Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Half-Arsed History of Anime Fandom in Canberra 1995 - 2006, Part 3

Here's the final part of my half remembered personal history of anime fandom in Canberra. As I've said in the first two parts, this is by no means a comprehensive list of what went down in that decade. As you may have seen from the first two parts, most of it involves me in some way. Anyway in this final part, first I'll be looking at the two other anime clubs (now defunct) clubs in the region. First the UCU J-Pop Culture Club (as always, click on the images to enlarge);


This rough looking flyer mysteriously appeared in local comic book shops in early 2001. Discounting the Canberra Anime Society, this was the first (and only) official anime club that the University of Canberra ever had (UCU = University of Canberra Union). I think I met the club's president, Isaac, at a ANU Anime Society (ANUAS) screening sometime after that as I have his email address scrawled on another flyer. Anyway the goals of the club were to screen anime and do other stuff related to J-Pop music such as karaoke and god knows what else. The flyer opens up to about 200 words gushing about how great the club is going to be. I went to a couple of early screenings and they were a bit of a shambolic affair. Isaac invited me along and wanted to use me as a tape and DVD library, which I declined from doing. Apart from loaning out CD-Rs of J-Pop music, that was about it in terms of the J-Pop side of things. I think they just stuck to anime after the first year.

Along with the Magical Girl Club (which I will talk about next), they collaborated with ANUAS for Anime.au.04 (a convention I previously discussed in the previous part of this series). I did a fair bit of work on the booklet/program guide which included write ups of the three clubs participating. Late in the day the very angry president of the UCU club (a young woman, Isaac had left in late 2003), came up to us and said my write up of their club was "not in the spirit". We were all baffled as to what hell she was on about. All I had done, like in the descriptions of the other two clubs, was give the basic details of who they were, where they met, the URL of their website and when they had screenings. Everybody was flummoxed as to what they actual problem was with what I had wrote. Later in their online forums they continued to complain at the terrible treatment they received by ANUAS without ever articulating what we actually did.

It looks like the club changed it's name sometime after 2004 to the UCU Anime Club and eventually ceased operations in 2007. Their website still exists here. Now on to a fantastically odd offshoot of ANUAS, the Magical Girl Club;


The club started in 2002, and from what you can see from the flyers, they screened a bunch of magical girl anime every week (and ate Pocky, something which I don't recall happening at all). It was run by Alana who was an absolute Sailor Moon nut and especially loved the live action musicals. At one point they had over 70 members which is pretty amazing for such a niche club. During the O-Week market, people would always ask her if you had to be a girl to join the club, which I think equally amused and infuriated her. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the club finished around the time Alana graduated, maybe 2006 or so.

Just to finish up, here's a few more flyers I found;


Not sure when this was, 1999 to 2001 or so. As you can see it's a screening to help out one of the clubs to send students to preform a kabuki in Japan.


I think the above event happened in 1998 or so. Both titles had been available on video for a number of years, so I really don't know why you'd want to watch scratchy old dubbed 35mm prints of the same thing at the national gallery.


This a flyer for the 5th Japanese Film Festival in 2001. This was the first time the festival toured Canberra. Of note was the unbelievably obscure 1997 anime film "Home of Acorns". Based upon a manga which follows the life of a disabled young girl who opens up a home for children with disabilities when she becomes an adult. As far as I'm aware this film never got a home video release anywhere, even in Japan. The closest I've come across a copy of the film is on one Japanese site which is bootlegging a DVD of it for 5,000 yen. I didn't go to this screening, and I have always regretted it since.


I did go to Japanime 02 which was hosted by the now defunct Electric Shadows cinema for three days in November 2002. It was a pretty damn good line up; a remastered "Akira", "WXIII Patlabor the movie 3", "Millennium Actress" (some people actually cried at the end of the film), "Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven's Door"etc. Pretty amazing line up. They also had "Princess Arte", however the print was too damaged to screen, so they showed a dubbed print of "Roujin Z" which was utterly lame as it had been on video for nearly a decade here! This very short lived festival (this was the second and final one) began in 2000 in Sydney as part of the Olympic Arts Festival. After Japanime failed to show up in 2004, Madman Entertainment did their own little festivals called Reel Anime from time to time. Eventually those festivals stopped and they now do one off screenings of various anime films. In the years leading up to Japanime 02, Electric Shadows did screen some anime films such a s dubbed print of "Perfect Blue" and a subtitled print of "Princess Mononoke".


Finally, some fandom stupidity. I know the above flyer appeared everywhere around Australia in 1998, but surprisingly appeared in Impact Records as well. Supposedly all you had to do was write to SBS TV and they'd play every single episode of the show if they got enough people writing. Of course it was utterly absurd. I have no idea who thought up this daft campaign up (I mean you can clearly see it was the Australian branch of SOS - Save our Sailors, a rather vocal and nutty fan collective who wanted to get the show back on US broadcast TV) but what in hell gave them that idea? I heard that someone in SBS programming was sacked over this incident, as they told someone at Save Our Sailors this would work. However I have absolutely no evidence this happened. I often wonder how many letters SBS received because of this campaign and if they had any idea what the hell it was all about. It was a really weird time to be a fan during the 1990's. Those Sailor Moon fans were really rabid and strange at times.

