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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal (1999) →

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 4: Final (1989)

projectako4_1Project A-ko: Final [プロジェクトA子 完結篇] (1989)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto, Yoshitada Ohtsuka

Directed by Yuji Moriyama


I can’t say why the filmmakers decided to call it quits at part 4. Perhaps they ran into funding trouble or just ran out of ideas. Maybe it was a case of staff arguing over the direction of the series. Since I’ve never seen any behind-the-scenes info on the Project A-ko sequels (and probably never will), I can only rely on my own unsubstantiated guesses. For whatever it’s worth, I think they realized there wasn’t anywhere else for the series to go and wanted to end the franchise gracefully rather than milk it until it became a stale echo of its former glory.

One of the reasons I say this is because Project A-ko 4 is basically a rehash of the first film. It once again mainly involves an alien invasion that interrupts A-ko and B-ko’s bickering. In fact, the great feud between the two has become so routine that even the other characters are unfazed by it at this point. The big difference this time is that their teacher, Miss Ayumi, is getting married to Kei, so the fight is over him rather than C-ko. This makes C-ko feel abandoned, and she spends much of the film rather depressed.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 4: Final (1989) →

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody (1988)

projecta-ko3_1Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody [プロジェクトA子3 シンデレララプソディ] (1988)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto

Directed by Yuji Moriyama


This time the series takes an odd turn. Cinderella Rhapsody starts off with a sepia-toned scene of several women playing pool. The style is much more realistic, and the tone is closer to film noir than slapstick. It focuses on subtle movements and glances like the slight jostle of earrings when someone tilts her head. It is only with great effort that you can tell the characters are actually A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko. The scene plays out slowly, without any comedy other than A-ko’s break shot literally breaking the balls, and your first thought upon seeing it will probably be, “Did I just put on the wrong movie?”

In a way, this scene is a good metaphor for the entire film. It’s out of place, the jokes are less frequent, it plays its parodies too straight, and it’s just kinda boring. What’s more, the opening scene has some of the best animation since the original film, making it feel like a waste of effort that could have gone into a more interesting scene. Overall, Cinderella Rhapsody is a disappointing entry in the series.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody (1988) →

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group (1987)

ProjectA-ko2_1Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group [プロジェクトA子2 大徳寺財閥の陰謀] (1987)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto, Yoshitada Ohtsuka

Directed by Yuji Moriyama

 


With the success of Project A-ko, it should come as no surprise that a sequel was quickly put out. What is a bit surprising is that instead of a full theatrical film, all the sequels to Project A-ko were much shorter, direct-to-video releases. As a result, Project A-ko 2 suffers from a pretty big downgrade in quality. The animation is nowhere near as good, and the music lacks that memorable charm of the first film. This also adds up to some less satisfying action as well.

With Katsuhiko Nishijima stepping down as director, it might be tempting to blame Yuji Moriyama who took his place. I do think Nishijima did a better job; Moriyama tends to linger over the jokes a little too long, and he doesn’t have quite the flair for exciting action scenes. But Moriyama is certainly no stranger to the franchise. He was character designer, animation director, and one of three screenwriters for the first film, so he didn’t just pop up out of nowhere with no idea what to do.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group (1987) →




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