It’s like Skyrim meets Shadow of the Colossus with a dash of Ghibli-esque whimsy: Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wind E3 trailer

The annual E3 gaming show is once again upon with it’s usual bombast, hype & leaks. I usually avoid most of the reporting around E3 related stuff because it tends to be your typical hype-train fuelled by pre-rendered cinematic trailers, short teasers & really really awkward presentations.

Yet something happened with this year’s expo, where each company listened to the complaints of their consumers & gave live demonstrations of their games to much rapturous applause (for some demos at least).

I tend not to care for most company’s announcement but I tend to like what Nintendo does.

This year it appears that they broke all expectations when they showed this. The gameplay trailer for the long awaited Zelda Wii U game.

This is a whole new direction for the long running franchise, that gives the player almost absolute freedom to explore -which includes being able to climb the landscape & monsters. It also introduces the ability to sneak up upon both prey & enemies. From the trailer & hands on from various gaming websites it appears that Link (for once actually coming pre-named) has to hunt & eat to regain health & get status boosts.

The freedom to explore leads to being able to tackle which ever dungeon you want when you can access -which appears to be through a magical book. This new gimmick also extends to using the book to create blocks to climb upon so you can solve puzzles as well as create objects to drop on enemies to reduce their number before ambushing.

Being a Wii U title, it comes with Amiibo connections, which goes back to the Wolf Link figure that was released with Twilight Princess. As seen in the video below.

The game is still set to be released next year & supposedly will also be the launch title for Nintendo’s mystery new console, currently referred to as the NX.

How this will impact the end product & it’s reception is al for speculation.

In my very unhumble opinion Nintendo should release the game in time for Christmas & give the Wii U one last great hurrah.

Regardless of which system it will be dominant on, the game remains utterly beautiful to look upon. It’s vast living landscapes & reactive AI might reinvigorate many Sandbox games but, again, it’s only speculation of a very, very invested fan.

Nothing really more to say except that I wanted to show the trailer & make a quick post before the next article goes up.

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

Hayao_Miyazaki

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.

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

Don’t panic! Studio Ghibli remains open!

Lots of Western geeks & otaku have been in a tither due to news that the animation temple of Japan, Studio Ghibli, confounded by the legendary Miyazaki Hayao, is either shutting its door or dropping film production in favour quicker, less expensive ventures such as television broadcast anime.
That is false.
Studio Ghibli is remaining open for the foreseeable future & continuing with several productions – including a new anime series, Robin the Bandit, from Miyazaki Goro, Hayao’s son, to screen later this year.
The rumour started based upon an overeager mistranslation of a television interview, where people interpreted the word “pause” for the term to cease or stop. Everything steamrolled from there, with geeks doing their typical thing if finding patterns & meaning where there is none by pouring over recent interviews with Miyazaki & other Ghibli staff combio with poor box office from recent Ghibli productions.
So, dry your tears, geeks everywhere, you still have one of your anime institution as well as the promise if future films -including ones written by Miyazaki himself.

animation-master-hayao-miyazaki-retires-from-feature-filmmaking-header

academic article: Miyazaki -life and legacy

Here is the completed and [heavily] edited version of the article on Miyazaki that I co-authored.

It’s not great but it’s a good first step on the road to more proper academic publication.

Please give any feedback if you do read.

http://theconversation.com/miyazakis-legacy-is-sure-to-live-on-whether-or-not-he-retires-23780

& So the Heart Doth Rise – anime critique: The Wind Rises by Miyazaki Hayao

Title: The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)
Genre: historical, magical realism, romance
Director: Miyazaki Hayao
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release: 2014 (Australia, 2013 in Japan)
Distro: Hopscotch & Madman

TWR MM
The 11th & possibly final film directed by the legendary auteur Miyazaki Hayao, The Wind Rises comes with the weight of a lot of expectation.

But does the film answer that expectation?

No, not for everyone.

If so, why would that be?

I personally feel that people approaching this film are expecting more of Miyazaki’s fantastic whimsical and magical stories, like My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away. Whereas the Wind Rises is a biography lashed with romance and dreamscapes. Many fans have felt as though this is, at least, a departure &, at worst, a betrayal of their love of & expectations from him. But if they approach the film as a beautiful melodrama with touches of the phantasmal, then they should find it most acceptable.

What the film is, is an indulgence.

It is an unrepentant ode to Miyazaki’s love of airplanes, with so much time spent on the tiniest detail of the machines. Truly, if Miyazaki could have made a film just about planes, without humans involved, he would have. What he did produce is a story about what happens to a man who sells his soul, so to speak, in order to follow his dream -believing that if he gives his clients what they want, they’ll let him eventually made what he wants. This is the fate of the fictionalised version of Horikoshi Jiro, the eventually creator of the A6M Zero fighter plane as he works to becoming an aeronautical engineer.

The film is also an ode to classic film making.

From the opening moments it reminded greatly of my favourite Kurosawa Akira‘s film, Dreams (1990). That is because the narrative blends the real world with dreams without telling you at any point which is which. Both worlds blend seamless and even overlap with the realities of others. As the young Jiro meets the famed Italian airplane designer Count Caproni in a place that Caproni calls his own dream, even though Jiro believes that he is the one who is dreaming. This theme of the transcendental nature of, & trespassing into, dreams is a major part of the film.

The rest of the film, unfortunately, has garnered an exceptional amount of criticism and fan debate -both in Japan & internationally.

The plot being centred on the creator of a vicious war machine, the Zero fighter, has stirred up much resentment in China & Korea with the Japanese government’s refusal to acknowledge their past war atrocities. Yet at the same time, many people in Japan are attacking Miyazaki for having his characters say that it was a mistake to have sided with Germany & entered the war.

Yet the film is not a true glorification or damnation of history, war and the darkest aspects of humanity.

It is a dream & shows what can happen to a life when one follows their dream too ardently.

Yet this film is entirely beautiful.

Truly, it is the single best piece of film animation ever produced.

This is where Miyazaki’s other indulgence, his love of cinema and animation, truly shines through.

There is so much detail lavished within each frame and cells of this film. From the quivering of the glass as a train leaves the station to the shimmers on the water & the wavering of each individual blade of grass.

Nothing is spared in order to bring out the details, the colours & the characters. The differences between dawn & dusk. Even the very flames of destruction.

The scene depicting the Great Kanto Earthquake (an actually event in 1923, where thousands of people died & Tokyo was almost completely destroyed) is magical in its devastation.

The sound of the movement, supposedly echoing the Great Catfish upon which the land of Japan lies as it trashed about to cause the quake, blends perfectly with the bubbling, rolling ground. The scene is brutal but not violent, tense but no sense of inherent danger. The fantastical way that Miyazaki and his animators show the Great Earthquake does not in any way strip away the devastation that it caused. It was from this earthquake that Japan’s drive to modernise, rushing it into modernity from a feudal society. Sparking much excitement & tension within the nation, especially as they attempted to compete technologically with the rest of the world.

The same could be said for the flight scenes and dream sequences. So full of life & energy as well as truly beautiful animation.

Sadly, that does not mean that the film, at over 2 hours, flies by (chortle at pun).

If you are expecting an adventure you will be disappointed.

The film follows Jiro at vital points of his life, never indicating when time has skipped forward (similar to how it does with the dream sequences) but it often does not want to engender the narrative with action & drama for the sake of it.

The late romantic angle, which is referring to many Japanese dramas about around the “love in the time of TB” cliché, does drag the film down in terms of pacing but not once did I think that the emotion between Jiro & Nahoko was disingenuine.

In fact, despite the fanciful & rushed nature of their love, I honestly felt the romance & affection between them.

THE WIND RISES. © 2013 Nibariki - GNDHDDTK
It is unfortunately that Nahoko is not a very strong female character, especially in regards to Miyazaki’s usual protagonists. This is partly because, after appearing in the Earthquake scene, she doesn’t appear until the final 3rd of the film. The reveal of her condition & confession to love also felt very clumsy -like an entire arc had been removed from the narrative.

This can be said for other side characters. Especially Jiro’s younger sister, Maya, who appears early in the film & then doesn’t feature until the 3rd act, having achieved her personal dreams but still chastising her brother for his lack of consideration. This is done out of love but she is an anchor meant to keep him from being dragged away by his dreams but she doesn’t appear within the film enough to complete that function or even develop in any great way.

Yet she & the other side characters are rendered well in a way. Both their physical depictions & the outline of their personalities.

An example is the strange foreign man (revealed to be a former Germany engineer who had seen Jiro at the Junkers factor many years before), whom you don’t know if he only speaks to Jiro in dreams. He has a strange walleyed appearance & speaks in broken Japanese, as a genuine foreigner of the time would. The man, later identified in a letter as Mr Castorp, tells Jiro his personal dislike for Hitler & German’s war ambitions, saying if Japan follows, it too will burn like Germany will. He then disappears like he was merely Jiro dreaming that the hotel guest was speaking to him but he then appears in later scenes as he attempts to help Jiro understand his feelings for Nahoko.

The action after that with the secret police is confusing & remained unsolved but it showed the human character of Jiro’s superiors at the aeroplane factory. They vow to protect him, as long as he can still provide them with what they need -a new fighter to win the navy contract.

If this was an 80’s American screwballs comedy, the dwarvish supervisor Kurokawa would’ve become the bullying antagonist seeking to destroy out heroes dreams. Instead he acts like a genuine supervisor would, chastising when wrong is down but supporting at other times. In fact, his insistence that Nahoko & Jiro have a proper wedding, despite the lack of family nearby, is one of the most touching moments in the film.

There are many touching moments within the film. The ending nearly had me in tears (I’ve only ever cried once in a film & that was when Optiums Prime died in the Transformers movie of 1986).

There are some nice subtle references to some of Miyazaki’s previous films -such as Porco Rosso’s pilots’ heaven- but not as many as I would have liked. But, on balance, if it was a reference fest being a final film, I think that would’ve really annoyed me.

In the end, The Wind Rises is an exceptionally good film. It just isn’t a good Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film.

It is overly long, exceptionally indulgent, confusing in terms of chronology, characters and location but, with all that being said, it still is an incredible film.

As I said early in the review, if you look at it along the lines of a classic melodrama from the likes of Kurosawa, not expecting the usual Ghibli fantasy, then you can view it as a truly beautiful film.

It is something that I will be returning for other works, both personal and academical, because it has exceptional merit for that.

It is a good film for one to end a career with but probably not the film that Miyazaki should’ve ended his with. Supposedly he wanted to do a follow up to Ponyo but I do feel that going with another original idea was a better path to follow.

Still I, like so many other Miyazaki fans, would still love to see a final final work from the great master. He may never direct again, but he is still working on manga & writing scripts. All that we can truly hope is that Studio Ghibli will carry on his fine legacy & continue producing top quality films with interesting, challenging themes & characters that we can instantly love.

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Miyazaki’s sketches for his proposed Pippi Longstocking film

Miyazaki’s sketches for his proposed Pippi Longstocking film

Lament what never was & dream of what might have been