Posts Tagged ‘romance’

The Place Promised in Our Early Days: Beyond the Clouds (for this review, Beyond…) is a 90-minute animated movie by ComixWave. It takes place in the near future and is told in a bittersweet coming-of-age retrospective narration. It’s a soft SF setup that involves parallel worlds. All of these things appeal to me, which is why when they don’t work, I feel more let down than most, and Beyond… lets you down.

The overall problem with Beyond… is the usual lack of focus and editing that plague anime` movies; there’s simply not enough done to make it shine, and so it ends up as this less-than-stellar, but not altogether bad concoction. The material is often slice-of-life (which isn’t bad by itself), but it doesn’t crystallize moments and then use them to connect to the plot trajectory. Too many things are unexplained. [Warning: spoilers ahead!]

Take the loose connection between Sayuri and the parallel worlds, for starters. Then, why is it a problem if a parallel world overwrites a certain square mileage? How did they figure out that the tower was actually a weapon? What is the NSA doing in Japan (probably the most annoying stretch of all)? While I can understand that Takuya and Hiyakuri like Sayuri, that is always more suggested than shown. Yes, she’s supposed to be this soul out of time, but the movie doesn’t really make the case for it, or it’s just too subtle for non-Japanese people to get. Yes, there’s SOME work there by referencing the poet Miyazawa Kenji, but really, a movie needs to SHOW more. Why Hiyakuri falls for Sayuri isn’t really shown or explained, and the whole time you wonder why Takuya let her go; that’s not explained either. The movie concludes convincingly ending on a bittersweet note though, so points for that, but the plot, pacing, and editing are serious minuses.

The animation style is not photorealist, but a softer detailed style when it comes to scenery, vehicles, landscapes, and so on. The characters share the same color palette, and aren’t given the same level of detail, but it works and isn’t jarring. There are quite a few beautiful scenes of stilled time, and you almost get the experience of having been there, smelling the wind, and feeling the hot pavement beneath your feet. Very well done. The music is minimal except for the main theme, which is emotive but never really expanded; the closing song is haunting and the quality of the singer’s voice is excellent.

Emotionally, the movie collapses under the weight of its own sentiment. Even the retrospective narrated style doesn’t save it (and it actually has problems because the whole story isn’t told through Hiyakuri’s eyes, so why is he narrating something he couldn’t have experienced?). It’s often lovelorn for no purpose and descends into irritating mawkish sentimentality. Editing and a few different scenes would have saved it, and brought the other themes into greater relief.

Speaking of themes, the growing up theme works, the love theme frays (due to the parallel worlds and the hospital angles). War is mentioned just as something that people want to start for no real reason, and its cost is shown a few times, demonstrating a typical pacifist non-understanding of war. Positive and critical references to prayer and a single God appear, but these are strictly to gain human love. I don’t recall any profanities. Some arguably sensual shots occur here and there, but nothing overt. On the whole, nothing bad, but nothing monumental either.

Thora does a great job on the subbing. The font is easy to read, and even the song at the end is done (kudos!). They even did many of the signs so you can see what the narrator sees. The translation appears accurate, but I didn’t focus on that. I only watched it once and I might watch it again someday, but probably not — I just don’t have the interest to sit through the whole thing again.

Hunt your favorite torrent holes if you want it. I suspect it is actually available to buy, but not subbed or dubbed.

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Every so often a series comes along that is a haven, a resting place, a place of nourishing and respite where you catch a glimmer of something longlasting. Such a series stands out from the crowd the way that a single ray of light slices through an entire overcast sky. Chuunibyou Demo Kai ga Shitai is a series like that; it is heartwarming, innocent, hilarious, fragile, beautiful, real, and far, far, too short. I’ve put off writing about it because summarizing it meant an end to the dream.

Chuunibyou is the story of Rikka, who has a serious case of 8th-grade syndrome. What is that? Eighth-grade syndrome is the (over-)dramatic expression of living as your own self-created super-hero, at least that’s what it means initially. The problem is that she is an admirer of her next-door neighbor, who is one year older. He too was once in the grip of eighth-grade syndrome, but has abandoned it (mostly) now that he is in high school. Rikka has not.

