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.

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

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.

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

Stephen reviews: Dominion: Tank Police (1988)

Dominion: Tank Police [ドミニオン, Dominion] (1988)

Starring Hiromi Tsuru, Masaaki Ohkura, Ichirō Nagai, Jouji Yanami, Michie Tonizawa, Yuko Mita, Yūsaku Yara, Daisuke Gouri

Directed by Kōichi Masahimo & Takaaki Ishiyama


“Cyberpunk comedy” is not a genre that you see very often, yet that’s what I’ve got for you today. The original manga of Dominion was penned by Masamune Shirow, best known for Ghost in the Shell. If you’ve never read any of his manga, it may come as a surprise to find that Shirow has a thriving sense of humor, but most of his works are suffused with an absurdity that doesn’t often carry into their adaptations. Nevertheless, Dominion is probably his most comedic story, and this four-episode miniseries revels in that silliness as much as it revels in its degraded technological future.

The series plays a bizarre homage to the comedy routines of yesteryear, dredging up stock sound effects that seem more appropriate to vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoons or Three Stooges episodes than anime. Dominion is relentlessly goofy, and handles pretty much all of its violence with a lack of gravitas that seems at odds with its dystopian setting. The Tank Police themselves are equally laid back and unconcerned with following the rules. An early scene has them interrogating a suspect by playing croquet with assault rifles and hand grenades while the poor criminal stands precariously with a noose around his neck and a grenade stuffed in his mouth. The squad’s chaplain tells him it’s better to rat out his friends and join them in jail than to abandon them and go to heaven alone. Things go downhill from there.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Dominion: Tank Police (1988) →

Stephen reviews: Black Magic M-66 (1987)

blackmagicm66_1Black Magic M-66 [ブラックマジック M-66] (1987)

Starring Chisa Yokoyama, Yoshiko Sakakibira, Ichirō Nagai, Kyouko Tonguu

Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo & Masamune Shirow


The title of this anime has always confused me. First off, there is no magic at all; black, yellow, turquoise or any other color you can think of. This here is a sci-fi film. Nor is there any significant usage of the color black in a non-magical fashion. In fact, the M-66 robots the film is about are far closer to white than black.

Even the second half of the title is confusing. As the film opens, it states that the “M” stands for “Mario.” Is there a significant character named Mario? Of course not. Is there anyone playing a Nintendo, even in the background? Not a chance. The Mario reference is never mentioned, and it is only in the title screen that we ever see it at all. Thankfully I did luck out in searching for info on this, and it seems that Mario is actually short for “marionette.” Why they shortened it, though, is anybody’s guess. I’m just happy that I won’t have an aneurysm trying to figure it out now.

Fortunately the rest of the film is very straightforward and easy to comprehend, although that in itself makes the title even more confusing. If the film had been a nonsensical art house mindfuck, I wouldn’t expect the title to make any sense. But no, it’s just a run-of-the-mill action film ripping off The Terminator, but with less time travel, more half-naked girls, and a dash of goofy comedy.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Black Magic M-66 (1987) →

Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014)

appleseedalpha_1Appleseed α [アップルシード アルファ] (2014)
AKA Appleseed Alpha

Starring Luci Christian, David Matranga, Wendel Calvert, Chris Hutchinson, Adam Gibbs, Brina Palencia, Elizabeth Bunch, Joshua Sheltz

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


Welcome to the last, or at least most recent, Appleseed film. I’m glad to finally be here because that means I don’t have to keep watching this stuff any more. I’ve gotten more than my fill of Appleseed this past month. I held out a bit of hope that this new one would be an improvement, but that was a false hope. Appleseed α is pretty much the same as the others. Except for that whole part about not having the Japanese audio. Yeah, that was a rather unpleasant surprise.

I poked about for an explanation, and the best I could come up with is the same explanation Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust had, that the Japanese audio wasn’t finished yet, and may still be in production as far as I know. I didn’t look very hard, though. Unlike Bloodlust, Appleseed α isn’t all that great of a film. Bloodlust‘s crappy dub was a tragedy, but Appleseed? Eh, who cares? It’s not worth getting bothered over. The good thing is that, also unlike Bloodlust, the actors in Appleseed were actually trying to act. I grew up with anime in the 1990s, and I will never ever get over the initial fear when watching an English dub that it’ll sound like shit. I know the industry standard has improved since then, but at this point it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I’m never going to grow out of.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014) →

Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007)

tk73wZ7JF3GlIDYnhkbT9lxDJFKAppleseed: Ex Machina [エクスマキナ] (2007)
AKA Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Kouichi Yamadera, Gara Takashima, Miyuki Sawashiro, Naoko Kouda, Rei Igarashi, Takaya Hashi, Yuuji Kishi

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


I suppose Appleseed: Ex Machina is a sequel to the 2004 film, but there isn’t any carryover between the two films. They’re basically two completely unrelated stories about the same people in the same place doing the same stuff. Athena is clearly younger than before, though, so make of that what you will. Maybe plastic surgery in Olympus is really awesome. I would say that it’s a good idea to watch one of the prior films just to have an idea about the characters, but honestly things here are so unrelated and formulaic that there’s no real point. The background and setting are pretty much irrelevant in this film. It’s a future police action movie; that’s all you need to know.

They also nabbed John Woo as producer, and they’re quite proud of that fact, even blasting loose with a flock of pigeons when his name pops up in the opening credits. I’m not sure how much he was involved with things, but I can definitely see the difference his influence made. The action scenes are a lot more over-the-top and intricate than the 2004 film, despite having the same director.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007) →

Stephen reviews: Appleseed (2004)

20052694156.7577495Appleseed [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) →

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