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

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

Halo Legends Review

A compilation of 7 loosely related shorts in the Halo universe by 8 different directors and 6 studios. Like other US and Japan collaborations, such as the Animatrix, Halo Legends aims to tell the definitive back story of Halo universe (overseen by 343 Industries Frank O’Connor) as well as depicting different aspects of the covenant and human conflict.

The breakdown of director and animation studio is:

  • Origins (2 parts) directed by Hideki Futamura and animation production by Studio 4C.
  • The Duel directed by Hiroshi Yamazaki and animation production by Production I.G.
  • Homecoming directed by Koji Sawai and animation production by Bee Train.
  • Prototype directed by Yasushi Muraki and Tomoki Kyoda and animation production by Bones.
  • Odd One Out directed by Daisuke Nishio and animation production by Toei Animation.
  • The Babysitter directed by Toshiyuki Kanno and animation production by Studio 4C.
  • The Package directed by Shinji Aramaki and animation production by Casio Entertainment.

There is a wide range of different animation styles which on the most part are reflective of the studio that produced the short. For example the one done by Toei is in in that simple bright animation style that is reminiscent of Dragon Ball while Studio 4C in “The Babysitter” use their highly detailed realistic style (or in Origins their abstract style). Some of the shorts have a Japanese take on Halo such as in “The Duel” where the Covenant are basically depicted as Samurai but on the most part it sticks to the familiar Halo we know from the games. There is also quite a lot of focus on female spartans while Master Chief only prominently stars in the last short “The Package”.

Out of the 7 my favourite is “The Babysitter” produced by Studio 4C which involves an assasination of a covenant prophet by a Spartan and a small ODST group. This short was around 20 minutes and was paced very well with a complete self contained story. As mentioned before the animation in this is very detailed, especially the architecture of the ruins and looks to be the one with the highest budget.

Out of the directors there are 2 high profile director in Daisuke Nishio and Shinji Aramaki. Daisuke Nishio directed the Dragon Ball series and his short is the only light hearted one and involves a clumsy spartan named 1337. Shinji Aramaki, director of Appleseed, does the only 3D animated short with a studio that hasn’t done anything else of note in anime. Both of these are alright but typical of their style and the anime cliche they popularised.

Overall not much here unless you are a story obsessed Halo fan, there are some decent action scenes but nothing comes close to the CG in the Halo games or amazing commercials for the game. As a Japanese animation fan it is interesting to see how each studio adapted their animation styles but I would say only Studio 4C (in “The Babysitter” not “Origins”) does a good enough of a job that is must see.

Rating – B –

Genre – Action, Science Fiction Length – 120 Minutes Year – 2010

High School of the Dead Episode 11

Episode 11 Dead Storm Rising

Summary: A more moody episode with tensions reaching their peak and some questions answered. Mr Shido is back and is initially let into the mansion compound. We learn Shido’s father was politician who left his mother who then commited suicide. For some reason Shido then left home to be a teacher. The tension between Rei and Mr Shido is explained, Shido’s father is having trouble with Rei’s police chief father and calls Shido to make Rei fail a grade.

At the end of the episode we cut to US nuclear submarine as they are given orders to launch the nuke. Russia and Usa are firing MIRV’s at each other and it looks like the world is heading into armageddon. A MIRV if you don’t know is a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle with carries multiple nukes on a single ballistic missile.

High School of the Dead Episode 10

Episode 10 The Dead’s House Rules

Summary: While they are now safe at Saeko’s large mansion the group are frustrated being part of a larger group who treat them as kids and don’t give them any responsibilities. Saeko is mad at her family for only protecting themselves and not coming for her. Saeko’s father is the head of an important family and leads with a strong sense of traditional honour.

Spice and Wolf Season 2 Review (TV)

DirectorTakeo Takahashi

Animation ProductionBrain’s Base

Brain’s Base is getting a lot of attention now with the excellent Durarara!!, but before this have done some other well-regarded series such as Baccano, Kurenai and the first season of Spice and Wolf. If anything Spice and Wolf is an interesting premise for a show that on the surface seem dull. With Brain Base’s excellent ability to craft a story they are able to make the life of a merchant trader in the medieval times full of drama and suspense. The second season of Spice and Wolf continues the same formula with merchant Kraft Lawrence and companion wolf god Horo going town to town making high risk trades. In this season there is an overall plot of Horo wanting to return back to her home town of Yoitsu, but this doesn’t happen in S2 so expect at least another season in the future. In fact in this season there are really only two arcs each 6 episodes which surround two different towns and trades.

I found that one the biggest draws of the show for me was the medieval fantasy setting. Seeing the architecture, churches, roads and the lifestyle in this time period is always interesting. It is all beautifully animated and has great detailed still shots every so often (some included in the screenshot gallery). Unlike other shows with a fantasy setting you get a different perspective of the period as you are following a merchant and not a warrior. You get a view into the lifestyle of merchants which is full of bartering, relationships, tricks and opportunities. In particular you get a good sense of the mind games that are played between merchants. For example they talk about future contracts in episode 4 along with some basic economics principles and market manipulation.

The romantic element of the show involving Lawrence and Horo is genuinely played out with enjoyable dialogue and dynamic between the two. Lawrence is less awkward this season as he has more confidence and ability to make quick comments and remarks.

Overall an enjoyable show, nothing that stands out as unbearable but also nothing spectacular.

Rating – B+

Year – 2009 Length – 12 Episodes

Genre – Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

The Twelve Kingdoms

The Twelve Kingdoms anime TV series Screenshot

Animation ProductionStudio Pierrot

Director Tsuneo Kobayashi

Well crafted Japanese fantasy

The Twelve Kingdoms is an often mentioned example of one of the best fantasy works in Japanese animation. It certainly had the right backing with NHK and animation by Studio Pierrot (Bleach, Naruto). Like similar fantasy titles, such as El Hazard and Escaflowne, high school students are transported to a fantastical country full of different people, creatures, culture and rules. The Twelve Knigdoms TV series is based on the light novel by Fuyumi Ono which in turn was influenced by Chinese mythology.

The two words that sum up this show are adventure and politics. It starts of with the journey of the main characters understanding and fitting into this foreign world and the latter half of the series it more politically focused. The 45 episodes really allow the characters to progress and transform and allow the paths of different people to intersect. The enjoyment of the political drama is what it is and depends on how much you like feudal drama. It is done in a serious manner with little room for comedy or deviation from the story progression.

The problems with the show lie in the at times irrational character decisions that can make episodes seem drawn out. The series doesn’t have a conclusive ending and you could satisfactorily stop watching after certain arc points. For example the last episode is a recap of the preceding 6 episode arc. The Twelve Kingdoms is not a must watch show but is genuinely enjoyable if you are looking for fantasy themed Japanese animation.

Rating – B +

Genre – Fantasy, Drama, Adventure Length – 45 Episode series Year – 2002-2003