anime

138: Flavors of Youth Review

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

In general, a problem I keep seeing within the animation scene is that twitch reaction to when something like a film or show hits it big, and then everyone and their long dead grandma wants to jump in on the hype. It leads to a profitable, but artistically limited batch of shows or films that want to be like that one popular thing, but only go so far. Sure, some films or shows break out and form their own bit of popularity and greatness, and this is nothing new, but you would think studios would make sure to play the long game, and keep doing what makes them great. For example, due to the success of Your Name, we are getting a slew of teen romance films with fantastical quirks. We already had A Silent Voice, which was pretty good, Fireworks, which was not, and now we have a studio that pretty much asked the studio that made Your Name to make a movie that is essentially a Makoto Shinkai film, Flavors of Youth. This is a Chinese/Japanese collaboration with the Japanese animation studio, CoMix Wave Films. It was put together by Li Haoling, who was inspired by Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second. It was then distributed by Netflix here in the states recently, but, thanks to Netflix, I don’t really hear anyone talk about it. Let’s see if this anthology rises above as its own thing, or falls flat as it tries to be like Makoto Shinkai’s other work.

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The first short is called Rice Noodles, and is directed by Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing. It’s about a young man named Xiao Ming, dubbed by Crispin Freeman, who reminisces about his love for a rice noodle dish he would get in his childhood. It brings back loving memories of him and his grandmother, a girl he had a crush on, and his youth.

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The second short is called A Little Fashion Show, and is directed by the lone Japanese director of the group, Yoshitaka Takeuchi. It’s about a fashion model named Yi Lin, dubbed by Evan Rachel Wood. She lives with her younger sister, and is going through the typical trials of being a fashion model, like age, personal life ordeals, and the ever-growing competition for younger models.

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The final short is directed by Li Haoling, the creator of the overall project, and the story is called Shanghai Love. It follows a young man named Limo, dubbed by Ross Butler. He is moving into a new downtown apartment that is near a couple of old buildings that hold nostalgic memories of his childhood friendship, his crush, and the changing landscape of Shanghai. He does this by listening to some old cassette tapes.

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So, what does this anthology get right? Well, I found two out of the three stories to be very interesting. The Rice Noodles story was probably my favorite out of the three, because I think everyone can connect a piece of their childhood to a dish, and how the unfortunate constant movement of time will cause things to change. Sure, not being able to regain that feeling of the past can feel soul crushing, but it’s never truly gone from you. The three stories revolve around a Chinese idiom, that translates to “clothing, food, housing, and transport”. I can definitely see how some of that idiom is used, as in the Rice Noodles short. There are also themes of dealing with regrets, as the second and third short have more plot elements dealing with actions from the past, and somehow making amends with said actions to make a better future. I think there will definitely be something for everyone to connect to within these three stories.

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Animation-wise, it looks pretty good from what you can expect from a Chinese/Japanese co-production. I have my issues with certain elements of its appearance, but only because I hold the animation studio, CoMix Waves to a high standard, due to their more recent work being downright beautiful. It still looks good, and has more polish than most anime films. I also enjoyed the music for the three shorts. It was mostly very calming, and set more in the background, but it fit the mood that the three shorts were going for. The dub is a mixed bag, but overall, it’s more good than bad. I liked Crispin Freeman in the first short, and how he captured the somber, but uplifting tone found in the main character during the Rice Noodles short.

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I think the biggest problem with Flavors of Youth is that while it can definitely be called its own thing in a lot of areas, like the story and setting, it never got rid of that feeling that this did feel like another Makoto Shinkai film. I get that the chief director/person in charge of this project was inspired by one of Shinkai’s first films, but I didn’t see unique visions. I saw directors trying to copy what Makoto Shinkai does. I know I can dish out some tough criticisms towards Shinkai, but at least when I was watching a film of his, I knew that it was his work. The art also isn’t as good as Shinkai’s other films. Sure, they look prettier than most series, but you get the feeling that they missed out on Shinkai’s little touches and bits of flair. I found the animation to also be stiffer. While the studio’s usual designs were not always the most interesting or memorable, they moved beautifully. The overall feel of the stories felt like they needed some more time to be fleshed out. The middle one with the fashion model feels the longest, due to how bored I got. It was a story with no real twists or turns with some rather generic story bits that come with the storyline. The first short also relies too much on the narration. It makes you wonder if the short would have been better if you didn’t have it, and expressed everything through music and the visuals. I also know that the voice actor, Ross Butler’s first role was in this film in the third story, but I found it to be the worst part of the English dub. He sounds so bored and disinterested. Even in the most emotional moments, he sounded wooden. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and maybe he will improve, but either he wasn’t putting in his all, or the director didn’t tell him that we weren’t in the 90s anime dub scene, and people need to start, well, emoting.

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Your enjoyment of Flavors of Youth will probably vary depending on your standards and hype for this animation studio. As a whole, I think it worked, but the hang-ups for me were really distracting. I definitely recommend checking it out, because unless you can catch the smaller animation releases, this will have to do until Small Foot comes out near the end of September. I respect this production, and I hope more projects come from this collaboration, and we get more anthologies with beautiful animation and interesting stories. Speaking of limited releases, I think it’s time to review one of two Mamoru Hosoda films I have yet to do with Summer Wars. 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 105: The Empire of Corpses 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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I have come to realize that I may have played my winning hand too early with picking out a “scary” or “horror”-themed animated film to review last year with Extraordinary Tales. It made me realize that there are not many dark or scary animated films. A lot of Halloween-themed specials are usually family friendly, and not really all that scary. It’s a shame, since animation breaks those chains that hold back horror in live-action movies, because you can do what you want with no limitations. That’s why I had to ask around a bit to see what I could review that was creepy or unsettling and not entirely made for a family audience. This is where The Empire of Corpses comes into play. This is part of a trilogy of films based on stories by late author Project Itoh or as he is known as, Satoshi Ito. It was followed up by Harmony and Genocidal Organ. It got a lot of hype behind it, because it was being animated by Wit Studio, the animation studio behind Attack on Titan. It was directed by Ryoutarou Makihara, and was brought over by Funimation. Once it was seen by more of the world, I didn’t really hear anyone talk about it. I think it’s honestly a cool little product, and that’s why I’m reviewing it here. Let’s get started.

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The film takes place in an alternate 19th century. In this world, back in the 18th century, England scientist Victor Frankenstein found a way to bring back dead corpses, and make them live again. After some shenanigans with the doctor ending up dead, and his one true prototype going missing, the technology he used called Necroware is now used in mass production, where the Government is using dead bodies and making them grunts, soldiers, workers, and so on. Jump to current day, and the technology has spread across the entire world. So, enter our lead, a promising Necroware engineer named John Watson, voiced by Jason Liebrecht. He has been working under the radar to bring his friend Friday, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, back to life after his passing. The good news is that Watson brings his friend Friday back to life! The bad news is that due to the current technology, Friday can’t talk or really do much besides a few simple actions. Oh, and I guess getting caught and almost getting a bullet through Watson’s head by the England Government is bad as well. Watson is then sent on a journey to find this book that had all of Frankenstein’s notes and blue prints on reanimating corpses. Along the way he meets his and Friday’s bodyguard Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, voiced by J. Michael Tatum, a Russian guide named Nikolai Krasotkin, voiced by Micah Solusod, a Russian corpse engineer voiced by Mike McFarland, and a mysterious woman named Hadaly Lilith, voiced by Morgan Garrett. Together they try to find this book, and maybe find The One, voiced by R. Bruce Elliott.

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So, what is good about this film? Well, I love the idea. While not scream yourself silly scary, the idea of what the entire plot is based around is scary. I mean, people are able to bring back dead people to use for mindless tasks, and sending them to war, while the rich get fat and pampered. It gets even more disturbing when you realize that they can make zombies for different purposes, and give them back intelligence to a degree. I feel like there should, or would, be some kind of moral dilemma with this technology. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Watson and Friday. You really wanted to see Watson obtain his goal, and bring Friday back to 100% living. I also enjoyed their bodyguard, who was simply a fun character to watch fight, act snarky, and bring a good energy to the group of protagonists.

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Since this was animated by the studio that did Attack on Titan, Wit Studio, you can tell that you are going to get some high-grade animation. Everything moves fluidly, and the color pallet has a good mixture of drab colors and a vibrant color scheme when needed.  The action flows well with the movements, and they get really creative with the zombie types. I know some people complain that when you give zombies more to do than just stumble around, it makes them less interesting, but I think it helps the movie. You see different types of zombies, like the regular zombies, suicide bomb zombies, zombies that wear heavy armor and know how to fight, and you get the idea. It helps make the action more interesting, and kept me engaged when our merry group of heroes was under attack. The voice acting was pretty solid. I think some of the voice actors trying British or Russian voices are distracting, but everyone puts in a good performance.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, I think it would be the pacing. Now, as a movie, it’s a fun action romp with an interesting setting. On the other hand, I constantly felt this would have been better as a miniseries. Even at two hours, the pacing of the story feels weird. Like, I was really getting into the Russian guide and his comradery with our lead, the bodyguard, and Friday, but he then stops being in the film before the halfway point. It’s shocking what happens, but still. They also introduce elements to certain characters, and the twist feels forced. Not that they weren’t building up the twist in some way, but since the film is too long for its own good, I lost interest a couple of times, and had to take a break  of watching the film before getting back on the saddle. The final climax is intense, but so much goes on at once with the lead and the main villain, that it’s overload. I think everything would have been better if they made this a four to six episode miniseries, so they could have time to flesh out everything. It loses its steam by the end of the first hour, and that’s a real shame. You have a cool world, but not the best execution or intrigue of said world.

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In the end, The Empire of Corpses was a solid movie. I had fun watching it, and I am glad I watched it, but I don’t know if I would watch it again. I would recommend seeing if you can rent it, or see if a friend has it and watch it with them. When I’m usually on the fence about a film, a rental or free viewing helps me not waste $20+ buying a copy of the film. If you like zombie films, anime, or anime with zombies, then you will probably enjoy this movie. It might go off the rails at times, but for a non-family-friendly “spooky” animated feature, I think I did a good job finding this film. Well, I have had my fill of spooky ghosts, ghouls, and anime tropes, so how about we play a little catch-up with the year with Loving Vincent. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation 81: Vampire Hunter D 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!)

I am never going to get tired of what I’m about to say, and I will warn you right now that when I see situations like this, I’m going to bring it up again. A movie based off a property like a book, comic book, or whatever should be a good movie first and foremost. This is an argument I hear all the time when people are defending movies like Ratchet & Clank or old school anime films like Akira, in which I am told that I should read the source material first, or they let me know that I just don’t get it. It’s such a flimsy argument that should never be taken seriously. It also doesn’t work as a counter-argument towards criticism aimed at a movie based off a source material, because there are so many movies that are based off source material that are amazing. Do I need to know about the original books to enjoy How to Train your Dragon, Ernest & Celestine, Mary Poppins, The Rabbi’s Cat, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Dark Knight, and The Prophet? No! I can watch those movies because they were adapted so well into a movie that I could show these films to anyone, and they would be able to enjoy it without having to read the source material. A movie should be able to be well told and fun, and not require a moviegoer to do what is essentially hours of homework to watch a two hour or so movie. It’s backwards logic, and something that hinders my enjoyment of today’s review, Vampire Hunter D. This was a film released back in 1985, directed by Toyoo Ashida (1986’s Fist of the North Star film, Ultimate Teacher, Grenadier, Batman: Gotham Knight’s In Darkness Dwells section), and was brought over to the states in 1992. One of the more interesting facts about this movie is that the character design was done by Yoshitaka Amano, the same illustrator who has worked on the Final Fantasy franchise. Sadly, a good artist can only go so far in the animation scene. If you don’t have anything else, then what’s the point? Let’s get started.

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The plot is essentially Castlevania, but I’ll explain it anyway. An evil vampire has taken the reins in ruling a land that includes a small town. A lone wanderer named D, voiced by John Gremillion, wanders into town, and decides to help the town get out of the evil grasp of the intimidating Count Magnus Lee, voiced by David Wald. Can D stop the evil vampire, and make sure no one is hurt?

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I want to be kind to this film, so let us talk about the good elements that this film brings to the table. First off, the character designs. While some of the side characters have that stale anime look, the rest are diverse and memorable. I really do think having such a unique artist like Yoshitaka Amano does give this film some levity. When the film decides to be atmospheric, it really does give you a small chill, with the calm surroundings, dark colors, and super-natural fiends looming around the night sky. For the original release of the film from Streamline to the Sentai Filmworks release, the two English dubs are both pretty solid. I think the Sentai Filmworks release is a tiny bit better, but I’m sure you won’t really care, since the dub for an anime of this time period (1992 for the USA) could have been so much worse.

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Now that we got the positives out of the way, let’s breakout the Vampire Killer whip, and take down the negatives that this film offers. First off, good luck enjoying this if you didn’t know one thing about the series, because this film doesn’t ease you in at all into the universe. It really doesn’t explain how this world has old world outfits, use of horse and carriage when combustion engines are around, robotic horses, werewolves, dinosaurs, and so on. There is really no reason this couldn’t have been late 1800s-early 1900s. I think the one element that cements this criticism is this weird hand thing D has. I’m sure the face he has on his hand probably has some kind of explanation, but if this was your first time watching the film, you will be confused and horrified by that thing. The film is also inconsistent with its rules at different points in the story. For example, there is a villain in the film that can bend space and time to avoid damage, like say, getting stabbed by a sword. Well, the villain uses this ability once, and never again. It makes it out like the writers wanted an “oh, snap” moment, but then forgot that the individual has this ability and just let him get his arm cut off, and then his head blown off by the big bad vampire. Some scenes are also not explained or executed well. Like later on in the film, the bad guys obtain a special candle that is dangerous towards vampires. Well, the bad guy that can control space and time attempts to use it on D, but realizes that it’s not the candle that he got in the first place, but a fake. It then turns out another crummy individual in the film somehow swapped the real candle with the fake one. They don’t show how or when he did it, so it means you add another unexplained element to the pile of other unexplained plot elements in this movie. Even on top of all this, I found the film to be boring. You would think this would be an entertaining film with D being a vampire slayer, and taking down a horde of monsters to save a town from Dracula, but it’s not. It might be only 80 minutes long, but it can drag in a lot of places. The characters are also not worth writing about. They are all cookie cutter, and D isn’t even that interesting of a lead character. Sure, there is intrigue in terms of who he is, but I don’t really feel invested to watch him succeed, since he can sometimes come off as too weak in terms of being the lead. Once again, it shows how infuriating the animation industry can be when they decide to take an idea that should work, but screw over the execution and make it a boring pile of mud.

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In the end I think Vampire Hunter D suffers from being a bad adaptation with too much of a focus on the fans. While it might be amusing for fans of the franchise, it isn’t an enjoyable sit for the rest of us. I would rather a film be enjoyable to all, than make it for one small group of people. Still, I have seen worse, and Vampire Hunter D might be bad, but it’s not in my top 10 worst animated films bad. I can totally see why people would love the franchise, and think if you are going to check it out, read the manga, and then watch the film. Luckily, we will take a look at the sequel in the near future that definitely does everything better, even if it still falls into a few traps. Well, we have some time before Ghost in the Shell comes out, how about we take a look at Lionsgate’s newest animated offering with Rock Dog? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster