Stephen reviews: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate (2013)

bayonetta_1Bayonetta: Bloody Fate [ベヨネッタ ブラッディフェイト] (2013)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Daisuke Namikawa, Mie Sonozaki, Miyuki Sawashiro, Norio Wakamoto, Tessho Genda, Wataru Takagi

Directed by Fuminori Kizaki


Usually, I am rather dismissive of films based on video games (and vice versa), but Bayonetta somehow felt like a potentially good idea. I don’t think I had any actual reason for this uncharacteristic optimism other than the vague notion that the game was so absurd it would at least be interesting to see what they did with it in film. This seems to have been a mistake as the film mostly uses the least ridiculous aspects of the game.

As far as video game films go, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate isn’t bad, though. It retells the story functionally while maintaining the game’s style and tone. Bayonetta is a sexy witch with amnesia searching for clues about her past. All she knows is that she woke up in a coffin at the bottom of a lake and angels are out to kill her. She finds out about a church leader named Balder who might be involved somehow, and she tracks him down to find out more. Along the way, mass death and destruction ensue, along with a gallon of fan service.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)

ghostintheshell20_1Ghost in the Shell 2.0 [攻殻機動隊 2.0 Kôkaku kidôtai 2.0] (2008)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was not looking forward to the final entry in my journey through the Ghost in the Shell films. In fact, I almost decided to skip it over entirely. But in the end I decided to tough it out and watch this thing just for completion’s sake, or perhaps to give a warning to prospective viewers that might try to see this version instead of the original. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a touch-up of the 1995 film, much like what George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy just prior to the release of the prequels. (So it is strangely appropriate that Lucasfilm did the audio post-production here.) And just like Star Wars, the “upgrades” are useless at best, and obnoxious the rest of the time.

It could have been worse. I was expecting the entire thing to be redone in pure CG, but only a few scenes were desecrated that way. Most of the film does use the original cell animation. This means that most of the film is still intact and still enjoyable, even though the changes make it far less so than the original. With Star Wars you could make the argument that younger viewers would be unwilling to accept the old special effects, and maybe those retooled versions did attract some new fans that otherwise would have never watched them. But with Ghost in the Shell, there’s just no reason. The quality of animation has always had more to do with the amount of effort put into it than the technology available at the time. Just look up some of Max Fleischer’s Superman films from the ’40s; they’re extremely well animated even by today’s standards. Likewise, Ghost in the Shell is a gorgeous film already. Tinkering with it is a complete waste of time.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006)

solidstatesociety_1Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX Solid State Society] (2006)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Kazuya Tatekabe, Masuo Amada, Osamu Saka, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Toru Ohkawa, Yutaka Nakano, Yuya Uchida

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


When I started this journey through the Ghost in the Shell films I fully expected them to go straight downhill and never recover, and even though I still think the original 1995 film is the best, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the franchise has held its quality. Solid State Society keeps that tradition going with another good blend of cyberpunk thrills and intellectual depth. I think that’s what holds the series up and keeps it from grinding to a halt. It has never drifted so far into action fluff that it becomes mindless, but it has also never forgotten to keep that visceral edge honed sharp.

Unlike the previous Stand Alone Complex films, this one is actually meant to be a film. It is not a compilation, or even an adaptation. The story was intended from the start to be a movie, and that has helped it avoid the flaws that brought down Individual Eleven. I was hoping that would translate into better animation, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. It still looks about the same as the other Stand Alone series. That’s no terrible insult or anything, but it would have been nice to get a visual boost.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man (2005)

SAC_laughing_manGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX The Laughing Man] (2005)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Osamu Saka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kohichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Toru Okawa, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Sakiko Tamagawa

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


The Laughing Man is a compilation film of the Stand Alone Complex TV series. As such, it has a TV budget and it lacks the slick animation of the two Mamoru Oshii Ghost in the Shell films. It does have some pretty solid production values for a TV series, though, and strangely enough the CG is actually better than in Ghost in the Shell 2. There’s a good deal of it, but it’s not nearly as intrusive and actually makes an attempt to blend in with the line art of the character designs. It was a bit annoying to have every vehicle rendered by computer, but I’m more forgiving with something that obviously needs to make do with a lower budget. And since it’s not contrasted with such great standard animation, it’s less disappointing to see here.

Compilations can spell doom for a film in other ways, though (just look at the Yotoden Movie for an example of how bad things can get), but The Laughing Man is one of the better compilations I’ve seen. Partly this is because of its length. The Laughing Man clocks in at more than two and a half hours, and that means it has enough time to put in all the necessary content to make the story work. It’s still a little rushed at times, but everything you need is here. Although I really wanted an explanation of those girls curled up in Major Kusanagi’s bed. Were they spare bodies? Does she collect life-size dolls? Or were they just passed out after a satisfying S&M session? In a world full of cyborgs and robots the possibilities are endless. In fact, I’m not sure I want to know. The truth will probably never live up to my inflated expectations.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man (2005) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

ghostintheshell2_1Ghost 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.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

ghostintheshell_1Ghost in the Shell [攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai] (1995)
AKA Armored Riot Police

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi, Kōichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


It’s hard to imagine Ghost in the Shell as old. But here it is, nearly 20 years later, and the film still feels unrelentingly futuristic, far more than other science fiction films of the time like Total Recall, or even The Matrix which this film inspired. It probably has to do with Masamune Shirow, the series’s original creator, being so in touch with computer technology and engineering. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t just feel futuristic; it feels very real and absolutely believable. And that’s what makes it all the more frightening.

It isn’t a horror film by any means, but the concept of getting brainwashed by a computer hacker is scary as hell. We like to think of our souls, our personal identity, as something beyond the ability of others to touch, but not in this film. This is a future where your memories can be rewritten at any time, and “ghost hacking” is as common as computer viruses are today. For my money, that is far more frightening than any boogeyman jumping out of the shadows.

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Stephen reviews: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2010)

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works [フェイト/ステイナイト Feito/sutei naito] (2010)

Starring Noriaki Sugiyama, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Ueda, Ayako Kawasumi, Hiroshi Kamiya, Jouji Nakata, Tomokazu Seki, Nobutoshi Kanna, Atsuko Tanaka

Directed by Yuuji Yamaguchi


I came to this film without knowing much about it. It was something of an impulse buy fueled by nothing more than a gut feeling. All I knew about the Fate/Stay Night series is that it had a blonde woman with a sword and medieval armor on its promotional art. I heard that this movie was a retelling of the original TV series with amped-up blood and violence. It sounded like a good jumping on point to see what, if anything, I’d been missing. After watching the film, I’m doubtful there’s a whole lot worth seeing in the series, but Unlimited Blade Works itself was well worth watching despite some flaws.

It has a very generic setup. Some crazy supernatural tournament is going on, and the winner gets to keep the Holy Grail as a reward. A bunch of people called magi control magical servants to battle for them. Then, surprise surprise, our poor main character Emiya gets unwittingly sucked into it and finds out that he too can use a servant and participate in the battles. It’s the same premise of a million other bland anime titles out there. Then there’s the irritable pretty girl who gradually falls in love with him despite constantly getting angry at him. It’s a tag team of the two most common anime clichés.

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