Category Archives: Anime Review

Anime-Breakdown: Nitaboh (2004)

When it comes to the instrument of the Shamisen my first introduction to it was through the Japanese pop band Monkey Majik. It was with the song titled “Change”, in collaboration with the Yoshida Brothers (brothers performers of the Tsugaru-jamisen style), became a song I instantly liked a lot. A main reason this being Shamisen gave the song a unique sound that stood out to other music I listened too from Japan. However, other than that I simply didn’t care to listen to other pieces of Shamisen music since it’s not the sort of thing I would listen to regularly. Monkey Majik on the other hand I like their stuff a lot. For some who choose to venture into the 2004 anime film Nitaboh will probably be their first introduction to the Shamisen. While the film has plenty to offer on the music side there’s not much else that’ll stick with you once the film ends.

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Insert: “You’re the best, around! No one ever gonna keep you down!”

Nitaboh follows blind musician Nitaro through his life as he discover his passion for the Samisen, and honing his skill. Narratively, the film somewhat avoids the pitfall that musical biopics would go with. The formula usually has the lead character discover a passion for music after a performance of some kind, this performance inspires the young lead to become a musician, rising to fame through small performances, and eventually having a rival to compete against. Thankfully Nitaboh doesn’t have the whole fame getting to musician head, hitting rock bottom, and eventually reigniting their passion for music. However, it doesn’t do anything wholly different from a music biopic either by remaining with the basics. It also has a passive leading character which for a story that doesn’t much in terms of conflict won’t be shown struggling through much either in his life story.

One standout feature about the story is the setting taking place during 19th century Japan at the end of the Edo era, and the story somewhat touches on the change Japan was experiencing at that time. The changes occurring during that time, like the change in the way music is played, are far more interesting than what film actually intends to cover. It brings up how unorthodox people thought the idea of a blind man becoming a musician was to people during this era, western influence on Japanese culture that is simply mention, and partially mentions the changing landscape of Japan. However, it’s only ever on the surface, and since it’s not the main focus I can’t really knock it down for that.

Nitaboh biggest flaw is simply not trying enough to flesh things outside of Nitario, which is ironic given it’s main character Nitaro survived through many hardship as a child into adulthood. Hardships that aren’t shown pulling the classic montage into eventual timeskip to get pass the boring stuff of seeing a young Nitaro struggling to support himself on his own, and right into adulthood where he seems better off with hardly anything resembling a conflict. This timeskip cheapens the journey, and ultimately detract from its portrayal of Nitaro dedication to his crafts. Lending to make Nitaro overcoming the stigma he faced of being a blind Shamisen player fall severely short of resonate. By not establishing much in the way of some kind viewpoint there isn’t much growth to discuss from when Nitario was a child who was enraptured playing the Shamisen to an adult who desires to do more with his love playing the Shamisen. Most you’ll get in terms of depth in this area is the times of changing line.

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The film’s character had a harder time staying awake than I did.

Another issue with the storytelling would simply be it’s modest aim. It doesn’t tell a grand story, nor sensationalize it events through any means making it a down to earth in its depiction. At the same time for something that demands you pay attention to it for 100 minutes there isn’t a whole lot to take in. If the film was half of its current runtime you could have gotten the same story. It wants to express the power of music, and how it touches people hearts, but Nitaro impact on these people lives, or his interaction with the town folks isn’t shown much. People gather to listen to Nitaro play the Shamisen, and that’s about it. Only once does the film has a character speak about how Nitaro dedication to pursue his craft influenced him to do the same. Aside from this one character, hardly anyone else in the film expresses the same gratitude.

The one area Nitaboh is successful in is characterization. No one in the film is complex to any degree, though that’s mostly because how modest it is. Nitaro has a conflict, learns from it, and pushes himself physically, and mentally to resolve it. There isn’t much to him, but his arc is competently written, and doesn’t come across as half baked in his journey. Some aspects of his characters, like the lack of focus of him dealing with his blindness, or quickly getting over the death of a love one hurt Nitaro in the long term. Making him come off as impersonal when it comes to his friends, and bonds, but what is shown successfully is his love for the Shamisen, and his passion for it. While it’s hardly expanded upon, there are several point in the movie Nitaro does point out the unfairness of the world he lives in, and his philosophy on his style.

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Picture here a nice moment, and a relationship that doesn’t evolve much.

Side characters on the other hand hardly add much to the film’s narrative. There’s sorta a romance between Nitaro, and Yuki whom meet each other when they’re children. They show some feeling towards each other, but neither of them over confront the other about these feelings. Another aspect to this sorta being a romance is these characters friendship generally spend little time with each other before spending a long amount of time apart from each other. When they are together, only the first thirty minutes is successful in setting up their friendship, and the rest of the film doesn’t bother to evolve it much. Other than Yuki, the other two supporting character Nitaro interact with simply enjoy his music, and help him out. Only one gets influence by him to do something while the other one is just there to help progress the story. Much like some of the world events it brings up throughout the film, side characters just help push the story forward, and that’s all.

Nitaboh is animated by WAO World studio, and in terms of animation its fine. Character designs are simple, but unique enough to tell apart through the entire film. Movement is okay, and backgrounds are pretty much okay too. The animation doesn’t have much happening visually on screen keeping things simple for the most part. There’s one exception to this rule in during the first act that has Nitaro father riding through a storm on his boat, but other than that the animation isn’t lively. It is cheap at times like having a large crowd listening to Nitaboh play the Shamisen just remain still. The direction of Akio Nishizawa is exactly what the film needed. He over play, or senatalizie any aspect of the story that doesn’t need it. Of course, parts of the third act are debatable for being somewhat silly like Nitaro talking to his dead loved ones through a shaman, or the extreme training regimen he went through. Luckily, the film doesn’t venture into over the top territory with those moments.

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With the power I hardness from Amidarmu, I shall became the Shamisen King!

Sounds though is the one area it excels in. While not much of a listener to traditional Japanese music it gives the film it’s own identity where it can’t stand out in other areas. The noteworthy pieces of music in the film is obviously whenever the Shamisen is in used, and letting the viewer absorb the music. Besides being a cool sounding instrument it has such a commanding presence. Going heavily for an atmospheric approach to its sound design which it soars in flying color. In terms of acting only Satoshi Hino, who plays Nitaro stands out. Easily because he gets the most screen time, but also because he come across as the most understanding of his character. It could have been easy for Satoshi to over act his performance since he’s playing a blind character. Hino approach to the character is not portraying him any different than he would from any other character with eyesight. Bringing out some likable aspect of Nitaro personality that over acting could have overshadowed.

Nitaboh is a modest movie with modest aims, but with modest handling of its material it never tries to make something of itself. What is here isn’t enough to justify a general recommendation to view the movie, especially with some of the more important aspects of Nitaro life aren’t developed much. Simply coming off as a history lesson instead of a engrossing look into a man’s life, and how never he gave up on his passion. If you want a down to earth story that is somewhat difficult to find anime Nitaboh has you cover, but in general it’s a piece of anime that unlike the person its based after, doesn’t have as much going for it.

Rating: 4/10

Anime-Breakdown: The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

Coming of age stories are one of the most relatable type of stories. Growing up isn’t a thing that comes easily, and upon reflection youth is something that feels like it had gone by way to quickly. All sorts of media from novels, to movies, and even anime itself love to do these type of stories. Transitioning from adolescence into adulthood is something that can be apply almost universally. However, finding something in these type of stories to stand out is almost as mundane as sport stories themselves; virtually sticking wholeheartedly to realism, and never venturing into any unfamiliar territory, or experimenting in different genres. Bringing you, and me to the film I’m reviewing today titled The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome in Japanese). A coming of age film excessive on energy, carried by bizarre imagery, filled with wild characters, all coming together into a insane, yet very thoughtful anime film.

