the animation (common to Ghibli of course) and the great character arc at its heart.

The way protagonist Chihiro goes from being basically an annoying child to a person of resolve, and one who can turn those around her into friends, is one of my favourite aspects. It also provides an emotional core that’s a big part the reason I’ve watched the film a fair few times now.

But perhaps my favourite element of Spirited Away is the setting.

The bathhouse is located in an abandoned amusement park and it’s beautiful, detailed and vivid, both in terms of its social and physical structure. And part of that colour definitely comes from the variety of spirits who visit it, among the most memorable being the close-mouthed Radish Spirit and the old River Spirit, who also embodies the environmental themes Miyazaki often includes in his films.

Another stand out aspect of the movie (and most Ghibli films) is the music.

Provided by Joe Hisaishi, it’s a moving score, I reckon with so much of it feeling both magical and familiar.

An Academy Award winner and an amazing film, Spirited Away isn’t quite my favourite Ghibli movie, but I’m kicking off with it because it’s where I started and if on the off chance you’re looking to see what Studio Ghibli is like, you probably couldn’t find a better starting place.

5 Stars