Kokkoku

Kokkoku (2018)

This time, I want to start the review by saying that I wish there had been a bit of extra foreshadowing leading up to the ending to Kokkoku

….but that’s about it when it comes to aspects I remember feeling disappointed over.

Kokkoku: Moment by Moment is a mix of mystery, science-fiction and maybe even supernatural suspense, and is one that plays out in a relatively small setting; just a few homes and streets, really.

And that narrowing of place and space adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere that quickly builds as each episode raises the stakes for the Yukawa family. To contrast this sense of the ‘small’ is a somewhat large cast, with the intersecting goals of a fair few characters meeting and clashing in a supernatural cage of disturbing stillness.

But I’m jumping around a bit I think – to finally maybe give context to what I’ve said above, I’ll share a blurb adapted from Wikipedia:

The anime tells the story of Juri Yukawa, who during a kidnapping of her nephew and brother, discovers that her grandfather can stop time using a mysterious stone and more, that he can move freely when time is standing still.

It’s a premise that suggests the kind of child-like fantasy of youth – ‘what if I could go anywhere or do anything without anyone seeing me?’ etc etc but Kokkoku shows a far more lonely and troubling place at times.

And from that rescue attempt mentioned in the blurb, the audience gets to learn a lot about Juri and her grandfather especially. I wouldn’t say the show is a character study though, as there’s plenty of plot-based tension when the Yukawa family discovers that other, more unsavory people hold the same ability.

It was nice to see a range of faces and character designs too, compared to say the generic choice of only having young, flawless heroes (as in a lot of anime over the decades) but the thing I liked the most here was probably the uncertainty. I was rarely confident about exactly what would happen next, which was fun. 

Due to all the time the characters spend in stasis, I guess calling Kokkoku a ‘time-travel’ story isn’t quite right, but the principle is the same – the anime is exploring time and our relation to it.

Kokkoku also felt like it made room for a few moral questions but the speculative elements are the main focus. I also liked the kinda muted colour-scheme Geno Studio* used too, which added to the sense of realism within the unreal.

But I think I’ve rambled long enough – maybe I won’t watch this every year like some other favourites, but I’m glad I’ve seen it 🙂

4 Stars

* Perhaps best known for Golden Kamuy.

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

A-Z Challenge: “N” is for Noragami (2014)

Noragami

This is (another) show that I wanted to tick off my A-Z challenge list and so I’m glad I’ve made a bit more progress on the challenge there, but sadly, it seems that maybe Noragami is a show Bones has abandoned.

I guess the audience didn’t love it enough to buy the merch or other physical items, and obviously, the studio has to follow their cash cows in order to stay afloat in a crowded marketplace… but I left season two of Noragami ready for a third and it probably won’t happen, which bugs me.

Nevertheless, that’s the way it is.

And I should switch to the things I liked about those two seasons – while also attempting to complete a short review for a change 😀

Noragami mixes supernatural action with comedy and drama in an urban (but not grimy) setting that’s kinda shown via the rooftops and telephone wires as much as the shrines and streets, which I loved.

For me, the creatures and magic were always fun and I liked the designs for both them and the humanoid characters, but I think the characters themselves were my fav aspect.

The pacing and reveals (especially around Yato’s past) and storytelling did the work of keeping me hooked, and while I probably enjoyed the first season’s main storyline slightly better, I got a lot of satisfying answers in the second.

The contrast between Yato and Hiyori as leads works a treat for me but I think maybe I was drawn to the side-characters as much as those two – even the sullen Yukine, who is given a nice arc, and is actually a pivotal character that I could have really disliked, but I ended up pretty keen for him to succeed.

I haven’t said much in the way of specifics here perhaps… and so here’s one I wanted to mention: the hierarchy of Gods and the way they operate within the bounds of the human world was a big hook for me.

Hmmm, now that I’m just rolling off things I enjoyed, it might be time to wrap things up and just mention a few last aspects – Ebisu had an interesting close to his storyline, and while I would have loved more from Kofuku and Daikoku, I did get to know a reasonably large cast, which gave the show plenty of variety, I reckon.

If you like action, comedy and supernatural elements around Gods and related deities then this might just hit the spot.

4 Stars

[This is the latest entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].

Pet Shop of Horrors

Pet Shop of Horrors (1999)

I definitely would have watched more of these.

Pet Shop of Horrors is a great example of ‘episodic’ storytelling, with its sombre tales contained neatly within each episode. There are two links between stories – Count D and his LA pet shop, and detective Leon, who is trying to uncover the truth about the place.

Aside from the cautious friendship between the two characters, the mysteries here focus on Count D’s customers and their folly.

Perhaps in time, maybe Madhouse could have built successive OVAs into a series – but that was probably never the plan. I guess also, this show isn’t ‘horror’ enough for folks who want gore and shock? And sometimes when a show doesn’t easily fit into one genre, it’s hard to sell. I dunno, I should research its reception!

But my point is (finally!) that this Pet Shop of Horrors is more like supernatural mystery more than full-on horror, and even at times, tragedy.

And while there’s a clear structure to the episodes – meet a customer to see what dangerous creature D sells them, then watch that customer struggle with their choices, there’s enough variety with mermaids, rats, serpents and kirin, and the characters, that I enjoyed each tale.

It was also fun to see what felt like a nod to Gremlins (but may not have been, of course) re: Count D’s rules about his caring for his pets.

Finally, the question of whether and/or how the customers invariably broke those rules was where most of the horror came into play, and depending on whether they were meant to be sympathetic characters, so too, the tragedy.

This feels like a somewhat forgotten OVA from the late 1990s now, but I liked it a lot.

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.)

Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006)

Le Chevalier D’Eon

The first episode of Le Chevalier D’Eon offered everything I wanted – swords, magic, twists and turns, intrigue too, and all of it taking place in historical European settings!

In fact, I remember after seeing the opening being pretty thrilled, feeling sure that I’d found a show that I knew I would love. And I would definitely put the first episode (D’Eon∴ Lia) up against most of the first episodes of my other favs for sure.

And in the end, I did love the series but I hit a wall in the middle.

I think I know why – it’s the pacing.

Now, I mentioned pacing here in one of my previous ‘Abandoned’ posts – there was a point where I felt a slight drag on the forward momentum, because I knew that our four leads were going to visit a new town, catch up on local politics, help out, and then collect a few scraps of info on the main quest.

At one point, that pattern repeated itself for enough episodes to deter me, and it took a while to come back to the series, even though at the mid-way point I should have been totally unable to set Le Chevalier D’Eon to one side.

And what’s interesting to me is that I love episodic storytelling but this time around it felt like mini-arcs with not enough of the main plot woven throughout to satisfy my curiosity.

On the other hand, I certainly finished Le Chevalier D’Eon because there was so much I want to know by the end. In addition, the characters, settings and magical elements are all great – along with the swashbuckling too, of course.

But it’s not really an adventure show (despite escapes, conspiracies, monsters and swordplay etc) because as I’ve mentioned before, intrigue and politics feature heavily here. There’s even a touch of romance, but the magic (Poets and Psalms used to destroy and manipulate) are probably the main focus, along with a slew of changing loyalties.

The price of loyalty too, is a huge theme in Le Chevalier D’Eon and one that I enjoyed plenty.

I think another stand-out aspect is the range of (loose) historical elements; not just things like the various royals that our leads meet (or figures like Comte de Saint Germain and Maximilien Robespierre), but aspects that had me reading up on the real-life D’eon. In fact, it seems a shame that the existence of Lia in the anime clouds important details about D’eon.

Finally, I guess I should say, be warned, by the end there is very little left for the surviving leads to celebrate – perhaps unsurprising considering the setting.

Still, the anime was compelling for me, even when its storytelling sometimes became a little opaque or even if, as I see it, giving D’eon room to process truths about his sister is somewhat swept aside by the scope of other events.

4 Stars

(This series is sometimes compared to Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, released a bit earlier, since both are somewhat similar in themes and settings).

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!

Dororo (2019)

There are a few gaps when it comes to my knowledge of Osamu Tezuka’s works beyond Astro Boy, which is something I’ve been wanting to fix for a long while.

Being well-aware of his other stories but only having having seen a few or just bits and pieces over the years has been kind of frustrating, especially when it comes to finding a copy of Phoenix 2772 🙂

However, when I started Dororo I didn’t realise that the anime was the second adaptation of Tezuka’s manga, so that was a fun surprise! And even through the grimmer, more splatter-filled 2019 series probably doesn’t look like it on the surface, I think there are both character design and story-telling aspects that reveal the source material.

Dororo is a classic underdog story, with both Dororo and Hyakkimaru up against a harsh, unforgiving world – and that’s just the humans. The demons are bad news too, but the duo prove to be a match for the things they face. And while what they face can be, at times, a monster of the week, Hyakkimaru’s quest to restore himself provides a narrative link looking forward, while Dororo’s past offers a similar thread of consistency.

Perhaps the injustice Hyakkimaru must face, and one that certainly had me onside with him right away, was the nature of his birth. After all, not only does his father sacrifice his organs and senses, almost his entire body, in exchange for prosperity, but nearly everyone around Hyakkimaru chooses to overlook the father’s cowardice, instead turning their blame on a more convenient target.

Part of why I watched 4 or 5 episodes each night (more than I’d planned :D) was that injustice, but knowing Osamu Tezuka’s storytelling, there’s no simple answer. There is a cost to Hyakkimaru’s restoration, so Dororo has more than one good moral dilemma.

Reading up on the reception, I see that one criticism aimed at this modern adaptation is that compared to the manga, ronin Hyakkimaru has so little dialogue that it is harder to connect with him as a character. I half agree. On one hand, it meant that the ending had a little extra impact, on the other, it meant that I missed out on hints of how he was dealing with everything.

To compensate, we learn a lot about Dororo throughout – so I was happy with the trade off, myself. In terms of the ‘modern’ violence, I did take a quick look at the manga in an attempt to compare and maybe it’s partially colour, movement and sound that makes the show feel more violent?

