Bubble (Baburu)

The fable of The Little Mermaid gets its fair share of attention in anime, especially when it comes to the ‘doomed-romance’ sub-genre. (Further spoilers below).

Bubble (Baburu) 2022

And at a glance, the film is very much science-fiction. Or action, but despite the setting and the parkour sequences, the diminished curiosity the film shows for the cause of such a radically changed Tokyo allows the romance-side of things to take a larger share of the narrative.

Now, by ‘diminished’ I don’t mean zero.

Obviously Makoto is very curious, but the story isn’t about her and her ship or her research. It’s more of a gradual reveal focusing on how the two romantic leads were ‘always connected’ and so the science-fiction/disaster aspects are in service to Hibiki & Uta’s drawing together.

Which still worked for me, absolutely, but I think this would disappoint viewers expecting a complex science-fiction epic or something like writer Gen Urobuchi’s work in Blassreiter or Pyscho-Pass.

However, if you’re looking for a sci-fi (ish) Little Mermaid re-telling that is visually pretty gorgeous, then give Bubble a try. As with a lot of work from Wit Studio, their use of colour and detail is pretty ace, even maybe overwhelming at times – and the film does feature some thrilling parkour scenes too.

But even with its inevitable ending, Uta’s final moments are still sad.

And it seems also to me, that the personal growth and opening up of Hibiki is only rewarded by him simply becoming more vulnerable to new suffering, and so maybe that aspect left things a bit sour for me in the end.

On the other hand, the sheer spectacle of the visuals was absolutely worth my time.

3.5 Stars

Vampire in the Garden (Vanpaia in za Gāden)

You know the very-real genre known as “not-quite-tearjerker”? Yep, that one – absolutely something real that you’d find in a video store, or in the list of categories via a streaming service.

Well, Vampire in the Garden (2022) feels like it meets the criteria for the above ‘genre’ to me, since it’s quite sombre and sort of contains little in the way of hope.

(Quick warning, there are fair few spoilers below, so if you’ve been planning to watch this one day and want to avoid spoilers, please take note).

However, to some extent, the action scenes and also the defiance and determination shown by the leads (Fine and Momo) sort of cloaks what is a tragedy, but I think it’s the kind that of tragedy that telegraphs its inevitable, sad ending very clearly. You’ll most likely be able to prepare yourself, if you know this kind of story will upset you.

(For example, the berserker/suicide drug that the vampires can use never seems far from Fine’s mind, and the series is careful to remind us with close-ups etc, that it’s always an option for her).

But it’s not just the ending that is melancholy and more; there is plenty of despair and hate and war throughout, and examples to demonstrate just how hideous humanity can be. It’s a clear a parallel with real-world war and prejudice, which makes the handful of upbeat scenes almost glitter in comparison.

Part of the mood is obviously achieved via lighting – and of course, it’s about vampires and so there’s going to be a lot of shadow.

But the scenes within grand manors or military encampments are often shadowed, or chilled by all the snow, leeched of vibrancy or sick with that nuclear green. It all feels like a clear sign that points to humanity being in decline from within, something clear when we see how little music, art and joy they have – and most of all, how hard they try to stamp those things out when they are found within the vampire’s culture.

On the other hand, the human race is caught within a war of survival.

Again, the themes are clear and heartfelt – something I certainly don’t begrudge the anime for in any way. War strips away the things worth living for, and Momo and Fine turn their backs on that during their search for a promised land of harmony. Well, both of them prior to the first episode – and Fine a long time prior.

I will note that the age-gap is undeniably suspect, even before the indeterminate age of vampire Fine. It’s a pretty common vampire trope, I guess – so perhaps no surprise there.

Both leads remained engaging for me, in part because they were each given time to open up, and I definitely wanted them to find what they were seeking. Despite the story giving me many reasons believe that they actually had no chance of success, I was still a bit surprised by how close the narrative permitted them to come to happiness.

A member of the supporting cast caught my eye too – Kubo and his samurai sword. Had he played a bigger role, I’d have been interested to see more of his back-story, but as things stand I felt like I was provided enough to support his motivation. (There was also enough time to see a bit more on other side characters too, which was nice).

In terms of time, I thought I should note that Vampire in the Garden felt longer than its 2-and-a-bit-hours to me, probably due to being chopped up into five episodes.