The main characters are:

  • Rikka Takanashi (Wielder of the Tyrant’s Eye)
  • Tooka Takanashi (The Priestess) — Rikka’s older sister
  • Yuuta Togashi (Dark Flame Master)
  • Sanae Dekomori (Mjollnir Hammer) — Rikka’s faithful servant
  • Shinka Nibutani (Mori Summer) — Sanae’s foe
  • Kumin Tsuyuri — the nap girl
  • Isshiki — Yuuta’s friend, hopelessly in love with Kumin

The story charts, with tender detail and depth, the relationships between each of these characters as they get to know one another, and as the winds of romance whirl through their lives. There is character development in spades, and the plot flows from that, as they struggle to keep their club in good standing, and as the school year begins and ends.

I haven’t included a guide because each and every episode is worth watching, with the last four or so the best of all. However, if you want a feel for the show, check out the Chuunibyou Demo Kai ga Shitai Lite mini-episodes. If you can’t find them, then I’ve hosted episode #3 here.

There are rare bits of uncool material, and by rare, I mean a few seconds worth once in a while. For instance, two moments during the beginning and ending themes; profanity crops up now and again, but nothing blasphemous. There’s one non-serious reference to a black mass. Some risque material crops up with the same frequency, but it’s openly derided; no pervy camera angles in the series itself.


Sanae (Dekomori)

Highly recommended by OO.

Visit the following fansub groups or the torrent hole of your choice:

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In this series, the animation is pastel, non-photorealistic, and bright; the tone is sarcastic, cynical, and loaded with irony; the main character is a lowly UN mediator assigned as the interface point between humans and fairies. She works for her grandfather, and in many episodes, has an assistant to accompany her. (I don’t think she is ever named, oddly enough.)

Civilization is in ruins and people have returned to more of a medieval style of living — hunting and gathering. Electricity is rare, although cars are still around, and so is the dysfunctional UN. In short, “It’s the End of the World as I Know it, and I Feel Fine.” This is the world of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita — Mankind is in Decline.

Assistant and Mediator

First, the music. The intro theme song is a fantastic slab of alt-J-rock — catchy, emotive, upbeat, and sadly, not translated by any of the fansub groups. Check it out here. The ending theme song is a slower, atmospheric, ambient pop kind of deal that actually better captures the whole spirit of the show. The music throughout the show is atmospheric, often quite good, but not outstanding.


Second, the consistency. This series has a nearly-perfect setup combined with palliating graphics that put you at ease just so the knife can slip in. As you might expect, the writers don’t make the most of it. In fact, the episode quality is all over the place. For instance, episodes 1 and 2 are awesome; 3 is very lame; 4 is good, but 5 and 6 are a bit tired; you get the idea. It’s almost like the anime` picked random episodes from a manga, and the mangkata was trying to find his/her feet for 12 issues. The episodes connect to one another rarely, and there’s no character development to speak of. However, the main character’s past is explored and more of the world is revealed. It almost works, given the whole stilled time feel of the show.

So why do I enjoy this series? Simply because the episodes that are good are fantastic, there’s plenty of weirdness, the kawaii animation, the sarcastic dialog, and the refreshing themes. Episode 1 features potshots at the incompetent UN. Episode 4 explores the insane nature of much manga. Episodes 7-8 feature a time loop. Even the off episodes still have moments of hilarity and sarcastic insight; episode 5 features Pion, the kawaii robot girl, for instance.


Your Majesty, the Queen (note the Pocky plants!)

Jinru wa Suitai Shimashita is unique. It’s a breath of fresh air in a time where anime` tends towards the ho-hum and predictable. While another season would have been welcomed, even one season could have sufficed if the quality was consistent. As it stands, I can give this a guarded recommendation, but not a rousing or unreserved one. The episodes to catch are 1, 2, 4, 7, and 9. The others are at your own risk.

The following fansub groups did the best job:
Asenshi (Blue-ray specials)

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In three days, I watched all 26 episodes of RahXephone.

