Category: Anime & Animation

A film that is about children is not necessarily a film for children. The live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are is more a reminiscence on the beauty and horror of childhood (as well as divorce) than it is something specifically meant to entertain kids. While it may have elements that appeal to children, I still contend that Toy Story 3 was truly meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by those who were children when the first film came out. A tragic meditation on the horrors of war and the human consequences of decisions like fire-bombing a small sea-side town does not seem like fodder for your typical children’s film. However, the legendary Studio Ghibli (Howl’s Moving Castle) took that risk and it surely paid off. For if Grave of the Fireflies isn’t one of the most emotionally powerful animated films you’ve ever seen, you may be broken on the inside.

Grave of the Fireflies isn’t just one of the best animated films I’ve seen; it is one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking war films ever made. Set in the waning days of World War II, Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) and Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi) are orphans who lost their mother in the fire-bombing of Kobe, Japan. Their father is in the navy but it is unclear whether he is alive or part of the annihilation of virtually the entire Japanese fleet. It doesn’t matter. You never see or hear from him. Although Seita and Setsuko are originally allowed to live with an aunt, her greed and uncharitable attitude towards the two children (Seita is  a young teenager. Setsuko is four five) to run away and attempt to make it on their own. Though they are able to find sustenance at first, it becomes quickly apparent that Seita and Setsuko won’t be able to make it on their own.

This is not a children’s movie. Although the film’s director claimed during it’s release that it was meant to be a reminder to Japanese youth (who in the 80s were experiencing record levels of juvenile delinquency) of the tragedies that befell their parents and grandparents, this is an anti-war film through and through. Children’s movies don’t generally cause the viewer to have his hands over his face in horror for the entire film. Children’s films may make you cry (The Iron Giant, Toy Story 3, Up), but they don’t leave you feeling nearly dead inside when the film is done. Grave of the Fireflies was heart-wrenching to the point that it caused me physical pain to watch the movie. Not since The Road have I sat through a film so emotionally powerful. If the notion of two children struggling (and failing) to survive in war-torn Japan sounds tough to bear, it’s cause it will be. I’m crying writing about the film.

Grave of the Fireflies joins that rare breed of film which offers almost nothing in the way of “entertainment” and is instead meant to horrify and educate its viewers. It sends a very potent political message (even if the screen-writer/director claims that wasn’t his intent), and if you’ve ever celebrated the U.S.’s actions in Japan during World War II, this film will remind you of the human costs of that victory. When you discover that most of the film is a true story (it’s an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel), it becomes nearly too real to handle. The film is full to the brim of tiny details that speak to the real-life horror that the novel’s author, Akiyuki Nosaka, suffered along with his sister and countless other Japanese orphans who fell through the cracks during the last months of the war. Along with Das Boot, it is one of the only war films that completely avoids any accidental glorification of war. It is pure horror.

The film’s animation is stunning. Whether it’s capturing the horror of the bombings, the physical degradation that Seita and Setsuko suffer due to malnutrition, or the rare moments of beauty the film offers, the animation always complements the action on screen. The film uses a recurring firefly visual motif which represents the impermanence of life (it’s both a Japanese cultural symbol as well as a visual concept that is readily apparent even to cultural outsiders), and the fireflies show up in one of the rare uplifting moments of the film (which is of course subverted shortly thereafter to break your heart again). Seita and Setsuko have moved to a small shelter inside a hillside. It’s dark and Setsuko is scared so Seita captures dozens of fireflies in a pot and releases them into the cave (which they can’t leave because of mosquito nettings). It’s simply a gorgeous and happy moment which are fleeting and rare, and the film instantly reminds you what kind of movie you’re watching when Setsuko has to bury them all in the very next scene.

The film also makes great use of color and moments of visual poetry that transform the scenes from simple visual representations of what happened Nosaka’s life into something more artistic. Without wanting to spoil some of the more tragic aspects of the film, the movie makes great use of tinting and color-wash to let us know what events are occurring and when moments are perceived more as spiritual and ethereal. The film’s score is also hauntingly effective as there’s a moment towards the end of the film where Seita and Setsuko’s suffering has become total where you see a different family return to their home, unbroken and with all of their belongings (and family) intact, and their record player sets off a gut-wrenching version of “Home Sweet Home.”

If I had to look for flaws in the movie, the obvious one is that Setsuko and Seita are never actually characterized. Instead, they’re meant to be the ultimate sympathetic constructs for the viewers to imprint their heartbreak and horror on. Some might accuse the director of trying to manipulate the audience’s emotion, but since so much of the film is true, he can avoid that charge. This film, once and for all, settles any debate as to whether or not anime can be considered the equal of the “purer” art of live-action cinema (or Western animation). Considering that this film is a truer and more unbearable representation of war than many so-called serious, live-action war films, I think the conversation is pretty much moot. Everyone needs to watch this movie, regardless of how you feel about anime. My only recommendation is that you have several boxes of tissues handy. You’re going to need them.