Visually, it seems clear that Wit Studio have unleashed a torrent of stunning settings and backdrops, and elsewhere I have no complaints*, but Kazushi Fujii and Satoshi Takabatake (I believe it was) really captivated me with so much striking scenery. I kept watching at least in part to see yet another awesome background.

So, at long last – is this anime for you?

Maybe if you like bat-style vampires – or far more importantly, love stories that are bittersweet at best. And if so, then this should be pretty pleasing overall. If you prefer more conventional noble-vampire/thrall plots, or vampire-hunting stories, then I don’t think Vampire in the Garden will quite do the trick.

4 Stars

*Well, maybe the jeep’s landing and some general “invincible heroes” stuff, but it wasn’t enough to ruin anything for me.

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú)

I tend to be a little disappointed in romance anime that hold back on the developing the relationship onscreen – especially when it comes to homosexual relationships, but that’s probably not always fair.

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú) 2020

And I say ‘not fair’ not in terms of a discussion between chaste vs lewd content, but more a case that I wish the industry would treat the relationships of gay characters the same as heterosexual ones, though it feels like that’s changing slowly. 

Having said that, I think I should also add – I hope things continue to change in so long as it’s safe for the creators, that is. (Obviously, country of production has an impact).

But until things change, there’s still somewhat sweet shows like Heaven Official’s Blessing, based on the novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu and animated by Haoliners Animation League. I hadn’t seen many works from China at all, but this looks fantastic, with whimsical and menacing settings, fluid action and memorable leads.

Heaven Official’s Blessing feels like a balanced mix between supernatural action and almost cute romance, (with lead Xie Lian even taking on the clumsy ‘damsel’ role at times) and I enjoyed the mythological aspects as much as the character interplay across the 13 episodes, and I’m definitely hoping there’s another season one day.

I saw HOB on the soon to be defunct Animelab, and while the subtitles were far too small for my eyes, I’m glad they were there because without them I would not have been able to watch the show at all. (There were mythological elements and context that I missed too, especially those last few episodes I suspect).


The ending to episode 12 kinda demanded an OVA or a ‘special’ because while it wrapped the action plot, the relationship between Xie Lian and San Lang needed more screen time, which did happen with #13 thankfully.

Definitely recommended for fans of the above-mentioned genres.

4 Stars

Ride Your Wave (Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara)

A quick review for Ride Your Wave (Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara) 2019.

Romance is one genre that I don’t have a lot of knowledge about so I can’t compare Ride Your Wave to many other films but I definitely enjoyed it. Maybe in part due to the fantastical elements that supported the romance?

That said, the central romantic plot certainly has a few twists and turns and one complication seems like the kind that would definitely end a relationship… but without spoilers, Minato and Hinako do remain connected afterwards.

Throughout Ride Your Wave there’s plenty of drama, not too much angst and enough funny moments to balance out the sadder parts too. I also enjoyed the kinda gangly character designs, they stood out for me, adding to the sense of characters fumbling through their relationships.

I do remember beginning to see Yōko as a complete villain but she’s not one dimensional.

At the end, there’s a big, pretty exciting final set-piece and it really extends the surf theme while neatly marrying in the fire-fighting – probably my other favourite aspect. (And the summer setting is both warm, bright and most welcome when I think back on it, especially as winter is really digging in here at the moment).

I haven’t seen much by Masaaki Yuasa yet (just ‘Happy Machine’ from Genius Party), and I really enjoyed Ride Your Wave, so I will definitely seek out some of his other films now too.

4 Stars

White Snake (Báishé: Yuánqǐ)

White Snake (Báishé: Yuánqǐ) 2019

As I’ve said before, my knowledge of animation from China is pretty limited but that didn’t stop me enjoying White Snake.

I do imagine that if I was familiar with the folktale the film draws from (Legend of the White Snake) I’d pick up a lot more subtext but I was never lost or confused because characters and motivations were clear and the same goes for the story.

Visually it’s beautiful I reckon; plenty of detail and space – and the vibrant colours that modern CGI is known for. I probably liked the settings and costuming as much as anything else, but there’s action and romance with a few surprises and some good villains too, and so White Snake is not just wonderful imagery.

Maybe for some folks the story might not be as complex as the animation with its ace action-sequences, some that are almost dizzying, but the romantic plot seemed to work really hard for the screentime.

Actually, let me phrase that better – I thought I’d finish the film thinking our two leads didn’t share enough scenes together but a feature film only has so much time to show us what’s important. And for me Blanca and Xuan probably did get enough time for the ending to work, if I think back.

