Stephen reviews: Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead (2007)

Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead [女子競泳反乱軍 Joshikyôei hanrangun] (2007)
AKA Undead Pool, Inglorious Zombie Hunters, The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers

Starring Sasa Handa, Yuria Hidaka, Ayumu Tokito, Hiromitsu Kiba, Kiyo Yoshizawa, Hidetomo Nishidia, Sakae Yamazaki

Directed by Koji Kawano


I approached this film with a bit of trepidation. Anything with a title like Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead has to be either really awful or really fantastic. And things were looking pretty worrisome there at the start. But a few minutes in, a wonderfully awkward stabbing left me giggling and hopeful for the future of the film.

Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead is pretty much what you would expect from the name. There are lots of zombies, gore, and naked ladies to go around. If you were expecting something thoughtful and enlightening, I think you need a better grasp of the English language. Or the Japanese language as the case may be. But even though the title is revealing as to the nature of the film, it’s not all that accurate to the content. The swim team doesn’t do much of anything in this film, and most of what they do do is a little underwhelming. Details are sparse, but maybe the translation of the title is a bit off as there are a variety of different titles for the film.

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Stephen reviews: Escaflowne: The Movie (2000)

Escaflowne: the Movie [エスカフローネ Escaflowne] (2000)
AKA Vision of Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Tomokazu Seki, Jouji Nakata, Shinichiro Miki, Ikue Ohtani, Minami Takayama, Aki Takeda

Directed by Kazuki Akane


I have only seen Escaflowne: The Movie once before, back when I first got a hold of the DVD set, which must have been around 15 years ago by now. In that time I had forgotten pretty much everything about it, except that it had disappointed me all those years ago. The TV series has long been one of my favorite anime series, and I felt like the movie just couldn’t compare. A big part of this was because Escaflowne is a mecha series, and the movie only has one fairly short giant robot fight. I’ve wanted to revisit this film for a while now without having the series fresh in my mind to color my expectations, and that day has finally come.

The movie is drastically different from the TV series, and the first time I saw it, those differences were the main thing I was upset about. This time however, those differences were what I found to be the most fascinating part of the story. I’m actually glad the film isn’t just a simple rehash of the show. Instead it gave me brand new things to see, which makes it much more worth watching than simply retelling the same story I’ve already seen. Even better, because events are so different, there are no spoilers of the show inside the film, so it can be watched all on its own and still leave the series as a fresh experience for later viewing.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Escaflowne: The Movie (2000) →

Stephen reviews: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal (1999)

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal [るろうに剣心 追憶編] (1999)
AKA Rurouni Kenshin: Reminiscence, Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen

Starring Mayo Suzukaze, Junko Iwao, Nozomu Sasaki, Masami Suzuki, Shuichi Ikeda, Hirotaka Suzuoki

Directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi


The Rurouni Kenshin series has never been one of my favorites. In fact, I rather disliked the TV series when I gave it a try many years ago. But I’ve heard great things about the film version, which was renamed to Samurai X because that made it sound cooler. The TV series was a misguided slapstick comedy that really didn’t hit very well with its humor. I only watched a few episodes before writing it off as bland and unappealing. This film on the other hand (which is actually a re-edit of a direct-to-video mini-series) is an intense historical drama about a man gone numb from killing, and his growth towards becoming the character portrayed in the TV series.

As an origin story, you don’t need to have any knowledge of the series. It makes just as much sense either way. It starts with a boy nearly getting killed by bandits who massacre the slave caravan he had been trapped in. But a kindly wandering samurai wipes out the brigands and takes the boy under his wing, naming him Kenshin. Kenshin grows up to be a master swordsman with a burning desire to fight for justice. In so doing, he abandons his master’s seclusion and joins a rebellion against the shogun.

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Stephen reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011)

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos [Fullmetal Alchemist: Milos no Sei-Naru Hoshi 鋼の錬金術師 嘆きの丘(ミロス)の聖なる星] (2011)

Starring Rie Kugimiya, Romi Park, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Maaya Sakamoto, Toshiyuki Morikawa

Directed by Kazuya Murata


It’s been a while since I saw the Fullmetal Alchemist series, and my memories of it are pretty vague. But I suppose that’s OK since this film doesn’t rely too much on the source material. The series is about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, living in a fantasy world with technology roughly equivalent to the mid-19th century, but with cyborgs! They try to use alchemy to bring their dead mother back to life. This does not work. In fact it doesn’t work so much that it literally costs Ed an arm and a leg while Al loses his entire body, winding up with his soul fused to a suit of armor.

