Maquia

153: Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom 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!)

Something that’s unfortunate not only in the animation scene, but the theatrical animation scene in general is that there is a huge lack of non- white male directors. At least, I find that to be a major observation. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness for the directors in question, because we know about women like Lauren Faust and Nora Twomey, but it could also be the fact that many powerful male creators for studios like the ex-head of Pixar and other areas of the animation scene have ruined the chances and passion many non-white male had with working in animation. Not every great story is going to come from one type of person. The more diversity we get with animation, the more stories we can tell, and the more voices that can be heard. A darn good example of getting a unique voice that told a compelling and powerful movie would be Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Released last year by Eleven Arts in the states, Mari Okada’s fantasy drama was her first theatrical directorial debut for which she also wrote the script. This is on top of a successful career of writing, including Anohana, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and The Anthem of the Heart. So then, let’s dive in and see why this was one of the best animated films of 2018.

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The story follows a young woman named Maquia, dubbed by Xanthe Huynh. She is a being known as a Lorph, a race of human-like individuals that stay young and live longer than normal humans. They also weave their stories in these giant cloth-like fabrics. One day, a kingdom attacks her people to take a maiden from her clan to offer to the kingdom’s prince, so they can make long-living children and keep the kingdom afloat forever. Luckily for Maquia, she escapes when one of the dragon creatures the knights rode on goes berserk, and she ends up riding on it out of the reach of the kingdom. She then finds herself in a village that was attacked by bandits. Among the debris, she finds a human baby in the arms of his dead mother. Maquia decides to take care of the infant as the film follows the challenges of raising a child, learning about life, the trials of love, and being a mother.  

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So, what really cements Okada’s writing and directorial work in this film? Well, the themes this film tackles of loss, love, and motherhood. We have seen those themes before in films like Wolf Children, which has unfortunately been compared and contrasted with Maquia due to the focus on a mother raising a kid in a unique situation. What makes this film so dastardly with its way of using emotionally powerful moments is how Okada catches you off-guard. It’s like she sneaks up behind you, pokes you with a knife to tell you to get ready, and then when the time comes, stabs you right in the feels to deliver an extra powerful punch to your heart. I don’t think I have seen a film like Maquia that has made me cry harder the two times that I have seen it. Its themes are beautifully woven into the story as you get involved with the trials of Maquia taking care of this child when she is, considering her kind, young herself, and doesn’t really know what to do. You watch as decades pass and she stays the same, but everyone grows up and dies around her. You watch as her son gets older, and the challenge of their relationship and dynamic starts to get in the way of how they come off to other people. Everyone, from the kingdom to the immortal beings, see the rise and fall of mystical creatures becoming extinct and the fall of the kingdom at the end of the film. It’s a brilliantly somber but touching film that, while having incredibly gorgeous animation, shows Okada’s strengths as a writer. You feel heavily invested with the characters and what is going on with them. You want to see Maquia become a mother, you want to see her make sure her son grows up, you want to make sure the son doesn’t get killed, and you want to see her friendships blossom and stay connected. It’s a well-paced story that knows what main plot elements to focus on, and when to sparingly show off what is going on with the other characters.

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Animation-wise, Maquia is a gorgeous movie with beautiful vistas, great camera work, soft rounded character designs, and very well composted CGI. Yeah, once again, a Japanese animated film shows how to do it properly where many anime series fail in regards to the CGI. It can still be noticeable, but it’s not as distracting as say, any of Polygon Pictures’ products or that horrible Berserk continuation. In terms of the original language and the dubbed version, I think you can’t go wrong with either. Xanthe Huynh is incredible as Maquia and simply goes through the gambit of emotions, and you believe her every time. The other actors are good as well with Ryan Shanahan, Eddy Lee, Cherami Leigh, Kevin T. Collins, Brooklyn Nelson, Marc Thompson, H.D. Quinn, Ryan Bartley, and many other voice actors do great with their respective roles. While the music is nothing that you haven’t really heard before, Kenji kawai, the composer for shows and movies like Patlabor, Ranma ½, Devilman, Project A-ko, Burn up!, Ghost in the Shell, Dai-Guard, and Ip Man still delivers a sweeping epic score and soothing tunes that pull you into the experience.

