12 of 12 episodes seen
For any twenty-year-old student, life can be more boring than it once was. Innocent fun and laughter belong to the past and everyday worries pile up as the days pass by. Ichigo Mashimaro narrates junior-college student Nobue Itou's life, who, as a pastime, looks after her twelve-year-old younger sister and her friends. Role model for the four elementary schoolers, she contemplates the innocence of childhood, along with the silent viewer in delight.
Ichigo Mashimaro is a slice-of-life comedy centred around five characters. First is Nobue, the "big sister" of the group. While female characters are often infantilised in anime, she is assuming the parenting role in the story. But stressing her position, she is characterised as a regular smoker, she sometimes drinks alcohol and rides a motorbike. Common in real life, these rare traits in anime create a comforting, responsible atmosphere around Nobue when caring for the children. Regularly, her presence among the four children is the cornerstone that turns the comedy into a heartwarming story about the bonds that adults and children develop.
The other characters complement one another in hilarious ways. Brilliant comedian, Miu Matsuoka is the main star of the show. Her whole life consists in playing pranks on her friends for her own amusement – as well as the audience's. Her jokes are at times crazy and priceless, at others just plain cute. Unfortunately, though, Miu's shenanigans are where lack of maturity sometimes comes off not as innocent, but troublesome. Often hilarious, she, in her jokes, nonetheless ignores completely the consequences of her actions; and it is difficult to openly laugh at a prank when it is unwittingly done at the expense of another person, for example to the point of getting them fired from their job.
Other characters all are remarkable in their own way. Most interesting is the nuanced characterisation: while Chika is the group's voice of reason, she freely goes along with Miu's most benign jokes; Ana plays the eccentric role of a foreigner that knows more about Japan than natives, yet has never worn a kimono at the start of the series; and Matsuri, while a typical shy airhead, turns out to be the most skilled English speaker of the four. Matsuri, though, in her saccharine and absent-minded ways, is a fairly unrealistic depiction of a girl her age, even though the cast as a whole remains adorable.
The voice actresses suit the characters excellently to boot. Although Matsuri's personality is further exaggerated by a cutesy acting, big sister Nobue benefits from an actress with a perfect grasp of when Nobue is having innocent fun with the others, and of when she adopts a more solemn tone. The actress for the hilarious Miu is cheerful and full of pep, and the other characters, too, are voiced by competent actors overall.
Just like the characters, Ichigo Mashimaro's soundtrack is sweet and mellow. Though there is no iconic theme or insert song to speak of, the music goes along the relaxed atmosphere with a certain beauty. The catchy opening theme accurately reflects the comedic atmosphere of the series. While the song is performed by the main voice actresses, though, they sadly are barely recognisable. The ending theme is beautiful, and it concludes the episode with a fitting melancholy, evoking Nobue's feelings as she sees her own childhood in the girls'.
The main feature of Ichigo Mashimaro's art is that it is stylised. Though introduced as twelve-year-olds, the girls might very well pass off as six, and though Nobue is and acts like a twenty-year-old young adult, she looks indeed a few years younger. In the original manga, Nobue was written as a high school junior, but her age was raised to twenty in the anime. Since her original design was conserved in the process, the discrepancy occurred, although it does not cause heavy issues. As for the girls, their juvenile design is unique and adorable, but also misleading. As it becomes clear that the characters are more consistent with their canonical age than their looks, it also occurs to the viewer that the characters might in fact be less candid than they first appear.
Thankfully, Ichigo Mashimaro is, as a whole, just as enjoyable as it looks. If slice of life isn't a genre you avoid, do give it a try. Unless, that is, you want to have a taste of Nobue's roundhouse kick! read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
The Aria anime has been acclaimed since its first run in 2005; Aria the Animation, despite a more lukewarm reception, managed to make a name for itself. It's in 2008 that the anime became most well-known, thanks to the third season titled Aria the Origination. Described by many as the culmination of the series, it outdid its previous instalments, becoming the favourite series of many anime fans worldwide.
That's why it's surprising to see that, in between, the nearly forgotten Aria the Natural proves to be just as remarkable as the rest of the franchise.
With respect to the characters, a noticeable work is present in terms of development. Be it regarding the relations among the different characters, or the very characterisation of one of the gondoliers, a well conceived though fairly small part of the anime manages to provide a believable development to these aspects. The writing, in addition, can be praised for its consistency. Crafting distinct personalities masterfully, the dialogue never causes discrepancies in the characters' behaviour. Applied to a massive degree in this anime, though, this very longing for consistency eventually limits the characters' range of reactions, ending up somewhat unrealistic as a result.
Despite that, the anime remains captivating from beginning to end, keeping the audience interested and immersed in its atmosphere. The reason for this is that Aria the Natural makes clear that the first and foremost aspect it develops is simply not the character, but rather the world they live in: Aqua.
It is no exaggeration to say that Aqua and the city of Neo-Venezia make for an enchanting universe, often stealing the show while the characters remain in the background. Though this lack of a complex personality may not benefit the characters, it is redeemed by contributing to one of the major facets of Neo-Venezia: the inhabitants' mentality. In fact, Aqua's populace is depicted as vastly different from that of Man-Home throughout the show.
This can be noticed on many occasions; for instance, the New-Venetians, despite possessing an advanced technology, are depicted to use traditional missives, in accordance with their widespread discontent towards technology. While the latter can be deemed exaggerated, it is perfectly consistent within Aria's universe wherein technology has reached a point of no return – Man-Home's seas, for instance, are unsuited for swimming.