Final Score: A

Neon Genesis Evangelion. Just the mention of the series is sure to prompt a massive debate between anime fans. The only anime series to garner more critical attention and scholarly analysis is the universally loved Cowboy Bebop, and Neon Genesis Evangelion is equally likely to prompt fans to call it the greatest anime of all time as it for it to cause its detractors to name it an over-rated, pretentious, and muddled mess. I’ve only watched about half of the series in the past so I don’t have a stake in this debate though my initial impression of the show was that it was one of the most starkly psychological and character-driven anime series that I had ever watched. Studio Gainax is responsible for two of the anime series I’ve reviewed so far, FLCL and Gurren Lagann. Those series are marked as the happier and angst free alternatives to the depression and alienation driven stories of Neon Genesis Evangelion (which was made at the height of creator Hideaki Anno’s own personal battle with depression). While the dark and dismal tone that propels much of the action of NGE is potentially not for everyone, for people that are searching for an intelligent and well-written alternative to your average shonen fighting program, NGE should be right up your alley as it manages to deconstruct every aspect of the mecha subgenre of anime (at least until it became the trope codifier of mecha shows) and crafts a remarkable cast of characters that feel more alive and memorable than nearly every other anime out there.

The basic premise of Neon Genesis Evangelion is a near future Earth where a cataclysmic event known as the “Second Impact” (which hasn’t really been explained yet) wiped out a large amount of the Earth’s population and caused drastic climate change and upheaval. Earth has slowly started to recover, and in the city of New Tokyo-3, the U.N. funded agency known as NERV has been tasked with protecting what remains of humanity from a mysterious alien force that has been attacking over the years. Known as Angels, these eldritch abominations can’t be stopped by conventional weapons and only the top secret robots known as Evangelion (or EVAs for short) can defeat them. 14 year old Shinji Ikari is called to Tokyo-3 by his father, the head of the Evangelion project (and a man Shinji hasn’t spoken to in years), to pilot one of the EVA units and fight off the alien forces invading Earth. Shinji isn’t a trained soldier. On the contrary, he’s just a kid (and an emotionally scarred one at that). When tasked with the defense of humanity, Shinji breaks down and refuses his call to arms. Only when he realizes that the alternative is another 14 year old, a girl so physically broken that she can no longer walk, does Shinji step into the EVA unit. Once again, not trained in how to fight, Shinji freezes in battle and is demolished by the first Angel he encounters. After his mind completely snaps under the stress of battle, the EVA seemingly acts on its own and saves Shinji’s life (and that of everyone in Tokyo-3) by defeating the Angel.

Serving alongside Shinji in NERV (besides his estranged father) are Captain Misato Katsuragi, Doctor Ritsuko Akagi, and Rei Ayanami. Misato is Shinji’s direct superior in the EVA program and the only one who understands just how deeply broken this child is. Though Misato intentionally puts forth a ditzy and laid back demeanor, she’s a serious alcoholic and is as prone to troubled inner monologues and angst as Shinji. Recognizing the kindred spirit (in terms of pain) she has in Shinji, they quickly become room mates so that Shinji won’t have to live on his own in this town (because his father wants nothing to do with him besides using him for work). Ritsuko is one of the head scientists of NERV. She’s been given the least character development so far. As of yet, she seems to only be a cynical and cold woman. Rei is the only other EVA pilot besides Shinji. If Shinji is a scarred and emotionally fractured child, Rei is a vase that’s been thrown against the wall and completely shattered. Outside of her work as an EVA pilot, she speaks to absolutely no one at the school that she and Shinji attends and appears capable of displaying absolutely no emotion except when it comes to Shinji’s father. While Shinji’s dad cares absolutely nothing about his son, he has been willing to risk injury to protect Rei, and the only time that Rei has shown any emotion the entire series is when Shinji insulted his father and Rei proceeded to slap Shinji.

The show is absolutely rife with religious and psychological symbolism to the point that if you freeze frame any of the more important moments of an episode, you’re liable to notice at least one bit of Freudian sexual symbology or Christian iconography. In the opening credits alone, you see the Kabbalah symbol of Sephiroth (which to be fair was also heavily used in Full Metal Alchemist) and whenever the first Angel is finally defeated, you see a giant cross (on several different occasions). Shinji is accosted by the severed head of his EVA unit early on (these machines take a serious beating) and if I wasn’t supposed to see vaginal symbolism when its eye first opened, then I might need to see a shrink about reading too deeply into scenes. Sexuality is in fact one of the larger themes of the series (though it hasn’t gotten quite as apparent at this point), and the painful awkwardness of Shinji going through his own sexual awakening cna be very difficult to watch. However, the most prominent themes of these opening episodes are alienation and the psychological costs of being a child soldier. There’s an entire episode which centers around Shinji totally running away from his own responsibilities and riding around trains and buses and the countryside in total and debilitating despair. By the time Shinji fights his second Angel, he’s basically a shell of a child who does everything asked of him without question (0r any emotion) and goes absolutely bat-shit crazy on an Angel when his fight or flight instincts finally kick in. Many anime have used the “determination” aspect as a way to show a sudden increase in skill or fighting ability. NGE completely deconstructs this plot device by showing just how damaged someone becomes when they are constantly pushed to these types of breaking points.

