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

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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

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