& We Shall Praise Eternal His Glorious Return! – Miyazaki comes out of retirement (kinda)

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After having pulled the trick before, Miyazaki announces that he is coming out of retirement to make more animation!

Kinda.

Sorta.

Not really. . .

Miyazaki, known for his dislike for computer generated images in his works, has announced that he is working on a 10 minute 3D animation to be screen at the Studio Ghibli Museum with a possible public release after that.

The production, despite only lasting 10 minutes, is expected to take 3 years to make.

In the mean time, Studio Ghibli has had the director of the criminally underrated When Marnie Was Here Hiromasa Yonebayashi has returned to the company to make his next feature film. They are also co-producing a new featured called The Red Turtle with a European animation company.

Studio Ghibli has also teamed up once against with Japanese game company Level-5 to produce a sequel to the fantastic but flawed J-RPG Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch from 2011, simply called Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom due out this year on the PS4.

Check out the trailer here:

 

In the meantime, we hope that Miyazaki will grace us with another full length feature, even though The Wind Rises was a great film to finish on.

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The Modern Old-Fashion – Anime Critique: Sanzoku no Musume Ronya

Ronia_the_Robber's_Daughter_anime,_promo_imageTitle: Sanzoku no Musume Ronya (Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Ronja Rövardotter)
Format: TV series
Genre: historical, comedy, drama, family life, light fantasy
Series Creator:  Astrid Lindgren
Series Director: Goro Miyazaki
Studio: Polygon Pictures with assistance from Studio Ghibli
Series length: 26 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 11, 2014 – March 28, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Ronja, the only child of a bandit chief, grows up among a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands of early-Medieval Scandinavia. When Ronja grows old enough she ventures into the forest, exploring and discovering its wonders and dangers like the mystical creatures that dwell there. She learns to live in the forest through her own strength, with the occasional rescue by her parents. Ronja’s life begins to change, however, when she happens upon a boy her own age named Birk, who turns out to be the son of the rival clan chief.


Critique:

I am pretty much in two minds over this series but one thing that I am utterly certain about is that is has the worst opening theme I have heard in simply forever. It basically sounds like the themes from the late 70’s anime that I saw as dubbed repeats when I was a kid (in the 80’s). The entire series seems to be harkening back to those early colour anime in terms of it’s art & themes yet doing in such a modernist fashion.

The mish-mash of art styles is what really bothered me about the series.

With the characters being modern cell-shaded CGI & the backgrounds being lovingly hand drawn.

Note the contrast of art styles in Ronja & the background
Note the contrast of art styles in Ronja & the background

It seems that the CGI has bothered a lot of the audience, because people came to the series through the idea that it was entirely a Studio Ghibli production & it would stick to Miyazaki Hayao’s hand drawn styles. I too thought that but knowing it was directed by Miyzaki’s son, Goro (of Tales From Earthsea infamy) I had figured that it Ghibli didn’t have their hand completely within the production once I saw the CGI -which was confirmed by some basic research.

I’ve honestly never cared much for the sort of cell-shaded CGI that they use in anime these days. It really didn’t work in Knights of Sidonia & it only works a little bit better here.

What I think really bothers me is that it can never capture the subtle motions of the mouth & eyes, rendering some expressions way too close to the Uncanny Valley for my liking. Other broader expressions it can do well, but when they try to do delicate or joyous smiles, the faces really look fake & freaky.

In contrast to CGI characters, you have these amazingly details background. The forest is exceptionally beautiful with how they’ve drawn the littlest bit of moss or gotten the mushrooms just right for the season. It must’ve taken so much work to get it looking so good & it truly speaks to the craftmanship that Studio Ghibli is famous for. Part of me really wishes that the entire series was drawn in such detail but then it probably would’ve pushed the production time & cost way out of reach of any return profit.

Ronja & the bandits nightly revels.
Ronja & the bandits nightly revels.

Despite my gripes with the graphics & the opening theme, the series itself is very solid. It’s a tried & true forum, based on a classic Swedish children’s fantasy novel –Ronja Rövardotter by Astrid Lindgren, who is most famous for creating Pippi Longstocking (which she refused to allow Miyazaki Hayao & Takahata Isao to adapt in the 1970’s, possibly because she was xenophobic). The story is genuinely like the European story adaptations that I grew up watching on ABC in the 80’s, but that’s mainly because it is adapting an old story in a very similar way.

The basic themes of it are about over coming preconceived prejudices, maturing & learning that your parents are fallible as well as dealing with the dangers of live al whilst having an adventure. These are the most fundamental staples of any classic children’s story, ones that have been seen in anime from the 1960’s & 70’s hundreds of times but still used to great effect in Sanzoku no Musume Ronya.

The central protagonist of Ronja (also spelt Ronya & Ronia) is smart, fearly & a touch precocious. Utterly spoilt by her father Mattis & his band of robbers for being the only child born to their clan (which I genuinely find strange, since it’s never mentioned why Mattis & his wife Lovis never had or tried to have other children). One the night that she is born, a bolt of lightning strikes Mattis’ fortress, splitting it in two -causing the bandits to abandon the other half. As Ronja grows, she is influenced by her Lovis’ wisdom, Old Pelle’s cunning & Mattis’ hatred of the rival band of robbers led by his former childhood friend, Borka.

In fact, the two rival bands often clash over robbery targets in the forest but whilst Mattis is completely gaga over baby Ronja, Borka also begins to disappear back to his hideout at odd times before robberies -confusing the few in Mattis’ band with wits enough to notice.

As Ronja grows, she’s allowed to explore the forest under certain conditions -such as returning before nightfall- but she’s granted utter freedom whilst she’s outside of the fortress. This often means that she has to deal with the mystical creatures of the forests -such as the beautiful yet evil harpies (face of women, bodies of birds)- relying on nothing but her wits. This all changes when she encounters a boy on the abandoned side of the fortress, who turns out to be Birk Borkason -Borka’s only son, born moments after Ronja was, when the lightning bolt split the fortress in twain. Because she has only learnt about the world from her father & the other robbers, she’s first hateful of Birk, challenging him to contests, but the boy is far more open minded then her yet goes along with her challenges because he’s still pretty smug about things.

The harpies cause many viewers to have the weirdest boners.
The harpies cause many viewers to have the weirdest boners.

From that point on, the relationship between Ronja & Birk becomes the crux of the series. As it goes from hatred to curiousity to kinship & eventually a form of love. The catalysts for how it begins to change is routed in Europe folklore, mixed with some Japanese ideas of what that is. Primarily it’s Ronja almost falling victim to the Other Folk (pretty much elves or fae), who try to spirit her away (a common theme in almost all folklore across the world, probably connected with murderous paedophiles kidnapping children) but Birk holds her back until their spell wares off. Her also helps her against the Harpies of the forest -large eagles with the face of beautiful women but are spitefully & violently jealous of anything prettier or more interesting then them -which is namely Ronja & Birk.

Hey, gurl, I've come to charm your pants off.
Hey, gurl, I’ve come to charm your pants off.

Keeping the traditional folktale elements in the story does really enrich the narrative, because they represent forces beyond the children that they must confront & overcome (or at least watch in wonder). For example there are the owl-like Grey Dwarves, who love to terrorise humans but will run away as soon as they see that the human is not afraid of them. Ronja’s encounter with them & subsequent rescue by her father shows her that no matter how scared she may be, she can’t show it less she begins to panic. They are basic moral lessons that don’t beat the audience over the head but they are still well done for the most part.

The folktale morality also plays into the familial relationships but not in the way that a Christian morality tale would -with the parents always being right & a child suffering until they learn this. In the story, Mattis is a super-strong man child whose emotional reactions are always out of proportion with the situation & his physical reactions always too extreme. He wants Ronja to remain his ever loving little girl but his behaviour means that Ronja sees him as fallible & not a source of childhood pride. Lovis is strong & stoic dealing with this side of her husband, letting Ronja grow at her own pace & make her own mistakes, even if it causes Mattis to have a temper tantrum. Similar, the other bandits are all pretty much over grown men-children, with the exception of Pelle, who is a cunning old trickster who wants a better life for Ronja outside of being forced to become a bandit.

In the end, this a very old fashioned story that is so in the vein of Miyazaki Hayao’s work. In that it has strong female characters, is about maturation & moving away from being the person your parents are combined with accepting those who are different from you or supposed to be your enemies, so you can approach them with friends &, eventually, love. It is not as though Goro is trying to ape his father’s narrative style but rather he is demonstrating the inherent power of this classic, non-agendarised moral style of storytelling. Ronja is empowered but vulnerable, only able to grow but realising that she can rely on other people. It’s also about the fallibility of parents, in that they are not an absolute authority who must be followed unquestioningly (maybe Goro is working out his own paternal issues with that). Rather they make mistakes & can do great harm -even if unintentionally- because they are human & prone to misjudgement & overbourne emotion.

Whilst the series does drag at points & the CGI animation does detract, it’s still the perfect series for a family to watch. It’s great entry level anime & am I’m surprised that the English dub hasn’t been rushed forward. For every misstep the show makes, it amends in other ways. If you are craving an anime that isn’t about sexy superpowered ninja cyborg magical girls fighting angelic demons who transform into foxes (all the anime cliches!), then I highly recommend this series.

the moe factor in CGI
the moe factor in CGI

ZOMG! Hyped over this announcement! Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō (Everyday Life with Monster Girls) anime coming soon.

1st manga cover of Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō

Even though it does epitomises everything that I can’t stand about Japanese media -in terms of hypersexualisation, harem comedies & the enforcement of gender roles- I can’t helped but adore he manga Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō because it takes such clichéd tropes & subverts them by making all the female characters into cute monsters, vying for the affection of a constantly put upon nice guy, in the form of Kimihito.

The manga is surprisingly sweet & funny, despite all the nudity & adult situations (you can tell that the mangaka Okayado started off making porn -monster girl porn!), so was stoked to find out today that there will be an anime adaptation coming in July.

Here’s the PV of it:

It might just be the worst anime ever, more so with all the fan service & hypersexualisation, but I’m already a fan, so am looking forward to seeing what they do with it (& to see how they’ll censor it as well).

Revenge is cute – anime critique: Shirobako

Shirobako_Promotional_PosterTitle: Shirobako
Format: tv anime
Genre: slice of life, satire, comedy, drama
Series Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Studio: Warner Entertainment Japan P.A.Works
Series length: 24
Original Airing dates: October 9, 2014 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

The story follows a group of five best friends, Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Misa Todo, and Midori Imai, who all go into the anime industry after their experiences in the animation club of their high school. The series depicts the daily troubles and hardships the five experience in their respective jobs, as well as their efforts to overcome them, largely focusing on Aoi and her fellow staff at animation studio Musashino Animation as they work on two anime television series.


Critique:

Whoever wrote & created this series was doing three things:

1: show a fanciful yet realistic depiction of what goes into creating anime by showing the drama, tension & creative issues behind the scenes of an animation studio.

2: pack in as many references to their favourite series, creators, directors & artists as they could by altering their names & general depictions but still letting the audience know who & what they are talking about.

& 3: getting revenge on people by depicting various characters as incompetent idiots or selfish, lazy or generally scumbags. Truly, the people behind this series are taking the opportunity to put the boot into as many people as they feel fucked them over during the careers -from uncooperative authors to over-confident but useless P.A.s, artists who can’t meet deadlines & directors too wrapped up in themselves to be able to finish anything.

All three points are references heavily throughout the series & that just makes it an utter joy to watch -especially the depictions of people as feckless to get revenge on someone. Brilliant!

I truly adored this series, knowing nothing about it when I started watching it.

Like so many comedy-dramas, it’s about people finding their goals in life & working towards their dreams but unlike so many other series out there, Skirobako focusses not on teenagers overcoming the struggles of adolescence into maturity but rather on the daily struggles of young women -either at university or have graduated from it- as they try to realise what they want from life & deal with whatever obstacles may get in their way.
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Like so many protagonists in such series, Miyamori Aoi is indecisive about what she really wants to do with her life. Her love of anime lead her, along with most of her friends from her high school anime society, into a job in the animation industry but she’s unsure if she has the ability or passion to move beyond being a simple Production Assistant. This lack of confidence extends over to her 4 friends as well; with Ema questioning whether she has the talent for drawing animation; if Misa should stick with a secure job in 3D graphic design or take risk with an unsecure job; Midori wandering what it takes to be a writer; & Zuka fretting over if she should continue trying to be a voice actress after so many failed auditions.

The questions of confidence & ability extend into the extremely extensive supporting cast. With many characters questioning if they have the talent to be working in the animation industry whilst others, like the exceedingly & purposely annoying Takanashi, being over confident in their utter lack of ability or understand. Yet Takanashi, despite all his many many many annoying (many) traits, has a dream that he wants to achieve & sticks to his guns no matter how useless he is.

The recurring themes of confidence, talent & ability -whether natural or practised- is a constant within anime & manga. This is often depicted that those who have a natural talent for something as being inherently superior because they don’t have to work at anything, where in reality it is always the opposite. With those working hard to get better often being more talented than those for whom it comes naturally because they often get bored with the lack of challenge.

Upon the surface, Shirobako seems to fall into the former camp of praising the naturally talented but in fact the series goes on to show that those whom people proclaim to be “geniuses” or naturally talented in fact worked, struggled & fretted over their own abilities & talents to reach where they are. The use of the term -& characters whom embody- genius is used in the show to demonstrate how people can be dismissive of others &/or themselves for not fitting moulds that they don’t understand. More so if someone outside of the specific field judges everyone by the standards of whom they consider a genius yet are entirely ignorant of what goes into achieving any success in that field.
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Which is, in turn, another major conceit of the series. That is: exploring (almost) every facet of creating anime.

The series delves into the many roles & jobs that goes into making a TV anime series, even down to the most obscure & seemingly perfunctory ones. That is because, in the creator’s mind, every role in the series is important. Which the director Kinoshita keeps saying to every member of the production team; that they specifically are the most important part of the series they are creating. & to show the importance of pretty much every job in the animation industry, they feature an exceptionally large cast of characters; many of whom make a single appearance & then aren’t seen again until the final episode. Which is actually fine, because they exist to explain what their actual jobs are or to make references to past techniques, productions or figures involved in animation.

Complimenting this job are Aoi’s two imaginary figures -her goth loli doll Mimuji and her bear Roro (Lolo)- who act as Aoi’s subconscious. They’re function is to work through the dilemma or stress that Aoi has or explain to the audience the various tasks that Aoi is doing. The flashback to how they came about as figments of Aoi’s imagination is very cute, basically involving her older sister using them to talk to Aoi whenever she felt stressed or depressed.

In fact, the turns of imagination are some of the best parts, such as when Kinoshita envisions himself flying or enacting parts of one the two series he directs. Better yet is when the series forgets reality entirely & throws in one of the best Ryu from Street Fighter references that has ever been!
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The arc of the series encompasses Aoi’s life as she works at an animation studio, Musashino Animation, that is trying to regain it’s former glory after a string of failures. Likewise, the overweight & emotionally immature Kinoshita is trying to regain confidence after his last anime series Boing Boing Paradise (a reference to hypersexualised fan service mega-breasted anime like Eiken) but is constantly reminded of his failures & falls into slumps of laziness & depression. Similarly, most staff or external workers for the company all have their own issues that they are trying to overcome in order not to lose face. Or, like Takanashi, are completely lazy, over-confident or shirking their work to do other things.

It's not fan service if it's mocking fan service.
It’s not fan service if it’s mocking fan service.

The series begins with a perfect tribute to Initial D, as Aoi races to beat a rival animation studio PA from recruiting a freelance animator Segawa Misato. This is important because Musashino Animation are trying to regain their reputation with a new original anime, Exodus (a reference to Magical Girl idol anime stuff) & goes into details the struggles with writing, getting people onside & the daily grind of animation production; all whilst Aoi & her 4 friends try to figure out what they want to do.

The 2nd arc is Musashino Animation, having gotten kudos for their work on Exodus, managing to score the rights to adapt a highly sort after manga, The Third Girls Aerial Squad. This shows Aoi being promoted to the head of the Production Desk (basically, running all the day to day operations & managing the other Production Assistants as well as liaising with & recruiting other freelance workers). This arc goes into more depth of the politics involved when dealing with other creators, publishers & sponsors -all of whom want to control or add their own little bits or do what they want because it will make their companies look better. It really shows the struggle with trying to please everyone but stay true to your own artistic vision. Couple with individual characters personal struggles.
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The characters are truly what makes it work, even with such an extensive cast. They all have their distinct visual styles & personalities as well as little quirks.

This is very much a moé series with touches of hypersexualisation. Yet these are not for fan service but rather referencing how fan service is used. A few of the female characters are really sexy but they are not sexualised. They are not lingered upon or ogled by the camera. Their beauty is there as part of the moé experience. All of the characters are designed to be cute or interesting in some way; each with their own visual signature or clothing style but are dressed differently episode to episode -for the most part that is.

Over all, the quality of the animation is superb. With vibrant colours, clear lines & very well rendered action. It even throws back to more classic styles of animation when they flash back to a past series such as Anders Chucky (kinda like Kimba the White Lion or other similar cute animal series from the 70’s). It even through complete Gundam & Neon Genesis Evangelion reference in for good measure, even using their animation styles for the posters & back ground clips playing on things. A lot of love has gone into the designs & animation, making sure you know who is who & what is going on -even as they mix in the meta-series that they are working on (both with their own unique styles). The series even goes into detail about how CGI is used in modern anime series & how this can cause conflict with those who wish to be more traditional.
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In the end, this is a series with so very few faults. I utterly adored it. Finding it clever, touching & exceedingly funny. There are so many references & great moments buried within it that it bears watching again & again if you can. I do wish that I could talk about it more, but that would just spoil all the little things that you’ll pick up in it. Some characters are designed to really piss you off (Takanashi primarily but there are others too) but once you realise this was someone getting their revenge on people who had pissed them off, it makes the series all the more greater!

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As we to are consumed. . . – Anime Critique: Tokyo Ghoul √A

tumblr_nhvkj43FWj1rzlvy0o1_500Title: Tokyo Ghoul √A (Tokyo Ghoul Root A)
Format: TV anime
Genre: horror, psychological, action
Series Creator: Sui Ishida
Series Director: Shuhei Morita
Studio:
Series length: 12
Original Airing dates: January 8, 2015 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format:


Synopsis:

Kaneki has been broken by Jason’s torture, reverting to a feral mentality before devouring large parts of Jason. After rescuing the friends sent to rescue him, Kaneki leaves Anteiku (Antique) to join with the enemy, Aogiri Tree. Why has Kaneki suddenly abandoned his friends, both human & ghoul alike? Why did he join with those who conspired to have him tortured & killed? Did Aogiri Tree’s torture kill the person Kaneki once was or does he have his own motivations for joining with them?


Critique:

Just going to get this out of the way first by talking about the last (episode & series’ critique): Tokyo Ghoul has a terrible problem with endings. It either ends in the wrong spot or just doesn’t end properly. Case in point being, that the first episode of this series should’ve actually have been the last episode of the 1st series & the last episode of this series gives zero resolution what-so-ever to the events of TG√A.

Now, one reason for this is that the franchise has become a huge money spinner, with several manga & Light Novels out now & a sequel manga currently in print, so they are trying to milk it all for what it’s worth. Unfortunately this means there is a cop out with the ending which throws us (unknowingly) into a Time Skip in the coda.

The other issue, off the bat, is that the series doesn’t actually go anywhere & is fairly muddled in it’s arc & motivations.

It doesn’t know where it wants to go or what questions it wants to answer, so it sets up all these threads without heading towards any resolution. This is especially true as to Kaneki’s motivations for joining Aogiri, the other half ghouls who appear & are never mentioned again & the motivations of the One Eyed Owls.
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This in & of itself isn’t a terrible thing, because everything that made the last series great still remains, but if you made the mistake of reading the manga, you’re going to be very very disappointed with the direction the anime went.

The two media forms are different during the first few mini-arcs that comprised the first series but they are nothing alike once Kaneki is captured by Aogiri Tree. This at least means that you get value in watching one & reading the other but it also means that they insert characters & ideas into the anime that they have no intention of resolving -primary to this is the notion of the half ghouls & their creation.

Yet, despite the muddled & unresolved nature of TG√A, I genuinely enjoyed it as a whole.

This is because it still resolves around the idea of what makes a human.

Is it simple biology or is it something deeper within the soul -like grief, compassion & love?

If that is true, than many of the Anti-Ghoul Investigators are no longer human because of how they revel in killing ghouls. Whilst many ghouls are more human because, despite their predatory natures, bond with each other & do everything to protect those whom they perceive as family.

At this intersection stands Kaneki. Who has been transformed -physically & psychologically since the last series.
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After being shown the horrors capable by those who possess power (both on the ghoul & CCG sides), he knows that he needs greater strength in order to protect those whom he cares about but staying by their side will result in them all getting hurt by those who seek to use him for their own ends.

This goes some way as to why he joined with Aogiri Tree, despite all Anteiku ghouls risked to rescue him. That is because Aogiri Tree are the means for him to get stronger as he devours other ghouls (a taboo in ghoul culture as well as being basically disgusting due to the taste of ghoul flesh to a ghoul) but because if he sides with them, Aogiri tree no longer have a reason (at least in his mind) to battle Anteiku.

Yet, muddled motivations are the order of the day, as Aogiri Tree go out of their way to send their grunt members to die in useless attacks against CCG facilities, such as the ghoul super-prison, but once that’s done, the ghouls whom they release are pretty much never mentioned or seen again. Same as the spectre of Rize -the ghoul whose organs inhabit Kaneki’s body. So many ghouls smell her on him & are driven into a frenzy to kill Kaneki but you’re never told or shown why Rize is so hated/lusted after by so many different ghouls all over Tokyo.
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At least what is made clear is the development & motivations of some of the other characters, who had kinda been shunted off to the background for a bit in the last series.

You really get to see the lives & histories of some of the CCG members & why many of them have such incredible hatred of ghouls (usually involving friends & family being murdered by them). Amon’s background gets fleshed out, when it’s revealed that he was an orphan in a Catholic orphanage but instead of being molested by the head priest, the head priest was actually a ghoul who ate the other orphaned children but spared Amon for some unknown reason. This gives background to why Amon is so fixated on destroying ghouls who kill parents, wilfully ignoring that he’s destroyed entire ghoul families himself -which then creates ghouls who are more vicious towards humans for having their parents murdered by the CCG.
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The twisted little stitched up freak Juzo gets a lot more development; being shown as once being an orphan who was adopted by a female ghoul who used to torture him so he’d kill humans for her as part of the gourmet rituals (that we saw in the first series with Kaneki being a potential victim). He was broken over & over again but was eventually rescued by the CCG, who saw the potential in his talent for murder. He ultimately seeks a parental figure, whom he finds in Shinohara, who treats the fucked up boy with genuine affection despite him being so mentally unbalanced.

We’re also introduced to some new characters this season. Such as Mado’s daughter, Akira, who is every bit as efficient & driven as her father but not as twisted in obsession. Yet she’s lacking in any true emotion, instead preferring to act like a machine & keep her co-workers at a distance. Naturally, this means Amon, who feels responsible for her because he was her father’s last partner, tries to get close to her but she still blames him for her father’s death, so their relationship exists in a form of impasse where they don’t know how & what they really feel for & about each other.

This exploration of character & motivation is great, even if some of it doesn’t go anyway, but what is ultimately rewarding is seeing the original nature of some of the characters whom you thought that you knew.

My favourite being the Anteiku ghouls Enji & Irimi.

Enji is often seen as a useless braggart, claiming that he was once referred to as “the Demon Ape” but is often fobbed off by his colleagues as being an idiot. In the final arc of the series, it’s shown that all he said was true & he more than lived up to his reputation for brutality.

Same with the older sister figure of Irimi, who is often seen as a mentor to the younger female ghouls but was once the most brutal & cold hearted ghoul leader, Black Dober (as in Doberman but is more of an Egyptian jackal in mask shape).

The contrast between these two periods of being is held together by the extreme contrasts in the personal history of their manager & leader, Yoshimura, from whom almost the entirety of events within both series first came.

You also get introduced to other random ghouls & CCG characters, many of whom work amazingly well on screen despite having such a short time upon it. This just shows the power of the writing & performances as well trying to give each character a sense of action & presence upon the screen.

The visuals remain amazing & vibrant but the broadcast version still has the heavy darkening censorship to obscure the scenes of extreme violence. Despite that, the series does well with its visual allegories to bring contrast & juxtaposition of states of being for the characters as well as the under currents of their mental states. He action is also crisp & sharp, never leaving you wondering what’s going on -even when intentionally obscured. This is proved in the final all out battle of the last few episodes, where the screen is cluttered with action but is never as muddled as the plot.