As much as I love the show’s story to this point (it’s one of the most mature anime of all time [and by mature I mean intelligent and thoughtful]), it’s animation could have used some work. This series is notorious for the fact that by the end of the show’s run, it had completely ran out of money, and the last several episodes featured many recycled shots and long still images rather than actual animation. While the series original episodes don’t have this problem quite as obviously and the major action sequences look totally awesome (it’s great that hte show can combine psychological drama and giant robots fighting), a healthy portion of any given episode is you looking at the exact same image for around half a minute while you hear copious amounts of exposition or character development. While some of these long stills look great from an artistic perspective, it sorts of draws attention to the fact that I’m watching a cartoon rather than immersing myself in the show’s world. NGE‘s plot is better than Full Metal Alchemist ever could be (and that’s my second favorite anime that I’m dissing) but at least FMA‘s art (in Brotherhood) always had my jaw on the floor about how beautiful the show looked. The character models in NGE look good from a conventional classic anime point of view, but there’s still nothing remarkable about this show’s art like there was with later Gainax programs like FLCL or Gurren Lagann.

If you’re an anime fan and you haven’t already watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, you need to go ahead and make it a priority. This is a great and challenging program (so far). Most of the controversy surrounding the fan (and what causes the divisions between its haters and its fans) doesn’t arise til closer to the series end, and I’m nowhere near there yet. As it is, Neon Genesis Evangelion remains one of the anime series (alongside Cowboy Bebop) that doesn’t make me feel guilty about still being a bit of an otaku even though I’m 22 years old (and just two months shy of being 23. shiver…). It’s smart and entertaining. You really can’t ask for more. And ever since Gurren Lagann, well-written programs about robots fighting other giant robots/creatures/aliens feeds directly on a strange pleasure principle. The only reason why you may not appreciate this show is if you haven’t seen any of the mecha shows that came before it. This series completely eviscerates so many of the genre conventions of those programs but unwittingly became the standard bearer for all future giant mecha shows. So, if you’ve only seen the robot programs that came after, you may not realize just how influential this program really was. Regardless though, this show deserves the attention of all anime fans who still haven’t somehow discovered this seinen classic.

Final Score: A-

Thanks to the disproportionate popularity and public awareness of programs like Dragon Ball Z, Gundam, Bleach, and Naruto, anime has developed a reputation of being nothing more than children’s programming where super heroes and robots use martial arts, explosions, and more sheer determination than you can shake a stick at to save the world from nondescript threats. How many people have been dis-swayed from watching a Hiyao Miyazaki film because they think all anime is the same, even if, in reality, Miyazaki makes some of the most beautiful children film’s this side of Pixar? How many people refuse to watch Cowboy Bebop, the best space western/space noir prior to Firefly, because they don’t think anime is actually capable of being artistically significant? The answer is far too many people. While even I enjoy the occasional action based anime like Gurren Lagann or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, it’s the wide variety of the genre that really draws me in. Following an unconventional coming-of-age tale with a heavy lean towards science fiction, 2004’s The Place Promised in Our Early Days is another anime feature film that completely defies genre expectations while simultaneously providing an interesting (if perhaps too complex and confusing) tale to entertain the audience.

Set in an alternate Earth history where Japan was split into two after the second World War, with Japan controlling half the country and the United States the other half, The Place Promised in Our Early Days is a personal and emotional tale of friendship, love, and the forces that keep us apart. Set in the late 1990’s of this alternate timeline, we are introduced to Takuya and Hiroki, two young Japanese middle-schoolers that discover a downed drone aircraft and decide to rebuild it, in order to reach a nearly infinitely tall tower that grows in the American section of Japan. The boys befriend a strange girl named Sayuri (who may or may not have visions of the future) and together, the trio spend the summer working on their plane and being happy children. However, one day, Sayuri mysteriously disappears, and for three years, the boys not only hear from Sayuri, they grow apart from each other. Takuya becomes a scientist for the government while Hiroki remains in high school. Suddenly, the possible presence of Sayuri, the beginning of World War III, and other forces begin to draw Hiroki and Takuya back together so they can save Sayuri and possibly the world.

Before I get into some of the areas where I felt this film stumbled (which were unfortunately numerous), let me talk about some of the things I loved. First, the artwork in this film was absolutely gorgeous. You would be forgiven if you thought you had stepped onto the set of a Hiyao Miyazaki film or any other Studio Ghibli production. The artwork is that good. There aren’t a ton of different animations in the film. Instead the strength of the art relies on the absurdly gorgeous landscapes. The attention to detail is just astounding, and there were times when I would just want to pause the movie and appreciate the rolling hillsides or beautiful sunsets. This was one of the prettiest animes to look at that I’ve seen in a while. Similarly, the characters themselves are quite expressive and while they look like your traditional anime school children, there’s something about the way they’re drawn that lends the character styles something indescribably unique.