But getting back to the anime, I wanted to quickly share a few favourite aspects – one being the pre-Jaws moments but I also really enjoyed what felt like a nod to the ‘hidden Ainu treasure’ trope, along with Izume or Jukai as characters. ‘The Story of the Jorogumo Silk Spider’ was another favourite; it had a few twists and a non-typical ending perhaps.

I suppose that in some moments, the character design might bring to mind that late 1960s look, especially with Mio and the golden horse to give two examples, and I wondered whether they ‘fit’ the grimmer aesthetic of things elsewhere, but I can’t really complain since I liked it all.

Oh, and when folks joke about Hyakkimaru being the original ‘demon slayer’ there will be aspects that appeal to fans of both shows, at minimum the historical setting and the slicing up of monsters, however the two are obviously different in a lot of ways.

Really enjoyed Dororo and I’m keen to find the first anime one day too.

4 Stars

Review count: 151 (Dororo was the ‘runner up’ in the little vote I had for the 150th review)

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō)

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō) 2014

Nine years passed between the release of Mushi-Shi (2005) and Mushi-Shi (Next Passage) and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long myself 🙂

For me, having come to the first series late, I was lucky to be able to watch both reasonably close together… but now, after having finished, I’m also sad that there’s only a few specials left for me to seek out. Still, I can easily re-watch an episode here and there because both seasons are truly episodic.

Lazily, I’m going to quote from my first review for the premise:

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.

There are plenty of similarities between the two series – for one, Ginko is still the central character but not a character that needs to hog all the screen-time; you’ll get to know the people whose lives he changes too but no storyline drags. You’ll also get an ending with each episode and usually, meet a new and fantastical mushi each time.

Next Passage is still quite calm in many ways, often sombre too, but that doesn’t mean the anime is without tension. Mostly, I guess I’m referring to production techniques and pacing when I claim that it is ‘calm’. Again, once more the natural world dominates the screen, both beautiful and disconcerting as Ginko travels through the seasons.

One change I did notice seems to be the colour – this season feels a little more vibrant and even more picturesque; it’s usually very soothing. Even the darker episodes seem almost ‘warm’, like ‘The Hand That Caresses the Night’ for example, with the yellows, greens and browns.

If you enjoyed the first season then this will satisfy on every level I think – there’s even an episode with a little more about Ginko’s past, so I was pretty happy to see that. It’s hard to choose a favourite few episodes this time around, but ‘Floral Delusion’ comes to mind for sure.

4 Stars

Ghost Hunt (Gōsuto Hanto)

Ghost Hunt (Gōsuto Hanto) 2006

Time for more supernatural anime!

Aside from that category, to my eye Ghost Hunt fits firmly in the YA genre (to use the literature terminology). There are things like the ‘absent parent’ trope, a focus on first love and our young heroes take centre-stage (in generally believable ways).

So to switch back to anime vocab for a moment, this is a great shoujo series that I wished had been given another season. Maybe like so much anime out there, was it always partially meant to be a gateway to other media forms, or maybe – more likely I think, it just wasn’t popular enough for JC Staff to afford another season? I’m finding it hard to find much in the way of contemporary reception for a ‘non-landmark’ show from 2006.

But I guess you could say that I have a soft spot for JC Staff productions, and this feels like one of their stand-outs. Based on a series of light novels from (you guessed it) the 1990s, Ghost Hunt was an anime I stumbled across during a bit of a supernatural binge I was on a fair while back now.

And I was quite happy to find Ghost Hunt, since it featured comedy and drama while being genuinely creepy at times. I wanted to take a moment to talk genre too, because it’s very much ‘suspense’ rather than horror, so depending on your tolerance, even if you don’t like shows that are meant to be scary, I’d say that Ghost Hunt is most often ‘spooky’.

Part of what keeps the tone generally lighter a lot of the time, is the focus on humour, with banter and ribbing between a large team of characters (folks who do care for each other) as they work to solve paranormal mysteries.

I think I was especially drawn to the folklore and mythology aspects too, plus the occasional historical storyline. The season only covers a handful of ‘cases’ but the pacing is taut enough that you’re pulled along through the various 3 or 4 episode-long arcs quite nicely, I reckon.

Visually, I certainly have no complaints and Mai and Kazuya are engaging characters, probably exactly what you’d expect for leads in the age-group, but the supporting cast I enjoyed as much. There’s even a Catholic priest from Australia, John Brown, who uses the Kansai dialect. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this correctly from other shows, but it seems that because the dialect is maybe a bit ‘broader’, then it is sometimes used for AU and UK characters in anime?

Not sure how good my memory/understanding is there at all – in fact, if anyone knows I’d be interested in your thoughts 🙂

To finish at last, this is a fun suspense anime with a bit of folklore, comedy and romance mixed in. Like so many series, sadly, it never gets a chance to reveal all its secrets in regards to a certain key character, since there was no follow-up season and thus you might finish it feeling a little short-changed in some ways.

3.5 Stars

There was the occasional use of old school techniques like this or the split screen, which I liked.