Saturday, May 20, 2017

Video Backlog: “Gundam Movie Trilogy”

Publisher: All the Anime (Anime Limited, UK)
Format: Region B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue (original theatrical monaural and 5.1 re-recorded mix) with optional English and French Subtitles
Length: 139 minutes (movie 1), 133 minutes (movie 2), 140 minutes (movie 3)
Production Date: 1981 - 1982
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

It is the year Universal Century 0079 (around the third decade of the 22nd century). Over the last fifty years humanity has ventured out into space and lives in nearly a dozen or so large colonies in Lagrange point orbits around the Earth and the moon. One of these colonies, the Principality of Zeon, declares independence from the Earth Federation and a war ensues. At the eight month point of the war, half of humanity has perished and a number of space colonies have been destroyed, with some deliberately being dropped on cities on Earth. The Federation has sent their new warship, White Base, to the colony Side 7 to acquire a newly developed weapons being built there; the RX-78 Gundam, a newly developed “mobile suit”, or in layman’s terms, a giant robot as well as two other humanoid robot-like weapons. Side 7 is in the process of being evacuated when a Zeon reconnaissance team of three Zaku mobile suits enter the colony. One of the team members disobeys his commanding officer and shoots at unmanned Gundam being transported inside the colony. This starts off a fire fight and teenage boy Amuro Ray accidently acquires the Gundam’s manual (knowing that the robot was his father’s project) and on the spur of the moment decides to fight the Zakus, and wins.

The White Base’s temporary captain, the young lieutenant Bright Noa, is forced to take on Amuro as the Gundam’s pilot and several of the other teens evacuated from Side 7 as pilots of the other mobile suits and staff aboard the ship, as the majority of the military crew is either dead or severely injured. A top Zeon ace pilot, the charismatic and mysterious Char Aznable, leads several attacks on the White Base with Amuro and the other mish-mash of inexperienced young soldiers and civilian teens forced to defend the ship. The White Base eventually arrives at their destination, Luna II, a former asteroid mined for materials to build colonies and now the Federation’s headquarters. There a disbelieving crew along with the evacuees from Side 7 (mostly the very young or the elderly), are ordered to head directly to Earth and the federation’s secret base in Jaburo, South America. Bright tries to argue that the evacuees should be allowed to disembark but his superiors ignore him.

Even when entering the atmosphere, Char continues his relentless attacks on the White Base. However so far all of Char’s attacks have been repelled. Frustrated at his lack of progress Char enlists the help of his friend from the military academy, Captain Garma Zabi, the youngest son of the Zarbi family who have been in power of the Principality of Zeon for many years. However Char double crosses Garma and sets him and his fleet up to be wiped out by the White Base. As a result his elder brother, Dozle Zabi, dismisses Char from the military due to his failure in bringing down the White Base. However the crew of the White Base aren’t given a free ride to Jaburo, with pilot Ramba Ral along with his special aide and lover Crowley Hamon ordered to avenge Garama’s death.

By the time the White Base reaches Jaburo, it becomes clear that the Federation has no intention of relieving the makeshift crew of its duties. Instead it uses the White Base as a testing ground for experimental mobile suits and weapons and often uses the ship as a decoy. All the while, the crew have to weather continual attacks from various Zeon forces including forces lead by Char, who has been reinstated to his role by Kycilia Zabi. While the White Base’s successes are initially attributed to the ship’s technological superiority, it later becomes apparent that several of its teenage crew are in fact “Newtypes”, a new evolution in the human race who have a type of extrasensory power.

Contrary to most anime fans opinions about the superiority of the compilation movies over the original Gundam TV series, I do prefer the TV series to the compilation films. That’s not to say the compilation films are bad at all. While the first film is almost just an edit of the first 12 episodes of the TV series, the remaining two films add in a lot more new animation, around a third for second film and over two thirds new animation for the concluding chapter. Not only is the new animation far superior to the rather off model and scrappy TV animation, it introduces new concepts, ditches more of the silly elements of the series and swaps some of the events in the story around. Of note is a heavier emphasis on Sayla Mass including a new flashback sequence when her brother leaves her when she was young, the introduction of the core booster, an earlier and much heavier emphasis on Newtypes,  a number of minor characters who previously appeared in Yoshiyuki Tomino’s novels and an amazing final battle at the A Baoa Qu space fortress.

Having said that, like most compilation films of anime series, the major problem is that a lot of material is cut out and a lot of context goes with it. Of course with TV series you can flesh out characters a bit more than with a two hour film. A number of characters such as Crowley Hamon, Ramba Ral, the Zabi family and Ryu Jose have don’t have enough time to have their character’s motivations fleshed out enough to fully understand their motives. Char’s actions are a lot clearer in the TV series than the film versions. While I do like the movies, the TV series let’s all the ideas breath and develop more. There’s more context and reason behind a lot of what can seem like rather senseless actions in the films. While women still play a substantial role in the movies, especially Sayla, I do think the movies do diminish the roles of many of the women, especially Kycilia Zabi, Matilda Ajan and Crowley Hamon. In particular Kycilia Zabi has a much larger role in the TV series and is on equal or greater footing then the male members of her family in that version of the story. Matilda Ajan also seems a bit more fleshed out in the TV series too where she is clearly seen to know how to use her feminine charms to control male officers. She seems to make a greater impression on Amuro in the TV series as well.

However Lalah Sune’s role is expanded a lot more in the compilation films. While the audience is given more a chance to connect with her, as an audience member I still feel rather distant from her. Not a lot of her backstory is explored. Due to her fate, I think there should have been a stronger connection between her and Amuro. Naturally a lot of the material in the TV series is jettisoned for a larger focus on the battles and relationship between Amuro and Char, which I think is fair as it’s a really important and interesting part of the Gundam universe. Despite the additional animation, there’s still a lot of off model and cheap looking animation edited from the TV series into these compilation films. And despite removing a lot of the weirder and sillier concepts in the original series, there still are a lot of daft elements left in the show such as the three prepubescent children, Katz Hawin, Letz Cofan and Kikka Kitamoto, who remain on board the ship for its entire journey.

This is the fifth time I have purchased this movie trilogy; first was the VHS versions in 1998 or so, then I bought the Bandai Entertainment DVD box set in 2002, the an exclusive DVD box set (which included English subtitles) from Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba in 2012, then in 2015 I bought an amazing DVD box set (also with English subtitles) second hand from Book Off in Akihabara which included reproductions of the movie programs, two additional booklets and new artwork from character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. This blu-ray set from All the Anime contains both the 2000 re-recorded 5.1 mix audio track with new voice acting and sound effects as well the original monaural tracks from the original 1981 - 1982 theatrical releases. This is pretty significant as it’s the first time the original audio has been available on blu-ray in English. The version released by Sunrise in the US (via The Right Stuf) only has the 5.1 mix. Even in Japan the original audio versions and the 5.1 mix versions are sold as two separate blu-ray releases (nether came with English subtitles unlike their DVD counterparts). It’s a bit of a scoop for All the Anime and I find it very curious that the company aren’t making it clear to customers that this set contains both audio tracks. The All the Anime blu-ray version comes in three standard blu-ray cases in a chipboard art box with Yoshikazu Yasuhiko artwork on one side and mecha designer Kunio Okawara artwork on the other. There are no on disc extra and it doesn’t come with a booklet like the fantastic one (written by Mark Simmons detailing the changes in the three films) that came with the original Bandai Entertainment DVD box set.