I was going to also do a write up of anime shops in the area in the late 1990's, but I think I'll save that for another time. There is so little information floating about in regards to early anime fandom in my region and I really think that's a shame. A lot of websites have disappeared and haven't been archived by the internet archive. Pretty much everyone I knew in the local anime community has moved on from the hobby, except one or two people. Nobody is keeping an archive of this stuff which I find disappointing, but probably to be expected. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed looking through these tattered and yellowing flyers of a fandom long gone.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Half-Arsed History of Anime Fandom in Canberra 1995 - 2006, Part 2

On to second part of the not very comprehensive or all that well researched history of anime fandom in Canberra. The second anime club in Canberra was the ANU Otaku Council: the Asian Film Society. This odd name I think was in part based upon similar sounding otaku subject “research clubs” names on campuses at Japanese universities. When Peter left the Canberra Anime Society (CAS) sometime in 1997, it soon became quite apparent who the main supplier of material for the club was. The line-up at each subsequent CAS screening just got worse and worse. They ended up showing stuff like the dubbed version of the “Fatal Fury” movie and “Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer” which people just hated. People had become a little sick of CAS. By the time early 1998 rolled around, this flyer appeared in comic book shops around town (as always click to enlarge all images);


This new club was run by Matt Birks and Sam Wilson, two ANU students who had essentially set up the club to put CAS out of business. I kid you not. Note that the annual membership cost that same amount as one screening at CAS. It was a pretty fucking spiteful state of affairs. Of course they could do this as their club was an official Australian National University (ANU) club, they had free access to one of the small theatres there. However Bruce and Dave over at CAS had to deal with hiring out the theatre at UC which was getting close to $100 per screening, because they weren’t students. They had full time jobs.

In the previous year I had heavily got into fansubs and had begun to start trading with people overseas. I had acquired some great shows not available on commercial VHS and was trading some stuff with Bruce and Dave (mostly the former). I was rather sick of CAS and decided to help out Matt and Sam. I even did up a couple of their early flyers;


However it soon became apparent I was being used as a tape library and essentially I told them so. I was then subjected to some rather spiteful and awful emails which I thought was rather shitty. That’s when I joined forces with my fried Nathan and took over CAS for a couple of years. Regardless, the ANU club keep going and must have sourced tapes from elsewhere. As you can see from the flyer below they also played Hong Kong cinema and Japanese sci-fi films;


I sort of lost contact with the club over the next year and half. I had no idea what they were really up to. I do know in the end they stopped mimicking CAS’ schedule and in the last quarter of 1999 started playing some of the latter “Sailor Moon” series. I knew people weren’t all that interested in the ANU club and our patrons had actually increased in number dramatically. There was a bit of tit for tat during 1998 as we played some of the things on their schedule including the “Rurouni Kenshin” movie, because they were playing the series. For a while there, they had actually stopped promoting the club. There were no flyers or anything about. Eventually I made up with Sam. Both Matt and Sam had left the club and in late 1999 the new president Ross (whom I have forgotten his last name…) paid a visit to one of our screenings. From there I decided to wind up CAS permanently and help out the ANU club. I helped with programming stuff, supplying tapes and even the flyers;


As you can see, from 2000 the club was rechristened as the ANU Anime Society, shortened to the rather unfortunate ANUAS which almost reads as ANUS if you’re not careful… The live action Asian films did continue on for a little while, but all but disappeared from the schedule by 2002. Being there was quite fun and I made a few friends, all of which I have lost contact with. But anyhow… Sometime in 2003 the club thought up the crazy idea of doing a convention. Because every other bloody club in Australia was doing it and you know, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? Well it was. You now this stuff works; people put up their hands and then a few fail to do that task. I was programming a lot of older anime material generally because I saw that the video rooms of other conventions in Australia were kind of shit. I also did the basics for the program booklet which I kind of fucked up because I had too much on my plate (both private, club and work). It all came together on 3 April 2004 as Anime.au.04. In the end it was a pretty successful event; we had some great cosplay, the ANU Go club set up and played some rounds, there were martial arts demonstrations, a band who played J-rock and a Para Para demonstration performed by some really hard core devotees. All in all despite some minor problems I think the organising committee were pretty pleased at what they had achieved. Both the booklets for that year and following had artwork by Kyoto based doujinshi artist Colorful Biscuit;


Not too sure if she is still active now. Her website is here. Her art work seems to be mostly of J-Pop group Perfume, which I think is great. No other convention in Australia could claim that all of their official artwork (and mascots!) were produced by a Japanese doujinshi artist. There was too much rushing about to enjoy anything going on at the convention, so one year was enough for me. I crossed “participating in an anime convention” off my otaku things to do list and I was done with it. For a while there, the conventions continued in the form of mini-conventions such as Chibi.au;


And a summer mini-con;


I haven’t really kept up with what has been going on in the club, but it looks like they’ve had conventions on and off for a few years, with 2012 being the last one from what I can gather. Sometime in 2005 or 2006, I sort of began to felt like a bit of a dinosaur and started to come less frequently. I only had commercial DVDs and tapes, and they didn’t want any of that stuff. It was the age of digital fansubs. Also I probably was bit of a pain in the arse of times, they were probably glad to see the back of me...