I was just recovering from being sick, and I had the free time (and admittedly, a low drive to do anything else), and I’m a real sucker for narrative once it gets going. Narrative makes me feel like I’m on a steam train with no way to stop or get off until the end of the line is reached. Now that I’m at the end of the line, I’m looking around in a dusty, mostly-empty town, with no money in my pockets, wondering, “Is this it?”

I’m not familiar with the source material, but this anime` has the quintessential adaption problem of “What to exclude?” 26 episodes showed that it included far too much material — that is obvious, yet, only one episode was truly filler. Not only that, but it included the wrong type of material to make the series work; boring metaphysical explorations made the cut, but revealing character motives and thoughts didn’t. As a result of the characters’ unjustified actions/motives, the series lost a lot of resonance. It felt assembled by force, hollow, and sadly superficial.

No simple summary is possible here, but the story revolved around Ayato — who he is, and what he becomes. For the genre, it’s humane mecha/SF, which means that most of the time, the emphasis is on the characters and not the battles. The battles rarely feel forced, and even those show the psychological side of the fight. This is neither your typical shonen battle royale, nor an emotionless Macross. There’s a fair amount of dystopia and genetics involved as well as heavy doses of romance and quite honestly, a bit too much sexual spice for my tastes. The latter element is rarely blatant, but more risque, and never important to the plot.

Early on, the dystopia feel is more prominent, and the music supports this excellently — an atmospheric, timeless minimalist jazz or passionate strings or solo piano pieces. Unfortunately, the music and the tone aren’t always in synch and its quality decreases by the later episodes. The writing is usually strong with a few episodes not quite as good as others. The animation is strong throughout. Bones is the animation house, and the style is a level of detail a few notches below their masterwork in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, but still enjoyable.

A better choice of source material would have explored the characters’ thoughts, which would have allowed us to really understand them. For instance, why is Makoto Isshiki such a jerk? Yes, he had a horrible childhood. That’s it? Why not show how he thinks, and how he justifies mistreating other people?

And why does Itsuki Kisaragi NEVER acknowledge the affections of Sayoko Nanamori? Sayoko is red-headed, intelligent (she’s a research assistant), and foxy as all get out! The guy completely ignores her and as a result, she ends up sleeping with Isshiki. I don’t get it. He works with a girl that had the hots for him day after day after day, and he never once asks her out? What prevents him? The series never really says.

The Foundation deserved more time and attention, too. As it is, I’d have to watch the series three times to get a better grasp on that aspect. That I don’t want to shows the fundamental flaw with Rah-Xepohone: it is not deeply resonant.

The sense of stolen time intimated so strongly by the music and the early episodes simply vanishes about episode 20, for no real reason, and that dystopic feel gets lost in an overcomplicated plot. The latter is typical with Japanese works, actually, and it is even satirized by Jinrui wa Suitar Shimashita. The meaningless Shintoistic indulgence doesn’t help, and the vague Christian implications don’t save it. All of this confusion and attention given in the wrong places makes the ending especially hard to swallow.

The two main characters, Ayota and Haraku, do end up happy. However, the happiness that they have is boringly ordinary (bordinary), that is made even more routine by the explanation of Ayota’s painting. This ending is completely unjustified by the previous 25 episodes; the Harry Potter movies resulted in a similar unconvincing ending. Was everything that occurred merely symbolic of the struggles of a relationship? All of the battles, maturation, injuries, anger, and self-sacrifice led merely to this? It doesn’t seem worth it.

RahXephone is at times, interesting, but the journey is not worth the effort. It is, in a word, unjustified.

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This is probably the best Studio Ghibli film, all things considered. It’s not the most emotional, but it is emotional; it’s one of the best drawn; the music is effective and it hits the late 1960’s vibe dead-on — and the ending song is awesome. The characters are sharply-defined; the pacing and the plotting are appropriate to the length of the film; it ends convincingly, and it celebrates in that characteristic Japanese way, the beauty of the past. Thematically, it is a poignant love story that leverages the past, a period romance if you will. No profanities, and no immorality. The only weakness is that it provides no eternal resonance, aside from a few nods to the great ideas of the past, late in the film. From Up on Poppy Hill isn’t iconic, but it is consistently good on (nearly) all fronts. It’s worth watching a few times.


