Johnny Yong Bosch

165: Promare Review

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(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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When celebrating my 4th year of reviewing animated films, I wanted to pick something that would be special. It’s an exceptional review, and a yearly special should be about an interesting film. Well, what did I pick for this year? I chose Studio Trigger’s first feature film, Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Promare is an accumulation of what you get when you give a Japanese studio known for high-octane action, a feature film budget, and total unapologetic passion. It's the right kind of project that most passion projects could only dream of becoming. Let's dive right in!

 

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The film takes place in a world where one day, people started gaining the ability to manipulate fire! They were labeled the Burnish. After almost wiping out all of the earth, 30 years pass, and we come to the beginning of the film where the major Burnish threat was taken care of. A Burnish fire breaks out, and a team of specialized firefighters called Burning Rescue is sent to take out the Burnish threat and save the innocent lives. Our main hero is Galos Thymos, dubbed by Billy Kametz. He's the rookie member of Burning Rescue that ends up encountering the leader of a terrorist group called Mad Burnish. The leader of this terrorist group is named Lio Fotia, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. After Galos captures Lio and his two grunts, things unfold into chaos as maybe the Burnish are not the bad guys, and something might be up with the governor of the city, Kray Foresight, dubbed by Crispin Freeman. 

 

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I want to start gushing about the film, and there is nothing any of you can do to stop me! Anyway, the animation is downright gorgeous. Sure, it might be a mix of 2D and CGI animation, but, and I mean this with all sincerity, Promare might be the best Japanese-animated film that combines the two. The color choices are so perfect. All of the colors, even the darker ones are bright. The blues, the reds, the whites, the blacks, the neon pinks, the yellows, and you get the idea. Even with such a bright color palette and cartoony designs and movements, there are some beautiful shots and serious moments that never feel out of place. This film's visual direction is on point. 

 

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Now, in terms of action, it's Studio Trigger. They open up with one of the most exciting sequences that you will see in 2019, and the action ramps up from there in true Studio Trigger fashion. It's well-choreographed, exciting, never too busy to miss out on what's going on, and it's so earnest and aware of how absurd the fighting is. The dialogue during the animation is so aware of its epic nature, that it constantly calls itself out. 

 

Even though the film is advertised as this epic action film, Promare does take time to let the story breathe, tackle themes about discrimination and nature, and let the characters flesh themselves out more. I found myself rooting for the good guys and the Burnish in their ideals and reasons for doing what they do. It might be loud dumb fun, but it has a heart, and that's what keeps it from being a style-over-substance problem that we see in many passion projects. It knows when to push the pedal to the metal, and it knows when to chill for a moment. 

 

In terms of the dub, I adored the cast they hired. You have some veteran voice actors like the always awesome Johnny Yong Bosch, Kari Wahlgren, Neil Kaplan, Crispin Freeman, and my man Steve Blum, but everyone was well-cast and put in five-star performances. Everyone was on the same page, and I didn't see one actor who was left out. While anime voice acting can have its challenges, I bet everyone had a fun time getting to be boisterous, loud, and entertaining. Seriously, Billy Kametz, Erica Lindbeck, Matthew Mercer, Melissa Fahn, Mike Pollock, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, and Yuri Lowenthal were all fantastic. The music as well was perfect. It was grand in scale, epic, and it kept me and the audience excited throughout the entire film. Composer Hiroyuki Sawano put in a soundtrack that I could hear myself listening to anytime I'm about to go to work or getting ready for a physical workout. It's just so beautiful, and I got pumped up and was ready for the next scene. 

 

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Now, I could talk about how maybe some of the absurdity was a little much, or how the majority of Burning Rescue characters don't get much screen time or development, but you know what? That doesn't matter for this film. It's meant to be this big fun movie, and that's what I got. It had great animation, exciting action sequences, likable characters, awesome music, and was a blast from beginning to end. If you can find a theater that will be playing the dub or sub version of this film, go and watch it! For now, I think it’s time to look at one more Japanese feature before we watch DreamWorks Abominable. How about we make a return visit with our favorite anime thief, and check out Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray?

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it. Make sure to like and share it! If you would like to support my work, you can become a patron at patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

 

140: Big Fish & Begonia Review

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(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!)

In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

 

The Other Side of Animation 91: Blame! Review

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In my Patema Inverted review, I talked about why universe building is important, and why you don’t really want to be taken out of the film because the world the film takes place in isn’t well defined. Sometimes, you need to take time to explain certain elements, because while the universe building could be seen as padding or exposition, it needs to make sense. However, if your entire film is just world building and set-up for an even bigger story, then you also need to be careful there. On one side of said spectrum, you have Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which talks about the origin/reboots the universe the franchise takes place in. It might be building up to what happens, but you still care about the characters and hate to see what happens. On the bad side of the spectrum, you have the first G.I. Joe live-action film where it’s not really interesting, has a lot of questionable elements, and doesn’t give us what we want until pretty much the end of the film. So, where does the Netflix-exclusive Blame! come into play? Based off the manga series and the online miniseries, Blame! is the first theatrical film adaptation of the property. It was directed by Hiroyuki Seshita, and was produced by Polygon Pictures, a studio well known for its help with CGI/CGI segments of films like Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the Disney film Valiant, and the upcoming Godzilla: Monster Planet. I didn’t really see a lot of people get excited or talk about this film, and it got me concerned, since when there is no previews or that many articles talking about it, you wonder why that’s the case. Anyway, how is the actual movie? Well, let’s find out.

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Blame! takes place in a world where the entire earth is covered in giant metal skyscrapers, and there is barely any organic life left. It sucks to be a human in this world, since humans are considered pests by the security system that they ironically made, and are killed on the spot by the security system if they are spotted. Now, the human race is about to go extinct and live in these little settlements. As the viewer, you follow the lead of the film, Killy, voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch, a wandering individual who comes across one of the human settlements, and decides to help them out with the help of a decayed robot scientist. Can they survive? What will they find? Can they avoid the security system or maybe an even more dangerous threat?

blame02Right off the bat, Blame! does a couple of elements excellently. First off, let’s talk about the animation. CGI anime has been a touch controversial, due to the fact that 2D animation is more loved with this medium than CGI, since CGI in anime has been poorly used before, and is still poorly used. An obvious example of bad CGI anime would be the recent Berserk series, since it looks like they just replaced 2D characters with CGI puppets, and either don’t have the time or the effort to make sure they move fluidly. It’s aggravating, since you can understand that CGI animation might be cheaper and could get more jobs for people in that insane working conditions nightmare known as the anime industry. At the same time, CGI just doesn’t have the soul that 2D has, and it never, will unless they were willing to go the Disney/Pixar level quality route. Blame!, on the other hand, has for the most part, pretty good anime-style CGI. No one comes off as puppet-like, nothing is too floaty or cheap, and it makes the action scenes and overall film fun to watch. You can really tell with something like the recent Berserk series when the camera swings around or moves quickly to try and trick the viewer into not spotting the shoddy animation. It makes watching the series tough since you know how good action anime can be. You feel every shot, punch, and strike that are being given to the enemy and the lead characters.

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I think the world building is done pretty well. To me, it stands out, with while being very drab and gray, an interesting concept, since you always hear about how we, as a species can stop overpopulation. Granted, the story does fall into the “the humans forgot to do something, and now the thing we created, wants to kill us” trope, but I could look past that since so many sci-fi-focused products give us that story. I liked that these giant robots that build everything are not bothered by humans, I think it’s scary that there can be killer security robots that can disguise themselves as humans to avoid the barrier keeping the humans safe. I liked how bug-like the security robots moved, and so on. Killy is an interesting character, since he is a cyborg, but he’s left open enough to hopefully see more of him fleshed out in a movie or series. You wonder why this cyborg was made when everything else wants to kill the humans that are still surviving. I will also give Blame! credit, because it pulls off one of the best twists I have seen in not just anime, but animated films. Maybe I could have picked up on it more, but I found the twist to be legit shocking.

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However, this film does fail in a lot of areas. For one, this feels like one of those franchise films that are solely made to set up the universe, and then the second film is what you actually get. I say this because the characters outside of Killy, are really boring. I could care less about what happens to this set of humans. You get every single anime/sci-fi trope you can think of. The only two interesting characters are again, Killy, and the scientist that helps them out. By the end of the film, I had a lingering feeling they were expecting this to be super amazing, and either spawn more films, or a TV series. It gets a bit drab to watch, because the characters fight only two types of enemies. They also do that thing where Killy decides to stay behind to kill something horrifying looking so the rest of the human survivors can escape, but don’t show us the actual fight. Like, don’t do that! Don’t cut away from the most interesting character in the entire film. Nothing else besides the world the film introduces to you leaves a huge impression, and that’s a shame, since I could have seen this being one of the great anime action films. I also felt like some of the anime tropes that are in, well, anime are annoying. For example, why does the scientist, when she gets a new body, get heels? And why does the bigger threat in the film (not spoiling it here) have a skirt? I mean, it’s not that it’s attractive when this threat is killing people point blank with the same weapon Killy uses.

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Blame! is definitely one of the better animated films to come out this year, but in terms of animated films in general, I personally thought it was just okay. It’s nothing ground breaking, it has its moments, but I can’t see myself watching this movie again. It doesn’t have the full-on staying power that something like Ghibli and Hosoda would create and show off. I can’t really say rent it, since it’s a Netflix exclusive, but if you aren’t done watching the new season of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, maybe give it a look. Though, if you haven’t seen The Little Prince, then watch that first.  Well, that was fun, and before we start heading into some really good movies, I want to tackle one more middling film that shouldn’t be getting a theatrical release, but it is. Next time, we will look at the Google Play exclusive, A Stork’s Journey. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent 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!