Stephen reviews: Shiki (2010)

shiki_2Shiki [屍鬼] (2010)

Starring Toru Ohkawa, Kouki Uchiyama, Kazuyuki Okitsu, Haruka Nagashima, Keiko Kawakami, Wataru Takagi, Aoi Yūki, Ai Orikasa, Nozomi Sasaki, Nobuhiko Okamoto

Directed by Tetsuro Amino


All right, I’m breaking the unwritten and nonbinding rules by reviewing an entire TV series rather than a singular film. Shiki completely took me by surprise with its rich atmosphere, dense plot, and unflinching cruelty. Since it is also one of those rare anime titles that is genuine horror, it felt like the perfect time to step away from the norm. One of the big differences about an anime series from a Hollywood series is that anime is largely intended to tell an already mapped out story. Anime often isn’t meant to run season after season until the fans get tired of it. An anime series usually has the entire plot figured out before production begins. This means that at every step of the way a well-made series will advance the story toward a specific end, much like every scene in a movie should progress the plot to its conclusion, and Shiki does this very well.

shiki_1I had heard that Shiki was a slow-paced series, but I found that to be blatantly false. This isn’t an action series, so maybe people were confused by this thing called a plot. But whatever the case, I thought the story proceeded at a rapid pace, hurling new developments at every turn. I don’t think there was a single episode that didn’t radically alter the situation, constantly building up its dreadful sense of impending doom. Partly it manages this through an enormous cast that grows with nearly every episode. Even at the end of the series, new characters are still being introduced. This means that there is always someone to stumble onto new problems. This also means there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so I really do recommend watching the entire series over a short span of time, otherwise you’re liable to forget who important people are. This is perhaps one of its weakest points for viewers who don’t want a story quite so difficult to keep track of, but it is one of my favorite aspects of the series.

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Stephen reviews: Kimera (1996)

kimera_1Kimera (1996)
AKA Ki*Me*Ra

Starring Yasunori Matsumoto, Mugito, Jurota Kosugi, Tatsuo Tobita, Daisuke Gori, Yoshitaka Arimoto

Directed by Kazu Kokota


Kimera throws a bit of a curveball at you by blending horror with gay romance. I wasn’t quite aware of that particular sub-genre, but I doubt it’s a very large one. What makes it really odd, though, is that the title character is, despite all appearances, actually a woman, and one of the most confusingly gendered characters I’ve ever seen. The film clearly states that she has ovaries and a menstrual cycle, but it makes no mention of male reproductive organs. Kimera, the character, nevertheless looks exactly like a dude. I’m still not sure whether to consider it a cop-out for guys who are insecure about their sexuality so they can say it’s not gay, or whether it was just a forced plot device because the story needed to have a reproductive aspect to work. Either way, it is this gender-bending confusion that becomes the defining aspect of the movie.

This is not the only convoluted thing about this film either. The film’s biggest problem is that its paltry 45-minute run time just isn’t enough time to explain all the ideas that it tackles. I mean, look how long it took me to explain Kimera’s gender, and that’s not even what the film is about. The movie feels very rushed and incomplete, and that really drags it down. If the plot had more room to deal with its ideas it could have been a pretty decent film. As it is, however, it comes across cluttered and incoherent. Other than that, Kimera is a pretty mediocre anime, anyway. If it weren’t for its bizarre gender confusion, it would be a pretty forgettable film.

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Stephen reviews: Blood-C: The Last Dark (2012)

1Blood-C-The-Last-DarkBlood C: the Last Dark [劇場版 BLOOD-C The Last Dark, Gekijouban Blood-C: The Last Dark] (2012)

Starring Nana Mizuki, Kenji Nojima, Ai Hashimoto, Hiroshi Kamiya, Yūichi Nakamura, Yuki Kaji, Kana Hanazawa, Yuko Kaida, Jun Fukuyama, Masumi Asano, Junichi Suwabe

Directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani


Blood C is the latest version of the Blood franchise which started with Blood: The Last Vampire. The Blood franchise is an odd one in that every installment seems to be a complete reboot of the series, which makes this film unique in being the only one to actually be a sequel. The Last Dark follows the TV series of Blood C, but it stands on its own fairly well. The only really important fact you’ll be missing is that the main villain, Fumito Nanahara, used to be a father figure to Saya before he betrayed her.

The Blood franchise started as an action/horror film, but it has evolved over the years to lean more closely to the action side and now has very little horror to it. The biggest horror element that The Last Dark has is in the opening sequence on the train, which is really more of a homage to the opening scene of the original Blood: The Last Vampire. The film does still have its share of big creepy monsters. In fact, they are bigger and creepier here than in any of the previous incarnations of the franchise. However, they are never dealt with in a horror fashion. Instead they are just oversized enemies for Saya to get into a huge brawl with.

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Stephen reviews: Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

tokyo_godfathersTokyo Godfathers [東京ゴッドファーザーズ] (2003)

Starring Aya Okamoto, Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Kouichi Yamadera, Kyouko Terase, Mamiko Noto, Seizo Katou, Yuusaku Yara, Satomi Koorogi

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This is the most normal anime Satoshi Kon made. There’s nothing in it at all that’s confusing or mind-bending. Absurdly improbable, sure, but not flat-out bizarre. The film’s world functions in a more or less realistic way. This did leave me a bit bored with it early on. I love the more psychedelic aspects of his other films, so I was disappointed to see a relatively down-to-earth narrative here. But as the film went on, and the characters grow more depth, I too grew more attached to them.

The concept is simple enough. Three homeless people find an abandoned baby in a trash pile on Christmas Eve. Then they spend the next week until New Year’s Eve searching for the child’s parents. As a holiday film, it has its share of Christmas miracles, but it’s not just some sappy happily-ever-after fairy tale. The main characters are all homeless, and there is always a palpable sense of bleak despair hiding behind even the most cheerful scenes of the film. Kon walks a razor’s edge here as he makes a film that is both uplifting and depressing at the same time.

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Stephen reviews: Silent Möbius: The Movie 2 (1992)

mp09Silent Möbius: The Movie 2 [サイレントメビウス2] (1992)

Starring Naoko Matsui, Maya Okamoto, Chieko Honda, Hiromi Tsuru, Toshiko Fujita, Gara Takashima

Directed by Yasunori Ide


Oh boy, here we go again. I really didn’t want to dive back into Silent Möbius, but I figured that I would need to tackle the sequel before my memories of the first film faded into complete obscurity. I figured correctly, because even more than most sequels, Silent Möbius 2 absolutely requires knowledge of the first film to make any sense. It also turns out that the sequel was a vast improvement (not that that’s saying much), which I did not expect at all, and it tackles exactly the biggest problem I had with the story of the first film, which was that they had skipped over why Katsumi joins the police after discovering her powers.

The sequel begins immediately after the events of the first film, and it just assumes that you saw all that and don’t need any kind of refresher. This works out rather weird since the first film had a frame setup and after the main story it switched from Katsumi hating the police to four years later when she is a member of the police force. This film starts after the events of the flashback but still well before Katsumi became an officer. In fact, I wonder why they even bothered making the two films separate. They are so short and so integral to each other that they really would have been better had they just been edited into a single film.

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Stephen reviews: Silent Möbius (1991)

silent-mobiusSilent Möbius: The Motion Picture [サイレント・メビウス] (1991)

Starring Naoko Matsui, Chieko Honda, Gara Takashima, Hiromi Tsuru, Masako Ikeda, Toshiko Fujita, Kouji Nakata

Directed by Michitaka Kikuchi & Kazuo Tominzawa


I went into this film with a bit of trepidation since I had found the TV series to be a rather boring drag. I was more tolerant of this version, perhaps because it came in at less than an hour long, but it’s still far from a masterpiece. At first I thought it was a condensed version of the series, but the 1991 release date surprised me. I didn’t think the series was that old — mainly because it isn’t. The TV series didn’t release until 1998, which means this film was fully meant to stand on its own.

Silent Möbius tells a pretty generic tale of an all-female police squad fighting mystical monsters in the future. There’ve been tons of similar anime over the years, and Silent Möbius is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s got a typically diverse cast of girls who each have their own gimmick going on, but you won’t see much of that for this film. It centers on one particular member of the team, Katsumi Liqueur, as she first learns of her magical heritage and comes to terms with her powers. It’s a pretty traditional call-to-adventure arc that could have worked a lot better than it did. But I suppose it could have been a lot worse as well.

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Stephen reviews: WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002)

wxiii_patlabor_the_movie_threeWXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 [WX3 機動警察パトレイバー Wasted 13: Kidō Keisatsu Patlabor] (2002)
AKA Patlabor WXIII, Wasted 13: Patlabor the Movie 3

Starring Hiroaki Hirata, Katsuhiko Watabiki, Miina Tominaga

Directed by Fumihiko Takayama


Though Mamoru Oshii has left the scene, the third Patlabor film definitely inherited his influence. And although I wish I could say that it inherited his stylish visuals, oddball sense of humor, or knack for finding unique thematic content, I’m afraid that all this film inherited was his sluggish pacing. It’s clearly trying to imitate Oshii’s distinct flavor, but it learned all of the wrong lessons from him and none of the right ones. It uses a lot of Oshii’s techniques from the earlier Patlabor films, but where Oshii used them for a reason, WXIII only uses them to disguise itself as a Mamoru Oshii film.

The story centers on two police detectives (I’ve already forgotten their names) trying to figure out who or what has been wrecking all the labors, the giant robots of this particular series. One of the guys is young and inexperienced while the other guy is old and grizzled. It turns out that there is a giant monster swimming around out in the bay, and soon the creature graduates from wrecking vehicles to eating people. The investigation turns into a quest to find out where it came from and how to stop it. It has elements of a police procedural, horror film, psychological thriller, buddy cop flick, and just a dash of giant monster action. All this doesn’t mesh so much as it turns into a pile of mush. In its attempts to accommodate all of those things it winds up sabotaging all of them.

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