Category: Anime Fantasy

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-


God bless whoever had the idea at Netflix to start letting people watch movies via instant streaming. While the idea has probably sucked away countless hours of my life that I could have used for more productive purposes like school or writing a novel, it has also given me the opportunity to watch countless shows and movies that I would have never had time to watch because of the nature of shipping DVD’s. Netflix recently expanded the content of its anime selection to watch instantly to a really respectable amount of content, and I just know that I’m going to lose so many hours of my life watching all of these anime that I’ve wanted to see but never had the opportunity to get into. Soul Eater really upped its game in its last 7 episodes, and I watched every single one of them practically in a row today. So, yeah, it’s becoming addicting.

The first major story arc of the show has really started to kick into gear as the ultimate plan of the Witch Medusa has finally been placed into action. Apparently, there is a kishin that has been held in basically a quarantine state underneath of the DWMA (Death Weapon Meister Acadamey). His name is Asura and he was one of Lord Death’s most trusted and powerful warriors. However, he began to crave too much power and fed on human souls and ultimately became a kishin. It is Medusa’s plan to re-awaken Asura, although I’m not really sure what her goal is after that. When Medusa instituted a plan to trap Lord Death and all of the meisters and weapons in one of the school’s towers, the show’s three main groups as well as Dr. Stein are able to escape and they delve into the bowels of the school to try and stop Medusa and her henchmen. Epic fights ensue.

As well as the incredibly plot relevant stuff, we also got two filler episodes. One was kind of boring and made me wary that this disc was going to be awful and it was about an exam the students were taking. The other was awesome and hilarious. It brought back one of my favorite supporting characters, the weapon Excalibur. He’s a supposedly incredibly powerful weapon, but he’s such a diva that no one wants to put up with all of the ridiculous demands he makes on a meister. He’s on my short list for the ensemble dark horse of the show. I spent his entire episode just cracking up. We also got some back story for Death the Kid’s weapons, Patty and Liz in one episode that brought back Crona. Also, in the very last episode I watched, Crona him/herself got some pretty important back story and it explains just why in the hell he’s so messed up which is what you would expect from Medusa’s own, mentally tortured child.

I don’t know exactly why I was able to watch all 7 of these episodes in like one day when it took me like a week and a half to watch the first 7. I think it’s probably because I finally felt for the first time in the show that it had some serious plot momentum and I kept wanting to figure out what would happen next. It generally does a pretty good job of ending episodes on cliff-hangers that make you want to immediately turn in next week (well next week if it were on tv. right now since it’s on netflix). I know considering how the very last episode ended that I definitely want to see where it goes, and if I weren’t going home to Philippi tomorrow night where we have dial up internet, I’d probably watch even more of the show.

Score in Progress: B+


13 episodes in and I can safely say that Soul Eater is a more serialized program in the vein of Gurren Lagann than the more episodic nature of Cowboy Bebop. While this show has already had more filler moments in 13 episodes than Gurren Lagann had during its entire run (which was admittedly only 26 episodes), generally speaking there is an over all myth arc that each episode tries to carry forward. And while the first 7 episodes only gave me the slightest glimpse as to what that myth arc might be, after I finished the end of Part 1 of the show, I think I have a better idea where this at least initial arc is probably heading. So, yeah, there’s going to be some spoilers. Check out my first review for a spoiler free look at the show.

Basically, my last set of reviews ended with Maka and Soul getting their asses kicked by this dude (or chick, I’m not really sure) named Crona who was a meister whose weapon was living inside of his body in his blood, and the weapon is later identified as a demon sword. They were no match for Crona and were only saved by the intervention of Dr. Stein and Maka’s father, the death scythe Spirit. Crona was being controlled seemingly against his will by a witch named Medusa who I’m quickly determining is going to be the series first real Big Bad (she’s also the nurse at the school), and I’m not really sure if her motivations have been properly explained yet, other than this has something to do with the process by which a meister is turned into a kishin. Through an exposition heavy episode, we learn how exactly it is that kishin are formed, and it happens whenever a meister and/or a weapon use their powers to feed on human souls. We also got an episode devoted to better fleshing out Tsubaki’s back story, as well as a couple used to introduce some new villains to the story while still setting up Medusa as the big villain.

The art direction and general animation have remained fantastic and the story is definitely getting more interesting. Death the Kid and the mad scientist (yet still a hero) Dr. Franken Stein have emerged as my favorite characters on the series. There’s just something about Kid’s ridiculous OCD that is always entertaining, and Dr. Stein is  fun anti-hero/mentor type. The fight scenes have also improved, especially the one against the wolf/ice fighter Free in the last episode I watched. It looked pretty good. The characters have all received some power-ups of one sort or another since my last review so I guess it makes sense that the fights are getting cooler cause the ante has been upped so to speak. I’m probably going to finish the series completely unless at some point the quality just jumps off the cliff. I’ve been enjoying it so far even if it hasn’t been as good as Cowboy Bebop or Gurren Lagann.

Score in Progress: B