Again, this is a brilliant & well rendered series that still suffers some annoying faults in terms of motivations & narrative but it’s still worth watching. The lack of closure & direct implication of there being a series (which will be called Tokyo Ghoul :re after the Time Skip manga). The juxtaposition of the anime with the manga is still fitting & they are rushing both out for official Western release, so you have no excuses to avoid either -unless, of course, you’re being eaten by a ghoul or something.

kcktv4

Who Judges the Judges? – anime critique: Death Parade

DeathparadevisualTitle: Death Parade
Format: TV anime
Genre: drama, supernatural, philosophical
Series Creator: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Series Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Studio: Madhouse
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 9, 2015 – March 27, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Whenever two people on Earth die at the same time, they are sent to one of many mysterious bars run by bartenders serving as arbiters. There, they must participate in Death Games with their lives on the line, the results of which reveal what secrets led them to their situation and what their fate will be afterwards, with the arbiters judging if their souls will either be sent for reincarnation or banished into the void. The series follows Decim, the lone bartender of the Quindecim bar, whose role in judging these souls changes when he meets a curious black-haired woman.


Critique:

In my review of Isshuukan Friends from so long ago, I mentioned the condition of “the kick that never comes”, wherein you’re expecting the worst but it’s that’s expectation that causes you to suffer rather than the eventual happening (such as a kick) itself. In Death Parade, we very much have the opposite phenomenon because we are lulled into expecting something more light hearted & fun, only to be hit by the heavy club of the Human Condition.

One reason for that is the excellent & upbeat opening theme Flyers by J-rockers, Bradio.

Such an exciting, joyous song can’t help but lead your expectations of this serious into believing that it is what it’s not. & that theme does it every week.

What we expected is an entertaining look at human nature as people play games against each other but what we get is an exploration of the darkest recesses of the soul as inhuman Arbiters deconstruct all that it means to be human in order to judge where they go in the afterlife.

PARTY TIME TRICKERY!!!
PARTY TIME TRICKERY!!!

This is what makes the series so powerful & so masterful, because it utterly twists our expectations. You never know what’s coming or how things will resolve. It’s not afraid to truly hit you right in your emotional centre yet it’s not melancholy or brooding. Blending the harsh with the humourous is also what makes the series so great, as well as bringing unexpected characters & scenarios. Like Akame ga Kiru! it brings a delicate balancing act & delivers the unexpected & the brutal without flinching yet is not afraid to be introspective on the subject of life & death.

Unflinching truly is the watch-word of this series because even though it looks at them in a hyperbolic fashion, it doesn’t shy away from the subjects of murder & suicide, especially what drives individuals to commit both. Yet, despite the trappings of the series, it doesn’t really judge those who commit the latter as somehow being defective. Rather it looks at individuals who inflict that final wound upon their mortality as people who have somehow lost their ability to perceive the world & those around them. They are not broken or pathetic people, they merely suffer from a misconception of themselves, their lives & what it truly means to live.

Each episode deals with this differently & is done in a fairly neutral, almost passive, perspective.

That is because the main protagonist, Decim -like all other Arbiters- is a construct solely built to judge the lives of humans through various means. Primarily is hiding the fact that they are dead from them and then attempting to induce enough psychological stress that it “exposes the darkest recesses of their souls”.

"Welcome, valued customer"
“Welcome, valued customer”

Here in I have my only real problem with the series.

Without being explicit, the series seems to be based on a Japanese Buddhist version of the Afterlife, where souls are sent to various Arbiters to be judged based upon the deeds that they invoked during their mortal years. If they have found to have lived a life worthy of redemption, they are sent to be reinacarnated. If they display evil in their intentions (especially to their judges), they are sent to actually oblivion -an eternal void with nothing but their consciousness to suffer until they repent & are revoked back to Samsara. This is very much a hang over from early A.D. Daoism that arrived in Japan with the first waves of Chinese people who displayed the original aboriginal populations. There are also other references to Buddhist mythology, as Decim recounts the story of a Bodhisatva (a Buddhist version of a saint) who saves a spider & when he is sent to Hell by a demon wishing to know the Buddha’s secrets, the spider sends him a thread to pull him & guide him home. There are hints that Decim is possibly that spider, with his threads & inclinations, yet nothing is ever explicit about it being a Buddhist or even a truly religious form of Afterlife, yet it still has so many trapping of judgement gods & the living wishing punishment beyond the grave -which ties into the only punishments being reincarnation or oblivion.

Now, despite being a proper indoctrinated Buddhist (meaning that I belong to a real temple & have taken oaths of faith) I have no truck with Buddhist Afterlife & Reincarnation doctrine. It has no real logic to it & stories of how karma & Afterlife judgement make no sense what-so-ever.

Yet this is something that the creators of the series seem to think too -after a fashion. As Decim begins to question his role as an Arbiter & what it means for the unhuman to judge the lives of mentally & emotionally complex creatures such as humans when they cannot even begin to fathom their experiences & motivations.

To this end, Decim is introduced to the mysterious “Black-haired Woman” (how she’s referred to in the credits), a human who wasn’t judged & remains in the Afterlife. She acts a bit like Jiminy Cricket to Decim’s Pinocchio -providing him with a human perspective & a form of conscience as he pushes the visits to his level of the Afterlife -the bar-longue Quindecim- to their emotional extremes.

At least she's prettier than Jiminy.
At least she’s prettier than Jiminy.

This relationship seems to be the creation of the cunning, Nona, the supervisor of the Tower that consists the Afterlife. She’s often seen pushing a plan or agenda, at which lies the Black-haired Woman & the taciturn Decim as they push their customers (the dead) to play games within Quindecim by saying it’s for their very lives (because they are unaware that they are actually dead).

Nona near facepalm I think.
Nona near facepalm I think.

It is their games that are the crux of each episode that features them. For seem so mundane yet are twisted in a way they are create physical & emotional pain in those who are forced to play them.

This is demonstrated in the first episode, where a newly married couple are forced to play a game of darts but each section of the board is linked with an organ in their partners body. So if they score a hit, they inflict the other with incredible pain (which shouldn’t happen since they’re dead but the series does explain it very well). This means that if they truly love each other, they would intentionally lose in order not to inflict any further harm. But humans are seldom so simple or so noble & these games are designed to bring out the trauma surrounding their lives & deaths. Usually this involves rage at the indignation of their own mortality, so they lash out. In the case of the newlywed couple within the first episode, the husband suspects that his wife has been cheating on her, so willing inflicts pain on her -claiming it to be an accidentally- until she reveals something that is either the truth or a clever lie to save her from suffering at his hands.

"Ah! My spleen!"
“Ah! My spleen!”

Unfortunately, I think this series comes down heavy-handedly on the actions of women within it -especially a few either been seen as manipulative cheaters or utterly vile in other aspects. Yet that is not the entire truth of it, once Decim has the truths of human nature expounded to him by the Black-haired Woman. This seems to show the hypocrisy within society, as women are judged & condemned for acts that seem to be more able to get away with.

Though yet again, that is twisted around, as the series expands its roster of characters; introducing another Arbiter, Ginta, who has far more loathing for humanity & is less questioning about judging them. Almost relishing the punishment games that he gets to inflict upon them. Yet his perceptions of humanity is affected by his meeting with Maya, a seemingly delinquent high school student who is utterly devoted to the male popstar Harada -whom she ends up in Ginta’s Viginti with. Harada thinks that he can manipulate Maya into losing for him but she wants to impress him. When they are put into what they perceive to be a life threatening situation, Maya chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Harada, who, in turn, remembers part of the events leading to his death -the suicide of one of his many short term lovers- & doesn’t want anyone else to die because of him.

This isn’t seen as nobility, but rather a form of self-satisfaction, that both Maya & Harada can actually find meaning in & redemption for their lives within these possibly final acts. Yet in doing so, they begin to challenges ingrained views of human nature, making him slowly question what & why he judges in the fashion that he does.

Parallel to these games is woven a subplot involving a story of children’s book, Chavvot, which is about a little boy trying to befriend a deaf girl & find the best way he can express his love for her & her eternal, optimistic (& creepy looking) smile. This is an allegory for how humans connection, which is an external subject within anime (if you watch enough of it really). The main trust for this series is how human’s connect with & understand each other -even if it seems impossible because all we can know is the tiny universe inside our own heads.

That’s the main drive for the Black-haired Woman’s plot & itself ultimate irony as well because she came to Quindecim through her inability to connection & understand other humans. Yet that is what she constantly pushes Decim to do. Making him question his own judgements as she forces him to understand the complexities of human existence & the impossibilities of knowing why people do & say what they do.

Unfortunately I found a huge part of her character arc spoilt by a tiny throw away reference in the opening credits, which is a huge pity because they tease it out so well over the course of the series. The climax of her arc is a genuine kick in the guts & evokes a lot of hard emotions & questions -which I applaud it for.

If I have one final complain about the series it is that there is not enough of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series, more than I have many others of late (or even recent years) & it seems that I was not the only one -as they rushed through the English dubbed production to match the series by a week or so of release.

This, in my opinion, is a good trend because it means that anime is reaching a wider market & being taken seriously by distributors in the West.

I genuinely hope that they have a 2nd series for this because, despite wrapping up a lot of it, they still have a lot to explore with the side characters who don’t get as much screen time as they deserve. There is also a lot to be explained about who really created & controls the tower of judgement, because it’s forever hinted that even those within who think that they are the masters are in fact the puppets of others.

There isn’t much more about it that I can say, so I shall leave you how the series left us every week. That is with the end theme, Last Theatre, by NoisyCell -which is quickly becoming one of my favourite songs.

This is a series that I cannot recommend highly enough because of how it attempts to explore the human condition & human connection, as well as the amazing visuals & stories that it has. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour & get a copy right away.

& so, without further adieu, here is the song:

Still failing its Social Links – Anime Critique: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream

Persona_3_The_Movie_2_Midsummer_Knight's_Dream_Promotional_PosterTitle: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream (Gekijoban Perusona 3 dai ni sho)
Format: movie
Genre: video game adaption, action, drama, mystery, supernatural
Series Creator: Altus
Series Director: Tomohisa Taguchi
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Original screening date: June 7, 2014 (Japan)
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Immediately following the events of the last film, Yuki Makoto and the rest of SEES team are making headway in their battle against the Shadows & the Dark Hour but 3 strangers with similar powers confront them, making them question whether or not they want to truly destroy the Dark Hour & give up all that makes them special.