Around a decade later, the brothers have grown up (or in Al’s case, not changed at all) and now work for the government with the idea that they will eventually figure out how to restore their bodies. For this film, the government sends them out on a mission to find an escaped criminal who turned out to be an alchemist himself. This quest takes them out to a border town called Table City which has a ton of political tension as two large countries have displaced the original natives to the area, and there’s a ton of rebels and spies running around.

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Stephen reviews: Animal Treasure Island (1971)

Animal Treasure Island [どうぶつ宝島 Doubutsu Takarajima] (1971)
AKA Jolly Joker

Starring Minori Matsushima, Asao Koike, Eiko Masuyama, Fusako Amachi, Jouji Yanami

Directed by Hiroshi Ikeda


This film is pretty much what it says: an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Treasure Island with lots of animals in it. The only human characters are the main character Jim, his baby brother Baboo, and a girl named Kathy who shows up about halfway through the movie. The rest of the cast are anthropomorphic animals of all kinds, and the film is full of all the swashbuckling seafaring adventure that you would expect of a pirate story.

I’ve never read the novel it was based upon, but I did look over a summary of the plot for comparison. It seems that Animal Treasure Island is a very loose adaptation. The basic premise is pretty much the only thing the two stories have in common. A boy named Jim with large dreams of exploring the ocean lucks upon a pirate treasure map and the money to finish his own homemade boat. So he sets off with his mouse pal Glan and his baby brother in tow, running afoul of pirates lead by a pig named Captain Silver.

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Stephen reviews: Harmony (2015)

Harmony [ハーモニー] (2015)

Starring Miyuki Sawashiro, Reina Ueda, Aya Suzaki, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Shin-ichiro Miki, Junpei Morita

Directed by Takashi Nakamura, Michael Arias


I didn’t have any expectations when I took a chance on Harmony, and that’s probably a good thing, because whatever expectations I had probably would have been way off base. I was surprised to see Michael Arias as co-director here, and like Tekkonkinkreet, his other anime film, Harmony is a weird philosophical journey, though nowhere near as intensely psychedelic. The other director, Takashi Nakamura, has been around the industry for quite a while, but hasn’t done much directing work. His most prominent film is A Tree of Palme, but he also directed the fantastic “Chicken Man and Red Neck” (AKA: Nightmare) segment of Robot Carnival, another trippy and moody story.

Coming from these two directors, I would have expected Harmony to be weirder than it is, but the film does have an ethereal quality that makes it feel like a light and airy dream. Set in a utopian future, it revolves around Tuan Kirie, a woman who survived a group suicide attempt in high school. The ringleader of the group was a mysterious girl named Miach Mihie, whose personality is a charismatic mixture of cheerful cynicism and rebellious hatred. Miach’s body was donated to science after the incident, but Tuan was seduced by Miach and grew up despising her homeland. Then some criminal mastermind causes a mass suicide to occur across the country that strongly reminds Tuan of Miach’s goals and agendas, and she sets off to uncover the truth of what is happening.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando

Directed by Rupert Sanders


I was looking forward to this movie with a mixture of hope and dread. My expectations were set low, but at the same time I had a hunch that Ghost in the Shell was possibly the only anime franchise that might work well as a Hollywood production. The serious tone, cyberpunk setting, and evil corporations mesh well with the kind of FX-heavy, sci-fi action films that Hollywood likes to churn out. So does it work? Well, if by working you mean that it is a functional mass market formulaic Hollywood film, then yes I suppose it does. It checks off all the boxes that modern Hollywood films are supposed to have at any rate.

The film is basically a hodgepodge of scenes from the various anime titles, mostly the first movie, so it was pretty much all stuff I’ve already seen. I can’t really call this a bad thing since this is an adaptation of the story. This live-action film was honestly in a tough spot. It had to stay true enough to the original to avoid pissing off the fanboys, but it still had to have enough mainstream appeal to make a profit. On top of that, there has never been a truly successful Hollywood anime adaptation (sure, I liked Fist of the North Star, but that was hardly a commercial hit), so they were understandably playing this pretty cautiously and avoiding risky artistic decisions. This leaves the film kinda drab, neither good nor bad.

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