22 of 22 episodes seen
The series is set in the near future in which it is possible to instantaneously quantify a person’s state of mind, personality, and probability of committing a crime, all recorded on an individual’s “Psycho-Pass”. When their “Crime Coefficient” index becomes too high, they are pursued and apprehended by police officers known as Inspectors, and their ‘hunting dogs’ the Enforcers; in this way, order is maintained. Unit One of the Public Safety Bureau’s division of criminal investigation, navigate the system to uphold justice in their seemingly Utopian society.
Before anything else, let’s address some reasons the show received heavy criticism early on, and was subsequently written off because of it.
Inspector Tsunemori Akane: As a frequenter of tumblr, I saw so many people dismiss the protagonist of the series immediately after episode 1, and to that I say shame on you. She got a lot of flack for being naive and idealistic, but that was the whole point of her character development. Even more egregious was how much hate she got because of her design, and again, shame on you. Both the director and the writer explicitly stated that “moe” would be completely omitted from Psycho-Pass; there’s a lot of back and forth between whether Akane is or isn’t moe (though the pink jellyfish comes close), but you don’t hate on a character because of their haircut. And personally, I think she’s cute.
Too slow: I understand, the series does take it’s time in the beginning. Psycho-Pass doesn’t really reach the heart of its story until about episode 10. However, everything before this is time spent establishing the cyberpunk setting, the relationships between the characters, and setting up for an unbelievable payoff later. Every reveal in the series speaks to something that was established earlier (yes, even the HyperOats) because the writer is a master at foreshadowing and bringing his stories full circle. It is well worth wading through the cases in the beginning to reach the core of the story later.
Psycho-Pass is a ripoff of Minority Report: a 2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise based off a short story of the same name written by legendary science fiction author, Philip K. Dick. And honestly, to this I have to say… so what? Having only seen the trailer, I could just as easily say that Pacific Rim is a rip off of Evangelion, but that doesn’t say anything about its merit on any level. So even if the series is derivative (and what material isn’t these days?), the two focus on different themes and tell totally separate stories; Minority Report is a commentary on human free will and choice where Psycho-Pass is a revenge story at its core and an examination of justice, taking place in the same kind of setting.
And the joke is on you, because Philip K. Dick’s work is actually mentioned in the series. It’s obvious, to the point of near literary pretentiousness, how the series pays homage to the themes and philosophies found in great written works. I can see how consistently name dropping George Orwell or Jonathan Swift might be annoying, but as a total classic literature nerd, it made me excited to pick up what they were alluding to in the books I have read, and inspired to hunt down the rest so I could understand the series even better (hard copies— because e-books lack character). Besides, an image of Heart of Darkness conveys just as much as a long-winded discourse about the descent into darkness and the true nature of humanity would. It isn’t always subtle, but it is challenging and elevates the show to more than just another crime thriller anime.
Before I continue lauding it, let me clarify: Psycho-Pass is bloody, violent, and disturbing, and not for the weak-hearted. This anime has cruel scenes, both physically and mentally, and the director joked that he wanted the kids in the audience to sustain trauma for life after watching. O_O But that is not why your heart will be ripped out.
Your heart will be ripped out because Urobuchi Gen helmed this.
Urobuchi-san (Fate/Zero & Puella Magi Madoka Magica) is known for writing dark, nihilistic themes and tragic plot twists into his stories, earning him the affectionate nickname “The Uro-BUTCHER”. Back when I wrote my original Madoka review, I had no idea who this man was or what he would do to my emotions. Lobotomizing yourself with a spoon would be less painful. If only I had known then…
The reason Urobuchi-san is capable of writing compelling stories is not because he’s heavy handed with the nihilism or because he shies away from current trends in the anime industry. There are two very good reasons.
1. He knows how to write people— realistic, human characters with attributes and flaws and personal motivations and incredible development (see: Ginoza Nobuchika). The audience doesn’t suffer because tragic events happen, but because they happen to these characters, whom you have grown to know and love and sympathize with (see: Ginoza Nobuchika).
2. He never writes standard black and white conflicts. The system in place which monitors people’s mental states for the sake of safety arguably takes way their free will, but without it the society plunges into chaos. The Enforcer seeks to bring down the main antagonist for personal revenge, not for the sake of justice; and yet if the anarchist wins, in theory, people’s wills are restored as long as they survive the crumbling of the system. As you watch his series, you might not know who you want to win, or whether they should, and it makes for deeply thought provoking entertainment. (The “Psycho-Scan” aspect of the series alone is provocative when you put it into the context of how mental health is approached in Japan.)
There’s a lot of commentary on human nature, the natures of societies, law and governance, good and evil. There’s tons of brain-candy to chew on here; Psycho-Pass is not a series to watch if you travel into anime to escape or like to keep your mind turned off. Although it shares similar themes and story telling elements as something like Madoka Magica, the complexity, the science fiction crime mystery genre, and integration of philosophy and literature makes it less universal in appeal, but all the more appealing for someone like me.
Knowing Urobuchi’s previous work had me worried. Hearing that the entire staff cried over the final episode had me very worried. But even with his bloody reputation preceding him, Psycho-Pass has proved that Urobuchi-san is master storyteller capable of being twisted and incredibly emotional, as well as demonstrating diversity and restraint. His name is one I’m sure to be following from now on.
Oh, and it also looked great. And sounded great. Production I.G.’s work here is wonderful, and they’re generally a top notch studio. Production knew when to hold back, so they could really deliver where it mattered later (the dog hunting scene was very dark and difficult to see, but “The Gates of Judgement”? that three something minute fight scene was unbelievable). The backgrounds were incredibly detailed and the series has a great look, managing to be extremely colorful and yet very dark. The integration of CG was also very impressive, and I’m glad to see they pulled it off so successfully since technology is a major motif in this 22nd century world. I might just be drawn to the style, but all of Amano Akira’s character designs look great (yes, even Akane-chan’s).
*jumps onto the soapbox* Episode 18, “Promises Written in Water”, came out totally derpy-looking because of scheduling issues. Even the director apologized, saying that in order to get the episode out on time, it would air incomplete. This is not just an acceptable drop in animation quality like we typically see from Gainax or Gonzo, just an honest to goodness time issue. Production on the episode will be finished in time for the home media releases and it will be just as quality as the rest of the series. *hops off the soapbox*
The score was varied, very synthy and they played around with different types of sounds to add in, but fitting with the futuristic setting and dark tone of the anime. There are some standout pieces on the OST, I’m rather fond of the main theme and a very pretty and somber piano piece reserved for the quieter moments. Psycho-Pass is guilty of playing Bach, stealing a leaf out of Evangelion’s book, but at least the high-brow pretentiousness makes more sense here. All the OPs and EDs were similarly successful, sporting beautiful animation (and a bit of foreshadowing), not to mention that many of the songs were written for the specific characters. “abnormalize” speaks to Kogami’s character, where “Namae no nai Kaibutsu” should be listened to with Makishima in mind. Also, I don’t think the fanbase will ever get tired of “cause I feeeeeeeellll” or “your never walk alonee” and neither will I.
In general, I struggle watching shows week to week because I prefer marathoning my anime and when I really get into it, I am incapable of doing anything else while waiting in between episodes (should have seen me after Ep. 19, it was baad). And I haven’t done this with any other anime of 2012, so it speaks to how stellar Psycho-Pass really was when I say it was the highlight of my week, every week, until the end. I’m going to go out and buy Proust right now. What an incredible ride.
51 of 51 episodes seen
Shounen is probably easily the most popular and most celebrated form of manga, and respectively anime. Typically characterized by high action, sometimes comedic, fights and more often than not featuring a sunny, hero-type protagonist and his jolly crew. Any women tend to be extremely attractive with ‘exaggerated’ features (see: fan service) and the antagonist tends to be some asshole with a god-complex, waiting inevitably to be taken down by said cookie cutter protagonist.
Dragon Ball Z basically epitomizes the shounen genre (though it has been known to vary in theme and tone) but were I to mention Naruto, One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, Magi, Fairy Tale etc. you get the gist what I’m talking about.
So where does Soul Eater come in? Well, it also epitomizes the genre— adolescent protagonist, intense fight sequences, some bitch who wants to take over the world, and of course, boobs. Now, it’s easy for anime fans to write off this kind of show because it’s more of the same thing. However, people LOVE this series, so there must be a good reason for it.
Somewhere in Nevada, the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA), run by Death (also known as Shingami) himself, trains young adults— human weapons and their wielders— to combat souls turned evil and help them to achieve “Death Scythe” status ((99 souls but a witch ain’t one)). Top student Maka Albarn and her partner, a scythe named Soul Eater Evans, along with the rest of their team, face off against a witch attempting to unleash the first kishin— a demon god who once threatened to plunge the world into madness.
Production for the series was helmed by Bones, so you already know it’s going to always look great. Sounds great, opening and ending animation and themes are all really wonderful; I won’t waste words talking about the technicals this time. Even the dub was very good. You see a lot of typecast choices like Laura Bailey, Chuck Hubert, Todd Haberkorn, etc. The stand out for me though was Micah Solusod as Soul; Soulsod is a fairly young voice actor, often compared to JYB. For me, he has more baritone and attitude than Bosch, coupled with good acting ability, he believably carried Soul’s ‘cool guy with a good heart’ routine through.
One more comment that I’ve made before about the adaptive script: the character of Crona, in the manga, is of indeterminate sex, and the Japanese language allows Crona to be present and talked about without sounding awkward. However, in English, the language doesn’t work in the same way, so they chose one arbitrarily for convenience’s sake (I could be mistaken, but I think they got it wrong). I’m not sure if this is a legitimate point of contention against the anime adaptation or English dubbing, but it deserves to be mentioned.
So what I do need to address though are the characters. In addition to Soul and Maka, the team is made up of a brawly ninja named BlackStar, his partner Tsubaki, and Shingami’s son, Death the Kid, who is meister to two pistols named Liz and Patty (there are several others, but let’s stick to our mains for now).
I think opinions on Soul and Maka vary. For what my two cents is worth, I loved both of them. Cool guy with a good heart on it’s own isn’t very interesting, but he has his own demons to face and in an unexpected way. The partner dynamic between him and his technician is so strong it’s tangible, almost on par with Edward and Alphonse, and really works in the series’s favor. Maka, for her part, is a great example of inserting a female protagonist in a shounen series. This is almost unheard of, even in gender-neutral fare, so to see it in a legitimate shounen series is very rare. Maka’s character is a meister, a partner, and a protagonist first, who then reacts in certain situations they way an adolescent girl would second. Changing her sex wouldn’t change her character, just her quirks. For anyone wondering, this is how you write a strong female lead. Kudos, Okubo.
As for the rest, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love Death the Kid and his obsession with symmetry and order. But BlackStar is annoying, Tsubaki is bland, and Liz and Patty are annoying and bland. And these are four of your main characters whom you spend a lot of time with. But this is a consequence of the genre; it’s directly written into the shounen cannon. A brash type, an over endowed ditzy one, etc. However, each of these characters get more screentime and character development than they deserve. As irritating as BlackStar is, his story arc was interesting and realistic, and I’ll give Soul Eater credit for giving even the comic relief the freedom to develop. Moreover, everybody is varied in design and personality, and all have unique abilities that lend themselves to some really creative fight sequences.
So why does Soul Eater stand out despite representing one of the most cliched oversaturated genres in anime?
Because it excels at it’s genre.
Soul Eater knows exactly what it wants to be. There’s no pretention here; Soul Eater is a silly, action-packed roller coaster ride of a series and sometimes, that’s all you need an anime to be. So when a show is also balanced, perfectly paced, and each character is given room to grow and shine, it elevates the shounen standard into something more.
Watching Soul Eater, I was reminded very much of Fullmetal Alchemist (also Studio Bones’s work). The two share a lot of common elements. Both were adapted to animation while the manga was still ongoing, so the writers of the show needed to rework what had already been published to fill in the gaps and complete the story themselves, which both did successfully. I know manga die-hards complain, but adaptation is difficult as it is, especially when the work is unfinished. The script writers did a great job of coming up with new endings for each respective series that allow a television show to stand on its own merit (and I like the original series better than Brotherhood so nyahh). *steps off the soapbox* Balance in tone between action, drama, and humor, though FMA is much darker. A wide cast of characters, none superfluous and all ready to jump back into the plot right when they’re needed. Excellent story, pacing, and animation. No filler (with the exception of the Excalibur episodes…). Soul Eater in many ways is a light-hearted spiritual successor to the original FMA series, and that’s also why it’s so good.
I find this much more enjoyable than something like newer series like Naruto or One Piece (which are both highly overrated by the way), because the series has a point and sticks to it (another similarity with FMA). Soul Eater has a story to tell and it tells it, rather than prattling on and on for 300+ episodes making money like Bleach (go flip Bleach on Toonami sometime, I bet you will have no idea where the story is or what’s going on).
Since it was picked up by FUNimation and exploded in popularity in the U.S. it’s easy to lump this one in with all the other uber-popular safe and standard series stateside, but this one is definitely worth the watch for anyone whose taste ranges from Fullmetal to Ouran (also Bones ^_^). Overall, Soul Eater is solid, action packed, surreal and creepy, not always funny, but definitely always enjoyable. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
The word “Champloo” itself in Japanese refers to an Okinawan stir fry dish generally combining tofu, vegetables, and some sort of meat. The term has come to signify “something mixed” and is analogous with the culture of Okinawa— a melting pot of several Asian and even North American cultures. As it applies to the series, Samurai Champloo is just that: something mixed. Like Cowboy Bebop before it, a spaghetti western meets space odyssey meets bebop jazz, Samurai Champloo combines traditional elements from the Edo period such as samurai and the political tensions surrounding the time with an anachronistic hip-hop motif as displayed in the fighting styles, the music, and the attitude of the less reputable members of society “actin all gansta” (I’m sorry, I’m wayy too white to say that and won’t again for the rest of this review).
Like everything else about Champloo, the visual appearance of the series is very unique and stylized. I’m not really familiar with studio Manglobe’s work— since they began ten years ago, they haven’t put out nearly as many series as others within the same time span, let alone popular series. However, Manglobe did an incredible job animating Samurai Champloo and bringing Watanabe’s wonderfully eclectic vision to life.
One of the most notable aspects to me was how non-”anime” everybody in the series looks. With the exception of the resident leading lady, Fuu, and some others, the characters in the show look more realistic and proportional, while still retaining the flavor of Japanese animation. But they also look recognizably Japanese! That sure is refreshing. On top of that, there’s no same face syndrome going on here either. Even the characters who only appear for one episode are creatively and distinctly designed.
It’s hard to articulate this correctly, but there’s a sort of visual tone to the art and animation that mirrors the tone of the series. At times, the work can look careless as the animators drop their attention to detail and the characters go off-model and disproportionate. But when it’s time for samurai to fight— the series excels. All the love and consideration pours into these scenes and the animation soars; everything from the fluidity of their movements, the choreography, the pacing, adds up to one hell of an action anime— and probably the best animated battle sequences to grace Cartoon Network. The sometimes chaotic nature of the animation quality, backed by large stretches of unbelievable visuals, angles, direction, gives the series a lot of character and an identity all it’s own.
It’s also not something that gathers a lot of attention, but the lighting in this series stands out to me more than any other I’ve watched. The colors in general are muted, but when the moment calls for it, the characters might appear to be silhouettes illuminated by a setting sun in the background, the way light peers through windows, or how Champloo receives a surreal whitewashing when the show gets… weird.
The other half of the technical marvel, the music, again anchors Samurai Champloo as an incredible technical achievement. The soundtrack was produced by Watanabe’s good friend, DJ Tsutchie, alongside the Japanese duo Force of Nature and musical force Nujabes. With the exception of a song that plays during the height of Mugen’s character arc and the occasional beatboxing passersby, it’s all instrumental. The soundtrack blends traditional instruments with modern hip hop beats and remixing (predictably, there’s a little jazz thrown in there too). Again, it adds power, identity, and tone to the series nearly unparalleled to any other.
Insofar as the leads go, Mugen is obviously the centerpiece of the series. More of an antihero than a protagonist, he is an ex-prisoner and a wanderer— lewd, vulgar, fond of fighting and womanizing, nihilistic, and even a little stupid. In addition to the wildness of his character, Mugen is best known for an incredibly unorthodox self-developed sword fighting style which is based on breaking. His movements allow him to parry attacks with his metal-soled geta, but the unpredictability of his movements and skill make him a force to be reckoned with. The style and character also make him the star of the fighting scenes, but Mugen also receives a surprising amount of character development and story for someone who reads like a total asshole on paper. I’m honestly not sure I heard of anybody who disliked Mugen.
Jin is the most traditionally Japanese character, fights in the kenjutsu style with twin swords, and is meant to serve as all around foil to Mugen. In all honestly, his character isn’t terribly unique or interesting, but I like Jin’s place in the series for two reasons. Primarily, his inclusion is necessary to juxtapose a very brash, modern, and anachronistic samurai with the standard image of a quiet and disciplined ronin; if I may pull from Sir Isaac Newton, he is an equal and opposite force to Mugen. Like every other aspect of the show, elements of the Tokugawa era stand side by side with elements of ‘hip hop’, and the dynamic is enforced by the dichotomy between the two men. Secondly, like Mugen, Jin is given a provocative backstory; and his connection with his companions as well as the few character episodes he receives makes him very likable and makes it very difficult to imagine the series without him. (Plus, someone has to pander to the Mori type).
Unpopular opinion time: unfortunately I find Fuu a bit annoying. She has her moments, and is not at all a bad character, in fact she proves over and over that she can hold her own against ill-intentioned antagonists as well as her two companions. But something just turns me off to her, especially when held against Mugen and Jin. Something about the way she speaks— she doesn’t seem to be a realistically written fifteen year old girl (actually I have this problem with all three of the main characters). It’s a shame I couldn’t get into her character as much because she is the anchor for the series and is usually given more focus than the other two.
To go over the voice acting quickly— Steven Blum completely owns his role as Mugen, as he does every role. Kirk Thornton’s voice is fitting as Jin and he does well as a lead, since he’s mostly featured in the background of anime dubs. Lastly, Kari Whalgren plays Fuu; total starpower and well acted. But I don’t know, do these characters act and sound 19, 20, and 15 respectively? (Probably just me nit-picking).
Now to get around to that story. Like Bebop before it, the series is generally episodic with an overarching plot stringing the adventures together. Unlike Bebop, the story is very weak, and its resolution feels like just another episode. In fact, some of the shorter plots are more compelling, dramatic, and do more to develop the characters than the quest to find the Sunflower Samurai does. So this means that Samurai Champloo rests on the novelty of its premise, the art direction, and the characters, more than it does on the story, but I don’t find that as problematic as I’d think I would. The other elements of the show are often times executed so well that it doesn’t matter that the whole amounts to less than the sum of its parts. The parts range from okay to hella fun to impressive pieces of storytelling and some character drama contained within one or two episodes. And I like how some of the episodes prove they can tell a complete story in 24 minutes, but also take the time and stretch the adventures across two or even three episodes when it needed to. Because the narrative and thematic elements tend to be shallow, this is more of a “it’s the journey, not the destination” kind of experience, as it is for our main trio.
And the episodes are incredibly varied and nuanced again in such a wonderful way. A lot of the material draws from factual events and cultural artifacts from the specific time period— hostility toward Westerners, class politics and rebellions, and even Ukiyo-e paintings becomes a plot point. Of course, these are all handled with extreme artistic license and with the added modern twist. The elements are, of course, integrated into a “champloo” of sorts representing the series whole. There might be an episode inspired by the Shimabara Rebellion, but there’s also one in which Mugen, Jin, and Fuu play baseball against a team of American naval soldiers and defend their honor. I think everybody can site the two Misguided Miscreants episodes as probably the most powerful in the series, but in the same show, our heroes have to deal with possible zombie conspiracies. Not to mention all the random beat boxing… :]
With how seriously I’ve taken this review, remember that with all the weirdness going on, the show also has a great sense of humor. Again, thrown into the mix are not just character stories or serious fight scenes, but also really wacky misadventures in which our heroes find themselves in ridiculous situations leading to even more ridiculous conclusions. Be it something as little as Jin’s tendency for indigestion or Mugen’s libido pushing him farther and farther to doing this woman’s bidding, becoming basically a testosterone fueled chimpanzee in the process.
With the exception of the weak overarching plot, Samurai Champloo really does have it all, and there’s a reason it’s ranked so highly on so many otaku’s lists. It’s not at all a profound show, and it lacks the sophistication of Bebop, but it’s not trying to be. Despite being an entirely style-over-substance anime, the show just exudes cool, and there’s something in it for most everybody. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
Regardless of the film’s merits, it’s nice to see that Miyazaki senior actually helped write the script, resulting in a joint effort from father and son that smooths over their previously tumultuous relationship.
From Up on Poppy Hill is a period drama from 1960’s Japan. A young high school student befriends a young man in her class, and the two decided to lead the charge in saving the school’s clubhouse, Quartier Latin, which has been scheduled for demolition. The best way for me to describe this film is average (leagues ahead of Earthsea which I would describe as awful). On a positive note, again, it’s Ghibli animation so it’s beautiful; but it’s intensely detail oriented which brings the atmosphere of the period to life on screen. The score is diverse and varied, but also positively serves the film to the same end.
On the other side of the coin, the characters and the story are both not very interesting. Ghibli’s art style lends itself a lot to “same face syndrome” but it was never more apparent than it was in this movie. Poppy Hill moves at a slow, realistic pace which is fine-- the same can be said of Whisper of the Heart and The Secret World of Arrietty. But it lacks the emotional depth of the former and the spectacle of the latter. While the restoration of the clubhouse is handled okay, the romantic subplot is very odd, and I was actually looking forward to seeing how the emotional conflict would be resolved. But it’s resolved in the most lackluster, convenient, and inconsequential manner possible, and not even until the very end of the film. Without giving anything away, it was a very easy cop out to avoid a serious discussion regarding a very potentially problematic and controversial romance.
Though I still have to commend Goro Miyazaki for his remarkable improvement as a director. At the end of the day, he cannot be compared to his father, and it’s unfair that he has to live in the shadow casted by a master. Still the film leaves me optimistic. Like Ponyo, I likely wouldn’t check it out a second time, but I am glad that I saw it, and hope to see the same trend of improvement from Goro in the future. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
But it’s these elements that make Porco Rosso stand out, even so far out of Miyazaki’s comfort zone. With regards to the setting, it is one of the most clearly defined in his films and excels at conveying the feel and tone of the intended setting: the Mediterranean during the interbellum period. Here, Miyazaki’s love of flying is not explored with imaginary insect-like machines, but pays real homage to early aircraft.
While the environmental message is missing, Miyazaki’s anti-war sentiments and like of strong female characters remains present, but to a lesser degree. Unlike his other films, this movie takes a more direct approach to addressing the latter-- due to the time period and because the main character, Porco, is a middle-aged male.
Speaking of Porco (whom Miyazaki largely modeled after himself), he’s a very different sort of protagonist. The immediate thought after learning about his character, is that he would be on a mission to undo his mysterious curse. Rather than that though, Porco has long accepted his fate. As a man torn by war and the spoils of fascist government, Porco is jaded, self-motivated, and approaches the world through his own perspective. And yet, he is still likable; despite various assertions that he is a pig, Porco’s humanity is never lost, and it speaks very quietly to a more adult audience than you’d think a movie about a flying pig would.
A sequel to this film has been proposed and is under works, which is wonderful, because I loved this movie. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
This is not to say that I favor Princess Mononoke over the film that would follow, Spirited Away. That film is Miyazaki’s other magnum opus. What I mean is that in looking at Hayao Miyazaki’s work, his ability and interests range from grand-scale, mature, fantasy epics in which the theme of man versus nature is the centerpiece to wonderland through the eyes of a child in which the child learns to grow and mature and come into their own as a result of their journey. The latter is fully realized by Spirited Away, while the former attains perfection in Princess Mononoke; they’re two completely different but equally wonderful movies. Honestly, I really do consider these to be his best films-- they’re my two favorites-- and it’s hard to see how he could possibly outdo either of them, especially given the more lenient work schedule he’s allowed himself as he gets on in age.
With all that said, Princess Mononoke is the last of it’s kind for Ghibli-- the last to use hand painted cells; it was also the most expensive animated film in Japanese history, and won best picture in 1998 for Japan’s Academy Awards (this was a very big deal, in the same way Beauty and the Beast’s nomination for best picture in the US in 1991 was a big deal; animated features were just never considered to be contenders in this category, so it really speaks to the greatness of both films to even be nominated, much less win, when the notion was unheard of at the time).
Princess Mononoke is also the spiritual successor to one of Miyazaki’s earliest works, Nausicaa. Whereas I could never get behind the first film on this list because of flaws in both the characterization of the protagonists and the villains as well as the way it approaches the conflict of man versus nature, Princess Mononoke not only fixes all of those elements but also improves upon them in a way that propels it to ‘masterpiece-status’.
Musically, again, Joe Hisashi is a powerhouse composer. Aesthetically, like Spirited Away, I think a lot of the appeal comes not only from Ghibli-quality animation, but because the integration of Japanese elements and mythology just allows for spectacular visuals and characters. The wolves, the pigs, the forest deity-- all perf.
The other problem, the conflict of nature versus man. Instead of being an issue of extreme good v. evil, in which Man is bad just because they are and Nature is divinely just and good and victimized because Man is just so evil, Mononoke achieves the balance between the two. Man and Nature are two opposite but neutral entities which inhabit the same space, and as such, inevitably come into conflict. However, both are justified in their arguments against the other, so there is no ‘right’ answer. There isn’t an inherent victor or loser of the conflict; these are two forces of equal magnitude acting in opposite directions. Not only does this make Mononoke a less conventional story, but a more thought-provoking and mature film. This, more than any other Ghibli movie, breaks the stereotype in the West that animated films are meant exclusively for children; not just because it is violent, but the content is so elevated above good and evil, it’s not really suitable for children on any level.
This film just proves that Miyazaki is a master of his medium, can actually write a mature and subtle commentary on conservation and environmentalist themes, and possesses a profound understanding of everything that goes into good storytelling. All of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies are masterpieces, but this one is really is the crowning achievement. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
The good news is, as the only film Kondo helmed as director, Whisper of the Heart is a wonderful movie. It’s another toned down film from Ghibli, and has much in common with something like Kiki. A junior high school girl, Shizuku, is tasked with translating a popular English song to Japanese, a difficult task, but one she can accomplish because of her bookish nature and passion for writing (in the English dub, she’s rewriting the lyrics rather than translating to “ehh..” effect). She also befriends a diverse cast of characters-- the friendly owner of an antique shop, his grandson with a passion for music, and a beautiful statuette of a cat in Western clothing, “The Baron”. Like Kiki, Shizuku is also attempting to find who she is and come into her own. It’s missing the fantasy element of the former, but by the nature of its execution, is just as emotionally satisfying, complete, and wonderful. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
I know I sound like a broken record and will continue to, but like all of Director Miyazaki’s work, the film is gorgeously rendered. Kiki is as beloved as any other Miyazaki film, but I think that those who don’t hold it so high in their esteem are simply used to a different method of storytelling in film. Ghibli films often deviate from a conventional three act structure, conflicts, villains and love interests-- elements of film that are common in the Disney canon and Western media in general. The focus is more on subtle, mature, and realistic character growth, supplemented with Ghibli flavor-- flying, magical elements, etc. So if the movie feels slow, its for this reason, but it’s also a refreshing change for children’s fare here in the states. Like Laputa, Kiki is just a very solid, well put together movie, and worth seeing like all (most) of the others. read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
Here’s a whole series about it.
The production work for Spice & Wolf was done by Studio Imagin, a small company with few series under it’s belt (in fact, even the sequel season wasn’t picked up by them). This is probably the most well known work they’ve put out. In my opinion the character design is a bit basic and the models don’t always move as fluidly as they could. It’s not a bad looking show, and luckily, the material of the series lends itself to a lot of talking scenes, so it gets away with the less than par animation more often than not. You can tell that they saved the budget for when they needed it, and I commend it for that (looking at you again, Gainax).
The artists also did a wonderful job of constructing the European medieval setting. The backgrounds and colors look very authentic and really lend to the atmosphere of the series.
The music as well really succeeds to the same effect. The soundtrack adds a mix of piano, wind, and string instruments that lends to the medieval theme. However, the standouts are the OP and ED themes. ”Tabi no Tochuu” is wonderfully pretty with sweeping melodies and a sort of haunting yet optimistic tone, while “Ringo Hiyori” closes the episode out with adorable visuals and whimsical lyrics and creative imagery about ‘apple eyes’ and ‘shooting stars in a jar’. You’ll be humming this tune for hours after each watch.
Above average production value aside, there’s a reason Spice & Wolf seems to be everybody’s favorite “B-list” anime.
And it’s not the subject matter.
I get that as a light novel, the concept might work better, who thought a series about economics would hold anybody’s attention? I’m surprised to find that it actually does.
A lot of the series deals with bartering, prices and value rising and falling, supply and demand, something about coins and profit wat? I might be applying to medical school, an anthropology major, and a literature geek, but I really, really don’t understand money. A lot of the dialogue spends time explaining what’s going on, but for anyone who’s not econ-savvy, you have to be paying close attention to completely understand what’s going on. (For as much dialogue as there is in the series, sleep well knowing that it does all make sense). However, even if you don’t the series carries its audience through well enough that we can follow the sequence of events well enough to get through the short 13 episode run.
Still, I can’t praise a series for allowing me to nod off at least five minutes per episode.
But this is where the series cheats a little.
In both Spice & Wolf story arcs, Lawrence and Holo get dangerously involved in elaborate money schemes. But your attention isn’t held because Lawrence is being blackmailed and he might go bankrupt. It’s because he’s very nearly eaten by wolves.
During the climax, while the main thread of the plot is still concerned with Lawrence’s financial situation, it’s made more intense by including life threatening danger for our duo.
But it’s the duo, not the danger that makes the series so popular.
Spice & Wolf owes its success to Lawrence and Holo themselves. The two have perfect chemistry and they feed off of each other’s energies dynamically. While Lawrence is practical, knowledgeable, sensible but willing to take risks, and very mature for his age, the wolf goddess Holo is haughty, outspoken, and rash, but also proves herself to be an invaluable asset to the merchant.
Masterful voice actors help make these two a success (the seiyuu for the other characters are mostly negligible). Michael J. Tatum perfectly conveys Lawrence’s caution and sensibility, and the calm, deeper tone is perfectly in sync with his more mature personality. Brina Palencia (whose work is relatively unknown to me) does an excellent job as Holo; her voice isn’t overly feminine and she definitely comes off sounding self confident — at times I heard it a bit forced, but I overall really enjoyed her performance.
While the’re constantly going at it back and forth like a ping pong match, their personalities do not clash but rather complement each other. Both are highly intelligent, making them equal matches, but Holo allows Lawrence to open himself up, while Lawrence always manages to ground the wolf-diety.
Not to mention the banter between the two is not only witty, but hilarious. Holo can unabashedly stick it to her partner, despite his best efforts to hold his own against her. But it’s not just the humor, but also the way their relationship develops across the course of the series.
While initially, there’s the sense that the two are stuck with each other and mildly inconvenienced by the situation, the merchant and goddess begin to grow on each other in a very natural way. The romance that’s hinted at is subtle, but regardless, the strong friendship and partnership that develops rings very authentic and remains so during the highest and lowest points of the story.
Spice & Wolf very pleasantly surprised me. The series is definitely not for everyone, it does drag in places and is devoid of most anime conventions found in popular shows. However, for what it is, it is one of my favorite B-list series as well. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
To begin with, the show really cleverly subverts the genre by acknowledging that the Host Club boys parody shojo manga characters in order to pander to the teenage girls’ romantic fantasies, who in turn eat it up like frosting in a can. There’s Tamaki Suou, president of the Host Club and “princely” type, Kyoya the “cool”type, Kaoru and Hikari the identical twins who may or may not be in a romantic relationship, Honey the oldest and most adorable of the group and Mori, the strong silent type (and by silent I mean completely mute). Haruhi is meant to round out the group as the “natural” boy who’s even prettier than the girls.
Anyone who understands otaku culture can really understand why this is so funny. The girl who likes to take any random two guys and write a smutty fanfiction about them together? I know her. The one who wouldn’t mind a guy who looks more feminine than she does? I know her too, as well as the girl whose favorite character was always the quiet, brooding, confident badass of the series. (Not me though; I’m the Flynn Rider type).
The characterizations inside of the Host Club are so dead on, it’s even funnier to see how their carefully constructed personas unravel in reality. Despite being typecast as the perfect gentleman, Tamaki is a spoiled, naive, over-sensitive, man-child who adopts Haruhi as his own daughter and becomes intensely jealous when anybody else approaches her.
Speaking of Haruhi, she’s also why the show works so well. In addition to not being your typical shojo girl, her character is refreshing. She’s intelligent, indifferent, fearless, and even a little dense. What’s nice is that despite being arguably the most normal of the bunch, there remains something quirky enough about her that she fits in with the rest of the Host Club. A lot of the humor derives from Haruhi, who is a commoner, acting as our window into this glittery gaudy alien world. Yet despite finding their elitism insufferable and their antics annoying and inconvenient, she forms interesting relationships with all of her peers and even gets to participate in the humor.
Guys, this show is funny as hell.
The series takes full advantage of all kinds of humor— basic physical slapstick, character based, shamelessly subverting the romance harem genre, and even breaking the fourth wall quite a bit (the funniest bits in my opinion). I don’t believe there was one episode where I wasn’t at least smiling like an idiot at my computer, if not giggling uncontrollably.
And on top of an interesting set up, a cast of wonderful characters whom are all likable and funny, the series integrates romance and drama on top of it. And despite the silly tone and the exaggerated personalities, it still works. You come to like the Host Club so much, that the character based drama only fleshes out their personalities and endears them to the audience even more. The series never oversteps its boundaries and 180’s in tone, the romantic attraction actually makes sense and is subtle — there’s none of that sexual frustration love hate nonsense here — and while a lot of the revelations come at the end, it doesn’t feel shoehorned in since you’ve been getting to know the characters all along.
And it’s because of this that the show is damn near overall perfect. I wouldn’t say it has universal appeal; it’s still pretty cute and fluffy for someone’s who’s normal fare is more in the line of tournament style save the world anime, and the series is pretty ‘girly’, but I maintain that for a series as funny and surprisingly character driven as this one, it might surprise a quite a few people who feel it’s not in their normal taste.
Furthermore, its really nice to see a series like this receive so much love and attention from its producers. A lot of this has to do with the fact that OHSHC was picked up by Studio Bones, well known and appreciated for their high standard of quality (unlike others…). The art style, while still appearing to be stereotypically anime, is still visually interesting and appealing. The colors are very sweet and pretty and the animation is always fluid and almost never stagnant. Even the chibis look polished and Bones knows how to make the transition from real human movement to the bouncing of the super deformed figures.
The opening theme “Sakura Kiss” is UNBELIEVABLY catchy. It’s amazing. The opening theme does a good job of introducing us to the characters and the contained elite little world they live in, not to mention the visuals and imagery match the music beat for beat— something I really appreciate in my anime openings since I usually sit through them every time. The music has to be light and upbeat to fit the tone of the show, but also given the high class setting and the drama included in the series as well, there are some very pretty piano and harp pieces included in the soundtrack.
As far as the English dub goes, I couldn’t find anyone to complain about; Luci Christian and Michael J. Tatum are both in their elements and Todd Haberkorn and Greg Ayres lend a harmonious blend to the twins’ unison. Caitlin Glass as Haruhi finds a nice balance, providing a gender neutral voice for Haruhi and achieving a sort of monotone without sounding flat. But Vic Mignogna is perfectly typecast as Tamaki. His more smooth and feminine tone fits the character perfectly (especially considering he’s half French), without sounding silly (except of course when he needs to be). I loved this dub.
Nowadays, I tend to avoid more popular fare since anime has come a far way from the series I grew up with and love, but I’m really glad my one friend (the one who writes the yaoi lemons) introduced me to this series. I was hooked from the first episode and the feeling was bittersweet to see it end. I would definitely recommend it. read more