Another direct example of the depiction of the local way of thinking is the fact that each character living in Neo-Venezia is deeply considerate of others and eager to socialise. The treasure hunting anecdote (which you can see early on in the series) for example, is one of the most heartfelt illustrations of this mentality. It can also be seen in the many citizens joining Alicia and Akari making a giant snowball and their interaction with the main characters. This particularity of the series makes the dialogue unrealistically devoid of the slightest conflict. Still, this society is in fact understandable from the perspective of a New-Venetian. It can be justified by the other major aspect Aria the Natural presents to the viewer, the master of ceremonies, the spiritual guardian watching over the citizen – the one the inhabitants call Cait Sith.
Cait Sith and the many supernatural events surrounding him are an important part of Neo-Venezia. Intriguing events unfold regularly throughout the anime; intrusive they aren't, because they are presented as a full-fledged part of the setting, foreshadowed early by the importance of cats in Neo-Venezia. As such, the supernatural events seldom come across as awkward or out of the place; they naturally find their way in the main character's life. Masterfully incorporated into the plotline, they manage to leave an impact on the audience without breaking the suspension of disbelief.
Other examples of Neo-Venezia's culture are the entire reproduction of Venice's original customs, mixed with additional elements. The show depicts Venice's rosebud festival (Feste del bocolo), the annual flood (Acqua Alta) and how the inhabitants must handle it, for instance. Among these events finds its way Aqua's own background: the author didn't forget to infuse the inherent elements which the colonisation of Mars involves. The fact that Mars may possess its own ores isn't forgotten and a purely New-Venetian tradition is shown, consisting in dropping in the sea a particular stone that can only be found in Martian waters. And since living on such a planet involves specific accommodations, the anime doesn't forget to depict places that aren't part of the original Venice such as a floating island controlling the weather, or an underground town regulating gravity.
Naturally, Aria the Natural is also the visit of a beautiful city. Many scenes are focused on the exploration of Neo-Venezia and its fascinating streets. Frequently, it shows the appreciation of the different landscapes and architectures, but a lot of shots are specifically made to be beheld, depicting particular parts of Aqua such as a splendid abandoned train, or the previously mentioned floating island and underworld.
Having said that, focusing on the depiction of Neo-Venezia unfortunately brings to light the technical limits of the series. The visualisation of Aria's setting had the potential to be excellent – case in point being the original manga's art. Yet it doesn't take an experienced viewer to understand that the visuals are poor. The architectures are highly repetitive to the point of providing an inaccurate reproduction of Venice; the shot angles are flat and unambitious, creating many perspective issues; the lines aren't nearly as bold as they should be and the lights and shadows are done hastily. Ultimately, the climax of each episode is weakened by the series' technical limits.
But although the series suffers from its artistic issues, in the end it doesn't matter so much because the series shines thanks to another aspect: its soundtrack. The show's climaxes wouldn't be as powerful as they are if the music wasn't so skilfully used, fitting the atmosphere of each scene perfectly. Furthermore, every opening sequence is a climax in itself, because the opening sequence is not a recurring animation but a mere theme song accompanying new scenes every episode. On top of being well-used, the tracks are superb as well. Each background theme or insert song is splendid, leading perfectly the scene it accompanies. The soundtrack doesn't have a single forgettable song and forms a cohesive whole.
It is no surprise Aria the Natural succeeded in becoming such a strong anime series, and for certain fans the best instalment of the franchise. It takes a facet of Aria none of the other seasons focused on and arguably made the best out of it, crafting a detailed, consistent and overall most exquisite universe. read more
4 of 4 episodes seen
"Cat" (neko), and "story" (monogatari) – the title Nekomonogatari is a pun. That is to say, it is a pun in so far as one could say its author "catered to the clientele by making a cat's-paw of a catalogue of puns he played cat and mouse with to catch our attention". If one were told this quote accurately mirrors the content of the anime, one would probably predict a dubious end product. That's why it's against all odds that Nekomonogatari actually lands on its feet remarkably well.
While the plot slowly creeps in, the first fraction of the anime remains light-hearted. Skits and dialogue compose this prelude and prove their author's ease with comedy. It is delicate for comedic effect to be powerful within a serious storyline: many jokes may throw away important characterisation for the purpose of comedy, or may blend in poorly with the mood, sometimes outright crushing it. Have no fear, however, because Nekomonogatari not only gracefully avoids these pitfalls, but also manages to masterfully tie comedy with characterisation.
Let us picture Araragi Koyomi and his love interest Hanekawa Tsubasa, having a grave discussion at the beginning of this anime. As the tone becomes darker and more relevant to the plot, the protagonist suddenly starts acting delirious – making for hilarious gags, but also out of character behaviour shattering the mood. The act and fun go on for a while, building up towards the punchline without the viewer's knowledge. And when the preparations are set, the punchline of the skit only reinforces the deception, making the protagonist come off as entirely degenerate. After the fact, though, the punchline and entire act is shortly explained as a purposeful defusing of the mood and the punchline an actually very considerate line of the protagonist. As a result, the hilarious nonsense that was presented becomes perfectly logical and adds volumes of depth to the main character.
The comedy is further supported by the commendable voice acting in the series. Kamiya Hiroshi as Araragi Koyomi knows of many tones and makes a varied use of them during the skits. But the most impressive feat is that he does so in a stunning speaking rate. Where common actors would lose any sense of intonation when speaking at a fast rate, Kamiya becomes even more expressive, making for great comedic effect.
While it seems odd for a serious story to waste time with comedy, Nekomonogatari's pacing is masterful. It is difficult, when examining this work's pacing, to forget its format; although the series is listed and sold as separate episodes, its small number of episodes is no coincidence. When the series first aired on TV, the episodes were broadcasted back-to-back: it's as a whole that the series is best and supposed to be appreciated. The pacing irregularities between the episodes may feel heavy-handed for a fractioned viewing, yet as a film it flows smoothly and follows a tight structure.
The slow discussion at the start tackles issues very relevant to the story, which allows for the plot to remain in constant movement. This way, the related accident is given appropriate foreshadowing during the beginning of the series, and its characters are also handled with care. During the two skits the first part of the series is made of, Koyomi is extensively fleshed out. Long introspection is expressed on his romantic feelings for another person: is it love, or is it lust? What is the nature of love in the first place? Not only does this heart-searching add to the characterisation, it also showcases a down-to-earth approach many high school romances lack: where many anime take themselves more seriously than they should, overdramatising trivial romances that can be accounted for by lust or teenager delusions, Nekomonogatari shows an exceptional awareness for these issues.
For the third instalment of a long-running franchise to stand on its own would be required a story that is formally flawless, and this is definitely the case with this anime, in which the audience gets a story that is both extraordinarily conclusive and whose unfolding is under control all the way through. Firstly noticed is the recurrent emphasis on the time period. The time at which the series takes place is precisely bound in time (and using a well-known holiday as the context isn't innocent): before that period, nothing relevant occurs, after it, the story is wrapped up definitively. This is made so by fully foreshadowing the incident within the Golden Week itself, not in the rest of the franchise; and at the end of the adventure, not only is the story left behind using the end of the holiday as a symbol, but one of the character is said to have no recollection of it, putting a final conclusion to the case as the characters fully move on.
The plotline is a fascinating one. Sometimes posing problems, the monogatari series is very formulaic; rarely is the same schema violated. "An Oddity appears, and it is dealt with by the characters, end of the arc and onto the next one". But using one of the characters' own words: "this is a case filled with irregularities". Nekomonogatari's approach takes a twist – and plot twists, the series has many. Dei ex machina they are not, for their nature is limited to the exploitation of introduced data and foreshadowing. In truth, only the introduction of a powerful weapon unknown to the characters will be remembered as a possible plot convenience, and yet it is this very unknown nature that is presented as its strength, defeating even the most knowledgeable enemies and thus justifiable in the context of the story.
This tightly-knit story is helped by the art, for example by limiting the number of characters involved. Very few characters are depicted; not a single extra character figure in the streets. When the anime needs victims, they only are mentioned; when these victims appear in the script but do not possess any line, they are depicted as shadows with no character design of their own.
Naturally, as far as art goes, Nekomonogatari offers delicacies par for the course with the monogatari series. We have the same surreal environment with flamboyant colours and dreamlike architectures; the colour scheme is an entirely original one to craft the gloomy atmosphere, using atypically saturated colours and various techniques to create surrealism. One such technique, for example, is the contradictory use of vivid white to colour background elements when the scene takes place at night with an environment otherwise dark. Like in many other visual fields, Nekomonogatari does a splendid job at playing with contrasts; and the surrealism it crafts is both daring and very cohesive.
The artistic direction results in a pompous feel – in an impressive way – which well-composed shots accompany to emphasise the surreal vastness of the surroundings. However, it can be noticed that the attempts at dramatising the scenes sometimes do not flow well. Epitome of pomposity, many close-up shots are made on the characters' faces using large camera movements, creating a beautiful effect. The problem is that the camera movements in these shots connect very poorly to adjacent shots and the flow of the storyboard is slightly affected as a result.
As to fanservice, it fits, this time, quite well the theme of "lust" which isn't brought up gratuitously but for characterisation; for once, it is rather welcome than unwanted. It is made in sometimes conventional ways, but always in tasteful ones – and the dissonance produced when a catgirl in underwear is depicted next to a mutilated body is bound to make an impact. Talented as ever, the author yet again explores new fetishes. The approach of risqué, half-naked clothing combines delectably well with the fact that the character in question is also the victim of a spell injuring anyone making skin contact with them, taking the concept of "dangerous woman" to new heights.
Sound in Nekomonogatari is beautiful. While the tunes aren't memorable, the different tracks use an instrumentation that fits perfectly the different moods each scene conveys, and this is also strengthened by the realistic sound effects; in Nekomonogatari, even smoke produces sound, and the eerie sound of blood flowing or limbs flying makes for an unsettling atmosphere of the best quality.
But when the credits roll, unsettling mood invariably turns into a smile on the viewer's face, for to an outstanding anime, it is a most natural response to feel happy and smile. read more
25 of 25 episodes seen
MMORPGs are the cradle of fond memories for many gamers around the world. Not a single experienced player can talk about the nostalgic hours spent in online games without mentioning the fun time spent slaying monsters for long and restless nights in order to gain exp points. Analysing the economy to get wealthier, or simply working one's fingers to the bone to get some well-deserved money. And what to say of the hardships that were overcome and caused the birth of countless, unfaltering friendships?
Unfortunately, none of this accurately describes Sword Art Online.
Sword Art Online is the respected player-killer that never trained a single night. It is the successful businessman that never invested a single penny. And naturally, the best friend you never actually spent meaningful time with. But remember when you were a child; was there really no game for which the 'Game Over' screen showed up so often you stopped tolerating it? After all, isn't it an unwavering truth that many of us also had fun using one or two cheat codes at times?
– or so would say the author... little did he know, you grew up since that time. But just where is the issue – lack of character development? Certainly not, Sword Art Online has plenty of it. In fact, here lies this anime's downfall: character development just doesn't work when it is expedited. Sword Art Online begins with Kirigaya 'Kirito' Kazuto, and although with a slight advantage at the start, he is much of what one would expect of a normal player. Wouldn't it be a wonderful character development if our protagonist ended up the strongest, wealthiest player, and well-liked to boot?
Well, no. When a character is shown to acquire an astounding amount of money with nothing even hinting at the process that permitted it, this is failing to satisfy even the most basic storytelling conventions. In the same way, the two main characters come to be the server's top players. Was it through hard training? Scarcely. Long trials of stunning difficulty? Nay. The characters became the most powerful players through... time skips. When a mere time skip acts as the trigger for change in a character, no actual merit is achieved, save for perhaps self-insertion, whose interest is akin to the usage of cheat code: insipid and no better than fanfiction writing. And what better way is there to ruin such an interesting premise – the concept of real death in a video game – than making the protagonist so powerful that he never has to face perilous situations?
To use shortcuts in a characterisation is one thing, though; to make it incoherent and disjointed is yet another. And the series manages to achieve both at the same time. Kirito, as the protagonist is called in the game, often experiences sudden and unexplained changes, which are sometimes quickly negated for no better reason. One could remember how Kirito often claims to be a 'solo player' and sometimes is depicted as such, yet is also shown playing with other people for the sole sake of socialising. Or, for example, how he starts out consistently depicted as being reserved and bland for a significant amount of screen time, yet abruptly decided to become a scapegoat and save other players he doesn't know with a remarkable boldness: not only was no psychological justification ever given for the character's change, it was also entirely forgotten in the next episode, following a substantial and convenient time skip – again.
To top it off, the plot suffers from the same flaws as the characterisation. Perhaps even more than the characters in it, in fact, the storyline is riddled with inconsistencies and conveniences. While much of this anime's intended strength should be dramatic impact, the way the drama is woven is frightening. A considerable importance seems to be given to the death of certain characters; where the problem lies, however, is when the characters we should feel for have been introduced less than twenty minutes ago and thus lack heavily in characterisation. It is even worse when the reason of their death amounts to pathetic conveniences: the first death in the series was due to a character refusing a healing potion, even though on the verge of death. Why would he refuse it in the first place, if not to create gratuitous melodrama?
Unsatisfied with delivering half-baked drama, Sword Art Online attempts to provide romance as well. But unsurprisingly, the result is appalling. As ambitious as it seems, no fewer than five romantic relationships are developed, all involving the main character. And while a single relationship could have been a believable part of the plotline, incorporating multiple love interests only harms the focus of the story. Of course, the mere fact that five romantic subplots could coexist is sufficient to destroy any credibility, but they all manage to be disastrous even taken individually. Most of them happen within single episodes; first meeting, confession, and sometimes even death – all within twenty minutes! Naturally, spanning so little time, the only conceivable result was a revolting amount of cliché; can we really take seriously two teenagers that act all lovey-dovey even though this is the first time they met?
But if the writing is poor, perhaps at least the setting is interesting; after all, isn't that synopsis promising? Not even close. Even the worldbuilding is ruined to keep the plot moving forward, in truth. Despite the fact that virtual death is presented as one of the fundamentals of the setting, the one time the protagonist faces death in the game, he is revived (and that is long past the delay after which the audience was told the player's real body should be killed) with no element to account for this miracle. What's more, when about to be killed by the enemy and with no possible cop-out, he is saved by a character who overcomes virtual paralysis... even though no presented means exist in the game mechanics to break free from it.
This is obviously one example of deus ex machina among many. Only a few times has the protagonist needed to overcome difficulties, and every time, he gets away thanks to one of his allies miraculously stepping in. And there's more! Note how Kirito's hacker skills are introduced at the exact time they are needed (and mysteriously thrown away afterwards), or the ridiculous excuse that allowed him to keep his attributes in two unrelated games (now have you ever seen a single MMORPG allowing this?). Consider how the characters conveniently forget they have a teleportation item when ambushed by other players, or how a dead character's ghost conveniently appears to give an item to the protagonist when he is in trouble, even though he could have done that a long time before.
But despite the horrible story, it would be unfair to call Sword Art Online a complete failure. It has, for one thing, a well above average soundtrack, albeit poorly used; moreover, it could be said that the animation fulfils its role somewhat satisfactorily. The tiresome repetition of key tracks could be brought up. One could, maybe, mention the out-of-place CGI, the abuse of still pictures during the fights or the usage of distorted key frames in sequences whose framerate is far too low to afford such visual effects; but that would be picking on minor details. The truth is that Sword Art Online offers solid production values, and above all, it does so consistently.
Any experienced gamer, though, would tell you that graphics alone do not make a game. It is especially true when the rest of the game at hand is an utter mess from start to finish. True, we have a soundtrack that serves its purpose and interesting graphics. Decent longevity as well, but above all a dreadful story and characters that no amount of eye-candy can compensate for.
And all that's left is revolutionary gameplay. Oh wait. read more
Nov 2, 2012Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Waga Yuku wa Hoshi no Taikai (Anime) add
1 of 1 episodes seen
As time goes by and interpretations change, only the names of those who entered their own legend are truly remembered. The few names that left their mark, and are commonly the ones mankind considered worthy of being acclaimed as those of heroes. Though fictional in nature, Galactic Heroes are no different; never will their names be forgotten by those who know of their legend, no matter the era.
My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is the preamble to Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and is not a work that time and memories will ever defeat.
Introduced by an inviting shot on the sea of stars and its illustrious speech on war and heroes, My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is the majestic incarnation of an entire saga within 60 minutes. This is the birth of two stars; the titular Heroes of the saga. Idol against his will, we have the 'Hero of El Facil', more commonly referred to as Yang Wenli. Surpassing by far the latter in ambition but matching him in brilliance, there is the young Reinhard von Musel... infamously known as 'the Admiral under the skirt'. Unknown to each other until now, My Conquest is the Sea of Stars marks the beginning of their everlasting confrontation.
