Archive for February, 2014

Clannad/Clannad After Story (dual review)

clannad

Genre: Slice-of-life

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, streams on Hulu

No of Episodes: Clannad: 24, Clannad After Story: 25

Suggested Age: 13+

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: Tomoyo is an ordinary high school delinquent who merely goes through the motions at school.  Then he meets Nagasaki, a girl who wishes to restart the school’s drama club. By helping her, he meets other students and together, they form a surrogate family.  In Clannad After Story, a year has passed and Tomoyo and Nagasaki are now living together.

Review: The Japanese have a special word unique to their language: nakama. This word means a group whose members seem like a family, but are not united by blood.  Rather, the bond is forged by love. This is far from a concept that is only seen in Japan.  I’ve seen this concept in X-men, and SE Hinton’s book The Outsiders, as well as in anime like Haibane Renmei and in this story.  The very word “clannad” means family in Irish.  It is this bond that helps Tomoyo become a better person. He has others who can help share the burdens of life.  The story is very soothing as a result, because it feels so ordinary.

The animation is very beautiful.  Lush, vibrant colors are all over the landscape, creating a world that seems alive.

I enjoy stories about families. They show what God wishes for all of humanity. Countless passages in the Bible speak of brotherhood and love.  Clannad and Clannad After Story are both this kind of story. I highly recommend giving this series a try. It was a good buffer while I watched Attack on Titan.

Sub/Dub: I only watched the sub.

Music/Score: Very beautiful. Both openings for the series are good. The ending music for the first series can get into your head very easily and is very cheerful.

Violence: (1/10) I only saw one or two fights.

Language: (2/10)

Nudity: (0/10)

Sexuality: (1/10) Tomoyo has a friend who likes to make lewd comments.

Religion: (0/10)

Related Media: This is based on the Clannad visual novel. There is also a manga.

 

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Akira

akira

 

Genre: Cyberpunk

Creator/Studio: Katsuhiro Otomo/Tokyo Movie Shinsha

Distributor: FUNimation

Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Suggested Age: 17+

My Rating: 4/10

Summary: This movie is set 31 years after World War III in Neo-Tokyo.  Its main characters are Tetsuo and Kaneda, members of a street gang called the Capsules.  One night, Tetsuo is kidnapped for an experiment that gives him psycho-kinetic powers and causes him to form a psychic bond with three children who also have his abilities.  Tetsuo becomes a danger to everyone in Neo-Tokyo, as his new-found powers become more uncontrollable.

Review: Before I go into my review, I must set the stage.  Before this anime was released to America, animation was largely considered something only meant for children to enjoy.  Sure, Fritz the Cat (released in 1972) was the first X-rated cartoon and Heavy Metal (released in 1981) was also an R-rated title, but neither of these had as big a following as Akira has generated to this day.  Before Akira, anime was edited for television in order to make it more kid-friendly.  Akira was the starting point that showed everyone that animation is a medium for any age. Today, anime is still edited on television, but not nearly as much as it used to be, and the home video and internet markets are its strongest presence. Akira was the biggest step in that process.

The art style is very good. I really like the cityscapes and gritty depictions. This is not some cheerful kids story like you’d see from Disney. And that is the main reason it made such an impact. There were two lessons learned from Akira. The important one was that adult-oriented anime can make a profit. The bad one was that people like gory stories.

But here’s my biggest problem: I can’t say I like this story.  Akira is a BIG story.  It has SIX volumes, totaling at over 2,000 pages. On top of that, the manga wasn’t even finished at the time the anime was made.  A two-hour movie isn’t long enough to cover that much story (and Akira is actually 1 minute over the 2-hour mark) I haven’t read any of the manga, but I still feel like I missed something.  That is not the mark of a good adaptation. A good adaptation stands alone and does not need its source material to tell the rest of the story.

However, I do appreciate Akira‘s legacy.  Both Japanese and American animation has been influenced by this movie, for better or worse.  I would actually still recommend Akira,  solely because it is an important part of the history of anime. It’s just not a part I like.

Sub/Dub: There have actually been two dubs of Akira, both by companies that no longer exist. The original dub by Streamline Pictures (owned by Carl Macek) is no longer available, which is good because it was legendarily awful.  The second dub was made by Pioneer (which later became Geneon), and has since been picked up by FUNimation. FUNimation has even released a Blu-Ray version!

Music/Score: This was a gritty score that fits the story well, even with the out-of-place choir that shows up midway through.

Violence: 10/10 This is not a pleasant story. Graphic violence is prevalent and SPOILER! Tetsuo’s body mutates into a goopy mess. Armis are no match for his power.

Language: 5/10

Nudity/Sexuality: 5/10 There’s a near rape onscreen.

Religion: 1/10 SPOILER! A religious zealot leads followers to their deaths.

Related Media: As I stated, this is based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga, which is currently published by Dark Horse. There has been talk of a live-action movie, but that has been in development hell for quite a long time and may not even come to fruition.

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From Up on Poppy Hill

poppy hill

Genre: Slice-of-life

Studio/Creator: Ghibli/Chizuni Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayamo

Distributor: Gkids

Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Suggested Age: 10+

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: Set in 1963 Yokohama, this film centers around a girl named Umi, whose family owns a boarding house. She befriends a boy named Shun, who (along with his friends) is trying to prevent an old building on high school grounds from being torn down to make way for the upcoming Summer Olympics.

Review: While Studio Ghibli is well-known for its fantasy like Nausicaa or Spirited Away, its slice-of-like also deserves attention.  This is Goro Miyazaki’s second film with the studio (his first was the frustrating Tales From Earthsea) This seems to be him learning from his mistakes.  Earthsea‘s biggest flaw was that it focused on more than one plot at a time. This story keeps its focus and tells its story well.

Umi and Shun are great characters. They both seem to admire the past.  Umi admires a father she barely remembers and was a former naval soldier, which is why she daily raises semaphore flags to honor his memory.  Shun is attempting to save a building that has a rich history and has become a second home to his friends.  This becomes the movie’s theme–should we completely ignore history and move on from it, or preserve and honor it?

The animation is mostly what I’ve come to expect from Ghibli–simplistic designs with a vast beauty, even in an urban environment.  If you like nice, quiet stories and enjoy Ghibli’s other movies, give this one a try.

Sub/Dub: The dub gives much-needed exposition that the sub does not, so I say watch this version.  It has some great performances, even if Disney isn’t backing the production this time.

Music/Score: The story has a cheerful score by Satoshi Takeke. Although it’s not as majestic as the material Joe Hisashi usually composes for Ghibli, I did enjoy it.

Violence: 0/10

Language: 0/10

Nudity: 0/10

Sexuality: 1/10–SPOILER! Umi shows Shun a photo of her father and tells him how he died at sea.  The story leads him to believe they may be related.  However, it is clear that their friendship is platonic, and we later learn that they are not related, they just happen to share a common origin.  This is why Disney refused to distribute the film.

Religion: 0/10

Related Media: This is based on the manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama.

 

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Anime Review: Death Note

deathnoteGenre: Suspense/Dark Fantasy

Studio/Creators: Madhouse/Tsugumi Ohba (writer) & Takeshi Obata (artist)

Distributor: Viz, streams on Hulu

Suggested Age: 13+

No of Episodes: 38

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: Light Yagami is a highly intelligent and easily bored high school student. One day, a shinigami (Japanese for death spirit) named Ryuk deliberately drops his death note (a notebook for writing the names of the dead) into the realm of the living. Light discovers it and learns that if he writes a person’s name in it, that person will die.  He also discovers that if he includes how the person dies, he or she will die in that fashion (if no method is specified, the person simply dies of a heart attack). Seeing the power before him, he decides he will use the notebook to rid the world of criminals.  His efforts draw the attention of the enigmatic detective L, who quickly turns thing into a battle of wits to bring Light, who has adopted the alias of Kira, to justice.

Review: One of the criticisms of Christianity is that all too often, the evil in this world goes unpunished.  How can one believe that a God of love exists if evil is allowed to thrive? Wouldn’t a real God stop this? This is the mindset Light has. He believes that he will become the new god. What he fails to realize is that even the darkest evil can actually bring about some good that would not have occurred had the evil not occurred first. This is why I would not want God’s job.

L is a great foil for Light. He is so driven by justice, there is no line he won’t cross.  He and light quickly turn the story into a chess game, and it’s fascinating to watch their plots unfold.

