Richard Epcar

166: Lupin the 3rd: Goemon's Blood Spray 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!)

Warning/Parental Heads up! This is a very violent special. You will see limbs fly off, blood, and visions of beheading individuals. There are also some sexual tension and minor pot smoking. This is absolutely not meant for a younger audience. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Hope you like the review!

When you have such an iconic cast of characters like Lupin the 3rd does, it’s always a bit concerning when the film decides to focus on just one of them, and that one isn’t Lupin. Sure, you can make an interesting story or experience with someone like Fujiko and Daisuke Jigen, but then you have Goemon. From all of my years of loving Lupin the 3rd, Goemon has been one of the more frustrating characters on which to focus a story, because of his stoic samurai character. He’s kind of boring, and only gets fun when he uses that sword to do over-the-top sword slicing stuff. That’s why today’s review is probably going to be the best way to form a story around him, Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray

 

Directed by Takeshi Koike, Goemon’s Blood Spray is the second of specials that connect back to the Fujiko Mine mini-series that may or may not take place at the very beginning of the Lupin the 3rd timeline. Listen, with continuity for this franchise, you just have to wing it, and not think about it so hard. Anyway, let’s dive right into this little gorefest. 

 

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The story takes place after Jigen's Gravestone, as we see our gang of likable thieves stealing from a Yakuza-operated casino ship. While on the ship, Lupin, dubbed by Keith Silverstein, Jigen, dubbed by Dan Woren, and Fujiko, dubbed by Cristina Vee, are just there to steal the money. Goemon, dubbed by Lex Lang, is there to protect a Yakuza boss from harm. Unexpectedly, a third party is thrown in the fray with a killer known as Hawk aka the Phantom of Bermuda, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. Hawk is sent to kill Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko. Goemon tries to defend the three and fails to do so, but they are then saved by Inspector Zenigata, dubbed by Richard Epcar. Can Lupin and the gang avoid the killer ax swings of Hawk? Can Goemon redeem his failure to take down the giant killer? 

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Like I mentioned above, while Lupin, Jigen, Zenigata, and Fujiko are in the film, much of this film's focus is on the lone swordsman, Goemon. So, how do you make a character, which is usually untouchable, vulnerable? It's rather simple, set the story with Goemon before he's the unstoppable swordsman that he is in the main series. The plot is fairly basic in this film as it places Goemon against Hawk, and the main goal and drive of the story are for Goemon to achieve that level of swordsmanship that can put him on the same level or higher than Hawk. It's a very samurai-style film, but it fits. A lot of that is because the special knows what it needs to focus on and to have a threat that can propel the story forward. One of the best parts about this special is Hawk. Along with Jigen's Gravestone's Yael Okuzaki, Hawk is one of the deadliest threats in the Lupin the 3rd universe. He's big, strong, stoic, unmoving, and versatile with his two axes. He's not a dumb or typical hired hitman villain either. Due to being an ex-military soldier, Hawk can and will adapt to the situation at hand. Even using bullets on him does not work. I love that he looks like something out of a Hong Kong or early 70s/80s action flick. He would fit perfectly in films like Commando or any of the action films Hong Kong was putting out at the time. 

So, since this is pretty much Goemon's story, what do the other characters have to do? Well, a lot of the plot that involves Lupin and Jigen starts and stops at the cruise ship heist at the beginning, and then becomes the targets of Hawk. Fujiko doesn't have a whole lot to do, and I think that's good. The problem with the last special within this Lupin continuity was that she did little, and was mostly fan service. In this film, she bails at the halfway point while Goemon is training. Zenigata has a bit more to do this time as he tries to not only capture Lupin and Jigen, but also find out why Hawk was there in the first place. The rest of the cast are setups for Goemon's story, including the gang of yakuza that Goemon was protecting back on the ship. 

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Animation-wise, it's on par with the last special. The darker outlines, slicker designs, and action sequences are all beautiful to look at and watch on screen. The movements are so fluid, and you are constantly hooked to see how the fights pan out. Like I also said above, this is a very violent film. Not early 90s anime violent, but you will see limbs fly, blood spray, and Goemon get a part of his arm sliced like a Deli slicing roast beef. You will be getting action sequences that can be compared to the ones you see in Sword of the Stranger. The dub cast is also pretty spectacular. We have the returning cast of Keith Silverstein as Lupin, Dan Woren as Jigen, Richard Epcar as Zenigata, and Cristina Vee as Fujiko, but the two newcomers, Kirk Thorton and returning Goemon voice actor Lex Lang are wonderful additions to the cast. Kirk brings this weathered and tired portrayal to Hawk, and Lex brings his A-game and his best Goemon performance to date. Of course, this wouldn't be a Lupin special if it didn't have a pretty cheesy rock song at the end of the special by Rob Laufer. 

 

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So, what did I not like about this special? Well, while it is stripped down, I would have loved a bit more connection and explanation about who hired Hawk to kill Lupin, Fujiko, and Jigen. They don't explain it, despite this special being a sequel to Jigen's Gravestone. Was it Mamo who sent Hawk after the gang? What happened to Hawk after the fight with Goemon at the end? I think turning this into a 90-minute feature would have helped flesh out the story more. I still love the plot, but it needed to either cut more or expand more. 

 

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In the end, Goemon's Blood Spray is a thrilling violent romp, reminiscent of some of anime's best action films. I highly recommend picking up the recently released Blu-ray from Discotek Media. It's very entertaining, violent, and it made a usually tough character to make interesting, well, interesting. It's still not Castle of Cagliostro, but I consider it one of the best specials out of the Lupin the 3rd franchise. Now then, we shall move from the blood-soaked lands of Japan to the shivering mountaintops as we look at DreamWorks and Pearl Studios' Abominable

 Thank you for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to like and share this review! You can also be a patron for my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. 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 65: Miss Hokusai 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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As many other animation critics have pointed out, this year produced a huge abundance of films, a majority of them pretty much in the same ballpark. Variety is the spice of life, and yet even seeing how financially successful animated films have been this year, they tend to stay in the realm of brightly colored, celebrity-riddled, and fast-paced comedies. Not that this can’t be a good thing since a lot of great animated films use all three elements, like 2014’s best animated film, The LEGO Movie, but it would be nice for animation studios to take different steps and diversify themselves. So many studios follow what’s successful, and while that isn’t a bad idea at all, I mean, this is an industry wanting to make money, but they should also work on making their own identities. With situations like DreamWorks, they can definitely do comedies, but it seems like they are better at story and character-focused films, like Kung Fu Panda 3 and How to Train your Dragon 2. Illumination is good at Looney Toons-style comedies, but their stories lack depth. I don’t think I want there to be a ban on fast-paced comedies, but it would be nice to have diversity. That’s why I was super-excited for this film, Miss Hokusai. This Japanese animated film was directed by Keiichi Hara, who was the director of the well-received film, Colorful. When this film came out, it made waves, and was a popular film among film festivals. It even won multiple awards, including the Jury Prize at the Annecy Film Festival, the Gold Audience Award for best animated feature from the Fantasia International Film Festival, and the Satoshi Kon Award for best animated feature film. When I saw that GKids was going to bring this over, I got excited. So, how does it all turn out?

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Miss Hokusai revolves around the daughter of Hokusai, Katsushika Oi, voiced by Erica Lindbeck. She lives with her father, the famous painter known as Hokusai, voiced by one of the best anime voice actors around, Richard Epcar. The movie mostly follows her interaction with her family and different people, ranging from Hokusai’s apprentices to random customers who hire them for art commissions.

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The interesting thing about this film’s plot is that it doesn’t really have a major plot going on. It forgoes the three-act structure, and the film really isn’t building up to something big. Instead, the film is more down to earth, slice of life, and real. It definitely reminds me of films like The Rabbi’s Cat, where most of the film is the characters interacting with each other about life and art. Some could see this as a downside, since there is no major story to connect to, or it feels unfocused. I can definitely understand that statement, but I disagree. The big risk about doing these types of films is making sure you keep the characters interesting, since if you can’t invest or be interested in the characters, then no one wants to watch your “plotless” film. What works about the “plot” is while it isn’t traditionally set up, there is actual character development developing. You see little stories unfold about the individual characters, like Katsushika Oi’s relationship with her mother, father, her younger blind sister, her artistic talent compared to her father and other artists, and life. Hokusai also has an interesting sub-story about his thoughts on life and his relationship with the blind daughter, and why he doesn’t visit her. You even get these Birdman-style fantasy elements that are woven in, but don’t distract from the more grounded story. It’s a film that is the purest definition of being “real”. The interactions, how they talk, and their moods really does show what Japanese animated films can be like. Anime is unfortunately stuck in this deep ditch of preconceptions and tropes that stew, and give it an unlikely image, since most will just see it as all the same schlock. While most anime can and will be terrible due to the industry only producing certain types of anime, every once in a while you get something like a Ghibli film, a Makoto Shinkai film, something from Mamoru Hosoda, or a film like Memories that goes against the common opinion about this genre of animation. Miss Hokusai is the most recent example of this, where the film might be dripping with Japanese culture, but the characters are interesting and relatable enough to be worth investing in, with the dialogue sounding more fluid and natural than what you find in something like Ghost in the Shell. You feel for the characters, and while some moments can be a bit sappy, everything else is just so good that you don’t mind it.

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The animation is great. While it might not be the super-hyper style of animation so many American audiences are used to, that’s because the characters needed more fluid and non-exaggerated ways of moving. It would be distracting if this film had something like, Hotel Transylvania or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs-style animation. I also like how the designs aren’t traditional anime. The characters have more realistic proportions. Miss Hokusai also has a lot of quiet and tender moments that let the audience breath, and let them into their world. It’s very reminiscent of something from Hayao Miyazaki. The voice cast also does a great job at personifying the characters from the old sort of pessimistic, but caring Hokusai, to the silent, but stubborn Oi. While I definitely feel like Richard Epcar was perfect casting in how he doesn’t use his Jigen Daisuke or Batou voice, the rest of the cast, including long-time veteran Erza Weisz, Courtney Chu, Marc Diraison, Cindy Robinson, Mike Pollock, Kevin T. Collins, and Robbie Daymond pull off strong performances. The music by Harumi Fuki is also very elegant and inspiring, and fits the mood in each scene.

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Now, with all that said, and I really do love this movie, I have a few minor gripes. Sometimes the scenes with the younger sister are a bit sappy. You can kind of tell what’s going to happen, but they are done well enough that you care about what happens with her, and when she is with her older sister and father. I also found the ending to be yet again abrupt. It’s all done with Oi on the busy bridge that you see at the beginning of the film talking about what happened to everyone. I wish I could have seen that instead of been told that movie. I know this film wasn’t all about having a three-act structure and a big pay-off, but I hate it when Japanese animated films are like this. It happens way too often, and it comes off like they have no idea how to end their story properly. It doesn’t ruin the movie at all, but it’s noticeable. There is also one scene where Oi goes to a brothel with male prostitutes, and the scene itself is done well enough and does have context for the character, but it almost could have been something unsavory. It never came close to the whole Wings of Honneamise scene that taints the film, but they were lucky in Miss Hokusai that it was executed as such, or else people would probably have a field day about it. As a final personal nitpick and personal taste sort of  comment, I do wish there were more romantic moments with Oi and the man she is crushing on, but it was probably done lightly to reinforce her strong character traits and not having to rely on falling in love with a guy, like so many movies are going to do.

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I think anyone into art should definitely see Miss Hokusai. It’s a complex movie, and is easily one of my top five favorite movies of the year, and that’s saying something, with a year that has Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, The Little Prince, and Only Yesterday. If you are in a city with the film playing nearby, definitely go see it, and definitely buy it. It’s one of the best animated films of the year, and shows that Keiichi Hara has a great future ahead for himself, and could easily be up there with Mamoru Hosoda as being some of the best anime directors to a new generation of film makers. I want to keep going with this stream of positivity and talk finally talk about Wes Anderson as we take a look at Fantastic Mr. Fox. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials