Stephen reviews: Mononoke (2007)

mononoke_1Mononoke [モノノ怪] (2007)

Starring Takahiro Sakurai, Aiko Hibi, Daisuke Namikawa, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Eiji Takemoto, Fumiko Orikasa, Hikaru Midorikawa, Hiroshi Iwasaki, Houko Kuwashima, Kōzō Shioya, Masashi Hirose, Minoru Inaba, Rie Tanaka, Ryusei Nakao, Seiji Sasaki, Takeshi Aono, Tomokazu Seki, Toshiko Fujita, Wakana Yamazaki, Yasuhiro Takato, Yoko Soumi, Yukana

Directed by Kenji Nakamura


I know you’re not supposed to judge a book (or in this case a TV series) by its cover, but sometimes that’s all you really need. As soon as I laid eyes on the cover art for Mononoke, I knew it was going to be great. My gut refused to believe otherwise. And it’s decisions like this that have made me very trusting of my gut over the years, at least when it comes to anime. My one and only concern was that the cover was not what the actual animation would look like. Thankfully that bizarre, otherworldly art design is exactly what you get on the inside.

Those light shades and faded pastels are a very unusual choice of colors for a horror story. Usually you want some all-obscuring darkness to ratchet up the mystery, but for me that bright color palette was more mysterious than any darkness could ever be. It’s clear right from the start that you are in a completely different world when you watch Mononoke, and you don’t know what you’re going to find. All that was apparent just from the box; all that remained was seeing if the show could actually live up to my foolishly high expectations. And boy did it ever!

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Stephen reviews: Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1998)

golgo13queenbee_1Golgo 13: Queen Bee [ゴルゴ 13: Queen Bee] (1998)

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Masako Katsuki, Kinryuu Arimoto, Ryusei Nakao, Mugihito

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


I’m trying to think of what I can say that I didn’t already say in my review of the first Golgo 13 anime (which is not the first Golgo film; there were also two live-action films from the ’70s). The two are very similar. This is all the more impressive for the 15-year gap between the two. I could point out a certain science fiction trilogy that had a similar time gap between it and its sequel trilogy, and that one didn’t turn out so good at all, even though it too kept the original director on board. But Osamu Dezaki brings back the stoic assassin as if not a day has gone by.

As such, you’ll probably enjoy, or hate, Queen Bee as much as you did the original. It’s still filled with sex and violence. Golgo is still the silent badass that always gets the job done, and gets a few ladies done along the way. If anything, it feels even more like an ’80s film than The Professional since the second half of Queen Bee sends Golgo to duke it out with a drug cartel in a South American jungle.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1998) →

Stephen reviews: Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi (2004)

Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi [新暗行御史, Shin Angyō Onshi, 신암행어사, Shin amhaengosa] (2004)
AKA New Royal Secret Commissioner, Phantom Master: Dark Hero from the Ruined Empire

Starring Keiji Fujiwara, Sanae Kobayashi, Ryusei Nakao, Romi Park, Jun Fukushima

Directed by Joji Shimura & Ahn Tae-gun


I have a bit of an oddity here. Unlike most anime, Blade of the Phantom Master is based upon a Korean comic book series rather than a Japanese one. Its setting and visual style therefore reflect a slightly different feel than other anime. The most noticeable way this shows is with the obviously Korean sounding names. I can only wonder what kind of meaning was lost in an English translation of a Japanese adaptation of a Korean story, but I can’t do much more than call it a curiosity and wish I was more familiar with the Korean folktales that inspired it. The voice acting was originally recorded in both Japanese and Korean, and considering its Korean roots I would have preferred to watch that version, but for some dumb reason the American DVD release only retained the Japanese language track.

More unfortunate about its creation is that it was made after CG began insinuating itself into anime. From the very beginning, the film makes it clear that CG is going to play a heavy part of the production. This immediately made me regret choosing this for my next review, and there are several scenes that are just flat out ruined by it. Nothing sucks the fun out of an action sequence like making it with CG. The movie surprised me, however, by not relying on CG as much as I thought it would. It still has plenty of bad moments, but it also has plenty of decent scenes that don’t use any CG or only a slight bit that I could ignore. The CG is mostly used outside of the actual combat, which goes a long way toward making it more bearable. There’s also some good stuff in this film, and I wound up having a mostly pleasant experience watching this.

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