Ryuk is also great. What’s cool is that he is a “true neutral”.  He doesn’t care which side wins, because people die either way. All he cares about is the fun in watching what happens.

I love how fast-paced the story is. There’s almost no filler and every moment is intense. It’s also neat that every thing is explained at the onset, and not in a way that insults the viewer. The writers really thought of every possible angle.

The animation has a great Gothic feel and sets the atmosphere well.

This anime really makes you think. If you had the power to kill someone just by writing a name, would you do it? Do all evil people deserve to die without allowing for repentance? And who deserves this right? That’s why this series earns my highest possible recommendation.

Sub/Dub: Both are excellent.

Music/Score: Like the animation, the score is Gothic and filled with ominous chants.  The first opening theme is good. While I do like the animation for the second theme, the music does nothing for me.  I have nothing against “screamo” (heavy metal with screaming vocalists), but I like it better when it’s somewhat comprehensible in English.

Violence: (7/10) Quite a few of the deaths are gruesomely depicted.

Language: (3/10)

Nudity: (3/10) Late in the story, we meet a girl named Misa who tends to dress in lolita-style clothes.

Sexuality: (2/10) Just Misa’s attire.

Religion: (6/10) Kira sees himself as a new god, and is actually worshiped.  However, it is very clear he should not be admired.

Related Media: This is based on the manga.  There is a novel, three live-action movies (I’ve only seen the first two) and a video game.

 

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Anime Review: Soul Eater

soul eater

Genre: Fantasy

Studio/Creator: Bones/Atsuki Okubo

Distributor: FUNimation

No. Of Episodes: 51

Suggested Age: 13+

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: This series focuses on three groups of students at the Grim Reaper’s Death Weapon Meister Academy. There are two kinds of students–Meisters (those who wield weapons), and Weapons (students who become the Meisters’ weapons). These students fight various evils to protect the souls of the living. The series mainly focuses on three Meisters and their weapons: Maka and her partner Soul (a scythe), Death the Kid and the Thompson sisters (guns), and Black Star and Tsubasa (various ninja-based weaponry).

Review: Soul Eater is an excellent shonen-based series.  The animation seems similar to One Piece. The landscape of Death City is grim, evoking a cross between London and Gotham. The cast has a very cartoony look to them and the designs are zany.

The three sets of heroes are fun. Maka is all business and Soul is determined to help her become the most powerful Meister at the academy. She’s cute and she kicks major ass.

Death has MAJOR OCD. If something is the slightest out of symmetry, he becomes so offended, he goes ballistic. I enjoy his banter with the Thompsons and how he handles the situations. He’s probably the most badass of the cast, which is saying a lot, because the WHOLE CAST qualifies as badass.

Lastly, there’s Black Star. He’s basically a parody of Naruto, and it shows. However, while Naruto actually eventually showed some signs of maturity as he grew older, Black Star never really develops beyond being obnoxious. He will either annoy you or you will laugh at him.

We also meet a boy named Chrono and his weapon, Ragnarok.  Unlike the others, his relationship with his weapon is far from symbiotic. In fact, it’s parasitic, with Ragnarok vying for control of Chrono’s mind and constantly belittling him. Maka, however, reaches out to him in friendship, breaking through Ragnarok’s hold.

What I think makes the series work is that each of the heroes seems competent (yes, even Black Star), and none of them really overwhelm the importance of the other.  Also, even though it’s twice the normal length, it doesn’t drag that much and takes its time. It also doesn’t go off on side quests, like some shonen anime.

Dub/Sub: Both versions work fine.

Music/Score: This soundtrack rocks! I especially like the first opening and closing themes.

Violence: (5/10) Most of the violence is magic-based, but there’s still a fair amount of blood.

Language: (5/10)Some slurs and suggestive dialog, mostly from Soul and Maka’s father.

Nudity: (3/10) When the Weapons take on their alternate forms, we see their naked spirit forms. Also, there’s Blair, a witch who becomes a cat. When she’s human, she will sometimes be naked, often to mess with Soul.

Sexuality: (2/10) Just the lewd comments from Soul. Maka’s father is quite the womanizer.

Religion: (4/10) The heroes fight demons, monsters, and witches. Black Star constantly boasts that he will surpass God.

Related Media: This is based off the manga. There is also a spin-off manga called Soul Eater Not and a video game.

 

 

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