Shun’s tugboat

The fansubbing is decent, but not excellent. For example, I noticed a few strange moments where the English translation is ruder than the Japanese. In one scene the literal Japanese is “Ok, see you!” and the translation is “Suit yourself.” But the FSG did capture the essential spirit of the dialog. I’d be interested to see if anyone else translates this and what their take is.

Fansubbed by NODLABS. Download from the torrent hole of your choice.

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Millennium Actress is a recounting of the life of the actress Chiyoko, whose acting years spanned from pre-World War II Japan to the late 1970’s, and whose films established the Ginei movie studio. It is a tragic and heartbreaking story, that takes a while to get started before it becomes great, and then it becomes transcendent.


It begins with wistful blending of the past and the present, and is told largely as an interview with the actress, as she recounts her movies, and her life; the two blur into this semi-real, semi-fantasy state. At times it’s confusing due to the way that the interviewer (a director) and his cameraman sidekick are interacting with her past self, the interviewer’s past self, and whether they are reciting lines from a movie or speaking as themselves. This does capture Chiyoko’s mental state, though, and keeps the movie interesting, so my hat is off to the director and the writer for this ingenious device.

The language is largely clean and only a handful of profanities crop up; no gore; no sexual trash. Chiyoko is a wholly sympathetic character, and the director is as well. The score is supportive and doesn’t suck. In fact the main theme is memorable and fits the movie perfectly. The ending song is also good. The animation style is detailed enough without needing to be photorealistic, and you can tell that it was done with care. It’s not everywhere detailed, but detailed where it counts. It’s comparable to a mid-period Ghibli release, I’d say. The animation house is Madhouse. Kudos!

The story becomes quicker paced in the last fourth as various threads are sewn together; if you can make it this far, it is worth the wait. This brings the emotions home and you are struck by the sorrowful weight of it all. Subsequent viewings allow you to appreciate its depth more than a single viewing does.

The conclusion I’m not sure I agree with, and I’m not sure that even Chiyoko herself really believes it — how could you chase a guy for over half a century and then state what she does? But the ending otherwise is beautiful, and comes close to brushing the face of God without saying as much.

I don’t know if this movie parallels Japanese history, if it is loosely based on it, or if it is completely fictitious. In any case, it’s definitely worth watching if you have an hour and half to spare. I guess this has been licensed because a few days after I downloaded it from Tokyo Toshokan, it completely disappeared. If you can find it, it’s worth watching. It’s probably even worth buying.

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A blog I read somewhere wrote that this movie showed what animation was capable of. While there are some interesting scenes here, visually, Paprika is not a visual tour-de-force; it’s not even all that weird for those of us who have seen enough anime`; there’s nothing earth-shattering about the plot, the theme, or the music. Really, once you consider all its elements separately, Paprika only adds up to a letdown. Madhouse did a better job here than they did with Recollections of a Certain Pilot, five years later, but they’re still miles from Gunslinger Girl (v1).

The plot is that a research team has developed a device that allows you to see into people’s dreams. The device gets stolen and then it’s a mind-melding chase to find and stop the perpetrator, as reality and dreams collide and invade one another. Along the way there’s some character growth, and it all ends well. That’s it.

According to the trailer (scroll down for it), this movie is rated R, and there is some nudity (artistic, not exploitative), one up-skirt shot (completely unnecessary), and what I can only describe a mind-rape scene. You are warned. Profanity — there’s probably about ten words or so, but it wasn’t translated by the fansub, for some reason. Theologically, it’s your typical animism/moral relativity sort of deal, although it does laud honesty and fidelity. Arguably, there’s some play-up of sleeping around, but it frowns on homosexuality. I’m surprised the last was even allowed IN to the film given how PC everything has become, even in Japan.

Just because a film does a few interesting things visually doesn’t excuse it from the need for all the other things that make a film worthwhile. Welcome to the graveyard, Paprika.

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