So, maybe if you like costume dramas – but ones with perhaps more action than romance, and ones built around the mythical and supernatural – then White Snake should definitely satisfy.

4 Stars

Heaven Official’s Blessing (More Impressions)

I wish I had more to say today, but basically – I’m still enjoying Tian Guan Ci Fu plenty and also finding it hard to wait between episodes.

The adventure feel is still really strong and what probably amounts to Xie Lian and San Lang’s first date is really cute, even if the scenes aren’t quite played that way onscreen.

One of the only seasonal shows I’m keeping up with this time around! (8 episodes in so far.)

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Early Impressions)

I started a fair few shows from the current season but haven’t really drifted back to many of them yet – with one exception, Tian Guan Ci Fu.

Only the first 4 episodes are available but I’m enjoying it a lot – it has plenty of things I love: action, fantasy, historical aspects and fantastic costumes, lovely art and engaging characters, so I’ll definitely continue on.

This early, the romance hasn’t really kicked off – in fact, the show is a little darker, more supernatural perhaps than I was expecting, but that’s not a problem at all. Xie Lian is a great lead too and I’m keen to see how he’ll hold his own against the Demon King.

I’m also enjoying this introduction to the Xianxia genre (which is closely related to Wuxia, I believe), with the heroes not just being warriors but also gods – which creates some interesting problems for the story; how to make them not too overpowered too early etc

Looking forward to more!

It’s also my first introduction (I think) to Chinese animation group Haoliners Animation League, and this is beautiful work so I’ll definitely seek more of their productions in time.

I will say, that I have one minor issue so far, which is with the typsetting for the subtitles, they’re a touch small. Obviously, that’s because both the Japanese and English are placed onscreen, one above the other. Maybe that’s just my poor distance vision, but the alternative is to have no translation at all, and I would not like that!

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Upon re-watching Sleeping Beauty recently I was fascinated to realise that the three fairies are pretty much the main characters 🙂

Obviously they’re not the only characters, but they probably have the most screentime for one and they also take many of the important risks. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather also devise all the plans, in addition to providing the only good comic relief while at the same time being responsible for saving everyone around them!

Of course Auroa and Phillpip have nice singing voices but I think for a lot of people Maleficent stands out most in terms of character – she’s a pretty superb villain, capable of true cruelty, and her colour scheme of green, purple and black is unnerving too.

Visually, I was enthralled.

It wasn’t just the tremendous dragon/forest of thorns scene, but elsewhere too, the art and backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty are amazing – the detail on the bark upon the trees alone is just so great!

The whole forest, really – especially with those distinctive shapes and textures, but many of the castle scenes stood out too. I really liked the illusion of depth there, via that amazing multi-plane camera set up Disney was known for.

However, I was interested to hear something quite dull from director Geronimi – who I believe was unhappy with the art direction and backgrounds by Eyvind Earle, feeling that no-one would even look backgrounds. What a fool, huh? 😀

Sure, I doubt kids of the day would have cared that much but I would like to think that surely, one part of why Sleeping Beauty has endured over other Disney films has to be the art, because I don’t think the film stands above several other Disney titles around due to its storytelling, which I thought was pretty uneven.

On that claim, there’s a bit too much time spent on what I’d call filler, I guess – my favourite example being the two kings in that endless scene where they discuss and agree to things which have already been agreed to.

Even so, I’m really glad I watched this again because if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on some amazing stuff, especially the work of Eyvind Earle.

4 Stars (one of which is probably for the art alone)

By the power of Grayskull!

Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko)

Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko) 2019

I watched Children of the Sea a little while ago, and afterwards I stuck with the aquatic-theme for a couple more films. One of those movies was Ride Your Wave* while the other was obviously Weathering With You, which I’ll write about now 😀

I’m also going to kick off the post with something different compared to my usual review structure, and share this from director Makoto Shinkai:

“I thought, ‘Should I make my next film so that I don’t anger more people, or should I make a movie that angers them further?’ And I chose the latter.”

Here, he’s talking about Weathering with You as per a quote that appears in this Variety article, and I was really interested in the context around that statement… but I’ll actually come back to it later. I guess I’m raising it now to frame the idea that Weathering with You is maybe more reactionary than a lot of his previous work – and that’s probably not a surprise, considering the enormous success of Your Name.

