Giant Killing Review (TV Series)

Animation Production – Studio Deen

Director – Yuu Kou

Giant Killing is a sports themed anime about a Japanese football/soccer player, Takeshi Tatsumi, who has moved into management after his playing career. He returns to Japan to manage the team that made him famous, East Tokyo United (ETU), after managing an amateur lower league team in England where he was famous for beating bigger teams in the cup competition. Tatsumi was viewed as a traitor to his team when he made a big money transfer to a foreign team, ETU loosing its star player dropped in league standing and has never recovered their status since.

Alright if you understood most of that first paragraph you are probably a football fan or at least a sports fan who understands the drama of sports politics. Giant Killing is a must watch if you a football fan as it does a good job of telling a story about how an inferior team rises in status as well as delving into the tactics of football. I’ve never watched a sports anime before but now I’m looking forward to watching others.

The plot points will seem familiar to anyone who follows football. Things like former players returning to manage the club is common in real life, as well the locker room politics and how to manage star players. I don’t follow the Japanese football league but know enough to appreciate the conflicts that arise in the show with foreign managers, foreign players, cup matches and the national team. The 26 episodes cover the first half of the football season where after a loosing start to the season things start to click in and ETU show their ability to beat the top teams. There is definite room for another season covering the second half of the season but I haven’t read any news about the possibility of that.

For those not into football or sports the drama may not instantly draw you but give it a try and maybe you’ll understand why football is the most popular sport in the world.

Rating – A (but must be some sort of sport fan)

Genre – Sports, Soccer, Drama

Length – 26 Episode Series Year – 2010

Redline Review (Movie)

Animation ProductionMadhouse Studios

DirectorTakeshi Koike

Redline is the most visually entertaining animated movie to come out of Japan for years, now out on Blu-Ray it is a must own for anyone who has watched anime. It debuted back in August 2009 at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland and was released in Japan in October 2010. It has been a instant hit with critics and anyone lucky to see screenings of it but now anyone can see it.

The man responsible for Redline is Madhouse Studio’s Takeshi Koike, who started out as an animator under the wing of the well known director Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Redline is Koike’s   full film directorial debut, before this he did the “World Record” segment of the Animatrix as well as directing the pilots of Samurai Champloo and Iron Man. At the age of 43 we have a lot to look forward to from Koike who has shown us that he has a eye for action and  animation design.

It is set in an intergalactic future where the biggest underground racing event in the world, Redline, is being held on a hostile planet which doesn’t want the race there because of their hidden military secrets. The plot is simple enough, we follow a human racer, JP, who uses a traditional car which doesn’t have any weapons equipped up against a cast of characters from different planets. The character are outrageous and fun to watch, JP has a retro style going with his classic muscle styled car and pompadour. Redline is all about the visuals and action, the sense of pace that is visualised is incredibly cool, the height of it is when JP use his nitro boost. Action also comes into play with the other racers using their weapons to take each other out as well as the military on the planet trying to take out the racers to protect their secrets. There is a cool Akira sort of vibe with one particular biological weapon that pops up mid race that blew me away.

I’ve forgotten the last time I was so impressed by the creativity and visual style on show in an anime. Redline is a definite must watch, buy the Blu-Ray show your non anime watching fans, it is that good.

Rating – A +

Genre – Action, Racing, Science Fiction

Year – 2010

Genius Party Beyond Review

Animation ProductionStudio 4C

Release Date – February 2008

Genius Party Beyond includes 5 short animated films that where not included in the original Genius Party, a Studio 4C led collaboration with the industry’s top directors and animators.

Dimension Bomb – Directed by Koji Morimoto who in the past also directed Magnetic Rose which was part of the Otomo short story anthology Memories (one of my favourite collection of short films). Sadly nowhere as good and frustratingly abstract despite the cool gritty cityscape imagery.

Gala – Directed by Mahiro Maeda a famous mech designer (Gunbuster, Last Exile, Escaflowne etc.) and animator who in the past also directed Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. No mechs in this short, taking its cue from the nature motif in Miyazaki films (who Maeda did key animation work on). I didn’t care for this one at all, the art style really put me off.

Moondrive – Directed by Kazuto Nakazawa a noted character designer known for working on El Hazard and Samurai Shamploo. It’s no surprise that the animated short with the most charm, humour and wackiness was done by a character designer. This was my favourite of the bunch with its hand drawn art style and it not being a typical abstract short film. It’s about a ragtag gang on the moon looking for treasure.

Toujin Kit – Directed by Tatsuyuki Tanaka who in the past did Kin Jin Kitto in Studio 4C’s other series of short films Digital Juice. My second favourite out of the bunch about a strange world where a girl is raising alien lifeforms in stuffed animals. I like the art direction the best in this short as it evokes a depressing dystopian environment.

Wanwa the Puppy – Directed by Shinya Ohira a key animator in many of the biggest movies in anime such as Akira, Redline and Studio Ghibli movies. A short about a kid’s dream full of child fantasy imagery of candy, monsters and a puppy.

Overall not as good as the first anthology with only 2 out of the 5 worth watching. Hard to recommend over other anthologies and clearly the left overs that didn’t make it into the first Genius Party release.

Rating – C

Genre – Short Film Anthology

Length – 5 Shorts (Roughly 15 to 20 minutes each) Year – 2008

Level E Review

Animation Production – Studio Pierrot and David Production

Director Toshiyuki Kato

The premise of Level E is that aliens live on Earth hidden among the general populace and hundreds of aliens species come and go every year without the majority of humans noticing. A high school kid moves alone to a rural Tokyo town to play baseball and finds in his new apartment an alien who turns out to be a prince of a faraway planet called Dogura. The main plot line of the show is about this prince and why he’s here along with side stories about the other aliens on Earth.

Sounds interesting doesn’t it, but it lacks substance and episode are mixed in quality. Starts off ok and didn’t really grab me until the last 3 episodes which wrap up the story. I felt very little compelling for most of the series with one note characters and mediocre side stories. The overall concept is decent but it didn’t play out to potential in terms of being a comedy and supernatural mystery. The main problem is that the characters are not interesting, we don’t get much time to learn about any of them and the main character, the prince, is just a jerk with no-one else to counter balance him.

Episode 11 was the best as it played out like a good Haruhi episode where a group of people are trapped in a supernatural situation and are trying to figure out what to do. Episodes 12 and 13 conclude the series and I would just recommend just watching the first couple episode and skipping to the last 3, you won’t really miss much. All episodes are streaming on Crunchy Roll if you want to watch Level E.

Rating – C

Genre – Comedy, Mystery, Drama, Science Fiction

Length – 13 Episode Series Year – 2011

Akira Blu-Ray Review

DirectorKatsuhiro Otomo

Animation ProductionTokyo Movie Shinsha

Akira was originally screened in Japan on July 16th 1988, around 22 and a half years ago, and is coincidently exactly 1 month older than me. I can’t remember the first time I saw it but it was sometime in the early 2000’s. It didn’t entirely wow me at first because it was built up in my mind to be something else and it was also very early in my anime and film watching days. But revisiting this classic once again on Blu-Ray and this time in the best possible conditions outside of a theatre, I completely agree with why this is praised as the best Japanese animated film ever created.

Set in Neo Tokyo 2019 years after a nuclear like explosion destroys a large section of Tokyo, the military continues to experiment with this devastating uncontrollable power that started the whole situation. Since then Tokyo has turned into a run down cyberpunk looking city full of gangs, protestors and a strong military presence.

The main characters, Kaneda and Tetsuo, are the typical delinquent teenagers who are in a biker gang. Kaneda is the strong charismatic leader of the group while Tetsuo is the shy childhood friend. During a intense chase scene with a rival gang Tetsuo encounters a genetically modified human which awakens the power within Tetsuo. He is then quickly whisked away by the military and is experimented on to try and control this power within.

The name of the movie refers to one of the original human experiment, Akira who was the cause of the original disaster. Akira in the mind of some of the Tokyo population has became a messiah figure and is seen as an all powerful being. It’s hard to explain but he wielded an ultimate sort of energy which was unlocked in his generic material. The scientist couldn’t control him which resulted in the disaster. Despite this the military continued experimenting to awaken this power within others.

Lony ago there were people who tried to gain control of that power. That is, all of the government’s requests. But they failed in their attempt, and it triggered the fall of Tokyo. And that power is something that is totally out of our….

What I like most of about the film is the quality of the animation and visual detail. The iconic red bike of Kaneda and his orange jacket are so memorable along with the use of red throughout the movie. It is a movie with a grand scale and a sort of maturity that isn’t really present in anime anymore.

As for the Blu-Ray features there is usual set of language option with a sparse number of extra features (trailers, storyboards). But the key is the picture quality which looks sharp and a noticeable difference over VHS, but I’m not sure about how much better it looks from DVD. Definitely one to keep on your shelf and revisit over and over again.

Year – 1988 Length – 124 Minutes

Trigun: Badlands Rumble Review (Movie)

Animation Production Madhouse Studios

Director Satoshi Nishimura

Twelve years after the release of the original series in 1998, the busy Madhouse Studios have finally revisited the hugely popular world of Trigun with Vash the Stampede back for another adventure. Original director Satoshi Nishimura returns having directed very little in the meantime (other than highly regarded Hajime no Ippo TV series) and staff credits in shows such as Eden of the East, Monster and Kiba.

Trigun is one the classic anime TV series from the 90’s but don’t expect this movie to expand on any of the themes of the original. It is feature length side story involving a bank robbery gone wrong, a crew lead by the infamous robber Gasback is betrayed by his crew and twenty years later he is about to exact his final act of revenge. Gasback has a bounty of 300bn on his head and rumours of his next heist draws bounty hunters everywhere to Macca City, including Vash the Stampede.

If you haven’t seen or don’t remember the TV series (I can barely recall much about the story) Vash is a misunderstood bounty hunter who has built up a criminal reputation for being involved large robberies. People call him the humanoid typhoon but in reality he is there to prevent the crime from succeeding and stop anyone from getting killed. Vash’s normal demeanor is an obnoxious goofball which makes an excellent cover mistaking him for an impostor.

Twelve years ago this sort of cartoony comedic action was the norm but Trigun differed in that it had an interesting backstory and world. It is set in a futuristic wild west but not in the way Cowboy Bebop was, it is more steam punk with a mix of old and new but very steeped in the traditional western atmosphere of deserts, isolated towns and rampant crime. If I remember correctly the world that they are on is not Earth but some planet that was colonised after large colony ships crashed there.

This movie is a fun return to the world of Trigun but it is definitely missing the broader themes and story of the original series. It has plenty of great over the top action scenes which is a throwback to the 90’s which is infrequently done well these days. It is nice to see a HD widescreen version of Trigun, as the original was 4:3, the animation really pops with the vibrant colors of the original. I’d recommend people see the TV series if they haven’t and if they want to see more just keep in mind this is really just a side story.

Rating – B +

Genre – Action, Comedy, Science Fiction, Western Year – 2010

The Sky Crawlers Review (Movie)

Animation ProductionProduction I.G

Director Mamoru Oshii

The Sky Crawlers is a 2008 movie from enigmatic director Maroru Oshii who is famous for directing the Patlabor movies, Uresei Yatsura TV series and most notably the Ghost in the Shell movies. He is a much lauded director whose directing style is much more subdued, primarily relying on visuals and character design to covey his message. He isn’t a director whose every work is a masterpiece but he is capable of putting out a classic every so often, unfortunately The Sky Crawlers isn’t one of them. The concept is interesting enough as it is set in an alternate history where war is privatised and played out for entertainment. But it is a long fairly uneventful movie, while beautifully animated movie there is very little going on to universally recommend it to anyone.

The movie starts off (in a typical Oshii way) with an impressive CG action scene of a dogfight with a very high level of detail put in the mechanics and design of the planes. Once it’s over the opening credits roll among the clouds and ends in a peaceful landing of a plane piloted by the main character Yuichi Kannami. Yuichi is a new arrival at small airfield replacing a pilot who died in mysterious circumstances as he was not killed up in the air. The movie is about the mystery of this and Yuichi’s connection to past events.

The events in the movie play out with a familiar but uncanny mood to it as things are slightly off. It is evocatively quiet most of times which give you the time to scan the screen and examine the visuals. You definitely need to watch the movie with a different mindset and get into the deeper underlying themes that Oshii is trying to convey. Yuichi and the rest of the participant pilots in the war are all children. They are not normal children because they don’t age, they stay the same age and usually only die if killed in battle. They are genetically engineered and are referred to as Kildren and their only purpose in life is to fight this war controlled by adults as a spectacle for TV. They have the freedom to do whatever they want in their down time but they are just so different from everyone else. There’s a big revelation that serves as the climax of the film but if you want to enjoy the film you have to let your mind mull over the philosophical themes and implications of the film.

Rating – B

Genre – Mystery Length – 121 Minutes Year – 2008

Durarara!! Review (TV Series)

Animation ProductionBrain’s Base

DirectorTakahiro Omori

Durarara, one of the biggest new anime of 2010, is an action mystery set in the Tokyo city of Ikebukuro where a mysterious headless motocycle rider is heard blazing through the streets. The 24 episode show has two different arcs, the first half is a mystery surrounding the Dullahan (a celtic myth of a headless knight riding a horse with their head under an arm) who is looking to find her missing head. The second half is a tale of gang warfare in the fictionalized Ikebukuro with the same cast of characters who aren’t what they seem when initially introduced.

Brain’s Base has produced few shows that interest me, but when combined with Omori they have an excellent track record. Together they put out the unique crime tale Bacano! which is a personal favourite of mine as well as other well received shows such as Natsume Yujin-Cho and most recently Kuragehime. He was also, strangely enough, the director of Koi Kaze which seemed to be well liked by fans of the genre but that genre is incest romance, definitely not a show I had any interest in. Anyway the point is that anything Omori does is well made and tries to do something interesting.

One of Baccano’s strong points was its action scenes, this carries on to Durarara which has some interesting and unconventional action moments. Some of the characters have supernatural powers and the way they fight are much more than the typical brawl. Another strong point of Omori’s works are the characters and in Durarara the strong points are the side characters ranging from the Celty the Dullahan, a black market doctor, a super human bartender, an information dealer and even a friendly russian sushi chef. However some might say that the main characters, who are a bunch of high school kids, are dull but as things progress their characters get more interesting.

Another positive point is the music which is appropriate in adding to the atmosphere of the scenes and didn’t seem repetitive. The animation is also sharp and fluid completing the whole package.

Durarara is an excellent show that deserves to do well in the the upcoming US DVD release (25th January). There are so few anime (2 or 3 a year) that appeal to my sort of tastes and I’m just glad this was made and was actually done well.

Rating – A

Genre – Action, Supernatural, Mystery Length – 24 Episode series Year – 2010

Eden of the East Movie II: Paradise Lost Review

Director – Kenji Kamiyama

Animation Production – Production I.G

“If someone gave you 10 billion yen and told you to improve this country, how would you use it?”

The second and final movie concludes the series of events that started in the TV series as the game the characters are participating in finally ends. I have to say I’m not entirely sure what to think of this series now that it is concluded. The movie focuses much more on political and societal problems related to Japan and I just don’t have the context to fully understand what’s going on. Someday I would like to revisit the series again with some greater background on the problems Japan has been facing for the past 20+ years.

So what happens in the movie? Akira finally gets his memories back from his childhood and learns about his American connection. Eden of the East is under investigation for the links to Akira who is portrayed as a terrorist in the media. And the game finally comes to a sudden end in a rather anti climatic fashion. Basically Akira broadcasts to every cellphone in the world a final message, he rallies the NEET’s to a new purpose and urges the older generation to give up some control and put more faith in the youth of Japan.

One thing that I have always liked about Eden of the East is their approach to technology. In the movie they use a fictional program called Airship which is a VOIP application for mobile devices that makes secure phone calls. It’s a lot like Skype on mobile devices which only just enabled VOIP calls over data connections. The augmented reality image searching stuff that was introduced in the TV series is still a cool idea and something that we could see very soon in reality.

It wasn’t a terrible conclusion to the series but it didn’t wow me either, however there is no reason you shouldn’t watch this movie if you have watched the TV series and the first movie.

Rating – B +

Year – 2010 Length – 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Genre – Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Time of Eve Review (Movie/ONA)

Director – Yasuhiro Yoshiura

Animation Production – Studio Rikka

Time of Eve is a movie compilation of the 6 episode ONA, original net animation, which originally aired online at Yahoo Japan (Crunchyroll in the US). It was done by Studio Rikka, a small animation studio that specialises in science fiction stories and directed by the head of the studio Yasuhiro Yoshiura. Yasuhiro is relatively young, 30 years old, and like past Studio Rikka works his handles a bit of everything. He is the director, script writer and an animator and one of the few young upcoming talents of the industry. Go watch it on crunchyroll to support more original work like this as the movie hasn’t yet been release on DVD/Bluray outside of Japan.

The premise of Time of Eve is in the near future androids are commonplace and humankind are faced with the problem of the increasing complexity of these androids. The androids are there to serve humans and are bound by three laws:

  • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harmed.
  • Second Law: A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the first law.
  • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first and second law.

These are Asimov’s three laws of robotics and for the society in Time of Eve it has served them well without incident. However the androids are complex to the point that underneath their robotic nature they have human like emotions and personalities. The story of Time of Eve surrounds this premise. The main character is a high school kid, Rikuo, who is noticing strange movements in the log of his family’s android, Sammy. Going to the coordinates of the strange place his android is visiting he and his friend Masaki find a café which has a rule that there is no discrimination between human and robot. Androids normally have a red ring around their head but this café is in a grey zone where this disappears and androids can act human.

Time of Eve is about the relationships between androids and humans and the fact that most humans in this world treat androids like trash. It is not cool to treat them as human and is actively discouraged by the android ethics committee. This ethics committee is not so much an official government organisation but a professional society whose goal is to limit society’s dependence on robots. On the other hand there is an android promotion committee who have been secretly testing new advance forms of androids with more complex jobs and human qualities.

If I have to compare this show it would be like the more philosophical parts of Ghost in the Shell but instead of a military focus it is more about the aspect of androids becoming more human. It is about what androids might act like when not being ordered around and the problems they would face if they wanted to act like humans. Every science fiction story is a metaphor for something and here it is discrimination and slavery.

This is definitely not an action packed show and is basically just a series of conversations. The animation is of a very high quality and includes what I always like to see when watching SF shows, an interesting depiction of a future that is not too far off. Those who have read a lot of science fiction novels will get a kick out of seeing a fully realised world filled with androids that is not on the verge of war.

Rating – A- (Highly Recommended)

Genre – Science Fiction Length – 106 Minutes Year – 2010