This is the story of their first encounter. The beginning of their legend.
And what a legend it is! Years and decades after its genesis, it remains apparent that nothing comparable to the grandeur of its saga has been made, be it the sole preamble related by this film or the entire series altogether. It is simply outstanding in so many respects that even today, LoGH and its prologue reign supreme over their medium.
But what makes this film so special, after all? Setting the example for what is to come, watching My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is a unique experience; in fact, a significant part of its narrative can be described as a commentary on history. There is never the time to be bored with the amount of thought-provoking insight the author is able to share, addressing different issues like the writing of history or the way people perceive war. And it never feels like the audience is watching a mere documentary, because the commentary is brilliantly integrated to the dialogue. Never does the dialogue seem forced or unnatural; the observations on war and history are always relevant to the current situation presented by the story. Making for an even more natural approach, the author's thoughts are conveyed through a wide variety of situations: among inexperienced soldiers of both sides, in the interaction between their commanders or even the punctual narration occurring during the film's introduction.
The author's reflection showcases LoGH advocates an intellectual approach rather than an emotional one, and this is largely reflected upon the way the characters think. Consistent with a context of political conflict, both internal and interplanetary, the rational mindset adopted by the characters was successfully depicted and is a delight to appreciate. Even Yang's ever so stubborn commander eventually had to develop, in spite of his firmly rooted beliefs, when presented to tangible evidence. And following Reinhard's heroic deeds, even the biased imperial commanders realised their mistake in using a nickname such as 'the Admiral under the skirt'. Admiral Reinhard himself knows full well to think before acting, showcased to be able to admit his errors repeatedly throughout the film.
While the characters consistently develop and react to the happenings, it is to be expected of this short film to be unable to provide a characterisation achieving more than hinting at the big picture. Having said that, the bits of characterisation the audience is presented with are fairly three-dimensional; while Yang earnestly defends democracy, he is still shown to be embarrassed listening to the corrupt speeches of governmental figures. It is also shown, for instance, that even the otherwise consistently rational Siegfried Kircheis can be slightly emotional when a certain other character is brought up.
With very little time to rest, the film focuses on the unfolding of war; two battles in total. In contrast to most anime or manga, the emphasis isn't on the combat among individual soldiers. My Conquest is the Sea of Stars depicts a grander aspect of war, showing the perspective of the commanders and admirals. The audience watches a truly large-scale conflict that is larger than any other nonfictional war, involving a much better handling of strategies and an overwhelming, astonishing sense of scale. The logistics involved are flawlessly managed and allow for an interesting reflection by the characters, since they always think in terms of lives saved—even when saving a few lives must be paid with the hatred of ten commanders. While the well thought-out tactics can be sometimes unclear to a viewer who isn't familiar with the setting, their unfolding remains extremely impactful, making for stunning plot twists.
The main aspect making the combat shine, however, is the music accompanying it. Exclusively composed of classical pieces, the tracks are well-chosen and strengthen the atmosphere throughout the film. But the film and its soundtrack really reach their culmination at a specific point—Bolero. Besides being a beautiful, memorable piece of music, Bolero features a very distinctive aspect: it gradually intensifies. This is not a piece that can be taken lightly; My Conquest is the Sea of Stars did not take it lightly.
Far from it, in fact. The film did justice to Bolero completely. With an admirable precision, the intensity of the depicted battle grows at the same time as that of the music. At first, the fleets move but the firefight is light; as the music gains in intensity, though, so does the combat. When the background music gets to its fiercest sequence, the belligerents violently execute the plans that were calmly planned at the beginning of the piece. And when the music reaches its ultimate peak, the most important plot twist in the entire film happens.
The animation in this film is excellent, but its age is no secret. While the film has been beautifully upscaled in high definition, the original drawings are ultimately drawn on a fairly small space. As a result, what appears decently sized on the screen may lack details or seem excessively simplified. On the other hand, the shots are inventive and avoid flat angles, especially in space battles where it can feel grotesque: when a flat angle is needed to depict the global evolution of the fight, its representation on a computer screen is shown instead. The background illustrations successfully avoided infusing science-fiction elements to the film which the script doesn't contain, and depict the surroundings in a realistic fashion. The characters' faces and proportions are realistic as well, so as not to be contrasting with their personalities. Even so, they can be differentiated effortlessly: always remaining within the realm of realism, the characters differ by their very posture, and their realistic face structures make for more variations in the skull's shape than in other franchises.
Because, still today, LoGH is different. In art. But in story, too; or in soundtrack. Perhaps its difference is the reason why nothing compares to its canon decades after its original run. Among the millions of names that crafted history, after all, only a name that stands out will be remembered and considered as—much like what LoGH represents for its medium—the hero of its legend. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
To someone who watched the first film of the Kara no Kyoukai series, what makes it good must be obvious, and it is not its writing or its plotline. Confirming the author's fears, it is certainly not its dialogue, nor is it its characters. What seems to shine in Kara no Kyoukai 1: Fukan Fuukei, in fact, is its production values. Not exactly, though, since it is something broader; something tying visuals, soundtrack, but also execution. It's an aspect only a theatrical release could exploit to the fullest.
That's its atmosphere.
Spanning 50 minutes, the plot of Fukan Fuukei is, in many ways, confined. This allows the film to convey its story in a focused manner, telling nothing more than what is strictly related to the plot, which gets the point across more efficiently. Above all, it allows the film to create a feeling of isolation, disconnected from the outside world and crafting a strong atmosphere.
This first can be seen via the visuals. While the story spans several days, most of the plot takes place at the same time of the day – after the sunset. Thanks to this, the different stages of the plot are tied with one another, and a general atmosphere is set up. But since unfolding exclusively at night would seem unrealistic, the film succeeds in remaining credible by showing a number of scenes happening during the day. The trick is, these are generally in a closed room in which daylight hardly penetrates. And the few times a scene depicts day time outside this room, not only does the shot focus on no character – using a completely detached angle, but said scene does not actually take place; it relates past or hypothetical events via a character's account or through the television.
Regarding animation, the film best showcases its merits during the action scenes. Not only are the fight scenes well choreographed, but the camera movements are myriad and stunning. When the characters brawl, the camera is as dynamic as the characters, accentuating the excitement of the fight; when two elements collide, the camera shakes accordingly, enhancing the realism and immersion.
Following the same idea as the visuals, the story has clear boundaries in time. The conclusion directly connects to a question the introduction left in suspense, offering a perfect closure. As the beginning and the ending scenes happen slightly before and after the actual plot, the events related by Fukan Fuukei are firmly rooted in a point of the franchise's timeline. This is beneficial to the series of films, since each of them depicts a limited point in time. What's more, when the plot comes to an end, the storyboard then freely depicts the characters in broad daylight, in contrast with the rest of the film; this stresses how the story is over, and how the characters are back to their ordinary life.
Similarly the story unfolds in an enclosed area; the events happens within a single neighbourhood, in no more than a few recurring rooms and streets, with next to no connection to the outside world. As a result, the immersion of the viewer in the atmosphere of the film is considerable. To stress this confinement, a simple trick is used: while the only connection to the rest of the world seems to be a television, it is depicted in a surreal manner. The characters use an intriguing and unusual installation of several monitors arranged side by side and on top of one another, making the viewer wonder whether there is a real purpose to such a layout in the first place. Ultimately, while the very presence of a television emphasises the existence of a "something" happening outside, it eventually accentuates its removal from the plot thanks to the surreal depiction.
A splendid composition by Kajiura Yuki, the soundtrack contributes to the mood as well. Where longer works create their musical identity by using repeated tracks over a large amount of time, the 50-minute long Fukan Fuukei can't afford to do this. Rather, a strong emphasis was placed on the cohesion of the soundtrack: every song shares the same sonority. To that end, some of the tracks use a similar tune. But an admirable job was done so as to never sound repetitive. The songs use highly contrasting scales and rhythms, together with varied but still cohesive instrumentation. All songs, as a result, all support a single atmosphere. The mood is continuous and once again, strengthens the film's immersive quality.
An equal attention was put into the characters. Several times the film could have introduced new characters; however, it carefully avoided creating more characters than what is needed. The audience is presented with an antagonist, enough main characters to allow for basic interactions (and therefore, characterisation), but not a single supporting character. This keeps the focus of the film tight, and makes the viewer familiar with the characters within the short screentime without resorting to over-the-top characterisation or design: the film doesn't make use of exotic hair colours and the characters are overall designed like Japanese persons. The characters don't have specific quirks and their personalities aren't fleshed out by exaggerated behaviours, but through a few pieces of dialogue making the characters naturally point out one another's way of speaking, for instance.
Unfortunately, the dialogue is where the anime reveals its limits. Both the foundation and the progression of the plot rely heavily on metaphysical concepts and attempts at philosophising – much of what the dialogue consists in. This is where the problem lies: if the writer's ideas are not conveyed with the clarity a novel allows for, or if said ideas are absurd or fallacious to begin with, the audience will have to disregard the role they play in the plot. The plot, in turn, loses both its foundation and the logic that links of its events. Regrettably, Fukan Fuukei falls victim to this issue: the film's philosophy turns out to be empty; the logic is often based on debatable premises; the questions asked are abstract and contrived, and the script fails to convey their actual relevance to the plot.
The futile complexity of the dialogue, however, raises a more praiseworthy aspect of this film. With such long-winded arguments, acting the script in a fitting way is difficult. However shallow may the dialogue be, though, the voice actors did justice to them. The very reason why the viewer can point out the hollowness of the script is because the voice actors managed to clearly express the different ideas.
What Kara no Kyoukai 1: Fukan Fuukei remains, in the end, isn't a film that manages to become the prose poem it sells itself as. However, it isn't a film that fails to draw the audience into its atmosphere either. Nor is it a film that fails to put to shame many another anime movie on the market. It's an unavoidable gem of the medium. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
When you watch Out of Sight, you need only five minutes to experience such feelings.
At the beginning, we are presented with the story of a girl walking down the street. Soon, the actual subject of the anime is set up: what would happen if said girl had her bag stolen, and her dog, looking on its own for the bag, was nowhere to be found? First and foremost, what would happen if the young lady was blind?
As might reveal the title, Out of Sight is the depiction of a blind child's wandering through the streets. However, this anime isn't a dramatic one, but rather a vivid, carefree and ultimately heartwarming rendition of the protagonist's life. In fact, the anime does depict the difficulties of being blind: this status makes the main character at the mercy of unscrupulous persons; and obviously, moving along the streets is shown not to be such an easy feat, as one is bound to eventually bump into obstacles such as trees.
But these hardships are never dramatised, and what remains of the five-minute experience is clearly not a sentimental piece of film; rather, Out of Sight is a wholly cheerful anime, full of hope, which isn't what one would expect of such a theme. Interacting with her environment is, in fact, an enchanting experience for both the little girl and the audience.
The first reason for this is that depriving the character from her sight allows for a clever and profound use of the other senses. The most exploited sense is unsurprisingly the touch, ingeniously associated with the hearing, by making the protagonist guess her surroundings by the sound they make when hit by her wooden stick. Smell also plays a role several times in the story; it is highly entertaining to see the character interpreting her environment, at times aright, at times fancifully.
More so fancifully than aright, which is what the anime gradually accentuates as the amount of sensory information increases, making the character's interpretation inevitably imprecise. As our protagonist becomes aware of the entire city, the depiction of said city becomes more extravagant, ending up downright inconceivable; the result of this is a masterful climax - an impressive achievement in a five-minute film.
This fanciful rendition of the setting wouldn't be so charming if the animation of this title wasn't so resourceful. Without being implausible, the atmosphere is purposely colourful, much more than the few scenes depicting the city as it actually is. The way the surroundings gradually appear or change as the protagonist discover them is also dynamic and aesthetically fascinating. In itself, the art is beautiful and appropriate as well; the character design is simplistic as per the simple narrative and basic characterisation involved, which is the most fitting choice for a short film. Although some shots come across as slightly flat, the city is nearly three-dimensional and the drawings, albeit simple, are magnified by the palette used.
The same praises can be made to the music, which beautifully emphasised the aforementioned climax of the story by being exactly as powerful as the shot it accompanies is meant to be. As expected of such a short film, the different pieces used are consistent, using an overall cohesive, catchy tune throughout the story.
This anime is only five-minute long, but it makes the most out of its allocated time, becoming in the end surprisingly meaningful. A definite recommendation, as even the more stubborn viewers will not fail to see (or sense) why Out of Sight is a remarkable anime. read more
7 of 7 chapters read
This short series relates the extraordinary events of the protagonist's otherwise perfectly mundane life. From meeting a girl claiming to be a parakeet, to witnessing the fog wrapping around a road, or discovering an astonishing sight by looking at a landscape with a particular perspective, Position is the tale of such adventures.
Since these experiences seldom happen, Position focuses on the few significant parts of the protagonist's life. This allows the manga to portray uncommon situations while keeping a certain sense of realism, at least to some extent. Most of the depicted happenings will look rather supernatural at first, to be in hindsight justified as in fact merely out of the ordinary. These occurrences are explained with justifications like the immense skill of an old man, a meteorological phenomenon, the magic of light angles, or even the haziness of a memory which is indirectly stated to have a masterfully handled metaphorical value.
However, this doesn't apply to all of the stories, unless we start making far-fetched interpretations. Even though Position could have been firmly tied to reality, it chose the path of supernatural in two of its instalments, making the reader more detached and less inclined to relate to the events. But since it only applies to a small portion of what Position has to offer, the rest of the series remains stunning, outlining extraordinary yet somewhat plausible happenings.
Focusing on particular sections of the protagonist's life from childhood to adulthood also allows the manga to transmit a nostalgic outlook on the memory of some of these stories. The conveyed feeling is very powerful and well supported by the manga's excellent writing. Like so, one of the stories is nostalgically regarded by the narrator, strengthened by skilfully limiting its position in time and setting: a little child's play in the forest, too dangerous for young kids, but too childish for adolescents. It's from these sorts of details that the writer's talent comes across.
The concerned memories are, furthermore, given the appropriate storytelling. In opposition to the other stories, the scenes are highly elliptic and the drawings illustrate the narration, whereas in the other chapters, the events are told in a deeply down-to-earth fashion and the narration exists on the contrary for the purpose of commenting the drawings from the character's point of view.
Each event is thus accompanied by the observing character's insightful thoughts, making the readers feel the scene as though they were the ones beholding it. In order to maximise the immersion in the series so as to make the readers appreciate the superb scenes, realistic and relatable characters are required; and even though Position counts a limited amount of pages, the author didn't make the mistake of using clichés in his character design and characterisation, the fastest but poorest way to make a character stand out within a series. The characters don't have significantly outstanding characteristics like catchphrases or fancy visual features like pink hair and recurrent outfits. Instead, the author optimised its use of pages by not forgetting to show a certain amount of interactions between the characters, and by sharing a sheer amount of their insights. The characters are gracefully portrayed, with realistic and ordinary yet charming designs and highly expressive faces, making it easy to read their feelings and identify with them when witnessing the different events taking place in Position.
The stories told in Position primarily revolve around the beauty of what is viewed. For that reason, even more than most manga, Position needed an appropriately solid art in order to illustrate the situations it narrates. Of course, as many would expect of the creator of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, the illustrations are formidable. One rarely sees such beautiful artworks, with flawless shadings and enticing landscapes. The drawings proficiently render different atmospheres: at times, you can almost feel the wind on your cheeks, the odour of the trees in your nostrils, or the quietness of the night.
The panels are decorated with lovely vegetations, sometimes clouds or mountains in the distance. This trick of drawing elements far off to beget contemplation on the reader's and the characters' part is used a couple of times in the series and works splendidly. Thanks to his impeccable sense of scale, the author offers majestic landscapes in which it is easy to lose oneself.
Three sets of pages are coloured and reading them is an especially delectable experience. Not only the coloured pages are even more awe-inspiring than the other drawings, their selection is also quite clever: each set of pages depicts a different aspect of our world, allowing the author to colour new situations and avoid redundancy. The first coloured pages thus render the beauty of nature, colouring much leafage, in accordance to the theme of the concerned story, a parakeet girl. The following one is centred on the city at night, using bluer hues and putting a stronger emphasis on lights. The last coloured story focuses on dusk, using somewhat sepia tones, and the choice to colour this passage was extremely pertinent because it permitted to emphasise the passing time by depicting the transition between afternoon and evening, which would have been trickier to achieve with normal drawings.
The illustrations are moreover not simply gorgeous, but also masterfully tied to the narration. The ultimate chapter puts an emphasis on the beauty of the unusual motionless stance of a particular object: for this purpose, the splendid scene is not only visually depicted, but textually animated. Relying on the readers' imagination, the motionless object is, through narration, described to stand amidst the perpetual motion of the grass otherwise impossible to portray genuinely dynamic, effectively reinforcing the crafted image. Furthermore, the narration adds a sound environment to the scene. The latter is described to take place near the sea, where the sound of the waves can be heard, once again strengthening the immersion in the manga.
Position tells beautiful stories, gripping in substance and excellent in writing. But they are mostly told through illustrations; which are splendid for the most part and exceptionally handled on a technical level. It is an exquisite series, perfect for fans of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou or for new readers seeking something short to discover the author.
Surely, telling stories through art is an admirable ideal. And this ideal was brilliantly achieved by Position. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
Accordingly, Hiromasa Yonebayashi brings his first film ever to the screen! Prepare to enter the universe of Karigurashi no Arrietty, in a timeless place cut off from the rest of the world where Shou will get the opportunity to escape the tiresome reality for a couple of days.
Akin to other deservedly successful films such as Eve no Jikan or the newer Hotarubi no Mori e, this sort of atmosphere provides Arrietty a genuinely enchanting feeling and is one of its strongest qualities. Most of the time, "soothing" series and films end up falling short because of a lack of ambition, yet Arrietty managed to achieve excellence by using fantasy concepts to flesh out its setting.
The idea of the depicting the world from a bunch of small critters' point of view has already been used several times in animation in general. One could name, amongst others, Toy Story or Cinderella by Disney, but in Karigurashi no Arrietty, this is particularly well done. The film depicts countless original and bewildering situations, holding the viewer's attention by constantly showing new ideas to detail its setting. Imagine yourself in a world where everyone is as tall as the Eiffel Tower, or where a whispering from my point of view would be a detonation from yours, where people pet bugs rather than dogs, and you will only begin to fathom out how fascinating life is for Arrietty.
The depiction of the world through Arrietty's eyes is skilfully supported by the film's astonishing art and animation. Apart from a couple of clumsy camera travellings, the animation in Arrietty is nearly impeccable. A considerable attention is given to details such as the way the water flows in the scaled down world of the Borrowers (perhaps the most gorgeous of all, but only one amongst many), and Arrietty's universe would not appear so captivating without the precision with which it is portrayed. The art itself is splendid, particularly the backgrounds: be it a greenery from the humans' garden, or a painstakingly decorated miniature chamber. Everything is breathtaking. In addition to this, the quality of the drawings is tremendously emphasised when seen through the Borrowers' small eyes, giving an overwhelming dimension to the characters' surroundings.
It can also be mentioned that while CGI is a real scourge in modern animation, its use in Arrietty was parsimonious and pertinent; as expected from Ghibli which already achieved flawless integration of CGI in 1997 with Princess Mononoke. They did a praiseworthy work mixing 3D and 2D animation in a couple of scenes, to the point of being nearly unnoticeable when not looking for it.
Some might have worried as to how Cecile Corbel's performance would compare to Joe Hisaishi's compositions form the previous Miyazaki films. Hisaishi being one of the better composers in the industry, this is perfectly understandable.
However, do not worry. Arrietty's soundtrack, in addition to boasting a unique musical style in anime, mostly revolving around a harp, is probably one of the most enthralling musical works ever heard in a film. Admittedly, Cécile Corbel's angelic performance does not have the merit of leading the story like Hisaishi's compositions manage to do, but rather acts as a background music, accompanying the story. Nevertheless, such a kind of music was the best way to magnify Arrietty's story.
Because if when substance in itself is to be regarded the film does have a lot to offer via how detailed its setting is, Arrietty's story, at least for the first half of the film, is rather laid-back, devoid of unexpected plot twists or significant dimensions, with close to no actual issues to solve. However, while this is not a bad thing whatsoever, considering how successful Arrietty was at carrying it out, when the film tries to become what it cannot become, when it tries to induct more issues than what it can solve, things start to become more problematic.
New issues begin to appear halfway through the film. However, these issues were one could say forced into the story: their source is an extra character who did not get enough screen time to be credible and whose hatred, which is what creates these issues, lacks any kind of justification. Moreover, the issues added to the scenario never end up solved, the film thus ends with an unfinished flavour, suggesting a possible sequel which exists in the books but will in all likelihood never be animated.
Besides, from that point on, a couple of plot holes can be noticed. At some point in the film, you will see a locked door being unlocked by magic, or the main character becoming aware of where the Borrowers live without explaining how he discovered them. Perhaps they originate from cutting parts from the novel upon which the film is based, since they could have been easily fixed, but it doesn't change the fact that they are here and slightly lower the quality of the scenario.
Ever since the cinema release of Nausicaa in 1984, it is a tradition in the studio to deal with ecological issues in their works. In that respect, Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most committed writers in anime and Arrietty abides by the tradition. However, the ecological message conveyed in Arrietty is regrettably lacking in subtlety. Its relation with the story is loose and they inserted it in the middle of a dialogue between the main characters perfectly out of context, as though they inserted it after writing the entire screenplay, which, as a matter of fact, seems to be the case. The moment the characters started pronouncing the lines in question felt fairly awkward.
Hence the rating of 7 for the story.
Ultimately, Arrietty remains a commendable film. With a flawless start and a somewhat clumsy yet agreeable second half, exceptionally enhanced by its production values. As Ghibli always ensures, Karigurashi no Arrietty can be recommended to everyone, children or adults, anime fans or not. Without a doubt, it deserves a watch.
And why not, perhaps someday you will also notice sugar cubes curiously disappearing, or hear the faint voices of people living their life in the corner of your room? read more