Akira

The Other Side of Animation 33: Japanese Animation Month: Short Peace Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is female nudity and violence in this movie. Parental Discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

Well, I might as well get another Katsuhiro Otomo film project under Japanese Animation Month. I mean, yes, I will be tackling Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda in the future, but for now, let’s take a look at Otomo’s most recent film project known as Short Peace. This anthology film was released back in 2013, and was brought over to the states by Sentai Filmworks. It got some publicity because one of the shorts, Possessions, was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short. Short Peace includes four different shorts, with an opening animated segment directed by Koji Morimoto (Franken’s Gears segment from Robot Carnival, and Magnetic Rose segment from Memories). The other directors besides Katsuhiro Otomo involved are Hiroaki Ando (Ajin, Five Numbers!, and Digital Juice) and Hajime Katoki (Gundam and Super Robot Wars series). So, how good are these shorts, individually? Well, let’s find out!

While not technically part of the four anthology films, the opening animated sequence from Koji Morimoto has a young girl following a rabbit into a bunch of magical worlds.

The first official short is called Possessions, and is directed by Shuei Morita (Freedom, Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek, Tokyo Ghoul, and Valvrave the Liberator). It’s about a lone traveler taking shelter in an abandoned shrine during a rainstorm. Once inside the shrine, he then has to deal with a group of spirits.

The second short is called Combustible, and is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. Combustible tells the tale of a woman of royalty, and her experience with her childhood friend. It’s a tragic romantic story, which centers around traditions and firefighting in ancient Japan.

The third short is Gambo, which is directed by Hiroaki Ando. It’s probably the most violent of the four shorts, with a giant white bear in ancient Japan, who helps a little girl take care of a red demon that has plagued her village.

The final short is called A Farewell to Weapons. This entry in this anthology is directed by Hajime Katoki. It revolves around a group of men in the distant future that are tasked with destroying robotic tanks that are still lurking around, while finding important items from the past.

So, since these are all individual shorts themed around Japanese culture, how do they all compare? Well, all of them are visually creative, interesting, and impressive on a technical scale. Since this was made in 2013, they used more CGI animation, than the 2D animation with minimal CGI used in Memories. In that film, the CGI was used to help engross you into the world and help out with some of the more technical aspects. Now, usually, I don’t like it when Japan decides to mix 2D with CGI, since it’s always distracting, and never looks good. Sure, the three Berserk films look better than Sin the Movie in terms of 2D animation mixed with CGI, but even after years of technical progression, it’s still obvious to the eyes when they switch between the two. Luckily, in Short Peace, the mixture of 2D and CGI is not horrible. I actually like how fluid it all looks, and while it’s noticeable that there is CGI, it’s balanced out with some really, and I mean really, good art styles. Possessions, Combustible, Gambo, and A Farewell to Weapons are all distinct with Possessions having a beautiful CGI painted look, Combustible looking like those woodblock paintings, Gambo having a rough sketchy style, and A Farewell to Weapons having the more traditional anime that you would recognize. If I had to pick my favorite shorts in terms of overall enjoyability, I would have to choose Possessions and A Farewell to Arms. Possessions feels like a short film made by Mamoru Hosoda or Hayao Miyazaki. It’s charming, and shows what kind of stories can come out of anime when they aren’t catering to the lazy anime tropes we see today. It’s an experience with very little fighting, and that is impressive to me. A Farewell to Weapons is an intense action flick that is based on one of Otomo’s short stories, and has probably one of the most black comedy twist endings that I have ever seen. It really reminds me of the Stink Bomb segment from Memories in terms of endings.

