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.

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

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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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013)

Ghost in the Shell: Arise [攻殻機動隊 ARISE, Kōkaku Kidōtai Arise] (2013)

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichirou Matsuda, Tarasuke Shingaki, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Kazuya Nakai, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Yōji Ueda, Tomoyuki Dan, Mayumi Asano

Directed by Kazuchika Kise & Masahiko Murata (ep. 1), Atsushi Takeuchi (ep. 2), Kazuchika Kise (ep. 3), Susumu Kudo (ep. 4)


My journey through the Ghost in the Shell franchise took a snag with Arise, since I should have watched it before watching The New Movie, which is the proper conclusion of the Arise series. But, alas, I confused this series with Ghost in the Shell: Arise: Alternative Architecture, the re-edited for TV version of Arise, and I got the release dates messed up. If I had watched Arise first, it would have spared me a good deal of confusion with that film. But I still think both the series and the film would have been a bit confusing anyway. Of course this is Ghost in the Shell we’re talking about, so confusion is part of the package, but I think watching the film before the series even made the series more confusing.

Arise is a four-episode series, and each episode is a full hour long. Each one has a different crisis going on, but they all build up to finding the origins of a new computer virus called Fire-Starter (or maybe that’s the name of the programmer who designed it) that can rewrite a cyborg’s memories. At this point in the timeline, rewriting memories has never been done before, so the authorities are at a loss for how to combat the threat, and aren’t even convinced it’s actually possible.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015)

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie [攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijō-ban] (2015)
AKA Ghost in the Shell: The Rising

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichiro Matsuda, Mayumi Asano, Kazuya Nakai, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Tarusuke Shingaki

Directed by Kazuya Nomura


A few years back I did a rundown of all the Ghost in the Shell films. Since then there have been a few more releases in the franchise, and I figured I would give them a glance before checking out the new live-action film slated to release at the end of March. Now it’s never a good idea to call your new movie in a long running franchise “The New Movie.” It just means that a couple of years later when a newer, higher profile production starring Scarlett Johansson comes out your no-longer-new movie just sounds dumb, and probably confusing for the audience. But I can’t stop some idiot without a scrap of originality from doing just that, so unfortunately we’re stuck with it.

In another really confusing move for a film so concerned about its timeliness, Ghost in the Shell: The It Was New a Couple Years Ago Movie is actually a prequel to the original story, showcasing how Major Motoko Kusanagi put together the team of operatives that work for Section 9. This far into the series we have only heard small bits about her past, mostly that she has been a cyborg since childhood, so I was a bit unconvinced that exploring her background was a good idea. We’ve gone this far without it. Why do we need it now? But the film does go a good way toward establishing some of the motivation for her decisions at the end of the first film, so I think they actually did find a pretty good reason to go back and examine her history.

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Stephen reviews: New Dominion: Tank Police (1993/1994)

New Dominion: Tank Police [特捜戦車隊ドミニオン Tokusō Sensha-tai Dominion] (1993/1994)
AKA Crusher Police Dominion

Starring Rei Sakuma, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Aya Hisakawa, Niina Kumagaya, Shigeru Chiba, Yūsaku Yara, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Kousei Tomita, Ayako Udagawa, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Rihoko Yoshida

Directed by Noboru Furuse


I suppose this six-episode miniseries is a sequel to the first Dominion anime series, but it’s impossible to say for sure that it isn’t just a different adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga set further down the timeline. The style and artwork for this newer series is so different from the first one that it’s hard to consider them related. No one important remains on staff from the original series save for Yoichiro Yoshikawa, who was in charge of the music in both series. Not even the actors remain, which seems odd considering the mere six-year gap between the two series; you would think they could get at least one person to reprise their role. New Dominion never refers to or builds off of the earlier series either, so there’s not much connecting the two.

This newer series does expect you to be familiar with the characters, though, or at least the concept, as it does nothing to introduce the audience to the situation. It starts off with Leona and her custom-built tank already installed in the police force and jumps right into the story. Each episode has a new criminal to hunt down, each one with mysterious goals and resources. Eventually all the pieces get put together revealing a central criminal scheme behind it all that Leona must stop in the final episode.

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