Also (and this is a compliment), you could also be mistaken that Hideaki Anno had taken a break during Neon Genesis Evangelion to write something a little more uplifting and positive that still bears his trademark of deep and never-ending personal angst and ennui. A significant portion of this film consists of narration by Hiroki describing his deep depression and anxiety in the years since he lost contact with Sayuri, who he loved. Similarly, Sayuri (who for fear of spoiling the film’s science fiction conceits) delivers her fair share of emotionally laden monologues against a gorgeous but desolate dreamscape that could have stepped out of a film David Lynch made for children, but he also made the conscious decision to keep making things strange as hell. Alongside Neon Genesis Evangelion, this was definitely one of the most intensely psychological anime I’ve ever watched, though over the course of the film’s 90 minute running time, I did find myself wishing for more time to spend getting to know these characters who were still frustratingly ill-defined at the film’s end.

However, the actual plot of the film (as opposed to the deep characterization of its protagonists) was vague and sort of confusing at best and intentionally unclear at worst. I’m willing to attribute part of this problem to the manner in which I saw this film which was on my Instant Queue on Netflix. I watched the English dub, and I’m willing to bet that something was lost in the localization and that the Japanese text which popped up occasionally in scene transitions (and the scenes themselves at times) which wasn’t subtitled at all caused me to lose some of the story. However, I also think that at the film’s core there was simply a science fiction story which meshed in an incredibly uncomfortable with the otherwise painfully realistic coming of age tale that was the beating heart of the film. The film doesn’t resolve a lot of the sci-fi technobabble that accompany some of its seemingly most important scenes. Similarly, the ending is exceptionally vague and confusing, and I’m still completely unsure as to what really happened there. It’s as if I loved half of the film’s plot and equally loathed the other half.

My other major problem with the film was the really bad voice acting in the English dub, with the exception of Hiroki’s voice actor. Takuya sounded like he was in his mid-40’s (as opposed to being a middle/high schooler), and Sayuri embodied virtually every high-pitched/obnoxiously feminine quality I despise in female anime voice acting (Faye Valentine is legitimately the only great female voice in all of anime). I can’t really blame the movie for that too much because anything outside of Studio Gainax or Cowboy Bebop has this problem in spades. It’s endemic of the whole anime industry. I love Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (it’s my second favorite anime ever), but I’m physically incapable of watching the English dub because the voice acting is so awful (save Ed). Hiroki’s voice actor was great though and really sold all of his personal anguish and depression. It was heart-breaking to listen to his little speeches because they felt so real and personal. It was a very intimate performance.

One last positive note before I end my extended ramblings on this film. The soundtrack is hauntingly gorgeous. There are two moments where the characters play violins that will stay with me for a long while, and the whole film is filled with beautiful musical moments like these. All in all, this is a movie made for those grown-ups like myself who hate having to defend their love of anime to uninformed individuals who don’t get just how much the genre has to offer. Even if you’re not a fan of anime but like psychological coming-of-age stories, I can also recommend this beautifully intimate tale (though the sci-fi story tacked on drags that whole production down). It’s not perfect, and while it wasn’t the masterpiece you’d seem come from Studio Ghibli, it is the definition of scenery porn as anyone with the slightest appreciation of art will probably eat up every scene and the core story of friendship is achingly tender. It has deep flaws, but the parts that work more than make up for the rest.

Final Score: B+

The vast majority of anime are based off of manga series, and it is on the rare side for an anime to be made after the manga has finished its run. Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece are incredibly long-lived anime series that are based off of manga that are still running. What happens the most during these shows is that the anime will fill the series with filler while it gives the manga time to sufficiently jump ahead of the anime. Hence, this is why Goku would take several episodes just to power up his spirit bomb or the fact that the show was on Namek for legitimately 80 episodes. However, some series take a different approach. Rather than waiting to catch up with the manga, they create an entirely new storyline for the show to follow as they eventually diverge with the manga‘s canon at some point. The original Fullmetal Alchemist took this approach and this is also the approach Soul Eater has taken as well. I only bring this up because these last couple of episodes have had a distinctly different feel from earlier episodes and I can definitely see where this is caused by different writers.

Medusa’s surrender to the DWMA was short-lived as it was simply a ploy for her to pit the DWMA versus Arachnophobia as well as to complete Stein’s madness to complete insanity. She offered the DWMA the location of the kishin Asura as well as Arachnophobia in exchange for her freedom and a promise that the DWMA would leave her alone. Crona and Marie set off to defeat Medusa anyways since they are no longer part of the school. The rest of the DWMA heads to Arachnophobia’s headquarters to finally defeat Arachne and Asura. At the last moment however, Maka decides to join with Marie and Crona since she can’t believe that Shinigami-san could ever let someone as evil as Medusa free. During the fight against Medusa, Crona sacrifices himself (although he lives) to save Maka and firmly places himself on the good guys’ team. After Marie cures Stein of his madness, Maka uses Genie Hunter again to finally defeat Medusa who leaves with the cryptic warning that they’re still not strong enough to stop Asura.

This disc had plenty of plot and besides Maka’s angst about Lord Death releasing Medusa, it was fairly devoid of filler. The closest thing it had to a filler episode was when Kid ent to a city to find the very last magic tool. However, this episode did commit what i feel is a cardinal sin of comic books/ anime. Unless you’re Gurren Lagann, and you’re entire universe is guided by the rule of awesome, please do not suddenly give your characters new powers without explaining where they came from. This is called deus ex machina, and it’s a crutch for bad writing. While we had seen Genie Hunter before, it was never explained that it could expel spirits from the body of those possessed or that it destroyed all evil it touched. Also, the way that Marie cured Stein’s madness was from the same principle. We had never seen her use a single one of her powers and she is a Death Scythe so she’s very powerful, but it would have been easier to swallow that whole sequence if we had seen her do something similar earlier in the series.

I’m kind of excited that Soul Eater is drawing to a close. School is starting up in a week, and I just don’t have time to be reviewing three TV shows at once (not counting the ones I’m reviewing as they air which makes the number six). I should finish Soul Eater and Buffy literally right after each other. And after that, I’m sticking to one show on DVD at a time. It’s all I’ll have time for. I’m trying to make up my mind about whether the next show should be Twin Peaks or Angel. I’m possibly Jossed out at the moment, so I may decide to visit the crazy mind of David Lynch. Anyways, here’s to hoping that Soul Eater closes its page with as epic an ending as humanly possible.

Disc Score: B

Alright, all of the worries I had last disc have been assuaged. The show spent nearly 7 episodes not doing anything particularly significant, but we had a pay off, as we got three episodes of an epic, large-scale battle, and then three equally good episodes exploring what’s happening at the DWMA now that the battle is over. The series is drawing to a close, and I only have one season left with 12 episodes to go. I didn’t think I could enjoy a typical shonen series as much as I have Soul Eater, although I think it’s unfair for me to call this series typical. Whatever it is, we’re entering the end-game of the series. I’m still not entirely sure what in the hell is happening anymore, but I’m firmly along for the ride, and I want to see all of these bad-ass kids save the world one last time.

This disc begins with the gang going on a dangerous mission to “Lost Island”, a once beautiful island paradise that was destroyed in magical explosion and is now a snow-covered wasteland. They are after one of the magic tools that both Arachnophobia and the DWMA are searching for. The magic tool is nestled in a magnetic field in the middle of the island that is in fact some sort of weird time warp to before the explosion. Anyone stuck in the magnetic field for more than 20 minutes is stuck in the time loop forever. The kid meisters head in against Stein’s orders to rescue Stein and Marie and fight the weird little guy named Mosquito. They fail to recover the magic tool, but Arachne doesn’t get it either. However, Medusa actually found it first. Stein has officially lost any semblance of sanity he ever had as the snake Crona sneaked into his body is completely robbing him of his sanity. Crona finally fesses up to what he did to Stein, and Death may or may not be expelling him from the DWMA. Also, the disc ended with Medusa “surrendering” to the DWMA.

All of the fights on Lost Island were bad-ass. In addition to the main three meisters being there, there were also three other meisters who served as the defensive line while Maka, Black Star, and Kid went to rescue Stein and Marie. Their cool abilities and weapons made me wish that maybe we had seen a little bit more of them through out the series. Sure, Ox is a loser but he’s kind of a bad-ass in battle. Also, last disc, the gang learned how to resonate their souls together to be even more powerful, and we finally got to see that in action with the fight against Mosquito. Soul had to work with that creepy demon that lives in his subconscious to do it, but when they were all powered up, they kicked so many different shades of ass. Kid was shooting Mosquito up like something out of a John Woo picture. Black Star was moving around faster than Bruce Lee on cocaine, and Maka and Soul upgraded witch hunter to the even more impressive genie hunter. The fight was so awesome. Also, I just really loved the touch of Soul’s creepy piano playing during the fight. It was a nice aesthetic counterpoint to the violence. I just wish the show was relying less on MacGuffins. I really hate MacGuffins.

Maybe Soul Eater doesn’t have the most original plot on the planet. That’s a completely valid point. It’s definitely a typical shonen anime in that regard. However, I feel the series distinguishes itself (besides from the art and character styles which I talk about constantly) through a healthy sense of characterization. I think about how much Black Star used to irritate the hell out of me when he first showed up, but after his big episode this disc, he’s grown on me a lot. I see why he’s so determined and gung-ho. Maka has grown up a lot too over the course of the series, but I liked her a lot at the beginning. I mean, this is no Fullmetal Alchemist but it makes no pretensions of being as such. This show is meant to be fun. It is. Therefore, it succeeds. I’m excited to see how it ends. I’ll probably read the manga since I’m at the point now where the show diverges considerably from the manga source material.