If you haven’t come across Weathering with You yet, it’s a teen drama/romance-fantasy told in a wonderfully ‘saturated’ way, and I didn’t really mean for that to be a pun.  

I guess what I mean is that Shinkai’s fascination with and also his devotion to water, light and colour certainly continues: everything looks so beautiful, whether it’s CGI or traditional animation. In fact, you could argue that it’s crushingly beautiful, and the detail – the atmosphere, the way you really sink into the setting, it’s all quite dream-like in a way.

[Spoilers from here on] For me, the visual elements are enough to compensate for what seemed like a slightly less cohesive story overall. Something about it didn’t quite pull together as neatly as say, Your Name (or his older films) and I wonder if I needed just a few more scraps of info re: what main character Hodaka was running from, for one. Feeling suffocated by a place – I buy that 100%, but maybe just a little more on specifics at home?

I also craved some extra follow-up on a few threads by the end and I’m not sure Hina turning her back on all technology for three years feels right? Related, would Hodaka not have attempted to contact her in some way (and vice-a-versa)?

Apologies, but I’m going to jump around again as I want to mention some other things that I enjoyed, before eventually circling back to Shinkai’s quote.

Firstly, I thought it was fun to see Mitsuha and Taki from Your Name – they don’t show up in flashy, attention-grabbing cameos, it’s far more low-key and maybe somewhat connected to the Variety quote above. 

Suga and Natsumi were actually my fav characters in Weathering with You, especially Natsumi and her motorcycle, but in contrast, one of the more serious moments I enjoyed was when poor Hodaka is making his earnest promises in the hotel. Moments like that in the film, when you’re young and your conviction is stronger than your ability to make things happen, I thought were nicely done.

For some reason I’ve ended up reviewing Weathering with You before Your Name. And while the order of reviews hardly matters, I think it’s hard not to compare Weathering with You to his older work – either as a progression or a reaction.

I’ll try to expand on that – when I think about colour and tone here, it seems there’s a growing warmth clear to Weathering with You and Your Name, especially visible in the extra moments of levity and hope that I see onscreen, but which don’t appear as often in prior works perhaps.

For instance, The Garden of Words and The Place Promised in Our Early Days are obviously still beautifully coloured, but they feel more melancholy overall. (And certainly Children Who Chase Lost Voices strikes me so).

…or maybe I’m remembering the colours wrong?

In any event, I’m finally getting closer to that quote (I promise) with a note about the ending first. Here’s a quick summation of the film’s conclusion:

After Hina chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Tokyo from drowning, Hodaka fights his way above the clouds to see her, eventually bringing her home. With her return comes rain that, over the next three years, displaces millions (maybe kills folks too?), and changes the entire city. Hina seems to have been praying, trying to stop it – maybe the whole time – whereas Hodaka reflects that change is inevitable. After this, the two get a personally uplifting reunion.

Now, what I haven’t been able to decide is whether the ending is nudging us toward letting him off the hook re: taking responsibility for changes to the city and all the displaced people? Because there is a bit of time spent on that reflection, time that I took as Hodaka justifying his choice to himself (and maybe us too) via words that others had offered.

Obviously, it’s not so simple – because Hina deserves life too; and it’s a rotten choice he’s faced with.

Doubtless we’re meant to tackle the theme and decide for ourselves, what should Hodaka have done? (Even Suga goes back on his bitter wish).

And perhaps, if real life is about meeting challenges (and not being able to ‘magic’ them all away) then does the ending constitute a bit of authorial messaging? I think it’s clear that Shinkai wanted to bring attention to rising sea levels, and so what seems like a sad ending is probably the only way Weathering with You could have concluded.

So, thinking of Shinkai’s quote and his desire to anger people again – I wonder if this overt message at the end is two things: a sincere concern about climate change, but also a reaction to some criticism aimed at Your Name, where folks** didn’t like the idea of a natural disaster used for entertainment?

Because here is an even bigger natural disaster that is also used in the plot of a teen romance, and maybe within that choice, there’s some hope that in such a popular film, a lot of people will pay attention to the problem being raised… almost like a gauntlet being thrown down?

Ultimately, I hate to drift too far toward autobiographical criticism, nor assign motive to someone else’s work, but in this case I feel like there’s room – especially with that quote and having a little bit of context around Your Name.

4 Stars

* Sharing another collaboration soon! 🙂

** Wish I could find specifics on the response.

I feel like I’ve seen awesome close-ups of writing in more than a few Shinkai films now 🙂

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.)