Michael Sinterniklaas

139: Summer Wars 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!)

A fun part about tackling animated films is that you get to go through the director’s entire history of work, and see when certain parts of their craftsmanship start to pop up. That’s the entertaining part to watch an artist evolve. For example, today’s review will be a film that I think truly showed the colors of the creator, Summer Wars. Yes, we are dipping back into the filmography of Mamoru Hosoda with his second film after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It was released back in 2009 in Japan, but came over to the states in 2010. While he has done film and anime projects before Summer Wars, to me, it’s the film that encapsulates a lot of the details that Hosoda would use in his future films. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a teen male named Kenji Koiso, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He’s a math-savvy teen, who helps moderate part of this massive online world known as Oz, where you can do anything from socialize, play games, and even use it for real business. While working alongside his friend, Kenji ends up taking an offer from a female student named Natsuki Shinohara, dubbed by Brina Palencia. She asks Kenji to come with her to this huge family summer get-together to celebrate the 90th birthday of her grandmother. The catch is that he has to be her boyfriend/soon-to-be husband to impress her grandmother. Unfortunately, while meeting the large family of rather likable individuals, a virus gets loose into Oz, and causes massive world-wide chaos, and the virus plans to launch powerful missiles on power plants to cause widespread destruction. This is on top of also having to deal with the family drama of an illegitimate grandson, who may be behind the virus. Can Kenji balance this all out?

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room with this film. No, it’s not the fact that the script does has some choice words bashing the US, nor is it it the fact that, at first, the female lead is kind of terrible, because if a guy did what she did with forcing him to go along for a huge charade, the world would have rioted. It’s the fact that Mamoru Hosoda, in all of his infinite wisdom, basically remade an earlier work of his that was essentially the infamous Digimon Movie. Or, if we want to be more specific, one of the Digimon specials he directed. Yeah, it’s hard not to see Hosoda simply taking a bunch of the plot elements, like the virus, the nukes, and the bunny fixation in this film. The world of Oz looks like how the internet looks in the Digimon Movie, with the blank white open space and gears/Ferris wheel motif. It’s like he took a look at the reviews and ridicule the Digimon Movie got because of how Fox cut it up, and decided to give the middle finger to the US release of his work, and made it better. It’s not a major negative, but it’s a negative none the less.

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Like I said above, while she becomes more endearing as the film goes on, I found Natsuki to be annoying. Instead of just bringing Kenji to her family celebration, she forces him to lie to her family on a rather large scale, and then doesn’t get why the family doesn’t like this one illegitimate grandson. I can understand if this is how teens are, and I get not wanting to worry your grandparents about your future. I’m sure I’m missing a couple of cultural aspects of her reasons behind her actions, but it took a bit for me to warm up to her. She becomes more endearing when time goes on, but you have to stick with it. It just seems like if this was a role reversal, people would be calling this out more. While I love the family that this film focuses on, they aren’t all fully fleshed out. I don’t remember half of their names, and some of them are just annoying and don’t interact with the others to be aware of what’s going on. At two separate points, three family members cause the situation to get worse. Sure, you can write it off as two of them being obnoxious kids, but one of them is a police officer, and he doesn’t talk to the family members that are trying to take down the evil virus that could kill them? Like, it’s not a plot hole, but it seems like lazy writing.

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I know it sounds like I’m trashing this movie, but I do really love it. I have a lot of positives to say about it. As usual with Hosoda’s animation, it’s beautifully crafted, grounded, and the designs are all super appealing to look at. The online world also gives the film a good excuse to make fun avatar designs that I think fit each person in the film perfectly. This is also a major point of where we can see his amazing eye for up-close combat. The fighting in this film is gorgeous, with fluid and realistic movements. It gets a bit more absurd when you enter the online world, but it still doesn’t negate the force you feel from the punches and kicks. While you are technically watching a bunch of people sit around and look at a bunch of screens, you are still kept invested with what’s going on online and offline. It’s fairly nice to see a film that’s about technology not be an anti-internet or anti-technology message that anime unfortunately loves to do. Listen, technology has made some pretty horrible things, and made gateways for toxic and horrible people to spread their toxic roots all over the world. However, technology has also done wonders, and has connected us in many ways. It’s not just one-sided, in terms of tackling the commentary about Oz and its use by most people around the world. I also liked the dub cast. While the original Japanese version used accurately aged actors to voice their animated counterparts, and you lose that when Funimation uses a bunch of adults for everything, I still like the English dub. As usual, to play every moody male teen these days, you have Michael Sinterniklaas, and a slew of other incredible talents, like Mike McFarland, Patrick Seitz, Christopher Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Caitlin Glass, John Swasey, and many more. To me, this was the film where Hosoda started to really use his family motif in his films. While you might not remember everyone's name, the characters truly feel like a family.

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It’s not Hosoda’s best film, and it probably apes too much off of his previous work for its own good, Summer Wars is still a visually stunning, heartfelt, and entertaining movie about technology and family. While there is a normal version of this film available from Funimation, they recently made a special edition for Hosoda’s other films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, up to The Boy and the Beast. If you haven’t picked up this wonderful film already, I recommend picking up that special version. This just makes me super excited for Hosoda’s new film, Mirai coming out this year. Now then, we are onto the next review, and we will be tackling what might be China’s most ambitious, visually pretty, and busiest animated feature. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

131: Lu Over the Wall 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!)

Welcome to Far East Animation Month! This is pretty much Japanese Animation Month, but since one of the films I’m going to tackle is not from Japan, I decided to change up the title, because the far east has some pretty promising stuff coming out of the animation scene. Taiwan has a film showing in this year’s Annecy Film Festival, and Japan, as usual, has a bunch of films in production or are about to be released. This time, we are going to start out with what can be considered Masaaki Yuasa’s biggest hit out of his animation career, Lu Over the Wall. Animated by Science Saru and Toho Animation, this was Yuasa’s first major hit that was both a financial and critical success. In his past, he was getting critical praise, but was not the most lucrative director, which unfortunately gave him a stigma of not being able to bring in the big bucks. Thankfully, this one did super well, and he’s having a fantastic career right now with his other film Night is Short, Walk on Girl that came out before Lu Over the Wall, and the hit Netflix anime series, Devilman Crybaby. Let’s just dive into this awesome film!

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The story follows a young boy named Kai, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He lives in a small fishing town that doesn’t really have the brightest future for anyone wanting to expand on their life outside of what happens in the town. He ends up getting pulled into this band with its two founding members Kunio and Yuho, dubbed by Brandon Engman and Stephanie Sheh. He decides to join them for band practice on this mysterious Merfolk Island, a place where mermaids live and the townsfolk are told to not mess with them, or play music, which supposedly attracts them. During practice, Kai ends up encountering a small mermaid girl named Lu, dubbed by Christine Marie Cabanos. What will happen now that he knows that mermaids actually exist? What will the townsfolk think when they realize that the mermaids are back? Will the songs be groovy and jamming?

So, I have commented in the past that Yuasa has a very distinct style and way of directing his stories. His animation style sticks out with thin lining, and characters who look simple, and while polished in a lot of ways, are very stretchy and bouncy. By a lesser artist, it would look sloppy and ugly, but this stretch and bounce-style of animation is balanced this time, and shows off the fun and energy the characters bring, and also the ugly anger that can come from them. Everything feels like the old Tex Avery cartoons made back in the day, which is no surprise, because Yuasa was inspired by him. It’s simply a lot of fun to watch the animation in motion, since you get to see a lot of it through dancing. Even with the designs as they are, it leads to great expressions and comedy.

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In terms of the themes, story, and characters, I liked it all. I have some issues with how parts of the story were handled, but this feels like the most focused of Yuasa’s work. It deals with the trials of growing up, being able to interact with your loved ones, the downsides to fame, and the dangers of fear mongering. I love seeing some of these themes, because while you definitely see them tackled in a couple of the foreign films, too many of the non-Disney or non-Pixar films decide to have different morals that you don’t often see in most animated films. Seriously, more animated family features need topics of parents and really, anyone needing to be upfront when talking about certain issues. It makes it better in the long run when everyone is on the same page. Lu Over the Wall is also very charming and sweet. I love the scene where Kai and Lu are walking around the town at night. It reminds me of hanging out with my niece. It’s easily the most heart-felt part of the movie. I even like seeing Lu’s dad interact rather peacefully with the humans. Her dad probably has some of the better laughs of the film.

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The voice cast is pretty stellar. I have seen this film in both English and Japanese, and I found the dub cast to be awesome. While I have made some snarky remarks that two of the leads are voiced by the same two who voiced the leads in the critically acclaimed Your Name, and they were chosen for that reason alone, I do think Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh do a good job with their roles. Michael pretty much kills it as a middle school boy unsure of his future and still bitter after his parents’ divorce. It was nice to hear voice actors like Derek Stephen Prince, because I love hearing from voice actors I don’t normally hear from, or simply don’t recognize them right off the bat. One major aspect that I admired about the dub was that they dubbed the songs. Usually, they would just put up some subtitles while the characters sing in Japanese. Kudos for GKids to make sure the dub also covered the songs. I can tell they did this for the next film I’m going to review, and hopefully this will be the case with Fireworks. While I would say the English singing of the song is not 100% perfect, I give the actors credit for having to deal with it, because I’m sure it’s not easy to have to speak and sing for roles like these. Speaking of music, Lu Over the Wall’s soundtrack was composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu. There is a great mix of jazzy upbeat tunes, soft, giving off the vibes of being by the sea, and dramatic tunes when needed for the story.

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The only major complaint I have is that there is a lot going on in the last third. It’s great, but the film builds up a couple of storylines, and they either didn’t know how to pace them, or couldn’t cut them. Some of the side stories get fleshed out decently enough, but a lot of them have endings that wrap up too quickly. Some have touching conclusions, while others give you that feeling of “Is that it? Okay, I guess that was somewhat satisfying.” It does end up making the last third feel drawn out a touch, and a bit busy. It was the only time where I felt like Yuasa’s busy mentality almost got free.

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Overall, I really loved Lu Over the Wall. It’s cute, funny, charming, energetic, and such a fun watch. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. I know some are trying to twitch react to this film being a clone of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo, but it’s not. Both are entirely different movies, both have entirely different themes, stories, and both are amazing. It’s still playing in theaters right now, but I bet by August or September, it will be out on DVD. If you can’t catch it in theaters, then definitely buy the movie. Next time, we shall tackle our first South Korean-animated feature that has weird baggage attached to it. That’s right! We will be tackling another GKids-distributed film with Satellite Girl and Milk Cow! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

120: Your Name

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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!)

Warning/Heads up!: I will be talking about the story and will be spoiling a bit to explain my criticism. If you have not seen this film yet, then by all means, watch it, and then come back to this review. Enjoy!

To be honest, I was having a brain tickler of a time choosing the 120th review. The beginning part of the year is usually not swarmed with obviously bad or notoriously awful films. Instead, I decided to choose a popular film. It’s an animated film that was universally loved, and won critical acclaim around the world. This Japanese film in question is Your Name. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name was released back in 2016, and became the biggest animated hit in Japan of all time. It even beat out Spirited Away, which held the title for highest grossing Japanese-animated film. When it was competing in the 2016 Oscars, everyone online got mad that it didn’t get nominated. It’s a film that surpassed expectations, and got so big that Makoto Shinkai told fans of the film to back down on the praise. Not that he fully hated it, but he felt like the film was flawed, and some aspects could be fixed. So, for me, I have been fairly vocal about not liking it as much as everyone else, but do I think it’s bad? Well, let’s find out.

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Our story follows the life of two teens. They are named Taki Tachibana, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, and Mitsuha Miyamizu, voiced by Stephanie Sheh. These two live in different parts of Japan, where Taki lives in Tokyo, and Mitsuha lives in Itomori, a small rural town. They live their fairly typical teenage lives without many problems. Well, besides the fact that they have somehow swapped bodies with one another. Yeah, for one reason or another, they constantly wake up in the other’s body, and don’t know who the other is. It then becomes a ticking clock for the two to find out who the other is, all the while going through their days in each other’s body.

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As usual, let’s talk about the positives. Even if my opinion on Makoto Shinkai’s work does not line up with everyone else’s, I do still have a lot to say that’s positive. As usual, his animation in the later part of the 2000s is gorgeous. I say later part of the 2000s, because I was never a fan of early 2000s digital anime with the flat colors and bland designs. It was also the time period when anime was trying to combine 2D and CGI, and it was distracting. To me, Your Name is his best animation yet. Even from his first film, Shinkai has always had amazing skyscapes. They are just so vibrant and awe-inspiring. They are also grand in scope, and really show off how huge the sky is. While I find the character designs to be fairly generic, in terms of looking like most polished anime designs you see today, they do move well, and are fairly expressive. The colors are also very lavish. It’s a gorgeous movie no matter where you stand on the overall quality. There are plenty of scenes and shots that could be put into frames and hung on a wall.

While I am not always on board with teenage characters, and what archetypes Makoto Shinkai likes to use in his movies, I found myself really invested with the two leads in Your Name. One of my consistent problems with Makoto Shinkai films is that he constantly has the emotion down, but the characters never end up as that interesting. It has pulled me out of his films quite a lot. Thankfully, at least for me, I was constantly invested in what was going on. It was fun to see how being in each other’s bodies would affect how they would interact with people in their own respective days. I know we have seen this premise in films like Freaky Friday, and there are a few jokes that are predictable with this kind of plot point, but the gimmick of the plot for the first half starts out slow, and then builds up to a twist and sequences that will keep you invested throughout the two-hour runtime.

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So, what do I not like about the film? Let’s start with the small complaints. While I find the film to be downright visually gorgeous, the designs are not all that memorable. They look like most polished generic anime characters you can see in most anime these days. While the themes and style of film is all Makoto Shinkai, I wish he had his own designs as well. When I watch a film by Miyazaki, Takahata, Hosoda, and Yuasa, I can tell when it’s their film by their art style. I also found the anime-style opening to be fairly jarring, since this is a movie, and having an anime series intro feels clunky. I also found a few jokes to fall flat. Like, you know the first joke they are going to go to when the male lead finds himself in the body of the female lead. It’s rather tasteless. Sadly, they play out that joke a couple of times, and it’s really eye-rolling.

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So, let’s talk about the biggest problem I have with the film. It is not with people overhyping it. While I can make an argument about hype culture and how it can really be a film’s downfall, and the fact YouTubers hyped this film up without having the foresight to not hype it to heaven and back, that’s all temporary. The hype will die down, and you leave all levels of expectations at the door. The biggest problem with Your Name is the twist. About halfway through the film, something happens that makes the entire plot way more confusing than it should be. I know some people will tell me some half-baked college drop-out philosophy about the twist, but it simply ruined the film for me. You can tell me how it works, but even then, I’m still not going to like it. I don’t get why this couldn’t be this fun romantic mystery film about the two finding themselves. The twist simply makes a charming and simple plot way more complicated. I don’t get why this couldn’t be simply Freaky Friday, but animated. Another problem I have with this film, and I feel like most people don’t notice or care to bring up, is the fact that outside of the improvements, it’s another Makoto Shinkai film. While I think he is good at what he does, it does feel like he is making the same film over and over. Every film of his deals with teen romance, skyscapes, long distance relationships, and feeling alone. It’s almost the same exact story as his other films. At least with directors like Yuasa, Miyazaki, and Hosoda, they use the themes they like, but still make every film feel vibrant and different. While I was watching Your Name, I kept thinking back to his other films more so than seeing Your Name as its own film. There is nothing wrong with a director using familiar themes in all of his work, but you, at the very least, want every film to feel different. It’s why my favorite of Makoto Shinkai’s films is Children Who Chase Lost Voices. While it might be similar to the works of directors like Miyazaki, it feels different from his other films. I’m not mad or dislike Makoto Shinkai because he’s a bad filmmaker, because he’s not. I do not like his work, because it’s repetitive. I want him to expand on other ideas. I also get that some of his themes are tied to Japan’s culture, but the best animated films from Japan do not make me think of that. I want to feel like I can get where a film is coming from, despite its place of origin.

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I know I came off strong with the criticism, but do not misunderstand me. I do think Your Name is a good film. It’s beautiful, has endearing characters, the emotional moments are powerful, and the music is wonderful. I do not agree that it’s the best animated film of 2016, or when it was released in 2017 stateside, and I’ll admit, some bitterness towards the film was because people did overhype. I do see some people start to criticize it more in recent times, but they still enjoy it. I enjoyed Your Name, and when I don’t have other purchasable priorities on the mind, I will purchase a copy of Your Name. It’s a film that is worth experiencing, if you want to see non-Ghibli animated features. Personally, I prefer directors like Masaaki Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda more, but I do think Makoto Shinkai is one of the great Japanese animation directors. I just want him to grow as an artist. Now then, let’s move to a Chinese-animated film that had some controversy behind it, and let’s talk about Have a Nice Day. Thanks 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 84: Japanese Animation Month 2 Part 2: Patema Inverted 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!)

When watching a film, you should be able to get into the world without spending time away from focusing on the story and characters, and wondering how everything works. It becomes more distracting as time goes on when they introduce elements that don’t’ get a lot of explanations in terms of how it works, and adds to the universe as a whole. This is the fate of GKids’ release of Patema Inverted. This sci-fi Japanese animated film was originally released in 2013, and was brought over to the states by GKids in 2014. The film was written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, a director who worked on the one-off OVA Pale Cocoon, a designer for Evangelion 2.0, the director, creator, and screenwriter of the web series Time of Eve, and the director of Bureau of Proto Society. It went on to get solid reviews, but is definitely one of the weaker films from GKids’ library in terms of critical reception. So, do I agree that it’s one of the weaker films from the awesome distributor? Well, let’s find out.

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In the far future, mankind decided to try to harness energy from gravity. Of course, by doing so, mankind basically screwed over the earth and caused a rather large mass of the population to die due to the now messed-up gravity. This has led to a certain group of people having to live underground, and some forced to live above ground due to how the gravity is inverted. We follow one of our leads, Patema, voiced by Cassandra Morris, as she dreams of seeing the above world and its inhabitants, despite the multiple warnings she has been given to not do so. After escaping a threat, she ends up flying upwards from her world to the outside world, where the other side of civilization lives. She ends up meeting a young man named Age, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, who is a student that lives under the tyrannical rule of a crazed priest named Izamura, voiced by Richard Epcar. Can our two young heroes survive Izamura’s grasp, and find out what exactly happened to the world?

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Sadly, one of the biggest problems of the film is, like I alluded to at the beginning of the review, the world and setting. Besides being yet another story of “man is stupid for screwing over the world”, some elements are never explained. For example, later on in the film, Age and Patema end up both flying upward into the sky. They find a massive metal contraption is in the sky in Age’s side of the world. We never really find out if the metal piece was man-made or not. I did learn what it was, but I don’t think I should consider it a good thing that I had to learn something about the film after going to the internet. I mean, isn’t that the power of filmmaking that you can show the viewer what’s going on and not tell them? There were times when I felt like the film was not telling me enough about the setting, and the huge twist at the end was less “oh golly gee wow, that’s a shocker that I didn’t see coming!” and more like “So, did they appear on the other side of the world? What is going on?” To be honest, I don’t personally think it’s my fault for not catching what the film was throwing. I even looked it up to see if I was the only one who was confused by the setting and the twist. Luckily, I was not the only one looking for answers, and even though I found the answers to be helpful and did help shape the world of the film more, I still felt like it was unsatisfying. Again, the film should have done a better job at its story and setting, so I don’t feel like I’m missing something.

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Sadly, that’s not the only problem this film has. Besides the main two characters the story follows, no one else is really that interesting. It’s a shame, since you would think a film with a rather interesting setting would have more intriguing characters, but it doesn’t. Most of them are traditional anime tropes or are completely pointless to the story. Seriously, from time to time, they would cut to this red-headed girl who doesn’t do anything, and has no real character. It’s distracting, and I don’t know if she was meant to have more time on-screen, but she feels like an idea that was forgotten to be taken out in the editing process. Even the villain, who is usually the most entertaining character in these types of films, is such a bore. Richard Epcar does a fantastic job as usual, but the villain has no layers to him. He isn’t even good enough to be one of those really intimidating, if one-note, villains. He’s one of those stereotypical high priest characters who went crazy with power, and anyone who doesn’t agree with him dies. I mean, how many times have we seen these types of villains in animation? They are almost as boring as the villains from films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Disney’s Tarzan.

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In terms of animation, it is good. It moves well, and the idea of how the gravity works can lead to some great visuals and mind-bending moments on whether the side Patema is on or Age’s side is the accurate side of the earth. However, I found the character designs to be fairly bland. They don’t really stand out to me. I guess the only one that stands out is Patema, but everyone else? I think it’s fairly cookie-cutter. I think why it’s bothersome to me is because, once again, the world is interesting, but everyone looks so bland, and made to make animation easier. It doesn’t have a distinct style to it.

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After all that complaining, is there something I like about the movie? Of course, there is. Even if the designs look bland, the world itself is still visually interesting. Maybe a bit generic by sci-fi standards, but the scene and background you see when the “twist” happens is very pretty. I also like the chemistry between Patema and Age. Sure, you probably have seen these two types of characters before in other films, but I found them cute together. Like I said earlier, the idea that the gravity is messed up can and will lead to some mind-bending moments. It also leads to reinventing the whole “villain dies by falling” trope with the gravity situation. I also like how it does bring an interesting twist to the whole “why can’t we get along with each other” kind of story. There was a scene in the film that almost felt out of place, but was really funny. It was when Patema and Age first meet, and Age takes her to a safe shed-like building, leading to a rather funny joke. You don’t see this style of humor in the rest of the film, but it was humorous to see it.

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While I do agree Patema Inverted is probably one of the weaker films to be brought over by GKids, I still enjoyed watching it. It’s like saying Hayao Miyazaki has a “bad” film because even the weaker films from that guy are way better than the best from mediocre directors. Patema Inverted still has some great visuals, a cute set of protagonists, and a setting that is fairly admirable. I would definitely recommend checking this film out. Well, that was fun talking about a hidden gem, but next time, how about we talk about one of the best films based on anime’s favorite thief? That’s right, we shall finally talk about Lupin the III: Dead or Alive. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 83: Japanese Animation Month 2 Part 1: Welcome to the Space Show 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!)

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While I do like when a film that is set in space treats me like an individual with brain cells, I do miss when having a film set in space could mean fun and creative adventures. It’s not that I don’t like being challenged intellectually, but it seems like that is all we are getting with films like Interstellar, and while I enjoy that movie, I had a lot more fun watching something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where it’s all about the creativity, action, and adventure with something as big as space. That is why I was intrigued by Welcome to the Space Show. This 2010 Japanese-animated film was produced by A1 Pictures, the studio behind Fairy Tail and Black Butler. The film was directed by Koji Masunari and returning name from a previous review, Masaaki Yuasa, the man behind Mindgame. It was brought over to the states by GKids back in 2014, and has gone under the radar since then. Since I’m talking about it, this must be some pretty entertaining stuff. Well, you would be right. Let’s dive into this space romp.

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The story revolves around a group of kids who are staying in a school building for a week or so during summer vacation. These kids include Natsuki, voiced by Stephanie Sheh, her cousin Amane, voiced by Michaela Dean, Kiyoshi, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, Noriko, voiced by Cassandra Lee, and Koji, voiced by Michael Jacob Wayne. One day as they are searching for a lost rabbit, they come across an actual crop circle, and decide to investigate. Upon the investigation, they find an injured dog. After recovering, the dog turns out to be an alien dog named Pochi, voiced by Marc Diraison. Pochi thanks the kids by taking them through an adventure in space. They get wrapped up in a sinister plan set in motion by an alien named Neppo, voiced by Mike Pollock, who wants to become a God and rule the universe with a special weapon. Can Pochi and the kids save the universe before they get back home?

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, I might use this term a lot, but it honestly fits this film, it feels like a 80s adventure film aimed at a general family-friendly audience. It might have kids as the lead, but you can tell a lot of the time was put into how fantastical the space world around them is. Since this is by one of the directors of Mindgame, you will be seeing many different aliens of all shapes and sizes. It’s hard to explain unless you actually see some of the screen shots from the film. It reminds me of the anime series, Space Dandy. Everything is so wildly imaginative and creative, from the vehicles used to travel to the planets to out-of-this-world alien designs. It looks like someone took a bunch of children’s drawings, mixed them with some LCD, a dash of Yellow Submarine, a hefty helping of Carnevale, and brought them to life, since there are very few designs that look alike that weren’t the lead or secondary characters. Everything is so colorful and vibrant. Sure, it has its moments to have darker or more sinister sequences, but for about 95% of the time, the colors are lush and diverse. Even with how bonkers the entire universe is that they explore, they do keep it grounded to a degree, and let the story and atmosphere take some time to envelop you into it. It’s nice that a film as crazy and vibrant as Welcome to the Space Show does slow down, since viewers need time to decompress and not feel like they are in constant state of movement. Sometimes that state of mind is great, but it can also be tiring.

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Due to the less-detailed designs, the animation is able to be faster and more fluid than some other films with more detailed animation. It makes many of the expressions on the aliens great, and the action fun. The first chase sequence and the final battle come to mind, where this kind of style and animation works great with battles that feel like every hit has weight behind it. Sure, I know some people could argue that due to the designs and animation, everyone looks a bit sloppy, but it does add personality to the film. At the very least, it’s not Samurai 7 where only the action scenes and the occasional emotional/character moment look great, and everything else can look like utter chicken scratch. While it doesn’t have that fluidity that Ghibli films or Hosoda films have, it’s still a pretty well-animated film. I also enjoyed the voice cast. I felt like, for the most part, everyone that they hired did a good job. It’s fun to see Michael Sinterniklaas and Mike Pollock in the cast, since I don’t’ always think of them in Japanese animation. I almost forgot that Michael Sinterniklaas was in this film, since he sounds so much like Yuri Lowenthal. Mike Pollock was a lot of fun as the villain, because he is pretty much bringing that entertaining energy that he uses for Dr. Eggman/Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog into his performance as Welcome to the Space Show’s lead villain.

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With all that said, I do have some complaints. In terms of the overall length of the film, it does tend to drag a bit. It has a touch too much filler going on, and by the third act, I was still enjoying it, but was hoping it would end soon. There are also a few scenes/things that kind of bothered me, and I don’t know if they ever thought about it before keeping these moments in the film. The first moment that bugged me was when the second oldest female lead was heading off to meet up with the others. You see her younger brother on top of a cow, but with no pants. Yeah, no offense or anything, but I do not want to see little kids naked. Another plot point that I find creepy is Pochi’s relationship with the youngest girl. It’s obvious that he has a crush on her, and, yeah, I find that a tad disturbing. I guess it’s trying to be comedic, but it’s once again fairly creepy. I also found the two youngest characters in the film to not have the best voice work.

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Even with the pacing problems and some questionable elements to the overall experience, Welcome to the Space Show is fun. It has good animation, great visuals, fun action, a solid voice cast, and is a fun adventure. It might not be in my top 10 in terms of GKids-released animated films, but it’s one space adventure I will never forgot. Well then, next up on the animation chopping block, let’s go topsy-turvey and review Patema Inverted. Thanks for reading. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!