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If I had to complain about something with this wonderfully touching film, I would say that the art direction isn’t all that creative. Yes, it’s a more human and adult story, but when you have the character designer Yuriko Ishii, who was inspired by the artist who did Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre, Akihiko Yoshida, you kind of expect something more creative. It all looks great visually, but there is nothing that unique or outstanding about the fantasy world that they live in. Also, while it’s not as bad as other films or anime series, you can definitely see when they use CGI. It’s not a major detractor, but it’s something worth noting. I also found a few times where the dub sounded like it got slightly drowned out by the music.

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Even with those criticisms, they are incredibly minor, because Maquia is such a powerful and moving film. It makes me excited to see what other directing gigs Okada will get in the future, and it makes me want to check out what she has done in the past. It’s finally out on DVD, but heads up. You can only get the Japanese dub version with the Blu-ray version of the film. The DVD version only comes with the English dub. Still, I’m happy and hopeful more people can finally check out this classic from Japan. Now then, we travel from Japan to go on a trip around the world! Next time, we are going to check out Laika’s newest film, Missing Link. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 3: Award Season

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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 editorial/list!)

Here we are! This is Part 3 of this continuous animation editorial. I know it will end for right now with this section, but I think we can talk about individual films or film studios in the future. For now, let’s talk about the Award Season! We recently had the Golden Globes, and are going to be heading into the Academy Awards soon. I know many say, well, why should I care? Because there are obvious problems with the current way award seasons are being held, and are suffering because of it. You can only say “I don’t care” or “this is fine” until it becomes a problem that can’t be pushed away. You can say you don’t care, but deep down you do. After the “controversy” of last year where Ferdinand and The Boss Baby got nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Coco, Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner, there needs to be some course correction. So, these are my two cents on what I would do. There’s nothing I can do about it right now, but who knows! Maybe in the future, they will start doing some of these changes. Let’s get started.

Define what gets into the five Best Animated Feature slots!

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So, let’s talk about this first part. Should there be a definition for Best Animated Feature? When you look at the reviews for the five films from 2017, two stood out. The Boss Baby’s overall Rotten Tomatoes score was one of the lowest scores for an animated film being nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Shark Tale, and Ferdinand’s overall score was just above average. We can go into the intricate details of Rotten Tomatoes another time. This definitely caused film and animation fans to turn their heads with loud spit takes. So, how did these two films make it over The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, The LEGO Batman Movie, Window Horses, The Girl Without Hands, Napping Princess, A Silent Voice, and Mary and the Witch’s Flower? Well, maybe the definition on what qualifies for the five slots should be clearer. Is it the quality of animation? Well, they all had pretty good animation in their own respective ways, so that shouldn’t just be the case, or else The Girl Without Hands would have definitely gotten one of the spots. Is it the quality of the writing? If that was the case, The Boss Baby and Ferdinand, while not being as bad as toxic individuals make them out to be, did not have as strong writing as say, Coco or Loving Vincent. It’s not just one thing that makes an animated film great, and we will get to For Your Consideration Campaigns later on in the editorial. Maybe there needs to be tighter rules for the nominations, like…

Maybe gate off the lesser received animated features?

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Now, that doesn’t sound fair, right? What makes someone’s work more awards worthy than another? Again, I’m simply spit-balling ideas here. Well, if the award shows like the Oscars want to be about “the best of the best”, then maybe not letting films like The Boss Baby or the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close get nominated for the major awards of their categories. No one goes out to make a bad movie. Even making a self-aware film that knows it’s fairly cheesy and schlocky, has to have effort put into it.  Maybe there does need to be a certain entry fee in terms of the overall reception of the movie that makes or breaks your entry into the awards? Let’s be real here, if The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were getting universal acclaim, no one would have had an issue with them getting nominated. Sure, maybe not bringing in the review scores into the calculation seems tough, because film is subjective. However, if you want to be awarding or nominating the best films of any category, then films that get certain scores below a certain number shouldn’t be allowed into the competition. While films like Illumination’s The Grinch are major money-makers, that shouldn’t be the only reason it makes it onto the list, because the reviews of it are not all that great. It would mean that the Academy either picks the five best reviewed animated features, or just have three or four films nominated that year, because the rest were not all that stellar in the Hollywood animation scene. Still, that won’t fix the problem that…

The animation section of the award organizations should be the only ones voting for animation!

