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: 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.

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Stephen reviews: Early Reins (2003)

earlyreins_1Early Reins [アーリーレインズ] (2003)

Starring Tomoko Kawakami, Aiko Mitsumori, Chiaki Osawa, Junko Takeuchi, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yoko Sasaki, Youko Mizutani

Directed by Yuji Asada


YEEE-HAAAW! It’s time for a film about train robberies, and shootouts, and cute anime girls with guns. Early Reins compiles a bunch of clichés from westerns and anime into an adventure so exciting that it… well, it’ll kill the better part of an hour, I suppose. It really isn’t all that impressive. But it does have one huge thing going for it. Unlike the vast majority of anime westerns, Early Reins actually exists.

I wish I had something more to say about it, but “it exists” really is the most interesting fact about Early Reins. If you’re looking for an anime western the only other options I’ve even heard of are Gun Frontier (which is pretty hard to track down at this point) or the never released in English Isamu the Wilderness Boy (which is pretty much impossible to track down). If you expand the field, there are a few space westerns out there, and sometimes longer series will decide to throw in a western-themed episode here and there. But if you’re looking for an actual western, this is just about all you’ve got.

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Stephen reviews: King of Thorn (2009)

King_of_Thorn-982478001-largeKing of Thorn [いばらの王 Ibara no Ō] (2009)

Starring Kana Hanazawa, Eri Sendai, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Akiko Yajima, Sayaka Ohara, Kenji Nomura, Misaki Kuno, Shinichiro Miki, Kousei Hirota, Tsutomu Isobe

Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama


The premise in King of Thorn closely follows that of a horror movie, however it never really feels like a horror movie. This may simply be that I’m not a huge horror fan, and not all that attuned to the genre conventions. But as much as this uses the tried and true formula of trapping a diverse group of people in one spot and then slowly killing them off one by one, it never tries to amp up the terror. It’s all about adrenaline-pumping action and head-scratching conspiracies.

This was a pretty enjoyable film all things considered. Since I’m not much for horror, the downplay of its creepier elements worked well for me. Perhaps the biggest problem is that once they start explaining all the mysteries, you may well become even more confused. The film delves into the kind of metaphysical weirdness that anime is so often fond of. I would love to give you more of a heads up, but explaining anything beyond that would just be spoiling the plot. Also, I’m not quite sure myself just what was going on. I’ll need to watch this one again someday to see if it actually makes sense. Just make sure you go into this film knowing it’s going to get weird.

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