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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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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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Alas, even the animation style of Madhouse (whom I’ve favored ever since their work on Gunslinger Girl) can’t save this one. Recollections of a Certain Pilot (subbed by Taka and Thora) is a by-the-numbers war movie that barely holds your interest, but doesn’t do anything else besides that. Even more annoyingly, it starts off well and features a mind-screw non-ending. Along the way, there’s some cool scenes of the main plane, which looks very similar to Mustang P-41, for those of you down with WWII aviation. The music is there; the animation is good to very good, but not on the level of Ghibli. For a film, I thought Madhouse could have stretched themselves a little more. Anyways, there’s a few profanities, one suggestive scene, and a little gore (the main character, a pilot does get shot and then bandaged up). The only good thing is that the characters do make the right decisions when faced with temptations, although this is diluted by some stupid pacifist prayers. For the millionth time, Japan, killing is not wrong — murder (the unjustified taking of innocent life) is! People who fight in wars understand that losing your life and killing is part of the deal. Fighters are not innocents, so fighters cannot be murdered! For once, I’d like to see some manliness come out of a war anime. Sheesh!

If you are a fan of movies that you watch once and then return to the Redbox the next day, this is right up your alley. Recollections… is disposable film. Welcome to the graveyard.

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I’ve held off on posting because I hate to see a series crash and burn. Even more, I hate being taken for a ride (or admitting that I don’t know how to pick good series, whichever works). I think I’ll keep around the early episodes, though, because they were that good. In the end, the series went nowhere, not because of its pace, but because the writers didn’t have a map and so just made it up as they went along. It’s a real shame. Anyways, here’s the short OO guide.

* 1 — Ooh, this looks good. A post-apocalyptic fantasy world, with symbolism, excellently-detailed backgrounds, believable characters, and very little garbage. I’m in. The opening theme is half-good; the ending theme is mostly good. It starts off with heavy emotion, a black-and-white world with only a few spots of color.

2 — Again, the usual excellent artwork, good characterization, even if it’s a little bit stereotypical, a cool setting, and the past irrupts into the present. I wish they’d do more with the latter, but there’s no trash, no profanities, and it’s endearing. I’m not sure where the plot is going, but I’m afraid that it won’t add up to much. I’m not seeing any big conflicts on the horizon; a slice-of-life pace is nice, but I’m worried about the lack of dramatic tension.

3 — It’s only a bit much, but the dramatic tensions and the import of the episode are top-notch. I could have done without the profanities, though. You get a feel for the greater echoes of the series, here, and it’s soulful stuff.

* 4 — A little bit more subtle than last time. The grande past is again mysterious; charming innocence; character development, and a sense of the smallness of humanity and yet our importance in it all. This show has the real capacity to be wonderful; stekki, and this episode has it.

* 5 — This is wonderful. The past is an endless ocean subsuming the present; there is both glory and sadness in this; some character development (Kurehana has a crush), and we get to see the edgy side of Noel. No profanities; no trash. The pace is slow, here, and I don’t mind it — I just worry that nothing will have happened when we reach the end, you know those lame “return to the beginning” kind of plots.

6 — It’s still beautifully drawn, and the subplot of Yamina and the orphan girl is touching, but I’m not so sure about the whole thing that the army is making wine to sell to supplement their incomes. I guess it’s cool that they’re not constricted by the oppressive laws of the land, but on the other hand, it does seem dishonorable. Kanata is charmingly innocent as usual. The ending song grows on you.

7 – OK, the typical anime` fail begins. The show ends with moral relativism, embracing paganism along the way; well it’s worse than that, actually it states that there is no meaning in life, and therefore we can create our own meaning (self-deification). Whatever. The music is good; the characterization is a little off; the war scenes are cool, but if it’s all in support of selfishness, well, I just can’t hang with that. So you don’t want others to suffer? Wow, how noble; no-one wants to suffer!

8 – Not bad. A little risque material, but mostly it’s just slice-of-life and humorous.

9 – The series starts to swirl down the drain. Yes, this episode features arguably loli shots of girls in panties (not exploitative, but it never is at first), and the destruction of absolutes continues. This time it’s Kuraha-chan’s faith in the Desert Wolf. I’m pretty sure that the series will wrap up in some kind of typical Japanese metaphysical head-game. My interest in this show has dropped by 50%.

10 – Forgettable

11- Takes an anti-war turn with the typical facile argument “we’re all the same”. No, we’re not, and that logic has long since moldered into dust. I’m out.

Yes, there was a twelveth episode, but I couldn’t be bothered to watch it. Welcome to the graveyard, Sora No Woto.

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One thing I’ve discovered is generally anime` based on games are nothing but disappointment squared. Sure, there are exceptions, but Gunparade Orchestra, sadly, is not one of them. The structure of the series is to blame, because it starts over with a new set of characters every nine episodes, so by the time you’ve gotten to know Sara and the rest, it’s time to begin again. Not only that, but the characterization and plots get markedly worse after episode eight, so even if you stick around, there’s nothing to see. I understand now why Conclave stopped after ep. 8.

This leaves me in a strange position. I truly enjoyed the first chapter (ep 1-9) , but I couldn’t get into the rest of the series for the aforementioned reasons. So I’ll just give my short review of ep 1-9 and tell you where you can get them. Fair?

Gunparade Orchestra is, in the words of some anime` site I’ve forgotten, a mecha/comedy/drama/romance/slice-of-life series, and it’s one of the rare ones that works. The first nine episodes are more than competent. The animation is well-done, the music is used appropriately (and itself is better than average); the dialog is tight, and the characters, sharply defined and interesting. The Hard-boiled Penguin rocks! Additionally, the balance between serious emotions and humor is carried off effectively. It’s never artificial or unreal.

There’s usually a few profanities per episode if that, and only rarely something risque`. While there are no theological themes as such, God is referenced positively on a few occasions, and common themes are the importance of heroism, respect, life being about more than your job — putting first things first.

Ep 1 — Very good. You get to know Sara Ishida and are introduced to the dysfunctional company. A few unnecessary profanities. You have to do research or have watched Gunparade March to understand the world and the Phantom Beasts, though because the series assumes you’re already familiar with it. Alternately, you can watch the episode a few times. 🙂 The intro song is great.

Ep 2 — Very good. More background on Sara and mutiny simmers just beneath the surface. Tense ending. One profanity.

Ep 3 — Very good. Tense.

Ep 4 — Excellent. Emotional.

Ep 5 — Good. Origin of the phrase “muscles mean justice”. Several profanities but a dramatic (in the good sense) plot and emotional tension.

Ep 6 — Good. Interesting plot. The origin of the phrase “Total victory over public baths.” Humorous and victorious. One risque` scene, and more profanities than usual.

Ep 7 — Excellent.

Ep 8 — Very good. Several profanities, though. Tight plot, and the company finally comes to respect Sara’s leadership.

Ep 9 — Just OK. Long fight scenes can be boring and this one is. The very end is moderately good in that it provides some closure, but you still care about the characters and this is the last you’ll ever see of them — so in that sense, it’s the worst possible ending. Their story ends here.

Episodes 1-8: Conclave
Episodes 1-24: Gunparade Orchestra on isohunt

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