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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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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.


Intro

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.


Pion

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:
CR
HorribleSubs
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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I had such high hopes for this, after watching the first few episodes. It looked to be an steampunk/horror mix, although not as interesting as D-Gray Man. By episode sixteen, I was through.

Although I was no fan of the increasing profanity, what killed the deal was the fact that the mangkata behind the series had not planned out what was going to happen next. You know the deal. Mystery characters start showing up, and this redefines everything you’ve seen and experienced up until this point, because the guy was too lazy to use any foreshadowing. As a result, the series took a dive into soap opera land, where main characters become bad guys because, because, well, I dunno. With the plot on ice and the characterization gone, I was gone.

Now this series was never really deep and it was at times a bit too over-the-top with all the speech-making, but the characters sucked me in. Toshiko-san is pretty much what every geek guy wants in a girl: someone into the same stuff, and thus someone that gets him, and can respect him. The opening theme song shows this well: the two of them together charging hard at some off-screen enemy.

Ah well, another case of anime` fail. Welcome to the graveyard, Busou Renkin.

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Don’t waste your time with this one. It’s a predictable, mindless, and pointless SF story about two countries at war, and how royalty personages on each side are in love, but end up heading the war effort. It’s all standard anti-war stuff with no understanding as to why people would go to war in the first place. There’s nothing more juvenile than two lovers who can’t communicate and as a result thousands of people have to die. Romeo and Juliet, this is not.

Few of the characters induce any sympathy, which is the first big problem. The second is the paper-thin characterization; people do things without any explanation or motivation. So you’re watching a movie about characters you don’t care about who do things without reasons. If you tough it out, hoping that some point will emerge, even then you’re disappointed.

And the ending? What ending? It focuses on the tree, which people pray to give only good memories. The tree didn’t bring any good memories to the villagers who lived near it, to the main characters, or anyone else. I’m mystified why the tree matters when all the humans involved are dead, miserable, or turned to stone. (Done right, painted in the tones of pathos and doom, that ending would be totally ok! But that is not the point of this movie, because it never had a point.) It’s your typical Japanese mind-game non-ending.

The music is orchestral, except for two songs; it’s decent quality, but not memorable. The animation is fairly good for a mid 80’s/early 90’s work. As for garbage, there are some profanities, quite a bit of blood, and some gore. Paganism/druidism plays a minor role. Glacial plotting/pace, as you might expect. There is some passion towards the end when Izu offers to become the Ghost Ship captain, but that’s it as far as emotions go.

I can’t say that I’m impressed in any way — I just feel like I ate a big steaming bowl of “meh”. Then again, maybe I was expecting too much from Live-Evil. They have technical skill and translation skill (which is nothing to sneeze at), but they waste it on low-quality shows and movies. This is no exception.

Welcome to the graveyard, Windaria.

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Pale Cocoon displays, in twenty-two minutes, everything that is beautifully crushing about space and the past. The music is perfectly matched to the immense, gothic scenery, and the discovered record of a J-pop song is wistfully optimistic, like a doomed butterfly. The characterization here is simple without being simplistic, leaving much unsaid, yet communicating in subtleties. Pale Cocoon is deep, emotional, noble, pure, and at the end, ruefully ironic.

This short animated film is set in the not-so-distant future, where the earth has suffered a population explosion, necessitating escape. Honestly, that old Malthusian saw is the only weak point of the entire movie, but if you can suspend your disbelief over it (and it’s not really that important; it’s just the disaster that set things in motion), you’ll be home free. To say much of the plot would be to reveal too much, but the main characters work in the middle levels of an artificial world, recovering and restoring archives of the past.

Zero profanities, no gore, no sex, and positive mention of prayer.

Thanks to Brightslap Encoding.

Download from them, or at the torrent hole of your choice.

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What happens when you have a cool, head-trippy idea, but haven’t worked out the plot past the first two episodes? If you’re the people behind Stein’s Gate (or should I say “Stein’s; Gate” — what is up with that mangled punctuation?) you just go for it anyways. Most people watching won’t even notice that the last seven episodes are filler, especially if you throw in pervy jokes to cover up the lack of plot! You’re as good as rolling in the dough at that point.

Episode one was fascinating, freaky, odd and darkly humorous. The second episode was about 90% of the quality of episode 1, the third, 70%, and by the fourth episode I didn’t care if the series continued or not. Some anime`s fail catastrophically (like Dog Days, Miracle Girls, and Hana-Saku Iroha); others just suck from the start; but Stein’s Gate is a slow-motion fail.

In the end, the boredom caused by watering down the plot, the perviness, and the glacial pace just proved too much for me to handle. I should have known that any series dealing with time travel was destined to fail, anyhow! Like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai, Stein’s Gate failed as a series. If it had been a movie, it wouldn’t have reached the level of The Girl That Leapt Through Time, but it would have been fairly decent, I imagine.

Welcome to the graveyard, Stein’s Gate!

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