I tried coming back to the club, but really felt out of place. It was sort of the beginning of the end between me and the social aspects of fandom. Regardless the club continues on and was renamed the ANU Anime and Gaming Society 2012. The website isn’t very active, but the facebook page is. As you can see they still do screenings and other assorted social outings. Next year will be their 20th year of operation. I did some research and was really surprised to find out they aren't the oldest club in Australia. A couple other clubs are around the same age or older, one over 25 years old.

In the third part of this series, I’ll be looking at the other two (defunct) anime clubs in the city plus a not very comprehensive look at number of anime related events that took place in the decade from 1995.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Half-Arsed History of Anime Fandom in Canberra 1995 - 2006, Part 1

I'm taking a bit of a break from doing reviews and will probably only do some occasional articles such as this one. I'll be back in full swing in April. Back in 2011, I wrote about my history with the Canberra Anime Society (CAS) and how I ran it (and ran it into the ground) with my friend Nathan for about a year and a half. You can read it here. I thought it might be interesting to scan some of the flyers I had collected over the years from various events around the region. I soon discovered that this would be a two-parter (or three). So first up I’m going to briefly look at the Canberra Anime Society. The history of CAS is pretty much covered in my previous post. Here’s some of the flyers that they put out while it was David, Bruce and Peter running the screenings (click for larger versions of all the images in this post);


Peter soon left and David and Bruce struggled on until May 1998 when they gave up. Before that though they did a screening for Japanfest which was a University of Canberra festival set up by the languages division;


Flyer is really beat up, but they played “Whisper of the Heart”, “Fushigi Yuugi”, “Grave of the Fireflies”, “Escaflowne”, “Patlabor” TV episodes, “Nadesico”, “Combustible Campus Guardress” and a Japanese film called “Family Secret”. Myself and Nathan took over in June 1998, but I think by the end of the year, he’d had enough. I struggled on through 1999;


I said before that we were the first club in Australia to play “The End of Evangelion”. Here’s a flyer we made up in our last screening of 1998;


I found a lot of flyers or temp flyers I had made for screenings which didn’t happen at all from late 1998 through the end of 1999;


Interestingly I have a few completed and made up flyers for the 10 July 1999 screening, but can’t remember what the hell happened or why I cancelled it. While CAS usually ran once every three weeks from 1995 to the end of 1998, in 1999 I did a grand total of five screenings. Look at this flyer I printed out towards the end of 1999;


You can clearly see by this time I really had a gutful of the University of Canberra Union screwing me around. And below two more screenings which never happened at all;


I had quit by the end of 1999 (last screening was 6 November 1999, where I played "Spriggan" and got a small mention in BMA) and decided to help the ANU Anime Society (ANUAS) during 2000 and used the CAS website as promotional tool for anime events in the region (it was kind of piss poor though). However I noticed that people were still coming to my website and asking me when the next CAS screening was on. So I did a joint screening with ANUAS in November 2000 in order to get some of those people to join ANUAS;


You’ll note that the “Escaflowne” film wasn’t released on VHS and DVD in Japan until April 2001. This was very early internet film piracy; someone at Sunrise had upped a pretty high quality digital transfer of the film onto the web (not some camcorder crap, a proper transfer) and US fans had already subbed it and put it up for people to download. I always find it really surprising that so little was made about this by fans. You’ll note that flyer is in full colour which one of the members at ANUAS did on a colour photocopier. And yes as I said before in my 2011 post on CAS, never even went to the screening for this one; I went home to see my parents that weekend. It was kind of interesting making up the flyers. I really enjoyed setting everything out, writing up little synopses etc. But it was a bit of a battle to get them printed and distributed to the two comic book shops in town (Phantom Zone and Dee's Comic Book Shop) and the now sadly defunct independent record shop Impact Records (which had incorporated a comic book shop into the store). In the end I had a lot of difficulty printing them off. I could no longer do it at work and local photocopy shops would either do a really shit job or charge absurd amounts.

Next time I’ll be looking at other clubs in the region plus a few notable events.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Otaku Moralists

A couple of months ago I wrote about a new website (and niche movement) which tried to apply western feminist ideology to anime and manga, without taking into account that Japanese pop culture (and wider Japanese society) is not the same as in the west. There was also the bizarreness of applying a western ideology to a foreign entertainment not produced with that market in mind. I found it rather similar to the phenomena of Christian fans applying their ideology to anime and having difficulty with overtly sexual or demonic themes. If your ideology clashes so much your entertainment choices you have difficulty enjoying it, you really need to find entertainment suited to you rather than tiptoeing through it, or attempting to change it to suit your needs. I recall the rather vocal dislike for ero anime (erroneously called “hentai” by western fandom) in the 1990’s where anime fandom webpages had banners proclaiming “Hentai Free Zone” or the like.

