Welcome to the Space Show

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!

The Other Side of Animation 37: Mind Game Review


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

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There is male and female nudity (though oddly drawn), cursing, and some adult content and sexual abstract/non abstract scenes. It’s a weird movie, so if you are a parent thinking about watching this, really do watch it by yourself BEFORE even thinking about watching it with a younger individual. Did I mention that this film is really freaking weird? Because it is! Enjoy the review!

With a lot of films, including animated ones, there is always this attempt to be philosophical, to try and have a bigger message to say about whatever the film wants to say, and so on. This usually leads the film to be more abstract in either story execution or visually. We have seen films do this with something like 2014’s Birdman, with the illusion of the film looking like one long uncut shot, and having unique visuals attached to the lead character. In terms of results and the reception from critics and casual moviegoers, I think it’s always going to be divisive. Sometimes, it depends on the individual viewer to say if the film’s message is deep, or sometimes, it’s how the overall movie is handled, in terms of the message being strong or if it’s trying to grasp for a purpose that it can’t reach. This is why I was a bit baffled about Mind Game. This interesting film is from our animation buddies from Japan, and came out in 2004. Mind Game is a very unusual film that has gained a rather large cult following with its weird artstyle, and odd way of telling a story. One thing to note about this film is the director behind it, Masaaki Yuasa, who has directed a multitude of projects including Vamplyan Kids, Genius Party, Kaiba, Kick-Heart, Ping Pong, and even worked on shows/ like Adventure Time on the episode “Food Chain”, Welcome to the Space Show, Wakfu, and Space Dandy. It’s not readily available in a physical format here in the states, but you can check it out on Netflix if you live in the states. It was supposedly come over in a physical form, but plans fell through. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out!

The story is about a young man named Nishi, who wants to be a comic book artist. One evening he meets up with his school girl crush, Miyon, to have a bite to eat at her father’s restaurant with her sister Yan and Miyon’s fiancé. Unfortunately, a Yakuza and a mentally “touched” Soccer player walk in, and decided to cause a disturbance by the Soccer player punching Miyon’s potential future husband, perversely harassing Miyon, and then killing Nishi. Luckily for Nishi, his spirit runs into who is essentially God, and God decides to give him the motivation to turn back time, and redo his life once more at the exact time Nishi was killed. Nishi gets out of the situation by getting the gun out of the player’s hand, and ends up killing the Soccer player, which quickly reaches the ears of the leader of the Yakuza, and boy, what happens next is insane. Nishi makes a run for it with Miyon and Yan, as they go through an intense car chase. They end up inside a whale, and meet an old man who apparently has been living in the whale for 30 years. Yeah, this film deserves the title “Mind Game”.

So, what is good about this film? Well, if I haven’t used this word enough, this film is the purest definition of “weird.” It’s a truly abstract film, with unusual visuals and a very different animation style. If you look at any pictures or watch any footage of this film, it has a very rough and thin-lined style. While it’s not the prettiest, in terms of designs, the characters are still animated smoothly, and they are still expressive. It’s a visually vibrant film with bright colors, chicken-scratch doodle designs, a mixture of the doodles and realistic figures, and drug-infused visuals that is something to behold. I also like the theme of the film, or, at the very least, what I thought was the moral of “Don’t stay cooped up forever, go out and explore the world! You won’t get a second chance!” I think it hits home to some people, because I myself have had a fear of pushing forward with certain moments in life because I was afraid of the consequences. It’s definitely a film that gets its message across, while not feeling over-its-head in terms of ambitious animation. I also like the subtle story about the Yakuza that, while not the main focus, is subtly woven into the beginning, bits of the actual film, and ending montages.

With all that said, I think this film does fall a little flat, in terms of pacing. The first part of the film is so fast-paced and frenetic, that once it gets to the whale part, it slows down and sort of drags its heels in its pace until the final third when the four escape the whale, and the film returns to that quick rush of energy. I also think the visuals, from time to time, hinder its message and story. It truly gets into some bizarre designs and moments that take away from the characters that are sort of memorable. I also feel like that it’s trying to grab more meaning than it knows what to do with itself, with the quick montages at the beginning and end of the film, and how it just ends with “This Story Never Ends.” Maybe I’m not seeing what the message is, but if it didn’t have this super abstract visual presentation, I could get it more, but maybe that is just me. I can understand if someone can find deeper meaning in the overall movie. At least it doesn’t ruin its message by bad logic like in A Wind Named Amnesia.

In the end, I can totally understand if people cannot get past the surreal weird pacing and story, but if you are into something really, and I mean, really different from Japanese animation, then you won’t find a better contender than Mind Game. It might be a bit too weird and abstract to get its message across, but I like it. It’s definitely a lot more interesting than what gets pushed into theaters. I would definitely recommend checking something out that is ambitious and kind of gets its message across, instead of an ambitious film that fails to get its message across. Anyway, let’s travel to France once more to see a recent animated film based off of a popular franchise with Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure. Thanks for reading! I hope you like what you saw and see you next time!

Rating: Go see it!