Sadly, I found Gambo and Otomo’s Combustible to be the weaker of the two, but Combustible is definitely the weakest, in terms of shorts. I think the biggest problem with both shorts is that they should have been longer and had more details. Gambo is interesting, but who was Gambo? Was he a God? Was he a spirit? I mean, I can understand Gambo a bit more than Combustible. While elements of Combustible can be thrilling, like the intense firefighting scenes, and seeing what life was like back during that time period, the interaction and connection between the female and male lead is not super strong, and the female lead isn’t interesting. I also found her logic of trying to escape the fire questionable at best. Did she just not want to listen to the guy wanting to save her life?! I want to feel badly for her, but she does herself in by not telling anyone about a fire she started, or getting out of there instead of staying there until the fire got way out of hand. I honestly don’t know if the writers and Otomo wanted to make the final tragic scene something symbolic or not. I always hate saying that Otomo’s segments of these anthology films are the weakest parts, but his “emotional experience over proper storytelling” style does creep up in this film. Not to say you can’t get what is going on, and downright love/adore the unique art style and how it looks like it was all on a scroll, but it’s hard to overlook the narrative problems.

Still, the best part about this movie is that it’s good and very ambitious. In a day and age of CGI animation becoming very similar looking, since most third-party studios want to be the next Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar, Japan and other countries still want to try out and use different styles, and for the most part, do 2D animation. Short Peace is a great example of both style and ambition to be something different. If you haven’t purchased this movie yet, you definitely should. Even with its shortcomings, it’s still a great watch. Sadly, Japanese Animation Month is over, but that doesn’t mean I am done talking about animated films from Japan, since next time, we take a look at Lupin the 3rd’s first outing in a movie with The Mystery of Mamo. Thanks for reading my work, I hope you like it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 30: Akira Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work with video game reviews, editorials, lists, talk about Kickstarters, interview developers, and review/talk about animated films. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview.biz. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s funny, to me, anyway, that I am going to review pretty much everything by Katsuhiro Otomo before I get to anything by Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda. I didn’t plan this at all, but it’s interesting to look at a well-known director’s work, and see his little touches in whatever he is working on. Of course, the casual moviegoer won’t know who this guy is, but if you know anything about anime or animation, you have definitely seen his prized pupil, Akira. This legendary film, based off Otomo’s manga of the same name, was released in Japan in 1988, and was brought over to the states in 1991. It’s considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, and one of the best pieces of Japanese animation around. It’s a landmark title, not only for Japanese animation, but for filmmaking, in general. So, what do I think of the film?  Well, let’s dive into Otomo’s classic, and you will see what’s up.

The story takes place after Japan was hit by a large explosion during World War III, and it is now 2019. One of the many plots that go on in this movie revolves around a young biker named Tetsuo Shima, voiced in the redub by Joshua Seth, who is in a gang with his friend, Shotaro Kaneda, voiced by the lovable Johnny Yong Bosch. One day, after picking a fight with another gang, Tetsuo crashes his bike in front of a small blue-skinned boy with white hair. This somehow unleashes the psychic powers that were inside Tetsuo. After gaining said powers and being experimented on, he goes on a bit of a rampage to find a being that these psychic children (like the blue-skinned one that I just mentioned) know as Akira. Now, the entire city is after Tetsuo, including the government, a military organization, a terrorist group, a cult that worships an individual known as Akira, and even his own friend, Shotaro. On top of all this, you also have a huge rebellion going on inside the city that is causing mass destruction, with the main goal of taking down a corrupt government.

Before we get into what is wrong with this adaptation, let’s talk about the good stuff since there is just so much to love about this movie from a technical point of view. For Japanese-made animation, it is truly breathtaking. Knowing that a lot of this had to be done by hand is just a feat that is herculean, since cel animation is expensive work. It’s so smooth, and not herky-jerky like anime was in the past. This was during a time where anime was getting slightly better in terms of being able to move every single part of the character, but Akira was the starting point for anime to start looking like it had a budget behind it. I also adore the music. I know it can be made fun of, but it sounds emotional and primal. It helps immerse you in this film that is definitely about emotion, as the overall experience felt like a volcano just building up and ready to explode.

Too bad that volcano’s explosion is no more than just a bunch of nothing. Yeah, as much as I love watching Akira for its visuals and pristine animation, the story is not well put together. I mean, there is plenty of it, but since it’s 2016, it’s time to start laying down the fact that the film version Akira is a poorly put together adaptation. Basically, it pulled an Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by having way too much going on in it. You see what’s going on, but don’t understand it. I have watched this film four times in my lifetime, and each time I have watched it, I always felt a bit confused about certain elements. Sure, I could go read the manga that is 2000 pages long, and look up the facts on the internet, but an adaptation should stand up on its own without having to know the source material. Films like Mary Poppins and the How to Train your Dragon series are a blast to watch, and you don’t need to have to know about the product at hand to enjoy them. It’s an argument I never fully agreed with since this is a movie, and what we see should be good, first and foremost. Make sure the story/characters are good, then worry about everything else. It’s quite obvious Otomo didn’t really know how to tell the entire story properly. It’s something I have known/heard about Otomo, where he’d rather make a film as a more emotional experience than a “set in stone” story. It’s an interesting quirk about him that you see in his films, like his directed segments in MemoriesRobot Carnival, and Short Peace.

With how condensed and cut up the story feels, it leads you with characters who are not really interesting. Why should I care? What the heck is going on? Why does Tetsuo’s change from arrogant biker punk to psycho feel a little out of left field? Why do they want the kids with the psychic abilities? I was asking a lot of these kinds of questions during the film’s two-hour runtime. While I do enjoy longer movies, due to how the story was set up in this movie, it personally feels a tad too long. A lot of the second half and final third is basically Tetsuo cleaning house with the military, which could have been used to either show or dump exposition on the world that this film is set in. Here’s an idea, why not make Akira into two movies, or not make it a movie at all? Sometimes, the source material is not made or set up to be turned into a movie. Or at the very least, Akira should have been two movies instead of one. You don’t really learn why the public is turning to terrorism, or a bunch of little details that could help explain elements better about the psychic abilities, and so on. The ending is such a non-ending, where I overall felt cheated out of something that so many people praise as an all-time classic. Nothing is more infuriating than having so much potential built up, and it all falls flat in the end. It makes this film tedious to watch.

Listen, I’m not saying Akira is a horrible movie. Sure, its story is denser than 15 hummers crushed into one giant metal cube, but there is something to admire about the movie as a whole. It’s an animated marvel, and I never want this movie to lose its legacy just because I didn’t care for the story. It deserves the legacy that it brought with it, and should be checked out if you haven’t seen it. It might be a mess, in terms of storytelling, but it’s a film everyone should see. It just reminds me how great Japanese animation can be when it’s done well, and not the usual male gaze-filled tripe we see today. How about for the rest of April, we do a Japanese Animation Month!? Next time, we will be looking at REDLINE. Thanks for reading this article! I hope you liked it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation: Memories Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz for more of my work. If you want to, consider supporting my Patreon on patreon.com/camseyeview. Hope you enjoy the article!)

After 10 reviews of nothing but European and American animated films, I am finally talking about one of my favorite animated films, Memories, from the land of the rising sun, ramen, anime, and Godzilla. This series of short films is by famous animator Katushiro Otomo, the mind behind famous and popular animated films/manga like Akira, Neo Tokyo, Robot Carnival, Steamboy, and Short Peace. The three short films that we are going to review today are based on short stories that Otomo himself has written. Let’s dive in and check out these three individual short films.

The first film up is Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto, who is also well known for his work on games like Catherine, and anime like First Squad, Mind Game, and one of the segments in The Animatrix. The screenplay was helmed by one of my favorite animation icons, the late and always great Satoshi Kon, who worked on Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue, and Paprika. The story revolves around a four-person team in a salvage freighter, as they are traveling around in space. Upon finishing one job, they get an SOS, and head to this graveyard of salvage, into what looks like a giant metal rose. Of course, as they go inside, the SOS might be more dangerous than they thought.

