Tag Archives: Anime Review

Anime Breakdown: Angel Beats (2010) Series Review

Prior to writing this review, Angel Beats! could be best describe as an entry point back into anime for me. My introduction to anime is actually with Dragon Ball Z and Naruto which were enjoyable shows. At the time when I viewed them I just thought as them as interesting looking shows not knowing where they originated from. I never finished to completion either anime series (the video games several of which I have) therefore lost an interest in anime in general. It wasn’t until recently with the surge of my little brother fascination with anime that caught my attention. While I knew little about anime I enjoyed listening to what my brother had to say about the anime series he watched. My little brother did bug me to give anime it a try, but much like when I choose a film to watch I would have to research it. Thus I landed on Angel Beats! because the simple premise intrigued me to check it out and seeing how it’s a short series it would be manageable with my schedule. There’s no question my enjoyment of seeing Angel Beats! is far greater than most anime fans, but one thing it is for certain it’ll leave a strong impression.

Premise:

Rebellious teens fight in armed combat against one dispassionate girl’s supernatural powers in an afterlife high school. (Man is this synopsis significantly shorter compared to my Blue Exorcist review).

Good: Stellar Writing/Handling of Themes of Life and Death

Angel Beats! follow characters that are discontent with their former lives. A premise that is well handle thanks to the writing talent at hand. Combining sharp action, riotously funny humor, clever exploitation of the setting, musical performances, a cast of colorful characters where heavily moe (cute/ a term with a contrived definition) girls are in the minority into a polished package. All these culmination of elements work in sync with each other pulling off anything it sets out to do with great success. Often focusing on what would work best for its story over specifically relying on a noticable strong suit.

Uniting of all sorts of different idea weaving a world that can be best describe as a philosophical videogame. References to Buddhist theology, replete with long, philosophical discussions of reincarnation and its implications, along with more modern, tech-savvy ideas like computer games and programming. Representing an afterlife that works like that of a video game doing so with a good understanding of video game programing with Buddhism. This analogy is made even more obvious by when a character refers to large swarms of background students and teachers at the high school as “non-player characters.” This odd fusion of Buddhism and video games should have not click together, but strangely do. There’s some remarkable similarity made between the two as a retry after death in a videogame could be seen as a reincarnation in Buddhism in the series. Every episode in a way could be viewed as a like a video game level with branching path that either A.) Tackle the conflict blindly or B.) Organize a strategy each with their own risks and reward. Analyzing in great detail one’s own faith and the free will given to them to make difficult decisions especially knowing the life consequence of it.

Writing excels in every category especially when it comes to character focus episodes. Subtle characterization and down to earth dialogue can quickly leave their mark on the viewer no matter the amount of screen time characters receive. Episode 3 is where the strong writing is first shown its true powers. In a short length of time we’re able to connect with character Masami Iwasawa (pink hair! damn one of my weaknesses) whose dreams, past, and passion we get to learn about thanks to carefully written conversations that comes across naturally and not just mere exposition. For a series that want to touch upon many themes it has 13 episodes to do so and of course not everything comes together as it should have. However, the writing hardly gives any sign of uncertainty. Despite being 13 episodes it’s able to accomplished a number of themes it chooses to explore providing full closure on the series.  

Good: Execution of old tricks

For a form of entertainment that has televised series for over 50 years originality is difficult to come by. However, being a movie fan first I know as long as the execution works you can make even the most cliche of stories interesting again. That applies to Angels Beats! which for anime veterans will become familiar with the high school setting, absurdly powerful student counselor, open ending, down to the characters from the hero with a friendless background, the smart guy, tough girl on the outside whose soft on the inside, and what not. Anime fans will be able to pick out the tropes, but as someone who’s not familiar with anime tropes as so much writing devices what is used here works in the confined of the series. Each of the cliches and trope used in the series is executed properly to work. It’s not so much that what it does with them is different for the tropes, but in subtext have more than a single function.

Take for example the characters in Angel Beats! referred to as Angel who can manipulate her hands and turn them into weapons. Most of Angel’s abilities, such as Harmonics and (Hand) Sonic, Distortion, Overdrive, and Delay are various guitar effects. Angel is also a seen playing the piano in the opening of the show and mention in the series that she can play the piano professionally. Why am I bringing up what appears to be a series of random facts? Well Angel real name Kanade literally translate to “playing music” which is the main weapon our group of rebellious teens uses to distract the crowds or enemies during their operations. Scenes involving a character playing a musical instrument Kanade nearly always appears in. Most of which are important moments that explain the workings of the afterlife or a significant character moment. Even Angel herself intention is to drive the audience off her actual purpose in the world (which she even admits to doing poorly) provides a different perspective on to view the inhabitants of the afterlife.

Good: Gorgeous Animation

Animation is often cg-enhanced, looking slick and polished. Backgrounds are very detailed and animation alway appears smooth. Often bright and colorful the presentation boasts very good to excellent line detail as well as a nicely robust and well saturated palette. Character design is consistent and highly expressive. Their movement are never restricted in comedic situations applying cartoon physics. Resulting from characters being stabbed multiple times, being cut in half, seated in a ejector seat that crashes into the ceiling, and several other are made comedic in a series where no one can die. While character designs aren’t exactly innovative, they are colorful, especially with regard to the often oddly hued hair of several of the major players. Some of the concert sequences look good and almost seem to have been assembled with motion capture, so fluid and convincing are the girls’ movement. It looks especially lovely during the action scenes that support plenty of particles effects. Fast in movement with no bluff the action scenes are no doubt a high point sporting numerous tiny details and fast motion. Backgrounds are often minimal reusing the same locations while detail lack variety. Overall Angel Beats sports a nicely sharp and well defined piece of animation.

Good: Music

In Angel Beats, the SSS employs its own all-girl rock band to divert the enemy at choice times. Instead of using existing or commissioned music all songs were written and composed by Jun Maeda himself specifically for this series. Serving the series a purpose the songs by the all girl bands correlate with the series themes. Discussing characters specifics such as the strong desired to continue a dream, friendship, deception, and many others benefits to giving the band character. Giving them an identity and a clearly getting across their personality as individuals and as a band.

The result is an effective, low-key approach which supports the material, rather than leading it, and easily shifts from comedy to dramatic modes. The GlDeMo songs are all solid rock numbers save for a pretty solo ballad, and all of them suit their intended purpose well. Opener “My Soul, Your Beat!” is a lovely piano-fronted song whose visuals adjust slightly each episode to provide previews of the upcoming action. Also, the notes played on the piano are resemble a heart beat. Sneaking in symbolism into its music aside from just sounding good has as much depth given to its as the story. With lyrics that sound like they’re were written by teenagers are easy to understand and fitting the fictional world nicely.

Regular closer “Brave Song” is equally good and accompanies visuals which show major characters in the Battlefront roster and regularly update to reflect events in the series; watching for these changes can be a game unto itself. An alternate rock version of the opener fronts episode 4, while episodes 10 and 13 have the poignant “Ichiban no Takaramono” as an alternate but very appropriate choice. The music in the show if taken out can stand on their own. These songs support in developing the material as much as the rest of music do in supporting its series tone. While none of the tracks in the series can surpass the excellence orchestration and composition in ‘My Soul, Your Beat’ and ‘Brave Song’ the music in general tends to be of high quality.

Mixed: Not Enough Episodes

As much I praise the writing it doesn’t explore everything it wants in 13 episodes and 1 OVA (Original Video Animation/standalone episode created outside the series). Several characters back stories are left in the dust with a plot progressing rapidly. Often resorting to giving a majority of cast a catchphrase or quirk that gives them a specific identity. On the whole it makes the large cast distinguishable even if all aren’t treated equally. This lack of development for the large cast takes away from the emotional impact the final three episodes were going for. Many characters backstories are left to the imagination and also what occurred to them past the series ending is left blank too. That’s not even adding the new characters that are introduced later on in the series that add the headcount of unexplored lives.

Thematically the first halve of the series doesn’t fit the tone of the later half. Early episodes of Angel Beats! plays on its strong side of comedy that are meant to make us acquainted with our cast. Sadly it mindset past early episodes go all over the place jumping into either a straight up drama, comedy, or a mixture of both. In general the balance of drama and comedy is handle well doing what the series does best. Never at one point does either overshadowed the other. However, it’s undeniable how jarring the the series becomes compare to where it started. Noticeably distracting further highlighting the absence of certain elements that made you like the series in the first place. Once you hit a certain point in the series you know things are going to permanently change. Personally I like both the comedic and dramatic tone of the series, but as a whole there’s no denying how indifferent the series tone conflicts with itself scattering around the viewer emotions against the intended impact it wanted to send.

Final Thoughts:

Angel Beats! is a short burst of great comedy, action, and drama while it last. It’s length holds it back from expanding into the show it could have been. Changing drastically in little time and leaving certain elements in the dust. No doubt anyone who enjoys Angel Beats will be disappointed when it ends quickly. What little the series does provide is undeniably entertaining and dramatically powerful with the creators heartfelt passion for their creation shown in the quality of their work.

Writing: 2/2

Execution: 2/2

Animation: 2/2

Sound: 2/2

Length: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – A short run of an excellent show that balances everything it sets out to do. While it’s aim is bigger than its grasp there’s no denying what is perfectly executed vastly overshadows it faults.

Cinema-Maniac: Animal Crossing: The Movie (2008) Review

In the world of video game movie adaptations the existence of an ‘Animal Crossing’ movie escaped my knowledge. I never played the video games therefore never followed the franchise, but to those who haven’t either here some condense background. ‘Animal Crossing’ is a video game franchise developed and published by (the almighty) Nintendo. It’s a popular series made famous by it’s opened ended gameplay in which players have no defined objectives, but are instead encouraged to spend their time in the village performing any number of activities, which include collecting items, planting plants or other items, and socializing with the village’s residents. A life simulator that isn’t known exactly for its plot, yet work s as a fun and relaxing film even if it doesn’t have a cohesive story.

Animal Crossing: The Movie is about Ai, a self-reliant girl that moves to Animal Village. Simplicity is the route taken with a slice of life format to its narrative. It’s not so much telling a story as it is stringing together a series of random scenes. This is made evident in the first twenty minutes of the film as Ai unwillingly accepts a job to make delivery in Animal Village literally minutes after arriving. Throughout her delivery run we’re introduced to a colorful cast of characters without tying this plot point to anything in the grand scheme of things. All the inhabitants in Animal Village have a kind heart even if at times the hard shells says otherwise. Giving off a sort of utopia vibe as the community provides a sense of welcome and warmth presence to anyone who visits. Inviting the viewer to just lose themselves in Animal Village. Something that’s easy to do with likable characters each with a charming quirk to them from the major whose lousy in publicizing himself for an election to a human boy who likes dressing up in different costumes. It’s easy to get lost in a film that is so welcoming with humor and drama added into the mixture. Flaws are apparent without requiring much thought to point them out. Like Ai (our protagonist) background is left vague and her motivation to move to Animal Village is not fleshed out. Conflict is non-existent in the film until the climax, but even then to resolve the conflict is voluntary with no consequences for the central characters nor any supporting characters involved. The same applies to introducing several subplots and leaving them hanging for long durations even going as far as forgetting to resolve a couple of them. Misdirecting lessons it was trying get across possibly being interpreted negatively.

