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

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

Nodame Cantabile Finale Review (TV)

DirectorChiaki Kon

Animation ProductionJ.C. Staff

The thrid and last season of Nodame Cantabile brings an end to the anime adaptation of the popular manga series with a pleasant and reassuring conclusion. Continuing on from the second season Nodame and friends are nearing the end of the education at the Conservatorie de Paris and begin the harsh transition from education to career. This is while Chiaki continues his ascent in the music world as a young and upcoming conductor. This season’s most poignant aspect explores the coming of age topic of reaching your dreams and the tough path you have to take to meet them. Nodame goes through a crisis of sorts unsure of her future in music and her relationship with Chiaki. Like the last season the series may have lost some of its wacky humour but it is more than adequately replaced with character development and romance.

The core of the series has always been the music and again we are treated to some grand classical music. The series has always done a good job of explaining the background and history of each piece. Each major piece performed is explained musically in terms of what is going on and is matched thematically with what the composer tried to convey. It really does give a different appreciation of classical music that was written hundreds of years ago. As someone who played a classical instrument for 4 years and quit abruptly it made me regret not sticking with it.

While the animation series has ended I believe the manga still continues on with the story. There is also a live action drama for those who aren’t ready to leave behind the characters of Nodame Cantabile.

Rating – A –

Year – 2010 Length – 11 Episodes (24 minutes per episode)

Genre – Comedy, Drama, Romance

Summer Wars (Movie) Review

Director Mamoru Hosoda

Animation ProductionMadhouse Studios

After the excellent 2006 movie “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” Mamoru Hosoda was a man to watch in the Japanese animation industry. Given a larger budget he set out to create a summer blockbuster with the appropriately generic name “Summer Wars“. It’s a summer blockbuster in every way in terms of the film’s budget, marketing and broad appeal which instantly should have signalled that it was not going to be like his comparatively indie classic “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time“. A blockbuster approach doesn’t necessary have to result in poor plot and character that are overshadowed by the action but in the majority of the cases this is what happens. “Summer Wars” does exactly what it sets out to do trying to appeal to the broad Japanese audience which from my view (an Anime fan outside of Japan) was never going to impress me. I was bitterly disappointed that it is not as good as his brilliant previous film but it is a different type of movie that sets out to do precisely want it wants, enjoyable for the 2 hours but there after completely forgettable.

The premise of “Summer Wars” surrounds high school math wiz Kenji Koiso who takes on an unusual job offered by fellow student (Natsuki) who is from a large prestigious family (descendants of a warrior clan). Natsuki initially tells Kenji his job is to come to Ueda to help with Natsuki’s Grandma’s 90th birthday. But in reality his job is to pretend to be her girlfriend as she promised her ailing Grandma she’d bring her boyfriend the next time she visited. This is all just to conveniently set up Kenji to be in the right place at the right time. The internet has evolved into a true virtual world called OZ which controls the real world (traffic, gas, water, and even over military weapons) and has become a business hub,  and essential for the functions of the government. An A.I. has taken over OZ by hacking and controlling user accounts causing havoc by messing with important services all over the world. There is definitely a need suspend your disbelief (especially if you know anything about networks and security) which might turn off some people but to the general audience they have no idea that this is pretty ridiculous situation. Kenji has to try and get rid the A.I. as he is surrounded by a family who have strong ties to OZ and the problematic malignant A.I.

The implausible plot is my main problem with the film which just escalates as you watch. The ridiculous ending, let’s just say it involve playing cards, was the peak of the problems. The characters were my other problem with an annoying cop the worst culprit. Everything else is fantastic, which definitely does allay some of the problems. The animation is amazingly detailed with vibrant and lively colours of the countryside contrasting with the virtual world of OZ. There are really some great backgrounds and sequences showing us the beauty of Ueda’s countryside and life. Like “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” there are some humorous moments but nowhere near as hilarious. Also this is the first time I so clearly noticed embedded advertising of well known products in an animated movie (i.e. NDS, Sony monitors, iPhone).

Ultimately it’s a techno thriller that has been done better elsewhere. It treads familiar ground and doesn’t do much more than what it aimed to do as a summer action blockbuster. It is still worth watching with some redeeming qualities but mostly because there is shortage of decent big budget Japanese animation movies.

Rating – B

Year – 2009 Length – 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Genre – Adventure, Action, Comedy

Cromartie High School Review (TV)

DirectorHiroaki Sakurai

Animation ProductionProduction I.G.

Genre – Comedy

Cromartie High School is one of those shows that requires you be an old-school fan of anime and manga if you are going to get the most enjoyment out of it. It is a comedy that parodies the juvenile delinquent (yankii) manga of the 70s and 80s as well as using many pop culture references of that time period. The TV series was adapted from Eiji Nonaka’s Kodansha award-winning manga (tied with Beck in the Shonen group in 2002) by Production I.G and TV Tokyo. It was broadcast in the US on Tech TV’s (now known as G4) anime programming block and the DVD was released in 2005 by ADV.

The first thing that comes up at the start of every episode is this tagline “Dear viewers sitting in front of the television the guys that appear in this anime are delinquents. So please do not under any circumstances imitate what you see in this anime, or you will end up like this (in jail).” So straight away you know it is a comedy and it is going to involve delinquent high school students, other than this I didn’t know what to expect. But when watching the opening credits animation for the first time three characters that stand out; a gorilla, a robot and a someone who looks like Freddie Mercury that are attending this school. The main character is Takashi Kamiyama a normal student among a school full of delinquents and acts as a sort of arbiter in many of the bizarre situations that occur.

The show is pretty much a string of different situations with very little overarching plot that are enclosed in short 12 minute episodes. It’s joke after joke like a sketch show and since there is very little continuity the episodes are almost standalone. The general theme of the comedy is making fun of the delinquents who deep down aren’t really tough guys and have some sort of problem or other ambitions (i.e. motion sickness, become a comedian). But I have to admit most of this goes over my head as I am not familiar with the juvenile delinquent genre. Most of my enjoyment in the show comes from the gorilla, robot and Freddie and there are plenty of episodes that surround these characters. For example the gorilla becomes a sushi chef, the robot is scrapped and repaired into a motorcycle and Freddie pops up all over the place. I don’t know what it is but seeing Freddie Mercury pop up and never talk but doing things like riding a horse to school or acting manly is hilarious. So this is Cromartie High School a quirky, irrelevant and very Japanese comedy anime that should definitely be watched if you are familiar with what they are parodying. However if you are like me your enjoyment may vary.

Rating – B

Year – 2003-04 Length – 26 episodes 12 minutes each

Bakemonogatari Review (TV)

DirectorTatsuya Oishi

Animation ProductionShaft

Bakemonogatari is a spectacularly stylish and eerie series similar in tone to other atmospheric shows such as Ghost Hound and Paranoia Agent.

Based on the light novel by Nisio Isin, Bakemonogatari (lit. ghost story) is about Koyomi Araragi, a final year high school student, who deals with supernatural beings. After recovering from an undead state as a result of a vampire attack, Araragi has retained the ability to quickly recover from any physical harm. He now works with Oshino Meme an expert on vanquishing the supernatural. The 12 episodes involve Araragi’s encounter with different spirits that have inhabited other humans.

The supernatural spirits manifest in people as a result of some deep emotion problems, for example we first are introduced to Hitagi Senjougahara, who has become nearly weightless. Araragi discovers this when he catches her while she is falling down stairs at school (some really long, winding abstract looking stairs). Senjougahara for some reason is also able to hide a multitude of stationary which she uses aggressively to keep her secret and to make her point she jams a staple onto Araragi’s mouth. This serves as an introduction to the supernatural elements of the show and the recovery power of Araragi. The great thing about Senjougahara’s character is that there are many layers to her and as the series progress we learn that she is an emotionally scarred but independent girl lacking social interaction until meeting Araragi.

The animation style of the show is very interesting as it uses a range of different colours, frames of view and abstractions. It is very artistic in the way all of this is brought together as it keeps the viewer engaged since the show is mostly conversations. Something that is distinct in the show is that during the conversations, a frame of animation with text on a single colour background will pop up sometimes related to the emotions going on or something seemingly unrelated and random. Eerie real life footage also shows up, cementing its attempt to be abstract and adhere to a modern art style. Some episodes like the first use black and white, shadows and a sepia tone while others are colourful. The show rarely seems bland animation wise and this is probably due to the fact that you rarely see other characters except those you are introduced to. It is very clear that a lot of care went into the animation to the extent that every frame tries to do something intriguing.

One of the few problems I had with the show involved the moe characters in a few of the episodes. They might have tried to be humorous and ironic but it was painful to watch. The other attempts at humour were more successful making use of awkward pauses, weird situations, bending cliché’s (usually by adding over the top violence), and unexpected turns in conversations. One final thing to mention is how well it ends, the final episode is surreal for 3/4 of the episode and then ends in an absolutely heart warming conclusion. Shows rarely pull off a satisfying pleasant ending but Bakemonogatari does.

Rating – A

Year – 2009 Length – 12 episodes

Genres – Mystery, Supernatural, Romance, Action, Dark Comedy

Note: There are an additional 3 web only episodes that I haven’t seen yet.