Disc Score: B+

So, I would have finished this review yesterday, but my dad and sister paid a surprise visit to Morgantown, and Nicole ended up spending the evening at my apartment (hence why I watched Take Me Home Tonight). Anywho, It wasn’t until 10 this evening that I was back here in Morgantown after driving Nicole home and back that I felt settled in enough to get started on productive things like blogging. The last two discs of Soul Eater that I reviewed, so basically almost all of Part 2, were very arc-driven and heavily serialized. There was very little in the way of filler. Most of the disc dealt with the battle underneath the DWMA and the fall-out of that fight. The first part of the series had some story stuff, but there was nearly as much (if not more) of  an emphasis on filler, which admittedly is the plague of almost all shonen anime. While this disc was about half story, it was also about half filler, and as I’m finding myself confused about what exactly is happening in the story stuff and not caring about the filler, it was difficult to really engage myself with this disc (although two fantastic episodes raised its overall score).

The last disc ended after the battle between Medusa’s forces against Stein and the main meisters and weapons of the show. The kishin Asura escaped his prison and is now spreading his madness throughout the whole world. One of the way’s that his madness manifests is that it awakens powers and evil that had lied dormant for centuries. The last episode of the disc had Maka, Soul, and Crona heading off towards the Czech Republic to battle golems. It turns out this golem houses the soul of an ancient and evil witch who has now finally manifested back to her old form. This is Arachne who is competing with Medusa and Asura for the series Big Bad at the moment. Before Stein chopped her in half, Medusa spit out part of her soul which has now attached itself to the body of a little girl, and Medusa is trying to regain her former powers. The story aspects of the disc followed the students as they try to stop Arachne’s forces from acquiring these things known as magic tools which are needed for something known as the book of Eibon. I’m not really sure what’s going on. I think the book of Eibon is some all-powerful MacGuffin, but I could be wrong. Also, Stein is losing his god-damned mind.

I was just having a ton of trouble getting into this disc. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it was. However, there were two great episodes. For one, Crona is now a student at the DWMA. We got an episode where he is forced to choose between his loyalties to his new friends and his mother Medusa, who has returned from the dead. We got a fairly tragic look at the mind-set of this incredibly damaged youth. That poor boy has more mommy issues than the kid’s in Mommy Dearest. Also, we got the third Excalibur episode of the series. Excalibur finally finds a meister who can put up with his 1000 provisions, and we finally get to see just how ridiculously powerful Excalibur is. Once again, like the other two episodes, this one was hilarious. Excalibur is such a minor character on the show, but I know anytime that he shows up that I need to prepare myself for plenty of gut-busting laughs.

The disc ended with the three meisters learning how to resonate their souls together for even more awesome power, so hopefully, there’s going to be some kick-ass fights to show just how bad-ass Maka, Death the Kid, and Black Star are when they work together. Also, I just feel like the show has been laying the pieces for what should hopefully be a more serialized story leading to battles against the Big Bad’s. There’s three floating around at the moment, so the series isn’t lacking in bad-ass enemies for the group to take on. I’m not concerned (yet) that the series is undergoing some massive dip in quality. Soul Eater is never going to be a great show. It’s just going to be a beautifully animated fun show. We’re just in a lull that I’m assuming the show will probably quickly jump out of.

Disc Score: B

Now would be as appropriate a time as any to explain just how it is I approach critiquing the movies and TV I watch for this blog as it will bear heavily on my review for this film and why this film is getting one scores and other anime different scores. I’m a firm believer that movies (and it goes the same for TV, books, music, and video games as well) should be judged based on the intentions of its creators rather than the expectations of its audience. For example, I gave Jackass 3 and The Fighter the same score. Obviously, The Fighter is the more important and socially valuable film. However, its creators had the intention of creating a serious and artistic film that I felt they failed to achieve at a particularly high standard. Jackass was about dick jokes and scatological humor but you couldn’t have expected any thing else from that crew. Hence, both films got “B”s. If you’re only intention is to be fun and entertaining and you achieve those goals, then I’m going to give you a decently good review even if you’re not necessarily art. However, if you try to be art and fail, then your review will suffer. I bring this all up because the film I just watched, Akira, is about to get the same score as a children’s anime that is popcorn cartooning, but I felt it succeeded at its goals better than Akira which tries to be serious art and is more of  a confused and muddled mess.

Akira is a 1988 anime that could best be classified as post-apocalyptic cyber-punk. It tells the story of two friends who are members of the same biker gang in Neo-Tokyo, the city of Tokyo which has been rebuilt after a cataclysmic event destroyed it 30 years ago. Kaneda is the head of the biker gang, the Capsules, and his best friend is Tetsuo, a boy who has been bullied and mistreated his whole life. One day, Tetsuo runs into an escaped mutant who was part of a secret government project. Somehow, the boy transfers some of his powers to Tetsuo who is also quickly taken in by the government and experimented on. Eventually, Tetsuo begins to go insane from the power and experiments and goes on a super-powered rampage through Neo-Tokyo and it is up to Kaneda and a small group of freedom fighters to end the destruction.

The hand-drawn animation of the film is absolutely gorgeous. I watched this on the Blu-Ray edition and the movie’s artwork was simply beautiful. Had I not recognized certain aspects of the animation as being inherently 1980’s in style, I would have believed that this could have been a new release. There were plenty of vibrant and crisp colors mixed with an engaging style and beautiful city-scapes. While the plot itself (which I’ll get to those critiques shortly) might have escaped me, I definitely found myself engaged with fantastic art and animation. However, the plot was not quite so entertaining. This film wanted to be “serious business” and to be taken seriously. However, it explained little to almost none of what was happening in ways that made a lot of sense. I get that this is what happens when you try and condense a 2000 page manga into a two hour long film. Lots of things are going to be left on the cutting room floor. That being said, why try and condense it that much when so much of the plot is going to be left out to the point of things no longer making sense.

Don’t misinterpret this as me disliking the film. I enjoyed it. There were plenty of awesome moments in it to make up for how confusing it could be, and the scene at the end where Tetsuo’s powers are spiraling completely out of control is some serious nightmare fuel. It was disturbing. Actually, I bet I would really enjoy the manga as all of the different subplots of the film would actually be given a chance to develop and mature rather than fly by me at lightning speed. If you’re a fan of anime, this is definitely must watch material. I spend so much time watching shonen series that it’s nice to have something that at least tries to be for grown-ups. This film might not be as mature and deep as it wants it to believe it is, but it’s still entertaining.

Final Score: B+

So, the last time I actually reviewed a disc of Soul Eater for this blog was way back in the middle of April. I forget the exact reason why I had stopped watching it because when I stopped, the show had just started to really get interesting. I think part of it was just an internet thing as I was using my bandwidth for other purposes besides streaming movies from Netflix and then, I moved out of my apartment and back home right at the beginning of May where I couldn’t stream stuff from Netflix cause I had dial-up internet. Anyways, I’ve decided to go ahead and finish the series. I spent most of last week watching the episodes that I had seen two months ago, and then I finally caught back up and started watching the rest of Part 2 which I hadn’t seen the second half of. We definitely have some interesting stories going on and two characters are experiencing some interesting character development that should have some compelling pay-offs as the rest of the series progresses.

The last disc ended with the three main Meisters and their weapons (as well as Stein and Spirit) facing off against Medusa, Crona, and Free underneath the DWMA while Medusa attempts to awaken the kishin Asura. After tapping into the same madness plaguing Crona, Maka and Soul are able to make Crona realize he isn’t a villain and bring him over to the good guys side. After a fairly epic battle where Stein’s own inner madness is resurfacing, Stein and Spirit are able to defeat Medusa, although it is mostly for naught as she was just biding time for her minions to awaken Asura. Asura rises and has an epic fight against Lord Death, although Asura escapes and now it is just a matter of time til his madness begins to envelop the whole world. After the fight, Crona is enrolled at the DWMA and Stein is slowly losing himself to his own madness.

I have officially decided that Stein is simply the best character on the show. His general bad-assery mixed with his moral ambiguity and potential insanity just makes for compelling television. While Death the Kid and Excalibur are both awesome as well, Dr. Stein simply has layers of complexity that neither of those characters can match. Also, Crona is becoming much more interesting than the chew toy he had been previously. While I never really thought he was a bad guy (because he was just so damn pathetic), taking him to the side of the good guys will be a great chance for them to develop his powers while making me see what he would be like had Medusa not mentally tortured him his entire life. Also, Spirit isn’t nearly as annoying as he used to be either. While Maka’s father is far from my favorite character on the series, Spirit has definitely grown on me as well.

This show is never going to be as great as FLCL or Gurren Lagann or Fullmetal Alchemist, but that’s okay. This is simply a fun shonen (maybe?) anime that I can just sit back, relax, and enjoy all of the bad-ass heroics. What separates it from other anime of similar theme will always be the art and character design which remain just top notch. It’s a beautiful show that I enjoy looking at as much as following the plot. I’m glad that I’ve come back to watching Soul Eater and I’ll be bouncing back and forth between this and the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the TV that I’ll be watching that isn’t TV currently airing like Torchwood and Breaking Bad. Well, I can’t wait to see what happens now that the series Big Bad is on the loose and has the potential to wreak havoc on the whole world.

Disc Score: B+

Hoo boy. Sometimes you watch a movie or listen to an album, and it is simply  impossible to come to any conclusion other than that its creators had consumed large quantities of psychedelic drugs during the creation process. Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, Pink Floyd’s The Wall (album or movie. but especially the film), Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s RainbowRocko’s Modern Life, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which was confirmed as being written on crazy amounts of drugs) all spring to mind. With the possible exceptions of the first opening episodes of Gurren Lagann, I’ve never really watched an anime that made me momentarily question if someone had slipped some lysergic acid diethylamide into my Dr. Pepper. I’ve never watched the anime equivalent of a David Lynch film where I simply gave up on trying to completely digest the plot and just sort of went with the flow. I never realized that was a hole in my anime needs that I was missing. I didn’t realize it, at least, until I watched Studio Gainax’s incomprehensibly bizarre (but equally awesome) FLCL (also known phonetically as “Foolly Coolly”. Only 6 episodes long on a single disc, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this series, but boy, am I glad I watched it.

Trying to explain the plot of FLCL to someone who hasn’t watched the series would be like trying to jump into the final season of Lost without having seen the rest of the series, but here goes. Basically, it’s a coming of age story centered around 6th grade boy Naota, who is going through the typical angst and turmoils of puberty. Emotionally detached and obsessed with being “mature”, Naota is engaged in an odd relationship with the girlfriend of his older brother who is away in America playing baseball. Mamima is 19 years old but romantically obsessed with Naota and is a juvenile delinquent as well as an orphan. Naota’s life gets very odd (understatement of the century) when he is run over by a woman on a vespa armed with a bass guitar (that she uses as a weapon) named Haruhara Haruko who is an alien intent on releasing an alien force being kept captive here on Earth. After Haruhara hits Naota with her guitar, giant robots begin to sprout from his head, with each robot having increasingly bizarre and epic characteristics that Naota and Haruhara then have to battle with the help of good robot, Canti (who the townspeople apparently don’t realize is a robot) which Naota can merge with. That’s probably all anyone could ever hope to understand of the plot of the show.

One of the things the series has going for it is some stellar animation but you really should never expect less from Studio Gainax (except that whole awkward period where they ran out of money on Neon Genesis Evangelion and the show started to look like shit). These are the same people that gave us Gurren Lagann which never failed to look pretty, so it looks great. It even experiments with different visual styles for its miles a minute puns that never seem to end. It went chibi, it went with styles that I don’t know the names for, it momentarily played out as a manga, and it even went South Park for a few scenes. You also get a rocking J-Rock soundtrack that accompanies practically ever action scene, along with elements that can only be descried as hallucinogenic in nature. It was just the trippiest anime that I’ve ever watched, and I mean that as the highest compliment

If you need comprehensible story-lines and satisfying logical conclusion, you can go ahead and let this one pass on by. FLCL challenges you to comprehend what is going on and then throws its head back and laughs at your utter failure. If people thought the ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion was vague, imagine that on cocaine for nearly every scene. I like that kind of thing. I appreciate the fact that there are just a lot of things in life we’ll never comprehend and I like my art to indulge the unknowability of life. This wasn’t as great as Gurren Lagann or NGE, but those are ridiculously high standards for a 6 episode series with a barely conceivable plot to meet. If you want a good, fun romp,  I give FLCL my high recommendation. It might be a niche show, but I’m part of that niche and it filled a void I never even knew existed.

Series Score: A-

 Sometimes, I have myself convinced that I am just the worst otaku on the planet. I talk a big game about how much I love anime and how much I seem to know about the culture, but before today, I had never seen a film by Hayao Miyazaki, a children’s film maker who has a reputation as being the Walt Disney of Japan (however, after watching one of his film’s, I prefer to think of him as the Don Bluth of Japan which is more of a compliment anyways). Well, having now watched the magical Howl’s Moving Castle, I am quite upset that it took me this long to find him. I have never seen quite such a stunning combination of Eastern and Western story-telling and animation, and the final product really has to be seen to be believed.

Set against the backdrop of a devastating war, Howl’s Moving Castle is an epic children’s fantasy that tells the story of a young shopkeeper named Sophie. One day, after encountering a strange young man who saves her from bullying soldiers, Sophie is transformed into an old woman by the evil Witch of the Waste. She sets out on a journey to figure out how to break the spell that has been put upon her and return to her normal self. Along the way, she finds out that the man who rescued her is a powerful wizard named Howl who has a giant mobile castle, where he lives with his young apprentice Markl and a fire demon named Calcifer that lets the castle run. Soon, Sophie finds herself swept up in a war and must find the beauty and love within her and Howl if she wants to live, let alone be transformed back to her old body.

The animation in this film is just mind-boggling. The colors are so vibrant, and the world is filled with so much detail and action. The setting of the story is a beautifully rendered steampunk world where tun of the 20th century architecture intermingle with magic as well as later technology such as planes. At the same time, you are given several stunning vistas in beautiful forests and glens.The character models look splendid as well. Not since the golden age of Disney has hand-drawn animation looked this splendid.

Much like the great Don Bluth films from the late 80’s/early 90’s, this film is as entertaining for me as a grown-up as it surely is enchanting for children. This is a wonderful allegory for the dangers of war, the price of love, and remaining yourself in the face of hardship. This is the kind of quality children’s picture that you only expect from Pixar anymore. I can definitely see how another Miyazaki picture, Spirted Away, won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and I can’t wait to watch that movie. If you like anime, this is a no brainer. If you like children’s movies or have children of your own, I can without fail recommend this movie for the whole family. Although a slight warning, it might be a little scary in parts. Certain aspects of the film reminded me of Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland which just terrified me as a child.

 Final Score: A-