The second film is called Stink Bomb, which is directed by Tensai Okamura. He is mostly well known for doing storyboards for a lot of well-known anime like Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, Soul Eater, and worked on films like Neo Tokyo, Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh. Stink Bomb is a black comedy revolving around a young lab technician named Nobuo Tanaka. Including him and everyone in his town, a serious cold breakout has been doing a number on poor Nobuo. Instead of doing the sensible thing and going home, one of his coworkers suggests he try a new prototype pill in their boss’s office. After taking the pill and resting his eyes, Nobuo wakes up to find everyone dead. This alerts the Japanese Government and, unknowing to Nobuo, the “experimental pills” Nobuo took caused a gas to permeate from his body that kills anyone or anything within a certain distance.

The final short is called Cannon Fodder, which is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. The story is about an entire city that does nothing but prep cannons, and fire said cannons at an unknown enemy.

So, what is so great about these three short films? Well, each film has their own vibe, and are grand in scale in their own ways. Magnetic Rose is obviously everyone’s favorite due to how much of a complete story it is. At first it starts out as an atmospheric sci-fi tale, but then two of the crew members, Miguel and Heintz venture forth inside the location of the distress call. It then turns into a ghost story, with the giant metal rose-like location housing multiple European architectural pieces, holograms of the European countryside, and a large portrait of what is apparently the owner of said abandoned structure. I won’t spoil what happens in this short film, but it’s truly one of the best examples of not only animation, but anime.

Stink Bomb is just an epic black comedy with well executed animation and rather humorous sequences. Seeing so many soldiers and people run to the hills, because of one oblivious and uninformed idiot who took a pill that just happened to make him the symbol of death, is hilarious. It’s like the epic comedic scale you saw in the first Blues Brothers movie. The poor guy took an experimental pill that turned him into a walking cloud of death, and he is unaware of it all. Like I said, what makes this short film work is that it’s a huge epic black comedy. It is definitely a very humorous tale with some top-notch animation.

Unfortunately, the weakest, but most visually impressive short of the three is the one directed by the Otomo himself, Cannon Fodder. It’s an anti-war message, since the people in this city have been fighting for so long that they honestly don’t know what they are attacking. Granted, they do a lot to build up this short’s universe, and how everything works, and the many positions and jobs these people have. What it lacks in length and story, it makes up with personality. Some parts can be dramatic, like how the only person on the deck to fire the cannons is the one who pulls the trigger, and if your loading team messes up, they have to stand right by the cannon that could potentially blow up on them. It’s an interesting world, but there isn’t enough time spent in it to match the first two animated shorts.

Let’s get back on track with the positives! Like I said, the animation in all of these shorts is grade A quality. Even after 10 years, it holds up incredibly well. Even if Cannon Fodder is the weakest of the three shorts, it’s the most visually striking, with animation that looks like something out of the most talented artist’s sketchbook with its grungy, but at the same time, bright colors. The music in all three shorts is fitting, with ambient epic scores for Magnetic Rose, quirky off-beat music for Stink Bomb, and mechanical/military sounding music for Cannon Fodder.

Memories is a work of art, and one of the highest caliber pieces of animation to ever come out of Japan. Sure, you could argue that Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder are more like visual experiences, since their plots are not as in-depth as Magnetic Rose, but I feel like that is being unfair to the other two shorts. All three offer varying and uniquely different experiences, and they all work in their own right. My only real complaint is that we never got an English dub of the three, but in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. I would love to see what company would grab this, and what English-speaking actors they would choose, but they would have to make sure they put in perfect performances to match what is happening on the screen. If you haven’t picked this film up yet, you should. It’s easily one of the best anthology films around, and easily worth your time. Well, how about we move onto another ambitious piece of animation for the time of its release, with Fritz the Cat? Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials