Mukoku (2017)

I recall one day seeing a trailer for the movie Mukoku (2017) without subtitles, and something about it just struck with me. I had no clue what was going on in the trailer, but it was filled with energy, and drama that I wanted to check it out by any means. When I did some digging into the movie, Mukoku is actually based on a novel written by author Shushei Fujisawa who wrote the novels The Twilight Samurai, Love and Honor, and The Hidden Blade all which got critically successful film adaptations. Discovering this information explains why the film was successfully crowdfunded  on Motion Gallery.  More interestingly though, apparently one of things that would be covered by the campaign was apparently English subtitles. I don’t know Japanese, and I’m using Google translate so that could be wrong. If not, I would say that is a shame, but I didn’t end up thinking much of the movie to my dismay. I’m hoping the people who gave money to this production got what they wanted because I sure certainly didn’t.

The setup to this sports drama is our protagonist Kengo (Go Ayano) is drowning in his misery tying his love of Kendo to his trouble relationship with his father. The opening terrifically showcases the harsh training Kengo underwent as a child, and implying through a simple transition the animosity it build in him through adulthood. Instead of continuing from this great opening we’re instead introduce to teenage rapper Tooru (Nijrio Murakami). A significantly less interesting character who became a detriment of the movie’s story. These two characters are in stark contrast showcasing what I love, and hate about independent filmmaking.

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“With this Bokuto, I shall unleashed my Black Ghost!”

Kengo is a complex character facing conflicting emotions within himself fighting his inner demons. Father abuse, guilt for making his father bedridden, his tainted view on a sport he loves, and being unable to forgive himself are enough to make an entire movie around. However, Tooru has to have just much screen allotted to him who just plods along feeling like a series of just because. Tooru is missing that history that makes Kengo worth following on his story. Creating a noticeable detachment between Kengo, and Tooru portions of the movie.

Tooru introduction of possibly being traumatized by a drowning incident inadvertently excites him. After that sequence, it’s a up to your interpretation method to characterizing him. Unlike Kengo who has plenty of traits to tie him to reality serving the abstract storytelling well in his part. Tooru has less going for him with the abstract storytelling leaving him shallow.

So for about thirty minutes it takes the art house approach of being deliberately slow. This minimalistic approach ends up backfiring whenever the focus is on Tooru. It’s established early on he loves to write rap music, but that ends up amounting to nothing. Not even the lack of acknowledgement that Tooru just abandoned it contribute to Tooru lack of personality. Another issue is some of its story gets lost in translation. Things like Kengo becoming what he hates in his father gets lost in the shuffle of subplots, and side characters that remain underdeveloped.

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Other than Kendo, Tooru doesn’t have much going for him

Kengo on the hand must go through the road to recovering. Seemingly more hopeless the more he looks into himself. Eventually asking himself if he truly hates his father enough to want to kill him. Not only this, but by showing glimpses of Kengo, and his father interacting it’s position in a way where it’s not cut, and dry on how viewers should feel about this conflict. Kengo father is gradually developed to be just as much of a tragic figure as Kengo. Providing a complex father, and son dynamic promised in the opening of the movie.

Alongside the uneven writing quality between Tooru, and Kengo portions of the movie is the pacing. Bad pacing is consistent as scenes always feel dragged out longer than they should be. With Kengo it makes sense since he’s regularly seen tormented by his past, while Tooru gets none of that. Tooru gets plenty of training sessions in substitute of depth. The importance of proving his worth to his Kendo master gets lost among the sloppy writing. Mixing up looking for excitement with proving himself.

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“You act like your hot stuff, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all a big bluff” (Note: Never improv rap)

As much as I praised Kengo side of the story one area it falter where Tooru exceeds at is the climax. An eventual match between Kengo, and Tooru gets set up around 40 something minutes into the movie. It’s not a confrontation that offers either character an extensive introspection of who they are. This confrontation works for Tooru storyline since it feels aimless, but eventually finds purpose. Kengo on the other storyline has purpose, but comes off as a cheap solution to everything setup. Kengo literally lashing out his frustration on a Tooru doesn’t like the right course his character should take, nor makes it work.

Water is used as a metaphor in this movie in a in your face form, but the intended meaning is very foggy. My own interpretation from the movie, Kengo was drowning in his misery, and Tooru wants a excitement similar to the time he almost drowned since it sexually excites him. It’s leaves little to the imagination when Tooru yells out “I’m coming! I’m coming! I’M COMING!” when fighting against Kengo in the rain. Once they both reached the conclusion of their arcs it’s clear how water as a metaphor was used for Kengo. On Tooru it’s baffling since it seems like it regresses his character. His whole love of writing lyrics for music up vanishes, and repeats his behavior again. Of course it be they both stop drowning themselves inadvertently helping each other overcome a dark aspect of their past. I’ll go with that last one since art house movies waver in having a clear message.

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“You have shame me son. Time to commit Sodoku!”

Easily the best of part Mukoku for me was Go Ayano. His acting was top notch in the film portraying a tragic soul in his character. Delivery his lines in a way where every verbal outburst leaves an impression of a self destructed man. Ayano sloppy movements is a nice touch when he picks up a wooden sword in any scene he holds one. Showing great form, and control of the bokuto (wooden swords) convincing the viewer he’s a true kendo expert.

Nijiro Murakami does a good job as Tooru in spite of the sloppy material. With the exception of the one line delivery “I’M COMING!” at the top of his lungs. Murakami comes off very naturally. Granted Murakami subtle performance does come at the cost of being able to show his full range as an actor like Go Ayano during his more dramatic intense scenes. Kaoru Kobayashi was great in his brief time. Instantly he’s able to create a stern, and tough father figure in a matter of seconds. I personally would have liked to see more of him making quite an impression. Akira Emoto who plays a dojo master I could have done without. He simply seems like he’s phoning it in. Not a single scene that he was a part of did I believe he was his character.

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I will admit, the Kendo fights are well done. Not enough of them

On the technical side it’s pretty modest. Other than a few shots at the beach the cinematography is bland. Only twice in the movie is there an attempt to make up it lack of visual flair with ingenious transitions. My favorite one was easily Nijiro Murakami performing a rap song on stage; he goes down to a crowd fence, vomits mud & fish next to the crowd fence, the lights behind him shines up creating a foggy like effect, Murakami sees paperlike cut out of the audience underwater, and the water rises up above him. This clever transition shows the viewer a crucial part of his past without making it obvious it takes place in the past. Sound design can be absorbing, and atmospheric as much as the direction can be overbearing in places, especially the thirty minutes that feel longer than they should be. The Kendo fights are few, but they are well done, especially one where Go Ayano goes into a dojo, and beats up like a dozen students in training with ease.

For around the last 6 to 8 minutes Mukoku has no dialogue much in the same way I ran out of things to say about this movie. I found it disappointing since my sometime jaded views on sport stories in any media is a large hurdle to overcome. So when I found one that tick the box of doing something I don’t expect, and with a sport I rarely see depicted of course that’ll grab my attention. Strange how a movie that also touches on finding peace in oneself does the opposite for me. Sadly, only Go Ayano performance is the only aspect I came out liking in a otherwise middling movie with too much highs, and too much lows to suggest anyone check out.

Rating: 5/10

Casually Joining the Brotherhood of Average

They have returned, the tag posts! This time, the resurrection is all thanks to Average Joe tagged me twice in his Brotherhood posts ensuring he had an entire post dedicated to answering all his questions. I still got a dozen questions to unanswered my membership gets fully accepted. Firstly the rules.

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog. 
  • Answer the questions sent to you.
  • Nominate around 10 bloggers.
  • Create your own set of questions for your nominees and display the rules.

Well I still have one more Brotherhood post to finish up, and that should add up to 10 when multiply by the power of 7. Until I get that massive post done, lets get to the questions.

 

 

What western produced cartoon do you think would work best in an anime format and why? Things like Steven Universe, Miraculous Ladybug and Huntik.


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A western cartoon I feel would work better in anime format would be Danny Phantom. From memory, I recall it having great potential, but being restricted to a kids station I felt it didn’t make use of it premise like it could have. Besides the change in art style that would allow it to show some more grotesque ghosts. It would greatly benefit from being able to explore darker material. Something like seeing the ghost dead relative, or a spirit with a traumatic backstory I feel like would allow to touch on broader subjects.

Another advantage I could picture is the whole horror, and action element of the series turning out better. On Nickelodeon, they tend to favor comedy. It did make Danny Phantom enjoyable, but it didn’t feel like anything special to what else was airing on their channel. In anime, sure it’ll still have the comedy, but in anime with less restriction an attempt at horror I’ll take over none at all. Plus, phantom planet is something I can live without.

 

What novel series (western of manga) do you want adapting into a movie or show? Like The Hunger Games, Edge of Tomorrow and almost every anime we currently have.


I can’t think of a novel series I feel could be adapted into a movie, or tv series. Nearly all the novels I read are standalone. However, I do feel like the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee would work fantastically as a tv drama. It follows a Korean mother who leaves her homeland for Japan, where her children and grandchildren will be born and raised; yet prejudice against their Korean heritage will prevent them from ever feeling at home in Japan. Covering a wide range of issues like identity, tradition, racism, pride, and other such topics I feel would benefit greatly in TV format. As a TV series, it’ll allow the series to explore are the subject matter Pachinko touches on without making the viewer feel like it all too much to comprehend like in movie format.

I doubt it’ll get any kind of on screen adaptation, but even if it doesn’t it’ll still be my third favorite book of all time. Fantastic characters, great in depth theme exploration, and nice handling of its ambitious story culminate into a book I wouldn’t re-reading anytime soon. Of course, I’ll still take that TV series please! It needs more affection!

 

What candy is your favorite and why? Mine’s Warheads because… I like the pain I guess?


Skittles without a doubt. When I can’t eat an actual Rainbow, Skittles are the next best thing.

 

What fictional universe would you most want to live in and why? P.S. You would be integral to that universe like a MC or SC. Mine would be How not to Summon a Demon Lord because ELVES! Also it’s the closest thing I can think of to Dungeons and Dragons.


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Looking through my MAL I have to say the world of Mahoujin Guruguru (2017) would be fun. It’s already bright, and colorful, but the inhabitants of it are very silly. I also like they go against plenty of traditional fantasy tropes so alongside laughing at some of the character designs there’ll never be a boring day for in this world.

 

In an essay of no more than 300 words, if there were any anime you wish had been written differently, what would you have written? I’ll find this one interesting.


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This is going to surprise no one Discord who reads this (yep, probably Axel I bet), but My Hero Academia I would rewrite. One thing I would change is ensure Deku doesn’t have any powers for the entire story. In my version, All Might reprimand Deku telling him there’s a difference between recklessness, and heroism after he makes a situation worse in episode 2 of the anime. Shoving the point in Deku can’t be a hero.

Deku would be moping around until he discovers some letters written to his father. He discovers his father was a police officer, and reading countless of letters people calling his father their hero makes Deku learn you don’t need powers to be a hero. Something I feel the anime series does is equate heroism with having powers.

Que the training montage, and hitting the books. He takes the same course as in the anime series, but the difference is he fails despite showing courage, and is put into the Support Class of UA Academy. Here is where Deku meets other in the same position, but with less than desirable Quirks. Soaking in he’s not alone in the ridicule in the world around him. He makes quick friends with Mei Hatsume passing test after test. I’ll retain the sports festival, but have Deku loose again. He graduates, and works as a police officer like his father did. After that, he would be up against a bomber who happens to be Bakugo.

My version would end a decade later when Deku is in his late 20s, and married to Mei. He gets a visit from All Might at his house saying he was wrong. “In a world filled with superpowers I had thought true heroism has been lost. You proved me wrong” would be his exact words. All Might offers Deku his powers, and some more trainings to ensure he can handle it. Deku accepts, but only after he spends one more month being a father to his son. All Might agrees, and leaves. Ending on a shot of Deku entering a warm home with his proud child hugging him.

(The above is over 300 words, but couldn’t fit it under that so take that as you will.)

 

Who’s your Waifu or Husbando and why? Look I had no more ideas ok?!


I made a post about who I would put into my harem. Yes, even someone like Hell Girl who takes people to Hell regularly made it onto that list. Hey, it works for me.

 

What job / profession would you want to have an anime based around? This can be any profession, whether it be your own or not, and explain how it would be an anime of sorts. Think something like a Blend S set in a café etc.


I guess food processing speaking from personal experience. Turns out to be a lot weirder than I thought it would be. If it’s not the co-workers telling me where I can buy animal semen there’s something always going wrong. Be it a pipe that is inches from hitting a co-worker on his shoulder, or me turning my back for a couple of seconds to do something, and that person getting into a accident that quickly. Don’t get me started on the people, I could be here all day about my work place. Exactly why I think it would make for a good comedy anime!

 

In a format of around 100 to 200 words. What anime character do you feel is overrated and why?


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I have to go with Rintarou Okabe from Steins;Gate. Mostly because I felt the writing did him a major disservice making him unintentionally come across as a dick. He goes to countless of worldlines to ensure his waifu is safe, but doesn’t bother creating a timeline where everyone is happy. So *Spoilers Begin* Ruka still ends up being a dude to his dislike, and Rumiho is still fatherless all because Okabe wanted his waifu! *End Spoilers*.  I don’t even like those two specific characters, but what a dick move undoing other people’s happiness so you can have your own.

Also, how in the world did you program a message in episode 23 to play after a specific incident happens in a worldline out of your control! That’s so specific it hurt my brain. Most importantly why wouldn’t you have the phone message play knowing full well the possible catastrophe at hands if you fail! Don’t get me started on the happy ending which made it feel like Okabe learned nothing on his journey. Again, the writing did him a disservice.

 

If you could erase any song from history, what song would it be and why? 


I haven’t listen to the radio for over a decade so I don’t know what’s popular. Depending on how you look at it my sister listens to the radio, and out of everything I heard from those drivel air waves I would erase would be “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. It’s just a boring pop song I hear a lot in adverts. It’s already maddening knowing someone as talented as Josh Ramsay from Marianas Trench biggest hit will be writing Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”. A world that eliminates the lyrically uninspired, and instrumentally dull “Wrecking Ball” from Miley Cyrus is a world worth dreaming about.

 

What’s your favorite Dere and why? Yandere, Dandere, Kuudere etc. (Also who from that dere do you like?)


I would say Kuudere if my harem is any indication. What I like best about them is probably their growth if they get any. Seeing a Kuudere break out of their cold exterior to express more emotion is easy characterization, but I find it enjoyable. These type of characters generally don’t grate on me, even when done badly. Other than Hell Girl, Miyu Yamano, and Saber there’s also L from Death Note, both Levi and Mikasa from Attack On Titan who turn out to be cool characters with some awesome moments. My favorite of these would be Saber. She looks good in almost everything I’ve seen her in, and she’s a pretty good sword fighter. A winning combination in my book.


 

Here are you’re questions which won’t be used against you if you ever back out of the Brotherhood.

Bossils

Rodrovich

PyraXadon

These wonderful folks have yet to join the Brotherhood, and the questions!

  • If you could remake any anime, what anime would that be, and why?
  • Copying Average Joe, who is your ultimate waifu/husbando! THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!
  • What two anime universe would you like to see crossover?
  • Lastly, is there any anime you dropped because of a single annoying character?

 

I could have gone on longer writing about my rewrite of My Hero Academia, but those were the main bullet points I would have kept. The ending I can understand some viewing it as counterproductive to the entire story, but had (and failed) to keep it under 300 words so details were left out. What you gonna do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . I am considering doing a post about it, but at the same time that means spending on something MHA

Before I continue babbling on like the robot I am I shall make my exit, and return to the mundane that is typically my not so normal life. I’m currently in the process of preparing for the worst that will be the remainder of the year. This means family visiting me. Oh boy, with Halloween around the corner that is scary! Well, future me will deal with it when the time comes. Until next time, insert a clever closing here.

Genocidal Organ (2017)

“I’m prepared to protect my world. A world where I can order a jalapeno pizza, and pay for it with my ID thumbprint! Where I can throw away half my Big Mac just because I’m full, and I want too!” – Williams from Genocidal Organ (I thought this line was hilarious both in, and out context. Best reflects this movie in a nutshell)

Politics, conspiracy theories, theology, psychology, and man’s morality are all tricky subject matter to tackle. Let alone all together into a single movie like Genocidal Organ attempts to do. Presenting itself as this intellectually deep film while providing some over the top blood & gore to attract casual viewers. It’s a animated film that requires all your attention to stay awake while watching. If the long talkative scenes that over explain things don’t bore you than the lack of engaging characters will.

Set in a time when Sarajevo was obliterated by a homemade nuclear device, Genocidal Organ story reflects a world inundated with genocide. An American by the name of John Paul seems to be responsible for all of this, and intelligence agent Clavis Shepherd treks across the wasteland of the world to find him and the eponymous “genocidal organ”. The setting of Genocidal Organ is nicely realize painting broad a picture of a semi-dystopia US. Creating the world by going into detail what led the country down the path it did. You’ll get a good grasp at the type of world this movie takes place in, and how exactly characters feel about living under a heavily surveillance country.

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The future is nothing, but fire

Too bad the way it’s set up is through jargon dialogue going out of it way to over explain things for the audience. Some of this is reasonable like explaining why there’s a difference in surveillance security in different countries, and how the US adapted to combat terrorists attacks. When it tries to go into the more philosophical it drones on. Theology, politics, linguistics, and so much more will be the subject of a single conversation clunkily moving across these topics. These type of conversations consist throughout the movie making it unnatural sounding to listen too. Heck, the movie has a difficult time keeping mundane talk mundane when injecting these kind of subjects into them needlessly.

Amidst all these ideas are a cast of boring characters. The story dictates the characters we follow don’t feel emotion due to their military training. Our lead Clavis Shepherd slowly starts questioning that over time in the film. This plot point would work if the film presented itself better. There’s a sequence where Clavis, and his team storm into a building to killing a group of children guerrilla fighters. By removing his emotion what one should take away from this moment is difficult to pinpoint. Clavis is a blank slate just coming across as a mouthpiece for the writer to spout his belief making him uninteresting. Conflicting interests clashes with long diatribes against society with brief moments of hyper violence spread across it. Instead of leaving an impression it just fades into the background with seemingly nothing of value added to the story.

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Want to know these pods are made out of? To bad, it tells you either way

Characters spend more time discussing ideals they forget to have personalities. Only Williams in the cast shows any personality cracking jokes every one in a while, and bringing up how much he loves his family. He feels human in a story that otherwise dehumanizes it characters down to just mere ideals. Sadly, Williams is not our main character so instead of seeing a amoral conflict developed in the story. We have instead the already amoral Clavis Shepherd becoming infatuated with a woman he barely met. If not for the blank slate that he was Clavis seeing his world in a different would have had a impact. There isn’t enough know about Clavis to make the transition easy to get behind either in his romantic fling, or his world views.

John Paul is sadly generic as one can get for a villain. Spouting the usual humanity is evil dialogue. What takes the cake with this character is his explanation that genocide has a grammar to it. The science behind it makes sense in the film’s context since there are silly sci-fi elements to accept it’s possible. This still doesn’t make for compelling dialogue though. However, he’s a slightly better written character because his motivation is explained, even if questionable how one thing lead to another.

What is not questionable is the fact the film uses John Paul stance against the government to prove a point that sacrificing freedom is a bad thing. If the film accepted the fact John Paul actions to prove his point is equally just as bad it would have been thought provoking. If there’s someone like John Paul capable of causing genocide through mere words would I want sacrifice my freedom to ensure he doesn’t cause harm to me? Instead of thinking about that I wonder why the movie thought justifying mass genocides was a thing it needed to do. There’s no grey area on this topic because all it does is make John Paul the embodiment of a hypocrite. Either change the tragic backstory, or make John Paul a straight up delusional villain to prevent an imbalance between the message of the story, and the film’s villain.

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This brief moment is cool though

The Japanese voices take a lost on this one for their performances. All the dialogue is western based, and it simply feels like the Japanese did a literal translation of everything of Western phrases. So the Japanese cast has to awkwardly pause, or speed their delivery to match the lip flap. Instead of localizing certain phrases to sound natural in Japanese the literal translation creates an even more unnatural flow to the dialogue. Plus, the Japanese cast ain’t able to capture, or in some cases attempt to mimic the accent of their characters.

Josh Grelle plays Clavis Shepherd coming off monotone for the entire film. The point of Grelle character is be emotionless, but over time he’s meant to be cracking through the monotonous shell with emotion. Unless Grelle screams, it’s nearly indistinguishable to tell apart when his character changes. Overtime this lack of enunciating his emotions eventually just comes off as stoic.

Ian Sinclair is the most enjoyable actor in the English dub. He gets to show personality unlike the rest of the actors. Being allowed to be funny, serious, and anything in between. Providing the film levity, and dramatic weight it desperately needed where it’s regularly lacking.

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Yep, animated gif. Hardly notice the animation.

The film’s was originally animated by Manglobe, and once Manglobe closed down it changed production to Geno Studio. It’s obvious to tell that the film had a rocky production history since details, animations, and background quality shift around. Hair details for example is inconsistent; sometimes the hair is detailed with different shading changing depending on the lighting, and other times it remains the same despite the lighting in a scene. There’s some usage of CG that sticks out, but are used sparingly. One of the highlight is animated sequence done in first person which looks pretty good. 

Animation is fluid when it moves, but noticeably drop in quality when characters still down, and stand still in a scene. Typically using a panning shots from far away to cut down on details on the characters. Environments are very detailed, and since takes place in countries all over the world the change in locale is appreciated. Character designs are hit and miss. Sometimes they look fine, and other times like during the action scenes their faces, or body structure just seem off. Lastly, the film does have a few over the top action sequence that bump up the blood, and gore, but they rarely happen in the movie. In line with the dialogue the music itself feels like an afterthought. There’s nothing remarkable about it. Just being loud, and noisy to fill the scene.

Genocidal Organ is the last film Manglobe had in production before it went into bankruptcy in 2015 before getting finished by Geno Studio. Instead of leaving the anime world on a good note this movie best summarizes Manglobe existence in a nutshell. You have a series of great ideas in Genocidal Organ, but with a less than stellar execution. Sharing its ideas before providing a good story to go along side with it. Manglobe name might be behind some fondly remembered animes, but Genocidal Organ ain’t going to be one of them.

Rating: 3/10

A Company Man (2012)

I’ve mentioned before how Korean revenge movies start blending together in my mind after seeing so many of them. Another type of movie that start blending in my mind are the contracted killers disobeying orders from their boss, falling in love with their target or a woman/man, and the contracted killer getting hunted down. That’s a broad outline I know, but ever since viewing A Bittersweet Life (2005) for the first time this year I keep associating that premise with it. However, the way A Bittersweet Life (2005) told that story mesmerized me to the point I just can’t help think of it every time I see something similar. Forever ensuring it’ll standout in my mind no matter how many similar films I see. A Company Man (2012) won’t enjoy that same luxury, but it’ll go down as a good action flick that didn’t quite live up to its potential in my mind.

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Another day at the office training the new contract killers.

A Company Man is about Ji Hyeong-Do (So Ji-Sub), a contract killer operating in a modern day corporate structure. Before getting into the movie itself I have to compare this to the 2005 South Korean film A Bittersweet Life. Both A Bittersweet Life, and A Company Man tell very a similar story, and play out nearly the same. Having their loner leads start out emotionless, meeting a woman who is involved with music makes that they fall for, both protagonists become disgruntled with their everyday job, both leads are chased down by their bosses after disobeying orders, a climatic action sequence occurs at both leads former workplace, and both reflect how it all came down to this once the violence dies down. However, A Bittersweet Life is a half an hour longer helping it flesh out it characters, and themes that in A Company Man aren’t as fleshed out. In A Bittersweet Life there’s more presented to provide emotional investment that A Company Man lacks.

A Bittersweet Life isn’t the first, nor the last time a story about a contract killer disobeying order, and being hunted down is ever going to get told. For this instance, it was important to bring up because writer/director Lim Sang-Yoon is heavily inspired by A Bittersweet Life. Provided you seen A Bittersweet Life comparison to A Company Man are unavoidable while viewing it. Despite his ambitious to create a parallel between contract killers, and corporate office job equally dehumanizing it workers. Lim Sang-yoon can’t avoid the label of basically making an inferior version of A Bittersweet Life.

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Unlike in A Bittersweet Life, Hyeong-do at least got a promotion for his work.

Diving into A Company Man itself the execution is decently done. The portrayal of contract hitman working in office type jobs is interesting to view. Making you want to learn more on how exactly this company functions, but never does. Then there’s also Ji Hyeong-do, our protagonist who starts the movie out wanting to quit his job. This decision does bring in the issue that it spends no time in showing Hyeong-do positive views on his workplace. Undermining a key trait of his character which is properly getting across how difficult it is for Hyeong-do to leave his job, and how betrayed he feels under this company.

While the nitty gritty of office work contract killers isn’t as fleshed as one would hope the conflicts are on the other hand. It might drop the ball on Hyeong-do attachment to his job, but witnessing the ugly side of it is shown. This is accomplished by having Hyeong-Do talk to two different individuals, and their different standing with the company. It’s through these scenes that Hyeong-Do slowly start to question what he’s doing with his life. Seeing the horrors his future might entails if he stays there longer. Allowing him to reflect on his life, and the offering the audience breathing room in understanding what kind man Hyeong-Do actually is.

When not about killing people, and retiring from that line of work. Hyeong-Do is soaking in a normal life. These scenes do their best in fleshing out the characters, but is hampered by the romance. Much in line with everything else in the story it’s a good idea that doesn’t quite reach the quality it should. Mainly using flashback to develop the romance Hyeong-Do has with a singer he was infatuated with in his youth. It’s a detail that contributes little in the long run. Especially when compared to the few times Hyeong-Do past is shown to the viewer. There’s also a young man whom Hyeong-Do sees himself in, but the sentiment of the idea will be more appreciated than the actual execution.

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Here’s a rare sight. So Ji-sub showing emotions

So Ji-sub take charge in the leading role. Reserve in his emotional expression he brings nuance needed for this portrayal. Coming off as discontent on the inside, and fitting into the role of a your average office worker. This works wonder for the film’s narrative since So Ji-Sub goes out of his way to come across as ordinary as possible. In the action sequences it’s a different story as So Ji-Sub comes across as a badass. If there’s a fault with Ji-Sub acting it would be during the last twenty minutes. Retaining his cold, introverted persona So Ji-Sub refuses to bring more emotion into his character is his most emotionally vulnerable in the final act. 

The supporting cast do a solid job in their role. Only Kim Dong-Joon who plays a temp is given any ranged with his material. He’s basically a more expressive So Ji-sub bringing in partial emotional engagement that So Ji-sub failed to capture. Everyone else play their role in a by the number fashion. Kwak Do-Won is the one who comes to mind since he’s just grumpy looking in nearly every scene he’s in. Only being outmatched by the almost equally angry Jeon Kuk-Hwan who is more believable in his delivery. Then there’s Lee Mi-Yeon who plays a love interest of sorts. Other than looking pretty, she isn’t given much to work with like the rest of the supporting cast. It’s a film primarily carried by So Ji-sub with the supporting cast doing whatever they can with the limited material handed to them.

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That’s one hell of a way to quit your job.

The worst edited action sequence comes when actor So Ji-sub has to fight against Yoo Ha-Bok in a small apartment. Attempting to make the sequence appear to be done in a single take, but coming off as choppily put together. Making it noticeable when both actors are inches apart from each other in every cut when a specific hit is thrown. It’s ambitious to make a action scene appear to have been done all done in a single take, but probably not something you should attempt to do in your directorial debut.

My favorite action scene is a fight sequence on a freeway that starts out inside a car, and eventually goes outside. The fight sequence is brief, but make use of the small interior of the car for some tight choreography. Getting surprisingly creative changing up shots without being overly edited. It’s easy to follow, and goes by pretty quickly. There’s also another fight sequence the occurs during the climax which makes use of more props. This particular fight is also brief, but is another good fight scene nonetheless.

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So Ji-Sub is a complete badass when the action hits

The two shootouts on the other hand lack the polish that the fight scenes contain. One of them suffers from being shot in a confined space, and being cut too quickly to properly tell what’s going on. There’s this shootout in a office that’s pretty cool, but sloppy cinematography makes you wonder about the placement of certain actors. It’s a confined place the film attempts mask the unlikelihood that So Ji-Sub would survive. By not showing what’s directly in front of him when he’s attempting to open a door the action sequence isn’t tense. Another issue is the slick production disappears during this sequence, and there’s a notable drop in film quality. Despite this, it’s the standout sequence in the film for a reason. There’s plenty of environmental destruction, and the staging makes it stand out among your average gunfight.

A Company Man is unlikely to ever receive the same adoration that Kim Jee-Woon’s A Bittersweet Life has gained. By wearing that inspiration to the forefront A Company Man will inevitably stay in the shadow of what inspired it. However, by itself it’s a decently put together action movie elevated from some good action set pieces, and a great performance from So Ji-sub. It doesn’t reach greatness, but what is does accomplished is more than enough to pull it through to the end.

Rating: 7/10

Broken (2014)

Plenty of Korean movies I’ve seen just so happen to deal with revenge, and after a while they start blending together. In the same way Hong Kong heroic bloodshed action movies typically tackle brotherhood. Korean revenge movies try to delve into the psychology into those who feel wronged, and deserve to take justice into their own hands. Other Korean revenge movies will indulge the viewers in the fantasy of it. Either method works for me. Broken tries to be a more thoughtful take while providing the thrills, but ends up doing neither successfully.

Initially the movie makes a good impression bypassing the predictable to quickly setup the story of single father Lee Sang-hyeon (Jung Jae-young) wanting to take revenge on the teenagers that raped, and killed his daughter. Broken ends up going downhill after that setup is done. Forgetting to show the gradual change in Lee before he snaps into killing. It just happens without proper build up removing another piece of characterization. As the film progresses, Lee remains a husk of a character with only the fact he’s a father to have you sympathize for him. This is fine until the movie attempts to tackle subject matters without giving them the proper time to be explored. Slowing the film down when touching on delinquency, and the flawed justice system preventing building tension. As a commentary on these things it acknowledges these are a thing in society, it’s unfair, and that’s as far as it goes.

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Lee got the bad news. He’s no longer human.

As a drama it fails to be captivating in the way it wants to be. Lee I already mentioned is a husk of a character. So when it tries to delve into the morality of his actions it falls flat. There’s hardly any scenes showing Lee spend time with his daughter to make it feel justify. A trait that is brought up, but isn’t use to explore any kind of regret in Lee. It’s simply makes him sad leaving there, and moving on.

When the film isn’t focus on Lee the attention is given to Detective Eok-Gwan (Lee Sung Min) who is tasked to find both Lee daughter killers, and Lee himself. His contribution to the story is very minimal using him, and his partner to talk on the injustice of South Korea justice system. Simply stating that the kids will get a slap on the wrist isn’t good enough to count as meaningful commentary on this subject. Significantly less so when it tries to humanize the murderers, and rapists of the movie. By doing so, the greyish morality presented further shines a negative light on the lack of depth, and detracts from the few thrills it has to offer.

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However, it will have actor Jung Jae-young open mouth a plenty.

Padding becomes more common in the second half. Dragging out out the running time by showing the actors walk through snow for minutes. Sometime it serves a point, and other times it’s just plodding along. The second half feels unorganized compare to the first half. There’s no structure in how information is presented, it’s a lot less eventful, and the pacing becomes slower then usual. What’s not preferable to that is the climax where characters do dumb things out of character. Coming off as contrived instead of organic to the story.

The ending wanted to be heartbreaking during its climax. Falling flat for two significant reasons; first one being Lee easily goes from your average, overworked father to a man on a mission for vengeance. So determine to the point Lee survives a hellish snowstorm despite being immensely exhausted from his journey, and with a broken leg. Second reason being the shotgun Lee carries for just over half of its runtime. Typically the rule of writing is if you have something like a shotgun, or anything established in the story it should be used later on. In the climax, the shotgun is used, but not the way you would expect it. If there was more to Lee’s character the outcome of the climax would be justifiable, but instead comes of as tacky. When I don’t care about the shallow main character of the movie why the movie thinks I would care about it’s equally shallow supporting cast is baffling.

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The rain can’t heal the hole in Jung Jae-young heart.

Acting in general is fine without much standing out. Jung Jae-young I feel suffered the most from the screenplay. Almost all of his most potent bits of acting is at the beginning of the film. He goes through a wide arrange of emotion in the first half hour from being remorseful, to angry, and to confusion. It gives him great freedom to portray things about Lee that the screenplay doesn’t provide. Afterwards he becomes stiff being stuck to having his mouth open, and shaking in the cold for a performance. Jung Jae-young just can’t do much with this character coming off as wooden in portraying his tortured soul. Everything else from cinematography to music is fine, but doesn’t do much in service of the movie.

Writer/Director Jeong-ho Lee I would put the blame on for virtually all the film’s problems. Half an hour could have been cut from the movie which instead of using it to develop characters, or further explore it themes just has it actors walk around in the snow. Resulting in a movie that feel padded when it shouldn’t be. A few more touch up to the story would have helped Broken stand out among the mountains of Korean revenge movies. Instead, it’ll just blend in with the crowd without anything to distinguish it in the back of my mind.

Rating: 3/10

Area 88 (OVA) Review

In the late 1980s Viz Media released Area 88 in comic book form in the US. Offering readers cartoonish-looking characters struggling in war, and touching on their struggles to fit back into society. Due to poor sales, one thing the comic book shares with it OVA counterpart is leaving readers/viewers hanging. While talks about the comic book seemingly vanished the OVA is still fondly remembered for its story, and animation during its action sequences.

Being tricked into joining a foreign military by his best friend, Shin Kazama must either survive 3 years in the battlefields of Aslan, or earn money from missions to pay a debt of 1.5 million dollars in order to return home. Taking a grounded approach for its storytelling the OVA chooses to tackle the psychological effects war can have on a soldier. In doing so, it removes any fantastical elements present in other war stories in animes like fighting over ideologies, or having a singular advance piece of technology that puts the odd in a faction favors. Residing in a simple world where politics, and money drives the conflict around Shin Kazama being powerless against these forces.

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Our war drama is brought to you by our sponsor Coke-Cola

The OVA is wonky in its pacing. Within 3 episodes each averaging about an hour in length. Two of the three episodes portray Shin as someone out of his element. Not hiding how much he hates the sense of war, and what it’s doing to him. These moments where Shin is confronted about his feelings toward fighting is where the characterization shines best. Showing stages of when he’s a pacifist, and refusing to accept what he has become as the result of the war. Not only will you get a picture of who Shin Kazama is from himself, but also what other around Shin feel about him. Making the human drama the centerpiece of the OVA.

When you do eventually get to the famous ariel fights Area 88 is famous for they have more weight attach to them. Spending time developing a bit of the supporting cast, and the history behind the base the anime is named after. Delving into the supporting cast mindset to explore how the stench of war has changed them forever. Showing the strong bonds between the comrades of Area 88 through some humorous exchanges. Highlighting the team sense of comradery with each other despite their tormented souls, and views on morality.

This OVA does have a villain in Shin Kazama best friend Satoru Kanazaki who betrays Shin to get everything he desires. Sleazily presented as he might be the OVA offers moments where he shows some humanity. Showing some level of remorse for betraying Shin adding food for thought in a otherwise simple character. Rokyo Tsugumo who is the center of a unwanted love triangle is given other things to do in the story than just waiting for Shin. She tries to deal with things sensibly, and is given her own moral dilemma which is handle well in the OVA.

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Shin knows criticism is locked on, and ready to hit

The OVA biggest weakness is the weak romance. While watching the OVA I didn’t get a sense of a romantic connection between Shin Kazama, and his love interest Ryoko much. In a ironic turn, everything else revolving around that romance is actually handled better. One of those being a scene where Shin gets asked if he still believes Ryoko is waiting him. It’s a good scene since it gets across Shin affection for Ryoko. As individual characters Shin, and Ryoko are better than expected, but as a couple their romance storyline lacks any sparks, and chemistry to be on par with everything else the anime offers. 

The Japanese voice acting wins by a long shot. While the English dub isn’t bad in any significant sense the voice work is notably weaker. In the English dub you have Chris Patton who voices Shin Kazama easily being the best voice actor in the English dub. He’s able to masterfully hide the jarring shift in Shin Kazama character going from a fish out of water to a cold blooded killer within the span of a single episode. However, Kaneto Shizawa who also voices Shin Kazama provides much more of a punch. Coming across more distraught, and cold compare to Chris Patton who withhold himself a bit in the more emotional scenes.

My biggest problem with the English dub is the supporting aren’t emotive enough. Doesn’t help they mostly play one note characters. Hilary Haag for example who plays Ryoko just sounds helplessly shy in every scene she’s in. In contrast to Sakiko Tamagawa who provides the Japanese voice for Ryoko sounds more concerning than shy in her performance. While the English dub is technically more accurate in portraying the different ethnicities of its cast. English voices are generally subdue better fitting the overall tone the OVA is going for. Whereas the Japanese voices can be over the top in places. However, the Japanese voice acting captures the emotions the best in their portrayals because they aren’t holding back like in the English dub.

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Might be from the 80s, but this animation is awesome.

Area 88 is hand-drawn by Studio Pierrot whom painstakingly go out of their way to animate the most realistic ariel fights possible. Changing up the scenarios to keep things interesting be it flying through a very narrow canyon opening to avoid radar detection, or trying not to crash into a giant steel wall during an assault on a enemy base. Going all out in showing airplanes being pierce apart in combat, tanks getting blown up, and at times showing pilots getting shot inside the plane. Putting on display a variety of different aircrafts. Through masterfully done camerawork you can easily see no shortcuts were taken during the action sequences in the OVA. Character designs are a bit cartoonish with their hairstyle, and wide arrange of colors. Thankfully it’s not distracting enough to take away from the drama.

The soundtrack in Area 88 is both awesome, and datedly cheesy in some of its choices. During the aerial fights the music is able to add a bit of tension to the proceedings. Thankfully director Hisayuki Toriumi knows when to use music so the soundtrack doesn’t come off as intrusive. While in the dramatic scenes it music can sound very hokey. Biggest standout in the soundtrack are both the opening, and themes. In both the English dub, and English sub version you’ll still get the opening theme “How Far To Paradise” in English sung by Derek Jackson which is pretty awesome rock song. “Kanashimi no Destiny” by Mio is the opposite being a slow, piano piece with some emotional vocals from Mio.

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Hard to believe this was animated by Studio Pierrot

Another track, Sabaku no Illusion by Shima Kitahara is similar to “How Far To Paradise” in pumping you up to see the OVA, but lacks the same energy to match “How Far To Paradise”. “So Long My Love” also sung by Shima Kitahara is the second ending theme, and is a perfectly mellow tune to end the OVA on. Capturing the pleasant, and soft nature of the protagonist underscored by it sadden vocals.

Area 88 offers compelling characters, great aerial combat sequences, and theme exploration that’ll make you think about the various side effect of war long after its over. The ending will leave some conflicted, but it’s an appropriate end with everything wrapping up nicely, and the character arcs are completed. It’s an OVA I would highly recommend anyone checking out whether they want some good aerial fights, good drama, or both. Area 88 can deliver those things in stride in three episodes.

Rating: 8/10

Lost Animes, and one unsubbed anime I would like to see

Originally I just wanted to watch some old anime, but apparently they turned out to be lost. This snowball into me trying to find other pieces of animation only to have similar results. So instead of being disappointed I went with researching, and putting a few lost anime titles together into a single post. Hope you enjoy a light history lesson on anime!


1917 & 1918 Animes: A Series of Lost Firstmaxresdefault-1The idea of seeing the earliest pieces of Japanese animation I’ve been told is a novel idea. I don’t think so since I like seeing how far any country’s filmmaking techniques have advanced either in live action, or in the realm of animation. Often time that’s difficult to do since film preservation wasn’t a priority during the early 20Th century, and old film reels weren’t properly cared for. Importance pieces of history are lost, like Vigathakumaran which is considered to be Malayalam first feature film, and King Kong Appears In Edo considered to be the first lost Kaiju film. So you want to know why I was unable to see a lot of these early animes?

In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake with a magnitude of 8.3 happened which dealt the most amount of damage to Japan pre World War 2. Needless to say the amount of destruction it caused was devastating. If that wasn’t enough there’s this little incident that happened later called World War 2. Japan had two atomic bombs dropped in the country; one in Nagasaki, and the other in Hiroshima where some of these films were kept. Because of these two incidents, less than 4% of Japanese films before 1945 are currently know to have survive. Resulting in over a dozen of the earliest made animes being lost with no existing prints of them being known.

One noteworthy lost anime title is one that premiered in January 1917 in Japan. No information, not even a title of it exist anywhere. Simply some sources whose credibility are questionable suggesting a anime premiered earlier than any other known at the time. This pdf file about 1917 anime would suggest the existence of something older than Dekobō shingachō ‒ Meian no shippai premiered beforehand. Given the fact the short film Katsudo Shashin has no confirm evidence suggesting it’s the oldest piece of animation according to author Jonathan Clements. This unknown film, assuming it actually still exist, could be the earliest known piece of Japanese animation. Discounting Katsudo Shashin that is.


The World of Power and Women (1933 Anime): First Animated Film Featuring Voiceovers

4ewzrSo early 20Th century anime history is lost to time. It’s a shame, but there’s no helping it. In doing so, I went ahead to try to find another important piece of anime history I could witness. Leading to into the discovery of this entry. Animation during the 1920s incorporated Benshi; Japanese performers whom provided live narration for silent films. It’s because of this that animes from the 1920s are difficult to follow when viewed today. In 1927, America released its first feature length talkie film titled The Jazz Singer, and somehow this encouraged Japanese film companies to start making them too. I wasn’t able to find any information, or article going into detail on how The Jazz Singer influence Japan other than that broad statement.

In 1931, Japanese film studio Shochiku released Madamu to Nyobo credited for being Japan first talkie. With the finical success of that movie famed anime director Kenzo Masaoka was commissioned to work on talkie film in anime. Working on the film for a little over a year, and since the profession of voice actors didn’t exist. Masoka casted well known actors at the time to help make the film a success. Thus, Kenzo Masaoka is credited for making the first anime talkie.

Just like the previous entry there are no known prints to have survive of this film. Other the one still which I can’t find any information on how it was discovered. There’s no information on how it could have possibly been lost to time. Considering the atomic bombs incident in Nagasaki, and Hiroshima it’s safe to say it’s probably due to that. So yes, the first anime talkie, and technically performances from the the first Seiyuus are lost to time as well.


Makunouchi Ippo Vs Joe Yabuki Simulation

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So Ashita no Joe is one of my favorite manga of all times so you can imagine how the discovery of this peaked my interest. Bad news being it was a 3D animation only being shown to the mangaka of Ashita no Joe, and Hajime no Ippo along with a few other people. There’s some untranslated trivia on chapter 818 of Hajime no Ippo that shows Ippo winning. That’s about as much as I could gather about this since there’s not much information on it other than what’s on the Hajime no Ippo wiki. There were other blogs I found that talk about this, but almost all regurgitated the same information. From the stills, the 3D looks pretty poor, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it as a a huge Ashita no Joe fan. Why it hasn’t been release is up in the air.


La Rose de Versailles (2007)

Once again, little information on this one. Other than the fact there’s a teaser trailer for the movie I wasn’t able to find any other information on it. Not even any official promotional material has been made available assuming it went into production. Toei Animation was apparently handling the animation since in a 2007 pdf file La Rose de Versailles Toei had plans to release it that year. The file is in Japanese so I basically went to Wikipedia, copy the Japanese title of Rose of Versailles, and search for it in the file which it did come up in. So I don’t know Japanese, or how know to read it at best I’m guessing what the information actually says.

No information on why it was cancel either just leaving me to speculate out of thin air. The last confirm information I could find in English was from Anime News Network where it basically said it was still in pre-production. I’ve also read in the comment section on Odoruna.com where user ferichan claims that Riyoko Ikdea did an interview at a Italian convention talking about the movie. Unfortunately they provided no links to it so I can’t confirm if that’s true either. I never seen the original Rose of Versailles anime, but if this movie came out it would have likely made me want to check out the original series that much more.


Chingo Muchabei (1971 Anime Series): The Last Black & White Anime

s-l640Here’s a particular anime series that is significant for the sole fact it was the last anime to be aired on Japanese television in black & white. Chingo Muchabei was based on the manga of the same name by Kenji Morita which is a gag comedy following a Ronin who fights with a Umbrella. While the series was in production during the late 1960s at a time the anime industry made the switched to color animation. Resulting in it airing 4 years after it finished it production. Being broadcasted as quickly as possible since fewer, and fewer people were watching black & white anime at this time.

Would you believe Chingo Muchabei was originally conceived as a standard anime series before it was broken up into smaller chunks because it was ahead of its production schedule. This makes the mindset behind it’s scheduled released puzzling as well as other things surrounded it. If it was ahead production of its schedule why was it released 4 years later after it was completed. Questions like this will probably remain a mystery for Western anime fans. As for a DVD release of this series is listed on YesAsia for the low price of 200 dollars without English subtitles. One can hope some kind soul can fan sub the series since I wouldn’t mind seeing it. It’s my inner enthusiast for old animation that seeks it!

This entry owes a big thank you to Cartoon Research for providing me the material for this entry. They not only provided the most in depth piece on it I could find, but they also have a page dedicated to lost pieces of anime media. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in reading more about lost pieces of anime media.


 

I would say the research was the hardest part, but honestly it was trying to find more information on these lost animes that was harder. If not for the fact there were sites, and bloggers covering it I would have been defeated, scrapped this post, and called it a day. A lot of information I found on different sites regurgitated the same information so attempting to add my own spin on things was also a challenge.

Not only that, but there also other entries I had to scrapped because they weren’t technically lost. Some of the animes I learned about I did discovered were released on DVD, but not officially subtitled in English so they technically aren’t lost. I only included Chingo Muchabei for the reasons I stated already, and that’s pretty significant I feel to share. I am amaze at the amount of lost media there is. Not just in anime, but in just about all forms in media you can expect. Doraemon for instance has enough missing media that anyone can make an entire blog post dedicated to it if they did the research.

I’ll call it here for now. I also owe a huge thanks to all the sources I used in this post, and their hard work in gathering this information. Without them these animes would have definitely lost to time. Sayonora folks, and see you in the next one! 

A Letter to Momo (2011)

A Letter To Momo is about the title character Momo recovering from her father’s death, and her mother’s decision to move their family from Tokyo to a remote island. That’s about it to be honest. Well, there is also the whole thing revolving around three Yokai/goblins who are tasked to help Momo cope with her lost. If you’re expecting a drama to tackle the themes of lost, and death you’ll be disappointed. It’s leisure pace makes it more of a relaxing slice of a life than a reflection on hard hitting themes. At the cost depth, the movie remains simple with little added to the premise.

Anything supernatural is given the bare minimum development. It’s good enough to make sense within the story, but lacking in the way that it has little importance in the story overall. The three yokai/goblins in the movie primarily joke around causing mischief to Momo dislike. Each of the three yokai/goblins have distinct personalities with an interesting backstory that is touched on. Their responsibilities on the other hand isn’t touched on quite as much. The methods the yokai use to help Momo cope are a mixed in results; one making a point to have fun, and the other mischievous deed feel pointless. There’s also the supporting characters that hardly influence the movie other than Momo having to become brave. Fine for Momo character since she is a properly developed character by the end, but everyone surrounding her feels more like tools in Momo growth.

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Yokai with blank stare, he fears nothing.

Being character driven resulted in a story that has the basics down from setting up the conflict, slowly working towards the protagonist improving herself, and eventually overcoming that problem. It’s just the steps of getting from one point to the other feel disconnected. One sequence involves Momo taking two Yokai to look for food resulting in a chase scene of the three running away from wild boars after the Yokai stole their babies. This chase last a long time adding little to the overarching story. Scenes like these are commonplace in A Letter To Momo. While they are amusing they add up to give an overall feeling the film doesn’t much to offer in theme exploration.

The climax is something of a anomaly since the main conflict is Momo having to accept her father death. Everything before it no matter how sloppily done was intended to be part of her growth. An illness pops up irregularly in the movie, and a expectation that Momo will finally be strong enough to move on if someone else important to her dies. That doesn’t happen opting for a happy that kinda makes sense, and on the other hand is confusing. It felt like writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura wanted to be make a light hearted movie while tackling a serious subject matter, but somewhere in the process he lost his clear direction. Hence the fade to black in the climax that comes out of nowhere, and leaves some questions unanswered. That moment best describe the movie in a nutshell; it has an interest in touching on death, and dealing with it, but not directly dancing around the idea occasionally.

The voice acting from both the Japanese, and English dub cast are wonderful. From the two, I would say go with the English subs. I prefer the English voice of Momo played by Amanda Pace perfectly capturing Momo awkwardness, and inner turmoil. However, where the English dub misses where it counts the most are the voices for the three yokais. In the Japanese cast, Cho (yes, that’s his full name), Koichi Yamadera, and Toshiyuki Nishida whom voice the three main yokai enunciate their characters eccentricities. Their performances, much like their characters, feel exaggerated, and out of this world like they should. While in the English dub, the voice actors downplay the yokais in their performance removing their otherworldly personality. Subduing the supernatural beings did the English dub no favors in the long run since what made them stand out from humans was gone.

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When not mundane, this movie has some surprisingly good animation

Animated by Production I.G. the animation leans more on the more realistic side. Sparingly using 3D, the cel animation has a nice, clean, smooth movement throughout. The lack of background characters is noticeable whenever Momo walks outside in broad daylight on the island, but other than that the animation has little faults to it. This doesn’t mean it’s a spectacle either since most of the activity in the film are mundane. The few times where the fluid animation gets to shine is either during a chase sequence, or when multiple characters are being hyperactive.

Hiroyuki Okiura shines through more as a director than he does a writer. One instance being his usage of cinematography. There’s a scene early on in the movie perfectly establishing how shy Momo is with her remaining silent for several minutes as family around her joyously talk to each other. Okiura doesn’t draw attentions to his character more subtle traits through dialogue which is appreciated. Characters subtly grow, and change without it being told to you directly. His eye for details creates a realistic backdrop through soft, and dim colors in his environments. Providing lovely scenery shots of the ocean, and the small island town. Also, seeing our characters have a change of clothes throughout the movie, a detail that is ignored by a lot animation, is a nice a touch, even if it’ll go largely unnoticed.

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Well this is….strange, and amusing at once.

In terms of animation the standout sequence is easily in the climax with dozen upon dozen of different yokais being animated, meshing together to basically form one giant umbrella, and with multiple moving parts. My description of the sequence can’t do it justice since there’s more to it like the flowing hair in the wind, the raindrops splitting apart when hitting a monster, the different individuals monsters moving around frequently, and other small details that would be difficult to capture through mere text. No other sequence in the entire movie comes close matching this impressive feat of animation. The music is composed by Mina Kubota comprising tracks that are soothing, whimsical, and calm. It’s a nice soundtrack to play with the nice visuals.

If half an hour was cut from A Letter To Momo I would have favored it a bit more. By lingering around too much the intended effect it wanted to have become lost to me. Sure it’s a solid movie with amusing moments, and good character growth, but there’s also not enough meat to the overarching story that made it feel it was worth it’s two hour run time. The final result of the movie isn’t what it could have been. I came out confuse by it execution even though the intent was clear. In the end A Letter To Momo is a solid anime. 

6/10

Battle of Surabaya (2015)

Most of the animation I watch is either from the US, or from Japan with everything else being a detour. Korea, China, Britain, Russia, and a few others I can name you at least one piece of animation that I liked from those countries. One of the many places I currently can’t do that for is Indonesia. Be it they don’t have much of a animation industry, or they’re just don’t get US distribution makes the experience of watching Battle of Surabaya (also known as November 10th in some places) all the more sour.

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Out in the horizon, there’s a better animated movie.

Acting more like a cliff notes version of complex politics, and history Battle of Surabaya never finds it footing. This stems from the fact the historical events is merely a backdrop for half of the movie in favor of Musa’s coming of age story. Unless you’re familiar with this portion of this post WW2 history you’re likely to be loss in the all important events that take place. All of it feels rushed since the film doesn’t properly establish a semblance of time when all these events happen. In other cases provides too much information at the cost of a coherent story while rushing through significant moments. Making it difficult to figure how one event naturally lead to another major event.

You have the Japanese, the Dutch army, you have the Indonesian Rebel group, the BKR, TKR, the Allied forces, and the Kipas Hitam. I’m pretty sure I forgot a few other groups involved in the revolution because of how much is crammed in. All the while not including the possibly fictional, and real historical figures used in the story. With all of this going on in the background there’s no time to give important events they need to develop naturally. Instead of recounting history it has a subplot about ninja warfare which as far I can tell from my limited research did not happen. Using all the violent events, and turn Indonesian take to deliver a hamfisted message that war is bad. If the movie didn’t tell me war was bad I would have thought war was good thing seeing how Musa lose so many people close to him in the war.

When the movie is focused on our shoe shiner lead Musa everything is still as clumsy. Consistently being unable to transition between tones properly when shifting from the prominent romance to the background war of Indonesia. There’s a sequence that is setup to imply Musa is being chased by someone who wants to kill him only to reveal it’s his friend/love interest Yumna. This falsely build up tension scene is followed by a cheesy romantic stroll Indonesia with yes a even cheesier pop song. Unlike every other connection Musa has in the movie his relationship with Yumna works in service of the story.

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Man, this sequence as painful to watch

The comedy on the other hand is just plain bad. Taking inspiration from anime for its sense of humor. At best the humor is questionable since what passes off for jokes in the movie will leave one wondering if they were meant to laugh. One sequence includes Musa uncle allowing Musa to fire a gun at a military base. When Musa fires the gun he nearly kills another soldier, and the movie cheery music tries to pass it up as a joke. I find it hard to laugh at a man nearly getting shot dead by Musa considering it also wants me to feel sad when Musa loses people close to him.

There’s another scene in the movie where Musa is running away from some soldiers. During this sequence that is meant to be filled with high tension you’ll get a comedic prat fall out of nowhere. That’s not the only time either, towards the finale of the movie when Musa is being chased by adults who want to kill him the insertion of comedy kills any tension. Why someone thought in the English dub the act of riding a cow was funny is about baffling as to why not all the dialogue is dubbed into English!

The forefront romance is also lacking in being an emotional pull. This mostly falls on Musa who doesn’t have much to him as a character. Musa mother for instant eventually dies in the movie, but Musa hardly spend any time with her making his mother death lack impact. His mother death isn’t delved into, nor does it have much effect on Musa. His love for his country isn’t properly developed since it doesn’t spend enough time on him soaking in the joys of Indonesia. Biggest drawback from this is the lack of progression of Musa losing his innocent view of the world when the war takes everything away from him. He merely accepts it, and that’s all.

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When still, there’s still so much to pick on

Yumna is the only character in the movie who comes out unscathed by the bad writing. She gets a complete arc, a sympathetic backstory, and is more in touch with her love for her country. Providing a clear understanding of how much she cherish Indonesia compared to Musa where it doesn’t come across as strongly. While she might be in a supporting role she has a lot going on in her storyline that doesn’t merely involve her moving around places.

Side characters are typically one dimensional. Resulting in some questionable development that out of left field. One of them includes an adult, Danu, having romantic feelings for a young girl. Don’t worry, the young girl friendzone him, and it’s forgotten about. The film’s villain, John Wright is silly. He’s meant to be the embodiment of someone purely using violence to end all wars. This could have been interesting, but instead there’s a series of questionable decisions that come with all badly written villains.

Lastly, I have to take about one specific scene in the movie because it came out of nowhere. So a group of military soldiers (can’t remember which because there’s so many factions) driving by a food stand. John Wright stops the car, and takes out a type of machine gun. He proceeds to shoot a jar of rice with the word freedom written on it because it’s the quickest way to get across he’s the villain. A regular movie would have stopped here, but the scene continue with John Wright pulling out a grenade, and destroying the food stand! It was unintentionally hilarious, and I laughed in the utter shock of it.

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Oh man, the horror of this bad animation.

Directed by Aryanto Yuniawan, and animated by MSV Pictures brings us some very choppy animation. You’ll be accustomed to seeing missing frames in animation, characters changing position or size whenever there’s a cut, and can not forget the 3D that sticks out a like a sore thumb. Copy, and pasting obvious 3D models, and multiplying similar looking models to ensure it’s hard to miss.

Rarely does the animation move smoothly leaving plenty to be desired. Especially on the character designs since they lack shading, and details in the hair are regularly missing. It’s an ugly movie to look at, especially in the climax where everything that can go wrong in animation does go wrong. When too much to handle, playing missing continuity adds to the fun. If you’re not distracted by the frequently misplaced, or distorted characters designs in different cuts of the same scene.

The only aspect of the animation that’s remotely passable are the environments. Since the background doesn’t have to move the animators put some details into the background to look okay. Other times the lack in depth of perspective make everything flat, even the characters interacting with the environment.

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Even in SD, this hurts my eyes!

Aryanto biggest failure aside from the poor mixture of romance, comedy, and war drama is his handling of scenes. Instead of opting for something possible within his studio capability you’ll get some ugly, and ambition scenes. One of these include Yumna in a ninja outfit breaking into a military stronghold taking out other ninja with badly rendered 3D environment. This specific sequence makes it impossible to believe that the 2D character is moving in a 3D plain.

The English dub is downright terrible! None of the actors sounded convincing in their roles. Musa voice actor, Alistair Hendry, can’t figure out what accent to give to Musa changing it every so couple of scenes. Would have been forgivable if he didn’t sound monotone through the whole thing. Surprisingly, none of the main cast are actually the worst actors, but it’s the ones in bit roles. These bit role voice actors come out of nowhere to have some awful line delivery. Generally sounding like they use the first take, and didn’t bother with doing any more.

Indonesian animation is an area that’s completely unexplored for me, but at one point so was anime. In the same way my first exposure to Chinese animation (a movie called 10,000 Years Later) wasn’t a good one I’m still keeping an open mind about Indonesia animation. Assuming I can ever find another animated film Indonesia made with some viewable access. If not, well, Battle of Surabaya still wouldn’t be something I would recommend for anyone.

Rating: 2/10

I’ve Always Liked You (2016)

When I think back about my romance experiences in high school I immediately laugh, and stop thinking about it just as quickly. I find it hard to believe I blew certain things out of proportions that today I don’t bat an eye at. One of them is confessing my feelings for a girl with the outcome being devastating to my very existence, or the greatest thing on Earth. One thing I certainly wasn’t when it came to young love was having it on my mind all day everyday. Imagine having an entire cast of characters just think, and talk about lovey dovey stuff to each other all the time, and you’ll have this movie in a nutshell.

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So many red faces.

In short, I’ve Always Liked You follows seven friends each in love with another person in their circle of friends. One bright spot are the characters facing the same conflict are decently fleshed out. Each character is given some time to explore their predicament, and how they’re uncertain to approach their situations. However, in a movie that barely crosses the one hour mark most of them will come out more shallow than others. Only Natsuki, and Yuu barely scraped out of this issue since the film dedicates more time to them than any of the other characters. While failing in being engaging there’s more to latch onto with Natsuki, and Yuu than with the other will they, won’t they couples.

When all the characters face the same issue of being unable confess their feelings to the one they love their personalities just mesh into one. Everyone is nice, shy, and contemplative about taking the next step from being just friends into a couple. This makes for one boring cast of characters when everyone is written to act similar to each other. Becoming easy to forget about them as you’re watching. Souta for example has the “love of first sight” symptom with further reasoning for his conquest of love coming off delusional. Souta, and his love interest don’t learn much about each other, or spent much to together making the outcome of their story hard to accept.

What passes for conflict in this movie feels underwritten. There’s a scene involving Natsuki being walked home by Koyuki (who likes Natsuki), and hugs her being unable to control himself. Nothing inappropriate is done in this scene, but the characters overreact artificially making something bad out of something innocent. This goes nowhere as the characters quickly move past it. There’s also the characters of Miou, and Haruki getting the short end of the stick in their plot line. Nothing ends up getting resolved between these secretive love birds. Worse of all, there’s not even an attempt to make this lingering plot point have meaning. Not even the faint idea of unrequited love stemming from this fear to express yourself is even touched on.

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Love calculus dictates U + Me = Us

There’s another plot point in the movie that is left lingering. The folks over at Qualia Animation decided to dedicate an entire movie, The Moment You Fall In Love (2016), to resolving that. Something tells me someone over at Qualia Animation knew they might be testing viewers patience going around in circles with the repetitive conversations centered around love. Wouldn’t be an issue if they either had a smaller cast with a better focus, or a longer run time to flesh out the large cast more than they did.

The animation ranges from subpar to fine whenever it doesn’t have a flashback. Movement when at a distant, or simply talking is choppy in places. When in flashbacks it does that classic cheap animation thing of having a single frame stay on screen for a long time. This isn’t an issue until the end where they become more in used. Generally the movie is bright, and colorful, though there’s lack of shading in the hair. Qualia Animation does the trick for the movie, even if improvement in certain area is noteworthy. Character designs could be better. They just come off as bland.

When it comes to the music from Honeyworks I have no issue. They’re good songs that is able to fill a scene with more emotion than the film’s story. The usage of them is poor at times with director Tetsuya Yanagisawa placement of them being jarring at time. Within 30 seconds you have insert track play which is jarring for making a first impression. Once the movie is halfway through Yanagisawa uses Honeyworks song more often to substitute his poor storytelling. Voice acting is good with none of the voice standing out in their roles. Their characters all act the same, and they did the best with what they were given.

If the movie had more going on other than just teenagers being shy about confessing their feelings than it could of had a better chance of standing out. Seeing similarly written characters within the same movie all face the same issues without any distinguishable traits is not my idea of a good romance. There’s not much to seek your teeth into other than the surprisingly good soundtrack it has, but other than that if you want to be lost in excitement for a love story I suggest looking elsewhere.

Rating: 4/10