In the last couple of years I have really noticed that certain segments of fandom are vocally complaining about sexual elements of anime and manga. What utterly surprised me was how prudish the complaints were. Sure, there are obviously people complaining about certain series where the main draw is fanservice or other overtly sexist elements which I totally understand. But what blew me away in the previous season were the complaints about shows such as “Sound! Euphonium” and “Flip Flappers”. Neither are shows you’d normally consider to be controversial or have offensive content, however this doesn’t stop the new otaku moralists finding something objectionable in these shows.

First up “Sound! Euphonium”; now most normal human beings would consider this show to be pretty wholesome with relationships being shown in a very chaste way. However like the rather bizarre criticisms of “K-On!”, this series has a small band of high profile detractors who point out it sexualises teen girls. “K-On!” was accused (and continues to be accused) of framing scenes in the male gaze, which essentially means the camera is presenting women in the show as objects of male desire. Of course the claim falls apart when you realise that the director of the show, Naoko Yamada, the head screenwriter, Reiko Yoshida, the character designer, Yukiko Horiguchi, and most of the episode directors, storyboard artists and animation directors are women. Plus the show was broadcast on the Disney Channel in Japan and there really isn’t anything sexual in the show (unless you’re a weirdo and see sex everywhere). I'm finding “Sound! Euphonium” is in the same boat as “K-On!” when it comes to weird prudishness by anime fans. So apart from Kumi Kaoru’s really weird take on “Sound! Euphonium” which I have previously covered here, a few other high profile western fandom figures have had problems with the show. First up Erica Friedman, self-proclaimed lesbian icon, speaker, writer, and founder of Yuricon & ALC Publishing;


She had difficulty with the first episode of the first series where the main female characters are momentarily concerned about their appearance and a teacher enforces school dress codes as a couple of girls hitch up their skirts to make them look shorter. In total the scenes add up to less than a minute in a 24 minute episode. Even so, aren't these scenes representative of real life? Don’t real teen girls obsess about their appearance? Don’t real schools enforce dress codes? And what if you didn’t agree with Erica assessment of the show?;


Yes, you’re the weirdo, not them! Let’s check the details on that episode; episode director and storyboards; Naoko Yamada, animation director; Shoko Ikeda… Why you awful and creepy arsehole women!  A local blogger also recently suggested that episode 7 of the second series had a scene which contained the “Gainax Bounce” (i.e. gratuitous bouncing breasts). Here is the scene in full;


Did you see the bouncing breasts? You didn't? You weirdo, you’re obviously not staring at the girl’s chests enough and not mistaking shadow for bouncing boobies!. Besides the non-bouncing going on, yet again the episode was created by a number of women in key staff roles including Haruka Fujita who was episode director and storyboarder. Our local blogging friend also had the gall to suggest that one of the main characters, Reina Kosaka, should not have an (unrequited) crush on the music teacher in the series, Noboru Taki. Seriously?! Students shouldn’t have crushes on teachers? Like this stuff doesn’t happen in real life?

Much in the same way, “Flip Flappers” has also been subject to accusations of sexualisation from people such as Amelia Cook from the Anime Feminist. It’s an inescapable fact the show is about female teenage sexuality, however when Cook criticises the first episode for having a “grabby robot”, she is blind to the fact the main character, Cocona, has an amorphous fragment embedded in her thigh, which is a key part of the show and revealed towards the end of that first episode. Is Cook being disingenuous here? I honestly don’t know. The fact is “Flip Flappers” was the original creation of Yuniko Ayana, yes, yet another woman, who is a fan of the Yuri genre and in a recent tweet admitted that she forced the show’s staff to place a swimsuit episode into the series. “Flip Flappers” also has numerous female staff working on the show including Kotomi Deai (director of “Rolling Girls”) as an episode director.

It really seems a lot of “progressive” anime fans are no better than the Christian right prudes of old such as Mary Whitehouse and Fred Nile. They see sex everywhere and rather surprisingly seemingly see depictions of female sexuality as a threat. Whether or not they realise or understand that many of these depictions of female sexuality are actually created by Japanese women in the anime industry, I really have no idea. To me it’s rather clear; these new otaku moralists are fine with wiping out depictions of female sexuality by female creators. I really find that to be an appalling state of affairs. What’s even stranger to me is that in a broader view of mainstream fandom, popular shows like “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones” are full of violence, sex and “problematic” content, yet anime fans are catching the vapours over what amounts to inconsequential scenes not more than a couple of cuts (or seconds) long in otherwise wholesome shows.

Sure this probably has to do with the western world’s view on teenage sexuality being a topic not up for discussion or exploration (which is only a recent shift, see Gabrielle Carey’s 1979 novel “Puberty Blues” for example), however I can only see it as one thing; a silencing of women expressing female sexuality in fiction. When Whitehouse and Nile did it 30 years ago, they were prudes and moralists. When anime fandom does it now, while wrapping it up in progressive language, they're still prudes and moralists. If you have problems with how Japanese women choose to express themselves and their characters sexuality, move on to another hobby. It's fine to criticise certain aspects of anime as well as Japanese culture as whole, but when its this prudish and moralistic, especially towards women, then I really think you should reconsider why you're in this fandom.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Video Backlog: “Metropolis”

Publisher: Eureka Entertainment Ltd (UK)
Format: Region A and B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles. Region 2 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 107 minutes
Production Date: 2001
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi travel to Metropolis to question Dr Laughton, a scientist suspected to be involved in organ trafficking. They arrive in the city to discover its inhabitants hold extremely anti-robot views, as many of the jobs in the city have been mechanised, causing unemployment. They also find themselves in the midst of a citywide celebration of the opening of a massive skyscraper named Ziggurat which is owned by highly influential businessman Duke Red. A protesting robot tries to hijack the celebrations by projecting the logo of a local anti-robot vigilante group, the Marduk Party, onto the building. The rebel robot is destroyed by Rock, Duke Red's adopted son and unofficial head of the Marduk Party. Ban and Kenichi head to the police department in order to ask for help in their investigations. The only officer they can supply them with is a robot named 803-D-RP-DM-497-3-C, which Ban decides to nickname Pero.

Pero guides them through the three levels of the city; level one which is above ground where the most affluent live, level two where a lot of the working class, poor and unemployed live and the third level where the generators which run the city are situated. On the second level is the abandoned factory where Dr Laughton lives and produces his work. Unbeknownst to Ban, Duke Red has commissioned Laughton to construct a robot called Tima seemingly based upon Red’s deceased daughter. Tima has been created as a control until for a powerful secret weapon hidden inside the Ziggurat building. An enraged Rock discovers Tima's existence and decides to kill Laughton and set the factory on fire. Arriving just as the building is alight, Ban notices Laughton trapped inside the building and both he and Kenichi go to inside to rescue him and anyone else trapped inside. Laughton is almost beyond help, but he gives Ban his notebook on Tima. Kenichi discovers the now activated Tima, not realising that she is in fact a robot, rushes to save her. The pair fall through metal grates in the floor and down into the sewer system.

Separated from Kenichi and with the Laughton now dead, Ban and Pero continue on with the investigation while searching for Kenichi. He and Tima are somewhere on the third level. Kenichi is surprised to discover that Tima can barely form sentences and doesn’t seem to know much about the world. Meanwhile Rock discovers that the remains of Tima weren’t in the remnants of the fire and hunts down Tima and Kenichi in an attempt to kill them both. During the long chase, Kenichi is knocked out while trying to escape. He awakens to find himself and Tima in a room. They have been saved by a man named Atlas who heads up a group of unemployed labourers who are planning a revolution against Duke Red. However Atlas has made a secret pact with Metropolis mayor President Boone in order to take out Duke Red. The revolutionaries set about attacking the city, however it soon becomes apparent that Duke Red has known about their plan all along. Later Tima is eventually captured along with Kenichi. Tima is forced to control the Ziggurat against her will. It’s up to Ban and Kenichi to not only save Tima but also the entire world from Duke Red’s weapon inside the Ziggurat.

This film was probably the most hyped anime film of 2001 (well maybe “Spirited Away” was the first). When Osamu Tezuka died in 1989, his production company, Tezuka Productions, set about turning as many of his manga into anime. A string of anime were produced, mostly of titles that had not previously been animated before such as various adaptations of “Black Jack”, “Ambassador Magma”, “Jungle Emperor” and “Buddha”. Before its release in 2001, this film had apparently been in production for almost five years and had an astronomical cost (for an anime film) of ¥1.5 billion. There were a lot of heavy hitters on the production side with Katsuhiro Otomo writing the screenplay, Rintaro directing and Madhouse as the animation studio. It was also one of the first anime features to really use computer graphics to a large extent.

The last time I saw this film was around 15 years ago when Columbia Tristar/Sony released the film on DVD (with a bizarre 8cm “CD single” DVD containing all the extras) to much fanfare. To be utterly honest I don’t think I was overly impressed with the film back then. I think I’m even less impressed with it now. The key problem I think a lot of people have with Rintaro’s work is that he goes for spectacle over story. It’s a complaint that you’ll hear quite often about his previous major work, his movie adaptation of Clamp’s “X”. Right from the start of the film you can see that he’s more interested in showing off the city than actually telling the story or exploring the characters motivations or backgrounds. Watching this time around it really stuck out to me how many wide shots there were and how at times you could not distinguish from the main characters of the story and background characters. There is so much going on in a lot of these shots. Every bloody thing is animated and moving and at times I really found it hard to spot the main characters in in certain shots. With few close up shots, it really depersonalises the characters, and to a large degree you don’t feel involved in the story at all.

Some of the background characters in these wide shots had really exaggerated and unnatural movements which really made them stand out from everything else. The point is we as an audience should be focused on the story and its main characters. All of this background animation was needlessly distracting and a hindrance to the story. As a result I really found it hard to connect to any of the characters at all. I found really hard to accept that Kenichi and Tima had made any real connection between each other. The political machinations between Duke Red, the Marduk Party, President Boone and Atlas’ revolutionaries were muddled and could have been clarified and cleared up a bit more. Many of the characters and side characters are introduced and are almost always killed or vanish before the audience really get to know any of them. Then you have the relationship between Duke Red, Tima and his deceased daughter. This is barely explained and makes little sense when you consider Duke Red is anti-robot.

I think a lot of the blame here can be attributed to screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo. He’s crammed a lot of story into the film’s short runtime. While the film is based upon the original manga, a lot of material has been added to the story including a number of characters. Like the overly animated backgrounds, there is just too much going on and not enough focus of what is important. The audience has a hard time trying to make sense of it all. This film is the first time I became aware of Tezuka’s Star System. A ton of his characters from other manga appear here such as Rock (who wasn’t in the original manga), Shunsaku Ban, Duke Red, Acetylene Lamp (who plays Boone’s secretary), Skunk (who appears briefly as a general), Ham Egg (who appears a police officer) and Pero who is taken from an early part of the “Astroboy” manga. But really these cameos don’t really propel the story along at all. They just make the film feel overstuffed.

This two disc set (one blu-ray, one DVD) was produced by niche UK based arthouse/cult film distributor Eureka. While the blu-ray is a lot better than the only Sony DVD, there are some video problems. The most glaring problem is the strange horizontal banding (similar lines as you’d see in an old CRT TV) which occurs only in some light coloured scenes. There is also some colour gradient banding in a couple of dark scenes, but it’s not really all that bad. The discs retain all of the important features from the Sony release and also include a previously unseen extra; a Japanese promo video. The two disc set comes in a steelbook case which is a bit so-so really. The back of the case has no image at all; it's just black with small company logos at the bottom. At the very least it’s probably better than the forthcoming US Sony release which is being replicated on BD-Rs, not factory pressed blu-rays. Eureka’s BD also has Japanese titles rather than replaced English credits as the Sony DVD had, and the post credits still image which was cut from the original western DVD releases appears on Eureka's release.

Summing up, I really felt frustrated with this film this time around. I don’t think it’s aged well at all, it’s stuffed too much with plot and characters, and is far more interested in showing off the animation than actually trying to engage the audience with the story being told. All the elements are there for a great film, but it’s all a bit of a mess I’m afraid. And to top it off you have that really misplaced Ray Charles version of “I Can't Stop Loving You” during the climax… I can only give this film a 5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eleven TV series and one OVA and one movie. In addition I am also waiting for the second part and movie of one TV series to be released before viewing it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Video Backlog: “New Initial D the Movie: Legend 3: Dream”

Publisher: Neo Films (Hong Kong)
Format: Region 3 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional Cantonese dub and English and Chinese (Traditional) Subtitles.
Length: 66 minutes
Production Date: 2016
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

The third film in the latest incarnation of the “Initial D” franchise begins with a recap of the first two films in the series (which I reviewed back in April last year). For those who aren’t familiar with the series, it is set near Mount Akina in rural Japan in Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo, where for a number of years young men have raced each other in supped up cars on the curvy road on the mountain using the drifting racing style. For years people have seen an old black and white Toyota Sprinter Trueno (aka AE86 or just plain 86) racing up and down the mountain early in the morning before dawn. It became the stuff of legend. The local racing group, the Akina Speed Stars, is challenged by a rival team, the Akagi RedSuns. However the leader of the Speed Stars, Koichiro Iketani, is involved in an accident and his car is out of commission. He discovers that a local tofu shop owner, Bunta Fujiwara, owns the car and decides to ask him to race against the RedSuns. However Bunta wants no part in it. Instead he send his son Takumi to race which horrifies everyone as they consider him to be a guy who knows nothing about racing and he isn’t even interested in cars.

But what they don’t realise is for years every morning around 4am, Takumi delivers tofu in the AE86 to a hotel on the other side of the mountain. He’s the one in the legendary car. At the race, Takumi easily beats the RedSuns and continues to beat anyone who challenges him, even though he has little interest in racing in the beginning. At the end of the second film, Takumi is sent a challenge by Ryosuke Takahashi of the RedSuns. The new film begins with Takumi’s dorky friend, Itsuki Takeuchi, buying a Corolla Levin AE85, which he mistook for an 86. It has far less power than an 86. On the mountain Itsuki is publicly humiliated by a group of racers. Enraged at this, Takumi gets in the Levin and chases the racers down and passes all of them with ease. Itsuki thanks him and realises that’s not the car which wins races; it’s the skill of the driver. He vows to practice and become a proper racer.

With the battle with Ryosuke Takahashi fast approaching, Bunta decides to change the suspension settings of the 86. Ryosuke also detunes his car as he thinks lower horsepower will help him win the race. Meanwhile Takumi’s relationship with Natsuki is blossoming. On a date Takumi explains why he hit her ex-boyfriend. He was bragging about his sexual exploits with her in a change room at school which made Takumi mad. Natsuki felt a bit bad about not taking to Takumi about it. However he easily forgivers and the pair kiss. Going to the next step in their relationship has left Takumi in a daze. Itsuki tries to make him snap out of it before the big race so the pair go up to the mountain where they encounter an impromptu race between two local racers. On the day of the race, Ryosuke announces that if he loses, he’ll give up street racing, but the RedSuns will continue their plan to dominate the Kanto racing scene. The race begins, however it seems that Takumi may lose for the first time.

As I have previously said before, I never really got into this franchise back in the late 1990’s. The original anime series was this weird mix of traditional animation mixed in with low resolution CG cars which did not mesh well at all and terrible Eurobeat music to boot. There’s also the rather ugly character designs and all that testosterone. The anime franchise generally went non stop for a decade from 1998, and then was rebooted in 2012 then this three part film remake appeared in 2015 (released in cinemas over 18 or so months) for the belated 35th anniversary of Young Magazine who published the original manga. Luckily all three parts have now been released on DVD with English subtitles by Hong Kong video publisher Neo Films. I seriously doubt this trilogy is on any western distributor's radar, so this is the only way to see it legitimately.

I’ve already said enough about the franchise in my previous review of the first two films, so this review is going to be much shorter than normal. This film does feel a little more sedate than the previous two entries. There are three main battles, however they don’t seem to be as exciting as what has come before. Sure they’re adrenaline filled and have some spectacular action, but a lot of the elements that appeared in the first two films such as internal shots of engines and the glow of disc brakes at night are oddly missing. There’s also a lot more scenes filled with dialogue which slow the film down. Few of these scenes actually propel the story along or add any real insight to any of the characters, except those with Natsumi and Takumi. We know from the end of the second film that Ryosuke’s battle with Takumi is coming up, it just takes so long to get there.

The film also has speaking roles from what I think is the only female racers in the franchise; Impact Blue which consists of Mako Sato and Sayuki. In the original anime adaptation they got a two part OVA series dedicated to them, but here they are confined to commenting on Ryosuke and Takumi’s driving techniques. It’s interesting that the film makers decided to change Natsumi and Takumi’s relationship quite a bit. Certainly I don’t think it was like this in the anime. Certainly with the flashback to Takumi punching Natsumi’s ex, it makes Takumi look far more aggressive and less passive and benign than in the original anime series.

Neo Film’s English subtitles, like the other two films, are barely passable in my book. They’re quite literal, have a fair amount of typos and can be quite a chore to get through. Make no mistake, most of the time they’re quite understandable, but the more complex the dialogue is on screen, the more incomprehensible they become which is really annoying for the viewer. I think to a large the degree, the subtitles lessened my enjoyment of the series overall. They’re certainly not up to snuff when compared to the standard of other western anime releases. As a whole, this adaptation of the original “Initial D” manga was quite good. The animation all gels together unlike the original TV series, and the action is almost always exciting and exhilarating. But the character designs are not only ugly as hell, they really feel they’re from another era and at times look so mid 1990’s, especially with the clothes. I also thought the makers of the film were really padding things out until the final battle. As a result I can only give this film 6 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Seven TV series, one OVA and one movie. In addition I am also waiting for the second part and movie of one TV series to be released before viewing it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Video Backlog: “The Case of Hana & Alice”

Publisher: All the Anime (Anime Limited, UK)
Format: Region B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional French Dub and English and French Subtitles. Region 2 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional French Dub and English and French Subtitles
Length: 98 minutes
Production Date: 2015
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Tetsuko Arisugawa, known as Alice to her friends, and her novelist mother, Kayo, move to the small town of Ishinomori after her divorce. Alice, who is in her second year of high school (or middle school as our US friends call it) is not too keen on restarting in new town, but decides to make a go of it anyway. However things don’t go well from day one. The other students shun her seemingly because she was assigned a certain seat in the classroom by the teacher. Alice later discovers that the desk she sits in used to belong to someone named "Judas", who was murdered by four women also called Judas who were his wives who poisoned him. Utterly baffled as to what this all means, Alice attempts to pry more information out of a boy who teases her after school (well, she punches the info out of him). He tells her that the class had been cursed by the murder of Judas, a boy named Yuta, who had apparently married four girls in the class. He explains that the leader of the classroom, “Moo” (real name Mutsumi Mutsu) apparently possessed, had performed some sort of exorcism in the middle of class one day which purified her and the entire class.

At the end of classes as Alice is going home, one of her old friends from old hometown, Fuko, goes up to her to say hello. Both of them were previously in a ballet school there. Fuko convinces Alice to join the local ballet troop but is a little concerned that her mother can’t afford the classes. But when Alice asks her mother, she agrees to pay without hesitation. Walking past Alice’s house after school, Fuko becomes scared of the house next door which the local students refer to as the Flower Folly (or Flower House). A young girl can be seen regularly peeking out an upstairs window which naturally spooks the hell out of kids walking by. The next day after class has finished, Alice's classmates surround her and stop her from leaving  the classroom. She fights most of the kids off but Moo explains they aren’t going to hurt her. What follows is a strange ritual where Moo removes the curse that has been placed on Alice. After this the shunning and bulling of Alice by the other students ceases. Later Alice thinks it’s a bit weird but is amazed that magic and spiritualism exists in such a small town. Alice’s mother explains to her that it’s just a bunch of superstitious nonsense.

Days later while out running in a park, Alice comes across her teacher speaking to her next door neighbour. After they finish talking she runs up to her teacher to find out what was going on. Alice’s neighbour is the mother of Hana Arai, a girl who is in her class but hasn’t come to school since the Judas incident. Hana is one who is peeping out the window in the Flower House. During the athletics carnival school, Alice has a run in with Moo. However the two of them soon begin to chat about the Judas incident after Moo discovers that Alice lives next door to Hana and tells her that she was bullied by the other kids and pretended to be possessed into order to stop them bulling her. Moo doesn’t actually know who Judas is as the incident happened before she came to the school, but she thinks Hana Arai does know.

Later Alice comes home and discovers mail for the old family who lived in her house, the Yutas. Having found some old test papers for Koutarou Yuta in her cupboard, Alice realises that the boy known as Judas used to live in her room. She is horrified that she lives in a room of a murdered person. Determined to get to the bottom of what is going on, she sneaks into her next door neighbour’s house in an attempt to talk to Hana. After being shocked at a stranger invading her house, Hana calms down and explains what the actual Judas incident was all about. Hana believes that Yuta just moved to another school and never died, but can’t be sure. She knows where his father works but isn’t sure where the family lives so can’t confirm if he is alive. Knowing that the Yuta family doesn’t know who Alice is, Hana concocts a plan with Alice at it's centre to find out the truth.

This film originally was scheduled as part of the 2015 Japanese Film Festival line up but bafflingly bypassed Canberra (but played in other cities) so I never got to see it in the cinema. The film has a strange history. It’s actually a prequel of Shunji Iwai’s 2004 live action feature “Hana and Alice”. Iwai is a bit of a darling of the Japanese cinema scene with critically acclaimed films such as “Swallowtail Butterfly”, a starring role in Hideaki Anno’s live action “Shiki-Jitsu”, a segment in the omnibus film “New York, I Love You” and probably his most famous work “All About Lily Chou-Chou”. An actual early version of the script for “The Case of Hana & Alice” was written as early as 2004, just after “Hana and Alice” was completed, however for some reason it was never actually green-lit. The reason why this film is animated and not in live action is because the two main actresses in the original film, Anne Suzuki (Hana) and Yuu Aoi (Alice), are 10 years older and of course no longer look like teenagers. An animated film is an easier way to continue the story than hiring new younger lookalike actresses.

Like the much maligned “The Flowers of Evil” anime series, the film is mostly rotoscoped (where live action actors are filmed, then traced over and coloured). For the most part this works, especially for the ballet sequences which are beautiful to watch. Some additional elements such as mouth movements have been exaggerated for effect. For some of the more dangerous sequences such as Alice dangling from a first storey window, CG models have been used, which quite frankly look awful. And the most bizarre thing is these CG models are used in sequences where you wouldn’t expect them to be such as two people walking down a school hallway. Why wasn’t such a mundane shot done as rotoscoping? Regardless, most of the shots in the film look brilliant. There are some strange camera angles which you wouldn’t normally see in an anime which I put down to Iwai’s experience as a live action director.

Being a prequel to an existing film, the question is do you need to have seen “Hana and Alice” to fully appreciate this film? I would say no, but watching the live action film certainly does expand your understanding of the two main characters. I decided to watch the film just before viewing “The Case of Hana & Alice”. The original film follows the rather humorous story of Hana who has the hots for a boy and takes advantage of his clumsiness when he walks into door and knocks himself out. She tells him he has amnesia and says that they were going out. The lie spirals out of control when she has to cover herself for a bunch of photos she covertly took of him which he discovers. Hana tells him that his ex-girlfriend Alice took them and she has to rope her into pretending that she is. Only problem is that Alice falls in love with the boy. I thought it was a touch too long at 135 minutes and has a tacked on sub plot of Alice being scouted by talent agency, which I thought added nothing to the film except for beautiful dance sequence at the end.

“The Case of Hana & Alice” references a number of scenes from the original film, most notably a sequence where Alice goes out to visit her father at a restaurant. The love interest from the first film, played by Tomohiro Kaku, also returns in a cameo as a teacher. There’s also a reference to the origins of the original film; a series of short films sponsored by Kit Kat as part of their 30th anniversary in Japan. Whereas the original film was quite humuorous with touches of melancholy, this film mostly does away with a lot of the melancholic moments. The last third of the film has the pair trailing what they believe is Yuta’s father but is in fact another employee of the company he works for. A hilarious comedy of errors ensures. The film explores and builds on the relationship between the two girls seen in the original and the “murder case” is really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

The only English language version available is All the Anime’s dual DVD/BD set which is a dupe of their @Anime French label version released back in November. The two discs come in a digipak with a 20 page booklet which features a short message from Makoto Shinkai (for what reason, I’m not sure), a Shunji Iwai interview and an article on how they made the film. The only on disc extra is a 23 minute interview with (a pre “your name.”) Makoto Shinkai who gushes about Iwai’s work. The contents are housed in a chipboard box with three postcards and a slip case. Overall it’s quite an intriguing film, beautifully shot with an interesting story which at it's core is about a burgeoning friendship between two girls. The rotoscoped animation is to a large degree a distraction which doesn’t help in the story being told, especially with the CG models which are awful. But when it does all manage to work, it’s magnificent. 7.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eight TV series, one OVA and two movies. In addition I am also waiting for the second part and movie of one TV series to be released before viewing it.