Wrapping up, while I prefer the TV series, I think the movie compilations are a fantastic alternate telling of the franchise. Watching the films again, I found that pretty much all of the material in the recent “The Origin” movie series fits in perfectly with the events depicted here. However the mystical qualities of the Newtypes have always thrown me a bit. I find it problematic that there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to try to explain why they have appeared or why some humans suddenly evolved to have these powers, or why there’s a large concentration of them on Side 7. The other bugbear for me what how the Zeon’s mobile suits just got bigger and uglier with each passing episode towards the end. Putting that all aside, the animation, especially the final battle at A Baoa Qu is fantastic and most of the other additions to the film versions enhance the story. I’ll give it a solid 8 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 17 TV series, 5 OVAs and 10 movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of three TV series to be released before viewing them.

Anime On the Big Screen: “Colorful”

Venue: Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT
Date: Saturday 17 September 2011
Distributor: Toho Pictures (presented by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan Foundation)
Format: 35mm print, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 126 minutes
Production Date: 2010
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No [Released by Sentai Filmworks in the US on Blu-ray and DVD in May 2013]

Note: Originally posted on this blog in September 2011, then reposted on the Anime Archivist blog in November 2012.

Originally I wasn’t going to go to see this film, but I thought what the hell and went anyway. I didn’t realise it was a free screening until I got my ticket. Unlike the last time I went to see anime in a cinema (Madman’s Reel Anime mini festival in late 2010), there was a noticeable lack of otaku types in the crowd. Even more interestingly was a lack of people under 20. There was some but not many. Odd seeing as this was essentially a family film. The embassy had some representatives on hand and a table of booklets promoting “Anime Tourism” which look like they were printed in late 2009 or early 2010. These were rather cool as there was a lot of stuff I’d never heard of before. Like life sized “Star of the Giants” and “Kochikame” bronze statues in various cities and there’s even a Go Nagai museum. Still, I find it a bit silly to go to Japan just for anime or manga [but I did anyway exactly one year after I wrote this].

As with all films played at Arc, one of the NFSA’s staff, usually a curator or the cinema programmer, gets up to have a small talk about the film (occasionally getting a lot of facts wrong). Apparently this film was in conjunction with a talk Philip Brophy gave earlier in the week. Allegedly he’s Australia’s authority on anime, which is fucking scary. See his book “100 Anime” for why he’s not. I read his entry on “Plastic Little” for the book and was amazed at the pure tripe he wrote about it. For god’s sake it’s an nipple filled throw-away sci-fi exploitation OVA of little consequence. It doesn’t need to be written about like it was a Kubrick film. Anyway I’d rather gnaw may arm off that hear Brophy dribble nonsense for an hour, so I was glad I missed his talk. I also discovered “Colorful” director, Keiichi Hara’s previous film “Summer Days with Coo” had played at Arc last year. Wish I’d known. We then had the Japanese ambassador do a short talk. His accent was really thick and was a little hard to understand him. Before the film there was a bit of Japanese government advertising which I think was about thanking people in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake, but was a little confusing as it looked like an advert for Japanese soccer. Then they played Osuma Tezuka’s 1985 short film “Broken Down Film”. Sure it’s a fun film and the audience enjoyed it, but with the main feature running over two hours, there was no need for any supplementary features.

The plot of “Colorful” has a 14 year old boy being given a second chance after dying. The boy has apparently died with “great sin”, but has no memory of his former life or what he did. But an angel called Purapura, who looks like a young albino boy, convinces him to inhabit the boy of another 14 year old boy named Makoto Kobayashi, who committed suicide. The deal hatched is that this is a trial and if he doesn’t succeed he can’t be reborn. While the parents are overjoyed that Makoto has come out of his coma, the boy is a little perplexed at the suicide because the family seems perfect and he’s even a very talented artist. However he soon discovers that Makoto was bullied and shunned at school and worse the girl Makoto loved dabbles in enjo-kosai (“subsided dating”, i.e. teenage girls whoring to get designer goods) and that his mother is having an affair with her flamenco teacher.

For the majority of the rest of the film, Makoto is an unpleasant little shit. He’s a complete arse to just about everyone. I just didn’t really care about what happened to him or the body he inhabits. Actually in a few parts I felt a bit for him and he did display some really good traits in a few scenes, but most of the time I felt bit depressed at this film. It’s like a rather sad portrait of a lower middle class family with a ton of problems and their suicidal teenage boy. In the last third of the film he befriends an odd looking schoolmate and the both of them end up following the path of a long defunct tramline. This fucking sequence goes for over ten minutes of screen time. The audience doesn’t really need a detailed history of what is apparently a real defunct tram line in Tokyo’s suburbs. It makes no fricken sense and adds nothing to the story.

Then once Makoto has made his first friend in his life, his parents tell him that they’re going to try and get him into an arts school and his older brother (who always shuns Makoto) has to delay his college schooling for year to pay for Makoto’s. Naturally his brother set this up and went out of his way for Makoto and was going to tell him the night Makoto ran out of the house after confronting his mother about her affair, and then Makoto was bashed by a group of high schoolers and his brother found him and saved him – BLARG!!! Of course Makoto wants to go to a public high school with his friend… The emotional blackmail of this scene and the gigantic reveal as to who the person is who inhabits Makoto’s body really, really shat me (it’s sort of obvious from the start as to who it is). In fact nearly everything about this film shat me. It’s a crap morality tale that hammers it’s point home; selfishness is bad, respect those around you, blah, blah, blah. It’s a film that could have easily been made into a live action piece, especially with its melodramatic story. The enjo-kosai angle also betrays its origins as a late 1990’s novel.

You really have to wonder what the Japan Foundation was thinking when they decided to foist this film on western audiences. Surely there are tons of better films on offer. And I don’t mean otaku stuff like “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” or the recent “Naohara” film either. There’s plenty of family fare like Madhouse’s excellent “Mai Mai Miracle” which is a highly superior film to this one. As the very tired audience left the cinema, I heard a number of people asking each other, “did you like the film?” which the answer was always “no”. After reading reviews of how great this film was online and the brilliance of director Keiichi Hara, I’m glad I’m not the only one that shares the opinion that film is sentimental, moralistic trash. The animation by Sunrise is decent enough, but I wasn’t sure what is up with the use of photographs as backgrounds two thirds of the way into the film. I knew there was a reason why I had never heard of this film until I saw Arc’s advert for it in the paper. The audience was given a survey so the embassy knew what the audience thought of the film and what they would like to see in the future. I wanted more animation and more drama, but I suspect other people didn’t after seeing the this film. I can only give this film 4.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Video Backlog: “The Vision of Escaflowne” / “Escaflowne (movie)”

Publisher: All the Anime (Anime Limited, UK)
Format: Region B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles (TV series and movie). Region 2 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles (movie only)
Length: 24 minutes x 26 episodes, 98 minutes (movie)
Production Date: 1996 (TV series), 2000 (movie)
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Hitomi Kanzaki is an ordinary high school girl who is a sprinter on her school’s athletics team and reads fortunes to her friends in her spare time. During a practice run, Hitomi has a vision of a young man in armour appearing on the track in front of her and promptly faints. She is taken to the sick by her fellow teammate Amano whom she has a massive crush on. Seeing that there is a spark between the two and with Amano apparently leaving to study overseas, her friend Yukari encourages her to confess to him. She meets him after school and tells him that if she can beat her best time running the 100 meters, he wants her to kiss her. But as she runs, a column of light appears on the track and the young man in her vision appears for real in front of her. Wearing amour and carrying a sword, seemingly only Hitomi can understand and speak to him. A dragon then suddenly appears in another column of light. The young man tells them to run as he begins to fight the creature. Hitomi, Amano and Yukari flee up the mountainside to a Shinto shrine, but are horrified to discover the dragon in pursuit of them. The young man eventually kills the dragon (using Hitomi’s precognitive abilities when she warns him of being impaled by the dragon’s tail) and cuts out a large gem from its belly, a crystal called an energist.

Hitomi, in shock from what has just occurred, has an argument with the young man, but is interrupted when another column of light sucks both him and Hitomi towards the heavens. The pair soon find themselves on an alien planet with the Earth and moon visible in its sky. Hitomi learns the young man is Van Fanel, heir to the throne of a country called Fanelia. Though she is already surprised as to what has happened to her so far, she is shocked when a group of beastmen escort them back to Van’s kingdom. There Hitomi meets the people that serve him including several knights and even a cat girl, Merle, Van’s close friend who jealously guards him from Hitomi. A coronation is to be held where Van will be crowned king; however, large robot like armoured suits called Guymelfs from an invading country called Zaibach attack the country. Van uses his energist to revive his own country’s Guymelf, Escaflowne. Even though the invading Guymelfs are rendered invisible using a cloaking device, Hitomi is able to Van when the attackers are. Since she arrived in Gaea, her precognitive abilities have increased massively. While Van does defeat the attackers, Fanelia is in ruins and the survivors flee the country. Hitomi, Van and Escaflowne are enveloped in a pillar of light and disappear from Fanelia.

They have been mysteriously transported to the outskirts of the country of Asturia, where Allen Schezar, a high-ranking knight, saves Hitomi from being attacked by a petty thief. Resembling Amano, she falls for Allen. After a run in with a hot headed Van, Allen invites them to his country’s castle where they are reunited with an injured Merle. A Zaibach flying fortress arrives and a knight, Dilandau asks the kingdom for supplies. He also states that he is looking for Escaflowne when asked about his fortress’ movements. Though Allen suggests that Van should hide Escaflowne and stay in the castle, he decides to leave fight Dilandu. Allen tries to stop him in his own Guymelf, but Van won’t listen and the two of them duel. Allen manages to subdue Van, but in the process notices that Van manages to damage his Guymelf, something that hasn’t happened to him before in battle. Hitomi has visions of the castle being attacked by Zaibach. Allen dismisses her prediction, however soon the castle is under attack. Allen and his crew escape in his ship the Crusade while Van transforms Escaflowne into a dragon-like configuration and leads the attackers away.

Yes, this the legendary show from 20 years ago. It seamlessly blends robot anime with fantasy elements and shoujo drama. When I watched “Aura Battler Dunbine” about a decade ago, I really felt that “Escaflowne” was highly influenced by it. While in hindsight this show seems revolutionary, you have to remember that in the mid 1990’s there were a number of similar fantasy shows which had the same core ideas (most without the mecha); “Magic Knights Rayearth”, “El Hazard” and even “Fushigi Yugi”. I first came across "Escaflowne" in 1997 at my local anime club. It was around this time I got into fansubs and got the entire series from the US from fansubbers. There was a real buzz in western fandom about the show at the time. People were clamouring to see it. While it is primarily a mecha/fantasy show and contains many battle sequences, the it borrows heavily from shoujo manga. With a heroine who is a plain looking “every girl” high school girl and a bevy of bishounen guys in the cast, it was crossover hit, though not the first to combine mecha with good looking guys. “Gundam Wing”, also a Sunrise show, released the year before was probably the first to do this successfully.

Of course what makes the show so enjoyable is the roster of very talented staff assembled for the series. As you may be aware Shoji Kawamori (“Macross”) created the series, though Kazuki Akane (“Code Geass: Akito the Exiled”) was the series director. Nobuteru Yuki (“Record of Lodoss War”) did the character designs and Yoko Kanno and her former husband, Hajime Mizoguchi, scored the ethereal and otherworldly music for the series. In addition other well-known creative talent appear in the credits such as Shinichiro Watanabe (“Cowboy Bebop”) who directed several episodes and did some of the storyboards and Mahiro Maeda ("Gankutsuou") who provided some of the mecha designs. The mid 1990’s was also the middle of the “Seiyu Boom” so of course many of the top voice actors of the time appear in the show. Of note however is that the series featured a 16 year old named Maaya Sakamoto who of course played Hitomi and sand the opening theme song. While this was not her debut role as some sources cite (she began her career in 1992), this was her first major role. Sakamoto of course has had a very long and successful in the voice acting and music industries.

Due to all this talent working on the show, it’s very high quality anime for a mid 1990’s TV series. Many of the sequences in the series are at least OVA quality, though at times the standard slips a bit and there can be some instances of off model animation. “Escaflowne” also made fairly extensive use of CG, possibly a first for anime TV series. Most of the time it is used rather sparingly and amazingly most of it has aged quite well. While I find it pretty hard to fault the series, where it does slip is in some of the scripting. A lot of the “shoujo” elements come off as a bit clichéd and silly; Hitomi’s crush at school going overseas, Allen’s over the top chivalry and gallantry, and some of the more overly melodramatic elements etc. Van also seems excessively immature to be royalty. However it’s pretty easy to forgive a lot of these elements.

This box set also comes with the movie, which was originally released in 2000. I have previously had mixed feeling about this film, however this time I really enjoyed it. The movie version has the same basic elements of the TV series, however the story is markedly different with some characters having completely different personalities and motivations (some being relegated to mere background cameos), different country names and pretty much the entire cast, mecha and world being redesigned. Of note is Hitomi’s transformation from an upbeat and happy girl in the TV series to a depressed teen who wants to take her life in the movie version. The lack of Guymelfs in the movie version is also a surprise. Esacflowne itself has been transformed into a more biomechanical creature rather than the purely mechanical (albeit infused with magical power) machine as seen in the TV series. The tone of the film is also far, far darker than the TV series and is far more bloody and violent as well. Apart from a couple of slow spots, the film is quite an enjoyable alternate take on the TV series and for the most part looks utterly gorgeous. Most of the creative staff returned to work on the film with the very notable exception of Shoji Kawamori.

The All the Anime box set is pretty special. The TV series is across four blu-ray discs in a digipak. Along with a three CD set of the three soundtracks to the series (also handsomely packed in a digipak), these two sets are packaged in a snug chipboard art box. The movie comes in blu-ray and DVD formats, also in a digipak, which fits in its own small chipboard art box/slip. Both of these fit inside a “spacer” box (made up of thin folded up cardboard) which fits in a larger chipboard art box which houses everything (200mm x 185mm x 80mm large). Also included in the larger art box is a 144 page hardcover book mostly of character, mecha design sheets and setting materials and a large number of promotional artwork pieces as well as artwork used for Japanese video releases (unfortunately none of it labelled as being promotional or home video release artwork). The only real problem I had with the packaging was the “spacer” box was a bit flimsy and did break in the mail.

The discs contain both the old Bandai Entertainment dub and the Funimation dub, which the company for some unknown reason decided to fund via Kickstarter. The reasoning for a new English dub was the original Bandai Entertainment dub was based upon the TV broadcast masters, not the Japanese home video masters which contained a couple of additional scenes (mostly a few seconds worth) in the first four episodes as well as in episodes 6 and 7. What All the Anime has done is put the broadcast versions of episodes 1 to 8 on the first disc, then on the second disc they have repeated the episodes and put the home video versions in place of the TV broadcast ones. I thought this was a bit wasteful as we get duplicates of episodes 5 and 8 for no real reason. What they should have done is just put all the episodes in order as per the original Japanese home video release on three discs, then put all the extras plus the TV broadcast versions of episode 1 to 4, 6 and 7 on a fourth disc. Bafflingly Funimation have redubbed the movie too (both dubs appear in this box set). Luckily all the extras for the TV series and the movie that appeared on Bandai Entertainment DVD sets appear on this box set, sans the CD soundtrack and booklet that came with the movie DVD box set. When this box set was released in November 2016, purchasers discovered the third disc had a major subtitle fault. All the Anime have only just shipped the replacement disc in April, which is why I’m reviewing this set now.

So summing up this really long review; this series is one of my favourites and to a large degree played a significant part in forming my love for anime. Apart for some general shoujo manga clichés, it’s really hard to fault this series. It’s really, really fun and still looks fabulous 20 years on. The movie isn’t as good as the series, but is still a stunning piece of work. This blu-ray box set isn’t prefect, but it’s pretty damn close we’ll get to perfection. At the very least it’s a lot better than the Funimation set. Taking both the movie and the TV series into consideration, combined they get a 9 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 17 TV series, 5 OVAs and 13 movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of three TV series to be released before viewing them.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Anime Music Video Compilations: “Patlabor Music Clips”

Publisher: VAP Video (Laserdisc), Emotion (Bandai Visual, VHS)
Format: VHS and Laserdisc, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue
Length: 45 minutes
Original Release Date: 23 July 1992
Animation Exclusive to this Release: Yes
Other Sources (Japanese unless noted): Patlabor New OVA Series Memorial Box (Laserdisc, 1995), Patlabor New OVA Series DVD Box (2000), Patlabor DVD Memorial Box (2007), Patlabor Music Collection (DVD, 2010)
Currently Availability (as of writing): Patlabor New OVA Series DVD Box, Patlabor Music Collection DVD

A few years back I became rather interested in music video compilations. No, not fan made stuff, but official collections of music videos put out by Japanese companies. A few have been released in the west, the two “Bubblegum Crisis” ones released by AnimEigo, are probably the most famous, but also the Right Stuf released the “Irresponsible Captain Tylor” music videos and Aniplex USA released the first volume of “Gurren Lagann Parallel Works” split over the extras of the two Gurren Lagann movies. There’s ton of music video compilations unreleased in the west, and I plan to highlight one a month.

The first one I’ll be looking at is “Patlabor Music Clips”. For those who don’t know, Patlabor was a fairly popular series in Japan from 1988 to 1993 (selling over a million videos by mid 1992) with two OVA series, a TV series and three movies. The series was based on a concept by manga artist Masami Yuuki (Birdy the Mighty), but is credited to a collective called Headgear which included Yuuki, scriptwriter Kazunori Ito (Ghost in the Shell, 1990’s Gamera films), mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi (Rahxephon, Dunbine, Gasaraki), character designer Akemi Takada (Kimagure Orange Road, Creamy Mami) and of course director Mamoru Oshii (The Sky Crawlers, Ghost in the Shell). It was set in a then future world of 1998 where giant robots (mainly for construction use), called labors, which are just viewed as everyday pieces of machinery. However crimes have begun to be committed with them, so the police form the PATrol LABOR (Patlabor) squad. The only problem is that they usually cause more damage than the criminals. The public see them as a money pit and the regular police and even the army dump problematic cases at their door. However they always seem to get the job done. Unlike most other robot shows, the emphasis in this series is on the characters. Save a couple of arcs, the crime and robot aspect of the show is in the background. Most of the episodes in the second OVA series don’t even feature robots. The TV and OVA series are also comedies, in stark contrast to the drama heavy movies which many people have seen. With the explanation of the show out of the way, I think it’s about time I had a look at the music videos;

“One Day of Noa Part 1”
Like a lot of music video compilations, this one contains exclusive animation. In this video it’s spread out into six sections between the music videos and runs about eight or so minutes in total. It follows the lead character of the series, Noa Izumi, pilot of the Unit 1 Labor, known affectionately as Alphonse, on her day off (hence the title “One Day of Noa”). These short pieces have no dialogue or music, just sound effects. In this part Noa is rudely woken by her alarm clock, gets out of bed, cleans her teeth and gets dressed. She leaves her apartment, but returns a few moments later to pick something off the table she’s forgotten. Passing the mirror on the way out she notices her hair is a mess and fixes it before she leaves.

“Condition Green ~Kinkyuu Hasshin~ (Condition Green – Emergency Launch)” performed by Hiroko Kasahara
This is the full length version of the second opening theme song from the TV series. It was first released as a CD single in August 1990. While the first part of the video clip is mostly from the first TV episode (in which police cadet Noa jumps in Alphonse as it is being stolen and apprehends the criminals), the majority is taken from a variety of TV second series OVAs.

“Miraiha Lovers (Futuristic Lovers)” performed by Hiroko Kasahara
This is the opening animation theme song for the original 1988 OVA series. Written by Kenji Kawai, the lyrics are about Noa’s feelings towards Alphonse (she’s a bit of a mecha freak). As you can probably tell, Hiroko Kasahara sung many of the songs for the series. This song was first released on the very first Patlabor album soundtrack, “Interface”, in March 1988. Not only does the video contain scenes from the original OVA series, but is also contains a few shots from a commercial for Patlabor AXIA audio tape. This 30 second commercial had Noa sleeping in some sort of darkened futuristic cave you’d find in some cheap fantasy sci-fi OVA of the mid 1980’s. She dreams of piloting her Ingram and cutting up asteroids with a light sabre. After which she awakens and a cassette tape pops out of the machine in front of her and floats above her face, which she then takes a hold of. It’s truly bizarre when compared to the near future realism of the Patlabor universe. The commercial was only available on the initial video releases of the original OVA series. Strangely it never appeared on any re issues of the series beyond 1992.

“Schaft!” performed by Kenji Kawai Kenji
Kawai who is probably best known for his atmospheric scores of the “Ghost in Shell” movies did all of the background music for the series. A number of those pieces appear on this compilation. Like the title says, this video contains footage relating to the TV episodes where rogue Labor manufacturer Schaft appears. In particular it focuses on the menacing Griffin Labor, it’s young male child pilot Bud and it’s developer, the eccentric Richard Wong. There is some dialogue in this video at the beginning and end, but it’s the same dialogue from the TV series and not new stuff. While credited as being an instrumental, there is a simple chorus which is sung by Miho Matsuba.

“Black Destroyer –Griffon-” performed by Kenji Kawai
The end of “Schaft!” segues into this video. As can probably guess from the title, this video uses highlights from the two Griffin arcs, the one in the TV series and concluding on in the follow up OVA series. These arcs are probably the most popular in the TV series and second OVA series. Both Kenji Kawai songs first appeared on the “Patlabor Phase II: Asura from Schaft” album in May 1990.

“One Day of Noa Part 2”
Noa grabs lunch at a corner shop which she eats there and leaves the wrapping.

“Patlabor Phase III” performed by Kenji Kawai
This video highlights one of my favourite episodes from the second OVA series; “Our Karuizawa”. In it the captains of the two Police Labor divisions, Kiichi Gotoh and Shinobu Nagumo attempt to return to the Police Labor hanger but get caught up in the middle of a typhoon. The only places they can find nearby to shelter overnight are love motels. Gotoh has always had a thing for Shinobu, and Shinobu is uneasy about the situation. Hilarity ensues. The instrumental was first released on the album of the same name in September 1990.

“Long Silence” performed by Dynamite Shige
This is the third and final closing theme song for the second OVA series. The video begins with the final scene from the last episode of the series and then a montage of scenes from the final TV episode. Very melancholy. Believe it or not, the lyrics for this song were written by Masami Yuuki, the creator of the series and manga artist. The song first appeared as a B-side to Norihiko Tanimoto’s “Idling For You” (the third and final opening theme song for the second OVA series funnily enough) CD single in January 1992.

“One Day of Noa Part 3”
At a crossing, Noa is asked by an old lady for directions. But the old dear is still confused where to go, so Noa ends up taking the old lady all the way to her destination. She is now late and rushes back to the crossing. She decides to jay walk, but a police officer catches her before she does and embarrassingly reprimands her for it.

“Mamoritaino (I Want to Protect You)” performed by Miina Tominaga
The very upbeat song is the first opening from the second OVA series. It’s a Kenji Kawai song performed by Noa’s voice actor, Miina Tominaga (she was also Yahiko Myoujin in “Rurouni Kenshin”). The initial animation is edited from the two underground episodes from the TV and second OVA series, where the team battle albino crocodiles in a sewer under their hanger. The video also takes the best scenes out of the two parody episodes from the series; “Long Live CLAT” from the TV series which is mostly a parody of “Captain Scarlet”, and “The Woman Who Came from the Stars” from the second OVA series, which parodies mostly the final episode from the 1966 TV series “Ultraman”. The song first appeared on the mini album “Patlabor Theme Collection Special” in March 1991.

“The Sunset of Ancient Times” performed by Kenji Kawai
This instrumental piece is set to scenes from the second OVA episode “Snow Rondo”. The episode revolves around Asuma Shinohara, Noa’s police partner and back up while she’s piloting Alphonse. It’s a strange kind of episode where goes to a school reunion and sees a woman whom he had a crush on in school. Asuma finally gets up the nerve to ask her out and they go on a date. Except they didn’t and none of this happened! Or it did… Or maybe no one’s seen her for years, or something. As I said, it’s a strange episode. The music first appeared on the mini album “Patlabor Theme Collection Volume 2 Kenji Kawai Special” in March 1992.

“One Day of Noa Part 4”
Noa gets on a train, but falls asleep and misses her stop. Scowling, she then has to take the train back to station she should have gotten off of.

“Sono mama no Kimi de ite” (Please Be As You Were) performed by Yuko Nitou
This is the full length version of the first opening of the TV series. The video uses scenes from the two “drunk” episodes from the TV series and second OVA series. To explain a bit further, in one TV episode Gotoh takes his crew to a bar pretty much to drink themselves stupid to sort out their differences. This is repeated in the follow up OVA series, except the venue changes to a hot spring resort. Mamoru Oshii wrote the TV episode. The song first appeared on CD single in December 1989.

“Yakusoku no Tochi e (To the Land of Promise)” performed by Hiroko Kasahara
This is the only music video in the collection to use footage from one of the film, which in this case can only be “Patlabor the movie” (the second film was released a year after this music video compilation was put out). Now the song comes from quite an obscure source; the Patlabor the movie Tickemaga. It was a pre-purchase movie ticket (Ticket/Magazine = Tickemaga) which came with a CD single, booklet and mini-poster a few months before the film’s July 1989 premier. The song did not appear on any Patlabor album or compilation until 2010.

“One Day of Noa Part 5”
Noa’s misadventures have made her quite late now, so she decides to take a short cut. She leaps over a barrier leading into a park, and manages to trip over it, falling flat onto her face. Noa then decides to duck down an alleyway, but bumps into a delivery boy on a bike, knocking him over and smashing the bowls he was carrying. She apologises and pays for the damage. Finally Noa arrives at her destination, a concert hall. While she waits she pulls out two tickets to the “Patlabor Concert Tour” out of her purse. Though it’s a bit unclear someone who looks uncannily like Asuma arrives (but we never see his face, just the back of him) and they both hold hands (what?!) and go in. This meeting part is very quick, done in long distance shots and is deliberately hard to make out. The implication here is that Noa and Asuma are on a date, but of course nothing is made clear.

“Namida o Sagashite” performed by Miina Tominaga
“One Day of Noa Part 5” segues into this song. Which is of the real “Patlabor Concert Tour” which was filmed 5 May 1992 at the Tokyo Yomiuri Hall. The song is performed by Noa’s voice actor, Miina Tominaga with Kenji Kawai’s band. Kawai is playing guitar in this video and wearing some hideous shades and clothes. You can’t miss him. This video is pretty much a blatant plug for the “Patlabor Concert Tour ’92” video and CD release which would come out a couple months after this music video compilation. Luckily it’s the only live action clip in the compilation.

“One Day of Noa Part 6” (Unlisted)
We see Noa in the change rooms at work presumably the day after the concert. She straightens her tie and then closes her locker. The final scene has her and her fellow team members on the roof of the Labor hanger relaxing.

“My Pace ~My Way My Pace~” performed by Miina Tominaga
The final video clip also serves as the end credits for the compilation. The video edits the best bits from the opening closing animations from the TV series and second OVA series. As they have obviously used the clean versions of these animations. From the viewpoint of a fan that’s a bit annoying as the clean opening and closing for the TV series and second OVA series have never been issued on home video ever. So at least at during the creation of this compilation in 1992, the clean versions of the opening and closings existed. One really has to wonder why they have never, ever been issued on video. The music for this video was used for the first closing theme for the second OVA series and first appeared on the “Patlabor Theme Collection Special” mini album in March 1991.

Attentive viewers might notice the video copyright screen after the compilation finishes has an unusual background. The picture underneath is of a character called AV Girl (I think that’s what she’s called…). It is a character created by Masami Yuuki as a parody piece for the P-Club Extra booklets. They were a short lived series of very glossy pamphlet style magazines produced by Bandai Visual for members of P-Club, the company’s official club for the anime, and essentially a marketing tool for video release of the TV series and second OVA series. The second booklet in the series has six pages devoted to the parody piece. There’s not a great deal of information about this project outside this booklet and a few sketches in an artbook published in 2008. I think it was confined to the P-Club booklet only.

The laserdisc version comes with an insert which includes a drawn SD version of Kenji Kawai. Unfortunately when I acquired my LD copy a few years back, the insert was missing. Apart from the additional animation which runs less than 10 minutes (and as a bonus don’t require subtitles), the compilation is probably for a fan of the series rather than a casual fan. The videos are adequately edited and produced, but not really outstanding. The music is pleasant enough and if you’re into early 1990’s Japanese pop, you’ll probably like the songs. The easiest way to get compilation is the “Patlabor Music Collection” DVD which is currently available in Japan and retails for a measly ¥1,995. It also contains the “Patlabor Concert Tour ’92” and a few other bonus extras.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Archiving the Anime Archivist

For about a year and half I ran a blog called The Anime Archivist. This was a follow up to a defunct website and later a blog entitled The Lost World of Anime. Both projects looked at long forgotten anime and manga released in English, defunct English anime magazines and anime and manga distributors and finally commercially released anime music video compilations (e.g. Macross Flashback 2012).

I abandoned The Anime Archivist nearly three years ago, mostly because there were a lot of things going on in my life and I just couldn't keep doing it. I plan on deleting the blog, but over the next year or so I plan to port across as much material as possible in order to save it. So in the next few days to a week, I'll be reposting (and probably rewriting and touching up) a lot of this material, staring with a Patlabor music video compilation.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Worst Anime of All Time: “Nadia of the Mysterious Seas (the movie)”

Publisher: ADV Films (USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 86 minutes
Production Date: 1991
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

I really needed a change from reviewing my ever increasing backlog and do something else for a while. I saw on another blog that someone was doing up a series of articles on the worst anime ever made and asked readers for suggestions. Naturally the suggestions in the comments were pretty piss poor. People always conflate truly terrible anime with shows they just simply don’t like ("Wings of Honneamise" ain't the worst anime made kids). Plus the blog author bizarrely limited the choices to TV series, not OVAs or movies. There aren’t that many truly terrible TV series to begin with. I thought I could do better (heck, a lot of people could) so I’m going to have a crack at writing up a series on truly terrible anime myself. I hope to do one review per month, but of course that’s probably not going to happen.

First up is the movie version of “Nadia of the Mysterious Seas”; set three years after the conclusion of the TV series, we find Nadia living in London and working as a cadet newspaper reporter for the Planet Times. Nadia plans to make herself fully independent before returning to France to live with Jean. However the editor really has no intention of letting her report on any stories and only has her making tea for him. The biggest news sweeping the world is that several world leaders and top ranking military personnel have mysteriously vaporised into clouds of steam. Because of these strange occurrences and other tensions throughout the world, the globe on the brink of a world war. Meanwhile Jean has returned to his home in Le Havre, France where he continues being an inventor with a bicycle repair business on the side to make ends meet.

One morning on the beach, Jean sees a young woman washed up on the rocks. He immediately takes her back to his home and nurses her back to health. She eventually awakens but for some reason can only remember her name, Fuzzy. Meanwhile back in London, the prime minster disappears in a puff of steam while watching a play at the theatre. The reporters and editor rush out to get the story leaving Nadia to mind the office. The phone rings and Nadia answers. On the other end is a man clamming to know about the recent mysterious evaporations. The man on the other end is doubtful that she is a journalist; however he arranges a meeting with her that night in a local pub as he is being followed. While deciding to whether or not to enter the rather dingy looking pub, the man suddenly appears and drags Nadia down an alleyway to talk with her privately.

He introduces himself as Frei and immediately recognises her as Princess Nadia. Nadia asks who he is. He admits he worked for Neo Atlantis and later worked for a new organisation which he has now betrayed. He gives Nadia and envelope of documents, but before he explains what they are three men in trench coats appear and try to capture the pair. Frei shoots one of them who vaporises just like the recent cases with world leaders and military men. A scuffle ensues with Frei being shot and killed and Nadia being captured. However Nadia manages to escape. She takes one of the documents from the envelope and hurriedly posts to remainder to Jean in Le Harve in a nearby post box. The next day Nadia researches the man who wrote the document she kept, Dr Albert Whola. Apparently he was working on some form of new energy that he discovered inside all living creatures. This energy is used by all creatures living throughout the cosmos. Whola had to abandon his research after he was ostracised by the scientific community from pressure from religious leaders. He disappeared soon after along with his daughter Fuzzy.

Nadia then discovers that Whola’s research was used to create robots which have replaced most world leaders and top military brass. She takes her findings to her editor who immediately dismisses it. However the owner of the paper intervenes and asks Nadia to come to his office to discuss her story. Nadia thinks she’s cracked a big story and will finally be published as a lead story, but instead the owner shoots her with a tranquiliser dart. Nadia awakens to find herself inside a Neo Atlantean submarine. A white haired man enters and introduces himself as Geiger, an ex-member of the defeated Neo Atlantean group. He tells Nadia that he plans to send the world towards annihilation via a world war. He has asked Whola to create robots of world leaders and top military personnel in order to make this happen. Geiger asks Nadia where the documents she took from Feit are. She refuses to tell them, however Geiger suspects she sent them to Jean. Back in Le Harve, Jean returns home to find a group of people attempting to abduct Fuzzy. It’s the Grandis Gang who are now freelancing for Geiger. Jean is knocked out and the gang attempt to find the documents that Nadia sent him. But they soon give up after searching and decide to take Fuzzy anyway to claim thier money from Geiger. Jean later awakens and finds the documents Nadia sent him in his mail box. Realising that Nadia is in danger and wanting to recue Fuzzy, he sets off for London.

This film is nothing more than a terrible and cynical attempt on co-producers NHK and Toho’s part to quickly cash in on the success of the original “Nadia of the Mysterious Seas” TV series. Released only two months after the TV series finished broadcast, it’s obvious that the production was rushed and not well thought out. According to the article on Japanese Wikipedia, apparently Gainax (who produced the original TV series) was set to produce the movie as well. However by the 22nd episode of the series, director Hideaki Anno had already left the project (Shinji Higuchi directed the remaining 17 episodes) as he was completely burnt out. NHK and Toho Pictures realised that Gainax could not be counted on to make the film, so made their own independently from the studio, handing production to Group TAC and Korean animation studio Seiei Animation. The resulting movie did not have any input from any of the key creative staff of the original series. The film’s staff only had tenuous links to Gainax; the director of this film, Sho Aono, was an episode director for one of the latter episodes of the TV series. Screenwriter Kaoru Umeno also did several scripts for the TV series, but not much else of note in her short career. This film also seems to be Kouichi Takada’s only character designing credit. He mostly does storyboards for a living.

As a result, this film only barely has any real connection between it and the end of the TV series. Worse still is the 25 minute recap of old animation from the TV series which appears only five minutes into the runtime of the movie. According to Japanese Wikipedia, Gainax edited the 25 digest for the film. I’m not sure if this is really true. The digest is pretty much near incomprehensible if you hadn’t seen the TV series in its entirety. The digest not only highlights the fact the story in the TV series was much better, but the animation was also far superior, and even the animation from the much maligned “Island Episodes” is shown to be several notches above this film. There’s a lot of off model animation and quite a lot of shoddy camera work with slightly out of focus shots and shadows between the cels and backgrounds. It’s most certainly not theatrical quality animation.

The story is pretty silly as well. How the remnants of Neo Atlantis survive is of course never explained. The science behind Dr Albert Whola’s robots is also never explained. Why would his robots just up and evaporate into steam? And of course that stupid light sabre thing the robots stick in their ear when they communicate with Geiger is just dumb. The science behind the mysterious cosmic energy in all living creatures is utterly silly gobbledygook that doesn’t make one iota of sense. The girl named Fuzzy (an utterly daft name) and besides serving as a link between Nadia and jean, her role in the film is pointless in the end. Why would the Neo Atlantean’s recover her if her father sent her way, helped by one of the Neo Atlanteans cohorts? To top it off the new characters, especially the sub-characters look awful. It just seems not a great deal of effort when into designing them. And the animators really massacred them as well. It’s patently obvious that Toho and NHK didn’t care about the end product. It just feels cobbled together with little thought or care.

Believe it or not, this film was screened in theatres with a live action version of “Video Girl Ai”. Admittedly that live action adaption doesn’t seem too bad when compared with this film (at least from the first 20 minutes I’ve seen of it). Like “Video Girl Ai”, the movie version of “Nadia of the Mysterious Seas” has been long forgotten by Japanese anime fans. While a couple of artbooks were released to cash in, the film itself only got VHS and laserdisc releases and was never reissued on DVD or Blu-ray. However outside of Japanese the film has been released on DVD in Germany and France. In 2002 ADV Film released and dubbed the film for a DVD release, however didn’t reissue it on Blu-ray when Sentai Filmworks released the TV series on Blu-ray, possibly because it was never remastered in high definition. The long out of print ADV Films DVD does contain a creditless ending and the original opening credits (the DVD has overlaid English credits on the feature), but nothing else in terms of extras. I must note at this point that the film is only subtitled "The Secret of Fuzzy" in Europe (despite what some English sources say). The Japanese title is the unimaginative "Nadia of the Mysterious Seas".

There are a couple of bright spots in the film; the climax is reasonably well done and the end theme song, “My Precious Trick Star ~Yasashisa o Kureta Anata e~” performed by Silk (Kinuko Oomori’s band), is great. Other than that, it’s a completely mediocre film. It’s poorly scripted, designed and animated waste of space. It’s what happens when producers do not care about the product and only want to make some quick bucks off a profitable franchise. You couldn’t even recommend this one for diehard fans of the original TV series. Admittedly this probably wasn't the best film to kick this series of blog posts off with (as it’s more highly mediocre than really awful), however don’t fear. I have a large list of truly bad anime that I will be subjecting you to over the remainder of the year.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Anime On the Big Screen: “A Silent Voice”

Venue: Dendy Cinemas, Level 2, North Quarter, Canberra Centre, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra City, ACT
Date: Friday 7 April 2017
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 129 minutes
Production Date: 2016
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

After watching “Ghost in the Shell” the previous day, I ventured into town to watch Naoko Yamada’s (“K-On!”, “Tamako Market”) new film. Madman is really spoiling anime fans in this country with so many recent theatrical releases. I suppose with digital projection, the cost for screening these types of films has gone down dramatically. In the old days you’d have to get 35mm prints and burn the translation into a pre-existing print. A rather costly affair. At any rate there seems to be a substantial market for theatrical releases of anime films here. Like the rather niche “Sword Art Online the movie: Ordinal Scale” (which I didn’t see), this film is also a limited release. Even for a late morning screening on a work day I was surprised to see that around 15 people had shown up. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years the demographic for these screenings has changed; there’s a lot more people of Asian descent, more variations in age and less otaku types. Although for this screening there were more than a few otaku types in attendance. One guy had a “Attack on Titan” jacket on. Anyway, on to the film itself…

This film is based on a manga by Yoshitoki Oima was originally published in Weekly Shonen Magazine during 2013 and 2014. Shouya Ishida is a rough, spiky haired young boy in late primary school. One day a new girl transfers into his class, Shouko Nishimiya. Much to the class' astonishment when Shouko introduces herself she reveals she is deaf. She tells everyone that she would like to communicate via a spiral ring notepad that she writes on. Initially everyone is curious and welcoming to Shouko. One girl who is close to Shouya, Naoka Ueno, takes it upon herself to help the newcomer. However Shouya along with his best friends, Kazuki Shimada and Keisuke Hirose begin to bully Shouko. But despite the harassment, Shouko continues to try and be best friends with everyone and to keep a smile on her face. Eventually Naoka tires of helping Shouko and joins in the bullying, as well as other class members.

The bullying becomes worse with Shouya constantly taking Shouko’s hearing aids and throwing them out the window or tossing them in water fountains. Eventually Shouko’s mother intervenes and the school principal lectures the class and asks who is bullying her. The class put all the blame on Shouya who tries to argue that other members of the class were in on the bullying too. However no one listens to him. Soon the bully becomes the bullied with the entire class shunning him and his former friends Kazuki and Keisuke beating him up after school. The school advises his mother of what he has done and later when he sees his mother compensating Shouko’s mother for the destroyed hearing aids, the he realises the full extent of his actions. The class are later advised that Shouko has transferred to another school.

As Shouya enters high school, he loses contact with his former schoolmates, however he does not make new friends and becomes rather isolated. In late high school he decides to end it all. He saves up money to compensate his mother, quits his job and sells his possessions. He attempts suicide but can’t bring himself to do it. His mother finds out and is furious at him and makes him promise to not to do it again. Soon after he unexpectedly runs into Shouko and decides to redeem himself. He learns sign language in an attempt to apologise to her. However a young boy at the sign language centre she visits claims that he is her boyfriend and blocks him from seeing her. He eventually manages to avoid the “boyfriend” and little by little begins to reconcile with her, though naturally she initially is reluctant to want to talk to him. Meanwhile a friendship begins between a stocky curly haired boy called Tomohiro Nagatsuka and Shouya after he manages to stop a bully stealing Tomohiro’s bike.

These two budding friendships raise Shouya’s self-esteem enough for him to believe that he can have friendships and relationships with others again. He attempts to contact his former classmates in order to reconcile with everyone. Some are far more willing to do so than others. In the midst of all of this tragedies and triumphs do occur. Shouya often find himself advancing then taking three steps back and starting again. However Shouya is completely unaware of the deep seated unhappiness that has taken root within Shouko.

This is the third film that Naoko Yamada has directed and her first that isn’t a sequel to a TV series (“Tamako Love Story” should be coming out in English this year or next, which makes me very happy). It’s great that there are so many established and emerging female directors in anime now. I really liked Yamada’s direction in “K-On!”, “Tamako Market” and her work on “Sound! Euphonium”. She’s a very interesting director who is quite details orientated. For example in an early scene Yamada concentrates on a young Shouya playing with the lead in his clutch pencil from his perspective. Shouko’s habit of feeding koi fish in the local stream also allows Yamada to craft some very interesting underwater sequences. The best being an underwater shot of one of the fish as it seems to swim past the moon. While the film doesn’t play with light as beautifully as other Kyoto Animation productions such as “Sound! Euphonium”, there are still a number of really beautifully rendered sequences such as fireworks at a summer festival and a rollercoaster ride at a theme park.

The character animation isn’t too bad at all either. Emotions come across very clearly from all characters in the rather large ensemble. However I had a few problems with the film. From what I can gather a far whack of material has been cut from the manga including various subplots and character explorations. I’ve read reviews that suggest the movie is both too long and not long enough. I sort of understand where these criticisms are coming from. I think due to the rather large cast there isn’t enough time to explore the motivations of each character. Possibly a few characters could have been cut in order to simplify the story for the sake of the film.

Possibly the other problem I had with this film was that it really, really, hit close to home for me. When I was in high school we did have a deaf girl in my class. I can still clearly remember her as she had an epileptic seizure in class one day. It was first time I had seen anyone suffer such a thing. The teacher was madly trying to remove all of the chairs and tables out of the way until she stopped. I had no idea what to do. That girl was more expressive than Shouko, but was still was teased by classmates due to the way she spoke. I must applaud Saori Hayami’s portrayal of Shouko. In my limited experience she sounds very much like a deaf girl speaking.

I personally found myself empathising with Shouya. While I never have been a bully, I have been bullied pretty much from the first grade right through to the end of high school. Though in the film, you sort of realise that bullying in Japanese schools is on some next level shit. Watching, listening to and reading Japanese pop culture for the last 20 or so years, it really puzzles me that the high school years are romanticised so much. It’s patently obvious that a lot of bullying goes on in high schools (and continues on in the workplace to a degree), yet high school in pop culture is often portrayed as the best years of a Japanese person’s life. In really it’s often the post high school years (often a rather easy and free lifestyle, paid by cashed up parents if you’re middle class) which are the best. I don’t think I’ll fully understand the incredible nostalgic pull high school seems to have over many in the Japanese population.

The film portrays the process of attempting to reconcile with people you’ve wronged (or have wronged you) in the past fairly accurately. I mean some people are just arseholes when they were kids and as adults they haven’t changed one iota. Naoka Ueno is one of the more interesting characters. She has an underlying attachment to Shouya and strangely blames Shouko for Shouya’s isolation from the rest of his schoolmates. Shouko’s little sister Yuzuru is also another stand out character. It’s patiently obvious that she is not coping with her family situation at all and her photography of dead insects and animals are not only a symptom of that but also a cry for help at attempting to help her sister cope with what she is going through.

While the film does rather successfully deal with a lot of serious issues such as mental illness, suicide, bullying, loss, grief and being a single parent (often with large doses of humour and a romantic subplot to boot), it does feel rather schmaltzy at times, sometimes to the point of mawkishness. I would have liked a lot of this to be toned down a bit, which I guess in reality would be hard considering the content. While I think Yamada has done a pretty good job of adapting the source material, one thing which sticks out like nobody’s business is the visualisation of Shouya’s aversion to looking people in the eye. It’s a purple cross over people’s faces. This may have worked a treat in the original manga, but here in an animated film it just seems strange. I’m really not sure why Yamada decided to keep this element of the manga when there were other options she could have used to invoke the same sense of isolation.

In conclusion this isn’t a bad film at all. However it was a bit overly sentimental for my liking and some of the visual elements ported over from the manga plainly did not work. I personally had some issues with parts of the material which at times made me feel uncomfortable; however this is not the fault of the film. Having said that Yamada’s direction and sense of where to place the camera and sense of timing are pretty exceptional. I think with the right script and material she could (and should) be up there with directors like Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda. I must also mention the soundtrack which always complements the mood in each scene. Of note is the unusual use of The Who’s “My Generation” in the opening credits. Hopefully that will be retained in any English language video release. But due to various issues I had with it, I can really only give this film a 6.5 out of 10.