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Yes mam, you where this fish!

The Night Is Short, Walk On GIrl follows young woman named “Otome”, and her “Senpai” through an insanely long, bizzare night around Japan. After the first four minutes of the movie briefly setting up a bit of information for its characters, and sharing their plans for the night the movie completely does away with any semblance of normality. Turning into what appears to be a random series of events with some clever ideas getting illustrated along the way. For example, there’s a sequence where Otome, and some pals she met earlier in the night entering a bar, and briefly end up talking about time. The elderly in the bar, and Otome friends mention how time is moving quickly for them, and even show Otome their fast ticking watches. However, when Otome shows the group her watch it goes a lot slower. When brought up, the idea is simply interesting to ponder as it quickly moves on to the next crazy event. The film is filled with small touches like these that through the course of the movie are expanded upon. Going back to the watch passage of time, it’s a detail that rings true to the movie. A majority of the film actually enforces this idea by how long Otome night is, and the crazy amounts of events that occured within the film. There’s also another example of this later on in the film where in the background when Otome visits Rihaku-san it’s shown his clocks moving rapidly forward. Rihaku-san in this sequence, much like Otome, experiences life at such a breakneck while living in the moment, but not having a desire for longing to see someone. Rikahu goes into his sadden state considering his life a failure, and shown in the background clocks slowing down after a discussion with Otome.

The whole film is brimming with seemingly unrelated sequences from a group of students performing Guerrilla Theater, a competition between five men under a large tent eating very spicy food to see who can last the longest to obtain a book of their desire, a drinking battle, the God of the Used Book Market collecting books aiming to set books free, and other craziness ensues. How the film chooses to connect these seemingly random events is through the theme of threading fates. There are a few moments in the film where it plainly lays it out for you; like the God of the Used Book Market explaining how several different books are connected to Otome, and when Otome has a drinking bout against Rihaku she mentions everything happening to her is connected by fate. While virtually the rest of the film doesn’t spell it out for you. When in the moment of experiencing the odd assortments of events it’ll seem unrelated. However, there’s always a small piece that leads into another events either be Otome wanting to see another part of town, or Senpai being pulled into something to win Otome affection. No matter how random it seems, it always lays out how it got from point a to point b successfully thanks to some carefully planned writing. Ensuring self control in its outlandish nature.

The eccentric Otome is front, and center of the story following her night with Senpai endeavors being splice into each other stories. Both are opposites of each other with Otome always being one to move forward, and Senpai taking thing as they could have been. Both of them interacts with a cast of characters that influence growth in them. Otome with her positive outlook on life, and insistent to constantly move forward makes her the life of the party in her scenes. Typically being wild, and crazy as much as she is. Naturally in the course of the movie her encounters with other slowly makes her reevaluate herself, and much like Senpai, discovers a new balance in their life.

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The power of love compels Senpai.

Senpai on the other hand scenes are just as crazy, but as not as fast moving in comparison to Otome. Allowing the audience time to take in the lunacy they had be taken into. Seeing Senpai constantly having to put himself out into the world to have a chance to achieve his goal of capturing the girl of his dream. Going through to great lengths to overcome his many obstacles in his path whether it be an endurance competition of eating spicy food, or running as quickly as he could to take the spot of a lead actor in a play to get a kissing scene with Otome.

Another thing the film covers more subtly is Senpai behavior in obtaining the girl of his desire. At the beginning, he lays out his plan detailing he desired to remove obstacles, and meet Otome by chances so she would notice him more. It’s a strategy that comes across stalkerish initially, but Senpai slowly overcomes it eventually find a more direct answer. Never giving into temptation to fall into creeper territory, even if the desires to read a file detailing about Otome no matter how strong the temptation is within him. His endeavors throughout the movie receives a greater payoff in the final act when it gets into the more nitty gritty thought Senpai conflicting on the best course of action in his endeavor of romance. Thinking about every possibility to approach the situation, and overthinking his affection for Otome wondering if its worth anything.

When it comes to substance there’s plenty to be found in The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl that someone can find some level of deeper meaning in it. There’s a foundation, no matter how small it seems, that eventually comes together into a larger, and broader picture. However, there’s two things that will likely hold the film back from general appeal. One of them being the zany nature of events contrasting against its actual message. It’s a movie about making the transition into adulthood, yet the film has so many bizarrely enjoyable it’s become easier to lose sight of that message. It’s more likely a viewer will remember the bizarre sequence of Senpai competing in a contest of endurance eating hot food against other men than the scene where Otome expresses her life view to live in the moment, and judging things by its own merits. Same thing happens later on in the movie; you’re more likely to remember the odd musical number of romance story involving a singing apple, and a cross dresser than the segment of someone believing love being determined through destiny over life experience. Given its main characters Otome, and Senpai contrast each other, as well as some other characters they meet are contrasting one another. The execution here while deliberate for its own good by design has about as much chances as being taken as pure escapism as much as being something enlightening.

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Look at those lovely visuals.

The second thing that might plague this movie are the loose connection to the bigger picture. Certainly the film has plenty to say, but how much of it can tangibly be linked together is where its get messy. For example, earlier I mentioned the clocks spinning at different speed for Otome, and the people she interacts with. Unless you made a note of that nothing about time is express in the film for over half an hour. Same thing applies with the thread of fate appearing in conversations, and then disappearing at it own leisure. It want to pack so much in its 92 minutes runtime making it very dense in story content. Like the movie mentions several times, everything is connected, but it’s easy to lose to connections with so much going on.

The animation is done by studio Science SARU, and helm by Masaaki Yuasa giving the film a unique style. Characters expressions are expressive, and over the top. Lending itself greatly for effective comedy with exaggerated characters expressions, and fluid movement for 92 minutes. Yuasa let his imagination run wild making sure the film hardly has time to sit still. Nearly every scene is hyperactive in movement, or through various shot compositions makes simple moments memorable. For example, the simple action of someone eating spicy food isn’t made as simple as that. In this film, it’s implements a heat stroke like effects, excessive sweating with huge sweat drops, and disportional puff up lips to get this across. He also empathizes his free range in animation get across other emotions in other manners that aren’t as exaggerated. Another positive about the animation it is ability to allow chaos rein with a surrealism touch, especially in the final act where things are at it crazies. No matter how often it bombards you with visuals the film always make sure there’s always something to see.

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Notice me Otome!

The Japanese voice acting is also phenomenal. It might be lacking in terms of range since nearly every voice actor has be over the top, everyone gives it their all. Either be it through having good comedic timing in the comedic scenes, or offering good singing during the Gorilla Theater scenes. Both Kana Hanazawa who plays Otome, and Gen Hoshino who plays Senpai are the ones taking the lead. Kana Hanazawa perfectly imbues Otome energy into her performance. Bringing to life an infectious, energetic character. She’s also able to deliver some serious dialogue without ever seeming to break her character personality. Gen Hoshino excels in his awkward performance of Senpai. While not as energetic as Hanazawa, he ables to express much more emotional range than Hanazawa. He’s able to be very fridgetity, determined, depressed, and panicky into a likable portrayal. Hoshino pulls of the difficult task of making a character who initially comes off as a stalker as likable. The music is done by Michiru Oshima, and it’s pretty good. Lively during the party sequences, and melancholy during the more slower moments in the final act.

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl offers a thrilling experience as much as it is enlighten on subjects pertaining to life. Offering a slew of fantastic visuals, memorable bizarre sequences, a wildly fun cast of quirky characters, and an unusual execution of a simple message delivery. Regardless of what you take from The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl you’re ensured to be in for a great time.

Rating: 10/10

Some Thoughts On: Lostorage Incited WIXOSS (2016) Series

On March 20, 2018 I finished the third installment in the card playing anime franchise of WIXOSS, and it sucked. Before I go further I will established that I liked the first two seasons of WIXOSS. Both Selector Infected WIXOSS (season 1), and Selector Spread WIXOSS (season 2) even though they had convoluted writing. I enjoyed both seasons as it told a good story, developed it characters fine, handle most of it themes well, and concluded satisfactory. So, you could imagine my surprise when Lostorage Incited WIXOSS first premiered, and I just completely ignored it because I wasn’t watching anime much during 2016. However, in 2017 when I finished the first two seasons of WIXOSS I still had no interest in checking it out. This is for the sole reason I liked the English dub, and so I was simply going to wait for it. As of the posting of this right now, that clearly hasn’t happened, and unlikely to happen anytime soon. What got me to check out season 3 of WIXOSS was seeing a promo poster for season 4 of WIXOSS called Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS. The reason I finally got to seeing this was because a character I like, Ruko Kominato (also nicknamed Ruu-Ruu), protagonist of the first two season, was returning in season 4. That’s all the convincing I needed, and so forth witness the crash that was season 3 of WIXOSS.

Another thing I should add is I knew this was a bad anime before going into it, but I simply skimmed through some reviews on MAL to get a gist of its reception. I didn’t read any story specifics, but general complaints like it being a rehash I knew to be aware off beforehand. After seeing episode 1, I knew I was in immediate trouble. So basically, the setup of the previous two seasons was you play a deadly card game, fight to get a wish granted, and if you lose three times you could never obtain your wish, and everything in the world would make sure you never did. It’s nifty concept when explained like that, but the execution of it eventually got continuously convoluted, and some establish rules got thrown to the wayside as it went on. Other things were happening in the game, but that would involve going into spoiler territory.

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Card games are typically more exciting to watch in anime than actually playing them.

Now that you understand in the previous two seasons players were fighting over to have a wish granted you would think the same would apply for season 3. It simply doesn’t as players fight for the grand prize of choosing how to alter their memories, and all losers cease to be themselves. Yeah, already the stakes feel they were immediately diminished from the previous seasons. For starter, losing memories doesn’t sound as big of a deal compare permanently being unable to obtain a wish. For example, if you lost in the first two seasons of WIXOSS, and your wish was to be a track runner. The consequences of your lost would permanently prevent you from being able to achieve that wish. Compared to “losing yourself” it simply doesn’t pack the same punch. Especially, considering that in the first two seasons some of the characters loss their memories while being participants of the game. There’s something else to it, but, eh, that would lead to spoilers!

With the prize being changed there’s also the consequences of the new rules. In the first two seasons, you only had 3 chances, and if you lost three times at any point you were done. Fine, that’s not entirely true with a certain character, but that’s a spoiler if I delve into that plot point. However, in this season you get five coins; the goal is to turn all five coins gold, the amount you start with is random, and if you lose a coin it turns black. You can use coins in card battles to use a special ability. At the end of a battle, the winning player gains a coin. The losing player loses a coin, in addition to any coins they may have bet during the battle. There’s also a 90 days time limit where the longer you wait the more coins that get blacken, and the more memories the user loses. As for how the actual game is played, the previous two seasons didn’t bother to explain that so this season won’t bother either.

I’m skimming over some details like the fact the players are called selectors, and are given LRIG’s (a entity created to fight for/with you during Selector battles) created based on their memories since such details aren’t delved into much. Alongside the poorly explained rules in the previous paragraphs, there’s also the fact when a battle is initiated players basically go into another realm for the fight to be held. The only way the battles end is either when someone loses, or a non-selector interrupts the battle. From the first episode of season 1, the rules were clearly established, and then later on the consequences were clearly explained. Here, despite the rule of non-selector breaking battles up by simply interrupting them appearing in the first two seasons. Lostorage Incited WIXOSS makes that rule feel convoluted in usage. Rules despite being laid out don’t apply to the main heroine of season three, Suzuko Homura, who has important battles simply work out in her favor because of luck.

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Oh Suzuko, not a fan.

I don’t want to compare the heroine of Lostorage Incited WIXOSS to Ruko Kominato because I clearly like Ruko way more than Suzuko. Part of this has to do with the fact Ruko gets more characterization than Suzuko does. Sharing similar traits, both characters are goodie-two-shoes, have trouble socializing when the series start, and have family issues. Hell, both Suzuko, and Ruko don’t know what they want to fight for initially at the start of their respective seasons. In Ruko case, there were more going on around her, and unlike Suzuko, she actively sought out information on Selectors Battles. Ruko goal, once she finds something worth fighting for, is bigger in ambition compare to Suzuko who’s only wants to retain her memories of her best friend.

Another thing that made Ruko better is her many interactions with other players so it wasn’t simply random people she was fighting. Lostorage Incited WIXOSS attempted to do something similar, but after Suzuko beats some blonde guy who lost his sister the idea is dropped. The characters Suzuko plays against in season 3 aren’t as fleshed out compare to season 1 & 2 making the battles less interesting in comparison. What also devalues Suzuko Homura appeal is nearly in every episode she has to say “Chi-Chan’, and remind the audience she’s her best friend. It doesn’t work because the anime is completely overblown with its execution. I know it’s possible to get viewers to cry with a good story, but hitting the same beats over, and over again won’t work in a TV series. 

I thought I was done, but I went here to say a bit about Suzuko Homura character design. It trying to hard to be cute I feel. Could be J.C. Staff thinks if you see something cute being miserable it’s easier to sympathize with the character. It’s not, and at the same time what relatable traits she has have been used a dozen times. One of her parents became deceased when she was little, and is never brought  up again. You know, in Cardcaptor Sakura the main character also had a parent who was deceased, but the difference being the parent got characterization, and it was treated as a proper character. So whenever when Sakura (in Cardcaptor Sakura) ever talked about her mother the emotion of the character felt genuine. Here, and other animes that do the samething the dead parent is just there.

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Yes, this guy’s our villain for the reason. (facepalm)

One of the biggest changes I wasn’t a fan off was the villain. In the previous season there was an attempt to make the big baddie be more than just someone who enjoyed a twisted game. Season 3 goes exactly for having someone who takes pleasure in making other people miserable. If that sounds silly, well it’s even sillier in execution because the villain is written, and animated in a over the top manner. Having obviously evil bad guy written all over him.

The one character I did like, Kiyoi Mizushima, was someone who appeared in the previous two seasons, but as a supporting character. Here, her role of supporting character is the same, but compare Suzuko, Mizushima backstory has more going for it. There a lot more to her endeavors than simply desiring to obtain a single wish. She isn’t a complex character, although I would have been more interested in this season if Mizushima was the main character because there is more shades of grey to her compared to Suzuko. It’s a shame that she appears in about 4 out of the 12 episodes, and only in two of them does she a sizable part to do anything.

I would continue bashing Suzuko, but you get the point. If there were more episodes I would probably feel differently, although that would be unlikely considering I spend a lot of time on the rules, and complaining about Suzuko instead of the bigger picture. Can’t help it when the characters, the story, and themes feel inferior compare to the previous seasons. It tries too much in such a short amount of time resulting in a series of half baked ideas, especially the ending since it attempts to play it off as a happy ending despite the fact almost nothing changed. Of course, there was also that deus-ex machina of a victory in the final battle which was never established beforehand was doable in battles!

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Yep, difficult to make this look interesting.

