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: 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) →

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko (1986)

projecta-ko_1Project A-ko [プロジェクトA子] (1986)

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

Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima


Thirty years ago Project A-ko took the anime industry by storm. It was one of the biggest names in anime, and thoroughly beloved by just about any anime fan in the ’90s. So now, for its 30th anniversary… well, pretty much nothing is happening other than me writing up this review. The franchise has been dormant for the past 25 years, and people seem to have just forgotten about the whole thing. I suspect there are vast swaths of younger anime fans who have never seen it, possibly never even heard of it.

This strikes me as strange. More than any other title, save for perhaps Akira or Ghost in the Shell, A-ko was the face of anime in the West. And if you ask me, I would say A-ko is a much truer definition of the art form. Akira and Ghost in the Shell were great films, no question about it, but they are the face of anime solely because they have mainstream appeal. People who don’t like anime often like those films anyway, because they don’t really represent what anime is like. Anime is about over-the-top absurdism, larger-than-life action, and exaggerated emotions which cannot be portrayed with live action; because human faces cannot actually contort like that.

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Stephen reviews: Vampire Princess Miyu (1988/1989)

737187003622Vampire Princess Miyu [Kyuuketsuti Miyu 吸血姫 美夕, Vampire Miyu] (1988/1989)

Starring Mami Koyama, Naoko Watanabe, Mayumi Shou, Katsumi Toruiumi, Ryo Horikawa, Yuji Mitsuya, Masako Ikeda, Kiyonobu Suzuki, Tesshō Genda, Kaneto Shiozawa

Directed by Toshihiro Hirano


Another series rather than film, Vampire Princess Miyu is one of my old favorites from my high school years. It was refreshing coming back to this series and finding that it still holds up pretty well. This is not the late ’90s TV series, but the decade older direct-to-video mini-series. At only four episodes the entire series is no longer than a feature film, making it easy to watch in one sitting although each episode stands on its own fairly well. They are all interconnected and combine to tell a broader story, but each episode is also a single adventure in itself.

The franchise has a rather oddly translated title. “Princess” is nowhere in the Japanese title. Miyu herself is not, and never was, a princess of anything. One can only wonder what made the translators insert that word. I guess it just sounds better than the more basic Vampire Miyu (though I do wonder if the original title might be a reference to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat). In any event, the erroneous title is the one by which the franchise is most commonly known in English (the original manga used the literal translation Vampire Miyu when it first came out in the US, but later releases apparently added in the “princess” bit).

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Stephen reviews: Cybernetics Guardian (1989)

cyberneticsguardian_1Cybernetics Guardian [聖獣機サイガード Seijuki Cyguard (Holy Beast Cyguard)] (1989)

Starring Takeshi Kusao, Hiromi Tsuru, Hirotaka Suzukoi, Kiyoshi Kawakubo, Shozo Iizuka, Tessho Genda, Wakyo Sogabe, Yusaku Okura

Directed by Koichi Ohata


This is just a short little action romp. It’s not a very special anime, but then it isn’t trying to be one. It has a very B-movie feel to it. The creators basically threw a bunch of cool stuff into a pot and mixed it up hoping for something awesome. The story is pretty minimal, but still manages to be convoluted thanks to all the random ideas they used.

A robot test pilot named John gets his big trial run sabotaged by Adler, a jealous scientist who wants his own projects to succeed instead. Then some random demon worshipers show up and kidnap John. They do some bizarre black magic science experiment and turn John into the robot avatar of their evil god. Demon John goes on a rampage across town, which only convinces Adler to hate the guy even more. Meanwhile, John’s hot scientist girlfriend tries to fix everything, and the cops run around getting ripped apart by the monster.

The film operates solely on the premise that demons, giant robots, explosions, and hard rock are cool. The plot is nothing more than the mortar that holds those bricks together. It’s not really all that well put together either. Obviously the character development is pretty shallow, but the action scenes don’t have a lot of visceral impact to them either. The film gets by because the creators were right: giant demon robots blowing stuff up to a rock soundtrack is in fact pretty damn cool.

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