Critique:

In my critique of the first film, I recall that I was fairly harsh with it because it lacked any proper development of scenario & characters, wasted potential, threw in too many aside references to the original games, et cetera. Well, the 2nd game pretty much does that but also adds in a ton more sexualised Fan Service for good measure.

Waiting for it to get good. Have Been here a while.
Waiting for it to get good. Have Been here a while.

That is being a little unfair, because the 2nd film does have more character development -especially for the Tabula rasa protagonist Yuki Makoto- as well as bringing other characters into the fold -such as the reluctant & angry Shinji & the broken young boy, Amada Ken. More importantly it introduced the protagonists of the 1st arc, Strega, to set up a sense of tension. It also brings in the other Tabula Rasa character, the combat gynoid Aegis, who’s raison d’etre is to be close to & protect Makoto, yet no one does not understand why.

Raison d’etre becomes the key theme for this film.

Why characters do what they do, what do they fight for, do they have any other meaning to their lives aside from wielding their Persona against the Shadows & so on & so forth.

Raison d’etre should not encapsulate a character as a whole but should form the basis from which they grow & change over the course of the story. They should question it; reflect upon it; fight those who challenge it; any number of things but all within the context of “why?” & “how?”.

Raped in your sleep by a gynoid. What a sad way to go.
Raped in your sleep by a gynoid. What a sad way to go.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie -like it’s predecessor- fails.

It sets up a few characters’ raison d’etre but it does not challenge or evolve them. It gets stuck at the stage of questioning reasons & motivations but it never moves passed them.

A less cynical critic might say that this is so they can push the character development in the next film but a cynic such as I will just say it’s a waste of potential.

This is because the movie already wastes so much potential & screen time by sticking the date formula & showing Makoto doing his Social Links in montage, when it could’ve been using the same amount of time actually developing the bonds & relationships between the characters & establishing their individual motivations -more so for Aegis & Makoto, who are hollow reflections of each other. You get some token development from Fuka, saying that hunting Shadows is all that she really has because her parents only care about her academically & you get a little from Junpei as he seeks to grow from being an idiot. Yukari also gets a brief moment on centre stage, as she comes to terms with her personal connection with the disaster which created the Dark Hour but all of those moments are rushed over for the sake of fitting into the time limit.

My main complaint & critique from the 1st film carries over in: in that these movies really should’ve been a 25 episode TV series. This meant you could stick to the rigid video game date formula but you also get character development.

Most of the development in this movie is for the newly introduced character of Amada Ken, the orphan boy who found that he can wander around the Dark Hour. His exploration is done in relation with & contrast to Shinji, who made an appearance in the 1st film as a former SEES member trying to escape his past. Ken & Shinji’s fates are intertwined because of the events that orphaned Ken & caused Shinji to leave the SEES but they really aren’t developed enough to have the emotional impact that the director seems to have been aiming for. Again: this is an issue with the format & trying to cram two entire character arc into a space of 50 or so minutes (the time the characters have in the film, not the total running time of it) instead of spreading it over 4 or 5 22-minute episodes.

That, in a nutshell, is still my greatest gripe about the film series as a whole. Since they stick to the game formula of following events & day, you either lose too much or connections & development just doesn’t happen. Makoto is still case in point although he has progressed more along then in the previous film, he still is a character who basically does nothing but everyone puts faith in. He’s the opposite of what Yu from Persona 4: The Animation became. Makoto still exists only as a player character but since we aren’t controlling him, we can’t invest ourselves in his struggle to understand his motivations & why he’d destroy the only thing that gives him a sense of connection to those around him. If you don’t give the audience something to understand & invest in, they won’t. Adding another blank character like Aegis doesn’t help because Makoto doesn’t use her as a reflection as should be the case.

The animation in this film is a touch better than the last but it’s still very murky & mucky to look at. This is partially because the majority of the action takes place either at night or during the Dark Hour -which twists things, giving them a festering alien feel to it. But it’s all for naughty if you can’t really see what’s going on. When you have something with scenes that dark, you need to have bright open scenes to perfect the juxtaposition of them, enhancing both. This is yet another critical failing of film. Of equal fail is the lack of clarity in the action scenes, where the combat becomes a bit of a mess. There are some nice individual battles, such as Aegis stepping in to save Makoto & Yukari from some Shadows but any group combat fails to look in any way good.

In the end, this second of I think 4 films makes so many missteps on top of failing to address the ones that it made with the previous film. It’s a huge let down for all but the most devoted fan but even they might find it a little disappointing after the bright, vivid glory of two Persona 4 anime series. It’s not a bad watch but terrible if you have any expectations for it what-so-ever.

LOOK AT THIS HAPPY WITTLE FACE! LOOK AT IT!!!
LOOK AT THIS HAPPY WITTLE FACE! LOOK AT IT!!!