Appleseed [アップルシード] (2004)
Starring Ai Kobayashi, Jurouta Kosugi, Mami Koyama, Yuki Matsuoka, Miho Yamada, Takehito Koyasu, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yuzuru Fujimoto
Directed by Shinji Aramaki
It took 15 years for someone to make another Appleseed film, and this one is pretty much the exact opposite of the first. They both center around Deunan and Briareos, members of Olympus’s S.W.A.T. team in the wake of World War III, facing off against terrorists and traitorous elements of their utopian society. But where the original film focused on tactical and strategic combat without any real attempt at characterization or explanation, the newer adaptation of the tale is chock full of explanation while dumbing down the action scenes to just look cool rather than have any thought behind them.
The other big difference is the animation. The original film was low-budget and looked rather dated even for its time. This version, however, came after the colossal success of Ghost in the Shell, and producers were a lot more willing to risk cash on Masamune Shirow’s other properties. So the new version has sleek CG animation, which astonishes by actually not looking like total shit. Just partial shit. Pixar this ain’t, but I have seen a good deal worse. In fact, most anime CG from the 2000s does look like total shit — anime has always lagged behind its western counterparts in terms of digital functionality — but it’s clear that Appleseed had a lot of loving care put into its production design. That doesn’t mean I like it. I still hate CG productions like this, but when you knowingly jump head first into a full CG film, there’s not much reason to rant about it being CG. So I’ll restrain myself and focus on the film’s other features instead.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed (2004) →
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [イノセンス GHOST IN THE SHELL （仮題）] (2004)
Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Kōichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka, Tamio Ohki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Yoshiko Sakakibara
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
While the first Ghost in the Shell dealt primarily with mental identity, the “ghost” of the title, Innocence deals more with the physical robot body, the “shell” in this analogy. In that sense, it completes the theme nicely and is the perfect direction for the series to take. This time the police case is investigating a series of crazed robots that have killed their owners. This immediately made me think of Boomers from the Bubblegum Crisis/AD Police series, but like the first film, Innocence is so full of philosophical discussion on the definition of life and the distinction between man and machine that it stands apart from most anything else dealing with psycho robots.
It’s certainly an ambitious goal to make a sequel to such a complex and well-made film as Ghost in the Shell, and although I have a number of issues with it, it didn’t do a terrible job. Mostly what bugs me is what really just comes with the territory in a mid 2000s anime; it’s chock full of obnoxious and very obvious CG. When set next to the original, there is just no comparison between the natural grace of handcrafted animation and the jarring, stiff feel of CG. What makes this more annoying to me is that the moments that don’t rely on CG look fantastic, which only emphasizes how ugly the CG is. Much of the film does look amazing, and it just makes me bemoan the fact that the entire film wasn’t made so well.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) →
Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi [新暗行御史, Shin Angyō Onshi, 신암행어사, Shin amhaengosa] (2004)
AKA New Royal Secret Commissioner, Phantom Master: Dark Hero from the Ruined Empire
Starring Keiji Fujiwara, Sanae Kobayashi, Ryusei Nakao, Romi Park, Jun Fukushima
Directed by Joji Shimura & Ahn Tae-gun
I have a bit of an oddity here. Unlike most anime, Blade of the Phantom Master is based upon a Korean comic book series rather than a Japanese one. Its setting and visual style therefore reflect a slightly different feel than other anime. The most noticeable way this shows is with the obviously Korean sounding names. I can only wonder what kind of meaning was lost in an English translation of a Japanese adaptation of a Korean story, but I can’t do much more than call it a curiosity and wish I was more familiar with the Korean folktales that inspired it. The voice acting was originally recorded in both Japanese and Korean, and considering its Korean roots I would have preferred to watch that version, but for some dumb reason the American DVD release only retained the Japanese language track.
More unfortunate about its creation is that it was made after CG began insinuating itself into anime. From the very beginning, the film makes it clear that CG is going to play a heavy part of the production. This immediately made me regret choosing this for my next review, and there are several scenes that are just flat out ruined by it. Nothing sucks the fun out of an action sequence like making it with CG. The movie surprised me, however, by not relying on CG as much as I thought it would. It still has plenty of bad moments, but it also has plenty of decent scenes that don’t use any CG or only a slight bit that I could ignore. The CG is mostly used outside of the actual combat, which goes a long way toward making it more bearable. There’s also some good stuff in this film, and I wound up having a mostly pleasant experience watching this.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi (2004) →
The Place Promised In Our Early Days [雲のむこう、約束の場所, Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho] (2004)
AKA Beyond the Clouds, The Promised Place
Starring Hidetaka Yoshioka, Masato Hagiwara, Yuuka Nanri, Kazuhiko Inoue, Risa Mizuno, Unshou Ishizuka
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Even after watching Shinkai’s earlier short, Voices of a Distant Star, I never expected this film to be science fiction. The posters, promotional art, and even the visuals of the film itself all seem like an everyday setting without anything bizarre. I did expect the same emotional focus that Voices had, and it certainly delivers on that front. For the first few minutes of the movie, my expectations held true. The main character, Hiroki, narrates the opening, looking back at his high school days when he shared two things with his best friend, Takuya. The first was a crush on the same girl in their class, Sayuri. But when he gets to their second common interest, I realized this film was not going quite where I had expected.
Their shared dream was to build a plane that would take them across the border, to the massive tower of Ezo which stretches up into the sky and out of sight. It’s a tower so tall that until the climactic reveal at the end of the film you never see the top. It stretches up like the Tower of Babel, and even in faraway Tokyo the tower can be seen, still looming above everything. It’s a symbol of the characters’ aspirations, and a reminder of the dreams they never realized. Beyond simple symbolism, the tower is also a science lab to research alternate realities; that was when I realized this wasn’t just a love story. It is every bit as fantastical as Voices, taking a scientific concept and combining it with very human emotions to tell an intriguing story.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2004) →