The film has a chibi art style to which basically means all characters have over sized heads. Animals are anthropomorphic with human traits. Although it’s never made clear in regard to clothing as some animals wear clothes and other don’t for reasons left unexplained. Sure the animals don’t have genitalia, but they are still walking around naked. Color palette is lush and colorful. There’s hardly any usage of dark colors in the environment. Always looking pleasant even if the event in the plot says otherwise. Movement is minimalistic looking chopping at times. Backgrounds offer variety changing along with the according season in the film subtly showing the progression of time. Kazumi Totaka score normally gives the feel of a summer environment, with its use of mellow acoustic guitars, accordions, and bongo drums among others. Voice acting is nothing noteworthy. Yui Horie who voices Ai gets across the character innocence and eager personality. Sounding exactly like a ten year old would. Other voice actors are in the same line of playfulness in their performances. There’s a couple of voice actors (one of them oddly being director Takashi Miike) that speak regularly without exaggeration to their voices that work in the film more dramatic scenes. Compare to the other actors the less exaggerated voices don’t leave much of impression, but do appropriately add range in a energized cast.

Animal Crossing: The Movie doesn’t offer a cohesive story, but is a pleasant slice of life film. It has a cast of likable characters and the atmosphere is calming right down to the pleasant music. A cohesive story won’t be found in Animal Crossing: The Movie, but does serves as a nice distraction for anyone looking to lose themself in another world.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Steins;gate Fuka Ryoiki No Deja Vu (2013)

Going blind into a film adaptation of any series is risking. In my case going into Steins:Gate film adaptation without any exposure to the anime series, visual novels, and (to my surprise) a video game based on the series was not a good decision. Many of the film events, characters relationship, and world are build up from its many different medium that offer more time to build everything as oppose to a film which works on a specific time frame. Regardless of a lack of exposure to the series the film itself stood on its own feet. As a piece of romance, sci-fi’s, drama, and time traveling philosophy that is intricate, layered as its compelling protagonists.

Steins; Gate the Movie: The Burden of Deja Vu is about Kurisu’s internal conflict to save Rintarou Okabe (a time traveler who constantly saved her) is erased from existence. My synopsis of the films plot is about as simple as its ever gets. Once pass the basic first fifteen minutes the film goes heavily into memories linking different worlds with time travel thrown into the mix. At its own pace the film takes it time to explain how memories in different timelines can be retained and how using time travel to create branching path holds consequences. Admittedly half of the film dialogue is reliant on these specifics delicately balancing key focus on its main story. While a complete understanding of how everything works in Stein;Gate universe is difficult what’s more accessible is the core of the story. A sci-fi love story that takes risk in its protagonist tempted to accept defeat to prevent further damaging the timelines fate has already sorted out. Internal conflicts created by the protagonist love interest challenging her philosophy whether or not his existence is important because it’s right versus her true feelings. Conflict is unavoidable in our protagonist. Much like newcomers to this universe we become involved in our protagonist journey uncertain in her decisions to accept the world created for her. Its major draw and best benefactor are the characters. Filled with interesting personalities and strong interactions (with few moments of humor) can make the film’s most complicated moments easy to follow. Never does the film remain simple just like its characters dilemmas creating multiple layers in what otherwise who would been a basic sci-fi love story. Just like its characters, the narrative chooses what it believes is the best possible outcome that when reaching the ending that nicely wraps its story adding more depth and significance to what unfolds on screen.

Animation style while nothing outstanding or visually impressive is all solid in design. There’s no stiff animations to be found when characters move, small usage of CG is not a jarring distraction, and characters blend well with their backgrounds instead of sticking out. Sets are common everyday places like an apartment or laundromat while not exciting are detailed. The same attention given to detailing the characters is noticeable in what they wear and what they interact with. Meshing well with everything instead of overlapping. Asami Imai is the definite standout among the cast. Sure it helps that she voices the main protagonist, but at the same time exert an emotional yet restraint performance in her character. Making her difficult to read and just as captivating as the character she voices. Other voice actors Saori Goto, Kana Hanazawa, Yu Kobayashi, Mamoru Miyano, and many others receive little to medium screen time. Some won’t of the voice talent won’t have an expanded performance, but nonetheless are great in their roles regardless of size. Music on the other hand works is decent with only the ending credit track standing out in the film. Its sounds are ambient setting the tone serving better its narrative more than just exposition from scenes to scenes.

Stein;Gate the Movie: The Burden of Deja Vu is a difficult film to understand, but easy to get behind with strong characters and tight narrative that keeps the focus among its many layers of complex ideas. It’s not a film for everyone not because of its complex nature, but depends on the viewer exposure to the source material. While some events won’t connect to newcomers as it will for fans one thing it does well enough is work as a stand alone film. Containing strong characters, a deep philosophy, solid animation, and tying everything up for a animated film that narratively aims highs and reaches greatness.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Koto no ha no niwa (Garden of Words) (2013)

Animation have brought to life realms far from our own grasps, but never far enough they are unrelatable from our very own. Director Makoto Shinkai vision mirrors reality from the architecture of the city to the foliage of a park with no shortage of details. Garden of Words mirrors a live action film in production in all area capturing the real world in detailed animation with the support of strong writing makes it visually arresting as narratively engaging.

Garden of Words is about Takao meeting a mysterious woman, Yukino, without arranging the times, the two start to see each other again and again, but only on rainy days. At it most basic level Garden of Words tells nothing more than a simple story of two lost souls; however, what is gain is a clear understanding of both characters lives and what they strive for. It’s hard to imagine the film going into much territory with a forty-six minute runtime, but succeeds in every area that makes any good narrative have a lasting impact. It doesn’t skipped on character development even interweaving a greater meaning giving depth to the rain as a character as well to the changes in the environments. Characters are more complicated than the story being told. Looking beyond the limitations of society sets on them, motivation to fulfill one’s dream, and overcoming boundaries set to them by society. Beyond that is another interpretation showing the beauty of everyday life to the smallest interaction around us. Nothing is ever lost in its story maintaining focus and complicated characters action are always concentrated towards benefiting the narrative. Under an hour Garden of Words story has the key elements that makes up a good story regardless of it length leaves a big impression.

Makoto Shinkai lush imagery connects a delicately rendered urban landscape, one in which the daily grind of everyday life and the regular changing of the seasons appear breathtakingly beautiful. Vivid colors, lush and deep dark shades, crystalline highlights bring the sceneries to life. Combining hand-drawn animation, rotoscoping, and seamless CGI effects. Shinkai consistently sustains a dreamlike, otherworldly mood throughout with a direction more in line of that of a live action film. For example, when it comes to editing he compresses time, flashes back to multiple points, and creates montages in a way that just isn’t done in the medium very often. The soundtrack top-notch mixing is spacious, with clear dialogue in the central channel and carefully crafted atmospheric sound effects around the edges (especially noticeable during the rain shower sequences). Diasuke Kashiwa’s lovely, contemplative musical score is also well-integrated with the rest of the soundtrack. Voice acting is equally as strong with the rest of production.

Garden of Words is a visual poem that hits all the right narrative notes and personal chords to be taken by its artistic majesty. Visually stunning and with a equaling involving story work in harmony for an animated film that accomplishes the same than most films do with double the run time. Proving no great film is too short or too long, but the perfect length to leave a lasting impression.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (2004) Review

I’ve never been big on the whole Anime craze even when Dragon Ball Z was at the height of it popularity. So my friend recommended me this movie, though it may have it flaws I found the overall movie to be a blast.

Naruto Uzumaki the ninja-in-training knuckle-headed and his team are sent on a mission to guard Yukie Fujikaze, a popular actress. Now since I haven’t seen the show or read the Magma, I can’t tell you if the story lives up to those works. What I can tell you it has a good story, though I found myself laughing unintentionally in some serious scenes. It works, though I did find the movie to be focusing to much on Naruto and not enough on the other characters, especially the villains.

I know good action when I see it, but it hard for me to actually behind animated action sequences since they don’t have the same feel. That’s a good thing in this case, what special effects can’t do in action an animated format can. For the most the part the action is fast for most of the fights. One spectacular moment I enjoyed allot was the iced-whale attacked or whatever it was called, was definitely one of the best scene i’ve ever seen animated.

I’ll recommend Naruto The Movie: Ninja Clash In the Land of Snow for anyone not familiar with the Naruto series. Though it may be a flawed animated movie, it’s still worth a watch.

7/10