There’s also an OVA called Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS Missing Link that is absolutely worthless! It’s simply the first episode of Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS (season 4) just with the title card, and opening animation added in. Technical stuff is fine. Only thing that stands out is the over the top acting from the villain, and the characters saying “Coin Beto” which I get a kick out of hearing. There’s the music which is surprisingly good. It deserved to be in a better anime, but at the same time without else to compete against it stands out that much more.

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS was simply bad. I was hoping to find the same kind of appeal like in the first two season, but didn’t get that. I got a water down version of a series I liked; characters weren’t as fleshed out making selector battles mean very little, the new rules to the selector battle minimize the stakes as well as the consequences, and finally the silly villain turned it into a battle of good versus evil. The first two seasons had some sloppy writing with similar issues, but since it had more time to tell a singular story it was able to improve itself in areas season simply couldn’t.

If I were to rate this anime I would 4 out 10. That’s probably a bit too generous.

Quick Thoughts on Loststorage Conflicted WIXOSS

So season 4 is currently airing, and as of this moment five episodes have aired. Since I’m watching it currently I might as well put something here about what I think of it so far. It’s slightly better than Lostorage Incited WIXOSS, but at the same time if the total amount of episodes is going to be 12 it might end up having the same fate. Once again, the rules have changed, and there’s more addition to the game where certain abilities feel overpowered. With characters from the previous seasons being participants in the game I have doubts 12 episodes will be enough to give everyone a fair shake, let alone add to their established characterization. Yes, I still don’t like Suzuko Homura, and at this point I’m overreacting whenever she appears on screen because she’s still boring. She’s doesn’t say her catchphrase “Chi-chan” as much though so that’s a little better I guess. Kiyoi Mizushima might actually beat out Ruuko Kominato as the best character in the franchise. One main reason being five episodes in and Ruu-Ruu hasn’t been given much to do! It bugs me, but at the same time I might be expecting too much out of J.C. Staff. I don’t what it is, but I might have a thing for stoic female characters. Should probably talk to a psychiatrist about that. I might write a post about Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS once it ends, but I’m not sure since I usually don’t write about airing anime.

Now, this is the actual end of the blog which turned longer than intended even though I barely said everything on my mind. That’s what reviews are for….I’m sure right? Oh well. Til next time, and insert clever closing line here.

Anime-Breakdown: Ajin Part 1: Shoudou (2015) Recap Movie Review

Polygon Pictures is the name of the studio behind this film, and the anime series Sidonia no Kishi/Knights of Sidonia. I bring them up because despite only having seen one completed series from Polygon Pictures (at the time of this review being posted) it was enough for me to make them my most hated anime studio. This hatred is derived from Knights of Sidonia, or as I refer to it Sci-Fi: The Anime since it’s biggest piece of sci-fi trite I have ever seen in any form of media. Every single plot point was predictable, it didn’t put a new spin on any established sci-fi formula nor strayed from any common modern anime writing conventions, and it’s also the only piece of science fiction, and animation to ever put me to sleep. So before even starting the film, and Ajin anime series there was already the hurdle of low expectations. The only way Ajin couldn’t meet those low expectation would be if it turned out worse than Knights of Sidonia. Ajin went so below the bar of low expectations I could make a top ten list of the worst Ajin episodes in great detail by how much incompetence there is in each individual episode.

This film is basically a recap splicing together the first six episodes of the anime series Ajin. You might be wondering what’s the purpose of this recap movie if there’s no noticeable alteration between the anime series, and film. Both use the same footage with the same dialogue rendering it rather pointless to seek out the other product depending on what you decide to check out. As negative as I was towards the recap movie, Sword Art Online: Extra Edition, A1 Pictures did the logical in creating new material exclusive to it. Ajin Part 1: Shoudou only major difference with the anime series are scenes not having Izumi Shimomura (Tosaki’s secretary) cheeks turning red when blushing in two episodes of the anime series. I would like to point out this film came out in late November of 2015, and between that time all the way to mid January of 2016 when the anime aired. Someone, or several individuals at Polygon Pictures felt it was important to slightly alter moments of embarrassment by having Izumi cheeks turn red when she’s blushing instead bumping up the framerate to not make the animation look like it is always lagging. Just like the anime series, this recap film purpose is to simply be dead air. The metaphorical coaster of anime so to say.

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Sup! I’m Porcupine.

Ajin takes the classic premise of the “Human Parasite” (as I call it) trope where the focus is on a main character who becomes something he/she, or the world hates. If you read, or seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers (my go to association with this premise) you know for a fact this premise under right hands holds infinite possibilities. Especially horror since it could thrive on creating psychological fear of these creatures that easily blend into our world. However, Ajin doesn’t understand the basics of storytelling so when it tried to reach higher than possible never once does it bother to set up the building blocks for a stable story.

First issue for the film is simple; bad world building combine with bad context for exposition. In Ajin, it’s establish the entire world know the existence of Ajins, yet in a later scene in the movie a police officer is surprise there’s an Non Lethal Drug Gun specifically design to capture Ajins. Before you could be bother to ask what sense does it make that this weapon isn’t mandatory for all policemen to have in case of an emergency it throws another bad plot point at you. One being how high school students managed to find a leaked video of a Ajin being experimented on, and there being no mention of it in any news media outlet. The flimsy excuse of a student saying it could be fake cannot be assumed to apply to everyone else in the world which requires higher suspension of disbelief that does not come with the premise. In the anime series, the news media eventually discover this leaked video, but in the film the news media does not. Creating more plot holes that in sequel films Polygon Pictures will have to cover up instead of focusing on telling a story (not a good one at that).

We also have the Elephant in the room to address in that paranoia, hatred, disgust, or any feelings towards the public views on Ajin goes without setup. Aside from the first discover Ajin being a gun for hire in Africa, and if Ajin are turned in you’ll be rewarded there is nothing much to grasp from the Ajins presence in this world. The film even brings up the fact other Ajins were discovered, but mentions nothing if the other Ajins are commonly violent toward humans. If that was the case, than it would make sense for Kei Nagai (our teenage protagonist) not to trust anyone in his surroundings. However, if the story didn’t establish the public mindset on Ajins existence than the idea of them being turned in for a reward could still be a reasonable source of distrust for Kei Nagai. A simple, and not hard to shoe in solution for this issue is someone mentioning an Ajin who got betrayed by his friends for money. If this was done than you could have a less inferior reason for Kei Nagai not to trust his friends in the beginning of the film. It’s even brought up the reward could be just a rumor, but even if the reward is just a rumor than Kei Nagai fearing being betrayed by his friends from a story he heard would make a bit more sense. My solution sucks, but it could hold itself together much better compared to betrayal for rumored reward Kei Nagai just recently discovered imply by the film.

Reason number two this film is bad is because of main character Kei Nagai. I personally refer to him as Sam Blanderton since he has no personality, the writing pretends he’s a smart character, and has the plot armor of immortality. His younger sister describes Kei Nagai as a cold person so Vanilla Ice is also a suitable nickname for the protagonist. Jokes aside, you would also find Kei Nagai in that piles of jokes. Despite being told he’s a smart character, and studying to be a doctor he’s no smarter than the rest of the cast in Ajin that can’t phantom the idea of multiple people wearing hats. Having never gone to medical school I can tell you it is possible to knock someone out unconsciously with your fists. I bring this up since Kei Nagai can summon a Black Ghost which are basically an invisible humanlike manifestation Ajins can use. For some reason, when Kei is being tortured about an hour into the film, Kei seems to have forgotten everything he learned. This is a character who the audience is told wants to be a doctor. In a scene where Kei is being tortured he is also pressured into killing scientists, which you would expect someone who has been studying to be a doctor to do the logical, and knock out whoever is torturing him in order to intimidate anyone who wants to torture him in the future. Not wanting to kill is one thing, but if you have the power to knock someone out unconsciously like Kei Nagai has with his Black Ghost where’s the conflict in the situation. Kei doesn’t have to kill anyone when he’s being tortured, yet he seems content that he could only kill despite the fact he’s been studying to become a doctor. Good to know that knowledge goes to waste.

Kei Nagai acts however the plot demands him to without a consistent personality trait. In the film, Kei meets face to face with an old man who kidnapped his sister, but is okay with it since she wasn’t harm. (Tear out hair in anger). Yet, he is more concern with the idea of this same old man wanting to kill scientists who have been torturing him (Kei) for days none of whom he knows. Showing concern for their very livelihood despite torturing him. Just, huh? What makes this infuriating for me is Kei Nagai brings up the idea to handicapped those scientists while begging for them not to be murdered. So the series (along with this film) is telling me Kei Nagai gives a rat ass his sister got kidnapped who he known for basically his entire life, and shows more concern for saving people who tortured him for several days  to the point he’ll bargain to handicapped them to make sure they live. However, this completely goes against the established trait of Kei Nagai being a cold, but intelligent character which does not go well when you see this same intelligent character wear nothing to hide his face when out in public. This is never an issue since Polygon Pictures is too lazy to have background characters which is why there is hardly ever crowds of people in the film. What this means is that Kei Nagai is not a cold character since he bother saving random strangers who tortured him several days, and is not intelligent since he doesn’t use his medical knowledge in his situations to protect himself. There’s no moment of competency from this character since Kei Nagai either gets lucky by discovering a new ability to save himself when convenient, or needs to be save by another person.

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Glasses guy takes his groping seriously.

Finally, the reason the film is terrible, and the anime series itself is also terrible is pretty much everything else. Characters are one dimensional in the film with the only character using his head is Satou who is presented as the villain. Satou is refer by others as The Man in the Hat (even in the English dub for who knows why) because he wears a hat. Apparently, in Ajin, Satou is the only person in the entire world who wears a hat. This is proven whenever Satou is brought up simply mentioning someone is wearing a hat. Characters will immediately bring up Satou. Details like this makes it impossible to take Ajin seriously. What it tells me is a race of immortal beings is easily accepted in this world, but multiple people wearing hats is an entirely alien to concept those same people. Satou character also suffers the same issue, in this film, of having little character development, but compare to every other character he’s written the best. Satou is the only character who has a goal, and a motivation for what he does to a certain character. As you can assume, one character who’s passable doesn’t excuse an entire cast that’s disposable. Kei Nagai does virtually nothing to advance the plot, Kaito/Porcupine (Kei’s best friend) disappears after the second act without explanation, Eriko Nagai (Kei’s sister) is practically pointless contributing nothing to the narrative, and a slew of other unimportant characters amount to either explaining things characters in the world should already know, or just disappear after a while.

Pacing is a mess rushing through everything. This issue applies to the anime series too, but in movie format it’s boils down to throwing set pieces at the audience face without substance. There’s nothing of value to gain from constantly seeing the main characters in danger if there is no reason to care for them. No tension, no stakes, and no investment in the characters will have you constantly looking at the time wondering how long this train wreck is going to last.

On a technical level Polygon Pictures 3D animation is dated, even by 1990s 3D television standards. It’s embarrassing that the Donkey Kong Country 3D animated series from the late 90s has more expressive facial animation, and a better framerate. Donkey Kong Country can make the simple action of Gorillas walking, and dancing for that matter move smoothly. In Ajin Part 1: Shoudou, in the beginning of the film, Polygon Picture can not make the simple action of walking move smoothly. Through the film (and the anime series) it seems like characters are moving in slow motion. Polygon Pictures is capable of fixing of this, but are too lazy to do anything about it. There are two sequences in the film where two Black Ghosts are fighting against each other using the technique of slowing things down briefly then speeding things up. This simple demonstration of being able to change the speed of motion freely should also apply to the frame rate. It’s done deliberately so Polygon Picture have the technology not make to their anime series, and films look like they’re lagging at all times. Polygon Picture is so lazy the film closing credits is the opening sequence to the anime series with just longer credits. Bravo Polygon Picture.

Ajin Part 1: Shoudou needed to be story boarded, and drafted at least once before ever entering production. If this was done than Polygon Pictures would have realize they have no motivation for people to hate Ajins which would have save them from a number of issues if it was addressed. However, even if Ajin did give a good reason for why Ajins are hated it wouldn’t do away with the idiotic plot filled with shallow characters, and a very lazy production. You could find better looking 3D animation from the late 90s than this film which came out in 2015 which is embarrassing. Whatever way you view Ajin in either film, or tv format it is an embarrassment display of Japanese animation, an embarrassment to 3D animation, and an embarrassment to storytelling.

1/10

Anime-Breakdown: Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled From Paradise (2014) Movie Review

Gen Urobuchi is a writer I like, but even with that thrown out there he’s very repetitive in his writing. At times, he creates fascinating worlds, and characters, but then make them speak by info dumping, and reiterating the same topics as if viewers missed them the first time. They speak like plot devices instead of like people. So Gen Urobuchi opted to create a world that was formerly filled with humans, and now are just data. Here is story written in that kind of world. A world without consistency, nor intelligent life forms. Just a strings of badly written events.

The opening sequence of the film is confusing. We’re shown a beach, our main character in a swimsuit relaxing, someone hacks the beach, our protagonist throws her drink, and stops this hacking by being naked. Don’t worry, the event turns out to be pointless. I eventually found out by the end of the film that it lead up to nothing. Absolutely nothing. A conflictless story that forces in conflict in its final act just because. No logical reasons behind it besides the fact it wasted more than half of its duration on nothing related to the main story, and might as well try to end things with some action no matter how nonsensical it seems.

Minutes after failing to stop the hack it is established that Deva, this spaceship where 98% of humans resides, has been hacked by this same hacker, Frontier Setter, 184 times. So Deva has push aside the notion of improving their security, but it took them approximately 184 times of being hacked to finally decide to send one of their own agent to Earth to capture the hacker. So we got an advance system/civilization run entirely by super advance computers whom all take the appearances of Gods contradicting the notion this is an advance, smart, intelligence system when it reacts this slow. At this point (seven minutes in), you begin to question if the system got hacked that many times by a single entity how come a large amount of people are still living in Deva?

Not only that, but instead of assigning one of Deva best agents on the assignment Deva assigns 3rd class agent Angela Balzsac. There’s obviously much better agents that can accomplish the task. They (the computers Gods of Deva) established Deva already has an S ranking Deva agent on Earth. It would speed up the process by giving this assignment to Zarik Kajiwara, the S rank agent on Earth, who’s familiar with Earth, and despite being told he has a bad reputation is clearly reliable due to the fact he is an S rank Deva agent. Why Deva uses numbers, and letters to determine an agent ranking is beyond me. Seriously, is the number 1 or 0 much higher in ranking than S rank agents?

Our main characters is named Angela Balzac, which is the most respectable thing about her. She’s a stupid character who for some inexplicable reason knows to hack which would require understanding of simple terms like Script Kiddies, Black Hats, and words like Daemon for simple function. Yet, this same character does not understand people don’t eat sand which is the first thing she does when landing on Earth. These two things don’t belong to the same character. Ballsack (as I am referring to her out of the lack respect I, and writer Gen Urobuchi do not share for her) is introduce in a beach scene in a bikini saying it’s because of work? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be in a place that can overlook CPU, servers, hotspots, you know any area that’ll actively help you better spot when there’s a hacker in the system. I would wouldn’t be questioning this if the film itself provided decent world building. With that absent, there’s no understanding on the status quo of this world at all.

Ballsack goes from one scene to another completely inept in her abilities. Her human partner, Zarik Kajiwara, has to explain to her how using her mecha from Deva would expose her spot to Frontier Setter. Why Ballsack didn’t think of this is inconsistent with the claim she’s a 3rd class rank agent close to being promoted to a high ranking position. If that’s a high position in this world it further question her abilities to do this job, and Deva security too. She needed to be told by S rank agent Zarik Kajiwara to do this instead of her doing it on her own. After being told using this Mecha would reveal her position to this intelligent hacker the next logical step would be for Ballsack to put on some different pieces of clothing to blend into Earth crowd, and not stick out. However, she wears a leotard, garter, elbow-length gloves, and knee boots for the entire film. Everyone else on Earth else wear normal pieces of clothing, but this doesn’t matter in the long run either since this does not catch the attention of Frontier Setter at any point.

I’m meant to believe Frontier Setter singlehandedly hacked into this super advance ship called Deva, which apparently has high security, yet the fact Frontier Setter is unable to detect Ballsack who is looking for him in this city without changing her appearance goes against what’s established. Frontier Setter has other robots he could control, and taking into account he hacked into Deva 184 times this is also inconsistent with said intelligent of the character. As far as characterization goes he received nothing substantial besides questioning if human traits can be found in machines. This often used plot point in sci-fi would have been fine if the film actually explored it.

Another annoying trait of Ballsack character is her bragging how life is better on Deva, and how life on Earth pales in comparison. Ballsack mentions that old rock music wasn’t considered worth keeping by Deva. Meaning Deva intentionally didn’t keep information on simple stuff like sand does not taste good, but kept the information that made Ballsack be naked when stopping a hacker in cyberspace? The same information that does not tell her human body can get tired, and sick. If Deva was a such a great place to live at than it should have preserve as much information as possible not just be selective about it. Say, if somebody on Deva like rock, and Deva didn’t have it that person is out of like. However, on Earth you can find rock music if you like. If not, simply ignore it not discard it like Deva does. As I mentioned earlier, due to poor world building Anglea claims of Deva being better than Earth don’t add much to the film when the bare minimal about the world is not established.

Zarik Kajiwara is the most likable character, but even he has inconsistency in his character. He says himself in the movie he’s  afraid of heights, yet there is a scene where he’s on top of an abandon building stringing his guitar. Unlike tsundere Ballsack, Kajiwara is competent at his job to the point he should have been the protagonist of the film. For starter, he blends into the crowd unlike Ballsack who sticks out. Another thing is he knows the area, can collect information on Frontier Setter location, all while being off Frontier Setter radar. This guy, is basically babysitting this deadweight agent named Ballsack to make sure she doesn’t kill herself. This allows me to sympathize with Kajiwara because not only does he have to do most of Ballsack job for her, but also make sure Ballsack doesn’t end up killing herself. Sadly, there’s not much to his character either besides he likes rock music, and living on Earth. This about as close as the film gets to producing anything resembling good quality.

Our final character is Frontier Setter himself. The film sets him up as this intelligent hacker which does make you wonder why is he attacking Deva. Unfortunately the answer essentially amounts to “you want to go on this road trip bro?” for his motivation. It’s a letdown when this is reveal because the hour building up to this were spent on characters talking about nothing related to the plot. It was either debating where it’s better to live rendered into a pointless argument because of terrible world building, or being all philosophical with subjects on eating till you’re full, liking a specific brand of rock music, and being sick like a human. Frontier Setter is falsely presented as the antagonist in this story, and when there’s no ill attention from it then there should have been something the characters learned from their journey. Ballsack does eventually learn the value of being human, and having a human body just because. There’s not a single good experience she had on her journey before finally finding Frontier Setter. She has her mecha destroyed, and sold for parts, was nearly raped, got sick while on Earth, became very tired, hungry, and talked to Zarik Kajiwara discussing the current affair of their job. Somehow all of this made Ballsack change over a new perception of human living.

It’s explained later on in the film that human consciousness was transferred into data. How exactly that happened, when it happened, and how long it’s been going on for is up to anyone imagination. They (Deva) could have used “Bipolar Magnetic Reversal Theory” to accomplish that as far as anyone is concerned. These simple questions needed to understand the setting are never answered. After the opening credits, Angela Ballsack crashes on Earth, and fights giant Centipede like aliens with a giant robot. These bugs appear in this one, and only scene throughout the film. Are these bugs a common issue on Earth? Is there any other species on Earth that make people fearful to live on Earth? If so, then the idea of 98% of Earth population living in a computer would make sense. Except, there is no world building on Earth either!

While seeing the film I assumed it was created by A1-Pictures because of various ass shots, but nope I was wrong. This film was brought to us by Toei Animation, and Nitroplus who really wanted to outdo them with ass shots. All the budget for the film clearly didn’t go into the animation. Whenever character speak it’s only up, and down motion which looks unnatural. I’m guessing the budget likely went into developing bouncing boob technology for Ballsack character before abandoning the idea when realizing Toei, nor Nitroplus had the technology to make it happen. So they opted for ass shots just incase the audience forgets Ballsack has an ass. When the characters are still the models don’t look bad, but the low-framerate in motion makes everything look disjointed, and delayed. Possibly making you wonder if whatever device you’re watching it on is laggy. The only time the animation looks natural is when the framerate is bumped up in the action scenes. In these action scenes the motion is fast, and whatever moving looks somewhat natural. These moments don’t last long, nor are they very flashy in their presentation. Most of the film best moments of competent animation is in the climax, but given how pointless the climax is it undermines what happening on-screen, and ultimately would have been pointless if the writing wasn’t so awful. The only thing about the animation I wouldn’t complain about are the backgrounds are decent looking since they don’t move. That would be it as far praises go.

Voice acting in both Japanese, and English languages are competent while virtually sharing the same traits. For starter, both Rie Kugimiya in Japanese, and Wendee Lee in the English voiced Angela Balzac are equally annoying. Wendee Lee is higher pitched in her portrayal which makes her more grating when listening to her brag about how better life is on Deva. She doesn’t change her tone regardless what her character is meant to feel in any scene either. Rie Kugimiya doesn’t fare any better in the leading role. Instead of being grating her portrayal ends up being bland. At least Wendee Lee portrayal made me feel something about the character. Sure it is mostly hatred, but it’s certainly better than Rie Kugimiya who leaves no impression when having played other tsunderes. Nothing about Rie Kugimiya performance stands out besides she sounds no different from a bland tsundere character.

Zarik Kajiwara is played by Shinichiro Miki in Japanese, and Steve Blum in the English dub. On both audio tracks these two actors are easily best actors. Steve Blum especially operating on autopilot with his cool, laid back voice. Blum voice goes hand in hand with Zarik Kajiwara personality for an easy cool portrayal. Miki also does the same so not of a much difference in performances. Frontier Setter is voice by Hiroshi Kamiya in Japanese, and Johnny Yong Bosch in the English dub. None of them end up being better than the other voice actor. Johnny Yong Bosch is simply wasted in the role that demand nothing of him. The character has no complex emotions, or personality so it’s more disappointing seeing Johnny Yong Bosch in the role than it is a bad performance. He doesn’t sound robotic at all in the role. Whereas Hiroshi Kamiya does sound robotic in his portrayal. Fitting the role, but nothing demanding about.