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Yeah, while it might have been a good idea on paper to open up the voting of Best Animated Feature to everyone at the Academy or the Globes, or whatever, there is a reason the Academy has an animation branch. Why on earth would you dissolve that section, if you made it for the specific reason to vote on the Best Animates Features and Best Animated Shorts category? That’s like having expert meat people letting a vegetarian grade a side of beef. Other arms of the Academy don’t have the knowledge or the awareness of how animation works, or the fact that foreign/indie features exist. This bleeds opportunity for For Your Consideration Campaigns to strike at voters who may not know better, or even care about animation. It doesn’t help either that…

The Academy members/Globe Critics/everyone need to watch all the submissions!

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Listen, it’s been well known that members of the Academy and other award groups do not watch all of the submissions. I mean, on one hand, having to take time to watch over 50+ films for multiple categories, takes up a lot of time on a really tight schedule for the voters. On the other hand, since most of the members in the Academy are actors, tech individuals, producers, directors, and so on, you look like a jerk if you do not watch the work by other members. It also gives the short hand to films that are not as recognizable as the big budget flicks. It’s funny, because despite having multiple nominations under their belt, GKids are still held as this oddity, which isn’t fair to the hard-working people of that company, and the studios, animators, composers, and actors that worked on those films. You owe it as a member of the Academy to watch all the submissions for the animation category. You are essentially discriminating against films that are not US-made. Maybe if you saw the ones that weren’t good, you can skip them, but watch the ones you haven’t seen. Who knows, maybe GKids would be raking in more awards if it didn’t have to compete with Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. So…

Should the Oscars and other award groups pull an Annie?

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So, for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, the Annie awards are an animation-focused award show. A few years back, they decided to do a foreign/indie category so films like Mirai, Ernest & Celestine, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World could have a chance. They would get their own award category, because they honestly deserved just as much recognition, and sometimes more recognition than the big budget Hollywood films. Granted, doing so might come off like giving the foreign/indie films a “kid’s table” award, but maybe this could be a “Best US-made Animated Feature” and a “Best Foreign/Indie Animated Feature” situation that could be fruitful, and then have a third animation category that is like Best Animated picture or something. It would mean other companies like Funimation, Elevenarts, and Shout! Factory would have a chance alongside GKids to be nominated for awards. Because, as it is right now, the one thing preventing true competition between big budget and foreign animation releases are…

Beware the For Your Consideration Campaigns! Fix them!

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I get it. These marketing campaigns cost money, but if they pay off, it means people’s interests will be piqued, and that means more people will go see the film, which means more money. However, can we please stop having them be so invasive? How many times have these campaigns actually backfired and earned the studios and filmmakers ridicule? Like, there was Shark Tales, and then there was, again, the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close campaign. It got no other major awards outside of one Best Picture nomination from the Academy. I’m sure that’s what you want to be remembered for, right? Being an incredibly terrible film that paid its way into one award nom? I’m also simply tired of these campaigns being the reason you voted for the film in question, but not the film itself. Did you watch the film? Did you vote for it, because you thought it deserved the award most, or because a company spammed you with its campaign? I would rather vote for a film that I liked, and thought it deserved it, more than being harassed or manipulated by campaigns. I heard some changes were made to the rules of how campaigns can be handled, but it was hard for me to find the specific changes. Remember, vote on which animated film you think should win, and not because of some dumb campaign, or you being a stubborn mule in not checking out all of the nominees. 

There we go! Part three is done, and I think I’m done talking about this topic for a while. That is, unless the voters decide to misuse the votes, and give me plenty of ammunition to talk about the Academy some more.

My Two Cents on the Animation Submissions for the 2019 Oscars.

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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 editorial!)

Recently, the animation submission for the upcoming Oscars/award season has been revealed. There are 25 animated features competing for those five sacred spots. While I was too late in doing a first half of 2018 look-back at animation, I think I’ll pretty much combine it with this editorial. 2018 has been an incredible year for animation, both big and small. This was definitely a step up from 2017, where outside of Coco, Captain Underpants, and LEGO Batman, the big-budget releases were either okay or hugely mediocre. It was like they got all of the filler titles put into 2017, so the better-made projects could all be in 2018. The indie side of things has also been incredible. While I am disappointed that some of my favorite films from the Animation is Film Festival are not a part of this submission list, the indie scene was still fantastic. So, like last year, I’m going to categorize each of the films that have 100%, 75% 50%, 25%, or 0% on getting one of those five sacred spots through the hopes that they earned it because of their quality, and not because of a big For Your Consideration campaign. Let’s get started.

The films that have a 100% chance

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Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson is a darling of the award scene, and if you doubt that, you will need to see the how many awards The Grand Budapest Hotel won (I love that movie). Plus, it’s a unique stop-motion animated feature and it did pretty good business when it was in its limited release run before hitting wide release.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: While some may say the original is better, I find the sequel to Wreck it Ralph to be even better. I think it handled its concept extremely well, it was funny, charming, touching, and overall, was another home run from the major Disney animation front. I find that it’s going to age better as an animated feature than the other big Disney/Pixar film out now.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Before I saw this film, I was excited, but hesitant about it getting any award chance. However, as the nominations started to stack up, and I finally saw the film, yeah, it was incredible. It’s easily the best US-made animated feature of 2018, and it would be surprising if the Academy turned this film down. Like I said though, its multiple award nominations will definitely help get it nominated for an Oscar.

Mirai: If GKids had a potential film this year, it would be Mirai. They are marketing like it’s a Ghibli film, it’s been getting the biggest festival push, it’s gotten rave reviews from critics who have seen it, and its story and setting can be universally approachable to any voter in the academy. Or at the very least, it should be, because the Academy has some kind of issue against Japanese non-Ghibli movies, but I digress.

Ruben Brandt Collector: Sony Pictures Classics might not pick up as many animated features as GKids or Shout! Factory, but they pick out unique films that stand out among the rest, and you would have to be blind to not see the unique and visually stunning Ruben Brandt Collector. Along with its surreal art style, it’s a more mature animated feature, and the Academy would look really good if they chose something that was unique and different. Plus, Sony Pictures Classics is a favorite among the voters.

The films that have a 75% chance

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Lu Over the Wall: before I knew GKids picked up Mirai, this was the film I was going to place my entire bet on which GKids film was going to get the Oscar love. While it might fall apart in the third act, and normal viewers will compare it a lot to Ghibli’s Ponyo or Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Lu Over the Wall is still a fantastic film with a unique art style, and likable characters. It’s more approachable to non-foreign animation viewers than Masaaki Yuasa’s other option in this race.

Tito and the Birds: A foreign animated feature with a grunge art style that sticks out, and is about a world that is infested with a virus that is caused by fear and paranoia? Yeah, this is an ideal film that could be very approachable to Oscar voters. It’s stylish, but also has a message. It gets a bit of that nostalgia with a lot of the inspiration for this great film being from 80s adventure films like The Goonies. It’s a topical film that has themes that can be timeless of how we should stand together against the fear-mongering individuals.

Incredibles 2: While the critical reception of the film is starting to die down as people realize that the film is good, but still not Pixar’s best and wasn’t worth the wait, the first film in the series did win an Oscar, and the Academy does love its safe bets, but we will have to see. The Academy also doesn’t like nominating Pixar sequels that aren’t Toy Story.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl: I’m more hopeful about this movie, because it’s an adult animated feature, but it’s not adult in the sense of a stoner comedy, but adult in its themes, visuals, and humor. It’s a wild ride, but it’s probably a bit too experimental and zany for individuals who are looking for more “safe” features.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom: I think it would be smart for the voters to look into this one to give an animated theatrical feature by a female director a chance, because it’s easily one of the most endearing and personally touching films of 2018. It’s one of the few films this year that has made me cry, and it has a unique and intensely intimate story about motherhood. I think the only thing that might hurt this film’s chances is that it’s a non-Ghibli Japanese feature, and the designs are not its greatest strengths.

The films that have a 50% chance

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Liz and the Blue Bird: On one hand, the Academy has a huge bias against Japanese animation that isn’t made from Ghibli. On the other hand, the Academy sure does love its small-scale character-driven dramas. It’s a smaller-scale film that might turn people off who want to see more epic-scale adventures or stories, but Liz and the Blue Bird is one of the best character-focused stories of 2018, but I don’t know if it fully has a chance.

Early Man: I would love to see Aardman get a nomination, simply because Early Man is a pretty good movie. However, I do think what will hurt it ultimately is that the film is too simple, and it just got buried under Black Panther. It doesn’t help that Lionsgate’s company Summit Entertainment didn’t really do well at marketing the film or releasing it during a proper period of time. It just sucks that this film will get overlooked, but it’s also a film I feel like that kneecaps itself for being award-worthy. We will have to see.

MFKZ: I probably should put this on the 25% chance, but it’s a film that could make for an interesting choice, because it’s basically They Live (the John Carpenter horror movie) mixed with French/Japanese animation. It’s a thrill ride of over-the-top action, characters, and the Academy is always looking for something different that stands out. They might as well go with the one that stands out the most.

Smallfoot: While surviving pretty well in the top 10 box office films of September and through October, Smallfoot simply didn’t make a lasting impression. It’s a shame, because Smallfoot might be one of the biggest animated surprises of 2018. It might have a few jokes that fall flat, but it has a story that kept me and many others invested.

The films that have a 25% chance

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation: While this might be the best film of the series with the most consistent visuals, story, characters, and laughs, no one really talks about the film anymore, and its popularity came and went fast. Plus, the others haven’t had a chance in Hades of getting nominated, and that’s no different here. Maybe it had a chance if it was released last year, but sadly, it has very little here.

On Happiness Road: While I am aware of this movie, it’s still going through its festival run, and I haven’t heard of a US distributor for it yet. It was at the Annecy 2018 film festival, but this film has no presence in the US, even though it does look great. Maybe its positive reviews will give it some clout, but it has very little chance in the award show circuit.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies: I like this movie, but it’s a film based on a TV show. It has very little chance in getting any kind of buzz. It’s also worth noting that it’s also another superhero movie. If a superhero film this year is going to get some kind of major award, it’s Black Panther.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero: I can sum up why this film has very little chance. It’s the biggest animated failure of 2018. At the very least, the other big animated flops like Early Man and Sherlock Gnomes made back their main budgets. When you can’t even muster $5 mil of a $25 mil budget, then that’s saying something. It might have its setting to boast about, but let’s not kid ourselves here. I don’t think anyone truly cared, or even knew about this film.

The films that have a 0% chance

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Ana and Bruno: While I know Ana and Bruno is a big deal in Mexican animation as it’s the most expensive animated feature from that part of the world, but outside of the animation scene, do people even know about this flick? It has slightly higher than average ratings, but who is distributing this film? I’m sorry, but this is one of the most obscure animated films in the submissions. It also has some less than stellar animation. It unfortunately has no chance.

Have a Nice Day: The only noteworthy element of this film is the controversy it caused last year for getting removed by China’s government for no real reason. It also has some interesting story beats, but with the very limited animation, and its fairly clunky story, there is no way this film has a chance. Plus, no one really knows about it.

Fireworks: I still stand that this is GKids’ worst outing in a while. The story is terrible, it wastes so any opportunities, because it needed to stick to the original story of the TV show episode it’s based on, and it’s not even the best looking animated feature from Japan this year. It’s a shame that the reviews were pretty much spot-on with this one. If you like it, that’s fine, but it has no chance when Mirai is the superior flick.

Sherlock Gnomes: I’m sorry to all of the people who worked hard on this film, but this has no chance! It was widely panned by critics and audiences, bombed at the box office, and is one of the few films I think I can safely say had no reason to exist. No one was asking for a sequel to a film no one cared about.

Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch: The Grinch might be making money, but that’s all it’s going to do. Illumination got lucky with Despicable Me 2 getting an Oscar nomination, but they haven’t been getting much award love since. No one will be talking about this Grinch until next Christmas, when people are reminded that Illumination made another one. Just because you made a lot of cash, doesn’t mean you will rake in the awards.

Tall Tales: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but it was very hard to find information about this movie, and it has no real presence in the US animation scene. It doesn’t even have any presence in the overall animation scene. When no one has any opinion or knowledge of your film, how are you going to expect an Oscar nomination?

The Laws of the Universe Part 1: The very first film in this series was submitted back a couple of years ago, but since no one I know talks about either that or this film, it has no chance. I know Elevenarts is finally putting their films on DVD, but when I haven’t been able to see either film because of limited screenings, then that’s a problem. It’s also going to have to beat out the other amazing anime titles of this year, and it simply won’t.

 

There you go! These are my predictions of which films have a chance, and what films have no chance in making it onto the list. Hopefully the Academy will get over their hatred for non-US animated features, but we will have to see how long that lasts.

Animation Tidbits #7: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 2

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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 editorial/list!)

Last time, we looked at the Annecy’s In Competition line-up of films. Now, we are going to look at the Out of Competition films. These are the films that are showing, but not competing for the awards. It doesn’t make them any less interesting or important, because some of the films in this section are important. Let’s not waste anymore time, and let’s dive into the films that look the most promising to me. If you want to see part 1, you can go to this link right here! Let’s get started!

Out of Competition

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen: While its use of stop-motion might be more similar to something like My Life as a Zucchini, and less of the Aardman and Laika-style, this film does look creative. The story is about a boy who is shrunk down to a small size, and must sail his toy boat across a flooded café, avoiding the Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate. Hopefully, they take advantage and have some fun with the “I shrunk down to the size of an action figure” setting, and it also seems like it’s going to be more than just a “shrinking movie” with everything probably having some kind of symbolic meaning to it.

Chris the Swiss: Here is one of the few partly animated, part-documentary films from this event. Chris the Swiss tells the story of, well, a Swiss man named Chris, who decades ago joined an army, and died. His cousin, an animation film director, decides to investigate what exactly happened with Chris, from what was going on at the time, and from the journals and war reports going on. I’m definitely curious to see where this takes us, in terms of the story, and how much animation will be in the film. It definitely will give us some unique visuals and a dark and interesting tone you don’t see in a lot of animated features.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires: There is a surprising amount of stop-motion at this year’s festival. Chuck Steel is essentially an 80s action cop film about Chuck Steel, who must save the day from an outbreak of Trampires, a horrific mixture of vampires and homeless people. It’s definitely aiming for that dumb schlock fun, and the stop-motion reminds me of the work by Will Vinton. It has a lot of detail and personality, and while it definitely shows the budget at times, Chuck Steel will hopefully be a fun time.

Hoffmaniada: Man, we are just getting so many of stop-motion projects this year. This is the story of a writer who gets sucked into his own book, and must escape the world in which the book takes place. It seems like it would lead to many creative and surreal visuals. I have seen about 30 minutes of the film, and it looks great. Sure, it looks like if the Rankin & Bass team had more budget in their specials, but the designs look great, and it reminds me of a lot of period dramas, due to the designs. Hopefully we can get a distributor like Good Deed Entertainment to bring it over.

Liz and the Blue Bird: From director Naoko Yamada, the individual behind the critically acclaimed A Silent Voice, is back with a new film called Liz and the Blue Bird. It follows the story of two female high school students, as they bond and get over challenges that life brings them while they are in band class. I think everyone can relate to when reality strikes you down, and starts to cause fissures around your life that will inevitably cause change.  It definitely looks interesting, and since it’s the same studio that did A Silent Voice, the animation is gorgeous. Sure, it has a bit of that “anime-style” that will probably turn non-Japanese animation watchers off, but the story sounds promising, and from what reviews I have read, it sounds like it’s going to be a good movie.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Blooms: What’s fairly cool about this year’s selection is that there are two female-directed Japanese-animated films. Liz and the Blue Bird, and this film, Maquia, by director Mari Okada. This one tells the story about a young woman named Maquia, who lives with a bunch of magical beings that weave the threads of human fate. One day, an invasion happens. She survives, but also finds a young boy to take care of, who was a survivor of the attack. Like our previous film on this list, it has some anime design choices I don’t personally care for, like the human designs, but I can overlook that, due to the goal and themes of the film. Okada is implementing themes of motherhood and adolescence into a touching tale. I trust she’s going to do a good job, and on top of Mari Okada, who was the screenwriter for The Anthem of the Heart, you also have character designer Akihiko Yoshia (Final Fantasy Tactics), and the music will be composed by Kenji Kawai, who did the music for Ghost in the Shell. I just love that more female directors are getting to work in animation, and are bringing in new perspectives, something that is sorely needed in animation.

North of Blue: This film by famed indie animation director Joanna Priestley is a visual wonder. It’s a film that’s more of an emotional and visual experience about our history and connectedness. It’s definitely a film that you are either going to love, due to all the emotion that the downright amazing visuals bring, or think it’s all style and no substance. I didn’t know what to expect when I watched the trailer for this film, but I can’t wait to see it!

On Happiness Road: So, I have been on the record of loving Only Yesterday, because it brings up adult topics of being adults, and looking back at our past to see if we are fine or happy with where we are now. This animated feature from Taiwan, On Happiness Road, directed by Hsin-Yin Sung, looks to capture that aspect that I loved about Only Yesterday. Yes, the animation looks more like a really good indie animated short from YouTube, but I think what’s going to help this film is the lovely visuals, writing, and the characters. I think everyone has had a moment to look back at where they are now, and wonder if they are accepting of what has happened since being a child. Plus, how many animated features from Taiwan do you see that look super promising? I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

The Last Fiction: This action fantasy flick, based on the Iranian tale, The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), is coming to us from Iran by director Ashkan Rahgozar. While there are definitely bits and pieces that you can point at to show off the budget, when are you ever going to get an action animated feature? So many US-made animated features don’t have variety, and while some have action sequences, a lot of them are played up more for laughs, than to watch something thrilling. It looks like a grand epic, and while it can definitely be compared visually to something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m happy to see something coming from Iran. The more countries that invest into high quality animation, the better.

The Tower: I swear this is the last stop-motion film on the list. There are simply too many to count this year! This multi-country collaboration is a mix of 2D flash animation and stop-motion about a young girl living in a refugee camp. While its stop-motion looks like the style used in shows like The Amanda Show or the Oscar-nominated Negative Space, and the flash animation might not look impressive to many, it’s going to have to come down to the story and the characters to push us through the experience. I definitely think this has potential to be well-received, but we will have to see.

The Angel in the Clock: While I can definitely criticize some aspects, like the art style and the animation looking a bit too child-friendly, I have to give respects to Mexico for their entry in feature animation. It’s also a story that would get no traction from the big animation studios here in the states. It’s about a young girl who has leukemia, who wants to stop time. She then meets an angel named Malachi that lives inside her cuckoo clock. I love the idea that this film is going to be tackling such a dark and uncomfortable topic, and talking about how more people need to learn to enjoy what’s happening here and now, and worry less about the future. Like I said, the animation and designs are not my favorite, but the visuals look great, and I’m always down for more films aimed at children to tackle different topics.

A Man is Dead: And finally, we have this hour-long French animated feature called A Man is Dead. It’s based on the comics that are set during the strikes in Brest back in April of 1950 that caused the death of a union worker. While again, definitely showing its budget, it also does a good job to bring us into this rather tough and violent time period. Yes, the characters look like French comic characters with the small dot eyes, but we will have to see how the story and pacing carries over the span of the film. It doesn’t have a lot of time to get an entire story told, because it’s an hour long, but as usual, any film that talks about certain periods of time that are unique and original through the power of animation, gets my thumbs up and approval.

Thanks for reading! Next time, we will be looking at the films in the “Work in Progress” section!