The script is different in both languages. I wouldn’t advise seeing the film in any language given how bad it is. Reading the subs draws more issues to its writing while the English dub has some bad audio mixture. In English, some wording are changed to make the story appears less idiotic than it already is, but also end changing the meaning in the film in general. Hearing 98% of humans have “cyber personality” doesn’t seem like a big deal compare in Japanese where it says 98% of humans are “artificial intelligence”. Creating different problems for itself. At best, it’s most tolerable to mute the film, and read subtitles. Not the even soundtrack composed by Narasaki is noticeable in the film. It’s heavy on electronics, techno, and rock, but all equally forgettable.

Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled From Paradise will leave you with many philosophical questions. The most important one being “What did I just watch?”. Don’t let Gen Urobuchi, and Seiji Mizushima (director of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime) names trick you into seeing this film. If this is the standard Japan wants to set for every 3D animated film that come out of their country they’re in serious trouble. The general low-framerate in animation, lack of any thought into the writing, and nothing substantial to remember is inexcusable in an era where the likes of Pixar, and Dreamworks Animation have made better 3D animated movies. If the animation isn’t flashy enough to make it entertaining to watch than it should at least contain good writing to keep viewers engaged. When you got neither, this film here stands as an example of that.

2/10

Anime-Breakdown: Natsu e no Tobira (1981) Movie Review

Natsu e no Tobira/The Door Into Summer in English is an animated film from 1981 based on the manga of the same name by Keiko Takemiya. A pioneer of shonen-ni/yaoi manga in the early 1970s whose short story, Sunroom ni te, contains the earliest known male-male kiss in a shojo manga. She’s an accomplished mangaka whose contribution to her field is far more interesting, and engaging than this Madhouse and Toei produced animated hour-long film. It’s a relic of the past that is better left collecting dust.  

Natsu e no Tobira attempts to be a coming of age story tackling the idea of raw love in youth. Unfortunately there isn’t enough material for it to delve into its own chosen subject. Right off the bat the film opens with intrigued starting ​at a future point with two friends in a twenty paces pistol duel with main character Marion in his attempt to stop them. This opening is stylishly presented with field of red roses contrasting against a dark sky along with black and white human characters figure in the pouring rain. This opening scene is a good hook in making the viewer wonder what led up to this moment. Everything after this opening is an immediate failure.  

For starter,​ the biggest issue for this coming of age film is there’s virtually no characterization. Without establishing how the central characters were before experiencing their life changing events it doesn’t feel like they learned anything from their conflicts. A character in the film reveals he has feeling for his male best friend which isn’t hinted at any point in the film. It’s a spontaneous revelation that only brings to mind crucial questions. What made him fall in love with his friend, and how long has he felt this way aren’t answered. Presenting itself more in the way of an over the top soap opera exaggerating every major scene. Similar dramatic scenes are presented in ridiculous way, but are not enjoyable because they’re meant to be taken seriously.

Another issue is Marion is a boring main character. He, like the rest of the film, is simply going through the motions of events without setting up a proper groundwork. Marion point of view on love is of that of a fairy tale, but he’s too shallow to be sucked into the emotions he’s going through. There are only few lines of dialogue that attempt to characterize Marion, and give a bit of backstory, but they’re delivered in a  throwaway manner not allowing time for those plot points to sink in before another event happens that progresses the story. The dialogue in general revolves around love which gets repetitive when characters have no other things to talk about.

There’s a scene where our characters see the dead body of a friend that committed suicide. One of them acts appropriately being sadden at the lost of a friend only then to utter out loud he wants to be hold by the woman (who’s in her 40s) he loves. In the background of the same scene two other characters talk about dueling to get a girl hand in marriage. A friend of these characters killed himself, learn about it recently going to the site, and they are so self-absorbed in their own problems to pay to their dead friend any proper respect. Other characters don’t fare any better. Marion is one-dimensional while everyone else are more in the cookie cutter variety. Nearly all the characters have a conflict revolving around love, aren’t developed to make any said change meaningful, and are treated as plot devices.

Madhouse and Toei Animation who are responsible for putting this anime movie together were faithful to the manga which is a negative. The manga is a single volume, less than 80 pages manga telling the same exact story which would take an average reader less amount of time to read in its entirety than watching this film. There’s not enough material to extent into an hour-long film. Unfortunately the added scenes don’t improve an already short story with rush pacing and shallow writing. It’s bloated with scenes dragging out in order to be extended to an hour length. Instead of expanding on the basic story it inflates itself with material that doesn’t do much in the long run to improve the source material. One of these decision is giving supporting characters more screen time, but that doesn’t amount too much since supporting characters are simply tools to advance to the next scene.

All the characters look feminine, especially the males. Emphasizing beauty of character over anything else. Containing sparkling eyes, smooth skins, and gorgeous similar looking hair cut. None of the character designs standout being exactly what you would expect from a Shojo that doesn’t attempt to standout. The background is generally blurry in line with a wispy like style. With the exception of the flower field where the duel is held backgrounds are dull to look at with minimal detail paid to them.  

The music is composed by Kentaroh Handeda whose score is a mixture of violins, saxophone, piano, and low-key singing of lalala lyrics. If you allowed a giant pile of cheese to produce music for this anime you would get the same result. Not a single memorable track helps the anime in any positive way. There’s a terrible sex scene in the film which is made worse by jazz like music combine with animation that attempt to make it look poetic. The result is one of the worst sex scenes you could see that’s animated. In general the music is forgettable and has the power to put anyone to sleep when listening to it.

Voice acting from the entire cast is weak. Granted the material wasn’t good in the first place, but the voice work doesn’t fare out better with the vocal performances. The gender roles are basically reverse in their performances; the females are reserve, and the males are more emotional. Like with everything else in the film the voice acting leaves allot to be desired. In general being trite, unconvincing in relaying across any proper emotion in their line delivery to make them believable.

Natsu e no Tobira has a lot of problems, but the one thing the anime movie does better over the manga is the pacing so everything in the film flows more naturally. While there isn’t enough substance to justify its own length at least it unfolds in a more proper manner than the manga. However, even with that small praise it clearly went to waste. Madhouse and Toei studio both failed to add anything to something that was already rushed, and shallow from the source material managing to make it worse in animated form.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Naruto Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom (2006) Review

When in doubt in what to see I go back to a series I have yet to complete. Naruto is a different case since the film adaptations tend to leave out vital information about the world, the characters, and how it function translating poorly for newcomers. So what’s better way to familiarize myself with the series than playing videos-games based around the series which helped me understand the world of Naruto allot more than I originally did. However, even after doing some homework on the series it didn’t help that this film is inaccessible for the uninitiated, receives another downgrade in production values, and its story will leave you stupor by the end of the whole ordeal.

Naruto Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom follows Naruto Uzumaki, Kakashi Hatake, Sakura Haruno, and Rock Lee mission to escort the prince of the Land of the Moon, Michiru, during his trip back home. Like the previous film, unless you’re familiar with the material the film will make no effort in providing even the basics. The opening of the movie tells the audience who assigned the heroes their mission and its importance through narration that gets dropped early on, but that’s where all the explanations end. How our heroes abilities work and the extent of those abilities aren’t discuss. In context of the anime series and manga it eventually explains these things, except in this film any new superpower ability shown is a plot convenience. Taking away any possible enjoyment from any fight scenes since it comes across the writers are just making things up as they go along. Past the film opening you’re left with a story with no substance. Suffering from having too many underdeveloped characters and one dimensional villains that get sideline. Once again, in the form a film Naruto and his group aren’t engaging characters. Naruto is given the center of attention from the entire team and what screen time Naruto does have paints him negatively. He’s not the likable goofball, but an annoying weakling. In this film Naruto picks on a little kid making him look bad. He has the abilities to turn his shadow into clones, but the little spoiled kid he picks on can’t even fight. Yeah, that’s the sort of hero I want to get behind. Sadly his character doesn’t improve falling victim to receiving a beating in nearly every fight he’s in. It’s hard to overlook how amateur Naruto ability are when the opening of the film said these ninja from a specific clan trained for years.

Among this mess of a story that can’t mesh family drama, growing up, ninja, possible war torn country, and marriage there’s an idea for an engaging story. The characters that receive the most development are Michiru and his son Hikaru who are of rich royal blood. Both of these character arcs play like a coming of age story growing up from their previous ways into maturity. If one were to remove anything ninja related than there’s enough ideas to make at least a decent story. As is the case it’s not close to average. One plot element that gets toss aside is the trouble marriage that Michiru is facing with his wife leaving. Aside from when it’s introduced never again is it brought back. Around the thirty minute mark it felt as if the film would have better fitted being an episode of it rush pacing. Another plot element that is dropped is the whole group dynamic of the team. When it does feature the team dynamic it’s the equivalent of sentimentality saying friendship is magic. The character Rock Lee is only in the film for comic relief which is allot more than I could say for the like of Sakura Haruno who once again gets the short end of the stick. Although, it’s a slight improvement over the previous film actually beating up a villain henchman with her abilities. These two characters don’t have much to do and the team interactions is sparsely spread across. Than the climax overstays its welcome highlighting just how cardboard the characters are and how weak and stupid the villains are. I mean seriously, the villain whole desire is to simply kill a specific person, but simply delays it even receiving that specific person at day time. After a couple of scenes it’s night time and cuts back to the villain and he still hasn’t killed the one person he wanted to kill the entire time. So mixing incompetent heroes facing against even more incompetent villains.

So far the Naruto films have been consistent in downgrading their production values with every preceding film entry, especially the animation department. Once you get past the first three minutes you finally glance at it undetailed art style. There’s no depth of perspective making everything look flat. Backgrounds are blurred to cover up dead space and characters designed are more simplified giving them less expressions. Movements are stiff and whenever there’s a fight a scene the action moves slowly. It’s movement is so bad the film story makes up an excuse for why in a particular scene since it’s worse than usual. Action scenes are a huge disappointment with very little usage of jutsu/superpower abilities in fights. Every one of them is rushed, poorly choreographed, and usually only has one person moving while the defender is static until it’s their turn to attack. None is more harmful than the climax in which it cuts between three fight scenes and they all play out the same. That’s just lazy on the animators part. The only aspect that can’t entirely panned is the voice acting. Both the Japanese and English deliver some good performances from the cast. None of them outstanding due to the poor material, but effort is definitely evident by the cast. A technical area that won’t register is the music. There’s not a single track that will stick with you, but are all place in the appropriate scene.

Naruto Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom regardless on your exposure to the series will make you see the closing credits knowing its over. Characters are cardboard, the story is unengaging dropping plot points or leaving them underdeveloped, and the animation is very poor. Not even the action scenes make the endeavor worth sitting through having received a serious downgrade in its visuals and delay movements regardless of what occuring on screen. While fans of the series might be more forgivable to it lack of development in certain area it’s story and action is the one area where it completely fails to deliver for any sort of viewers.

2/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

The financial status of the American class system is an grey area to discuss. Like all major political subjects I tend not have a firm stance steering away from the lesser of two evils kind of thinking. Sometimes its better to be direct with your points making the message clearer. As is the case with “The Wolf of Wall Street” which makes no effort to downplay the excessive lifestyle and amorality of the characters with no shades of grey to justified themselves for who they are.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. Cleverly disguised as a black comedy it also sneakily culminates satire. Structurally unmatched it begins with the so call “low point” of Jordan Belfort life before eventually making it big manipulating the stock market. His obsession is far subtle living in a bubble; committing itself to following the special logic on which this world is drawn into a vortex of success and admiring the brilliant strategy Belfort follows. Belfort lives and breathe to make money no matter the legality of his techniques. It’s shown as an easy endeavor rewarding with a fantastic and luxurious lifestyle through Jordan Belfort eyes who lives with no limit to his wealth. Never truly focusing on the consequences that Jordan Belfort scams had on his clients rather focusing on the bigger picture on Belfort personification of American culture legal acceptance and materialism clouding the ideals of the American Dream. Witnessing Belfort strong desires to cling to his excess nature giving a true exposure to how deeply superficial riches has taken over. Not once does it ask nor pops up to Jordan head the question of how much foreclosed houses, starving children, financially corrupt clients, and scams did it take for Belfort to obtain just one object he owns because Belfort has no fun living in the closeness of the real world he was once a part of. Scenes of excess and of criminality are not equally appealing and repulsive – they are almost totally appealing. Hiding nothing with a leading character who has no interest in redeeming himself for his actions. Depicted in a manner that’s true the essence of its character that will serve as a wake up call to reality for some where justice isn’t always served for every wrong.

Martin Scorsese’s forceful, flowing camerawork and electrifying use of music assures the film is never dull. Scorsese plays it bold in this film does not showcase any means of redemption for its lead character. His camera, which by cognitive extension functions less like a camera and more as an external window, reframes, cranes and tracks over Belfort’s equally out-of-it staff and his key executives with so much zest that it appears almost as materialistic as the people it is capturing on negative. Perhaps to counterbalance the mischievously ambivalent attitude towards a fanatically amoral protagonist, Rodrigo Prieto’s matter-of-fact cinematography eschews glossiness and flourishes and is bright without being blinding. The movie doesn’t have a single totemic image that captures the obscene wealth and privilege on display. Rather, the parade of outrageousness continues from the beginning to the end.

Leonardo DiCaprio injects manic intensity and ferociousness to Belfort that at times is simply magnetic, mesmerizing as he thunders like a lion across the screen. As a man whose wild arrogance, immorality and desperate zest for life literally charge him like a battery. In his finest physical performance to date; whether doped to his gourd on Quaaludes, or restraining his body from sexual desire, DiCaprio manipulates his body to silent comedy era levels. Meanwhile his Liotta-like narration has him spitting snake oil with each sentence. Every word is precise, every smile looking to be hiding something. Twice while detailing the intricacies of his schemes, he stops, smiles and distracts us. Jonah Hill’s performance as Donnie Azoff is another great allowing Hill to explore some of his comedic ticks and beats. In Wolf, he relies on his own instincts, and his chemistry with DiCaprio colorful chemistry is so natural that every scene they’re in together bring the best out of the two.

Margot Robbie a ravishing Australian with a Brooklyn accent, delivers a rich and nuanced special performance. Seductive and sexual yet authoritative Robbie is not just the eye candy in Wolf; and it is quite easy for such a sexually based character to be objectified in films, whereas Robbie triggers real emotion of sympathy from the audience towards the end of the movie in various Jordan related scenes. Kyle Chandler, in subtle and resonant acting as the pursuing cop, has a read-between-the-lines philosophical banter with his nemesis. In cinema-noir fashion, they have a well written, battle of wits confrontation on Jordan’s yacht. Rob Reiner as Jordan’s accountant dad, delights us with warmth and humor in some very good scenes. Matthew McConnaughey has a rambunctious, hilarious as Jordan’s cynical, first Wall Street mentor.

The Wolf of Wall Street delivers powerful commentary on American culture in a such a profound and unconventional format. Realism isn’t Scorsese’s goal, what he tries to achieve is to convey how it must feel to live inside this bubble making it feel desirable: a trap Scorsese skillfully plays with and avoids. The more the spiral spins, the more grotesque this world becomes, the more that initial fascination is replaced with unease and ultimately disgust.

10/10